Friday, February 27. 2009
Bruce Schneier is one of our heroes, in a crypto-geek way - great article from him over here. We quote some of it below:
As RFID chips become more common, they'll be tracked, too. Already you can be followed by your cell phone, even if you never make a call. This is wholesale surveillance; not "follow that car," but "follow every car."
And thats just the start - the endgame is that everything will be tagged, certainly down to a c $25 price level within the decade, as prices fall - so clothes, books etc will all be tagged - good news is less petty thiever, bad news is we will know everything about you and your ephemera, every move you make.
Computers are mediating conversation as well. Face-to-face conversations are ephemeral. Years ago, telephone companies might have known who you called and how long you talked, but not what you said. Today you chat in e-mail, by text message, and on social networking sites. You blog and you Twitter. These conversations – with family, friends, and colleagues – can be recorded and stored.
True, but different areas have different laws covering it - European Data Protection is far more on the Citizen's side than US, for example.
More is coming. Keyboard logging programs and devices can already record everything you type; recording everything you say on your cell phone is only a few years away.
Now some may think this wonderful, but any aspirant Science Fiction writer could rapidly imagine some fairly dark scenarios. As Schneier notes:
Cardinal Richelieu famously said: "If one would give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest man, I would find something in them to have him hanged." When all your words and actions can be saved for later examination, different rules have to apply.
It would be a mistake to think the laws that apply in a non persistent, non traceable comms world are acceptable in the emerging ones.
Thursday, February 26. 2009
Jaron Lanier, the Original Virtual Realist (respect!) writing on the TED conference, makes an interesting point about how technology is shifting as it becomes more established:
When the conference began in the 1980s, nerds were on the rise. Brilliant young innovators, often shunned at high school, were making millions with computers. But now the tables have turned, with a new crop of Web 2.0 businesses—Twitter, Facebook and so on—all run by handsome, pleasant, popular guys. Their projects—mostly about small improvements in user experience—require little technological prowess. They certainly don’t make money. They are the business equivalents of popularity contests, in which entrepreneurs get rich by selling the large audiences that they have attracted to older nerds at Google and Microsoft, who hope that someday a business model may appear.
Or as Andrew Orlowski once remarked, "presentation layer people trying to solve Infrastructure layer problems".
The lesson to take away is that, in this cycle anyway, the hard architectural problems have been solved to a "good enough" degree, now its about making them easier to use etc. Its like post war cars - once it was sorted out how they worked, where to put the pedals etc, it became largely a styling game for quite a while.
The thing I noticed at TED was the huge number that were "not for profit" startups, and wondered if that was a new trend - or, if its just a clearing market for these as a result of a TED subculture where, as Lanier notes:
Or is it simply that there is bugger all money in the VC's now, and less scrutiny in Not for Profits?
Wednesday, February 25. 2009
We were talking yesterday at Amplified 09 about when and how the Cool School decide to move on from any one thing, and how its typically when something goes mainstream. And then the conversation moved on to Twitter, its incipient mainstreaminess, and thus where the Cool Kids will go (because go they will - last year this time it was All About Facebook, if you recall....). Yesterday morning, in the Digital Britain report, the chairman peered at his computer and pronounced that there was "A question coming through on the Twitter", much as operators of Telegraphs in tense moments in Cowboy movies did. Funnily enough, today I see someone else had the same idea - Kerry Gafney:
The 5 signs something has gone mainstream
So, in the interests of completing these conditions, let us now see if there is substance behind that last claim that "Twitter is Dead".
Clearly, when we say "Twitter is Dead" we don't mean that the service is actually defunct, more that it is no longer cool, and that the "In Crowd / Early Adopters / Opinion Formers / Name Your Term" will be looking for The New New Thing (TNNT) to differentiate themselves from the lumpen majority. So, are there any signs emerging, any Green Shoots of the TNNT?
Well, a few months ago FriendFeed was going to be TNNT, and there is still a cadre that believes it will all go Web 3D as we live our Second Lives, and Plurk emerged as an alternate lifestream service - but right now all their stars seems to be waning - and once waned, it is very seldom that anyone waxes lyrical again. But clearly lifestreaming is Going To Be Big - after all, Stowe Boyd said so
So, what could replace Twitter, given there is no obvious New New Thing?
Well, Lifestreaming will be multimedia, multimodal, multimessageing - so I've been quite interested in the development of what I'd call Twitter Aggregation Boards (TABs), like Tweetdeck and so on. These effectively become the "Netscapes" of the RealTime Lifestream Web. Once you use those in any coherent way, you no longer actually use Twitter itself - it drops back to its core function, which is a Unified Comms service - the middleware on top of the Web on top of the 'Net that makes the End User Requirements really work.
And of course once you have these sort of TAB systems, you can use them to aggregate the stuff coming in from any other messaging services - and not just Identi.ca and Friendfeed and so on, but all those Feeds you Reads - even (gasp) email. So you move from Unified Comms to Unified Conversation Systems.
And at that point you will want to put in powerful search, and ratings, and "Electronc Person Guides" etc etc - and people will set up TwitMeme and LastTwit.fm and Twitnorati and so on.
And at that time, the user base has moved off Twitter onto the next layer up and like the cities of old, the Twitter Layer is buried under the New layer, until it too is covered by the digital detritus of the layer above it, and so on, and so forth.
Update - in a parallel post, John Battelle likens Twitter to YouTube:
Leave aside that YouTube is not a search engine but an aggregator and (lousy) program guide (Google does the search function), he is describing the same phenomenon - its that Twitter becoming the transport mechanism for "text radio" (to introduce another media into the mix, but I think its more apt) channels - where he is wrong though, is that we will consume it on TAB Sets, not on the the direct firehose.
Update 2 - a later post by Ross Mayfield, explaining the issues with popularity bringing defective behaviour:
One of the interesting things about pan-New Media events like Amplified '09 is you get to talk to some interesting people you'd otherwise never meet - so thats how a digital strategy and back end infrastructure wonk like me gets to meet a songstress like Lobelia Sabo, with a voice that's almost heaven (well, she's from West Virginia* - give her a listen below) to talk about how she uses Twitter as a comms medium.
In short, she noted that Twitter has become a really efficient form of talking to her fans (worshippers, surely with a voice like that!)
Its interesting re the first point, as Lobelia noted that you only get the "right" to promote your music through Twitter if in your comments you are putting a lot into the community first and foremost - it's not a slamdunk pimp mechanism.
*Go on, admit it - that was a clever reference
A lesson - if another one was needed - on the inherent risks of putting trust exclusively in Cloud based Web services - Gmail went down yesterday, and there was many a dazed webhead walking around London Town, discombobulated and Twittering plaintively. Its now over, sez Our Goog:
But really, how many times must this happen before these Web Savvy Netizens get a proper bl**dy email client?
Tuesday, February 24. 2009
From the Grauniad:
Social network sites risk infantilising the mid-21st century mind, leaving it characterised by short attention spans, sensationalism, inability to empathise and a shaky sense of identity, according to a leading neuroscientist.
Naturally the Social Mediarati have harrumphed away and even twut tutted, but frankly I don't think any of them have the jets to take on someone like Dr Susan Greenfield over this stuff*. Don't know what to make of this myself yet - from what I do know of the brain it is possible, but not clear if it is probable. Will ping a few psychologist / psychiatrist friends and report back.
* I am getting a bit concerned that to some in the New Meedja, clueless passion is seen as a valid argument against informed opinion.
Monday, February 23. 2009
Useful post here by the WSJ, reminding the Freeconomic fans of the Facts of Economic Life:
This is a basic tenet of our opposition to FreeConomics. Not all Info is free, or ever will be - its chained up in various ways.
People are happy to pay for news and information however it's delivered, but only if it has real, differentiated value. Traders must have their Bloomberg or Thomson Reuters terminal. Lawyers wouldn't go to court without accessing the Lexis or West online service.
We've been developing this view ever since we started looking at the Future of Print Media, and I mean to blog a fairly detailed summary soon - but this puts it very succinctly for now.
A suggestion by NYT writer Tom Friedman that it is better to give bailout cash to sunrise rather than sunset industries and thus to Silicon Valley et al, was pooh poohed in Techmeme yesterday. The interesting question to me is why. Friedman:
This drew ire from Silicon Alley's Fred Wilson:
But the venture capital business, thankfully, does not need any more capital. It's got too much money in it, not too little. Just ask the limited partners who have been overfunding the venture capital business for the past 15-20 years what they think. You don't even need to ask them. They are taking money out of the sector because the returns have been weak.
He continues with the view that its the crap VCs that wll take the money, and instead it should be used as way of stimulating the Angel sector:
The worst firms, on the other hand, will gladly accept government money. And that is what is going to happen with all of these government efforts to pour more money into the "innovation sector". That money will go to bad investors and weak entrepreneurs and management teams for the most part. It's a problem of adverse selection.
I'd second the need to get the Angel sector back in the saddle. Anyway, adding froth to Fred's Latte day saintliness comes Sarah Lacy:
What’s more, there was never a shakeout in venture firms after the year 2000 crash—it’s only now working its way through the system. So the firms that may be finding themselves short of cash? Those are our own version of the “loser” firms – to borrow Friedman’s phrase—that should be shaken out of the venture economy. Not only do the top 20 venture firms have plenty of money, the top 100 firms could find a way to raise more capital if they needed to. But odds are they don’t, because funds work in multi-year cycles, and not everyone is forced to fundraise in 2009.
Leaving aside just who is calling whom on "economic reality" here, methinks this article is indirectly pointing to the real issue behind the reluctance - government money coming in would break the cosy world, in 2 ways:
- Firstly, VC's make money by rejecting a whole bunch of startups that don't meet their criteria but are still perfectly viable businesses. Government money would let many more of those see the light of day........and thus reduce the value of their own bets by introducing more competition
A possibly valid argument that the industry could make is that there are just not enough good ideas to back - but as neither of the above authors make the point, I suspect the VC industry is probably aware that there are far more backable companies to invest in than they do back, but that would of course reduce the potential multiples on their backed ones.
Nonetheless, its still probably a bad idea to "bail in" VC's, as they are probably using the wrong models and as pointed out above, such programmes do not have a great history. As Fred suggested, co-investing or subsidising - ie risk sharing - at the Angel "next level" down is possibly a more useful way to stimulate innovation and employment.
Update - I see Don Dodge has had some similar thoughts to mine.
Update 2 - it would see, according to PE Hub, that those top 20 VC's may not be that well sorted after all - which makes Mr Wilson & Ms Lacy's calls even more interesting...
Update 3 - surprisingly for SAI they indulge in cr*ponomics, arguing that because most small companies bomb, there is no point investing in the sector overall. In that case, one wonders how the VC's afford their mansions, Mercedes and mistresses Also, it is well known that nothing produces jobs per $ like small companies.
There is nothing funnier on Sunday night than watching who will fall for a piece of trollware (Oscars - Bah Humbug!). Here we have the Sunday Times having a go at Twitterers:
The Bad (or at least somewhat pop-psychologically overblown)
The Ugly (as in OTT but with a grain of unpleasant truth):
Much harrumphing in the Twitterverse of course - see this list here
Is the article a troll post, over the top and full of pop psychobabble - heck yes. Does it land a few telling shots - yup! Is my post trying to capitalise on it - of course not 0:-)
Big picture of course is that the Sunday Times would not have run a story like this, or the Grauniad one on the legal/libel aspects, if Twitter wasn't mainstreaming.
(Hat tip Drew Benvie for links to articles - seen on Twitter, of course)
Sunday, February 22. 2009
Neilsen Blogpulse - Last.fm vs Spotify
Two interesting possible angles:
No doubt the truth will unfold over the next few days - but as one of the commentators on the post notes, at real issue here is the core tenet of "whose data is it anyway?" Until users control their data, this will be a perennial issue.
Update - Second Set - Ars Tech notes the RIAA says that they have received no such data. Ball now in TechCrunch court....
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