The Long Nose of Innovation

I came across a very insightful article by Bill Buxton in Business Week called The Long Nose of Innovation which basically argued that innovations which make a difference are in fact based on technologies which have been around for a while. Buxton argues that innovation is really about the application of things already in existence as much as it is about inventing entirely new things.

This resonated with me as I thought about something Ray Kurzweil, the futurologist, said in a recent lecture (which I can’t now find!). He argued that since technology is growing exponentially, if you are building something (in his case computer translation software) you should design for what computers will be able to do by the time you are ready, now what they can do now.

It seems to me you could distill some good advice from these two: look for technologies and capabilities that are around now, but which have failed to reach their potential because computers or mobiles aren’t powerful enough – then design something which will be truly impressive once the power catches up – which it will.

Augmented reality – likely to be all the rage in 2010 – falls into this category. The technologies have been around for ages (camera, compass, GPS), but it wasn’t until they were combined into relatively cheap, powerful phones like the iPhone and Android that they could take off.

Recruiting by example

Techcrunch has an interesting piece about a job ad seeking a “Twitter Expert” in Greenwich Village, New York. The job ad, in Craigslist, explains how the applicant should apply:

1) Email me two tweets. The first should be about your experience. The second should by why you’re perfect for this job. If you exceed twitter’s allotted character count, you’re done.

2) Email me your Twitter name in link form (e.g.

3) Tell me how many followers you have and how many people you follow.

4) Tell me who’s the best person you follow and why (in tweet form).

5) Tell me what’s the best way to get more followers (in tweet form).

6) Specific salary requirement.

They haven’t asked for a CV or a letter explaining qualifications or relevant experience. Instead they’ve gone right to the heart of the issue. If you can apply convincingly then there’s a very good chance you are perfect for the job.

I often think we should be recruiting our new journalists the same way. After all, we know what we are looking for these days – the ability to blog, to communicate two-way, to build a following – why not just limit ourselves to the evidence. We probably need a reference or two just to satisfy ourselves that the potential recruit isn’t a mass-murderer, but apart from that the evidence should speak for itself.

And think how much easier it was for the recruiter to assess all those job ads – total size 600 characters each applicant!

Is bootstrapping killing innovation?

A lot has been made of the game-changing way new start ups can now test their ideas with very little money using free, online tools and pay-as-you-go computing like Amazon’s EC2 and S3. But now Clive Thompson, writing the latest issue of Wired, has challenged that idea, suggesting that this bootstrapping fashion is limiting the vision of new start-ups.

These days, Valley entrepreneurs tend to pick a cool (but niche) idea; bootstrap it with minimal staff, open source code, and rented server space; and then build a user base until some lumbering technosaur buys them up……This system is more fiscally responsible than the con-job IPOs of the dotcom boom — but it favors entrepreneurs with modest ambitions.

 However, says Thompson, maybe it’s just that truly revolutionary ideas are just plain hard to spot.

People sniffed at Google because they thought AltaVista and Infoseek had already “solved” search. Microsoft, too, was seen as a joke: Real men built hardware, not software. And as for eBay — dude, who’s gonna buy someone else’s cast-off Weebles?

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Testing the Zemanta recommendation engine

Image representing Zemanta as depicted in Crun...Image via CrunchBase

I read a post today about Zemanta on Techcrunch and I thought I would try it out. I’ve downloaded the Firefox extension and I’m curious to see just how good the recommendations will turn out to be. The in-text links seem to be limited to proper nouns, which is a pity as Wikipedia definitions would certainly be of real use. The related articles are easy to preview and select and the related images are very easy to use, but I’m not sure how relevant they will turn out to be (the Zemanta logo may turn out to be the exception).

I’ve tried to customise the selection with my own Flickr account and blog RSS feed but so far I’m not seeing anything recommended from these sourced – maybe because my session is half way through. So far, I must say, so good…

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