Friday, March 24, 2006

The Little Prince: 60th anniversary of the French version

Lirehs3_bigFrench magazine Lire has an exceptional issue dedicated to The Little Prince, a book I personally consider as a wonderful creation that is full of resources for a wide variety of contexts (education, personal development, business, politics...) and for all stages of human life. It's well worth getting it if you speak the language.
I found it interesting to learn how New York welcomed Saint-Exupéry as an acknowledged writer when the French literary circles of Paris in the thirties were quite disdainful of him because he was seen as an airpilot who would occasionally write, i.e. not a "real" writer. He was not "pure" enough in short. Perhaps a proof that the quest for "purity" was not exclusively an attribute of nazis and fascists... Also an interesting perspective on the rigidities of France which are by not means new and had already caused the country to be in deep decline right after WWII.

If only The Little Prince was to inspire the Prince in our countries and organizations...

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Europe's pains

After a couple of great weeks under the sun, I took the plane to return home and resume work on the exciting projects I am involved in. So I read the newspapers to get some info about what is up over here and I am stunned at the mess in which France is these days. Actually this gives me more food for thought as I have been wondering about Europe's future since last year's fiasco with the European Constitution.

I feel sad about it because I grew up very close to the French culture. It seems so difficult to do things differently there, to try new policies and to move ahead. The French people always disagree and systematically refuse to follow reforms that an elected government decides. I don't necessarily like what the current government does, nor the methods they are using to force new legislation without prior debate on the pretense that there is a "crisis situation" or an "emergency" (it's a bit like the concentration of power in the executive branch in the US under the current President). But still, this is the policy they want to conduct and they were elected to govern the country. Unless the representative democracy is no longer as representative as we assume it to be, in which case we are headed for some pretty spectacular events in France.

In fact I believe the issue of how modern democracy works (not) is something we need to deal with at European level too. In Europe the imbalance between demands for more rights (or the protection of rights we can no longer afford) and firm rejection of obligations is probably one of the biggest threats for the continent's future. As is the tendency of politicians to justify what does not work by blaming Brussels and to conveniently forget the multiple benefits their countries are actually getting from the EU. In fact, that drives me nuts because Europe actually has a model of development and civilisation to offer as an example for the world:

  1. individual liberties better guaranteed than anywhere else in the world

  2. welfare and protection systems way stronger than in most developed countries

  3. ambitious programmes of public infrastructure making Eastern European countries more prosperous

  4. a commitment to protect the environment second to none on the planet

  5. education systems that provide good basic education to a majority of the population in a better way than in most developed countries

  6. peaceful and stable economic development for over 60 years and a positive influence on geopolitical stability in Central and Eastern Europe, as well as in the Middle-East

So why the heck is Europe in such a mess? Perhaps it is time for European leaders to read and get some inspiration from Rifkin's book "The European Dream". And by the way, perhaps the statistical tools we are using to measure development do not adequately reflect human development: for example sales of guns in the US are accounted for in the country's GDP, but I doubt they contribute to human development or human well-being.

In the mean time, China and India keep growing...

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Walt Disney in the French West Indies

I am currently on holiday in the French Wrest Indies (Martinique). Lovely place and a great break as the European winter draws to a very cold close. When I left home last Monday there was snow on the cars and a few hours later I was enjoying 28°C. But it seems that interesting things to report never cease. The place where I am staying (Domaine de Robinson at Anse Noire) is a little corner of paradise managed by a couple that has a fun way of creating stuff together. Last September they stopped operating the restaurant they had and focused only on renting bungalows and rooms. So they transformed the kitchen into rooms and they did that in quite a fun way since the concept was to have the rooms be like a continuation of the beach (the sea is literally 50 m from my doorstep and that's super cool for a morning swim). I will post a few pictures on Flickr when I get back home, but the floor of thr rooms is made of glass tiles containing sand and the shower is made in wood... The concept was his and he also actually built the rooms. But the evaluation of the concept and the critical assessment of feasibility was hers. Now, the fun part is that in the way they worked (and I was lucky enough or curious enough to be told), they seem to have applied a model that is very close to the model of Walt Disney created by Robert Dilts:

  1. Walt the dreaming visionary would come up with the idea of what to develop, the grand concept of the story that could be the next success

  2. then, Walt the realist would assess the ideas for feasibility, questioning how something would actually be built and realize a sample of it

  3. finally, Walt the critic would review the creation of the realist to assess it for commercial viability and to identify areas of improvement

It's a powerful model presented very summarily here. How does it apply at Domaine Robinson? Well, Claude came up with the concept of rooms-as-a-continuation-of-the-beach and Vivianne identified limitations for realizing the concept. In that design cycle, Claude was the dreamer when presenting the concept to Vivianne and also the realist when discussing with Vivianne how the concept could be realized. Then Vivianne would prompt Claude to go further in the realist mode and say how he would make the whole thing come true. She would then switch to the critic mode to identify what was missing from Claude's answer, which would drive them both into another design round, until they were reasonably certain of feasibility and he would get down to do the work. The result is superb.

It may just be my frame of mind, but I found it quite fun that they would reproduce a method that led to the rise of a mega empire of entertainment to create their little corner of paradise that is definitely worth visiting.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Long-tail dynamics and the music industry

20060226_iphoto_longtail_2Thinking about the practical implications of the long-tail dynamics outlined in a previous post, I recalled an initiative of incumbents in the music business in France. That was late January and it was triggered by the fact that French Parliament chose to confirm the right to have copies for private use and to consider peer-to-peer systems as valid ways for users to have legal copies. To compensate authors and composers, they created a flat tax on all broadband Internet connections...

In its weekly publication Epok dated 20-26 January 2006, French retailer of cultural goods (music, books, concert tickets, DVD…) made public the figures of cost to bring to market a CD of Thomas Fersen. That was to justify the price of a CD... Very interesting figures.

On a total investment of slightly over 554000 €, traditional marketing initiatives (TV advertising, billboard, print ads, other marketing communications) claim about 220000 €. The production of physical media (CD, DVD…) required in the traditional industry to distribute content cost about 150000€. None of these cash outflows is necessary in a long-tail model for the music industry.

In this case, the investment required to have that artist's new songs distributed digitally by using a long-tail model would have been lower by over 350000€. That saves about 60% of the investment, which gives ample marging to imrpove the deal for the artist and to bring music to market at a lower cost such that illegal copies would be insufficiently attractive (to be confirmed). Of course, there is one slight little problem: if we went for the long-tail model, that would leave quite a few intermediaries out of the loop... Tough life.

Now this is one of the reasons why I think Jamendo can make a significant impact on the music industry: they lower the cost of distribution of music by applying the principles of web 2.0 and by respecting the dynamics of the long-tail.

Wednesday, March 8, 2006

So what's the long tail really about?

20060226_iphoto_longtail_1 Over the past couple of years there's been a lot of interesting work to study the effects of an inclusion of economic agents previously left out of specific industries. This set of people who were previously out of the loop is actually a very large group now described as "the long tail". While this echoes my views about the influence of masses of people in today's world, I was wondering whether the long tail is simply another way of naming the mass market: how is the "long tail" different? what sets it apart from traditional forms of retail markets? In fact, I believe that the single most important effect of infotech and the landmark achievement of the Information Age is precisely the inclusion of people who previously had no significant way of  influencing the larger system through their individual actions. That has fascinating implications for open business.

A lot of interesting content and an explanation of the name given to the long tail can be found on a blog dedicated to the long tail phenomenon. It is one of the sources of information I used to educate myself and understand what long tail is all about. Some of my conclusions may echo what is already published on that site and on the Internet; where I have identified such inspirations I will explicitly acknowledge them, else the acknowledgement is implicitly made here.

While I discovered only recently this notion and associated business models that have been floating around on the web, I initially felt reluctant to simply adopting new terminology without probing further into what it refers to exactly. You see I still remember the jabber about the need for a "new economy" back in the late nineties and it eventually turned out that economic theory had sufficient resources to describe what was going on in the information economy. As Hal Varian showed, the classical economic theories were perfectly able to describe and analyze the "network effect", only they called it "network externalities"... And of course, the tools developed by economists of the 20th century that should be used to speak about the networked economy were often "hidden" in footnotes in our textbooks at university of at the business school. The mainstream stuff that was taught was taken by many of us (myself included) as absolute "truths" and I must say I may have not paid sufficient attention to the prerequisites for applying a given economic model. It is much later that I read Hal Varian's and Jospeh Stiglitz's books, only to discover alternative ways of looking at the economy that were deeply rooted into traditional economic theory.

Initially I believed the "long-tail" was just another name for the retail market. Then I realized that there was more to it because of the impact of infotech on the structure and dynamics of business. Technology empowers the masses and gives them access to previously exclusive categories of goods and services: today everybody
can publish thought to reach anyone else on the planet, everybody can
produce music, start-ups like Skype and Jajah can deliver value-adding telephony services... These are not the exclusive hunting ground for large corporation with deep pockets (and I actually have some reservations as to the relevance of large organizational corporate structures in a networked economy, but that is beyond the scope of this post). Examples of long-tail phenomena:

  • an author no longer needs the approval of an editor and a publisher to have their texts delivered online to whoever wishes to read them. She can do that using Typepad, Blogger, Bloglines, Jotspot or any other publishing tool (depending on what the intent of publishing is).

  • a musician no longer needs to have the go-ahead from an art director working for a label to actually distribute music online without loosing their intellectual property rights. They can do that without any individual's approval using jamendo and let the listeners give them direct feedback.

  • an inventive microelectronics or microsystems engineer needs less and less of the large infrastructures of fabs or labs to prototype and even produce novel structures. The time is coming when individuals will be able to "print" pro-grade microcircuits and microstructures.

  • a journalist does not need the approval of an editor or a news agency to report events. They can do that directly on the Internet using blogs or open newspapers like Open Democracy.

  • a software engineer does not need a company or heavy infrastructure supporting a large project to assemble a first class development team and deliver top notch peer-reviewed software.

And as previously excluded individuals enter the loop, several things are happening. Firstly there is a drop in average quality of what is produced and I personally believe it is only temporary because of the learning effects of sharing content and methods with peers. Then the presence of a large number of individual agents who are able to take autonomous action and interact with their peers transforms the very nature of the system to which they participate: the system becomes near chaotic and the butterfly effect becomes effective. Finally, the incumbents react more or less violently as the new entrants put challenge them and claim a share of the activity, thus transforming the economics of the industry or the dynamics of the social and political system.

So what is the long tail all about and what sets it appart from traditional mass markets? How is the long tail a sort of "retail market revisited", a massmaket 2.0 to speak in current fad-language.

  1. volume not premium - the name of the game is to sell large quantities of goods or services carrying a small apparent ticket price (i.e. an offering packaged and priced in a way the buyer perceives as reasonable or affordable). An interesting example of this is the market for SMS on cell-phone networks: an SMS seems inexpensive because it costs only a few cents to send, but relative to the amount of data that is actually transferred it is the most expensive channel one can use at a whopping 900 € / MB sent! The same business model applies in some African countries where a consumer can buy an extra-small quantity of a good (say bread or toothpaste) at a seemingly low price, when in fact they are paying the extra-small unit and extra-high price.

  2. emergence not prescription - collective wisdom (or folly) emerges as a result of individual actions not as a consequence of deliberate design by a central authority. That is what actually makes folksonomy more powerful than taxonomy and I think folksonomy will become a major tool of knowledge and information management in business in the years to come.

  3. individuals not masses - people are empowered to participate as individuals and not required to subject themselves to organized or institutionalized groups. This dimension carries important consequences for the way politics are organized and I expect the power of parties to decline, perhaps even to shrink to the point of allowing some forms of direct democracy to take root as modern versions of the Swiss votation system or the agora of Ancient Greece.

  4. social networks not solitary wolves - the beliefs and opinions of individuals are shaped by the interactions they have with their peers and at a higher level that also means a fundamental change in the way public opinion is shaped. This aspect of the long tail makes it necessary to review traditional public relations models and methods and also influences the ways in which market research and polling are done.

  5. tribes not segments - consumers belong to active and interactive groups that have a life of their own; they are by no means inert categories and that is one of the reasons why segmentation along the lines of demographics cannot yield the desired results as shown in an article  titled "Rediscovering Market Segmentation" published in the Harvard Business Review in February 2006.

  6. peer influence not promotion - consumers are more likely to buy and use goods or services when somebody has provided recommendation rather than when the offering is pushed in their direction by traditional promotional methods. There is also evidence (research of the MIT Media Lab publication I believe but I have lost the reference) that a buyer's propensity to buy a peer-recommended good increases if the person recommending the product or service belongs to the same social group or tribe.

  7. word of mouth not ads - reputation spreads through buzz and individuals' expressed opinions, not through traditional advertising. Buzz can be created with text or fun content like for example a funny ad made available on the web (see one of my previous posts for a case). Traditional ads obey an industrial age mass logic: they are designed for broadcast not narrowcast and their impact is defined by repeated exposure. In a world of scarcity of attention such repetition is difficult to achieve and the effect of one impression is washed off very quickly by other content claiming the consumer's attention. Word of mouth uses the recommendation principle outlined above to build a lasting image for the product or service, although the image is also very vulnerable because any deviation will be noticed (the web is a space of openness and transparence) and commented.

  8. standard deviation not average - looking for an average value or a common denominator for such a large and diverse mass of individuals on deveral aspects of their behaviour in the world is very difficult if not impossible. Generally accepted truths about a tribe will not hold for long and may not even be valid for most of the tribe's members (even though the tribe is defined by shared characteristics). In fact, even if an average characteristic exists there is much more business value in identifying and finding a way to catter to characteristics that are peculiar to a small number of individuals in the tribe (I guess that tends towards the concept of segment of one that was ahead of its time although extremely insightful in my opinion).

  9. recursive not sequential - data that describes the behaviour of an individual or a group, data about the activity of a system like for example project progress tracking, must stem from the behaviour itself rather than be demanded from the user as and administrative prerequisite to provide service. For example it is way more powerful to derive relevant content for an individual by extracting intelligence from the way that individual is tagging content online rather than by asking them to choose relevant predefined categories of content on a web page. And project follow-up would seriously gain in accuracy and relevance if the project indicators emerged from the actual work performed by participants to a project rather than produced based on data specifically requested from participants sequentially (i.e. after their performance of work as planned).

I personally consider this (r)evolution to be a source of major business opportunity for people who care to seek and dare to understand. And the sources of inspiration are quite numerous fortunately: the creators or Jajah, the entrepreneurs behing jamendo, the people running OpenDemocracy, AlterNet or Agoravox, Lawrence Lessig, Joël de Rosnay...

Now, I find exciting the fact that we are dealing with a dynamic market of individual agents able to act in an autonomous and yet relational-interactive way such that emergence is a driving force shaping markets and social systems. That is because I have been researching complex adaptive systems for a while (without going too deep into the mathematics of that field) and because I have devoted ample time to the study of human psychology in the past 18 months or so. Combining the concepts of complex adaptive systems and the science of psychology is exactly the right mix to successfully develop business in this space and in this age.

Monday, March 6, 2006

The rise of the challenge

20060226_iphoto_chainofpeople_1The first world war of the information age (WW1IA) has been going on for the best part of the early 21st century. The people and organization that rose to power in the industrial age by mastering the prescriptive and centralized model of organization and communication are being challenged by the masses without formal power nor influence as individuals on the system to which they belong. The challenge is emergent and chaotic in nature. The lessons for business strategy are really interesting.

When individuals are empowered as consumers, as citizens, as creators or in any other capacity, the dynamics of the system to which they belong change radically. Each of those now empowered individuals acts as an autonomous agent that is connected to all other agents in a way that makes it possible for the decisions of each of the agents to affect and be affected by those of all other agents. Each of those agents is both a producer and a consumer of information, thoughts, content, music... It is the rise of the prosumer and the advent of a complex adaptive social system whose structure and modus operandi can no longer be determined by "authorities". There are no "authorities". Each individual is an authority whose influence is not determined by job title or position but rather by the share of attention and the following he or she is able to get. To be clear, I don't believe it is possible to manipulate the dynamics of such a system because of its near chaotic nature and because of the transparence that is characteristic of the web. When one of the participants gathers momentum it is the result of his or her ability to create a "strange attractor", a "zone of intense attention" that creates momentum for ideas, creations, causes or positions.

To me it is clear that the Internet is the single most important enabler of that near-chaotic behaviour of social systems, businesses, political parties, national debates and other phenomena involving masses of individuals who are simply given the means to participate. None of these individuals is given more than the opportunity to take part. No positions, no job titles, no perks, no trappings of power, no symbls of authority, no official authorizations... nothing, but the opportunity to make a contribution in a fair way. This is the world of truly equal opportunity. Of course, for incumbent and today's establishment this means war. Here are a few examples:

  • the French referendum about the European Constitution was a case in point of a debate between experts and empowered masses. Experts, whose arguments for voting yes were extremely limited in number at least insofar as said experts expended the minimal effort required to explain them to the people, and empowered citizens who deeply cared about the implications of the constitution for them and for their vision of their communities. I remember visiting the site of a maths teacher in southern France who had done a magnificent job at commenting specific aspects of the proposed constitution; I did not necessarily approve or like his positions, but I really admired his contribution, his motivation to share an opinion and come out in the open to defend it against "experts who knew better than the rest of us". Again, the Internet was then the primary medium for those who were against the constityution to make themselves heard, when traditional media were not impartial as they should be.

  • the interventions of the Electronic Frontier Foundation to challenge patents that may hinder innovation is an example of what happens when individuals join forces to create an entity whose power stems exclusively from the support of a large number of empowered individuals who care about digital freedom and reasonable security. Again, it is an emergent structure by its very nature, which acts to balance the actions of powerful and rich corporations willing to put as many sources of value under their exclusive or joint control.

  • the creation of Linux and the emergence of the Linux community is another example of emergence of networks of empowered (in this case connected and competent) individuals to counter the effects of excessive concentration of market power in the hands of only a couple of powerful established corporations.

  • the recent decision by Skype to strike an exclusive deal with Intel on unverified technical grounds did a lot of damage to the company's reputation and to speak in lovemark terms it somehow "breaks the hearts" of loyal supporters of the early days. That happens right at the moment when Jajah a formidable challenger is about to be market ready; and Jajah seems to have understood the principles of marketing in a webified world. When individual consumers express an opinion about the products and services of a company, the company had better listen to what the customer has to say, especially when the points are valid. There are countless examples of companies whose attitude was challenged by an emergent network of individuals, and also quite a few example of companies whose image and reputation was built by these networks of empowered individuals (it's called buzz).

Here are my points:

  1. in a connected open world there is no such thing as a poor helpless individual without influence over an issue, so there are basically no excuses for just accepting things the way they are if you are not satisfied with what you are getting. A friend of mine says that there are no people who cannot change: it is that deep inside they don't want to change either because they approve what is going happening to them or because their pain has not reached a threshold yet.

  2. in the Information Age even though information can be manipulated the artificially created image of a situation cannot hold very long: it would have taken decades in the past to discover the lies that led to war in Iraq or the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.

  3. in a society that is near chaotic in nature the elite does not have as much power as in the past to prescribe what a mass of people should think, feel, say or do about an issue.

  4. in a market of empowered networked consumers companies cannot use traditional marketing and public relations approaches to create their image and position. No individual company can fully control its image and managers need to develop skills to go with the flow and still achieve their goals.

  5. in the Information Age, no company can hope to force lock-in on consumers in a violent manner: durable lock-in is achieved by delighting customers; customer have to love the company, its products and its ways.

  6. as long as access to an open public relatively secure peer-to-peer network is secured and resources exist to help individuals acquire the skills to use the power of the network, the forces of emergence will remain active and keep challenging established players

  7. this war between emergence and prescription, between a society made of empowered individuals and a permission-based society, between agile ways and rigid procedure-driven organizations, is in fact a turning point of human civilization. Ultimately it is an excellent thing for incumbents to be challenged. The key question is how to transcend and include all these ways to prepare a world in which the opportunity to choose and choose again is given to all without limitations. That may actually be the single most important step towards durable development.


Sunday, March 5, 2006

Independence of Cyberspace?

20060305_iphoto_digitalWorking on some research for one of my most exciting projects I recently stumbled upon a document written in February 1996 by John Perry Barlow of the EFF. It actually is fascinating read and a good reminder of a positive vision of cyberspace.  A source of inspiration for those of us who feel a global information revolution is happening resulting in a fight for dominance between the incumbents and new entrants in most areas of human life.

Cyberspace can be a tremendous enabler for unleashing the creative energies of people and for tapping much better the extraordinary potential of mankind. For the first time in human history, there is a truly global infosphere that makes it possible for peope to interact and transact regardless of locations and time zones. For the first time equal opportunities are granted to such a large extent, simply by allowing participation to cyberspace. Of course the system is imperfect and one needs a level of income, time and knowledge to acces and seize the opportunities, but still it is as close as we ever came to equal opportunity.

It is now possible to analyze and understand the globe in terms of information and that is precisely why it is absolutely essential to keep the Internet open, public, neutral, peer-to-peer and managed by its community of users. That's why it is also essential to investigate the sources of information and to cross-check content used for analysis.

The question of who gathers and who chooses the information broadcasted by traditional media and by web media is an interesting one. Perhaps we need a peer-to-peer network of individuals close to the field who can physically verify and contribute proof of the occurrence and meaning of events. With a peer review system that would qualify the credibility of a source through an emergent process with no central authority to grant or refuse to any contributor the right to contribute and yet a clear indication of credibility putting the responsibility for believing whatever they want to believe on the consumers of information. That may actually be an interesting new model for a citizen driven global news organization. Not one that seeks to eradicate or replace incumbents, but rather one that complements and balances what the incumbents are communicating. A sort of people-driven virtual news corporation that could check and balance what the likes of Fox are broadcasting. I know there are a few people out there who should be tempted...

Of course, the implications of true independence of cyberspace for busines are huge. An independent and neutral cyberspace treating its cyber-citizens democratically and respectfully is a catalyst for open business. More on that in future posts.

If you want to read the declaration, follow this link. I also made a PDF version, which can be downloaded here: Download 19960208_EFF_DeclarationOfIndependenceOfCyberspace.pdf

Saturday, March 4, 2006

Jajah as My Integrated Communications Center?

200x300_07_jajahJajah is one of the most exciting new entrants I have ever seen on the market. I am thrilled by the services and since a friend told me about them I started assessing the impact Jajah could have on the market. Huge. Period. Now, the question I set out to explore is what I would ideally want from Jajah and the more I think about it, the more it takes the form of an integrated communications center with all sorts of interesting web 2.0 aspects to it. Here's my wish list...

Let me start by saying how powerful I find the concept of a fully web based service designed to allow users to cross the boundaries of communications networks without worrying about the underlying technologies.

Jajah is able to deliver on that with its first version of the service, which lets you call from your chosen number (landline or mobile) any other telephone number in the world. The enormous benefit of fully reusing existing infrastructure and consumer education is absolutely obvious. To add to the whole thing they have stellar marketing in my humble opinion.

Now, I would be interested in exploring how this web-based service allowing me to communicate seamlessly could be enhanced to the point of becoming absolutely unbeatable. What features and what design principles could really make Jajah compelling at least for the professional market? And I guess if the pricing is properly structured Jajah can also capture the consumer market, pretty much like the GSM cell-phone industry did after entering successfully the business market.

Let's start with contexts and players; here each time I use "call" it may be substituted with "chat" or "mail":

  1. one professional calling one other professional from a landline: key benefit is low cost

  2. one professional calling from a mobile phone while roaming

  3. several professionals in conference call

  4. one customer calling a service provider on a help line funded by the service provider

  5. several customers interviewed in focus groups

  6. one private individual placing a call from a landline

Now let's see what types of communication people may be using:

  1. text

  2. voice

  3. video

  4. document sharing

  5. desktop & file sharing

How about Jajah being able to support all these contexts and communication types from one web location that would be my personal communication center? And no, this is not the result of my being too exposed to the strong sun of the French West Indies, where I am still enjoying the wind and the sea on my windsurf :)

A few years back I had a dream because I was amongst those who had several phone numbers and some of them would change several times in a couple of years (project specific mobile numbers for example). The dream was that I would have a web space where my phone numbers would be automatically updated and people would only need to visit that page and click on the number on which they wanted to reach me; the communication woul dbe established directly without them worrying about any of the underlying bits and bytes... I never gave much importance to that dream. It would come back each time I had to send emails to update people about phone numbers that were no longer valid and about phone numbers that remained valid even if I moved from one country to another (I guess that's prt of the price to pay for being a "road warrior"). Now I know Jajah may finally make that dream come true which I would definitely enjoy.

Power to the People

20060304_iphoto_lorenzattractorAs Internet technologies become more and more pervasive in the so-called developed world, the behaviours of masses of people are increasingly emergent in nature. What we are now witnessing is a fight for influence and power between people and corporations who control traditional institutions and masses of connected individuals none of whom can exert sufficient influence on the system. This spells the begining of a time when power to the people becomes possible and that has enormous  implications on business, politics, society and art.

The western world was able to defeat centralized totalitarian regimes of the communist block several years ago. One of the reasons explaining why systems relying on centralized planning and authority collapsed has to do with the ability of the system to adapt to changing conditions. Centralized resource planning and a prescriptive attitude vis-à-vis the masses created bottlenecks in the operating processes of virtually all organizations under the control of those countries. That included political institutions as well as companies. In a way, the downfall of communist regimes marked the begining of a transition from the industrial model which deals with masses to the informational model which deals with smaller information producing units in the system. The dynamics of that transition were outlined in a very convincing way by Alvin Toffler in Powershift.

Now of course, one of the ironies of History is that those who helped most defeat communism and nazism (even by supporting autocratic regimes in various parts of the world and assassinating democratically elected leaders like Salvador Allendeto achieve that goal) are now creating novel types of totalitarianism... But that is beyond the scope of this post. I'll just post here a document dealing with what I see as a major violation of the principles of modern democracy that its perpetrators officially justify by a necessity of security, published recently by the Council of Europe. Download 20060228_CouncilOfEurope_Report_746631_sg-inf-_2006_.pdf

The fight between the legacy ways of the industrial age and the emergent near chaotic nature of the information age is currently raging in a number of fields of business, political, social and artisitic life. We are actually in the midst of a real war, which may be the First World War of the Information Age. While some real weapons are used in parts of the world, most of the amunition used is information and it has direct influence on the way economies, companies, countries and individuals fare. Information influences the psychological state of individuals, hence their behaviour, health and performance, which in turn defines the way larger systems function.

Information is everything and today securing access to a public, open, peer-to-peer network like the Internet is a critical objective for those who believe in true democracy (i.e. power to the people). It is also fundamental to invest heavily in providing the skills needed to navigate the cyberspace (search and cross-check information, self-protection against online threats, contribution to collaborative endeavours...) The Internet is what allows emergent social phenomena to occur and to limit the effects of organized plans of the powerful of this world to exert unchecked influence on the way the world works and the value it produces, be it economic value, social value or artistic value. The radical transformations induced by the existence of the web are analyzed in a very interesting book called La révolte du pronétariat.

That is what the whole fight for...

is all about.

This is also why I support organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Creative Commons and Public Knowledge.

Examples of the fights between prescriptive (industrial age) and emergent (information age) models with a discussion on the business implications follow in further posts.

Friday, March 3, 2006

Project management

I came across an interesting article about the four pillars of failure in (IT) project management. While I basically agree with most of what the author is saying, I would add one point. As long as the activity of tracking progress will be separate from the activity of actually performing the work, there will be deviations and therefore challenges for managing projects. Perhaps one interesting avenue would be to try to reduce the number of instances in which the reporting of progress is a separate (and additional) action from the action of performing the underlying work which justifies the progress statement. And I think that developments in the web 2.0 space provide an excellent inspiration for actually making sure that status updates result from work performed and deliverables produced. That would remove admin work from workers and at the same time provide project managers and steering committes with more accurate info.

I have no evidence stating anything about the relative performance of open source projects versus corporate projects, but I have every reason to believe open source project performance is more impressive than corporate project performance. This article is actually very interesting in that respect.

Thursday, March 2, 2006

Was that a dumb move?

It seems AMD is now suing Skype because of the exclusive deal they have with Intel regarding the availability of a conferencing feature only on machines with an Intel dual core processor. I thought something like that would happen and not only because the US have a tradition in making lawyers rich. And it makes me wonder...

  1. what strategic purpose may have convinced Skype to strike a deal of this sort? After all, their business is to provide hassle-free low-cost telephony services to as many people as possible. So why exclude non-Intel users?

  2. if indeed Skype's 10-way conferencing feature requires processing power that only Intel is supposed to be able to provide, then is this not a clear indication of the limitations of a communications technology? If you can't catter to the needs of 10 people trying to have a conf-call, then how can you expect to serve the professional market? And if you don't want to serve that market (I wonder why that would be the case), then how do you expect to achieve returns justifying a price tag somewhere between 2.5 and 4 billion USD?

  3. what value is there on Intel's side to go for something like that? I doubt it will bring them more sales of their dual core processors and on the image front it probably confirms the recent impressions that they are struggling badly in segments of the processor market where their dominance had not been challenged seriously in the past.

  4. would a consumer buy a PC with an Intel processor just to be able to have conf-calls with 10 participants? would a business go for Intel based machine when renewing their equipment simply because of the set of exclusive deals with software makers that Intel has or will have?

  5. what resources and how much focus will this whole thing compell Skype to invest in the legal fight instead of trying to develop their business?

Being one of the top names in a business often means that lots of people will try their best to beat you. And some of them just have the talent to challenge you very seriously. These are not times when incumbent can sleep on their laurels... In Skype's case, I believe Jajah is a formidable contender who will seriously curtail Skype's market ambitions (unless the incumbent is able to focus on redefining its strategy... and, no I don't believe anything less than that can save them when Jajah goes live with all its potential). This whole deal looks silly, but perhaps it is just me not being able to see its value... If you have an opinion, or answers to the above questions, let please me know. I'd hate to die totally stupid :)