Monday, February 26, 2007

Got a good idea?

Just picked this up from Saul Klein that he is organising an open coffee meetup on the 1st March 2007 for investors & entrepreneurs.

I met Saul at FOWA, he is a smashing bloke and was really promoting the European VC efforts being made to reach out and connect to people.

In his own words the purpose behind OpenCoffee is

"to be very informal, ask questions, get feedback, meet people - no pressure, no plans - just a fixed location and time"

This is great news for London, I hope it kicks off elsewhere as well.


This was my first time at FOSDEM.

It was a great opportunity to catch up with Greg Stein, Allison Randal, Rob McKinnon and Gervase Markham just to name a few.

There were some outstanding talks from license agreements to Jabber to XMPP to Linux Bios.

I used to spend time talking with Slava Bizyayev, who unfortunately passed away last year, on the area of embedding control signals in TCP/IP and using them to trigger activity in the the BIOS. The thing about the BIOS is that it is hidden from the OS, it has access to all devices and quite honestly you don't know what it is upto.

So it was personally very poignant for me to hear Ronald G Minnich on linux bios.

An illuminating talk at a very good event.

There were of course many good speakers, of special note is Simon Phipps and his update on the open sourcing of Java.

Politcs, what Politics?

I was fortunate to met up with Rob McKinnon at FOSDEM who has just recently taken on a new role at O'Reilly (they employ very smart people - but then what else do you expect. Also check out their European blog).

We got talking about politics in the UK and the rise of user petitions and open political content (They Work For You). It was a timely discussion as the Independent had recently published an article about this.

The problem I have, as stated before, is that whilst such open discussion and the involvement of the public in such petitions is good, it is not politics in the wider sense but instead single issue focus.

The problem for me, is that our political system seems to lack any grand visions of the future and has instead fallen back to a state of TINA (there is no alternative) on the grounds that global economic environment dictates this. I just don't buy it.

Whilst I'm all in favour of everyone having a voice, there is a real problem with mob rule on every issue(the crowd is not always wise - see the Marquis De Condorcet). With a lack of direction and the probability that the crowds voice can all to easily be ignored, we could end up reinforcing the culture of powerlessness (vulnerability) and prolong the illusion that one person can't make a difference.

This doesn't mean we shouldn't vote on such polls, or raise our concerns or question our MPs - we should. This doesn't mean that the emergent behaviour from such polls won't be positive - it may well be. However, we should be debating what vision of society we want, how we want it to run and making it happen ... that's politics.

Give credit where credit is due ...

I've received a number of emails recently as well as very kind comments on the presentation I gave at FOWA. These things mean an awful lot to me, as it such an honour to speak to my peers.

Most of the team at Fotango (to name but a few ... James Duncan, Greg McCarroll, Mark Fowler, Tom Insam, Bruce Richardson etc) are outstanding natural speakers and have given me help and useful comments.

Many of my friends in the world of technology (Jonathan Laventhol, Greg Stein, Matt Webb, Nat Torkington, Nick Stone, Suw Charman, Jim Purbrick (aka Babbage), Artur Bergman, James Larson and others) have given me help and support in refining my ideas.

I do however have a "secret sauce", and in light of my conviction for openness I have to share this. I was very fortunate at Euro Oscon to spend an hour or two with Damian Conway, a master of the art of public speaking. The time I spent with Damian had a dramatic impact on me, how I approached the art of speaking and the information I presented.

If you ever have the chance to hear Damian speak I would recommend it wholeheartedly, he is an outstandingly gifted. If you ever get the chance to spend time with Damian, then grab it.

I owe him a great deal of thanks.

News on Zimki

I've read a wonderful post by Simon Bisson on The Register on our Yak Shaving theme at FOWA. I'm humbled by the kindness of it.

James has written two excellent articles about the article - understanding the cost of a line of code and FOWA Coverage - of course I believe they are both worth reading as I share the same views.

James and I have been talking about the concepts of commoditisation (both in terms of IT and Manufacturing) for a long time, a reasonable amount of the last six years that we have known each other.

It's good to be finally doing something about it with Zimki and to be in such good company at Fotango. Even if Tom is still annoyed at me about the "Free Tom" bit.

Maybe I should cheekily ask him to do a presentation entitled .... "I am Tom"

Ouch, that's sharp ...

Euan Semple posted about the division between 'the have' and 'the have not' in New York. It is similar to my experience of San Francisco. That a divide exists is unsurprising but I was totally unprepared for how sharp the divide is.

Interestingly there was also a link provided to Gap Minder and to Hans Rosling blog in the comments. Both are worth looking at, and contain a wealth of interesting ideas and information on human development.

Friday, February 23, 2007

A sliver of nothingness ...

Every now and then I mention my pet project - which is nothing or Zero. I've been occupied with this for almost two decades in my occasional spare time, and for the last decade upon higher level impacts of this.

It's a hobby horse which has some relevance to my real world activities.

For those of you who are interested, I started with two basic concepts:-

The rule - Every thing is not nothing whilst nothing is the sum of everything.

The status quo - Nothing containing subsets of dynamic equilibrium undergoing constant random change to return them to nothing.

I mention it now, because I was looking at the "entropic" effect of ideas on certain social & industrial processes.

Spime Script?

Picked up this comment on Tim's blog

personal fabrication, ubiquitous sensors and controllers, and the various explorations of makers at the macro level, designers starting to think about physical computing, and you see a future in which objects are infused with computing, and the boundaries between hardware and software start to blur

I couldn't agree more with this more. This is one of the areas which we touched upon at EuroFoo'04 and further talked about at EuroFoo '06 / Euro Oscon, when we covered the commoditisation of the manufacturing process and its distribution.

There is some really interesting work starting to happen in this area these days.

Why spime script? Well it's all about malleability and the division between software / hardware. Both divides break down to instruction sets (one for physical, one for digital) that interact to create the function of the Spime.

The choice of what is physical / digital is a fertile ground for a compiler, hence allowing the formation of a new language which compiles down not to hardware or software but both.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

NBL maybe NBT.

I picked up this post by Steve Yegge on the NBL (next big language). He didn't say what the language was, but you should read the comments. I agree - JavaScript. When we started Zimki our intention was to remove all those unwanted yak-shaving tasks which got in the way of creating something. I called this campaign - Free Tom - much to Tom's annoyance.

We then built a JavaScript application development & hosting environment. One language front and backend (JavaScript), utility hosting environment (no capex) and persistence (not a relational database but instead a key/object store). Everything accessed through an API, even the client desktop tool for developing uses the same APIs.

A great moment for me was when Tom, during a break at D.Construct built and released a wiki with autopreview in under 25 minutes. Let us be clear here - from concept to development to live on the web as a running service within 25 minutes. I can't even get a hosting arrangement sorted out in that time usually.

So at FOWA I talked about Zimki & commoditisation, about building online in JavaScript without the need to worry about servers, hosting and databases. I talked about our plans to open source the entire technology later this year in order to create a fully competitive utility computing grid and to remove lock-in. So far, Zimki and the API services behind it have been blooming. We started with three applications consuming the services in Feb '06, by April '06 we had 600k API calls, by June '06 we had dozens of applications, over 2.8M API calls and 150 developer accounts. Today, we're into the many thousands of developer accounts.

The comments ranged from some real interest, to the very flattering (p.s. Thanks, I'm always nervous when speaking as I find it such a privilege to do so and very demanding to get it right, even if it is less than ten minutes) and the I don't get it, where's the business model? Sadly there's some old skool VCs & IT folk out there who just don't get how the IT world is moving to a utility basis.

Well you can't always get the message across clearly in eight minutes. Other than the trivial selling resources into the cloud there are further opportunities which are all fairly obvious. However, this got me thinking, maybe they are just obvious to us? This subject does seem to be something new to many people, you do need to change the way you think about IT.

Now, I've been talking about commoditisation for a long time, and I am also lucky to exist in a social environment surrounded by some very smart people. To find the money, you just need to ask yourself the questions of:-
1) Is there a distinction between the electricity generators and the electricity providers?
2) What was the impact of standardisation and the national grid?

Could commoditisation actually be the Next Big Thing? Well in my view, it's been the NBT for a very, very long time - it just doesn't get the same buzz as the "new" stuff. Until, of course, we start thinking it is "new".

-- 22nd Feb 2016

Tidied up some of the typos, paragraph structure and width adjusted. Well, it's almost a decade later and Javascript is still but not quite the NBT.

Alas, many of the links are now broken.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Eight minutes of commoditisation

It's late, I'm tired but today has been good. I was at the future of web apps conference in London which Ryan has done an excellent job in making happen.

There was a good range of speakers, with some outstanding corridor conversation (the sign of any excellent gathering).

There were so many interesting people that you may as well just publish the attendee list - however it was especially good to catch up with Suw Charman, Tom Armitage, Peter Ferne and Michael Cummins (AOL).

The guys from soocial topped the list of speakers with Stefain Fountain rocking the house with his amazing talk on mobile contacts. I just couldn't stop laughing - an outstanding showman.

I also gave a short talk on commoditisation - it was less than ten minutes and was pretty well received. The fear of speaking is over now, so I can just get on with the job of promoting Zimki and enjoying myself. The crew on the Zimki stand were fantastic as usual.

Sometime in the next few weeks, I need to find a few spare moments to shift my blog over to Zimki. Though I should sort out a proper domain name before I do so.

This is the biggest obstacle to overcome - choosing the right name. Suggestions are welcome as long as it's not (thanks Steve).

Well this won't happen before FOSDEM....

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Hitting the road ...

I'll be on the road a lot more over the next few months.

  • Future of Web Apps,London, Feb 20-22, (speaking on Commoditisation of IT)
  • ETech, San Diego, 26-29 March, (Attendee)
  • Web 2.0 Expo, San Francisco, 15-18th April, (product demos etc)

I'm also hoping to make it over to FOSDEM to meet up with a friend of mine - Greg Stein

Life is getting hectic.

Don't push or pull me .. I want to draw

This is something which I don't have time to create at the moment, however if it already exists please tell me and if you want to build it (especially in Zimki) then I'll help.

What I want is a reputation based service where I can upload all my information about myself, my products, my preferences, my wants and then "draw" companies to me.

If I want to buy a car, then I can say so. I can say that these are my previous purchases, this is what I can afford and these are my likes & dislikes. I initiate the conversation and then car companies can talk to me on that basis.

If I want to provide my information for marketing purposes then I can say so, and companies can offer to buy this from me. I should be able to see the reputation of the company as voted for by my social and extended network. I should be able to say "this looks like a reasonable company and they are offering a reasonable amount for my product purchasing history and profile - ok".

If I want to be involved in market research then I should be able to say so and companies bid for my attention.

If I want something different - like WIFI binoculars - I should be able to say so, tag it with information and if there are enough of us then companies can decide whether to build it.

Most of all - I want to control my information, my "digital footprint" and to decide whom I provide that information to. I want to be paid for my attention, to minimuse disruptive noise and I want the market to work for me.

I want to initiate the conversation, not be pulled or pushed - I want to draw.

Just thoughts ...

I want to be the voice ... it's my product after all ... please, go on, please.

Last year I did some research (unpublished) into the future of internet retail. It covered a number of themes from behavioural changes to alternative media to manufacturing changes and transparency.

I then organised a couple of brainstorming sessions with Matt Webb, Mark Fowler & Suw Charman to look at these subjects again - both by the way are very smart cookies. The emergent themes were the same but with a much stronger emphasis. (I will publish this all when I find time to complete it and I'm satisfied that it all fits as a coherent structure).

One particularly strong theme was the development of curators and P2P reputation systems. I discussed this with Steve Whittaker and also the Enterprise 2.0 lot at Andrew Mcafee's session.

As "the conversation" becomes increasingly more important than "the product" itself, then companies run a danger through not being open completely with information and engaging with the web 2.0 world.

The danger is that if they don't become the canonical source of information about themselves then someone else will - we coined the term 'curators' to describe these sources.

I've just picked up this post by Tim on a Wall Street Journal article that argues that this is already happening.

According to the article, there are a vast number of "hidden influencers" who have taken root online. Now I'd suggest that though digg and technorati have the basics, we will eventually see P2P reputation and those "hidden" influencers will become very public.

As this develops, some may start becoming those curators or canonical sources of information we talked about. In other cases it may be bloggers or it maybe companies.

How these curators emerge will be dictated by the internet - however the first signs are there and flourishing and reputation is likely to play a strong part.

The scary thing is that as a company, you don't get to choose or decide who will become the canonical source. You may well find in the future your customers listening to Tom's Hardware rather than you and if you don't provide open information on yourself and your products then someone else will (wikipedia, some blogger etc).

I produce a product and someone else is the voice?

In order to have a chance at even being the voice, I have to be totally open and honest with information both positive and negative in order to build trust - no guarantees I'll win in any case

I can see some PR managers / lawyers having wobbles over this one.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Fabulous video...

Whilst looking at Youtube, I noticed the Fab@Home guys had posted a fabbing video (from last Dec '06) - excellent. Well worth looking at.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Not Obvious?

Just seen this patent for a modular operating system filed in June'05 by Microsoft.

Obviously it's US centric - but I have to ask, having read it and thinking back to where we were in 2005, where is the non obvious bit?

Looks to me like a combination of pre-existing ideas and I can't find a single thing which is new.

Help please, can someone point it out!

Amazing .... Web 2.0

Spotted this on my feed from Euan Semple's blog. Had to repost here, this is the best YouTube video I've seen to date.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Battling Battelle

On of the interesting moments at Fast Forward was John Battelle's session. Eloquent as ever, John covered a number of thoughts and ideas around search and how search had changed. However at one point John talked about the NYTimes web site and how the search could be better.

But isn't the NYTimes a Fast client? Was this a case of biting the hand that feeds? Absolutely not, John was right to point out examples of what he thinks is good or bad.

Nevertheless, there apparently was an announcement later on that the site was in the process of being upgraded and it appeared that some feathers had been ruffled.

A fast but poor response.

The essentials of becoming a canonical source are openness, honesty and integrity. This means you have got to be willing to take the rough with the smooth.

I had attended the conference, not because of Fast but because of the great speaker line up - I was actually surprised to find a large number of people there with similar reasoning.

John's comment gave some real edginess and grit to the proceedings, far from the on brand message being pumped.

In my view, he did them an enormous favour.

Armchair Nazis ...

Whenever I fly, I tend to go coach - principally because it costs an awful lot of money to do otherwise.

However, every now and then I come up against an Armchair Nazi or in other words a "space invader".

So it happened today. I settle down into my sardine can like seat on a huge 747 - roll over to go to sleep and suddenly thwack I get an elbow in the ribs. This anatomical blitzkrieg continues with a constant pressure of elbow, shoulders and even prodding fingers until finally I'm rudely awoken for the umpteenth time with the immortal words

"excuse me, your blanket is on my arm rest ..."

What? The armrest separates both chairs - but apparently it has been annexed for the fatherland of this northern English fascist space invader.

The constant physical assault is apparently justified because a flimsy piece of cotton has transgressed onto sacred ground.

I riposte with the normal wit and diplomacy of a jet lagged Oscar Wilde having spent five days at a conference on disruptive behaviours.

"Sod off you arse and keep your elbows to your own seat"

Naturally things don't get better - more prodding, more pushing, an assault of reading lights etc.

Where's my tommy gun when I need it.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Nice party... who are you?

Well, my hat's off to Fast Forward for an outstanding conference. I don't know anything about Fast itself but then enterprise search isn't my cup of tea. I have however met some very interesting people and discovered new ideas on web 2.0 / enterprise 2.0 concepts.

One of the big topics today was about disruptive impacts. I immediately got into an argument with Tom Foremski who writes the site Silicon Valley Watcher just to prove how disruptive I can be. Tom is a really fascinating guy, a professional journalist who has set himself up as an independent. He is one of those sources of information which the democracy of the web may choose to trust and allow to become the canonical news source in his area. It's a bold thing to do - I salute him.

I also met Steve Whittaker, who is a visiting scientist at MIT. According to Steve the fragmentation of producers (i.e. as consumers become producers rather than just consumers) creates an uncertain future. Maybe the vested interests hold out, maybe the system collapses under the noise and only maybe do P2P reputation and curators resolve the problem. He also points to Lessig's argument that such systems need a balance between law, the market, social norms and architecture and hence the uncontrolled fragmentation of the media market may impact social norms.

An example which comes to mind is Second Life and the copybot incident. Here the community adopted rules to impose certain social norms of behaviours to prevent mass copying.

I was fortunate to also meet and debate with Susan Feldman of the IDC who gives some real insights into the entire search market and the digital economy, and Jenny Ambrozek who has been developing online virtual communities.

Finally I have to mention Greg Dearing who is not only one bright guy but also works on providing the Fast Foward blog.

Overall, this has been a great conference. However, I still feel like the guy who has come along to the party and then asks the host "who are you?"

Friday, February 09, 2007

I'd have got away with it, if it wasn't for those damned pesky kids ....

Today has been fascintating.

It started off with Michael Schrage and a panel on Search Technology as the new frontier. Part of the panel was arguing that search was the principle core of any business - and Schrage, well you could just tell that he wasn't convinced and he certainly wasn't buying the argument that search was a purely technological issue which can be solved by a specific product.

This spilled over into Andrew Mcafee's impromptu session on enterprise 2.0.

The session was packed with views from the worlds of collaboration, search & enterprise 2.0 with Euan Semple to Mcafee to members of the Enterprise Irregulars

Questions were raised about why should companies adopt web 2.0 like technologies and the issue of long adoption cycles. There are a couple of key points to note here.

First, there is a trend towards canonical sources of information and the appearance of curators, or editors as Tony Fish (AMF Ventures) calls them. The democratic web chooses its own curators but in order to be in the running you need to be providing information openly, honestly and with integrity (the ideas of P2P reputation and searching across such networks).

Now this causes a problem, if you don't become the canonical source of information about your company - someone else will. Once that happens it's going to be damned hard to replace them. In some cases wikipedia is becoming that source, in other cases it's bloggers and other sites. What the industry is waiting for is a method of bringing P2P reputation networks into the public domain and allowing searches based upon your interaction with that network.

This can only be a matter of months away; you see elements of this in technorati and when it happens, if you're not engaged you'll be cut out of the loop.

Imagine a world where you search for company ABC and the top, most relevant, most respected result is Blogger Jim. As the trend towards conversation being more important than product continues (i.e. our experience of ABC is created from all those moments or interactions with ABC), then it's a poor start when the first conversation begins with Jim, who doesn't even work for ABC.

So there really isn't much choice to adopting a more open method of providing information unless you want Jim to be your public voice.

Tony also raised some good points (following on from his session of mobile web 2.0 and his views on convergence and search) about whose data is it anyway. There has been a growing trend towards customers owning their digital footprint, which in reality belongs to them anyway (it's worth looking into open ID, Sxip and the whole identity issue).

It's probably an uncomfortable concept, in much the same way as open source was and the idea of opening up everything about a company (warts and all) probably doesn't fit well with some views of marketing and branding. However the market will decide how it wishes to search, how it wishes to engage and who it trusts. You can try to impose your own taxonomy on the web but you'll soon discover that such things are emergent and not prescribed and the best way of dealing with this is openess.

The second point was the importance of the web 2.0 term. What is really essential in my view is not so much what is in web 2.0 but what has been left out. It's a milestone, a way of describing these excluded terms as old hat, CODB, necessity to compete and dull.

A decade ago, having a company web site was really exciting ... now it's a norm. The same is true of many "strategic" IT initiatives from CRM, ERP, E-Commerce etc.

There is no strategic or differential value in these initiatives, except in the area of execution if everyone else executes them poorly (see Andrew McAfee's blog about such concepts).

Overall interesting day - there are some excellent speakers and good corridor chat, congratulations to Fast Forward '07 on that.

The lessons for me are that much of what was once considered important is no longer, and openess and being the canonical source are imperatives.

No more hiding away those corporate secrets.

I'd have got away with it, if it wasn't for those damned pesky kids .... welcome to the new world.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Ghengis 2.0

I'm at the Fast Forward '07 conference in San Diego. I'm a little bit jet lagged however the brashness of the conference has certainly blown any cobwebs away.

I've never been to a vendor conference like this before, and I'm flabbergasted. It's a million miles away from my usual "faire", with glitzy light shows, thumping bands and sales people who live it "large".

The tagline "innovate, accelerate, dominate" conjures up strange images of being mugged by a rampaging horde of highly creative horsemen intent on world domination - it's Ghengis Khan.

I now know what is wrong with my life, how to solve world peace and make everyone happy - the secret is product ABC and here is the pitch to prove it.

Still it's fun, and the corridor track is good with some very interesting people - I'm writing this whilst sitting with Drew Broomhall from the Times online

On that note, I spent about half an hour talking with Tim O'Reilly on a number of subjects from utility computing services (a la Zimki) to 3D printing. He was actually presenting on web 2.0 at the conference, and as usual was excellent.

The thing about this conference is that web 2.0 and enterprise 2.0 (two terms which describe real changes in the environment), are being hijacked to describe this product and that product as Search 2.0.

Hmmm, just adding 2.0 doesn't mean there is a significant change. Or maybe it does - I'm Simon Wardley 2.0 - the new and improved version of me.

Nah, I don't buy it.

I've just shown Drew my blog, and he says that if I post this, alarms will probably go off, I'll be blacklisted and expelled by burly salesmen. It's those horsemen again, but this time they are using blog feeds.

Innovate, Accelerate and Dominate ... or in my case start running now.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Watch this space ...

Met up with Nick Stone (Novalia), Jim Purbrick (Second Life's Mr Babbage) and Jonanthan Laventhol (Imagination) and others for an evening of belgium beer and dutch pancakes.

Unfortunately Mat Webb ( interconnected) was unable to make it (jet lag - the international lifestyle) and Suw Charman was at the premier of Hot Fuzz (blogpost here) ... oh well.

Anyway, apparently they are running future sessions in Second Life. I've been avoiding Second Life for a year now due to the amazingly wonderful experience it is, and my tendency to get highly addicted to such environments.

Virtual worlds, foo like sessions on future technology ... damn, I can feel the need to dust off my avatar ... damn it Babbage, or in other words "It's life Jim but not as we know it".

On another note, I talked with Nick about the state of the 3D printing industry. It still amazes me how few people realise that you can print physical objects and electronics and what this means for the commoditisation of the manufacturing process. Nick is facing these issues as well as people struggle to get to grips with his ideas.

With current technology, in a research setting, it should be possible to print out a digital watch (batteries included). It wouldn't be much of a time keeper - but then it would get the point across.

Of course as soon as we explain this you get the usual comments of "you mean print out an image of watch, like a photo of a watch"

Nope. I mean print out a watch, which you can put on your wrist and tell the time with.