Archives for March 2007


Free Car Wash via SMS

As I was going through the dead trees version of the Minneapolis StarTribune this morning, an article grabbed me: Kids phone in car-wash scam From cell phone to cell phone, word rippled through town: Use this number for a free car wash.

For anyone still not aware of the acceleration in network-based swarm communications behaviors, look no further than this example:

Over several weeks, cars carrying high school and college kids lined up six or seven deep outside Severson’s Food Plus convenience store in Austin, Minn., waiting for a touch-free/cash-free wash.

With the stolen maintenance code programmed in their phones or memories, they ripped off at least 1,000 washes, police and store officials said Thursday.

Though I chuckle that NO ONE managing the store noticed such a huge spike in washes over several weeks without a commensurate amount of cash showing up in the daily receipts, for any of us building online applications or other systems that could be exploited or “gamed,” this shows how even a small loophole or piece of useful information can propagate exponentially with just one person initially leaking it.

Out at Etech I was in a conversation about Twitter, swarming and the upcoming US presidential election. If you recall, the last election cycle saw protestors at the Republican and Democratic convention sites relegated to fenced in areas out-of-sight and out-of-mind effectively rendering them impotent. My premise in this conversation was that people — probably dressed in clothing that will make them appear to be innocuous or like young Republicans — will suddenly swarm and coalesce in a protest as a flash mob…then dissolve back into the crowd before police can react. Rinse and repeat.

In the same way that the Internet is designed to route around bottlenecks or damage, so will flash mobs route around controls in political protesting and friends of friends of friends who need free car washes (and who’ve discovered a loophole in an application or a system) will send it. With mobile phone’s being ubiquitous, I predict we’ll be seeing A LOT more stories like this one.


CTD for March 28, 2007

Interview with Mike Shaver, Mozilla Corporation

The Mozilla Corporation’s CEO, Mitchell Baker, recently published a Mozilla Manifesto providing a guiding set of principles that sets out a vision of the Internet as a piece of infrastructure that is open, accessible and enriches the lives of individual human beings.

My friend Marc Orchant of ZDNet’s Office Evolution and Foldera, was kind enough to invite me to sit with he and his interviewee today, Mike Shaver, (and they graciously agreed to my lurking behavior recording the interview) to talk about the reasons behind the Manifesto, what it means, why it came into existence and why it matters.

Download the podcast


EFF Pioneer Awards

Last night I attended the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Pioneer Awards. Just simply being at this event and absorbing the vibe was meaningful for me and I’ll bring forth a perspective that may be atypical and worth putting into the conversation about EFF.

Nearly four years ago was the first time that I donated to EFF and began my support of this organization. Though I look like “a suit”, a Republican and a mainstream sort of guy, I’m an independent, a closet liberal, enjoy some Libertarian leanings and am quite open to growing in my perspective as I learn — especially legally and politically — as we all push against the membrane of the future.

Five or so years ago I became more enlightened. I was stunned by the multiple, parallel, onrush of efforts by copyright holders, Congress, world intellectual capital bodies, governments globally as well as intelligence communities, to command, control and infiltrate all aspects of the Internet.  As I started to try getting my head wrapped around even a few of the issues, I realized that there was NO way that I could be competently informed about even ONE of these issues shaping our future….let alone dozens of them at a time!

Enter the EFF. I learned that here was an organization whose mission was to be that competent, informed entity who’d act to intervene, stop or shape the debate about the most important issues facing us in our digital future. With more and more of our relationships, commerce, free speech, entertainment — you name it — being created or delivered digitally, I (and you) could either pull the covers over our collective heads or get involved…and support those who’ve rolled up their sleeves, dug their hands in the muck and are in the fray.

So that’s what I did.  Last night was great for a lot of reasons and validated (in spades) the vital importance of this organization and the people who’ve dedicated money, support and all or part of their lives to the mission.

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Etech Executive Briefing

Today’s executive briefing session here at Etech has been somewhat enlightening. It’s a conversational style with a small number of visually illustrative examples. In some respects, it’s like sitting in a dinner party surrounded by intellectually stimulating people, but for the most part you’re sitting in a chair away from the table listening. I find myself eager to talk one-on-one with several of the presenters.

Several of the concepts are *really* big thoughts. These are my choices which sparked my synapse firing…and the day isn’t over yet:

On Demand Manufacturing: Material shifts in manufacturing are occurring. Not just with technological ways of rapid prototyping and essentially “printing” from a computer to a 3D “printer” which extrudes plastics and increasingly metal (which will lead to output of a tool and die!), but the example was discussed of how a collective community drives a new creation and production paradigm.

Loved skinnycorp’s Threadless t-shirt community/commerce site. They’re growing at 1% per week (150,000 designs; 40,000 designers to date); sell 80,000 shirts per month; their average runs are ~2,000 pieces and sellout in a few days or a few weeks; the methodology of letting the users ‘vote’ on the designs is what is driving it — the top designs is the base from which they manufacture essentially having the community drive their R&D; and their extending their ideas with others.

One example of another shift in manufacturing was about China and motorcycle manufacturing. China is redefining the modularity of the process constructing bikes and is disrupting Asia motorcycle incumbents…article explaining why this is such a big deal here).


Connecting dots at Etech

Am absolutely delighted to be heading out today to San Diego for O’Reilly’s Emerging Technologies conference and expect the usual great human connections to be made, conversations held and dots connected.

It’s taken me a lot of years (look closely and you’ll see gray hair in my photo), a “bet on myself” leap of faith as an Internet-as-a-platform/Web 2.0 management consultant, two strong executive-level guides (Entrevis) and a smart and supportive circle of family and friends to bring me to this place where I’m completely clear on my skills, strengths and what puts a spring-in-my-step.

One of the many things that I’ve come to be enlightened about on my journey is the sheer delight and highly effective ideation and brainstorming that occurs when I get together with people who already get it (most…if not all…of the people at this conference). There is an energy, an excitement and a shorthand that happens. A leaping forward in thought exploration that occurs when I’m surrounded by people more knowledgeable than I am or are in-the-game building stuff, creating standards or trying to persuade others to move in some direction…and we don’t have to start off talking about the basics!

I used to be hard on myself that I’d be at these conferences absorbing, connecting with others, thinking exploratory thoughts and not be heads-down typing away blogging about a session or some technology I just saw. No more.

My experiences over the last few years — as I’ve been essentially journaling about all the “dots” I see while swimming in a river of information and change — has taught me one thing: the only way to connect the dots is to take it all in and then gain perspective. The only way to gain perspective is to let it sink in, think about it, wonder, take my mind off of it, do something completely different, and connections I least expect sometimes get made without my conscious interference. Sometimes I have to work at it pretty hard though.

Blogging may-or-may-not be light this week. Hopefully my posts will be all about perspective and not just some cool happenin’ that occurs.


Do you Twitter, Joost or Swarm?

Sometimes I’m dumbfounded as to why some technologies and processes explode in popularity and that others (some with better approaches or technology) do not.

With video on the ‘net all the rage, any new developments in this space are receiving quite a bit of attention. Consequently, the awareness of Joost — a peer-to-peer (P2P) video sharing offering — makes sense because of the success the founders of Joost had creating Skype. Every technoweenie interested in this stuff wants to see if these folks can repeat that success in this new, hot arena. Same thing with Bram Cohen’s Bittorrent, another P2P technology for sharing any file, since they recently received an infusion of venture capital possibly keeping them in-the-game.

But how many of you reading this have heard of Minneapolis-based Swarmcast?

The brains behind Swarmcast have created a high definition-centric process that looks very promising and certainly is as interesting as Joost or Bittorrent, “The patent pending Swarmcast technology is
one of the leading solutions for the delivery of high definition video
content via broadband.
” They’ve been working on the technology and their approach for several years. Will the perfect storm being created by a critical mass of Web based delivery (e.g., YouTube and the allegedly Google insider name for the TV network version, ClownCo.) along with AppleTV, continued falling prices of HDTV’s and continued delivery of empowering tools for those of us creating media bring Swarmcast to the forefront? If so, how will that happen?

Another example…

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Yahoo Widgets: Is this the way to do it?

Yahoo has announced their new Yahoo Widgets 4 and it looks very promising. Mashable has a nice writeup and Techcrunch adds some strong perspective.

I love widgets…though the ones I actually use are few since they’re a little cumbersome. I’m a guy that doesn’t like clutter and I find the Dashboard in Mac OS X to be unusable since it requires hitting an “F” key, the widgets zoom in and then it takes roughly 45 seconds to have each of them go over the ‘net and fetch their data.

Using one of the start pages ((e.g., Netvibes, Pageflakes, yourminis, Google, even Yahoo,
etc.) still requires me to populate one of them with widgets but are more useful since I, like many of us, use multiple computers from several locations. Having all my widgets in one place available on the Internet is a beautiful thing.

Still, there is alot of useful stuff that widgets could deliver that I’d love to have just sitting on my desktop. Here’s where Yahoo has done something useful: all the widgets can sit in their own dock…which you can scroll through too if you’ve snagged lots of widgets.

Apple with Dashboard and Microsoft with Vista are both delivering this same sort of functionality at the operating system level. Why would someone need yet another dock full ‘o widgets sitting on their desktop?

I’m not yet sure. A handful of widgets might be useful on my desktop, but usually a few times per day I’m stuffing my Macbook Pro in my briefcase and heading out, getting connected in various locations. Having a startpage with widgets living in a Web page is significantly more useful for me and, I suspect, with the increasing number of people who are mobile.

Which brings up the one thing that throttles my widget enthusiasm, regardless of what Yahoo, Google, and all the start page players are doing: and that’s mobile. If there was a way for me to invest my energy in widgets that I could instantly have accessible from my mobile device, THAT is the way I’d go so I could have my stuff regardless of where I am and what device I’m using. I’m working on achieving complete mobility so that I have 100% of everything I need wherever I am at the moment. All files, all functionality, everything sync’ed without me even thinking about it. Could this be in Apple’s plans with the iPhone and the Leopard OS? Would that give them a significant competitive advantage in the Internet-as-a-platform, participatory culture and mobile worker paradigm?



UPDATE: Unbeknownst to me, (and this is a very good thing), the W3C has a Widget 1.0 working draft in place (via Open Gardens).


Should we be able to do *anything* on a network?

After I had the fun experiences flying along in our car on the Interstate while being connected to the Verizon Wireless network on my trip back from Florida with my daughter (see Internet Access at 80mph and iChat at 75mph), one of my readers kindly pointed out that my instant messaging, video transmission and the like was a violation of Verizon’s terms of service as is the moblogging I’ve done with the application Typepad delivers that runs on my Treo 700p (my emphasis):

Unlimited Data Plans and Features (such as NationalAccess, BroadbandAccess, Push to Talk, and certain VZEmail services) may ONLY be used with wireless devices for the following purposes: (i) Internet browsing; (ii) email; and (iii) intranet access (including access to corporate intranets, email, and individual productivity applications like customer relationship management, sales force, and field service automation). The Unlimited Data Plans and Features MAY NOT be used for any other purpose. Examples of prohibited uses include, without limitation, the following: (i) continuous uploading, downloading or streaming of audio or video programming or games; (ii) server devices or host computer applications, including, but not limited to, Web camera posts or broadcasts, automatic data feeds, automated machine-to-machine connections or peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing; or (iii) as a substitute or backup for private lines or dedicated data connections. This means, by way of example only, that checking email, surfing the Internet, downloading legally acquired songs, and/or visiting corporate intranets is permitted, but downloading movies using P2P file sharing services and/or redirecting television signals for viewing on laptops is prohibited. A person engaged in prohibited uses, continuously for one hour, could typically use 100 to 200 MBs, or, if engaged in prohibited uses for 10 hours a day, 7 days a week, could use more than 5 GBs in a month.

For individual use only and not for resale. We reserve the right to protect our network from harm, which may impact legitimate data flows. We reserve the right to limit throughput or amount of data transferred, and to deny or terminate service, without notice, to anyone we believe is using an Unlimited Data Plan or Feature in any manner prohibited above or whose usage adversely impacts our network or service levels. Anyone using more than 5 GB per line in a given month is presumed to be using the service in a manner prohibited above, and we reserve the right to immediately terminate the service of any such person without notice. We also reserve the right to terminate service upon expiration of Customer Agreement term.

They reserve the right to “protect our network”. Ahh…but I think they’re interpreting this “protection” to include protecting their revenue streams. With Verizon selling VCast and other media services, I’m sure they’d prefer that only they can profit from the expenditures they’ve made building out their own network. Damn you customers for wanting to use other applications! Damn you innovators for trying to outmaneuver us by offering more competitive products and intruding on our ability to make profits!

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Web 2.0: Think Strategically…not Tactically

There seems to be quite a bit of discussion amongst the technology thought leaders in the blogosphere about where we’re headed next with Web 2.0. I’ve been thinking this same way for some months now and it’s pretty clear to me that we’re transitioning from the easy and tactical….to the hard and strategic.

VC Peter Rip hits the nail-on-the-head with this interesting post entitled, Web 2.0 – Over and Out that had this operative statement I thought about summed up the current situation, “Now the hard part is moving from Web-as-Digital-Printing-Press to true Web-as-Platform.  To make the Web a platform there has to a level of of content and services interoperability that really doesn’t exist today.” No kidding.

Mid-to-enterprise level companies have always been known to carefully plot strategy and investments before choosing a vendor of information technology products or services. Having been in the small-to-midsize business (SMB) space (or sold into it) in several parts of my career, the characterization of SMB — or even consumers for that matter — being ones that knee jerk and choose solutions tactically I think is absolutely flat wrong. This thinking on the part of consumers, SMB’s and the enterprise clearly extends into Web 2.0. It may not be as overt as you might think, but the decision-making process on choosing is still the same as the big, strategic enterprise plans.

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Why You Might Not Want to Use Some Web Applications

Why is it that almost every time I travel, I can get a significantly better price than what’s offered on a hotel, rental car and, in some cases, airline Web site?

Just happened again today as I set hotel, air and car reservations for a San Diego and a San Francisco trip. I calculate that a little bit of social engineering on the phone saved me $400 in cumulative expenditures. Yes….$400!

This was done by bypassing the Web applications and going directly to the reservation agent. In one case I went directly to the hotel. I’ve been doing this for years and it works again and again and again.

So what’s clear to me as a voracious user of Web applications is that with a little bit of effort, I can always get a better price. The purveyors of these Web sites are teaching me (and my bride…who is a master at getting a better price) that a little bit of effort — and a direct human connection to an expensive customer service person — will save me money. (Note: it’s not just travel sites….I do the same thing with ecommerce sites in general and get stuff tossed in to the deal often).

Again….they’re teaching, instructing and rewarding me to cajole, ask, plead, tell sob stories, and call back again to “see if there is a better deal”.  It makes me wonder if all these companies really know that they’re essentially helping me drive down their gross margins by increasing their costs and reducing their top-line revenue.

I suspect this is due to a reluctance on the part of these companies to expose too much in the way of their best deals online so that competitors could easily harvest their site and thus match or better them on price. But in the end, they’re ensuring their customers (and their best ones at that) learn to hammer on them to uncover those good deals. Gotta be a better way.