More on Four Pillars and Enterprise Software

A couple of days ago, I mentioned that the commonest question anyone ever asked me about Four Pillars was “What will it look like?” And  I answered “Like Netvibes“.

Today I’d like to explore this further, try and articulate my arguments more precisely. But before I do that, time for some disclosure:

  • I have NO shares in netvibes. Never have done.
  • In fact I’ll make it simpler.
  • I have NO shares in anything other than the company (-ies) I work (-ed) for. Never have done, since October 1987.
  • End of disclosure.

Back to Netvibes. Why am I choosing to use a specific example? Here’s why.

Many years ago, when I first started working with Al-Noor, he used to say “Show them a Ford Escort. Ask them what’s wrong with it. Don’t start with a blank piece of paper. Show them something. Something that works. Then they can really tell you what they want”.

Things haven’t changed.

It’s always better to be able to visualise something rather than just theorise about it. Criticism has more value.
Netvibes already has syndication, search, fulfilment and conversation built in. It can do a lot better at the IM piece; it is more an enabler rather than a vehicle for conversation, staying agnostic about the specific tool used. There aren’t many real examples of fulfilment. Nevertheless it is a good place to start.

It has single sign on; powerful personalisation; a good drive towards platform and OS and browser agnosticism. It leverages community value a la WordPress by having an outstanding ecosystem approach. And it provides a good foundation for my granularity debate. More of this later.

Staying with Netvibes. Here’s a quote from their “landing page”.

  • Welcome to Netvibes! This is your personalized page, you can now modify everything: move modules, add new RSS/ATOM feeds, change the parameters for each module, etc. Your modifications are saved in real-time and you’ll find your page when you get back on If you want to be able to access your page from any computer, you can sign in (at the top right) with your email and a password.The content is available from the “add content” button at the top left of this page.

    Feel free to check the Netvibes blog to stay tuned about new features on the site.

That should give you a feel for what this is about.

As of today, the netvibes ecosystem has 555 modules, 7703 feeds, 642 podcasts, 138 events and 2335 tabs. These terms are nothing more than words until you get into them, I recommend you start familiarilising yourself with what they mean. The words are less relevant than the meaning.

In a strange kind of way, the ecosystem model of today has replaced the AT Bus of the mid 1980s, with significant differences in how we look at minor things like innovation and IPR and for that matter DRM. The community innovates at a significantly higher speed, there is far less of a gap between innovator and consumer (quite often they’re one and the same); the innovations happen on a Long Tail basis, with local solutions to local problems and global solutions to global ones. Language and localisation customisation happen at a rate of knots as well, we no longer have this appalling drip-feed of regional releases of things.

Humongous general purpose enterprise applications start looking like feeds. Take a look at how you configure a feed and you will get a feel for how simple it is. Move the position of the feed around, change its size and shape and colour and alerting mechanism.

More specific applications start looking like modules. There’s a lot of value to be gained in looking at events from a corporate viewpoint; there’s even more value to be gained from looking at predefined tabs as the way new hires get trained.

There’s still a lot for us to learn about enterprise applications, and Four Pillars is not a silver bullet. It is nothing more than my way of describing what’s happening, in the benighted belief that decent dialogue will occur as a result.

Some of the learning that has yet to take place is non-trivial. Three aspects:

  • How an application works when in a Not-Connected State, as opposed to a wired/wireless differentiation.
  • How to prevent bad DRM from clogging the works before we’ve had a chance to build them out.
  • How to ensure that we move away from interoperability to true substitutability. A genuine I-don’t-care-what-you-choose approach.

More later.

A closing aside.

Some years ago, I had control freaks telling me all the things that a mobile phone or PDA was NOT allowed to do:

  • Connect to the firm’s computers and network
  • Use Bluetooth
  • Have any firm data on it
  • Allow access to the web
  • Allow use of the camera

I started laughing and suggested we put in for 200,000 tin cans and a zillion miles of twine, so that we can replace the entire mobile phone network with things that kept the control freaks happy.

And then I realised they were serious. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth, but, largely, sense prevailed.

Now I see the same happening with computers and televisions.

Under the banner of “content protection” and IPR and DRM and whatever else they choose to brandish, what we are seeing is amazing.

People are very carefully putting crap in the way in order to make a computer look like a television….

because they understand television, and feel good about the control it provides them.

Sadly, we’re all culpable. Because we’re allowing it to happen. Twenty years of bloatware have taught us nothing, it would appear.

7 thoughts on “More on Four Pillars and Enterprise Software”

  1. Yes, I’d seen a few links to that piece. Been bubbling around for the last day or so. I think this is beyond Vista, it is as much to do with the paradigm shift away from “big central content” and their perceived loss of control.

  2. NetVibes = Windows 1.0

    You have shown me the Ford Escort. Now I want overlapping windows and everything else that came in Windows 3.0, the first usable version.

  3. Hey Dom, happy New Year to you and yours. Busy watching the Cape Town Test…. before health issues intervened, I had planned to be there in person…..

    First usable version? Moot point.

  4. Point taken :-)

    Think I’d rather be in Cape Town than Sydney. Definitely rather be in bed with a bunch of grapes than at work, although you have taken rather extreme measures to get there.

  5. Dominic sounds like an Englishman – your boys had a reasonable first day in Sydney (you obviously expect it to go downhill soon …).

    First usable version of Windows? IMO it was 3.11 (Windows for Workgroups I think it was called) – when Windows 3.0 came out I was using a Mac, so it was no comp. XP is fine – even enjoyable at times; and Vista is starting to sound like concrete boots. Maybe Linux will get it’s act together in time to take the desktop – I’m playing around with the Ulteo alpha release ( ATM … Eric Raymond has some interesting stuff to say about the Linux desktop opportunity at

  6. I feel you have really captured the essence of how to get adoption of new and emerging solutions into the enterprise by the following statement:

    Many years ago, when I first started working with Al-Noor, he used to say “Show them a Ford Escort. Ask them what’s wrong with it. Don’t start with a blank piece of paper. Show them something. Something that works. Then they can really tell you what they want”.

    When we started out at Connectbeam in Dec 2005 – I don’t think Enterprise 2.0 term was even around. The momentum and buzz in the market was all around consumer. We were chastised with some real strong language for our vision of what we were setting out to do (“2.0 technologies for the enterprise”).
    But we felt it in our gut that inevitably lot of this new technology that was playing itself out in the consumer space would inevitably move into the enterprise. And the way it will manifest itself inside the enterprise will be different from the consumer space.

    We placed our bet on building a foundation around Social Bookmarking for bringing Enterprise 2.0 technologies into the enterprise. We viewed Social Bookmarking as offering two key strategic advantages over other Enterprise 2.0 derivative technologies – ease of use, and a handshake to the past, resulting in first to gain mass adoption (inside the enterprise).
    Ease of use came in two ways:
    1. Everyone’s bookmarked something or the other in their life (bookmarking is as old as the browser)
    2. It could be easily bolted on top of existing enterprise infrastructure (enterprise search, portal, document management, and more…)

    This bolting on top of existing infrastructure provides the ‘handshake’ to the past or as you put it – “Show them a Ford Escort. Ask them what’s wrong with it. Don’t start with a blank piece of paper…”

    This is what customers are liking about our solution. While the technology is disruptive in delivering productivity and value add, it is not disruptive in how it is deployed and made available and accessible. Users are seamlessly transitioned into a Web 2.0 Connectbeam application from their existing applications.

    I would welcome an opportunity to showcase to you Connectbeam and get your feedback and perspective. I’d also like to discuss use cases with you at few of the companies where we are talking about 50,000+ named user deployments.

    Hope you are recovering and feeling better.


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