Friday, December 21, 2007

Wooden horses ....

Amazon has made a really smart move by releasing DevPay. They have in effect created a SaaS (Software as a Service) platform (EC2 / S3 / SimpleDB / ASQS) for others to build SaaS products in. They also provide those SaaS companies (or providers) with a utility mechanism for charging their customers.

It's highly seductive sales story, you can imagine the sort of pitch:

Not only do we minimise your risk and the costs associated with infrastructure start-up and scaling but we also provide you with a simple mechanism for charging your clients. If no-one uses your creation, it costs you nothing and the more people use your service then the more you get paid.

Yes please, I'll buy one .... wow ...... wait. There's a huge gotcha here. Before EC2 / S3 / SimpleDB or DevPay, I was involved in Zimki and we covered the same ground.

Let's say you use DevPay and you decide to take your system out of this environment. Unless DevPay is an open service, then along with any migration costs you are going to have to build a payment service, create a mechanism of charging and then explain this to your customers. That's a lot of pain.

OK, but why would I wish to leave such a wonderful service?

Well the ability to easily leave a service and move to another service is what maintains competition in a market place, thus ensuring that prices for a commodity remain competitive. Now the nightmare scenario for any future SaaS provider is :-

  • To have their systems provided on a utility computing cloud.
  • To be in competition with other SaaS providers on the same or on different utility computing clouds
  • To not be able to move from one cloud to another.

In such a scenario, as a SaaS provider you NEED to enforce lock-in on your customers. If your customers can move services freely (which they will want) then you will face price competition, however since YOU cannot move services freely then your supplier doesn't face price competition.

Eventually all your prices will probably end up matching your suppliers and all your profit would hence be given away in price competition. The Warren Buffet Loom story is a worthy read here.

We considered this scenario for Zimki and the use of a utility billing service to create lock-in. We believed you could even open source everything else and create lock-in with this one little piece. Of course, if you want to create an ecosystem of providers and disrupt a whole industry then you need to open source everything.

Amazon is now that industry.

The last thing to note with a utility charging service, is that it can provide a very useful way of identifying revenue potential of any company using the service. Ideally for the provider of a utility charging service, you want customers of SaaS systems who are billed through your service to be able to sign up to multiple SaaS providers with same account (users would probably argue for the same for reasons of simplicity). This enables the owner of the utility charging service to not only estimate the revenue potential and hence value of the SaaS companies using its service but also cross selling potential. All excellent information for use in a good acquisition strategy.

Even at this seasonal time, be thoughtful of the gifts that others bring .... especially in business.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Hyperlinking ...

More and more people seem to be discovering connections between a wide variety of themes such as enterprise 2.0, web 2.0, SOA, commodification, BPO, cost, community, commoditisation, knowledge management, architecture of participation, worth, freedom of expression and enquiry, competitive advantage, cost of doing business, radical innovation, ubiquity, barriers to entry, open source, open innovation markets, XaaS, organisational structure and issues with outsourcing.

This is all good news, as these are all intertwined themes and should be explored together.

Let me show a simple example of such connections. Innovations whether radical or incremental are the main long term source of competitive advantage and can occur across all organisational functions of a business. Hence you will constantly get incremental and radical innovations in the operation of a utility computing environment. However if computing infrastructure is increasingly seen as a CODB (cost of doing business) due to its ubiquity, then such innovations will trickle through to consumers via price competition between such providers, assuming you have a competitive utility computing market. Obviously for providers there will be a constant battle in improving operations.

So I recently came across a post by Andew Mulholland who blogs for CapGemini that "Competitive advantage is shifting from the cost management of transactions in the back office to business optimisation in the front office and the external market."

Whilst this specific premise is highly questionable, the overall post "Mesh working rather than Matrix working" is relatively interesting.

Why interesting? Well, you can literally read how Andy is making the connections to some of the themes above. It's almost a written diary, as he tries to "tie together the pieces".

I find it fascinating that he talks about the " Mesh of people and systems is potentially a never ending huge open environment extending externally as well as internally rather than the closed internal world of Matrix working." which implies a constantly free-forming and fluid organisational structure. Whilst "the relationships in Matrix working are always pre determined, fully defined and use known data." implies a more structured approach.

This suggest a need for an organisational structure to match a change from uncertainty to certainty and from undefined to defined. Now this is something that I would agree with.

I also noticed he blogged recently about value vs cost. Now, I'm not actually interested in whether I find his analysis convincing but rather that he makes a strong distinction between cost and value (or worth), which is something I would agree with.

Andy also seems to be exploring the XaaS world, barriers to participation, the distinction between CA and CODB and the need for different mechanisms of management and governance. All fascinating areas - an overview of my thoughts on these subjects can be found in my web 2.0 talk.

Interesting person - I'm curious to which connections he will make.

I'm starting to see why Richard George used the term hyperlink when describing making connections between things.

Of course, you always start with amateurs (it's a novel and new field) and then the professionals (amateurs with experience) come in later on to tidy up the mess. It's the same with any innovation - whether it's a product or a process.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Hundreds of millions have heard of Google Docs ...

According to this study, 73.2% of Americans have never heard of web based productivity suites like Google Docs.

Hang on, that means 26.8% have!

Now assuming this refers only to the population of internet users, and that you can extrapolate (huge assumption) this figure to the entire continent of 350 million internet users - that means at least 93 million people.

Hang on, now assuming you can extrapolate this (massive assumption) for the rest of the world (the America's account for 28.2% of world internet usage) that means around 330 million people worldwide have heard of web based productivity suites like Google Doc!

They're kidding right? Google Docs was only added to Google Apps at the beginning of this year - I thought this stuff was supposed to be new.

Picked up the story from Dennis Howlett and Nick Carr.

Patently marvellous ...

For a long time I've argued that patents make no sense from a societal viewpoint when the time of independent discovery is less than the length of the patent and where alternative means of disseminating information for benefit exists (such as Open Source, Scientific Journals etc) - for more see here and here.

Patents can act as a spur for innovation but also as a choke-hold. As commoditisation of communication, open source and other factors have accelerated the rate and diffusion of innovation then the length of term is becoming even more problematic.

So today, whilst casually researching another issue, I came across this beautiful paper from Rufus Pollock on optimal copyright length.

Around and around ....

Mixing up my James'.

One is James McGovern and the other is James Governor of RedMonk.

Anyway .... in total I thought the James' had very good questions.

1 - McGovern. "When will we stand up and have enough courage to ask ourselves whether we should be pursuing SOA, BPM, ECM, CMMi, Six Sigma, IT outsourcing, Business Rules, ESB, etc strategies all at the same time?"

Well I happen to believe the issue is not that we are pursuing such strategies but whether we are pursuing them across a function or for the correct stage of an activity.

In July last year I blogged about commoditisation as a force for change, the cost / value relationship being broken in IT and how the main issue was that not all IT was the same. Over the last year I've come back several times to that theme of managing two polar opposites in focus and the transition from static to dynamic - however it was my exploration of the XaaS stack and discussions with Jenny Ambrozek that finally convinced me the issue was purely organisational.

2 - Governor. "don't we need to stop for a moment and consider the learning curve of both producers and consumers of our grand strategies?"

Yes, I believe we do (examples see the extended S-Curve and my talk at Web 2.0 Berlin.). The transition from idea to commodity and from source of competitive advantage to cost of doing business, not only affects the characteristics of any activity but also how it should be managed.

3 - Governor. "Could it be that Mcafee’s thesis, often used as a pushback against Carr, actually supports it?"

In May, I blogged about how the effects of open source and commoditsation drives innovation and causes more disruption and hence how McAfee's thesis support this. I see no reason to change that view.

These are three outstanding questions that the James' have raised, and they deserve serious attention. I've summarised my viewpoint before in my Web 2.0 Berlin and FOWA talks.

Those who know me, have heard me going on and on an on about commoditisation (from manufacturing to IT) for almost a decade ... I promise, once I've finished the book .... I'll change the record completely.

Howl at the moon ...

My first article "The sum of all fears" has been published in the Butler Group Review - it's a review of the underlying processes behind web 2.0. Obviously I'm delighted and hopefully my second article will also be out soon.

Anyway, I thought I'd take some time to write a little more about the book I'm writing on understanding your landscape, coherence and its origin. It all stems from conflicts which I'd noticed in the business world. Be lean and mean but yet be a great company to work for; be innovative and high speed but plan in detail; create value but focus on cost. Combine this with concerns over aligning to the business strategy and most organisations seem fairly schizophrenic (multiple changing and overriding personality types) or at least bipolar (mood swings between extremes).

Let's look at the business strategy first. Most business strategies to me are very noticeable for what they miss out rather than what they include. Any business is a mass of potential competitive advantage (CA), transitional and cost of doing business (CODB) activities. However most business strategies emphasise the differential, the competitive advantage whereas the cost of doing business is often diminished.

Now let's bring that skewed strategy down to the level of a function such as IT. As said before a function is a mass of connected activities (products and processes) with each activity at its own stage of its own S-Curve of evolution between idea and ubiquity, from novel and new to commonplace, from uncertain to certain, from undefined to defined, from dynamic to static and from barely repeatable to easily repeatable.

Most organisational functions seem completely unaware of what stage of evolution their activities are at, even assuming they are fully aware of what activities they do or what their users actually need in the first place. Most functions would have a hard time splitting their activities into potential CA / Transitional and CODB.

As any activity moves through its S-Curve then the characteristics of that activity change and the methodologies, culture, finance and governance needed to manage that activity change as well. Most organisations seem unaware of this and manage by function rather than by stage of evolution.

To this recipe for disorder we need to add the latest trends. For example outsourcing, a sensible option if you are outsourcing a commoditised and ubiquitous activity to an environment containing multiple providers and second sourcing options. A fairly hit and miss affair if you are outsourcing a function or parts of a function without any knowledge of the stages of the activities that it contains. In the latter case you are likely to be outsourcing innovative activities with appropriate skills and capabilities along with commoditised activities. The net result of this reduces any benefits from outsourcing and in some cases can actually weaken the organisation's position. There are similar problems when it comes to corporate innovation (all these ideas are wrapped up in the framework which I've spoken about at various conferences). These problems are solvable but you need to understand your own landscape and for some reason, which evades my attention, most seem to be actively ignoring it. To the cooking pot of confusion, now add a splash of skewed business plan and hey presto ....

You have a situation in which you have lots of activities (which you may or may not be fully aware of) that you are often trying to manage with the wrong methods (as you are unaware of stage and how to govern by stage) in order to fit in with a skewed business strategy (which ignores most of what you do and what your user might need) whilst dealing with a bewildering array of trends from the outside environment for which no-one ever seems to give you a straight answer (as neither you nor anyone else is in a position to say what the effect is on your organisation without knowing the above).

Each time I read that paragraph, I feel shudders of arrogance and a dreadful feeling that I'm getting it all wrong. There are lots of smart people out there, lots of good business schools, lots of great thinkers but I keep feeling like the kid pointing at the naked emperor or the villager shouting "he's the werewolf!"

Now, I've been poring through the history books and every time I have come across a company which has moved away from a functional organisational design to one based around the evolutionary stage of activity - it has had dramatic positive effects. Unfortunately, this move has always been coincidental to some other activity and organisations have tended to lapse back into a functional approach over time. The more I research I do, the more evidence I gather. I am now more convinced than ever that the issues surrounding corporate innovation, outsourcing, alignment with business strategy and a host of other conflicts are all primarily due to a monumental howler in organisational design.

Before you call me barking mad ... I've been called those words at various points over the last decade when I've talked about commoditisation of IT, commoditisation of manufacturing processes, spime scripts, 3D printing, competitive utility computing markets, biological manufacturing systems, dynamic vs static methodologies, patents vs innovations, utility computing and others. To quote myself (from The sum of all fears) :-

"Innovations are dynamic problems and require dynamic methodologies such as agile development and a more worth focused VC-like approach to financing. By contrast, the use of utility services requires a focus on cost, standards and static methodologies. Unless you intend to stop innovating and give up on the long term source of profit for any organisation, then the IT department must find a way to manage both of these extremes. As commoditisation is ongoing, you’ll also need to continuously deal with the transition between these two extremes." 

I have the advantage that I've lived and breathed in an organisation that was designed around these three different stages of evolution. In fact, I was the one who re-organised the company. However, I'm no werewolf and I'm no seer - I just like history books - and so what worked for me may not work for you. But there isn't one idea in the above list whose origin can't be traced back over thirty years ago and yet we keep on repeating the same old problems.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Wishful thinking ...

Apparently despite all historical precedents, economics will decide to take a quick detour on the process of commoditisation when it comes to the utility provision of computer resources and we will all end up buying more servers.

I bet you we won't.

'tis the season to be jolly ...

Disasters happen.

In the XaaS world it could be your service provider closing down or some sort of security breach as happened with Sales Force or an outage which causes data loss as happened with EC2.

That's why I talked about the need for Patration, which of course everyone knows means:

“the freedom and portability to move from one service provider to another without hinderance or boundaries".

(James Urquhart has a more sensible term, which is less likely to cause arguments with English teachers, in Software Fluidity.)

Even if your provider is under an obligation to return your data to you in a usable format, it is at the very least damn expensive and time consuming if you have nowhere to go. What you need is choice, competition and portability among multiple providers.

I happen to agree with some of Christofer Hoff's predictions. I feel that 2008 is going to be the year where some of us get a refresher course on those painful second sourcing lessons.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Finished ... just in time to start again

Just finished my latest article - phew. Which of course allows me to get back to writing my book, some consultancy work I need to finish and preparing my talks for 2008.

When I've finished my book I'll publish it under Creative Commons. However I thought I'd outline here where I'm going with it. Obviously as I'm writing it I do tend to refine things as I go along. It's all based upon the stuff I've been talking about over the years - so it probably won't be a surprise to anyone.

Coherence : an uncommon sense for a common sense world

Chapter 1 : Problem. An overview of the issues surrounding innovation, the growth of participation in many industries, managing by numbers, outsourcing and several paradoxes of modern economic life.

Chapter 2 : Definition. Sorting through the tangled mess of today means first getting some clear definitions of what terms actually mean. An idea is not a synonym for innovation and neither are synonymous with invention. Ubiquity is not a source of competitive advantage and commodification is not the same as commoditisation.

Chapter 3 : Example. Today, IT is under assault from a maelstrom of terms and concepts - from web 2.0 to enterprise 2.0, from utility computing to open standards, from XaaS to agile development. In this chapter we explore all these issues and characterise them according to our definitions.

Chapter 4 : Hypothesis. Our characterisation of IT points to an underlying framework, from invention to idea, from idea to innovation, from innovation to commodity. This framework describes how the characteristics of processes and products change during the transition from idea to commodity as well as the drivers for such transitions.

Chapter 5 : Concurrency. This framework is not peculiar to IT and examples of this can be seen in many industries from pharmaceuticals to music to finance. What was however specific to IT was the growth and profound impact of an 'open' meme. This meme has spread.

Chapter 6 : Prediction. Using the framework we predict a number of events for the future from the commoditisation of the manufacturing process, the growth of competitive utility markets and government regulation. We consider where this resurgent renaissance is heading.

Chapter 7 : Conflict. The framework provides an ordered overview on a bloody battlefield. We examine some of the generic conflicts of interest - Cost vs Worth, Dynamic vs Static, Emergent vs Declarative - as well as how allies can become bitter enemies - Patent vs Innovation. The largest conflict though is Organisation vs Innovation.

Chapter 8 : Organisation vs Innovation. One of the most startling aspects of the framework is that it shows a direct conflict between the common sense approach of modern organisation and the real world. Most firms are organised by function, however each function is a mass of different activities. The framework proposes that every activity has its own S-Curve of transition from idea to commodity, and that each function is nothing more than a mass of activities at different stages of their own extended S-Curves. This causes a conflict, as the ideal method of management changes with stage of activity and not with function. Management by function would appear to be the cause of the problems outlined in chapter 1 - from the difficulty in managing innovation to outsourcing. The chapter demonstrates a more effective approach to organisational structure based not on function but on stage of activity.

Chapter 9 : Coherence. Using the framework and structure, a range of generic strategies are outlined for dealing with the different characteristics of any organisational activity as it moves through various stage of the extended S-Curve. From innovation, to competitive advantage to cost of doing business. These strategies show how to manage the maelstrom of todays terminology and the issues surrounding innovation, outsourcing, participation and the economic paradoxes.

I'm looking for some more proof readers - so if you are interested, please contact me.

SaaS and OSS a natural fit.

An article in talks about SaaS and OSS as a natural fit rather than the SaaS vs OSS debate that some have been peddling.

This is good news.

I also note that Amazon has made the next logical step with SimpleDB - a web service for running queries on structured data in real time.

Apparently SimpleDB "requires no schema, automatically indexes your data and provides a simple API for storage and access." and "you organize your structured data into domains and can run queries across all of the data stored in a particular domain".

Though this is interesting, I would hardly consider it the most revolutionary or seriously disruptive idea, since Libapi (Zimki's predecessor) was doing this circa Dec'05. The next "disruptive" step would logically be an application framework to tie all the bits together.

Any real disruption won't occur until we get an open source environment and an ecosystem of providers e.g. a SaaS and OSS play.

There is still plenty of room for some company to "disrupt" Amazon's new world.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Which blogs do I read?

Someone asked me recently which blogs would I recommend to keep up with the world of utility computing?

Generally, I find James Urquhart, Rich Miller and Nick Carr cover most of the topics you need to be interested in.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Oh no, not again ....

It looks like the meme game is spreading around again. This time it's an eight things meme following on in the same spirit as - 4 / 5 / 6 meme ... what happened to 7 meme?

Do people not like the number 7? What has it done?

Once again I'm delighted and honoured to be invited to tell all those little bits of info which I don't reveal on Facebook / Twitter / Blogger etc.

I will of course do so with my usual speed and gusto.

Awesome ....

Movable type has just been open sourced.

Six Apart have some smart cookies.

MTOS is one of the only open source blogging tools with built-in support for an unlimited number of blogs, an unlimited number of authors, and sign-in with OpenID, with no plugins needed.

Ben and Mena were really committed to setting the standard that Movable Type would always be open

Excellent. I'll now have to move my blog to a MT SaaS provider (free or not). At least that way, I can always know that if I need to move my data - I can. Oh, as for standard? I think there is a good chance that MT will fast become that blogging platform standard and portability for blogs will be based around it.

Thanks to David for pointing this one out.

Gartner calls for more duck friendly IT.

Well actually, not quite.

What they actually say, hot on the heels of those Anderson bods, is that IT should adopt more green strategies and how that SaaS has the potential to be much more environmentally friendly.

As a former active environmentalist (back in the early 1990s when I had hair) and as a proud keeper of ducks, I obviously support their move.


Fabrication technologies also have the possibility to be more environmentally friendly as well.

Though I'm not involved with the environmental movement today, I obviously have concerns about such issues. At ETech in Mar' 2007 and OSCON we demonstrated a mashup of GoogleMaps and a Carbon offset calculator in Zimki. A more impressive system is Will Carter's OffSetr which uses Dopplr data and provides cumulative effects of your networks.

I do however oppose the idea of widespread use of tradeable carbon permits as this is a mechanism for social exclusion. A more equitable system would be based upon non-transferable personal share which gives rise to an annual carbon quota. That quota (or part of) can be sold on an open market, but the the right to that share cannot be transferred.

I am also fully aware that such as system is a bit of disaster for anyone living in the richer countries, as we produce far too much carbon per capita and under such a system we'd be forced to share more with the rest of the world.

I also believe that each country should pay for the cumulative damage it has caused so far.

I also believe that the likelihood of the richest countries agreeing to such things are relatively small, and hence any 3rd world country should avoid tradeable permits and pollute as much as is necessary to build their economies in order to avoid lifelong servitude and hence force richer countries to negotiate reasonably.

I'm fully aware of all the risks of inaction and I stopped working in the environmental field when it became obvious that change would only happen as a result of severe consequences. At which point it is a guessing game.

Still anything to improve the lot of ducks is a good thing in my book.

Of mice and servants ...

Thanks to Rob for this .... 8 data principles of Open Government

Of course it is an "open" group itself? No, of course not!

Only "members" can post comments.

[Addition : Though I joined the mailing list on the 12th Dec, I was unable to post for some reason. I assumed that the membership list was restricted in some manner. It now appears that membership is open for all to join and that my original view was wrong - see comments. My apologies to the Open Government group.]

Hmmm, doesn't seem very open to me. I'm certainly not voting for you.

Openness starts at home.

Oh and on their eight principles, getting the data is great but if you don't know what it means and how it was collected then it really is rather useless - even if it is machine readable, free of license etc.

Of mice and men ....

Interesting discussion about commoditisation of IT and governance at Monash University.

Also I came across this bit of a stink with Apple and Nokia removing an open media format from HTML5.

Hmmm, so an example of an open standard but with my data in a proprietary format? J5 has put forward the argument that open formats, open standards and open source are necessary for an open web.

This can be simplified for a ubiquitous software service in which you have more than a transient relationship. If you want freedom, if you want data portability, if you want to avoid lock-in, if you want choice and competition then :


I put the terms in bold, because:

  • WITHOUT OPEN SOURCE you will end up with ....
  • NO CHOICE as you will be ...
  • LOCKED-IN to a vendor as ....
  • DATA PORTABILITY is more than just APIs and formats.
  • No open source .... NO FREEDOM

For an old database hound like myself, these discussions seem reminiscent of the once promised land of ANSI SQL. So I've lifted the following from wikipedia.

Reasons for lack of portability

Popular implementations of SQL commonly omit support for basic features of Standard SQL, such as the DATE or TIME data types, preferring variations of their own. As a result, SQL code can rarely be ported between database systems without modifications.

There are several reasons for this lack of portability between database systems:

* The complexity and size of the SQL standard means that most databases do not implement the entire standard.

* The standard does not specify database behavior in several important areas (e.g. indexes), leaving it up to implementations of the database to decide how to behave.

* The SQL standard precisely specifies the syntax that a conforming database system must implement. However, the standard's specification of the semantics of language constructs is less well-defined, leading to areas of ambiguity.

* Many database vendors have large existing customer bases; where the SQL standard conflicts with the prior behavior of the vendor's database, the vendor may be unwilling to break backward compatibility.

The areas of concern are always behaviour, ambiguity, formats and completeness.

The belief that open standards and open data formats alone will lead to data portability and that companies won't attempt to subvert this to this their own ends, reminds me of John Maynard Keynes quote.

"Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone."

It's a nice plan but I feel it only get us so far ....

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Dopplr for everyone ...

Dopplr is no longer in private beta and was officially launched at Le Web 3. Whoops, I thought it had launched ages ago - well as least I can now say congrats!

If you don't use it, you have friends all over the world and you travel ... then you should give it a go.

Carry on regardless ....

The underlying processes of commoditisation behind web 2.0, E2.0 and Webever x.0 are very real and their impact in reducing the barriers to participation are significant. This doesn't mean people can't get carried away with this (see video below and thanks to Ian for spotting this.)

Unfortunately the video has been pulled from YouTube - it was very funny. For more on the story see here.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Picking a fight ...

It seems that groups like Data Portability Org believe that Open Standards (e.g. APIs) are sufficient to create portability. I've long argued that open standards are necessary but not sufficient for this. If you want portability you will need open sourced implementations of such standards.

Why does the phrase "standardized Data Portability is the next great frontier for the web" feel like a re-run of the SQL saga?

I wonder what odds I can get on us ending up with implementations that "are inconsistent and, usually, incompatible between vendors".

Don't get me wrong, open standards are better than none but if you want portability (whether for your data or your application) then open standards are not going to be enough.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Understanding knowledge

I was talking with Dennis Howlett recently about the codification and subsequent commoditisation of knowledge, when I came across the TrueKnowledge web site. It's a startup company run by William Tunstall-Pedoe, someone I knew from Cambridge.

It's a small world. Watch the video.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

What conversation?

In todays world, in many industries, the conversation between the company and the customer is critical. Being incompetent, hypocritical and downright rude is not a good way to build a strong relationship.

I suspect a company like Virgin Media, the source of Suw's complaint (see above link), will probably come up with the usual statements - it's just one customer, it was unfortunate, it was an issue with the service company and all our other customers are happy. You can see from her post there is already some buck passing.

These statements are just like the attempts to redefine copying as theft. Of course copying isn't theft, it's just a license infringement. You repeat the phrase enough times and people start to accept it though deep down you know something isn't quite right.

Well copying is not theft, it's a license infringement. Suw is not just a customer, she is a Virgin Media customer and if this is the way they treat her then there is no reason to suspect that they won't mistreat others too.

A quick search on Facebook for "Virgin" shows that four of the first five groups were negative and "Virgin tech support sucks" was the mildest. Are they having problems?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Operations as a source of competitive advantage

I've just been reading Jesse's Operations is a source of competitive advantage.

As system operations are ubiquitous and common they should not be a source of strategic value. As Peter Nickolov quite correctly said in the comments "Operations is a price of entry and should *not* be a differentiator."

Despite this, there is always a silver lining. Firstly there are always huge cost advantages in any industry where everyone else is doing a poor job of it (unfortunately they tend to be short lived). Secondly, there are always incremental innovations which can provide further cost advantages (again, short lived)

So can operations be a source of competitive advantage? Well the short answer is Yes, but the long term answer is No - unless of course you are in the business of utility provision of computing resources.

For the rest of us though, my electricity provider being cheaper than yours is not a source of competitive advantage - it's a deviation which will quickly be resolved.

Call for participation

X-Tech has a CFP out for “The Web on the Move” - focusing on the emerging portability of data, applications and identity on the internet.

Market or Lock-in? You decide.

Brian Suda has sent me a link to a conversation between Bruce Schneier and Marcus Ranum, in which Bruce says:

"By 2017, people and organizations won't be buying computers and connectivity the way they are today. The world will be dominated by telcos, large ISPs and systems integration companies, and computing will look a lot like a utility. Companies will be selling services, not products: email services, application services, entertainment services. We're starting to see this trend today, and it's going to take off in the next 10 years. Where this affects security is that by 2017, people and organizations won't have a lot of control over their security."

Well, unsurprisingly I agree. The threat is that companies are going to find themselves locked in. Before someone shouts "open standards" - I don't believe they are sufficient to ensure portability.

However companies can act in a way to overcome this problem - the answer to this lies in the prisoners dilemma.

First, let's assume that much of IT is ubiquitous and of little strategic value. The only real advantage that can be gained is through efficiency and for this reason various XaaS providers look attractive. However, the downside to this is the risk of lock-in and the lack of any portability and choice between providers.

Secondly, if there was portability and choice between providers then there would exist a competitive market. Such a market would reduce the cost of XaaS to the consumers, however for the producers their product would be a commodity. Providers are unlikely to do this despite there being very good strategic reasons for being the first mover.

So the situation here is that consumers (i.e. companies) of XaaS want to adopt it in order to gain efficiencies and hence some operational advantage (no matter how short lived) but they don't want the lock-in. In order to do this, providers would have to work against their natural instincts.

If we assume that eventually all companies would move to XaaS and that IT is predominantly a cost of doing business, then the best move for companies would be to collectively move to a portable XaaS market. Of course, this requires collective agreement and hence we have the issue of the prisoners dilemma with providers trying to entice companies over.

So I take interest in organisations like DataPortability and suggest that there is a need for such an organisation to act as a trusted intermediary on behalf of all customers (companies included) and to push forward the concepts of a portable XaaS market. I also believe it is about time that companies who are consumers of such IT work in concert through such intermediaries to ensure that their interests are served.

The alternative, well it's just like Bruce says, the world would be dominated by "telcos, large ISPs and systems integration".

It doesn't have to be, there is an opportunity here to create a functioning market through open source. Of course, if we do head down the direction which Bruce is concerned about ... we will eventually end up with Government intervention.

Principles of Organisation

As most of my friends know, I'm currently hidden away in the British Library writing about:-

  • Commoditisation, commodification and creative destruction.
  • How organisations are a mass of S-Curves.
  • Managing from invention to innovation.
  • Managing from innovation to ubiquity.
  • Organising around stage of activity rather than function.
  • What sort of firm are you - physical or human capital intensive?.
  • What 2.0 means.

It's an enormous amount of work and extends upon the framework I use in my presentations. So yes, I'm writing a book and yes, I'll be releasing it Creative Commons 3.0 attribution when I'm finished.

However, two things happened today which I must respond to. The first thing was that I read Suw's post and the second was that someone asked me about the "ideal of ubiquitous knowledge in large organisations."

This is an interesting idea. To explore this, I first need to discuss two main emerging types of firm - physical capital intensive and the other is human capital intensive.

As an example of a physical capital intensive firm - I'll use wikipedia. The key controlling element for any members (whether its paid employee or its voluntary members who gain value through reputation or some other social or actualising need) of this "firm" is access to the physical infrastructure which creates wikipedia.

If a member of wikipedia leaves - the impact on wikipedia is minimal. Conversely if wikipedia denies access to the system to an individual - the impact to that individual is significant as setting up a new wikipedia requires huge physical capital.

Wikipedia is an example of a physical capital intensive firm and can exert influence on its members by controlling access to the physical assets or infrastructure. It is the infrastructure that binds this group together.

Human capital intensive firms are controlled or bound together through access to high value human capital. For example Barristers Chambers, where pupils often work for very little (if at all) and are mentored by the chamber in a sort of master / apprenticeship relationship. As the apprentice acquires more human capital then rewards are increased and eventually they become masters themselves. The advantage for the masters is they offload menial work to the apprentices whilst concentrating on the high value and more rewarding work. It's an exchange.

This sort of structure exists in many fields, and the firms depend upon creating an umbrella group to not only support this, but also to create a brand and provide suitable compensation to keep the group together.

So let's look at the "ideal of ubiquitous knowledge in large organisations".

Ubiquitous knowledge requires its codification, however codification almost always leads to commoditisation as knowledge rarely remains within the boundaries of one firm. Now commoditisation and ubiquity of knowledge is fine if you are a physical capital intensive firm - such as wikipedia. However what if you're a human capital intensive firm? What if "how to win every legal case" could be codified? The firm's reason for existence has gone as setting up a new firm requires very little physical capital and there is no human capital to be acquired by joining another.

Fortunately, tacit knowledge comes to the rescue. Not all knowledge can be codified, for example creative writing and debate.

So in general:-

  • human capital intensive firms are fine, as long as knowledge cannot be commoditised
  • physical capital intensive firms are fine, as long as the physical infrastructure cannot be commoditised

So if we look at the Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0 worlds, hopefully you'll understand why I have been going on about commoditisation so much.

So referring to Suw's post - if you are a content broadcaster, then you used to be physical capital intensive as the infrastructure needed for production and distribution was far from cheap. Such physical assets meant that a content broadcaster, say a record producer, controlled what was produced and controlled the artists by access to these assets. These days anyone can produce and distribute music. Firms that are based upon physical capital cannot exist in this market - the best you can hope to be is some form of syndicated provider giving some value add.

However, music and song writing still contain tacit knowledge even if the result of this can be easily reproduced. So there is the opportunity for new types of organisations based principally upon human capital. Master songwriters or Master Musician type chambers (otherwise known as Bands). Obviously you need reputation, revenue being generated by providing access to services (for example gigs) and secondary revenue streams (for example physical merchandise)

The music is just a way of building recognition and a following. It's an unfortunate tune if you're a record producer or a mediocre journalist / artist / musician.

However, this brings up another point. The "ideal of ubiquitous knowledge in large organisations" is only ideal if you happen to be a physical capital intensive firm. If you're a human capital intensive firm or a "we don't know what we are" type firm, then a rush towards Enterprise 2.0, Web 2.0 and codification of knowledge could in fact be reducing the lifespan of your firm.

A little knowledge is a very dangerous thing.

Interesting news .... comes in threes.

Make has published an Open Hardware Gift Guide - magic.

Suw is thinking about microeconomics and business models for creative .... aha another person who will slowly succumb to the allure of commoditisation.

Finally, inkjets start being used in LCD manufacture.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Phew .... sanity restored.

These days I do very little in the 3D printing world except keep tabs on how the industry is progressing. Awareness of the field is becoming more mainstream now, though I'm not sure if people have really thought through all the consequences yet.

For anyone who is interested, I've created a video (below) of the last fabrication talk I gave back at EuroOscon in Sept. 2006. It covers the usual suspects of fabrication, ducks, open hardware, environment, commoditisation and spime script.

Of course, these talks are never quite the same without the sound of the audience.

Back in 2002/03 when I undertook a development program at the IMD, I really hammered home the point about 3D printing. Most people didn't believe it then and thought I was somewhat odd. They nicknamed me "crazy guy".

Back in 2000 when I talked about it, people always looked at me as though I was mad, and I mean genuinely "mad".

Before that date, people always acted as though I was telling some sort of joke and had forgotten to add the punchline. We never usually got to the "you're mad" stage.

So I must admit I was delighted to recently receive an email from my tutor saying he was reading an article about 3D printing in the NYT. Also, today, I came across Tom Easton's blog in which he says he is going to look at writing a book on the impact of 3D printing and the effects on business models (aka commoditisation of the manufacturing process).

It's amazing how quickly things spread and sanity is restored.

I really hope Tom puts 3D printing firmly on the map, the same way Nick Carr did with commoditisation of IT.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Open standards are not enough ...

In the XaaS world, if you want to increase Patration - the freedom and portability to move from one service provider to another without hinderance or boundaries - I've long argued that open standards are necessary but not sufficient.

You also need a network of providers complying to these open standards. This is most likely to happen if you have open sourced systems which implement such standards.

In the long run this should be norm for the XaaS world since "the fastest way to achieve a standard is not through committee, conversation or whitepapers but through the release and adoption of not only a standard but also an operational means of achieving a standard".

Most of my arguments come from my research in the area of commoditisation of software and the the impact of open source in this area.

I'm glad to read this article by Ross Gardler that also argues that open standards are not enough to prevent lock-in.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Final rant in November.

Well it has been ages since I've posted anything about "The internet is killing our culture" debate. To be honest, I've been ignoring it again. However I was talking to Jonathan Laventhol recently and we wandered onto the subject.

The bit I hate about this debate is that it implies that somehow "our" culture is static. What is "our" culture - 1970s? Victorian? Edwardian? 1450s? 10 minutes ago? which country? which region? whom in particular?

Now I can discuss the debate "Is the internet killing the pre-internet culture" in the same way I can debate "Did the renaissance kill the pre-renaissance culture". We still need a bit more definition but it's a better starting point than "our".

The idea that a previous culture is some "golden age" compared to our own is a continual myth passed down throughout history. Our culture includes the internet and whilst I'm sure that many professionals lament its creation there was probably once a large number of wandering minstrels and town criers lamenting the printing press.

It makes no difference, culture changes, it's not a static thing. There is no "our" culture to begin with. It's temporal, and if "our" means today then today includes the internet.

So "Is the internet killing the internet culture" ... blah.

Give me strength .... rant over ... mischief managed .... time for December.

Flexing Plexus ...

Plexus, a provider of SaaS in the manufacturing industry, has released a paper on how 'How Manufacturing Software Enables Companies to Improve Quality Operations and Control Warranty Costs'.

It describes its product, Plexus Online, as a competitive advantage.

Since enterprise resource planning, customer relationship management, manufacturing execution systems and supply chain management are fairly ubiquitous in most industries, then you really need to consider them as becoming more of a cost of doing business. This is no bad thing for a SaaS provider who can show a serious cost advantage over competitors due to its utility based charging mechanism.

On the other hand this is not so hot if you are a customer who is stuck with some expensive traditional licensed system, or if you are in the process of building one. The competitive advantage from these systems has already long gone because of its ubiquity: you really should be focused on cost and utility like services.

Of course, this could be even more of a problem for a provider of expensive traditional licensed type systems.

Fortunately there is a silver lining for those providers and customers. Plexus is a proprietary system. There is no ecosystem of Plexus providers competing around a standard. As there is no market of providers, this means all the usual fears of adoption and questions on what happens when a disaster occurs. One of these days though, companies are going to cotton on that having a small piece of a really big pie is way better than all of a small pie.

What would happen if Plexus open sourced their system or help developed an eco-system of competitive Plexus providers or created a competitive market of manufacturers? Plexus itself could become the 3rd party assurance service that such a market needs - they have already got an incredible reputation. Customers would have choice which could include hosting it themselves in the interim whilst they become comfortable with the market of providers, overcoming any adoption fears.

Do it right and such a market might possibly give SAP / Oracle / Salesforce a run for their money. In any event, Robert Beatty (founder of Plexus) seems a smart cookie and they are an interesting company to watch.

--- 10th June 2014

Looks like Plexus is going great guns. Haven't been following but others have.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Build or wait?

Back at E-Tech, Mar'06, I talked to Artur Bergman about building a mood map of the world. He was going to look at feeds, I ran off to buy a monkey .... long story .... it was all about getting the monkey to react according to the world mood.

Anyway, in the end I fiddled about with some code on Zimki and put it online collecting some very basic data - I'd totally forgotten about it until now.

Well, thanks to Björn Negelmann - I've just come across Wefeelfine by Jonathan Harris and Sep Kamvar.

This is utterly wonderful, captivating even.

Oh, yes ... why moods? Well Artur and I were both interested in information markets - we'd even started messing around with the idea of one in Fotango, sometime in 2005. Anyway, mood and location seemed an interesting combination for highlighting whether something was happening somewhere in the world.

Don't know if anyone has done this, I'd be interested to hear the results.

Insane in da membrane ...

Thanks to Basti Hirsch for sending me a link to this video. I don't think it could ever be funnier.

What's in your web 3.0?

What's in web 3.0? or web 4.0? or web Any ideas? No?

Go on, have a go and play the "What's in your web x.0 game"

Normally historical classifications are given post event, however in the brave new web world let's define classifications pre-event and decide what the future will be called before it is even here.

It's a sort of history 2.0, or is that history 3.0 or .....

Just ranting at some of the pointless debates on minutiae which occur in the blogosphere.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Open Source vs SaaS?

I am amazed to discover lots of discussion about a so called "Open Source vs SaaS" debate.

Surely it is obvious that the barriers to adoption of SaaS and the fears about the uncertainty of provision of service will be reduced through greater patration(as in portability of service). The fastest way of achieving this is through providing an operational means of implementing an open standard - which means Open Source.

It is not a this vs that debate, as Open Source will accelerate the adoption of the XaaS stack and it is complimentary to it.

Next I'll be hearing about the great "Salt vs Vinegar" or "Fish vs Chips" debate ....

I'll have mine "Fish AND Chips" please.

What terms mean ...

Wow, it's amazing how something as publicly spirited as wikipedia can be used as a sales tool. I was looking up some stuff and noticed term wars, blatant marketing by groups and some really snide attacks.

Anyway, as I still dabble in the XaaS world I checked out a couple of terms and thought I'd better get involved.

First, Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) is defined exactly the same as Hardware as a Service (HaaS) except it was invented afterwards. I was late to the party having borrowed the HaaS term from other people, most likely Nick Carr. Looks like some were even later, I've made some corrections.

[Added: I know I shouldn't but I cannot help myself. The thing about IaaS is that not only is it identical in concept to HaaS, it was invented significantly later and differed by only one letter. It's a bit like me running around saying I've just invented:-

  • The Vheel - a circular device that is capable of rotating on its axis, facilitating movement or transportation or performing labour in machines
  • The Selephone - a telecommunications device which is used to transmit and receive sound.

You get the picture ... it's just plain silly.]

SaaS Platform - missed this one, it is what I call FaaS or Framework as a Service. I prefer FaaS only because I've probably pinched it from someone else and it fits nicely into the XaaS terminology (see the video below) by Scott Maxwell from April'06.

SaaSu is not a term worth repeating - it's far better to use the phrase "utility computing" and let the term SaaSu be forgotten ... quickly.

[Added : Whilst I dislike the term SaaSu and prefer the term "utility computing", I am speaking of the term rather than the company - I also note that they have made a call recently for simplification back to the SaaS term. Thank you Peter for pointing that out.]

Now, as for who invented the term Software as a Service (SaaS). Well Tim O'Reilly used the term in "The Open Source Paradigm Shift" in 2004 but it had been used before by many others. It's worth noting that "SaaS" was used by Amy Mizoras Konary in a 2004 IDC report.

However it was a common term well before then.

Hmmm, XaaS must be a hot topic otherwise you wouldn't need so many rewrites of history.

Utility computing is good for ducks ... OFFICIAL

Those boffins at Accenture Technology Labs apparently believe that utility computing is good for the environment (and hence as I said good for ducks - thx to Suw for the notes.). They even talk about a future spot market in computing resources.

Of course, resource brokers is old news to any readers here who hopefully are well versed in the impacts of commoditisation. I can't really claim any credit - I take my ideas from history, whether it's Petrarch, Schumpeter or McCarthy.

In any case "anytime you think of an idea it is likely that someone, somewhere else in the world is independently thinking or has thought of the same idea".

Damn, nicked that one too.

The only downside is the potential for more consumption but in the short-term it should hold some benefit. Longer term, we're going to have to solve those thorny energy production issues.

--- Update 6th October 2013

Many years later, at the Royal Society, we're still talking about utility computing and sustainability.

Anywhere, Anytime ...

... Any Application.

This talk on the future of virtualisation by James Hamilton is worth watching.

I couldn't agree with him more, especially with the essential need for open source and open standards in this field. Just see any of my previous talks including OSCON.

Open standards is a big topic today - it's even a blue beanie day.

It affects all layers of the XaaS stack, and there are groups such as Data Portability which have formed to champion the need for such standards in particular areas. You also have the DMTF who announced an Open Standard for System Virtualization Management.

James Urquhart has an excellent blog post covering the issue of application and data portability. I happen to personally agree with James that unless there are open standards, then in most cases the sensible approach is to use utility like services behind the firewall.

However it's all good news as we all need more patration and as Adalio Sanchez said:-

"the adoption of standards-based technologies is a sound business strategy that helps companies minimize time to market, reduce costs, generate differentiated offerings, and drive a business model for sustained growth"

The most important thing about open source and open standards is that they level the playing field. I happen to agree with Kogut and Metiu that open mechanisms of development recognise "that distribution of natural intelligence does not correspond to the monopolization of innovation by the richest firms".

You never know where that next big idea is coming from ... it could be some surfer dude.

Acceleration or Velocity?

Last year I attended a conference in which one of speakers suggested that utility computing was a far off subject (2012+). This I found mildly interesting because it was already becoming established, however the speaker's point was that large companies wouldn't take it seriously until that time.

So I was interested to read Joe Tucci's list of the top 7 priorities for 2008.

  • Virtualization
  • Storage
  • Security
  • VOIP
  • Enterprise 2.0
  • Software in the Cloud
  • Green Computing.

Now if I look at somewhere like Fotango then each of these had become priorities some 2-6 years beforehand, for example the company has organised activities around an internal wiki since 2003/04.

This would be fairly normal as larger corporations tend to lag the smaller software companies. What is unusual is that this lag is normally considered to be around 7-10 yrs and I find it unlikely that there are companies who can say that the above list was their priority between 1998-2001.

So what has happened? Joe Tucci says that this list is "something to consider for anyone who contends that business technology moves too slowly."

Rather than looking at the speed at which technology moves, the really interesting question is whether the spread of technology is accelerating.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Planes, Trains and Automobiles ....

Fly around the world on solar power?

Travel to space in a balloon?

Sounds great, but I want a car which does 100 km per litre.

I saw the car in Berlin, it's absolutely wonderful but it looks like I'm going to have to wait until 2010.

Can I borrow a cup of silver colloid solution?

Back at EuroFoo 2004 I ran a couple of sessions; one on worth (and commoditisation) and the other on fabrication technologies. Apparently at the latter session, I stated "home printers to be here within three years".

Well it looks like I was out by six months or so. DeskTop Factory has won Popular Science Magazine's Best of What's New Award.

Cool. So the first home 3D printers will be available next year at $4995 a piece.

Still it's not cheap, but then the first mass produced inkjets - the HP ThinkJet (1984) - was priced at $495 which is between $950 and $1,700 in today's terms (depending upon which measure you use).

These days you can pick up a high resolution inkjet photo printer for less than a $100. I expect the same to happen with 3D printers, and over the next decade the capability of these home fabrication machines to include not just form, but multiple materials and electronics.

[Added : Objet Geometries have announced Polyjet Matrix and a 3D printer capable of printing out in multiple materials]

They will become commonplace as well as cheap. Of course the real money will be in materials and design.

With the commoditisation of the manufacturing process itself and a further reduction of the barriers to participation, we will start to see the extension of the consumer as producer into new industries.

I look forward to the day, that my neighbour asks to borrow more exotic materials than sugar.

P.S. Watch the video .... there is a duck in it!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

It's worse than that, it's virtual Jim ....

I've been busy researching for an article I'm writing on innovation and organisation. Of course, that always means that really interesting news comes out and I have to play catch-up.

So, Big Blue is looking at getting into the HaaS (hardware as a service) world along with Amazon and Microsoft, and the now well known move by RedHat into the EC2 space.

The latter certainly provides an open source standard for an OS instance running on a HaaS environment, and with multiple providers of such then we might start to see the early stages of a competitive market form. However, the key issue is still portability from one environment to another, which can only be helped by Xen's adoption of OVF as both Amazon and IBM have Xen as their core.

This issue of portable VMs (Virtual Machines) also raises whole new questions such as security. This is something Rich Miller has been exploring and I'm glad to see he is pursuing this.

The issue at stake here is that portable VMs render physical location meaningless. Any security processes or rule based upon such, will be obsolete.

Q: Where are our servers these days?

A: Two have just moved down to Florida, seven are in Miami, one is in Tokyo, three are in transit and haven't decided quite where they are going, another two have just had kids so we have a whole family of servers in London and one has gone AWOL. We're hoping that it will phone in a bit later.


A: Yeah ... as in missing. Hang on ... just got a twitter ... it says it has setup camp in Berlin, will be back online in five minutes. Apparently it got into a fight with another server ... I'll find out later.

As Greg Ness puts it:-

"virtualization promises to clearly demarcate security technologies into two camps: 1) the dynamic and 2) the dead."

I think you can probably say the same about the hosting market.

The web 2.0 way of IT resource management .... er what?

When I first came across Paglo, I was initially surprised about it being labeled web 2.0. Though Paglo is SaaS, it shows how the term web 2.0 is becoming increasingly used as more of a marker of transition rather than imparting some characteristics. Since, I prefer to talk more about the underlying processes that are occurring, such a marker is useful to me. However I can see why it must cause ever greater confusion for those who want it to mean something specific.

In any case I did take a look at the concepts behind Paglo and there are some things I like.

It's a web based SaaS for IT resource management based upon search concepts. On the surface there appear to be no real community or collaborative aspects other than sharing queries. They are however looking for a product manager to "work with cutting-edge search, collaboration, and social networking technologies at the same time" - so it'll be interesting to see how this develops.

Paglo does seem to offer a way of managing IT resources for SMBs. With an estimated 8.3 million small and mid-sized US-based businesses, there is some potential here. I'd have to question how this plays out in the long term with the development of XaaS, how much resources SMBs have and why they have them. Still for the time being it's a big enough problem that it is worth attention.

They also discuss their "open enterprise" philosophy and say that they are "committed to open source software and we hope that users and developers like you will use these tools, improve them, and adapt them".

Whilst they are open sourcing the crawler (the bit which collects data on your systems and pumps it back to the Paglo servers for indexing), the server side elements which do all the indexing and collating remain closed. However the data will be available through open APIs, and they seem committed to the idea that "users and businesses own their data – companies do not". Good.

They identify a number of essential characteristics in their "open enterprise". Such ideas are quite common, but it is worth repeating their words.

  • Be human
  • Open conversations
  • Publish everything
  • Remove barriers to product use
  • Promote collaboration
  • Enable third parties to add immediate value

Interesting company. I wonder how long it will be before someone makes a P2P equivalent. Still Paglo is something worth watching and I hope they do well.

A swarm of angels

I was recently talking about online collaboration, commoditisation and practicalities for creating new businesses around this. I had remarked that I was surprised that there had been no major collaborative open source film projects.

Looks like I was wrong on that.

Monday, November 12, 2007

I, Robot ...

Ok - so hot on the heels of open social, is something which is very exciting ... Android.

I've attached the video below, but basically Android is an open source stack for developing applications on the mobile phone, backed up by an alliance of interested parties.

Obviously providing a standard framework for building apps on a mobile phone is a big thing ... however there are two more things I wish to note. First that Google APIs will be available on Android. I assume this also means OpenSocial in the future?

Secondly, that XMPP support is provided. More P2P applications and bitTorrent for the mobile phone? Excellent.

Watch the video ...

The dark side of the force ...

I'd forgotten all about this mashup video between Monty Python and Star Wars - it's very funny.

Much Ado about nothing .... or is there?

Open Social is the "Hero" of today, according to the rave reviews it has been receiving . There are of course many "malcontents" such as Tim willing to raise questions about this. Well, I have some questions myself.

The first thing that really struck me with Open Social was that it seemed geared to creating portable apps with a standard language such as JavaScript and a framework to support this. The social network side just appears to be a spring board for adoption.

What makes me think that is a framework play? Check out the Persistence Data API.

The strategy of building an open framework and then piggy backing on social networks was something that we were planning with Zimki - maybe I'm reading too much into this?

However my curiousity was also aroused by the the list of who is involved - LinkedIn, Oracle, etc. This is quite a business orientated crowd, and whilst Salesforce is already a well known SaaS player, Oracle is just moving into this space.

Though this move by Google is good for the industry and probably necessary for them, there seems to be much more to Open Social than just portable social networks apps.

Is this going to turn out to be the NBE that Yegge hinted at?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Once upon a time, in the kingdom of SCO ...

According to Dave Hitz:

"This morning, Sun filed suit seeking a “permanent injunction against NetApp” to remove almost all of our products from the market place. That’s some pretty scary language!"

Yep, Dave ... it does sound scary and it also seems to be a response by Sun to NetApp's previous attempts to sue.

As Jonathan Schwartz, CEO Sun, puts it:

"One of the ways we innovated was to create a magical file system called ZFS - which enables expensive, proprietary storage to be replaced with commodity disks and general purpose servers. Customers save a ton of money - and administrators save a ton of time. The economic impact is staggering - and understandably threatening to Net App and other proprietary companies."

So NetApp seems a tad annoyed at ZFS which is being used by Sun, the open source community and also included in Leopard OSX. That's competition for you.

However, the bit that really makes me pay attention is this:

"The number one rule of open source is that you should only give away stuff that belongs to you. That is what this suit is about, and everything else is just fluff."

Is this another SCO in the making? Another company gearing up to have a pop at the open source community because of fears in its own market space, only to then promptly dive into the dustbin of history?

A quick bit of sniffing around and hey presto .... "NetApp Increases Commitment to Microsoft Products" ... is there a connection?

This is the time to start thinking about whether you have any second sourcing options available.

The lawyers are taking over the asylum.

A patent application covering the business process method of a -

"concept of a marketing company devoted to selling/marketing products produced by other companies in return for a share of their profits"

- was rejected by the PTO on the grounds that a claim must either have a “useful, concrete, and tangible result” or “transform” something into a new physical state. This is good, as the application does neither of these things.

Unfortunately the decision is being appealed on the grounds that the test is too strict. The full story can be followed on Patently-O.

The application should really have been rejected on the grounds that there is no innovation involved whatsoever. The applicants and their lawyers should really have been carted off to an asylum for the bleeding obvious for their own good and ours. Provision of service in return for a percentage of worth or rewards? We've been doing this for hundreds if not thousands of years - booty of war, no win no fee and many others.

Given the enormous amounts of waste and the negative impact on innovation that the current patent system has, it is about time that business process method patents were discarded for the pointless sham that they are.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Web 2.0 Expo Berlin

I've uploaded a video of my Web 2.0 Expo Berlin talk below. Unfortunately there was no audio available, so I've had to record myself speaking in the hotel - doesn't seem quite the same without an audience.

I had a small but really pleasant crowd turn up - not surprising since I was up against some superstars from Google.

There is a lot of buzz about open social, I should check it out myself in more detail. I do hope it is as really open as it sounds.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Web 2.0 Expo - Preview

The guys from BerlinBase caught up with me in the corridor at web 2.0 Berlin, so we created a quick video of what I'm going to be talking about on Tuesday. I've posted it here.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Where's it gone?

My interest was piqued when I read about Metamaterial electromagnetic cloaks. Rather than using novel materials, it looks like a "simpler" approach of using cameras and projectors can make a tank disappear.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A question ...

In between working on my talk for Web 2.0 Berlin and writing a number of articles, I've been looking at the issue of distributing the social graph, P2P infrastructure and some of the fundamentals underlying the phenomena of "web 2.0".

This led me to ask a question on Facebook:

"Are there 100,000 people who believe Facebook should open source?"

I was surprised by some of the comments, and as a result I asked another question:

"Are there 100,000 people who believe that Facebook should provide our data in an extensible open data format?".

I'm more than a little curious as to which way this goes, if it does at all.

Friday, October 26, 2007

FOWA - Video

Mel and Ryan from Future of Web Apps have sorted me out the audio, so I've uploaded the video below.

I'm going to be giving a re-run of the talk at a small event called TEN (a mix of Cambridge and London based geeks) organised by Rufus Evison and John Woods. It's in London on Wednesday 31st at 6pm at the Pitcher and Piano, 42 Kingsway, just near Holborn Tube. It's fairly informal and limited in size, but you're welcome to turn up - just ping us an email and I'll ask them to add you to the invite list.

I'll also cover some of themes which I'm going to explore at Web 2.0 Berlin.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Where's the future bud?

I talk a lot about commoditisation of IT, the application of utility like concepts to computer resource provision, the XaaS stack, the need for competitive utility markets, open standards, open sourced implementations of those standards, the reduction of the barriers of entry (or participation) in marketplaces through commoditisation, the consequences of this (such as news 2.0), the growing phenomenon of 3D printing (the commoditisation of the manufacturing process), the participative manufacturing based upon draw rather than push or pull (see and the importance of conversation over product.

These things are all starting to happen whether its SaaS vendors like salesforce or HaaS vendors like xCalibre or higher orders of the stack already well populated with a growing fight to become the canoncial source for particular types of information.

So what is the next next big thing?

Well, in my view the next progression of web 2.0 (and NO, that isn't web 3.0 or 4.0 etc - it's still web 2.0) is all about the attention economy, reputation and the distribution of the social graph. The following gives you a hint of where we will be going, it maybe for video but in my view the key concepts are all there ....

Hidden in this are the ideas to create reputation networks and a solution to Brad's noble desire to make the social graph a community asset.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

It's time we said enough is enough.

After a decade of spin and short-term headline grabbing actions, we currently have a proposal for something of political significance - a bill on the misrepresentation of the truth.

It's being proposed as an early day motion. What's interesting for me, is who has signed up to the EDM?.

Liberal Democrats - 8 MPs

Plaid Cymru - 2 MPs

Labour - 3 MPs.

So how many Conservative MPs? None, zilch, a big fat zero. The only whiff of a Conservative opinion is given on the Ministry of Truth site, and yes it's an objection in principle to an act requiring that elected representatives don't lie.

Cameron recently spoke at the Google Zeitgeist conference and spoke of "In the post-bureaucratic era, you shouldn't just be telling government what you want. You should be choosing what you want, and acting to get what you want" - well we are trying.

He quoted Edmund Burke, so I'll use two more of his quotes to explain the problem.

First, "Hypocrisy can afford to be magnificent in its promises; for never intending to go beyond promises; it costs nothing."

Cameron quotes the wisdom of the crowd, however this idea is based upon the Marquis de Condorcet's work. The crowd can be either completely right or completely wrong, and the factor controlling this is access to correct information.

Unless we have the correct information, the crowd is unlikely to make the right choices - we need the truth.

So what to do about it? Well back to Edmund: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."

This is exactly what the Conservative party is doing on this matter - nothing; hollow words and no action. To think, I was even starting to consider voting for them.

If you believe in a post-bureaucratic era and the wisdom of the crowd.

If you trust the people.

If you believe in social responsibility rather than central control.

Then give us the right to be told the truth. Cameron, don't just talk but do something and lead.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Think faster, dammit ...

I've talked in the past about the use open source in both standards and the engines for virtual worlds and the possible new business models that can be created.

So IMHO the move towards open standards by SL & IBM is smart.

However ... a brain computer interface for SL is even smarter.

Ah, yes, future PvP combat dependent upon the power of thought.

Ah, the joys of research ...

I'm doing some research at the moment and preparation for my web 2.0 talk. As a result, I keep finding all these little gems of videos, slides and so forth.

This video is apparently from a trade marketing manager at Microsoft and has a "we've treated you bad as the consumer, let's bring back the love" theme.

Hmmm, interesting .... the cynic in me notes :-

Does the "advertiser" ...

1. show the need to control the consumer? Yes.

2. justify statements out of concern or love for the consumer? Yes.

3. exhibit shallow charm? Yes.

4. use language designed to make the target feel small, worthless, stupid or partly responsible? Yes (In the case of "bring back the love" the implication is "Let us")

5. show a tendency to blame others? Yes (In this sense there is distancing itself from its own activities through a mocking video).

6. show cycles of fighting and making up? Yes (For example mistreating consumers and then making a video about it to "make up").

7. show behavior which creates a sense of confusion in the target? Yes (For example "I've changed" - is it my fault?).

Overall, these are signs of an abusive personality ... nice video, not so sure about the overall message.