Are we in the midst of the internet revolution?

As a lay student of history, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it must’ve been like as the world shifted from an agrarian, farm-based economy — with most people living on farms — to a mechanized, industrial one in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s when people migrated to cities and to jobs in factories and offices.

According to Wikipedia, “The industrial revolution brought about various shifts in agriculture, manufacturing, and transportation, which had a profound effect on the socioeconomic and cultural conditions in Britain. The changes subsequently spread throughout Europe and North America and eventually the world, a process that continues today as industrialisation.

The onset of the Industrial Revolution marked a major turning point in human society; almost every aspect of daily life was eventually influenced in some way.

Think about the pain and angst people felt as their kids left home for the city, children labored in factories, wages were low and conditions horrendous, and how much time it took for some sort of equilibrium to occur. It took many decades.

I would argue that we’re right in the midst of an internet and cleantech revolution that’s just begun and is influencing almost every aspect of daily life right now. As Bruce Sterling so famously said, “The future is here. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.

The internet, and my business, personal and learning use of it, has fundamentally changed my life and those around me. The same could be said for many others I know. Of course, then there are those in my life that don’t even have computers, or use their mobile phones for voice only. It will take years (decades?) for the future internet to get evenly distributed, though I predict it’s going to happen far faster than anything that’s come before.

Relying on Applications in the ‘Cloud’

If you have been a Twitter user for any length of time, you won’t be surprised that Twitter is down right now for the umpteenth time this year.

In a recent presentation and ideation with a client, one of the company functional area leaders leapt in with this question: “Twitter is getting so much buzz in BusinessWeek and on blogs, is this something we should make key to our social media strategy?

I did a bit of a humma-humma and ultimately advised them to have an account, begin to participate, watch it (especially for their brand mentions), but make it very peripheral to the rest of their strategies since the service simply isn’t reliable. Many people I know are slowly moving off of it as the ongoing service interruptions are maddening and not worth the effort.

The more time you and I invest online means we’ll actually experience periodic and lengthy outages that heretofore only the hardcore users would. With Amazon’s S3 storage outage taking down Web 2.0 sites that relied upon them, Apple’s botched launch of MobileMe (which now is running perfectly, I might add), Gmail‘s periodic (but quickly repaired) outages, to my own experiences with MediaTemple whom I rely upon to serve a dozen sites, relying upon applications in the cloud that fail is making many of us skittish.

Once per quarter for the last 11 quarters I’ve invested some time each day to look at every one of the “Web 2.0” applications in the cloud off of lists like this one.  I’ve learned that many with an appearance of a strong value proposition, solid and scalable technology, are in the deadpool or been acquired.

Will this cause you or I to eschew apps running over the internet? Nah. I know that I’ll continue to invest more and more of my participation and functionality on the ‘net since it’s just simply too useful…especially with my mobility demanding constant access to my data. You’re probably like that as well, especially if you’re a member of the smartphone club.

Choose wisely though. Don’t overinvest or map mission-critical processes to applications in the cloud that you’re not certain will function, scale or be acquired in the near term. I know that’s hard to do, but it’s also why the big-get-bigger since they have the resources to keep our fear at bay and ensure apps will run.

Minnov8: My Other Blog

This blog has been my primary vehicle for thoughts surrounding anything internet, web, technology, and I’ve loved all the energy and time I’ve invested in it. Over the last few weeks, I’ve had several folks ping me on my apparent reduction in post frequency, and I thought a quick note on why was in order.

Though my first love is Connecting the Dots, I’m “having an affair” with another: Minnov8, a blog started by myself and four other geeks and one dedicated to Minnesota Innovation in Internet & Web Technology.

Born and raised in Minnesota — though with three years living in Chicago and most of my other jobs requiring extensive out of state travel over the years — I’m still fully invested here raising my family, staying involved with extended family, and enjoying my lifelong and new friendships.

Silicon Valley is the epicenter of technology and I’m constantly struck by the events, meetups, unconferences and other thought leader gatherings I would attend if I lived out there. I’ve been tempted on a couple of occasions to pack up and move out there (and my bride would be delighted as would my videogame and technoweenie 13 year old son), but there is too much holding us here. We have a business that’s 21 years old, several key clients and contacts placing us one or two degrees of separation from just about anyone in Minnesota.

Agitated that I had to connect with others outside of Minnesota in order to push against the membrane of the future to explore new ideas and possibilities, I found myself in a group of guys at MinneDemo, a gathering of startups, entrepreneurs, and interested others, lamenting the fact that there wasn’t a publication we could read to stay on top of the twice yearly connection received at this event.

Saying, “Well, maybe we should start a blog?” and having affirmative head nods from my colleagues, we started Minnov8 in February. Built on WordPress, we know that the next step is to add a participative aspect to the site, but we have no business model, sponsorships or other revenue streams (done so intentionally) and we’re realizing now that none of us can devote the time necessary to Minnov8 without some way of having an economic incentive to compensate for time not invested in our other pursuits. Building upon a white label social network, Drupal or some other platform would require time, effort, energy and/or investment that we’re figuring out how to make and it’s not obvious.

So that’s why I’m infrequently posting as well as the order of my priorities: Family is first; clients second; our business third; and then comes blogging, podcasting and other ‘net-centric pursuits. If you have any ideas or suggestions, let me know!

Minnov8: Showcasing Minnesota Innovation in Internet & Web Technology

If you’re out in the Bay area or on the other coast in New York or Boston, it’s pretty easy to be smug about your culture of risk-taking, pool of top talent, and strings of successful, world-changing innovations. But as the world continues its acceleration to one that’s increasingly connected and ways of collaborating make distance irrelevant, smart people will pop up everywhere and I’m convinced we’ll see a flattening of the geographic advantages these pockets of innovation represent.

Six of us were bugged that there was so much going on in Internet and Web technology innovation right here in Minnesota, that when I suggested we start our own blog to showcase that innovation, there were nods of agreement and a willingness to dive in and make it real.

The biggest reason we were all interested in this blog is that these showcases and interviews are what we wanted to read and there wasn’t anything like it out there.

The result is Minnov8: Minnesota Innovation in Internet & Web Technology. This past weekend was the biggest Barcamp yet, Minnebar, and over 400 people showed up to present, learn and participate. Rather than recreate everything on this blog, why not take a peek at Minnov8? This and this post are ones that will recap what took place.

Wherever you live and whatever space you care about (e.g., technology, education, greentech, etc.) and where there are a critical mass of people willing to leap in and work together as multiple authors, I’d encourage you to start one of these…it’s pretty simple to do and fun to boot.

Wells Fargo: Doing the right thing…and the smart one too

Debra Rossi

After my adventure with Wells Fargo the last couple of days, I was pleased to discover this morning that they’d fulfilled the account reinstatement from their mistake and we are back in business online. What I hadn’t expected was a call today from Wells Fargo Executive Vice President, Debra Rossi, who is the Head of Merchant Payment Solutions.

She apologized, made no excuses, told me about their recognition of the fundamental breakdown of their normal process (to call the customer before canceling them!), asked what she could do to make us whole, listened to me without interrupting and engaged conversationally while ending with her direct phone number in case I have any issues going forward. Tough to invest this kind of time when you’re running a major part of the Wells Fargo $573B business and undoubtedly have pressing matters piling up.

Ms. Rossi will also be supplying us with a letter of apology.

This call went a long way toward making up for the frustrating adventure and embarrassing shut down of our ecommerce, and now gives us the opportunity to communicate with our offended customers (those we know about anyway) so they don’t think we’re no longer reputable or somehow can’t handle Web commerce.

What was enlightening as well was this: my posting, her reaction and action, and a successful resolution (and, I’m certain, lots of awareness within the company so this doesn’t happen again to someone else) is a great example of social media and conversational marketing in action.

Though polite queries from Ms. Rossi and others yesterday about my original post were offered as being curious in nature, the implication was now that this matter was resolved would I take it down or what was my intention?  Today’s social and new media — and blogging basics — dictate that posts are not removed nor materially modified once published and I adhere to that philosophy and practice. It’s why I amended/updated yesterday’s post and am now writing a fresh one: to detail their action, call out and laud them for it, and to be transparent, but I’m compelled to leave the post up as-is.

Lastly, I always encourage my clients to do exactly what Ms. Rossi did: don’t let things fester as they’ll become infected like what happened to Dell Computer (remember “Dell Hell“?) and the PR disaster that rained down upon them…from which, one could argue, they’re still not fully healed.

Ms. Rossi did the right thing…and the smart one too.

The Cognitive Age: Why Social Media Matters

Our economy is down, gas prices are up, jobs are being lost and outsourced, we’re at ‘war’ with possible escalation (e.g., attacking Iran), and there is tremendous uncertainty in nearly every industry being disrupted in some way by the connecting of the globe and the increasing influence of the Internet.

Let me submit for your consideration that the impact of social media — technologies, software and approaches connecting any of us willing to participate with them online — is pointing the way toward new systems and behaviors that will enable us all to move higher up the value chain as we learn how, together, we can create and deliver what the world needs in new and innovative ways.

One of the best op-ed pieces I’ve read in some time, The Cognitive Age, was published in the New York Times on Friday by David Brooks.

In this piece he’s putting globalization in context in this election cycle, which is chiefly on competition with other countries and the policies of government that ostensibly is accelerating job loss in the US. Brooks puts forth this premise which bears emphasis:

“The chief force reshaping manufacturing is technological change (hastened by competition with other companies in Canada, Germany or down the street). Thanks to innovation, manufacturing productivity has doubled over two decades. Employers now require fewer but more highly skilled workers. Technological change affects China just as it does the America. William Overholt of the RAND Corporation has noted that between 1994 and 2004 the Chinese shed 25 million manufacturing jobs, 10 times more than the U.S.

Then he outlines his central argument which, I should add, I completely agree with:

“The central process driving this is not globalization. It’s the skills revolution. We’re moving into a more demanding cognitive age. In order to thrive, people are compelled to become better at absorbing, processing and combining information. This is happening in localized and globalized sectors, and it would be happening even if you tore up every free trade deal ever inked.”

What does this have to do with social media and why does that category of technology matter?

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“No such thing as bad press” in the blogosphere

Shel Israel & his nemesis Loren Feldman

My bride is out of town so I feel less guilty about spending significant “face time” in front of my computer poking around exploring on the ‘net and I just got done reading up on, and watching videos about, the cat fight between Shel Israel and Loren Feldman.

Though you can start with this post as the culmination of what’s happening between the two of them, don’t spend a lot of time on it as it doesn’t matter in the scheme of life. What does matter about this little clash — and is perhaps a life lesson about being a player in the game of life vs. a critic or someone in the stands having a hot dog and a beer while the action goes on — is that Israel is adding value to the world and Feldman is riding that value’s coattails as I’ll explain below.

My first exposure to Israel was the book he penned called, “Naked Conversations” along with Robert Scoble. It was the first substantive book about the communications shift occurring that is partially being driven by the blogging phenomena. The core elements of blogging were discussed (transparency being the key one) along with numerous use-cases of blogging within companies that has proven useful ongoing.

Even though I skim 1,500+ articles per day in my feed reader, watch many videos and listen to podcasts, I have so much new media to consume on a daily basis I just couldn’t get in to Israel and Scoble’s new adventure, (besides, I’m a little weary of Scoble’s goofin’ on technology without focusing on its meaning and why it matters, and simply didn’t think Israel would have a lot of new and worthwhile value to add). Read More

Why pay for software in a day of open source?

You may have noticed the highly visible online argument going on between SixApart‘s Anil Dash and WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg. It escalated today when Matt continued the “open source vs. paid” debate (which is really open source ecosystem energy vs. a perceived slow-to-move commercial vendor positioning against open source).

This is amazingly healthy in my view and the competition for the hearts-n-minds of bloggers clearly is driving SixApart to build and deliver better and more robust services (and I’ve been waiting for them!).

I’d reframe this debate like this however: why should you pay for software in a day when open source is free and the ecosystem surrounding the successful projects is immense?

When I made my decision to begin blogging in earnest in 2004, there was only one vendor I was willing to bet my blogging on: SixApart’s Typepad hosting. Though I can easily install, run and maintain numerous types of open source packages (and could’ve with Movable Type, the software at the root of Typepad), I knew myself well enough and that I’d be twiddling bits instead of writing content if I used the then fairly immature WordPress. Typepad looked like a sure bet and had the momentum so that was my choice.

Even though I’ve been at the enterprise software level with Vignette and Lawson Software in leadership positions, for some clients I’ve chosen Joomla, Drupal and even used WordPress as a low-end content management engine. But when it comes to betting your business or a new initiative on a new category, it’s imperative there’s someone or some organization available to ensure a successful outcome with the software used.

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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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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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