Monthly Archives: February 2008

Wisfulness in portions

Neil Gaiman: Smoke and Mirrors

I haven’t read anything by Neil Gaiman, but one of my daughters has a copy of Coraline in her bookshelf. Nevertheless, he comes highly recommended from people I respect, so when I was picking over the airport bookstore in Orlando (admittedly not the most fertile of cultural hunting grounds) before an 18-hour flight to China, Smoke and Mirrors was a natural choice (actually, the only one).

The book is a collection of Gaiman’s early short stories, most of them realistically written with a slight twist of the supernatural. Each story at some point crosses into fairy-tale territory, but does it so discreetly that it seems natural and to be expected. I particularly liked Troll Bridge – about a young boy who meets a troll under a disused railway bridge – and Gold Fish Pond and other stories, which isn’t magical at all (it is a partly fictional reminiscence about a movie writer’s visit to Hollywood.) Gaiman’s stories have a certain wistfulness about them, they are stories about people who want, somehow, to escape their surroundings and eventually do.

John Hagel on the user revolution

(Third installment in a series of Notes from FastForward 2008

John Hagel: The User Revolution

(John spoke without slides – what a relief)

The user revolution is about power. Good news, bad news: Most of us are users, so that is good. But most of us are employees of companies, and they are being squeezed. Average lifetime as humans going up, average lifetime of firms is going down (average time in Fortune 500 is now 15 years.) Companies have not yet figured out how to thrive in this environment.

A key limiter has always been shelf space – either in a store or as share of attention of a sales person. This is no longer a scarce resource. The scarce resource now is is customer attention. Second part of the story is the increasing power of talent. Talent is in short supply and increasingly important to company performance – and there are more options for talent to leave. Companies will increasingly differentiate themselves on their ability to develop talent.

Movement from push programs to pull platforms – from tightly scripted activities to flexible frameworks for orchestrating resources. How do we create decentralized resource networks that are highly scalable? The “pull platforms” are about connecting people to resources and to each other. Bill Joy: There are always a lot more smart people outside your organization than inside. Example: Lee & Fong, tailored supply chains for apparel designers.  Cisco Connection Online with 40K “partners” around support of products. Facebooks mobilizing application developers.

Push models allowed companies to start and to create effective processes. Manufacturing, education etc. has primarily been in push mode. Push programs treat people as passive consumers, pull platforms treat people as network creators. Search is a critical tool here.

One problem: For any revolution, we need a pragmatic transition path. This requires a new set of performance measures (in addition to traditional measures, not as substitutes):

  • ROA: Return on attention. From participant and organizer perspectives. Key question for participants: What is the productivity of the attention I give to one resource? For organizers: How much resources necessary to gain attention, and what is it worth.
  • ROI: Return on Intention: For participant: How much information about myself and my needs have I provided relative to what I have receive. From organizer: How much effort invested, how much value in return. Need to watch what people are doing and generate insight from that, as opposed to having people fill out lengthy registration forms. How can we shorten the time from information collection to delivery of value? Are we fully utilizing the data that we have – many companies brag about all the data they have about customers, but the tangible value is often negligible.
  • ROS: Return on skills. Given the amount of effort I spend, to what extent can I develop my skills. Can I use my skill on other platforms. For organizers: What kind of contributors can I attract to my pull platform?

As customers become more powerful, they want influence over the design of the platform. Allow that to gain loyalty. Customers are looking for partners that can help them become better faster, collaborate more effectively with others.

Don Tapscott on Wikinomics

(Second installment in a series of Notes from FastForward 2008)

Don Tapscott: Wikinomics – setting the stage

Don started by saying that this is not new: Time’s Person of The Year was you, and that is soooo 2006. Mass collaboration changes everything. Buy my book! Now, seriously… 

Companies are becoming more professional and peer-oriented, less hierarchical, more meritocratic. This is not new either – Paradigm Shift said this in 1991, and Peter Drucker has said it for a long time before that. Why is it taking so long? The drivers have been missing, but are here now: 

Four drivers of change:

1: Technology, particularly 2.0 technologies: Things talking to each other – one friend has his sprinkler system couple to his intrusion system, in case a burglar jumps over the fence. In the new world, you browse the physical world. GPS allows not just positioning, but movement. True multimedia changes what a film is. New web based on XML, the web is becoming a global computational platform. In some ways, search becomes the new operating system, But legacy systems exist and the integration problem will not go away quickly.

2: The net generation: We have this generation that are not afraid of technology because for them, it has always been ubiquitous. We have had boom, bust and echo in demographics, but the echo is larger than the boom – in Asia and South America have tsunami coming along. These kids multitask, don’t use the TV, they are very active with collaborative technology, games and search. Their synaptic connections are actually different, since they have had this during their formative years. They use email technology to send a formal letter of thanks to a friend’s parents.

3: A social revolution: The rise of collaborate communities. XML has overtaken HTML: Flickr beats Kodak, YouTube beats MTV. MySpace has 15,000 bands….. His son created a Facebook group on Wikinomics that exploded and is now placing demands on him….

4: An economic revolution: You are getting new companies: Digital conglomerates. Google is the fourth largest broker of hardware in the United States. Microsoft, Yahoo, Google,, ebay – these are not some blips. Coase: Transaction costs is really cost of coordination and contracting. From industrial companies to extended enterprises to business webs, and now we will have mass collaboration. Example: Goldcorp, a mining company ready to be shut down, because the geologists cannot find gold. So they put their geological data on the Internet, hold a competition on the internet, $500,000 prize money, 75 submissions find $3.6b worth of gold. Many of the best submissions came from people who where not geologists.

How do you harness mass collaboration? 7 things:

  1. Peer pioneers: We are smarter than me, a book written by 1500 people. Spikesource: Tests open source software, certifies it, support it. investment fund, peer lending.
  2. Ideagoras:  Creating an eBay for innovation. P&G looking for a molecule that will take red wine off a shirt, Crowdsourcing.
  3. Prosumers. Turning your consumers into producers. 99% of Linden Labs product (Second Life) is done by its users. The record industry is the poster child for not understanding this. The final chapter of Wikinomics is a wiki…want to be the context provider for the definitive guide to the next century business.
  4. The new Alexandrians. The sharing of science. The Human Genome has transformed bioscience. Tracking Avian flu through mashups. The alliance for climate protection. Killer app of wikinomics may be saving the planet.
  5. Open platforms. – open platform from innovation. 1/3 of revenues from API.
  6. The global plant floor. 787 is a peer produced airplane, with their suppliers. Suppliers co-design airplanes scratch and deliver compelte subassemblies. The Chinese motorcycle industry is run by small companies that meet in tea houses, collaborate, now has 1/3 of all motorcycle production. Next year: 1500 dollar car from China.
  7. The Wiki workplace: Geek squad (20,000) design products for geek squad. 

“New paradigms cause dislocation, conflict, confusion, uncertainty. New paradigms are nearly always received with coolness, even mockery or hostility. Those with vested interests fight the change. The shift demands such a different view of things that established leaders are often last to be won over, if at all.” (Marilyn Ferguson).

Saint-Exupery: We should welcome the future because it will soon be the past.

We should respect the past because it was once all that was humanly possible.

Andy MacAfee on Enterprise 2.0 success factors

(First installment in a series of Notes from FastForward 2008)

Andy MacAfee: Enterprise 2.0: What will it take to bring about a world of change

MacAfee talked about what it takes to bring about change – Enterprise 2.0 (corporate use of Web 2.0, as I see it) has moved from the what through the why to the how. He looked into some of the factors that seem to be connected with success, grouped into technology, initiatives and culture.

Technology must have intuitive and easy tools (meaning that it needs to work with email, for one thing), the tools must be egalitarian and freeform, the borders must seem appropriate to users (meaning that you need some borders and confined spaces), at least some of the tools must be explicitly social, and the toolset must be quickly standardized.

The most difficult part lies in the intuitiveness – avoid feature creep! The egalitarianism and the freeform part has more to do with bosses than with technology. Bosses are not comfortable with letting loose the process definition part – they need to work hard to get out of the way, at least initially.

Initiatives usually involves incentives – they exist, and they should be soft. Not just T-shirts and nerf toys, but not much more, and not monetary. Goals need to be clear and explained – being interested in Enterprise 2.0 is not good in itself. Many companies don’t have a goal – the US Intelligence community is an example of an organization that has one. Most important: You need incentives; having evangelists, and having official and unofficial support from the top. You also need excellent gardeners, bottom-up energy and activity, and clear and explained goals. The CEO Blog is a good thing – Marriott has one, dictates it and it is not created by the PR team.

Most difficult: Getting the incentives right, and getting the excellent gardeners – people that accelerate the emergence of structure in wiki environments. In any population there are not enough of them.

Culture: Some important issues are that people should be trusted, there should be slack in the workweek, helpfulness has been a norm, top management accepts lateralization (turns out it is very hard for companies to accept even light user commentary, for fear that it might be negative, even though all statistics show that it it is very powerful – most of it is going to be positive, and the negative comments make the positive ones more valid), there are lots of young people, and there is pent-up demand for better sharing. Most important: trust, lateralization, and pent-up demand for sharing.

Most difficult: Trust, slack in workweek, and top management accepting lateralization. You need spare cycles!

Conclusion: enterprise 2.0 is going to increase differences among companies – technology accentuates differences, and this one will. The data is accumulating. The reason lies in willingness to embark, sincerity of effort, and ability to execute. These differences will matter – it will not be the end of the hierarchy, but it will help companies become more responsive, help capturing and sharing knowledge (particularly as the demographic bulge is leaving the workforce) and then there is this vague notion of collective intelligence. Groups and committees, geographically dispersed, can do spectacularly valuable things with this technology.

Clunky does it

Seth Godin gives examples of how winning web sites often are not those that win design awards, unless you define ”bad design” as ”does not work”.

VG Nett logoI am not sure this is a real trend, but here is another example:  This Norwegian newspaper has a website that breaks all possible criteria for good design: It is seemingly disorganized (there is not thematic order to the articles), has colorful images and distracting images all over, is very long, and is manually put together. And it is wildly successful: VG is Norway’s largest newspaper*, and has more readers than the paper paper. is also different in that only 5% of the material at the web site comes from the paper version. The managing editor of, Torry Pedersen, has so far resisted any integration with the paper version tooth and nail – something the very successful media house Schibsted gives him, not least because his profitability levels have consistently been over 40% and he has taken more than a quarter of all news and entertainment traffic in Norway.

I used to think that search would take over newspapers, but Torry begs to differ: Only 10% of his readers come through search engines – the rest arrive in the front doors, looking at the lively, entertaining and rather chaotic front page as a gateway to something interesting, something newsworthy, a break in a hectic or slow day.

In other words, there are more than one way to skin a cat, or, in this case, to bring newspapers to the web. Torry’s way should be something to ponder for traditional papers such as the New York Times, with their rather austere and self-important designs. The Atlantic has an interesting front page, but the content does not change often enough to make it a frequent stopping place. As for the rest – look out for Google News…

*On a personal note: I never read it myself, since it is decidedly tabloid in nature. The Internet version, though, is subtly different. 

Scalzi on writing as a living

John Scalzi, successful sci-fi writer, gives his perspective on how to think about writing and money. Strike “writing” and replace it with any other kind of independent work, such as speaking, consulting or development, and it is still excellent advice.

Come to think of it, most academics I know fall firmly in the “dont’ quit your day job” category – with the exception that most of them do the extra bit in order to afford being an academic…..

Oh well, perhaps it is time to write that book. On salaried time, mind you.

Vista/Linux etc.

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For once, a thoughtful post and not too bad discussion about Vista, Linux and All That Jazz over on Slashdot. Bennett Haselton discusses his experience with Vista in terms I agree with. Yes, it is a beautiful interface, but it deviates from what I am used to (for no apparent reason), runs somewhat slower and certain features (FolderShare, for one, which is a Microsoft Live product but only works if you employ some rather tedious workarounds) don’t work at all. Which creates a problem for me – we have a bunch of computers at home, mostly XP, but two Vista laptops. They are used by my wife and youngest daughter, which means I am Chief Troubleshooter on a system I don’t use myself (my employer uses XP). The main problem with them is that what I thought was a rather smart system setup with reciprocal backups, dependable networking and orderly file structures becomes unmanageable because Vista hides so much of its inner workings from view. In contrast, my middle daughter recently got a MacBook and is self-sufficient (and, for her, Foldershare works).

As for the following inescapable Linux discussion (yes, I am IT literate enough to run and sometimes also configure Linux. My family isn’t. My workplace doesn’t do it. I can’t afford to throw out everything and go with Macs, partially for work compatibility issues, partly because Apple doesn’t have a Tablet laptop. Unless (hint) Apple decides to upgrade the whole family for free in the hopes that I will vax poetically about it here.)

I think Blindspot nails the future for Linux in a comment titled Innovation is the Killer App:

STOP TRYING TO MAKE LINUX BE WINDOWS!!! People already have Windows, they don’t need a replacement. That’s why they don’t switch. The "replacement Windows" idea was already tried: it was called OS/2 Warp for Windows, and we know what happened there. (Never heard of it? Bingo.)

Look at where Linux’s successes are: Servers and mobile devices – places where Linux doesn’t try to emulate Windows. Places where developers actually innovated instead of just copying. The robustness, versatility, and stability of a Linux server – that’s the killer app for servers. The portability and the ability to do unique interfaces like those on the XO or the Eee – that’s the killer app for devices.

It doesn’t just work for Linux. Apple too sees the most success where it has tried to take the lead: the iPod, iPhone, MacBook, etc. In this case it’s the simplicity and/or distinct function-meets-form interfaces that provide the edge. If they made the iPod be like every other MP3 player, and the MacBook like every other laptop, Apple might not even exist now.

Don’t try to beat Microsoft at its own game. You can’t. The way to beat them is to change the game entirely. I’ve been saying this for years, but sadly developers still waste tons of time and effort trying to make Linux be Windows. If only they instead put this into making the next big breakthrough in user interface or computer design using Linux as the platform. Something that 15 years for now will make us say "I can’t believe we used to use a desktop window interface" in much the same way we now talk about dumb terminals and typewriters. It’s gonna happen anyhow, so why not do it on Linux

<span flame="off"> Or whatever. </span>, I suppose.

Goodness, I must have overdosed on this delicious coffee on a nice Saturday morning. But the points, whatever they are, stand. And now we return to our regular programming….

Business-IT maturity as decision-making

Business-IT maturity frameworkJust a thought….

My esteemed colleague Vaughan Merlyn currently is on a quest (under the heading of the BSG Concours project Reaching Level Three) to further develop the already very useful framework of business-IT maturity. This framework (which has been around in many different guises the last 15 years or so) describes three levels of business-IT maturity – a basic one (level one), where the business asks and IT delivers, a more advanced relationship (level two) where IT is seen as a partner by the business, and a very advanced one (level three) where IT provides a platform for innovation to the business.

Lately we have been discussing ways to refine this framework in light of new technologies that have come along, as well as doing case research on companies that have reached level three. One thought that struck me is that there is a lot of similarity between these three levels and Clayton Christensen’s three types of decision-making. In the excellent article Why Hard-nosed Executives Should Care About Management Theory (HBSP), Christensen and Raynor posit three ways of making decisions:

  • The Scientific Method*, which is expensive and slow, since it requires hypothesis formulation and proof. This method is used only on problems that are important and hard.
  • Pattern Recognition, where the decision-maker monitors many variables at the same time and recognizes them as falling into certain patterns. This method works well for most business problems – and is one reason why case-based research and teaching works so well when training managers to handle business problems.
  • Rules-based decisions, when you have boiled down the problem to so few indicators that you can automate the decision-making in the form of measures.

To me it seems that the level one relationship works for problems that are largely rule-based (hence a focus on measures, formal decision-making and benchmarking). The partnership model works for problems that lend themselves to pattern-matching – you need a forum of experienced business and IT executives to discuss the problem and arrive at the solution through associative reasoning. The third level could be seen as a forum for answering those questions – or uses of the technology – that are so new that neither measures nor prior art exists. What is needed is a creative relationship, a theoretical (or, at least, abstracted) shared foundation, and a willingness to commit serious resources to trying to do things that may turn out not be possible.

Viewed this way, the maturity framework becomes a desciption of what kind of conversations the CIO and the CEO has – and what kind of problems the business wants help with, and the IT department can adress. 


According to this website, the highest paying adwords are:

  • mesothelioma treatment options
  • mesothelioma risk
  • personal injury lawyer michigan
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  • student loans consolidation
  • car accident attorney los angeles
  • mesothelioma survival rate
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  • online car insurance quotes
  • arizona dui lawyer
  • mesothelioma article
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In fact, the word "mesothelioma", a kind of cancer often caused by asbestos (which means you have a potentially lucrative lawsuit in your near future) dominates the list. Other popular words are "insurance", "lawyer", "attorney" and "quotes". Anyone doubting the economic impact of litigation on the American economy?

(And yes, it will be interesting to see what this posting does to my Adsense account. My hypothesis: Nothing at all.)

Masterstudies logo

I am involved (board member) in an exciting startup, a company called We offer potential students a way to find suitable MBA and other Master level programs, and universities and business schools a way to find good students.

So far it has been a fun little project which has involved helping to specify functionality and interface, interacting with the very competent management, and talking to investors.

I think the company has something very useful to offer – there are literally millions of people around the world trying to find their way among the thousands of MBA and other Master level programs in business and related areas. One of the ways we differentiate ourselves from the competition lies in the way universities can specify what kind of leads they want – if you want details, contact our CEO, Linus Murphy.

We have spent the Fall making sure the product is good enough (partially with input from some of my students) and the database large enough (currently at 6,700 different programs) and now is the time to softly launch. There are still bugs to work out, but prospective students can now sign up, fill in their details, select schools and programs based on their preferences. Even though we have not marketed it at all, the traffic figures are promising, the number of leads sent per day is in the hundreds and it is rather exciting to see the details flying by – we are getting leads from all over the world.

I am rather optimistic that this company will succeed in providing value both to universities and students. In the words of our intrepid chairwoman, the student-to-university market is one of the few inefficient markets left, and it is high time someone does something about that. That’s us!

So – why don’t you check it out and tell me what you think?


I have started fiddling with Adsense ads, in the beginning only on individual postings. This is mostly an experiment (justified by my participation in the iAD project) but I am also curious to see how many people visit this blog (checking traffic figures, I had a spike of 67,000 unique visitors last October, though I have no clue why) and what the practical implications of Adsense really are.

Adsense is funny in the sense that it generates ads based on content – a task which is made difficult by this blog’s apparent eclecticism. My wife has a blog dedicated to quilting and other fabric-oriented art forms, and her ads are relevant and interesting, both to her and others. I write about less specialized themes, and then the ads become rather generic. And, of course, if I should write about degree mills, guess what kind of ads show up.

Oh well, riches will eventually follow, I am sure…. 

information Access Disruptions…

….is the somewhat cryptic title of a research project I have been involved in for about a year. The project is financed by the Norwegian Research Board, led by FAST Search and Transfer, has Schibsted and Accenture as business partners and six research partner institutions (UiO, UiTø, NTNU, Cornell, DCU/UCD and NSM). The purpose is to do research in advanced search technology – and to try to understand the business implications of search technology (which, as you may surmise, is what I am involved in.)

All this to introduce a new category on this blog – iAD – and to say that I will start to write down various ideas within this research project whenever I think so. Plus, anything search-related will now be labelled iAD as well.

And in case you think search is not important – Microsoft acquired FAST two weeks ago, and today offered $44.6b for Yahoo (which uses FAST technology.) Hence, search is apparently important. At least to Microsoft.

I am off to FASTForward in Orlando in two weeks, so perhaps there will be time for a little conference-blogging under this heading as well. Until then….

The scientific method

I am currently re-reading Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance, and came across this section, which is one of the best explanations of the scientific method I know of (explained in terms of motorcycle maintenance, of course). So, here goes:

Continue reading

The technology canon

My first real boss, Erling Iversen, used to say that there were two kinds of IT people: Those who had read Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach and those who hadn’t gotten around to it yet. In his opinion, what you got out of that book said much about how you thought about technology. Which leads me to wonder – do we have a canon of technology writing?

A canon is a list of books that you have to read to consider yourself knowledgeable – or, rather, educated in the classical sense – within a field. Creating lists is always controversial, and canons are more controversial than anything (witness all the discussions when Harold Bloom wrote The Western Canon.

The list I would like to create, though, is rather specialized: It consists of the books any technology thinker should read. I am not sure what I mean by that, aside from wanting to put together a list of books I like and that have influenced me, but hopefully the criteria becomes clearer as the list grows. One criterion is that the book must have stood the test of time, to be relevant even though the technology has changed (and, consequently, a book that I will occasionally re-read). A second (or perhaps it is the same criterion) is that its lessons apply outside the technology it discusses, whihc is another way to say that it will be readable by non-technologists.

Here is a brief start, just off the top of my head:

  • Gödel, Escher, Bach: An eternal golden braid by Douglas Hofstadter
  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
  • How Buildings Learn by Stewart Brand
  • A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander
  • Turing’s Man: Western Culture in the Computer Age by J. D. Bolter
  • The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder
  • The Mythical Man-month by Frederic Brooks
  • Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
  • The Control Revolution by James Beniger
  • Mastering the Dynamics of Innovation by James Utterback
  • The Innovator’s Solution by Clayton M. Christensen
  • Consciousness Explained by Daniel C. Dennett
  • The Wealth of Networks by Yochai Benkler
  • The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World by Lawrence Lessig

…and probably others (a whole lot of Internet-oriented stuff missing here), but I am beginning to stray. Anyway, ideas for books that every technology thinker should have read.