Archives for February 2008


Leap Day: Time measurement in an Internet age

In years past I’d ignore February 29th, leap day, since it didn’t impact me in any way. Not this year, however, since we’re living in an Internet-connected age causing time to become increasingly irrelevant.

Measurement of time is all about being in synch. Since the Earth is just slightly off from a 365 day orbit around the Sun, (to be precise 365.242190 days long), a leap year has to be added roughly once every four years to make sure the calendar remains a valid measurement of a year.

Without measurement of time, getting things done, shipping goods, transporting people, having a church service with everyone showing up together, coordinating and orchestrating process and methods, and just about everything we accept today in a functioning society would be impossible. Without time measurement, something as simple as meeting your friend for a drink after work would likely result in you sitting and waiting…and waiting…or missing your friend altogether.

The germane aspect to this exponential growth in the world getting Internet-connected is the need we’re seeing for ever tighter synchronization between people (calling someone on Skype on the other side of the world means being aware of Greenwich Mean Time and what each other’s time zone is so you’re not calling them at 2am) as well as between machines performing transactions (e.g., financial markets open at various times in the world means any machine in the financial value chain has to be synchronized).

But we’re also seeing less need for synchronization (i.e., asynchronous) with activities previously required to be in synch.

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Freeconomics: What about MY cost for YOUR free?

Am somewhat amazed by the backlash against Chris Anderson’s new Wired piece, “Free! Why $0.00 Is the Future of Business“. Charges that he wrote a “communist manifesto” were probably the harshest ones, but many people I’ve been talking with, both in person and virtually, share somewhat of that same opinion: “something is wrong if you have to give away your value” and “we can’t all make money by grabbing mass numbers of eyeballs in order to deliver advertising to them.”

They’re missing his point and he missed one I think he shouldn’t have.

Anderson’s “it’s the falling costs, stupid” premise can be summed up in this paragraph taken, ironically, from his article in the Economist magazine:

The dominant business model on the internet today is making money by giving things away. Much of that is merely the traditional media model of using free content to build audiences and selling access to them to advertisers. But an increasing amount of it falls into the free-sample model: because it is so cheap to offer digital services online, it doesnt matter if 99% of your customers are using the free version of your services so long as 1% are paying for the premium version. After all, 1% of a big number can also be a big number.

 Free is a major shift and a huge trend, especially with any sort of online service. If you thoroughly read Anderson’s article in Wired you may or may not buy into the argument he makes, and may even accept his premise that free is driven primarily by the fall in producer costs as the costs associated with delivering them continue to drop online.

But wait just a minute.

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Minnov8 Launches

Minnov8My blogging has been slow as of late as I’ve been particularly busy with clients, a new web asset being developed for our business and the launch of Minnov8.

Minnov8 was started to focus on technology innovation in the State of Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Lakes (albeit most of which are frozen right now…but it’s gorgeous in the summer!).

Minnov8 began as an idea in late 2007 when several Minnesota geeks realized that we shared a passion and a realization that we were living in a time of the greatest shift in communication and connection—affecting both humans and machines—than we were ever going to experience again in our lifetimes.

As we talked about what was going on in Minnesota, we realized there was something missing: although there was a tremendous amount of Internet and Web-centric development, interest, passion and excitement right here in Minnesota, there wasn’t any single, online spot to read about what was happening right here in our State.

So we started one.

A vision emerged of an online venue where we (and, at some point, other trusted contributors) could file reports, podcast and video interviews, screencasts and other high value content that would focus on Minnesota technology innovation and provide a news and information showcase surrounding Internet-as-a-platform, application innovation on the Web, and other technology happenings we think will be worthy of coverage.

So stop on by Minnov8, relax and enjoy the trip as we paddle on and provide you with stories, profiles, news and information about the Internet and Web shifts occurring and how Minnesotans are innovating in this time of accelerating change.


Acceleration of the Surveillance Society

As a former registered Republican who hasn’t yet decided on whom I will trust to be my elected representation in government, my conservative friends often are appalled with my emerging libertarian leanings, increasingly progressive stance on social issues, and downright dismay over my outrage at the volume of vacuum surveillance that has accelerated in the last seven years.

If you have any awareness of current affairs, the warrantless wiretapping issue is continuing to go unresolved. I don’t care about your politics, whether or not you believe that the undefined, classified, private and hidden threat of “terrorism” — one that is at the heart of the justifications for war, increased security and surveillance post-9/11, and a trillion dollars of spending — is valid or whether or not you think our current Administration is doing the right thing and can be trusted.

The fact remains that the current Administration has accelerated procedures, technologies and law breaking without much hue-and-cry (or even questioning!) from people like you. Though we don’t know to what extent the basic foundational premises of our country have already been breeched since everything is classified, what is certain is that all of these shifts will certainly be available to a future demagogue or fascist who’d gleefully  appreciate how the skids were greased over the last several years.

As noted security expert, Bruce Schneier, once said, “It is poor civic hygiene to install technologies that could someday facilitate a police state.

Stop the Spying reached out to me today after a post I did about their efforts and those of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The video below is of people like you who’ve taken the time to participate. Again, whether you agree with them or would even consider doing it yourself, the fact remains that accepting, just going along, and not even asking the tough questions is not an option.


1989 Cell Phone for $379

Had yet another startling conversation today with a 24 year old guy at one of my clients. This is a young man who is very smart when it comes to understanding Internet and Web technologies coupled with at least an appreciation for scale and the challenges to get people to use the stuff he builds.

When we’ve met, he’s had comments like “whatever” when we talked about how far things have come technically in just a couple of decades as I put into context how fast development has moved with Internet and Web development just since 2000.

So I sent him this GE mobile phone commercial of a bag cell phone for $379 as a compare-n-contrast to the iPhone he whips out whenever we meet (his is “superior” to mine since it’s hacked, he says) and he laughed and told me it did make him stop and think about just how slow..and how fast….cell development has occurred.


What it takes to “get it”

We all have a left-brain analytical side and a right-brain (the reality is a bit different…but the premise is sound), and if you can figure out how to fully engage the brain, someone’s emotions, and look at what you offer to people from their point of view and incentives, you’ll be wildly successful or, as author and blogger Kathy Sierra discusses in her blog, you’ll at least be “Creating Passionate Users“. 

It’s ironic that I’ve read Kathy’s blog, one of her books, and seen her speak at conferences and it wasn’t until I just watched the video interview below with her explaining the subtleties and nuances of her thinking and approach, did I finally “get it” and understand the essence of her value proposition.

This proves part of her point on how to engage a person and it’s NOT just text on a blog page or a few images or graphics supporting it. For visual learners like many of us, if our visual, auditory and kinesthetic styles are engaged, we’re fully learning and are 100% absorbed (and I could go off on a tangent about the power of gaming, in-game feedback and game theory, but not now).

Here’s a personal example: when watching a video on my computer, I’ll collapse the browser window with the video running in it, open another and search or view sites which are sparked by the content of the video. This multi-modality use of the Internet is PERFECT for the way my associative, connecting-the-dots brain works, but most people are wired this way to some degree which is why I said in this post, “My friends, this is the future of television…“.

In a day of limited attention spans and massive amounts of content choices, figuring out how to entice, engage, empower, delight and add significant value — as well as deliver a path for people to stay with you for the long term and continue to learn and grow with you or your company — is a powerful method for creating passionate users who are willing to enter a high value, high attentive and sustained relationship with you instead of one or a handful of lower value transactions.

If you just look at that last paragraph on the surface, doesn’t a relationship sound a lot better (and more lucrative) than a transaction?

Tim O’Reilly just posted a video for his Tools of Change for Publishing conference since Kathy couldn’t attend. Find 30 minutes to watch it and then go hang out at Kathy’s blog. Embracing these concepts will shift your thinking and perspective on how you’re either creating passionate users or creating single, or a series of single, lower value transactions.


Why newspapers need blog networks

In the last week my wife and I made, what is for us (a couple of voracious readers) a monumental decision: we’re not renewing the New York Times Sunday edition nor The Wall Street Journal after getting both for 15-20 years.

We’ll keep the daily Minneapolis StarTribune if only to stay appraised of local issues, but I know our tiny decision will affect the livelihood of workers for those papers as evidenced by yesterday’s announcement the New York Times is laying off 100 people in their newsroom.

We’re not alone in finding less value in ink on dead trees than we do from our newsreaders and the web sites we frequent. This is happening all over the US as you can see from the New York Times chart from this article, “More Readers Trading Newspapers for Web Sites.”

The circulation declines of American newspapers continued over the spring and summer, as sales across the industry fell almost 3 percent compared with the year before, according to figures released yesterday.

The drop, reported by the Audit Bureau of Circulations, reflects the growing shift of readers to the Internet, where newspaper readership has climbed, and also a strategy by many major papers to shed unprofitable or marginally profitable print circulation.

It’s not just readers that are defecting…it’s classified ad submitters who began to flee long ago. Dubbed the “newspaper killer” because of the ads historically placed in newspapers and now done free or for extremely low cost, Craigslist is the first place most under 40 people I know turn first.

When I asked my 19 year old daughter why she didn’t use the newspaper to look at the ads she explained, “You can’t search the paper and the information is old. Dad…it’s the same reason you use Yahoo Finance or Schwab online to look up stock stuff instead of gazing at all those tiny numbers in the paper THE NEXT DAY.”

You had me at “search” honey.

But many people, including me, see a solution to the downtrending of newspapers.  I just discovered another thought leader, Scott Karp at Publishing 2.0, discussed this same thing last summer (Should Newspapers Become Local Blog Networks?).

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Strategic Blogging

Act Like a Professional

Thought this cartoon was humorous since too many leaders chuckle at the notion of blogging. When someone like me positions blogging as “strategic”, I end up having to use all my persuasion skills to convince them it is so.

It helps when IBM (who, in 2005, encouraged all 320,000 employees to blog), Nike, McDonald’s, GM, GE, Wells Fargo and many other major corporations blog. As companies see innovators and leaders (usually some company other than their own) embrace and obtain quantifiable results from internal, customer service, leadership, product management and other blogs (which also end up getting attention and material traction with an increasingly online constituency), they’re convinced.

Getting leaders to do it, not have someone ghost write it, or just put one up without real investment and energy in a result, typically fails. Any of us out here with even modest savvy see right through a blog that is not authentic, delivered in a real human voice, or delivered with content that isn’t “vanilla” or watered-down words.

Blog poorly or become a professional booger…it’ll have about the same impact.


Attention at the Atlanta Airport

With a couple of hours to spare when I arrived at the “world’s busiest airport”, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International, I headed through security and down to take the tram the nearly 3/4ths of a mile to my concourse when a surprise realization hit me that had to do with attention in the airport and attention to social media.

It turned out to be my good fortune that the tram was stuck temporarily and people stopped waiting and began to walk…by the hundreds…and so did I. As I moved down the aisle between the moving walkways I came upon some of the most spectacular stone sculpture I’ve ever seen.

Created by artists from the African nation of Zimbabwe, it was, at times, emotional to view them. An example is the photo of one you see at the lower left which is representative of dying-of-AIDS parents with the symbolic child clinging to them. If you’re aware of the horrific HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa and the millions of orphans being left behind, you couldn’t look at this sculpture without feeling its power and how evocative it is of the crisis…and think of those little spirits left behind and alone.

What I understood but still found curious, is that of the hundreds of people moving past these sculptures roughly six of us took any time to view them and most paid no attention (of course, people had flights to catch and were in a hurry but I had the time to wander).

Since I’d just completed a talk that morning on social media for all of the business unit leaders of a large private corporation’s strategic conference — a talk where attention, continuous partial attention, and the participation culture were key themes — my observation of people not having the time nor interest in paying attention to sculpture so atypical, hard to ignore, emotionally moving and just plain gorgeous, caused me to ponder the parallels as I continued moving toward my gate.

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Economic Effect on Tech

If you have a job, retirement assets, are looking to spend or invest in anything, or have a company that relies on discretionary consumer spending (or a Web startup that is dependent on equally volatile discretionary ad spending), then listen up.

Woke up this morning to this article in the Minneapolis StarTribune entitled, “Retailers Hit 40-Year Low” which said in part, “On Thursday, the nation’s retailers turned in their worst January in almost four decades, as high fuel and food prices, a slumping housing market, tighter credit and a tougher job market pushed consumers to the edge.

It’s no wonder that Apple cut its production of (what is mostly) discretionary purchases. From that StarTribune article, “Wal-Mart Stores Inc. says that its shoppers are redeeming their holiday gift cards for basic items — pasta sauce, diapers, laundry detergent — instead of iPods or DVDs.

But it gets worse than consumers buying staples instead of tech.

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