Thursday, March 29, 2007

Taking the twit out of twitter

Until recently, Twitter passed me by. It just seemed so small. The delightful dull blog pictured provides dullness should you want it, but with irony and humor. But then the worm turned, and I'm now twittering with the best of them. The reason? I don't have a TV. And this is as close as TV for the web as I've seen.

I've never really been that much into online video, other than on the express recommendation from someone who's opinion I trust. Browsing YouTube is about as entertaining for me as scrabbling around in the trash among yesterday's newspapers - occasionally finding a morsel of interst, but the whole process makes you feel rather grubby.

TV - even in bite sized chunks - seems to me to be the wrong metaphor for the web. The brilliant Web2.0 video should eviscerate any lingering doubt that the web is a collaborative, social phenomenon. A TV show is made by one person or team, and we know now deep in our DNA that the one-way contributions of just one group can only get us so far. Reality TV is dull as it focuses on just one small group (of generally dysfunctional) individuals. Normal TV is made by a small group, but generally has higher production values. But this - the reality Web - is an all together different animal. How many TV shows do you know that have passionate developers pulling them every which way? Twitter shows you that the colourful texture of the web is composed of real people (ok, still slightly geeky ones at this stage). Heck, it's almost becoming three-dimensional. The fact that these twitterholics are alive, connected, and even occasionally interesting brings a tremendously human dimension to what has been all too often an all too solitary web experience. I hope it flies.

Jim, do you want cash or cheque?

Mr Griffin is one of the brightest minds in the business of reinventing the media industry. His insights spring from, well, just being damn smart. And from having spent the past two decades trying to drag the music industry kicking and screaming towards the money trough. I've been so persuaded (or maybe that's brainwashed?) by him that I find myself repeating, mantra-like, his arguments for flat fee music on every possible occassion.

Anyway, was rather chuffed when he singled this blog out as one of his favourites. All very over the top Jim, but thanks anyway.

Stephen Johnston's ThreeDimensional People,
"Mr. Johnston is one of the brightest minds in the business of connecting people. His insights spring from working on Nokia strategy from London. The site focuses largely on the direction of the new economy and lets readers profit from the insights of someone whose job it is to strategize for one of the leading companies in new media. The site is useful for following the new concepts and themes that are driving Nokia and other companies to develop new products, open new divisions and traverse the space from product to service."

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Salutory metaphor for Nokia

This is right on the money regarding the ever-present need for big companies such as ours to innovate:

Every company innovates until it finds a cash cow. At that point only innovation that supports the cash cow is promoted. Further, any innovation that threatens or does not support the cash cow languishes or is actively killed. Eventually, most of the true innovation ceases as the innovators leave and start new companies and the cycle repeats.

A young company is like a thirsty animal in the desert, desperately sniffing and searching with all its might for a supply of sustenance that will allow it to survive the rigors of the market. If the animals energy runs out before it finds an oasis, or better still a river or a lake, then it dies. If it finds a source of water it survives. It’s all very basic and primal “circle of life” stuff.

If it finds an oasis in the desert can you blame it for not wanting to take another long open ended trek in the desert. The search for the initial revenue stream for a startup is strongly analogous. Once you find it, you don’t want to let it go. And therein lies the rub.

That very act of hanging on will eventually lead to stasis and then death.

The onus on us as a big company is to prove that we can still reinvent ourself, not to rest on past glories, and the cash cows of the past.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Suffer the children

Kim Cameron reports on a rather worrying situation with UK education - fingerprinting kids without their parents' consent. This from the BBC:

The guidelines, published next month, will "encourage" schools to seek consent before taking biometric data. The move comes after it emerged some primary schools stored children's thumb prints for computerised class registers and libraries without parental consent. The Department for Education and Skills (DfeS) says it does not have figures for how many schools are already using biometric data. However, a web poll by lobby group Leave Them Kids Alone, estimated that 3,500 schools had bought equipment from two DfES-approved suppliers.

Under the Data Protection Act, schools do not have to seek parental consent to take and store children's fingerprints.

Great. So, now the UK government is forcing children to sleepwalk into a privacy quagmire. No doubt these records will be handed over to some A.N.Other vendor, probably to get sold on the black market when that vendor goes bust. My two big problems with this are that you've got absolutely no idea to what uses that data could be used in some future time (so it is best to err on the safe side - aka the "negative option value" hypothesis), and that it is just bad policy making.

The first point should should be pretty obvious - we all know that these databases are never secure. It probably isn't good form to quote oneself (but heck, it's not good form to make death threats, so I think I can get away with it), but what I was talking about regarding giving away the keys to location counts at least as dramatically for your fingerprints:

In the same way that option value depends on the potential multiple uses of an asset, giving away generic and highly fungible personal data such as location can result in negative option value.

Second, this policy of sitting on the fence and "encouraging" schools to get permission is just annoyingly fudging the issue, and pushing the responsibility down to the overworked schoolteachers. I'm reminded of one of my favourite pieces by the late Nico Colchester, a former deputy editor of the Economist, who invented the science of crunchiness - keep things clear, else we'll all pay the consequences.

Friday, March 23, 2007

The humble contacts book: An object of perfection, or ripe for a revamp?

Whether it's at a dinner-party or late night foray into a strange bar, the fact that I work for Nokia is an easy ticket to talk. People generally have powerful reactions, as more often than not I'm working for the company that makes the product that gets them to work, connects them with who matters to them, and gets them laid. This is clearly quite a burden, but the company wears it well - with a well-deserved reputation for solidity, easy to use, reliability and the fact that the damn thing just works. (Sure there are often also comments along the lines of "why on earth don't you bring back that beautiful silver bullet phone [6310] - it was my favourite thing ever..." etc.) But the fact remains - we are still carrying a good deal of people's goodwill, and we mess with it at our peril.

And nowhere is this goodwill more obvious than in the trusty familiar contacts book. It has been going strong in a similar looking format for well over a decade (I'd guess, haven't been here long enough to remember that far back). Messing with the contacts book would be like painting a moustache on the Mona Lisa - an act of vandalism, surely. Surely? Well, I'm not so sure. I am deeply uncomfortable with the idea that things must stay how they were because that's how they have always been. Everywhere else the world around is changing upside down, and consumer communication behaviours are being re-written, one twitter at a time.

One of our recent Nokia speaker series guests (Stephen Messer, who had just sold his company for several hundred million dollars, so I listen when he speaks) put it like this - the telco industry has lost the opportunity to innovate in the contacts book, whereas the internet industry has come along and invented an entire new industry - social networking - to fill this innovation void. Hmmm, food for thought? This got me thinking anyway. Even though people do like their contacts book, are we missing out on realizing the full potential of the Internet to make an even better experience? Isn't MySpace just your contacts book with Internet-innovation added? Several ideas jump out at me: automatic backups is one clear missing feature that really should be widestream (and we're actually already, rather quietly, doing this in various places already). How about integrating other features into the phonebook - or perhaps taking some away. What would you like to see?

(I should probably point out that my position in strategy makes me far removed from the actual tech-heads who build this stuff (and maintain your trusty contacts book in its pristine state) so feel free to be as crazy and ambitious as you like...)

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Mark Anderson speaks at Nokia

One of the fun aspects of my job is to organize informal "speaker series" sessions. These are opportunities for thought leaders, techno visionaries, business people and other really interesting people to come to Nokia House (just outside Helsinki) and present their ideas and have Q&A with Nokia folks. This has been running for a couple of years now, and we've had some interesting people - Joi Ito, Larry Lessig, Henry Jenkins, Chris Anderson (Wired, not TED). These people come to join us as friends of Nokia (a nice way of saying we don't pay them speaker fees), but generally seem to enjoy the experience, and often get into good discussions with some of our world class geeks.

Earlier this months we hosted Mark Anderson, who's the editor of the Strategic News Service and a widely followed strategy pundit. He gaves us his trends for 2007.

I attach below the vid the rough notes I took at the time.


Mark's 2007 Predictions
1. ePhones: Phones will be used to pay for things
Japan already does this. Nokia has been testing this for years.
"Carriers have been the bottleneck" - but why wouldn't carriers do this. Qualcomm are investing in startup payments. Carriers are changing their mind about this.
Many technologies, but security clearly the main issue. Authentication is required.

2. Authentication everywhere.
ID theft is so important, that authentication will be required everywhere. Biometric will be big. Voice is one idea, would be great if it does work. Phones could have a bio swipe, and reduce theft - it costs about $9 to install. Could do this in conjunction with insurance companies - never worry about phones being stolen. This then would allow the phone to be used in conjunction with keys for phones. "Phone" is not the right term for what this is - it communicates more with systems than people. 50% increase in data.

3. Tesla-led - electric car will go mainstream year
Environmental factors going well. Elon Lesk (sp?) founded paypal, now started a startup called Tesla. It’s a plug-in car that charges overnight - 250m per set of batteries. 2-seat roadster. 0-60 in 4 secs. Sold out first 2 years of orders. Plan to move to 4 seater. Could basically replace today's US car and truck population overnight. Could use hydro and coal power.

4. Oil price rises further
Oil is a game, and does not obey standard rules of economics.

5. Mobile advertising takes off up 20-30% next year
Big concern about managing the experience - needs high resolution. Words alone will be ineffective. Needs a creative approach to this.

6. Dollar falls further against the dollar and the yen.
Dollar will weaken - Japan will spend 500bn - 1trillion in interventions. Japan is intervening and raising interest rates and will be dangerous. Carry trade is very dangerous - it's like having 'free money'.

7. New Russia emerges, and brings with it a new cold war.
88 journalists have been killed. Russia's policies wrt missile crises, energy policies.

8. XY (parallel) computing takes over
Easy to make parallel computers, but few people know how to program for these types of computers. Microsoft is unprepared for this. Grid computing - what roles could phones play as grids become more common. Something that Europe has an advantage in - e.g. CERN. Nokia should be looking at mesh networking.
Visual computing will be part of the programming process as input as well as output. E.g. training a computer to look for oil deposits based on visual learning.

9. Year of NAND wars
DRAM wars - 17 different production facilitites (FABs), big declines in flash memory prices. More than enough supply of memory, will accelerate new types of devices, and hasten move from fixed to mobile.

10. iTunes will begin to lose share to competitors with more general DRM approaches, unless iPhone materializes.
(note - he first made this prediction in Dec 06). iPod will maintain, Zune will be a failure. Since this was made in December, the iPhone has been launched and DRM has been attacked in Europe.

Key drivers
- oil - 87% negative correlation between price of oil and stockmarkets. Energy tax likely.
- cheap labour
- liquidity (cash from Japan)

Bad news in general
- Fed has lost control of the US economy in the past 12 months. Fed can't lower rates since they're concerned about inflation. They have to defer to the oil industry. Commercial banks have not been following the lead from fed rate, which means the Fed doesn't have a tool to control the economy.
- Schism between corporations and people. Less of a problem in Europe because of socialistic governments.
- GDP growth (US?) is declining. Europe going up.
- Latin America is a mess.
- Mid east - greatest allies are greatest enemies.
- Healthcare costs are bankrupting our economies.
- Pensions are going bankrupt.

Good news in general
- Medicine is changing - "evidence based medicine"
- High oil prices act as incentives for people to invest in energy efficient solutions.
- Today there are more naturally occurring forests than there were 10years ago.
- Higher broadband availability.
- Education - cause for hope (Mark's new company is called Project Inkwell has 40 members (Msoft, Intel, AMD, Gateway…) and is creating education focused solutions for schools. Wants Nokia to join.

Other trends
- Moving from residential to commercial real estate
- Moving in US from 1party to mixed party government
- River of money will fund online ad sales and drive economic activity. 200bn annually is slowly moving.
- IT spending will be up 12% as long as no major issues
- Moving from refinancing homes as a source of cash
- Few IPOs - Clearwire one of the few.
- Year of Microsoft - shipping of vista etc. will be be v. important

Phone specific issues
- Location based services - voice driven directions. Mark is not a believer in location based advertising ("hey, your favourite shoes 20% off in the next mall"). But would prefer to know where his kids or wife is.
- Recreating the nuclear family in a new way using technologies to replicate intimacy.Technology does not stop intimacy - it provides more opportunities to meet people. Phone creates more opportunities for social interaction.
- Mesh networks need to happen - e.g. to help in Katrina-like emergencies. E.g. emergency only activation.
- Changing business models - e.g. Somebody coming to Helsinki and putting wimax and Intel together.
- iPhone - iRiver Clix device. That and iPhone indication of a move towards all -programmable device.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Back to the drawing board for free energy

Ever since Wired had the "cycling machines as energy generators" as an Artifact from the Future (can't find the link) I've been intrigued by the possibility of getting the gym goers to replace the nuclear energy plants. Oh well.

Via venturebeat:

Does all that gym peddling create usable energy? -- No. It's been bandied about by crackpots over the years: Generate electricity by tapping into all that energy people expend in the gym -- on bikes, treadmills, weight-lifting. San Ramon, Calif. company 24 Hour Fitness invested $15,000 to test this. Turns out, if all 13 machines in one Hong Kong gym were in use ten hours a day every day, it would take 82 years to generate enough electricity worth the $15,000 investment.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Patent spending

I wonder if / when Friendster's business model will transition from advertising to IP enforcement?

San Francisco - Online social network Friendster announced this week that it has been granted its third social networking-related patent, this time for a "system and method for managing connections in an online social network."

The company says the patent covers adding friends, personalizing a profile through arranging, ordering and classifying connections made in an online community, and managing these connections at will.

[...] The company did not address whether it intends to pursue licensing or infringement actions against others in the social networking space.

Friday, March 16, 2007

What in the world is WAYN doing with their signup?

I like the idea of WAYN - a location based social network built around the concept "where are you now?" - though from the loud, garish site, and mulitple flashing ads I guess I'm probably double the age group they had in mind. However, I just tried to register to check it out but it wouldn't let me continue without requiring that I fill in my gmail user ID and password! The idea is so that I can see where my gmail contacts are and invite them to use the service. I'm sorry, but what on earth is that all about? I feel bad for people who sign up to services which then spam their entire address book, but I generally also feel that those people get what they deserve. There was nothing in this service that suggested that experience wasn't going to happen to me, and no way to bypass that requirement. I then had to shut the browser down, and when I went back to the site, it had registered me, and took me to the next stage of offerings. Very odd. By that stage I was jaded. Sorry, WAYN, but you've lost me before I even started. But as I said, am probably not the target demographic.

One bomb could switch off the Internet in the UK?

This could be fairly nasty, as more and more of our critical functions - not just emailing powerpoints around - rely on web connectivity.

According to an article by David Leppard, Scotland Yard has uncovered evidence that Al Qaeda operatives were going to blow up Telehouse Europe, a large colocation facility in Britain that is the country's largest Internet hub. Suspects who were recently arrested had conducted reconnaissance against Telehouse and had planned to infiltrate the organization and blow it up from inside.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Losing my Biz Week cherry

I guess it's not good form to toot one's horn, but as this blog is also increasingly my aide memoire, I'd mention here my first appearance in Business Week here. OK just a few comments about our deployment of wikis, and not exactly the front cover of Newsweek like my friend Rajesh.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Where are the British rocketboomers?

I thought I'd create a short video introducing some of the latest web services as an introductory item for some our managers that are too busy doing their day jobs to spend time surfing the blogosphere. Then I thought it'd be much better to have somebody nice to watch for our execs rather than me - my british mumbling would not make for a particularly enjoyable viewing. I immediatley thought of who I'd like to have do this, and thoughts turned to Joanne Colan, Amanda Congdon and Lindsay Campbell - all savvy, well-known, attractive presenters who know more about 2.0 than is good for them. They're all based in the USA (Joanne being a transplanted brit), and probably out of my league for this little project, which anyway has a deadline of next week.

Have I missed any UK-based digital divas that are doing something similar? Do you know anyone who could be the next rocketboom, given half a chance (or an N93)? How about any existing Web2.0 video blog intros that I can use?

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Presence: a red herring?

[What follows is a bit rough, but if I take the time to try and polish it up, I'll never get round to it. Thus here, true to the blogger code of conduct, is a semi-formed rant...]

The need to incorporate presence information into the mobile experience, has been something of an assumed holy grail in this industry for the past few years. (By presence for this discussion, I'm talking about an icon or message along the lines of that we have with IM clients, that indicate the current state of the user, taking e.g. current location as the standard example.) Multiple worthy studies have been done and large expensive boxes have been sold that purport to deliver this functionality. Unfortunately, they're usually not plugged in, so customer facing presence start with the need to enter settings. DOA.

I've recently realized that the odd feelings I've been experiencing when the "presence" discussion comes up are not just coincidental indigestion. The ability for others to see what you're doing now is perceived by many in the industry to be just the inevitable evolution of our increasing interconnectedness, and the visceral negative reactions generated when 'normal people' hear about this ("but i don't want that") dismissed as the quaint yelps of a luddite. If sharing intimate personal details automaticlly is good enough for Japanese school girls, so the lore goes, it's good enough for the other 3bn mobile users; just give it time. If that is the case, then I guess I'm in the luddite camp. Here are 3 reasons why I think presence as it's currently envisaged, may be a red herring.

i) Unbounded data gives unlimited negative option value.
Your location information is fantastically interesting information for all manner of people and companies. In the same way that option value depends on the potential multiple uses of an asset, giving away generic and highly fungible personal data such as location can result in negative option value. I may have no problems with my friends knowing where I am, but I may not want my enemies to do so. If you do not limit the type of data shared, then you have to limit the recipient list. So that leads to the next problem:

ii) The high transaction costs of limiting the data set.
Are you really going to ascribe certain people the right to see certain types of your data? In theory, you should be doing that at a granular level, so that each time any element of your presence chances, you have the option to change who receives that information. Is "family" or "friend" a useful way to subdivide presence sharing? Enough said.

iii) Context not publisher-centric
This means you are a hostage to your state - regardless as to whether you have your presence information set to be update automatically or update manually. If it is the former, then you have no control over the information that is published. The minute you enter the pub, the world (or the subset that you have laboriously scoped down) knows you're boozing. If it's the latter, then your context is going to be out of date unless you decide to change it - so it's even dumber. You have to perform manual labour, and have no choice in the matter. This matters because you have not been given free reign to publish something of interest according to your terms - they have been dicated according to the context of the application.

So, from this rather esoteric discussion, 3 principles for "non-red herring" presence emerge:

- Limited data set. In the absence of certainty about where your data will end up, and trying to limit who will receive it (painful to implement), it's easier to limit the type of data that you're sharing to application specific things. This will ensure that the benefit to me for giving up my information far outweighs the potential cost (negaive option value) of doing so. This is generally not going to be the case when I am publishing generic information (such as location) that can have multiple uses that I do not control, unless that information is captured and only used by that service provider. Limit presence information to be bounded by a specific application or service - e.g. the music I'm listening to or the books I'm reading. I'm more than happy that anybody sees my profile because a new band or a friend who likes the same music is much more valuable than the potential privacy cost of people knowing what I like to listen to.
- Zero effort. Remove the transaction costs and make it aligned with what I do everyday. Automaticaly updating is part of the story here, but don't make me have to think about do I want that automatic update posted.
- Asynchronous. Switch from updates that are forced by context to subject specific (see i) updates; this is asynchronous publishing when it is convenient for me (the publisher) rather than you the technology or the context.

Monday, March 05, 2007

RSS feeds from Nokia press releases

A new way to keep up with Nokia press releases, for those with an unhealthy appetite for Nokia stuff.
Our Comms guys are starting to get pretty 2.0... :)