Category Archives: iAD

CACM becomes much more readable

CACM (Communications of the ACM) is one of my favorite journals – and it is currently in the throes of an editorial upheaval that I think is very positive. In addition to scholarly articles, it is moving in the direction of essays and more generally accessible articles, without loosening the quality criteria. Ever since BYTE disappeared (a victim of the need for targeted advertising) I have missed a general, quite technical yet accessible journal – CACM is now getting closer to what I am looking for.

Here are two articles I found very interesting:

  • "Will the Future of Software be Open Source?, a well reasoned reflection by Martin Campbell-Kelly, giving a very terse, yet comprehensive and useful description of the evolution of software markets. Answer: OS is a tempting conclusion if you extrapolate, but extrapolation has not been a very successful prediction technique so far…
  • "Searching the Deep Web", by Alex Wright, which explores two different approaches to searching beyond static web pages – the trawling approach, which relies on local storage, and the angling approach, which produces targeted results in real time.

Small firm, large firm, we are all equal now

Hal Varian has a good post on the democratization of data over at the Google blog – in short, that small firms now can access information and analysis (including consultants) much like large firms can.

My interpretation: Information access is now close to free. What you now need is understanding. That takes people, and if you can access the smart ones in person as well as their explicated output, you will do well.

IAD center opening

Monday was exciting – not only was it the Fall workshop for the iAD Center for Research-based Innovation, but it was also the opening of the iAD Lab [Norwegian language story here] – a physical manifestation of the Bjørn Olstad, CTO of FAST, opening the lab research project, as well as an important tool for drawing the researchers from the five Oslo-based participants (FAST, Accenture, Schibsted, UiO and BI) closer together.

Myself, I plan to spend at least one day per week in the lab – there is nothing like physical proximity to get to know an organization and a field, notwithstanding all the communications capabilities, electronic and otherwise, we surround ourselves with.

The lab itself, incidentally, is just six workspaces, a few computers and access cards for researchers. Gone are the days when the opening of a computing center was photogenic, with blinking lights and spinning tape decks. But it will enable us to store sensitive data in a secure environment, have enough horsepower to really analyze them, and provide a natural focal point for demonstrations, prototypes and experiments.

Serendipity, researchwise

Mary B. has this account of finding interesting material bound with another book from the library – and then discovering that all the stuff was available through Google Booksearch. Which raises the point – how to we make the serendipity often found in research (go into any library and look at the books next to the one you are looking for) in an electronic context?

Online newspapers (as well as domain squatters) face this challenge every day – not just serving what the customer wants, but also something they didn’t know they wanted, often sufficiently similar that it may be, if not a substitute, at least a diversion.

Perhaps Google should have a new subcategory on their result screen – an appropriately random link under the heading of "and now, for something completely different…"

Google and network externalities

Here is a bunch of links about Google that I have had lying around for a while – trying to think about the first one and to what extent Hal Varian is right about Google not having a network externality competitive advantage. I think he is wrong, but why is hard to articulate.

So, here goes (note that Google, rather nicely, includes a list of links to each blog post, which is fodder for further discussion):

  • Hal Varian: Our secret sauce, arguing that Google’s competitive advantage is due to experience and innovation, not network externalities.
  • Tom Evslin: Sitemaps and how the rich get richer: Essentially, Google has an advantage because they are the biggest and people adjust their web sites to the Google engine and its various algorithmic quirks.
  • Hal Varian: Why data matters. Brief overview of search and PageRank.
  • Hal Varian: How auctions set ad prices. Brief explanation of Google’s auction system for ads. One interesting effect, not mentioned here, is that the more precisely the user can describe the targeted population, the lower the ad price – thus, Google has both an incentive to make targeting imprecise (to have enough actors competing for a particular keyword/target) and an incentive to make it precise (to increase click rates).
  • Marissa Mayer: A peek into our search factory. Various presentations, with notes, about the infrastructure underlying Google’s various offerings.
  • Udi Manber: Introduction to Google search quality. Overview of what Google does to fight spam, increase precision, and other things. (Reads like a transcript of a talk.)

Here are two articles that everyone trying to understand Google should read (come to think of it, this blog post is starting to resemble the layout for a class):

  • Brin, S. and L. Page (1998). The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine. Seventh International WWW Conference, Brisbane, Australia. (The classic on PageRank.)
  • Ghemawat, S., H. Gobioff, et al. (2003). The Google File System. ACM Symposium on Operating Systems Principles, ACM. Description of the architecture of Google’s index, a file system geared for few writes and very many reads, redundancy, and low response time. PDF here.

Open Mobile conference musings

Tomorrow I am giving a talk on disruptive technologies at the Open Nordic Conference, and how that theory applies to open standards and open source in the mobile technology industry. The audience is apparently very technical and I, quite frankly, do not think that open source plays that much of a role – apart from providing available functionality for innovators (mostly at the user interface/user service level) to build on.

The challenge in mobile technology (and in any consumer technology whose aim is to facilitate interaction) lies in establishing a platform for users and business to build on. Right now I am listening to Nick Vitalari analyze platform establishment and growth as part of the nGenera project PBG: Building a platform for business growth.

I am thinking about how platforms get established – and playing with words. It seems to me that the process can be described in terms of four words:

  • Problem (often personal): Somebody has an itch to scratch, something that can be fixed with software, so they do it. (This is what Eric Raymond considers to be the beginning of almost any open source project.)
  • Product (or service): The solution to the problem gets productized, either in a closed or open fashion, using standard or collaborative programming and development processes.
  • Platform: The solution expands both in scale (distribution) and scope (technologies it can run on, added services, links to other solutions) until it is less a solution in itself for others to build on, where customers and users get it less for itself than for the added functionality it provides.
  • Protocol: The platform becomes so open and ubiquitous that it is available everywhere, fading into the background in terms of user awareness. This can happen in many ways – it can expand to become all-encompassing (Google, for instance, maybe Facebook in certain communities, email certainly); it can be modularized with tools that pulverizes the proprietary value proposition (emulation, multiple clients (like Trillian in the chat space, cross-licensing); it can be regulated into a standard (AT&T with telephones, for instance); or it can be subsumed into an underlying functional layer (Microsoft’s embrace and extend strategy).

In the end, it will be forced into some form of openness.

Half-baked so far, but it’s a start.

retrogoogling

Here is goosh.org, a UNIX-like interface to Google. I like it – wonderful how a sparse interface can improve productivity. It is almost so I start to long back to the days of Desqview and all those other text-based multitasking hacks of the 90s. (Mind you, this is just an interface, no full Unix shell.)

(Via David Weinberger.)

iAD Master students wanted!

(This message is meant for students at the Norwegian School of Management, but I am posting it here for distribution – and if someone from another institution should be interested, by all means, get in touch.)

The Center for Technology Strategy is seeking M.Sc. students who are looking for interesting topics for their thesis, offering the opportunity to write their thesis under the iAD research project. This project is a joint project of FAST, Accenture, Schibsted and six universities, among them NSM. The purpose of NSM’s part of the project is to understand the business impact of search technologies and other new technologies for information access.

This opportunity is open to all Master students, at any specialty, and would involve finding a research topic connected to the iAD project. (See a list of proposed topics here, but feel free to come up with your own.) The topic definition will happen in collaboration with faculty from your M.Sc. specialty. Thesis advisor will be either your own faculty, one of the faculty associated with the iAD project (Espen Andersen, Ingunn Myrtveit, Erik Stensrud, Torger Reve), or possibly an advisor from FAST, Accenture or Schibsted, as appropriate.

We are planning an information meeting on

    April 2, at 0900-1030 at room C2-040, BI Nydalen

If you are interested, please send me an email so I can know how many will be there.

Updated March 25: A list of some suggested topics can be found here

Turtlenecks will come back, I predict

…if this technology ever moves from lab to street:

(The reason I am skeptical, is that this is kind of similar to voice recognition and other language processing technologies, which have not had a profound impact on our daily lives yet. Though they certainly have affected standard transactions as well as communication analysis.)

Via Marc Andreesen.

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, amazon.com, 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. Marketocracy.com investment fund, zopa.com peer lending.
  2. Ideagoras:  Creating an eBay for innovation. P&G looking for a molecule that will take red wine off a shirt, innocentive.com. 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. Amazon.com – 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: vg.no.  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 vg.no has more readers than the paper paper.

Vg.no is also different in that only 5% of the material at the web site comes from the paper version. The managing editor of vg.no, 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. 

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….