Media Influencer

helping people break out of pigeonholes since 2003

Quote to remember

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[I]t wasn’t Google, but the tsunami of disintermediated content that blew up that business model [ed Times Select]. If you looking for the institution to blame it was the internet and it’s end-to-end design principles. Google had nothing to do with it. Well maybe it had a tiny bit to do with it; but it pains me how people are unable to distinguish the value of Google from the value of the content it is now the intermediary for. This is like confusing the card catalog for the library, or Sony for the Shastakovich.
- Ben Hyde in Do you feel lucky, Punk?

Customers are not ‘brand accessories’

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It seems that the Big Apple-in-the-Sky is punishing its acolytes users for daring to change the pre-ordained Order of Things.

Thursday afternoon, Apple released the scheduled update to the iPhone software. And the gadget blogs confirm that it does, as Apple threatened, wreak havoc on modified iPhones. Some phones have indeed been “bricked.” In others, unofficial applications have been disabled. And there are worries that hacking the updated phone will be harder.

Don’t get me wrong, I hate all things Microsoft with a passion.. Well, not all, there is one social object associated with them that is unobjectionable. :) But neither I am an Apple fan. I own an iPod that I got as a gift, and a nice one it was. I thought iPhone was great news for everyone because it is the ‘web’ people doing phone, as opposed to telecoms people, and showing what can be done. I have been thinking about about MacBook but the Sony Vaio although perhaps inferior in other respects is still a lot lighter. I do appreciate Apple’s design superiority and functionality. But I don’t want to be locked-in and treated as an accessory to a brand. Which is what Apple has been doing with their customers.

On Monday, Apple had issued a press release warning of “irreparable damage” to iPhones that have been modified or unlocked from the AT&T network. It also threatened users that “the permanent inability to use an iPhone due to installing unlocking software is not covered under the iPhone’s warranty.”

Of course, the small print is clear. The users knew very well that they are not supposed to unlock their AT&T-possessed iPhones and install programmes on it. But users do what users will. They try to improve the usability of their gadgets, toys and business devices. No amount of functionality will be able to match usability as defined by me, the user.

Since the iPhone is a very sleek, capable handheld computer, people are going to want to run programs on it. They are going to want to hack and see what they can build. It’s a law of nature. And Apple might as well be fighting gravity.

Many other cell phones are locked down, of course. But few other phones capture the imagination of programmers the way the iPhone does.

Nokia’s approach with the N800 internet tablet stands in stark contrast to Apple’s strategy. The operation system is based on Linux and a complete developer kit is freely downloadable. It has extensive documentation and a community around it. Its designed is not as refined and it certainly requires a fair amount of configuration. But that’s precisely my point. You can configure it any way you want. And you can “hack root” on it, which does turn some people on, if not others.

Apple’s propensity for control and closeness is well documented. It also seems to be accepted by its fans and evangelists.

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When the price of iPhone was cut by $200 people interpreted it as broadening its appeal to the mainstream. It worked apparently, the sales trebled. But it’s not just the Apple aficionados that will need to be appeased and controlled. One could argue that Apple’s brand is so strong that it can withstand such expansion. Nevertheless, once a business has to fight its own customers and users, something has gone horribly wrong. Just look at the music industry…

Bonus link: iPhone Wars… May the unlock be with you!

Update: Gizmodo does a damning summary of Hacked and Official version of iPhone. Via Hugh.

Update II: Class-Action Lawsuit Over iPhone Locking?

Cinderella in ppt

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Another reason why presentations in powerpoint must die.

via Dave Snowden

OneWebDay in NYC

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On Saturday had brunch with Charles Hope and Grace Piper at one of my favourite hang outs in NYC – Les Halles.

Les Halles

They told me about OneWebDay party that night at For Your Imagination loft, which was round the corner from the hotel I was staying. The venue was good, a large room with groovy images projected on the wall. People were mingling in the gloom and ambiance of low lighting.

OneWebDay party in NYC

OneWebDay is a good and necessary meme. The last night’s party was one of the many ways to celebrate and share it. Glad I could be there.

It’s easy to take the web for granted. But it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on what the web could mean to humankind in the future. That’s the purpose of OneWebDay, held each September 22.

The idea behind OneWebDay is to encourage people to think of themselves as responsible for the internet, and to take good and visible actions on Sept. 22 that (1) celebrate the positive impact of the internet on the world and (2) shed light on the problems of access and information flow.

The internet is made of people, not just machines. It’s up to us to protect it.

Quote to remember

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So, fair enough. Bring on the big media cluster fuck. Roll out all the different systems that don’t work together. Bring on all the different kinds of software, none of which will work as well as iTunes. Bring on a zillion different user interfaces, a zillion accounts you need to set up, a zillion new usernames and passwords and a list of which services can work on which devices in which format. Right. When you’re good and tired of that, we’ll be here waiting for you.
- Fake Steve Jobs in We’re thrilled about this NBC download service

via Doc

Power equation

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I have been thinking about how to explain the shift in communications to professional communicators within companies. That communication is not a skill, it is a survival trait. It is considered a skill within a particular environment that requires specific ways of processing, broadcasting and receiving information. But if the environment changes, then the skill may no longer be relevant. And such shift has occurred in communications and media industries because of the internet.

We now have the POWER to do things we couldn’t do before, we have the tools and the technology that enable us to go direct and bypass. That’s a real power in the world where intermediaries form entire industries. The ‘power to the person’ is the most important development for me so far.

Then there is the rise of CONTEXT. The web has removed physical limitations on space. Data was expensive to create, store and move around and now it is not. This made room for context, which is becoming at least as important as the data. In fact, it is what make data and information the skeleton, giving shape to the flesh and skin but it is no longer the whole body and finish. The important thing is that context can be provided only by a human mind. It cannot be automated – when creating or absorbing it.

Finally, there is DISTRIBUTION. The networked nature of the web has changed the nature of the expensive part of the media – getting their content to the desired audience. But online, the content does not contain any more and people formerly known as audience are now co-producers and distributors.

All this adds up to many groovy things. The important one for communicators is that communication is now the default, not a skill.

Communications equation

Quote to remember

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Web 2.0, Health 2.0, whatever you call it, that seems more to be the pretty packaging you can put something around it to help market it. People aren’t just “co-developers” in this relationship — they are true partners. People don’t want their intelligence “harnessed.” They want to engage in a two-way dialogue and conversation with their providers.
- John Grohol, E-patients and Health 2.0

Why I love the internet #89,734

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Embarrassment, then an act of kindness, then the internet and human distribution.

I feel sorry for Andrew Keen that he’ll never understand or appreciate something like this. Well, almost sorry.

via Johnnie Moore

Quote to remember

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You spend a lot of money putting in control systems based on idealised process flows and ways of working. This applies in customer relationship management and health & safety alike along with many other fields. It looks really good on the flow charts. However the day to day reality of dealing with customers, or doing the job (say on an oil rig) means that people have to break the rules. Your business depends on their doing so and as long as it has a good outcome you ignore it. However if something goes wrong, you bring out that rule book and the idealised model and now you have someone to blame: the poor smuck who has been making your business work for you.
- Dave Snowden in The penny and the bun

Offline cannot handle trolls

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Andrew Keen & Richard Sambrook at Front Line Club Last week I went to a debate with Andrew Keen at the Front Line Club. I wouldn’t normally bother but for two reasons. The discussion was moderated by Richard Sambrook, whose opinions I respect and hearing him talk to Andrew Keen sounded intriguing. Secondly, having read many refutations and critiques of Mr Keen’s book, meeting the man had a marginal interest. Irritatingly, debating with the man invariably leads from his arguments to the person he is. It is like trying to have a conversation about a picture or an image with a colourblind man. He is looking at the same thing but, in his vision, there are colours missing and so in his mind the resulting image may be fundamentally different from reality. In the end, you find yourself insisting that the colours are really there and that he should just take your word for it. He, on the other hand, insists on describing what is in front of him without taking any notice of others telling him that his vision is flawed.

This is would be a kind interpretation of Mr Keen’s predicament. The unkind is that the shift from his arguments to himself is precisely what he wants. He delights in people attacking him, debating him, telling him how mistaken is about the internet. As long as people engage with him and as long as he enrages, his book and his visibility are doing well. Mission accomplished. This view is supported by two things at least. One is that every time Mr Keen encourters a counter-example to his assertions and a counter-argument to his statements, he sidesteps – he was writing about the music industry or the media industry, in the US, not anywhere else etc etc. The fact that never stopped him from making sweeping statements about the internet, the Web and the Web 2.0 and a number of other things that he doesn’t like never gets aired. Andrew Keen’s Great Resetting Act is a wonderful way of staying on the circuit and reaping more publicity. It has never been about the ball, but always about the man… who wants to reinvent himself as a polemicist (a la Christopher Hitchins, I am told ).

One of the reasons he can get away with this is the format of ‘debates’ he is invited to. There is no real debate, in a set-up where Keen is on the stage, with a microphone permanently attached and anyone wanting to disagree or pick up on a point has to wait his turn for the microphone and the floor. During his talks Keen makes so many ridiculous statements that in the end you just want to throw the towel in and with an exasperated ‘what’s the point?!’. And that’s just fine by Mr Keen.

The other tactic is sucking up to journalists, the media and music industry, loudly supporting their position as self-appointed priesthood and echoing their anguished cries as the internet re-routes around their expensive temples. So it is rather fun to watch many people within the industries who know better and find themselves arguing against Keen’s elevation of their craft. Richard Sambrook was correcting Keen on a number of points, namely Keen’s definition of a professional journalist – you are paid and your writing is edited, you made it to the priesthood. I cannot think of any other motivation for Keen to make such a patently absurd statement than his desire to get attention from those journos who feel slighted by the barbaric bloggers.

It is Andrew Keen’s ability to employ both tactics successfully that made me realise that the offline doesn’t know how to handle trolls! He is a troll:

… someone who intentionally posts controversial or contrary messages in an online community … with the intention of baiting users into an argumentative response.

The word likely gained currency because of its apt second meaning, drawn from the trolls portrayed in Scandinavian folklore and children’s tales; they are often ugly, obnoxious creatures bent on mischief and wickedness.

I rest my case, ladies and gentlemen… To anyone used to online interactions and communities, this is clear as day. It is the offline with its formalised approach to controversy that gets baited again and again. The advice is ‘Don’t feed the troll!’

Note: I will post my notes from the discussion in the next post, otherwise the above would be sitting in the draft even longer. :)

Blue monster anti-trust

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Two FT articles I read this morning – Microsoft loses EU antitrust appeal and Microsoft launches a tipple for techies.

One has to do with an ongoing court case about Microsoft’s violation of anti-trust laws.

The European Court of First Instance rejected Microsoft’s appeal against a ruling by the European Commission that found the software group had violated competition rules by abusing its dominant market position.

The other was about release of the Stormhoek Blue Monster reserve, with Hugh’s cartoon.

Hugh MacLeod, a cartoonist, blogger and marketing strategist for Stormhoek, created the Blue Monster image after getting to know Microsoft employees.

The contrast between the FT pieces amused me. I get frustrated when people see and treat companies as uniform monolithic entities. When they don’t realise an obvious fact – that people working inside are just like them and most of the time they are not plotting the world domination. This goes for Microsoft and any other large corporation. To me, the Blue Monster is a battle cry for those inside Microsoft who want change and who share the desire for openness and direct connection with people outside.

But there is another obvious fact. That among those people working for Microsoft are those who do plot, if not the world, then certainly market domination, which they see as their main purpose. By any means available. This is why the Blue Monster has teeth. Those people believe in the rightness of their actions and see their drive as being commercial, business-savvy and mock any who would talk of, well, social objects. They want a monolithic and controlled brand because it bestows more power on them. They miss the fact that over time they will hollow out their company. By then, most of them will have moved on to another company or position.

Drinking the Kool-aid

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Their drink of choice is the Kool-Aid, which often turns into corporate venom. So instead of Kool-Aid, let them drink Stormhoek. Kudos to Hugh for making that option available.

The value of education

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Paul Graham is in good form here, as usual. This time on education and on going to the right kindergarten, school, university, company etc.

Practically everyone thinks that someone who went to MIT or Harvard or Stanford must be smart. Even people who hate you for it believe it.

But when you think about what it means to have gone to an elite college, how could this be true? We’re talking about a decision made by admissions officers—basically, HR people—based on a cursory examination of a huge pile of depressingly similar applications submitted by seventeen year olds. And what do they have to go on? An easily gamed standardized test; a short essay telling you what the kid thinks you want to hear; an interview with a random alum; a high school record that’s largely an index of obedience. Who would rely on such a test?

It is true that for the purposes of business, a university degree is a signal. A signal that you can a) stick it out for several years without any tangible reward other than arbitrary grading. b) be part of a collective entity over which you have no control or impact c) able to absorb, regurgitate and communicate large amounts of data and knowledge by dead white men d) care about performing well within institutional environment.

Not much about innovation, irreverence, disruption and not caring about consensus. Unless you, of course, went to Oxford. :-)

I am half-joking here actually. There were many things I learnt at Oxford, one of them that there was plenty of stupid people around. But the most important was the ability to ask ’stupid’ questions, as in very simple questions, which often go to the heart of the problem and ferret out inconsistencies. With that comes the confidence to ask when things don’t make sense. Even when everyone else is looking like they know what’s going on. There is a touch of irreverence and disruption in that. And it maximises your chances of coming up with the right answer.

So back to business:

Things are very different in the new world of startups. We couldn’t save someone from the market’s judgement even if we wanted to. And being charming and confident counts for nothing with users. All users care about is whether you make something they like. If you don’t, you’re dead.

Knowing that test is coming makes us work a lot harder to get the right answers than anyone would if they were merely hiring people. We can’t afford to have any illusions about the predictors of success.

Paul Graham hit another significant nail on the head:

The unfortunate thing is not just that people are judged by such a superficial test, but that so many judge themselves by it. A lot of people, probably the majority of people in the America, have some amount of insecurity about where, or whether, they went to college. The tragedy of the situation is that by far the greatest liability of not having gone to the college you’d have liked is your own feeling that you’re thereby lacking something. Colleges are a bit like exclusive clubs in this respect. There is only one real advantage to being a member of most exclusive clubs: you know you wouldn’t be missing much if you weren’t. When you’re excluded, you can only imagine the advantages of being an insider. But invariably they’re larger in your imagination than in real life.

This is certainly true in a sense that Oxford looks very different from the inside compared to how people outside view it, for example. They tend to value different things than those who have been through the experience. But that does not mean that those things are not worth valuing and the advantages not worth having. It seems to me that the best combination is a smart and eager person in an educational environment that works with that individual, respecting both their character and mind. Paradoxically (to our expectations), the benefit of education should accrue to the student and not to his employer.

Indeed, the great advantage of not caring where people went to college is not just that you can stop judging them (and yourself) by superficial measures, but that you can focus instead on what really matters. What matters is what you make of yourself.

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