Plus ca change….

Finally managed to give the blog its much-needed makeover. As with anything else in this blog, it’s “provisional”, a work-in-progress. I hope to get everything done by the end of February, as Confused celebrates being a year old.

The glossary that some of you requested is nearly ready and will be available from next week.

LibraryThing will also be reinstated next week.

Yes I did bring back Snap Preview, which some of you liked and others didn’t. Why did I do that? Because they now have end-user opt-out, which is an eminently sensible thing for them to have done.

My thanks to Chris Locke for all his help, he made all this possible while I continue to recuperate. Incidentally, I hear he now has some time on his hands, so if you have things you need to get done that need his unique skills then you know where to go. He’s always been there for me when I’ve needed him, and he gets on with things like only he can. Especially when RageBoy lets him.
Comments welcome as ever. Particularly things you don’t like.

Four Pillars: Time for a recap

We have a Foundation.

The Foundation covers tin and wire and connectedness and storage; it deals with the bits and bytes; it is independent of vendor or device, agnostic on platforms and driven by community standards. Any device any connect mechanism any form of information anywhere anytime. All recorded and archived and searchable and retrievable.

On top of this Foundation are Four Pillars. Syndication, which pushes out information, subscribed to and personalised as needed. Search, which pulls in information, collaboratively flitered and preferenced and heuristically-improved as needed. [In both these cases information is acquired on a non-deterministic relevance and ranking basis, with training and learning being the basis of improving accuracy]. Fulfilment, which is the transaction process of discovering inventory and price for an interest, identifying the buyer and seller uniquely, exchanging value and proceeding with the logistics. Fulfilment is fulfilment for a book, a bed, a bond or a body. And Collaboration/Conversation, which is the “markets are conversations” Cluetrain glue that binds all this together.

The Four Pillars underpin the new world of information. You create, publish, receive information that you never had before. Social information, cooking-pot information. You visualise it in ways you could never do before. You move it and share it and enrich it and aggregate it and disaggregate it using tools you could never have conceived before. And you do all this with presence and location and attention and mobility. You teach it and learn it and shape it and train it. You cleanse it and repair it and fuse it and melt it. The it is information. Yes, this is a blog about information -)

And the you doing everything is not me nor my generation. All we are doing is preparing for Generation M and learning from them.

Utopia, yes. But all it needs is common sense in avoiding visible pitfalls in vendor-lock-in, in “industry” standards, in DRM and in IPR. The elephants in the room.

This needs all of us, the market participants, to work differently. Take into account the impact of opensource, understand that we have to move from geographic utility to virtual global utility, from generic utility to ever-changing vertical utility. Work out what problems are unique to us and solve them, and use the community to solve community problems. Refactor our attitude before our code. See what all this means to us as vendors, as software builders, as “IT departments”, as telcos, as regulators, even as “consultants”.

Why another blog?

I promise not to use the phrases Web 2.0 or “long tail” intentionally in this blog. How about that?

I’ve been fascinated by information all my life, and serendipitously been allowed to work in the information sector for most of it. The Moore-Metcalfe-Gilder Laws continue to have their effect, and with telephony becoming software, I feel we’re at a wonderful inflection point in the sector. And what I want to do via this blog is to catalyse conversations about some of the things that really matter to me in this context. How search, publishing, fulfilment and conversation become the core applications of the future. How we can prevent the unintended consequences of walled-garden approaches to content. How we can avoid DRM holding up innovation. Why identity and presence and authentication and permissioning are important. Why emergence theories and “democratized innovation” matter. How we can take advantage of the opportunities that mobile devices offer us.

I’ve been influenced by many people over the years, and would like to acknowledge the works of John Seely Brown, Ken Ohmae, the Cluetrain gang and Esther’s Release 1 crew in “corrupting” me. And some very unusual and gifted bosses and colleagues over the years. Be warned.

Opening shots

Economic models that succeed tend to take advantage of the abundances as well as the shortages that characterise a particular economic era. Traditionally, the primary factors of production used to be land, labour and capital; much of this was in “institutional” rather than individual hands, and as a result, attempts to create efficiencies in the use of these factors tended to create institutional models as a basis for reducing transaction costs.Land ownership has changed; while governments, churches and firms still own land, there is far more individual ownership of land than ever before. Labour is no longer bonded, and the ability to migrate between firms and even countries has never been greater. Capital is also more mobile, with deregulated markets and dematerialised securities and electronic cash; when many individuals have better credit ratings than the institutions they bank with, the definition of what a bank does changes.

The nature of asset creation has also changed, with intangibles forming a growing proportion of GDP worldwide; we now impute monetary value on talent and skill and knowledge and network and brand and reputation.

The Agricultural Revolution transformed our ability to produce food cheaply; the Industrial Revolution helped us reduce plant and equipment production costs, as well as those of core infrastructure providing heating, lighting and transportation. There were also major demographic and societal changes: barriers based on race and sex began to erode, infant mortality was lowered and people began to live longer.

The Information Age heralded the dawn of a true Services Revolution as human capital grew in importance and communications costs reduced sharply. Technological advances a la Moore, Metcalfe and Gilder continued their relentless march, as price-performance improved, network effects were realised and everybody started getting connected.

Despite major technological advances over the past fifty years or so, one thing has not changed as appreciably: man’s longevity. And, since assets were increasingly based on intangibles, this created, and continues to create, a war for talent. Institutions have found it increasingly difficult to attract, retain and develop talent.

Every institution had to take steps to value and protect human time. Simplicity and convenience became important, “dial-tone” services became important, design and usability mattered. Technology adoption curves became inverted: historically, adoption was driven by those with the largest R&D budgets – defence, aerospace, high-end manufacturing and automobiles, sophisticated capital markets. Products trialled in these sectors slowly drifted towards mainstream commerce and much later towards consumers.

What inverted? The age of the early adopter changed, which moved startlingly from 35-40 years old towards 12-21 years old. When you look at mobile phones, texting, instant messaging, downloads, Skype, the iPod and iTunes phenomena, multifunction devices, the standards for these are all set by youth. And this trend is now moving towards changing the functionality of “established” web firms such as Google and Amazon, eBay and Yahoo.

It was this shift, when youth became the early adopters, which signalled a real change from institutional to individual capitalism; not having been exposed to how organisations worked and not caring about how governments operated, youth began to set the agenda.

Peer respect became more important than the power of hierarchical authority; relationships and trust returned to prominence after a long time in the wilderness; there were no longer any taboos about asking why things were the way they were, and challenging the status quo.

Today is their Sixties. And, in a vicarious way, ours too; The Age of the Individual.

Empowered and free from hierarchy, jealous about personal time, keen on relationships and trust, inquisitive about values and ethics, with the power of the web to change their perceptions of time and distance and organisations and government.

What does this mean for firms and governments? Another inversion. Now, as such institutions fight to hold on to their piece of the talent pool, they realise that historical carrots and sticks have no meaning to the new generation. People migrate to institutions that reflect the values they hold and make it possible for individuals to make a difference. “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” has subtly shifted. Do ask what your country/company will allow you to do for them, before choosing.

This is not as shocking as it sounds. We already have odd critical masses developed over the years, such as shipping registration in Panama or company incorporation in Delaware or high-net-worth individuals domiciled in tax havens. It has been suggested that European IPOs grew as a result of Sarbanes-Oxley, as new entrants railed against increased regulation.

Human beings can now withhold their talent, their time, and their taxes, in ways that could not have been imagined before. Flash mobbing and IM and texting and blogs and wikis and video allow people to communicate in ways we could not have foreseen. The assembly-line approach that characterised our schools, hospitals, companies and governments is failing, as people choose to be different. Any colour you like, so long as it’s black, does not rule any more.

Assembly line approaches focus on consolidating volume and ensuring homogeneity, low standard deviation and uniformity. All citizens the same. All students the same. All the same.

The web is about diversity, individuality, personal-ness. People want to be connected, not channelled, to choose their experiences and to co-create them with peers they respect and trust.

As innovation democratises, and open-source ideas get shared and enriched and mutated, people behave differently. Diversity is no longer suppressed but celebrated.

We used to hate looking at someone else’s holiday movies and snapshots, but now we love Flickr. Why? Because we choose the time and place. Connected, not channelled.

Alumnus gatherings didn’t always work and were often lifeless, now they’re Friends Reunited. Why? Because we have transparency of information, simpler ways to discover the who and the where, and choice as to the relationships we grow. Connected, not channelled.

We choose the schools we go to, the courses we take at university, the firms we work for, the countries where we live, what we do with our time. When we work and when we sleep. We choose our relationships and who we spend time with. Connected, not channelled.

As the Cluetrain guys said, markets are conversations. They do not happen hierarchically. Even our Assembly Line software applications have disaggregated. All we have left is subscriptions to syndicated content, heuristically enhanced non-deterministic search, support for fulfilment and a framework to enable trust and collaboration.

Governments and firms are left feeling helpless, as central control diminishes and the power of the individual rises, and they need to recognise that bell curves now have very long tails.

As these changes come about, with individual capitalism and the subversion of institutions, we need new business models. What should these models do? One, make a clear stance on values and ethics. Two, allow relationships and collaboration to take place, rather than control the relationships. Three, intermediate to enable trust and fulfilment rather than channel towards lock-in. Four, recognise that the customer wants to create and co-create value rather than just receive.

Use what you stand for to attract the customer. Use what you do to retain the customer’s trust. Ensure that the customer is always free to leave, and paradoxically he or she will stay. Who is this customer? Your family. Your friend. Your employee. Your business partner. Your client. Your citizen.

In a world of empowered individuals, everyone’s a customer.

There are barriers in the way, and serious ones at that. There is a need to overhaul everything to do with Intellectual Property Rights, be they patents or trademarks or copyright or DRM or whatever. There is a need to avoid over-regulation, the creation of bad law driven by institutional values. This is particularly true for every form of communication, affecting big media, telcos, “content producers”, and the publishing industry in general.

This is going to be difficult, and often humorous, since these are tremendous changes. Witness what happened to Sony’s DRM or Hollywood’s attempts to send copies of Munich to the BAFTA judges. Witness what happened to Skype.

Connected, not channelled.