Thursday, October 27, 2005

Reasonable Return on Effort

Anil's post about the reward for building and "flipping" companies these days really resonates with some of my ideas about how simple, useful tools are now being built rather than the flashes-in-the-pan from the Go-Go Bubble.

People are reasonably getting rewarded for building something, but rather than making VC's rich, they are allowing themselves to be absorbed by larger companies (somewhat similar to Kodacell in Themepunks).

My favorite part comes in the comment by David Nemesis:
As far as I'm aware nobody who's hit it big because of Web 2.0 has quit their day job, but a number of their day jobs are now being acquired or subsidized by BigCos, and the end result will be a healthier, more innovative Web regardless of whether it's tagged or Google Mapped or built with agile development practices. That's pretty exciting.

This indicates that big companies are providing the infrastructure and support for interesting tools, rather than building up a new team to do the same thing as that tiny, new organization. Seems to me like everybody wins in this situation - at least for a time.

The Purpose-driven Life

Dan Pink is happy to report that people are slowly realizing that wealth and more possessions are not making them happy.

This desire for fulfillment is a great thing, certainly, but what he does not address is that the constant forces of more information and more technology also threaten people's ability to judge what would make them happy - let alone whether they are fulfilled or not.

Things like email and RSS feeds and podcasts and broadband are really wonderful additions to our connectedness.

As an IA, however, I'm starting to wonder how people can actually process all of this information effectively, to find a place where the information flows through them rather than at them - they can retain what they need and let go of the rest.

This is one reason I personally like, Furl, and Google Reader so much - they allow me to view information in my stream and come back later to delve into detail or see the bigger picture.

Those of us that work on technology have an opportunity to help our customers build this type of simplicity into everything that they use. At some point, I hope that organizations will start to see that both employees and customers deserve this care and feeding - it will benefit everyone involved.

I wonder if we even realize this yet.

Thanks to Mark Hurst for posting the Wharton article link.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Web 2.0: Getting the Mix Right

Yes, the Web is about people. It always has been. And, technology is involved, certainly.

When we began to work on the platform we lost sight of this fact, blinded by cold, hard cash and over-reliance on technology without any thought to it's usefulness to people. Fortunately, the cash wasn't endless, so we've been asked to be somewhat more practical.

With Web "2.0," we're just getting the mix right. At first we struggled with this new medium. Now, we're better at balancing on the tipping point. Taking the complex and making it as simple as possible.
  • Less big bang launches vs. More test-and-learn
  • Less solve all of your problems vs. More satisfy a single task
  • Less marketing flash vs. More word-of-mouth
  • Less words vs. More action
  • Less refreshing vs. More interacting
Peter's great new (and old) post alludes to the problem that I discussed here. I'm now refining my idea about what Jensen said.
"The universal problem seems to be how hard people have to work just to figure out what to do."
from Simplicity: The New Competitive Advantage in a World of More, Better, Faster by Bill Jensen

People actually know more of what they want to accomplish than might be apparent from watching them use the tools provided them. However, technology has filled our lives with tasks that have no impact on our goals and given us the "power" to generate tasks and information for each other.

Many technologies (e.g. Microsoft Office, CRM suites, etc.) generally have been built to levels higher than a task (a set of tasks for a person or organization). In order to do so, they had to standardize a persona or put in all features that all their various customers could use.

Still, that does not address the goals that engage people in the technology. Consider it at the level of inanity akin to hearing a mobile phone conversation absolutely void of any content.

1: "Hey."
2: "How you doin?"
1: "Cool. Where are you?"
2: "Home."
1: "Already? Nice!"
2: "Ok, talk to you tomorrow."
1. "Later."
2: "Bye."

The intent of this conversations is to be connected, to remind people that we are thinking about them. We're better served by solving simple tasks with technology - collecting data/information, creating new content, getting a picture of our overall progress on various goals.

As often discussed in usability or design conversations, we need to remember what people are actually trying to do and enable them to do so most effectively. With Web 2.0, we are actually showing how this might work.

I see the necessity of renaming the Web to Web 2.0 so we can distance people from history, and happy about the hope that this new outlook engenders. We're here to show other people that this is about listening and observing, not talking and controlling.

Go Web 2.0!

Thursday, October 06, 2005


The Podcast is not merely a "broad"cast medium. It can also a connect us and provide context otherwise unavailable.

One interesting way this plays out is in's "Unauthorized" Audio Tours. The first is for the MOMA. Yes, it's 11 mp3s. But, it's a big museum. I like the idea that at the least this is another perspective on the MOMAs collection. Makes the museum new to me even if I've been before.

I wonder what other similar applications this might have. Tours of San Francisco from the F Market? Weekly podcasts of the goings on in Chicago from people in-the-know? Freshman "initiation" at Colorado State?

Monday, October 03, 2005

Arc of the Organization

Cory Doctorow has been posting the first few chapters of his new novella, Themepunks, on The premise of the novella presents some very interesting thoughts on what could happen as large, "legacy" organizations start to find new ways to survive. In the book, Kodak and Duracell merge into Kodacell.
Capitalism is eating itself. The market works, and when it works, it commodifies or obsoletes everything. That's not to say that there's no money out there to be had, but the money won't come from a single, monolithic product line. The days of companies with names like 'General Electric' and 'General Mills' and 'General Motors' are over. The money on the table is like krill: a billion little entrepreneurial opportunities that can be discovered and exploited by smart, creative people.

Instead of selling off the pieces and going home, the new owners end the production of the companies products and become an incubator of sorts. Using the physical plant, infrastructure, and relationships of the larger organization, they enable small entrepreneurial ideas to come to market. Think of it as a mix of microlending, small-time venture capital, and contract manufacturing.
We will explore and exhaust the realm of commercial opportunities, and seek constantly to refine our tactics to mine those opportunities, and the krill will strain through our mighty maw and fill our hungry belly. This company isn't a company anymore: this company is a network, an approach, a sensibility.
from Themepunks, Chapter 1 by Cory Doctorow, September 12, 2005

After several years swimming in the pool of corporate life, I'm amazed at how much of our lives are spent trying to control things. Peter has rightly extolled us to let go, and we are trying to. Think of how difficult it is to do this for yourself, then extrapolate that out to an organization of 10,000 people. Maybe we can then see how crazy it must feel to the vast majority of organizations and institutions.
"I'll tell you, there's a downside to living in this age of wonders: we are moving too fast and outstripping the ability of our institutions to keep pace with the changes in the world."
from Themepunks, Chapter 1 by Cory Doctorow, September 12, 2005

I shudder to think what will happen if we don't find a way to remake large organizations before more limber and hungry ones siphoned away demand for their goods and services. Utilizing the infrastructure as throughput for others seems as good an idea as any I've heard.

Looking for some idea of changing organizations a few years ago, I stumbled on the Newfield Network and CIIS. Both teach "transformational learning" to address people's lack of meaning in work and encourage leadership in the community. The New Age bent and impressive expense waved me off during that lean time.

The cluetrain manifesto echoed some of these principles with a more practical, less mystical overlay.

Diving back to the corporate world rekindled my examination of the strange methods, hierarchies, and communications. Seeing cluetrain's promise of conversation playing out now with the new developments in technology, I'm hopeful to see that we see some movement in the larger organizations.

GE's Ecomagination and BP have both been touting their refocusing in the mass media. It's easy to dismiss their messages as corporate PR bunk, but I prefer to accept them, albeit skeptically, for the time being. At some level (subconscious, perhaps?), corporate executives must have some clue that the hierarchical organization is fast becoming a relic.

The new organization will be that conversation from cluetrain - at some level, in some way we can't yet visualize. As Doctorow reflects these ideas back in Themepunks, he's trying to tell corporate citizens not to be afraid, but to help your company embrace what's happening before obsolescence claims it.

Focal Points

I like these two quotes, as they remind me that we're seeing a convergence of opportunity with wisdom. Information is no longer in control of the few. The transmission is not perfect, but it's there, and the work we're doing is focusing the picture... every so slightly... every day a bit clearer.
To rip off what rock critic Jon Landau once said about Bruce Springsteen: I’ve seen the future of business, and it’s The Cluetrain Manifesto. At first you may be tempted to hide this book inside the dust jacket for or something equally conventional. But in time you’ll see the book spreading. It will become acceptable, if never entirely accepted. It will certainly become essential. Why am I so sure? Because like nothing else out there, it shows us how to grasp the human side of business and technology, and being human, try as we might, is the only fate from which we can never escape.

Thomas Petzinger, Jr. from the foreward of the cluetrain manifesto, 1999

Invention inspires invention. Ideas are collapsing into each other, recombining, and having powerful effects. The Internet has always been a medium for democratization, and by reconnecting with our idealism we’re once again uncovering its poetry, nobility, and transformative power.

If you’re not yet amazed, inspired, and a little anxious, you might want to consider it. Then get a good night’s sleep and perhaps take a rejuvenating vacation. We’re going to look back at Spring 2005 as a milestone. Watch closely, ladies and gentlemen. Things are about to change in a very big way.

Janice Fraser of Adaptive Path, from her essay, "It's a Whole New Internet", April 2005