Monthly Archives: August 2009

GRA6821: Second lecture, on media in a digital world

image In the next Friday’s class we will discuss the future of media, specifically television, with Eirik Solheim (Twitter: eirikso), one of the people behind NRKBeta and an innovator and authority on digital media and media distribution models. Eirik will speak on the following two topics:

Part 1: How the Internet transforms media

Traditional broadcasting and publishing are mostly built on one way communication. How is democratization of production and distribution transforming the industry? More people produce. More people reach out. What are the major changes for traditional journalism and communication? Mr. Solheim will draw the overall strategic picture and show interesting case studies.

Part 2: How the Internet transforms marketing

You don’t have to rely on big media to reach your customers. And you can’t control what the customers are saying about your brand. What are the opportunities and how about the threats? Companies are experimenting. Failing and succeeding. We’ll go through the most important differences and have a look at some great examples of good and bad modern marketing.

In addition, Eirik is an expert on digital imaging and photography and is willing to share some of that knowledge – should there be time.

To prepare for this lecture, please do the following:

  • read chapters 4, 5 and 6 in Shapiro and Varian
  • see and listen to Ed Felten‘s lecture "Rip, Mix, Burn, Sue: Technology, Politics, and the Fight to Control Digital Media" (go to Princeton University’s lecture page, do a local search for "Felten"). Pay attention not just to his speech, but the little story told in the beginning about what happened to him when he wanted to talk about his research.
  • Check out Cory Doctorow’s talk about copyright, May 2005 (held at Norwegian School of Management. Notice the ability to speak for an hour with no slides and no manuscript. There is also video of the discussion afterwards, which was just as fun.)

Be prepared to discuss:

  • how does the electronically distributable audio and video change the playing field for music, TV, radio and movie companies?
  • what should they do about it?
  • how does it change the world for artists?
  • what should they do about it?
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Adirondacks! (or, what I did for a summer diversion)

Vacation is doing something you don’t normally do, and since I tend to be stuck in front of a computer at all times, I decided to engage in some work with my hands and build Adirondack chairs this summer. You can buy these in stores, of course, but they are expensive (up to $1000 for one chair in Norway,) and the store ones aren’t really Adirondacks, which need a curved back, an anatomically becoming seat and armrests wide enough for coffee, wine, and a computer.

I found drawings from Popular Mechanics, and modified the design a bit to cater for taste and European lumber dimensions. Then I made the pieces – having a wife with quilting and sewing expertise helps a lot – and made one chair (which took three days). The chair was tested by family members and modified (back angle, seat shape) according to their feedback and anatomy. Then I went industrial and made four chairs with good help from my equally theoretically inclined colleague Bill Schiano, then five on my own.

Painting turned out to be tricky. On the advice of a neighbor I invested in a compressor and a paint gun, and first coated the chairs with an impregnating wood treatment. Then I used high-quality house paint, which turned out to be difficult because it needed to be thinned to go through the paint gun. Eventually I ended up with window frame paint. At the suggestion of a reader of my Norwegian blog, I might add a top coat of boat paint later, to get a hard and shiny surface that repels water.

Cost of materials came to about $50 per chair, plus paint. I would not have taken the project on if I couldn’t buy cheap Chinese tools (table saw, band saw) as well as a cheap compressor. If I was going to do it again, I would get a table mounted band/circular sander and used a handheld electric saw rather than the band saw, which uses blades rather freely.

Anyway, I now have 10 chairs to distribute around the garden and porch. They are very comfortable – you really don’t need pillows or blankets. As noted elsewhere, doing a project like this allows you to reflect on how you think in your more theoretical work as well, although a wise colleague warned me that theoretically oriented teachers who do a practical project and try to expound on it in general makes asses of themselves, so I will refrain from elaborating. At least I have understood that a good woodworker is one that not only knows how to follow plans but also can come up with solutions to the inevitable blunders. And that an effective sander can fix a lot of mistakes.

As for kindling, we are well supplied for the winter…

Messy works magically

Craigslist is a mess that is currently taking the mickey out of eBay and irritating Google, according to a fun article in Wired. I am not surprised. The value of a meeting place is not what happens there, but who is there – and by minimizing controls and keeping most transactions face-to-face, Cragslist is eeking out the value from the network with minimal investment and a business model that really isn’t a business model.

As for the messy design, well, it is quick, and you learn very fast where to click to get what you want.

The funny thing is that in Norway, the most popular website by far is vgnett.no, the online version of the biggest tabloid paper – or, rather, an online paper that shares the name, but not must else, with VG, the paper paper. The online version has its own editorial office and their design is evolved, evolving, and the perennial joke with web designers for its busy organization and ratty typeface. They would love to replace it with something akin to Aftenposten or New York Times, where order, quality and completeness reigns. VGnett would beg to offer – they know the use patterns of their audience and serve it, messy or not.

Network externalities in plain view, in other words.

Are social networks a help or a threat to headhunters?

In a currently hot Youtube video which breathlessly evangelizes the revolutionary nature of social networks, I found this statement: "80% of companies are using LinkedIn as their primary tool to find employees". In the comments this is corrected to "80 percent of companies use or are planning to use social networking to find and attract candidates this year", which sounds rather more believable. Social media is where the young people (and, eventually, us in the middle ages as well) are, so that is where you should look.

At the same time, many of the most prolific users of LinkedIn (and, at least according to this guy, Twitter), both in terms of number of contacts and other activities, are headhunters. It is these people’s business to know many people and be able to find someone who matches a company’s demands.

image Headhunters are the proverbial networkers – they derive their value from knowing not just many people, but the right people. In particular, headhunters that know people in many places are valuable, because they would then be the only conduit between one group and another. Your network is more valuable the fewer of your contacts are also in contact with each other.

The American sociologist Ronald S. Burt, in his book Structural Holes: The Social Networks of Competition (1992), showed that social capital accrues to those who not only know many people, but have connections across groups. Or, in other words, if everyone had been directly linked, you would have a dense network structure. The fact that we aren’t, means that there are structural holes – hence the term. In the picture to the right, we see a social network of 9 individuals. Person A here derives social capital from being the link two groups that otherwise are only internally connected. A would be an excellent headhunter here. (Much as profits only can be generated if you can locate market imperfections).

LinkedIn is a social networks, indistinguishable from a regular one (i.e., one that is not digitally facilitated) except that you can search across the network, directly up to three levels away, indirectly a bit further. Headhunters like it for this reason, and use it extensively in the early phases of locating a candidate. The trouble is, LinkedIn (not to mention the tendency of more and more people having their CV online on regular websites) makes searching for candidates easy for everyone else as well. In other words – while initially helpful, is the long term result of this searchability that headhunters will no long be necessary.

Search technology – in social networks as well as in general – lowers the transaction cost of finding something. Lower transaction costs favors coordination by markets rather than hierarchy (or, in this case, network). Hence, the value of having a central position in that network should diminish. On the other hand, search technology (in networks in particular) allows you to extend your network, hence increase your social capital. Which effect is stronger remains to be seen.

Anyway, this should make for interesting research. Anyone out there in headhunterland interested in talking to me about their use of these tools?

D-Day from the middle

D-Day: The Battle for Normandy D-Day: The Battle for Normandy by Antony Beevor

My rating: 4 of 5 stars After having read a number of Steven Ambrose’s books on the battle for Normandy, Anthony Beevor’s version is a relief in that it has much cooler analysis, more maps (which every book on warfare should have more of) and manages to include the German, Canadian, Polish and French side of the equation to a much larger extent. (for instance, he points out that more French civilians died as a result of the war in Normandy, particularly the bombing and shelling, than died during the blitz in London).

Beevor is somewhere between Ambrose (who provides much more detail on the experience of the individual soldiers, particularly infantry) and Liddell Hart and Keegan, who take a more professional, tactical and strategic view. The balance is good. However, the book adds little new knowledge, as far as I can tell, aside from more detail on the rivalry between the various commanders, as well as a good account of the liberation of Paris, with all the political machinations and posturing that went on before it.

Beevor is sharply critical of Montgomery, seeing his egocentric posturing and lack of imagination as a diplomatic and political failure as well as tactically costly. He does point out, however, that Montgomery was facing a more heavily defended part of the front, except at the beachhead. Beevor is also critical of the use of bombers as infantry support, and points out numerous tactical and strategic errors which cost lives and time. In all, most generals seem to make more errors than good decisions – which, I suppose, is primarily an effect of having to take decisions all the time, with imperfect knowledge.

The book manages to give an impression of both the large and the small view of war, and points out how the slaughter in Normandy spared the rest of France a protracted war. For that reason, if you are going to read just one book on D-Day, this is probably it.

View all my reviews >>

GRA6821/GRA6825: First, introductory lecture

In the first lecture, we will discuss what technology is, how it evolves, and what it means to have a technology strategy. For the first lecture, please read and be ready to discuss the following articles (articles in Blackboard unless otherwise noted):

For those who want to plow a bit deeper, read Neal Stephenson’s brilliant essay In the beginning…was the command line and see this video. Actually, try to do that, all of you.

Here are a few questions to get you thinking:

  1. What are Malone & Rockart’s key arguments? To what extent were they right about how information technology would influence corporations? What did they get wrong?
  2. Which parts of Microsoft’s strategy worked — and which didn’t? Imagine you were an interested technology investor in January 1984: Would you have invested in Microsoft based on this article and the company’s strategy?
  3. Why is technology understanding important for general managers? Why is it not?  How much do you need to know about technology to manage a technology-based organization?
  4. What does it mean when we use the term "an information economy"?
  5. (for those diving into Stephenson) Which technologies are currently in the technosphere, which are on their way out, which are coming in? How would you know where a technology is?

And here are two assignments I would like to you do before class starts:

  1. Visit this page, and set yourself up for the Wikipedia assignment, which will go throughout the course.
  2. Sign up for Twitter, follow @espenandersen, and look out for #gra6821 (and maybe #gra6825)