July 8, 2003

  • Thought

    “The Economist’s “The Fortune of the Commons” article gives an overview of the advantages of standards in layman’s terms:

    “Not every technology sector had such far-sighted leaders. But railways, electricity, cars and telecommunications all learned to love standards as they came of age. At a certain point in their history, it became clear that rather than just fighting to get the largest piece of the pie, the companies within a sector needed to work together to make the pie bigger.

    Without standards, a technology cannot become ubiquitous, particularly when it is part of a larger network. Track gauges, voltage levels, pedal functions, signaling systems — for all of these, technical conventions had to be agreed on before railways, electricity, cars, and telephones were ready for mass consumption. Standards also allow a technology to become automated, thus making it much more reliable and easier to use.”

July 5, 2003

  • Writing Social Software is Hard

    The always insightful Clay Shirky has posted a very long (almost 10,000 word) essay called “A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy”:

    “Writing social software is hard. And, as I said, the act of writing social software is more like the work of an economist or a political scientist. And the act of hosting social software, the relationship of someone who hosts it is more like a relationship of landlords to tenants than owners to boxes in a warehouse.

    The people using your software, even if you own it and pay for it, have rights and will behave as if they have rights. And if you abrogate those rights, you’ll hear about it very quickly.”

    Shirky gives a great overview of the issues that face all “online communities”, regardless of platform or technology used. After giving historical context by discussing the work of WR Brion, he provides “three things to accept” and “four things to design for”:


    1. You cannot separate technical and social issues.

    2. Members are different from users.

    3. The core group has rights that trump individual users.


    1. Create “handles” (identities) that users can invest in.

    2. Create a way for there to be “members in good standing”.

    3. Create barriers to participation. (The group is the user, not the individual and creating barriers ensures that the group gets better signal-to-noise and this is better than maximizing individual ease of use.)

    4. Find a way to spare the group from scale.

    While the essay may be a bit long and theoretical for the casual reader, I recommend the article strongly for anyone interested in online group interaction. Learn from the mistakes of others! As Shirky points out:

    “Now, this story has been written many times. It’s actually frustrating to see how many times it’s been written. You’d hope that at some point that someone would write it down, and they often do, but what then doesn’t happen is other people don’t read it.

    The most charitable description of this repeated pattern is “learning from experience.” But learning from experience is the worst possible way to learn something. Learning from experience is one up from remembering. That’s not great. The best way to learn something is when someone else figures it out and tells you: “Don’t go in that swamp. There are alligators in there.”

    Learning from experience about the alligators is lousy, compared to learning from reading, say. There hasn’t been, unfortunately, in this arena, a lot of learning from reading. And so, lessons from Lucasfilms’ Habitat, written in 1990, reads a lot like Rose Stone’s description of Communitree from 1978.

    This pattern has happened over and over and over again.”

June 26, 2003

  • Thought

    Clay Shirky is a bright guy. In The Music Business and the Big Flip he writes:

    “The curious thing about this state of affairs is that in other domains, we now use amateur input for finding and publicizing. The last 5 years have seen the launch of Google, Blogdex, Kuro5in, Slashdot, and many other collaborative filtering sites that transform the simple judgments of a few participants into aggregate recommendations of remarkably high quality.

    This is all part of the Big Flip in publishing generally, where the old notion of ‘filter, then publish’ is giving way to ‘publish, then filter.’ There is no need for Slashdot’s or Kuro5hin’s owners to sort the good posts from the bad in advance, no need for Blogdex or Daypop to pressure people not to post drivel, because lightweight filters applied after the fact work better at large scale than paying editors to enforce minimum quality in advance. A side-effect of the Big Flip is that the division between amateur and professional turns into a spectrum, giving us a world where unpaid writers are discussed side-by-side with New York Times columnists.”

June 25, 2003

  • Thought

    AlwaysOn Picks Top 100 Companies for 2003

    The premise of the competition is that consumers and businesses are demanding greater access to the Web for more convenience and productivity, and these demands are beginning to drive the next boom in high technology.

June 20, 2003

April 29, 2003

  • Thinking About Apple’s iTunes Music Store

    I’ve been reading about Apple’s iTunes Music Store and think they got it half-way correct — or maybe more accurately, 1/3 correct.

    Buying songs you know and love for $0.99 is perfect if you want to burn discs of current favourites. And Apple seems to have “fixed” most of what was wrong with earlier online download sites. I think this will be a hit — especially when they get the Windows version live — which they realistically need to do to make this work.

    But what happens if you’ve heard that Miles Davis is really cool but you don’t know anything about him? Well, for about $10 a month, a subscription to listen.com let’s you listen to most every album miles ever recorded. You can then make your decision about what songs you’d like to own forever (if any) and decide to download those for 99 cents (via Apple for example).

    And sometimes you just want music on in the background — music in a specific genre or to match a particular mode. You might want classical in the background for a brunch, 70s pop songs while you clean the house, or ambient “chill” for late night surfing sessions. In these cases you’re less interested in the actual performers than the feeling the music induces in you or your guests.

    So people have at least three goals with music: to own it, to explore it, and to use it to augment other tasks. The iTunes Music Store appears to do an admirable job of the first goal, but leaves the other two out in the cold.

    The “home run” in online music will be a service that combines cheap downloads (I think the magic number will be 10 cents a track, not a buck), music on demand from a vast library of diverse music styles, and high-quality commercial free “radio” that offers songs to match hundreds of genres, moods and situational settings.

April 28, 2003

  • Thought

    Great posting by Brad Templeton regarding the past, present and future of spam called “Reflections on the 25th Anniversary of Spam”. While the history lesson might not be to everyone’s interest, I strongly suggest you read his comments on the current state of spam and his overview of the various solutions that are being proposed. If you are involved in e-mail marketing in any way, you need to start thinking about this stuff.

    (FYI, while I didn’t really know him, Brad and I went to UofW together at the same time and I always saw him wondering around the Math And Computer building. How far we’ve all come.)

March 11, 2003

  • Thought

    “The web is dead and will be replaced by an executable architecture.” So says Forrester CEO George Colony.

    The sort of bluster is unbecoming of leading Internet thinkers, but understandable given that making bold statements is what gets Forrester the press that gets them the clients.

    I think that the idea of the “X Internet” or executable Internet is already a reality in places, but Colony falls for a classic mis-interpretation of the Net. People feel an uncontrollable urge to say “The Net is…” and pick one thing, or one analogy for the entire net. If the “Net is…” anything, it is the infrastructure that most non-real-time human-to-human and human-to-machine and machine-to-machine interaction will happen over. What we’re communicating and how we communicate it is entire up to the parties involved. Sometimes it’s static content on a page, sometimes a stream of consciousness weblog, sometimes an online application, sometimes a web service, sometimes it’s software, sometimes it’s entertainment, sometimes it’s something we never imagined.

    I suggest we all stop trying to limit the Net by overdependence on real-world metaphors.

  • Thought

    The Shirky article I just mentioned had a link to a Wikipedia page called “Our Replies To Our Critics” which gave me a new perspective on this fascinating experiment.

    Wikipedia is kind of an “encyclopedia by consensus” where anyone can add or edit an article on anything. While this sounds ridiculous when heard for the first time, the logic explained by the replies to critics page makes some good points.

  • Thought

    Clay Shirky’s analysis of why the Net is different is always refreshing, particularly in these days when it seems that there is little interest in change and innovation online.

    Clay’s done a great piece on the “group-as-user” and the impact on software and site development.

    Here’s a quote to set the context…

    “The radical change was de-coupling groups in space and time. To get a conversation going around a conference table or campfire, you need to gather everyone in the same place at the same moment. By undoing those restrictions, the interent has ushered in a host of new social patterns, from the mailing list to the chat room to the weblog.

    The thing that makes social software behave differently other communications tools is that groups are entities in their own right. A group of people interacting with one another will exhibit be behaviors that cannot be predicted by examining the individuals in isolation, peculiarly social effects like flaming and trolling or concerns about trust and reputation. This means that designing software for group-as-user is a problem that can’t be attacked in the same way as designing a word processor or a graphics tool.”

October 4, 2002

  • Thought

    I stopped attending Internet World in 1998. (I started attending in 94). So this ClickZ article called “Internet World — R.I.P.” wasn’t a shock to me, but it did make me a bit sad.

    While the need for a universal “everything Internet” conference is probably not realistic anymore, I pine for the days when I could know pretty much everything important about doing business online.

    Here’s a representative quote from the article:

    “The economy” is too simple an explanation of why visitors and exhibitors alike stayed away in droves. From a marketing perspective, Internet World makes no sense.
    “It’s simply not targeted,” Topica CEO Anna Zornosa shrugged after surveying the sparsely populated hall, “everyone here is only talking about how empty it is.”

August 23, 2002

  • Thought

    Hit Charade — The music industry’s self-inflicted wounds by Mark Jenkins is one of the best articles I’ve read on the problems with the music industry these days. As a former music industry insider, this all rings true. One of the main reasons I left the music business was the anti-fan, litigious nature of the industry’s approach to the business. Hopefully there is something that can do for the modern music malaise what MTV did in the early 80s.

August 10, 2002

  • Thought

    More reasons to love the Internet:

    “Silophone is a project by [The User] which combines sound, architecture, and communication technologies to transform a significant landmark in the industrial cityscape of Montréal.

    Located in Montréal’s old port, Silo #5B-1 was built in 1958 and has been cited by Le Corbusier as a masterpiece of modern architecture. The structure, constructed entirely of reinforced concrete, is 200 metres long, 16 metres wide and approximately 45 metres at its highest point. The main section of the building is formed of approximately 115 vertical chambers, all 30 metres high and up to 8 metres in diameter. These tall parallel cylinders, whose form evokes the structure of an enormous organ, have exceptional acoustic properties: a stunning reverberation time of over 20 seconds. Anything played inside the Silo is euphonized, made beautiful, by the acoustics of the structure. All those who have entered have found it an overwhelming and unforgettable experience.

    Silophone makes use of the incredible acoustics of Silo #5 by introducing sounds, collected from around the world using various communication technologies, into a physical space to create an instrument which blurs the boundaries between music, architecture and net art. Sounds arrive inside Silo #5 by telephone or internet. They are then broadcast into the vast concrete grain storage chambers inside the Silo. They are transformed, reverberated, and coloured by the remarkable acoustics of the structure, yielding a stunningly beautiful echo. This sound is captured by microphones and rebroadcast back to its sender, to other listeners and to a sound installation outside the building. Anyone may contribute material of their own, filling the instrument with increasingly varied sounds.”

    Can you imagine explaining this to someone 10 years ago?

July 30, 2002

  • Thought

    A great article on ClickZ by Vin Crosbie called AOL Time Warner: It’s a New Media, Baby hits the nail on the head. The Internet is different than other media, primarily because it allows people to communicate with others and explore niche interests.

    Most big media companies miss this entirely.

July 19, 2002

October 18, 2001

  • Bert Is Evil

    The Internet continues to intersect with the “real” world in strange ways.

    This article on Wired News explains the strange story of a small group of people with too much time on their hands creating a cult around the idea that Bert from Sesame Street is evil. They built parody sites, photoshopped images of Bert at the JFK assassination, standing behind Hitler, corrupting his poor pal Ernie at a strip club — you get the idea.

    Someone decided to put Bert and Osama bin Laden together in a photo. Which is where the story turns bizarre. It turns out that bin Laden sympathizers have downloaded pictures of bin Laden from the Net to create posters to use at protests.

    So when the media showed up to take photos of the protests, they captured the “Osama and Bert” images on the real world posters of bin Laden supporters.

    What is truly strange is that the “Bert Is Evil” creator has decided that this was too much and he’s closed his site. Of course now others are taking the previously removed content and reposting it. And heated discussion has broken out in this subculture about what should be done.

September 7, 2001

  • Thought

    Andy Fould’s “Leader Of The Free World” page is an indicator of the power of the Internet as a voice for political satire and protest.

    Given the ability for any Tom, Dick or Andy to put up a web site sure to irritate those currently in power, it can only be assumed that political dissent in one form or another will be around for awhile.

    The extra great thing about political satire on the web is all the exposure one’s opinions get once the “viral aspect kicks in” (I keep hearing people saying that.)

August 30, 2001

  • Search Engine Superiority

    Search Engine superiority is a big stakes game of one-upmanship that we won’t see the end of soon.

    I think that when many of us discovered Google we figured that the search wars were over and we’d found our home. Of course we said this forgetting that we’d said the same thing years before when we met Yahoo! for the first time. And then we said it again when someone sent us a link to AltaVista. And then again when we clicked the Hotbot link from Wired.

    I doubt that Google will be the final champion in the search game (at least not if they stick to current technology while others advance — hopefully they won’t).

    For a review of the current state of Internet search, check out this CNET article called “Start-ups Seek Google’s Throne”. One site they don’t mention that is probably worth monitoring (although it is pre-launch as I’m typing this) is Quigo, a “deep web” search tool.

    And of course, Search Engine Watch is a great place for general information on search and how it effects you and your site.

  • Thought

    People like the Internet even if venture capitalists don’t.

    This CNET article discusses a recent Gartner Dataquest survey that found that 65% of American homes now use the Internet on a regular basis and almost 25% of those households are on broadband connections (primarily cable).

    Further, 91% said that they intend to stay connected which Gartner took as a sign that the Internet is now an essential part of the American home.

    It’s clear that consumers love the Net and businesses need to understand that despite the anti-hype, this channel is not going away.

August 29, 2001

August 22, 2001

  • Thought

    Autodemo has a cool technology for online site demonstrations.

    I was checking out the DVD of “The Straight Story” when I noticed an option to get an automated demo of Amazon’s 1-click ordering system. Since this was new and I always find Amazon to be on the cutting edge of customer experience (note that I didn’t say cutting edge of technology), I clicked the link.

    The demo worked as advertised and didn’t require any downloads (it’s all Flash-based).

    I think we’ll see more of this type of technology evolving as companies focus on improving usability as a way of increasing sales. Now we have to hope that people won’t take to creating hopelessly complicated technologies and then using demos to cover-up their poor design.

    (The Straight Story is an outstanding film by David Lynch, although you would never know it was a Lynch film).

August 21, 2001

  • Thought

    We should all take a moment to mourn the passing of the Industry Standard magazine this week.

    Of all the dotcom casualties, I find this one hitting hard. The Standard was always one of the better sources of information on the Internet industry and I’ll miss its no-nonsense style.

    The San Francisco Chronicle can fill you in on all the sad details…

    Industry Standard Joins The Dot-gones

August 4, 2001

  • Thought

    Dan Gillmor of the Mercury News wrote an article on “lessons learned” from the first wave of e-commerce called “Don’t write off Internet commerce.”

    I agree with the five points he raises — especially the first one about the Net adding value to retailing. I think this is an under-played aspect of the value of the Net. Especially when you consider that research suggests that 2/3 of web-influenced purchases happen offline.

    I’d add that when looking at the likely success at e-tail of various products, it is important to assess the amount of information needed to make a purchase, the real-world availability of the product, and the desirability (demand) for the product. If information need and desirability are high while real-world availability is low, I think you’ve got a potential winner. At least from a sales standpoint. To make the business a success you’ll want to add high gross margins and low cost to ship. A unique branded product doesn’t hurt either!

August 1, 2001

  • Thought

    Junction City is running a nice little parody campaign (I hope) to get John Cusack to be the President of the United States of America.

    In addition to their solid arguments for John in the White House (“He made the tough decisions in Grosse Pointe Blank. He couldn’t be bought in Eight Men Out.”), I’d add “He had a really great record collection in High Fidelity and it would be good to have some soul in the Oval Office.”

    Of interest to marketers is the “Spread the Word” page. Remember, you saw it here first.

July 17, 2001

  • Thought

    Another piece in the NYT worth checking out is “Virtual Revenge and the Decline of the Dot-Coms”.

    Here’s a quote from the article:

    “What most irks Tim Cavanaugh, the former editor of Suck, an online magazine that stopped publishing last month, is the sense that all that is good and successful about the Internet is being wrapped into the collective repudiation of it.”

    Just because some overzealous investors backed ideas that shouldn’t have got off the cocktail napkins they were written on doesn’t mean the entire Net was a figment of over-active, over-greedy minds.