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Friday, July 25, 2003

Resistance is Futile

Liz Lawley made a great post on in-class and in-conference back-channels over at Many-to-Many.

A key takeaway is that the back-channel will always exist.  You can resist or incorporate it into your activities to focus the channel.

3:52:06 PM    comment []

The Other Buzz

Buzz narrowly escapes his 15 minutes of fame. Today's NY Times story on back channels at conferences has provoked lots of interesting commentary around the web today. One tidbit to pass along. The story includes the archetypal conference blogging story of the impact of Doc Searls and Dan Gillmor sharing a link from Both "forwarded by a reader in Florida." If you want the story behind the story, go check out Buzz Bruggeman's blog buzzmodo. Buzz was that "reader in Florida" and he describes his near 15 minutes of fame. [via McGee's Musings]

Im posting this to help Buzz get a little more fame, as he deserves.  The role of a remote participant has grown because of his role. 

With all the attention on heckling, good to note remote participation can also be a positive contributor to an event.  Arguably in a position to provide greater focus, they can cull revelvant resources and affirm points made by a speaker.

3:44:52 PM    comment []

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Trade Winds

The community that was fostered at AO2003 is now providing more pensive analysis.  This is a great time to reflect on how social software is changing the events business and the "trades" in general. 

An excerpt from Conferenza, which provides a tad more traditional paid research coverage of trade shows, contains this golden nugget of controversy:

Still, there were interesting insights, some intended and some not...

·   As a demonstration of the power of interconnection, a panel on Web services featuring CEO Mark Benioff provoked the most talked-about moment of the conference – at Benioff’s expense. Asserting that the largest e-commerce software supplier is, Benioff pointed toward co-panelists from IBM and Sun Microsystems and said, “None of these companies has any position in [that] market at all. Even Apple’s iTunes music store was built on Amazon,” and asserted that Amazon has 300 people working on its proprietary software.

We thought this was news, until Ross Mayfield, CEO of one of the Web’s leading blogging software providers, Socialtext, led an online chat charge showing that most of this was apparently untrue: Amazon uses standard XML out-of-the-box stuff, and Apple’s iTunes doesn’t use Amazon’s software at all, the chatters charged. As Benioff continued, the audience watched as a group of online contributors disputed fact after fact, input Benioff apparently did not see. “It was sort of like a ‘Saturday Night Live’ skit,” said one attendee. “As Mark spoke, we could see his nose growing longer, like Pinocchio.”

How it played out in the Chat (Archive) was Kevin Marks did the fact checking, which was simultaneously projected on to the big screen:

[11:51] KevinMarks: no he didn't
[11:51] adina: bthey /are/ mentioning public web serivces

[11:51] KevinMarks: he licensed the patent
[11:51] KevinMarks: iTunes backend is not Amazon
[11:51] toughcrowd: this panel is showing lots of promise - but I love that cynical suspicion "lovefest"
[11:51] Ross: Amazon's real smart move was an API for developers
[11:52] adina: tross /greencard/
[11:52] Ross: but they dont get decentralization. witness
[11:52] adina: ross /greencard/ again
[11:52] Ross: Kevin, did he say it was?
[11:52] KevinMarks: Apple had ahuge online store already selling Macs
[11:52] KevinMarks: they built on that for iTunes
[11:53] Ross: real-time fact checking Kevin, I love it
[11:54] DariusD: Do you know that the Apple onnline store was not built on Amazon technology?
[11:54] KevinMarks: It is built on Webobjects

Here's Apple's story of how iTunes was built and how they licensed the one-click form from Amazon.  Before we get carried away with the event of a fact check, rather than dynamic itself, its important to understand the context.  I doubt Marc had negative intent, he had little to gain if so, and he was just plain conversing.

This parallel channel, a second superpower on a finite scale, first emerged at PC Forum 2002 when Dan Gillmor blogged a fact check on Joe Nacchio.  Clay fostered the first experiments with social software as an in-room chat tool.  Supernova I was the first to formalize a group weblog.  PC Forum 2003 was the first to incorporate a conference wiki.  The O'Rielly Emerging Technology conference renewed interest in IRC and Hydra in parallel to the wiki.  Supernova II was the first to incorporate chat and wiki.  AlwaysOn was the first to add video streaming (Archive), creating a richer remote participation experience.

For some, the choice of modes is overwhelming at first, something we are tuning.  But Social Software and its practices for events has a reached a level of maturity where it is solving fundamental tensions of event structure. 

Take Bob Frankston's experience with remote participation after in-person attendance the first day:

While it's not the same as being their in person, I was surprised how well the combination of the video and Wiki worked. Over my standard home Internet connection I had very good audio and video quality in looking at the panel.

I don't know how to capture the screen picture that included the video so I simply used my digital camera to take a picture. That's Tony Perkins summing up the conference discussion log is in the lower left. There was a lively discussion with people in the room and others outside such as Joi Itcho in Japan and me at home. Joi mentioned that he was attending in his underwear and people wanted to get a video of him. He obliged though only above the waist...

...I judge events by the attendees more than by the panelists and, by that measure, the event has gotten off to a good start. The concept of being always-on or always connected is a good one though, in my opinion, it is important to distinguish between the transport issues that enable connectivity and the question of what one does with connectivity and the implications. This confusion is reflected in some of the panels.

As I write this I'm still attending remotely. I can view the conference over the Internet with very good audio and video quality. Socialtext is provided a live commenting facility using their Wiki software. This is wonderful for those like me who want to jump up and say "that's stupid" or maybe even be positive. There were problems with 802.11 connectivity the first day so I had only a few opportunities for such commentary though I did make good use of it. Today, from home, it appears to be working better and I've been able to add my own comments on the side.

Participating from afar is interesting. The audio/video works very well but I miss the ability to kibitz with others. A side-chat facility would help. Still, this is my first time trying such remote participation. Having been there for the first day I have some sense of the context and it works very well. Of course this is early stage and I can think of a lot of improvements but it is mundanely useful rather than being a novelty.

David Weinberger recently wrote a great piece in Darwin on the Death of Panels:

...Panelists and audiences do not share the same goals. Audiences want to learn and be entertained. Panelists want to impress and sometimes want to sell. Conversations work against the panelists' natural inclination to manage their speech; conversations develop their own gravitational fields that fling panelists together in ways they can't control.

If you're organizing a conference, as an audience member I implore you to cast aside the spurious safety of panels. If you're a moderator, you'll do everyone a favor if you rearrange the chairs, eliminate the opening statements, confiscate the bulb in the projector and get your participants to just talk. Don't "leave time" for audience participation; open it up from the beginning. Hell, screw the bulb back in and project the online chat where the real life of the conference is probably happening anyway...

Mike from Techdirt yearns for conferences with semi-structured small group interaction.

...An ideal conference, then, would be more like a day full of these lunches - that forced people to think in different ways. Thus, I'd love to see a conference where people are either randomly (or carefully planned by the organizers) split into small groups, and given a task or a challenge. Let them do some scenario planning that forces them to think creatively. Get people thinking, get them involved with the ideas, get them interacting with others and force them to think outside of their own viewpoint. Maybe challenge them. Have different groups "competing" in some way to get people to really pay attention, and really try to get their minds around very difficult issues. ..

Trade Winds

Social Software and Social Networking Models provide the greatest threat and opportunity for the trade industry (trade magazines & shows) -- because they change the notion of audience into participants.  The rise of weblogs and participatory media allow domain experts to contribute without making contribution their full time job.  Networking models allow people to connect regardless of space or time as is the case with LinkedIn, or in space and time with Meetup.  Because these tools work so well in virtuality, it is natural for them to be extended to reality (whatever that means).

Trade shows will fundamentally change their structure to become more participatory -- and the result is more connective, constructive and conversational.  Remote and in-room participants will moderate panels, there will be greater use of working groups and communities will persist between events.  We used to come to trade shows for the people in the place.   As Dr. Weinberger says in Small Pieces Loosely Joined, the web is a set of places itself.  Now we have places upon places, where the network is the conversation.

This isn't the place for me to talk about commercial value for event organizers, but let me say this.  There is no such thing as a closed system.  Bloggers are coming to your conference.  You can't throw up Walls.  The energy can dissipate or enjoin with the event.  Do what Tony did and give out blogger passes.  Augment experiences.  Create a greater and more open context for your event and the wind will blow at your back.

11:51:45 AM    comment []

Monday, June 23, 2003

Socialtext Raises Angel Round

Great news. Socialtext closed an Angel round of funding with some really great people, including:

  • Reid Hoffman, CEO of LinkedIn and former EVP of Paypal
  • Joi Ito, Venture Capitalist with Neoteny
  • Mark Pincus, former co-founder, CEO and Chairman of SupportSoft
  • Erik Josowitz, former VP of Product Strategy of Vignette
  • Oakstone Ventures
  • Freedom Technology Ventures

This new funding provides resources to accelerate the development of enterprise social software, improve how we serve our customers, and give customers greater confidence that we will be there for them.

But it's more than that -- it's a network of exceptional people. A little while back, Pete, Adina, Ed and I talked about who we wanted to work with and who we thought "got it." Raising money these days is a challenge, and it says a great deal that were able to do so with the people we wanted. I don't think we could have picked a better group. Here's what Ed Niehaus, general partner of Freedom Technology Ventures LLC said:

"We're proud to back Socialtext's experienced founding team. The company's customers tell us that Socialtext made it simple for them to discover this new flexible communication form, the Wiki, and use it to create, discuss and decide. Such early customer satisfaction is rare for a new business medium, and it makes us confident that the company will have an impact."

Since the end of last year we have accomplished a great deal with relatively few resources. We developed a tremendous advisory board and I must credit Clay, David, Doc, Jerry, Kevin, Mitch, Ward & Zack with keeping us on the wiser track. We now have over 20 enthusiastic customers. Our product is moving beyond being the the first of its kind to one that has had real success advancing teams.

So what's to come? We have a new release of our product soon, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. Mostly its continuing to spend time with customers and focusing on their needs. It sounds a little cliche, but that's what its really all about. Great products develop in social context.

7:10:56 AM    comment []

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Communication and Collaboration Convergence

Uh oh, there's that word again.  Convergence.  The solution to all our problems.

Siemens has released OpenScape, which integrates phone, voice mail, e-mail, text messaging, calendaring, instant messaging, and conferencing services. Its all centered on IM to synchronize use of different modes of communication, with a SIP server (Session Initiation Protocol) for telephony integration.  OpenScape 1.0, however, requires Microsoft's forthcoming Windows Server 2003 and Greenwich collaboration server. Its the latest in a long line of communication and collaboration solutions to leverage Outlook as a platform.  And its estimated to cost as much as $400 per seat.

This may just be unified messaging redux, but Mike from Techdirt is right that it has potential as a productivity tool if its simple enough for people to use.  People use many modes of communication.  Optimize only a one or two and you may make communication in its entirety even more sub-optimal. 

With the falling cost of more traditional communcations (original videoconference sessions were $100k a pop), putting users in the driver seat is not a bad thing.  Problem is this approach of deep integration creates greater costs and risks.

Corporate IM is a good center for user management of complexity, but who knows if they have gotten this right.  If as advertised, its designed to fit within workflow, it may be on the wrong track.  Communication is not a process, its an informal practice whose patterns cannot be pre-defined.

1:54:45 PM    comment []

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

MySQL Nabs Venture Capital

MySQL AB, the open source database software provider, gained a $20M investment from Benchmark Capital.  MySQL is often used as a primary example of how open source can be a component of a real business model.  May be a harbringer of things to come, but their case is unique in that the core product is a commodity and they have achieved massive penetration.

Had a chance to meet their CEO, Mårten Mickos, at PC Forum.  Terribly nice guy, wish the best for him.

1:14:00 PM    comment []

Monday, May 26, 2003

Paying for Software

Dave expands upon his rationale for paying for software: "If you pay nothing for software, you probably won't die from it, but you may lose data, you're virtually certain to waste time, and at some point, money."

I had to learn to pay for software.  Not the hard way, mind you.  Growing up in Palo Alto distorted my propensity to pay.  My first exposure to software was when user groups were rampant.  3 1/2 floppies were circulated as the norm at user group meetings.  Social networks were the source of service.  The hardware was damn expensive and it seemed natural that software sharing was the exercise. 

Some of my elementary school friends had parents who were Apple developers.  They had the best stuff.  We hacked together games in BASIC on Apple IIs, traded in the computer lab at middle school and the worst punishment concievable was a flying eraser from the teacher (Mr. Spinoli's favorite pastime was flinging blackboard erasers at students in good fun and occasional accident).

I still hesitate to purchase packaged software and instead often simply go without.  Maybe its all the times I purchased software only to become rapidly obsolete by new generations of hardware that purposely obfuscated backward compatibility.  Or when I bought tools that ended up not being suitable for the job.  Where I really hesitate is upgrading my operating system; feels like donating bottles of Thunderbird to a wino instead of buying them a happy meal.

But all that changed when I could buy software online.  Not because it plays into impulse purchase proclivity.  The ability to trial software or have a lite version with an easy upgrade path reduced my risk and led me to greater purchases.

Now I have turned on the spigot.  Not because I work in the software industry, like paying for the right for customer support or have some enlightened consumer guilt.  Because I can buy software as service.  There is a confidence instilled from software that changes over time.  Bugs get addressed, demands are met and risk is reduced.  I don't care where my data lives, so long as it works for me.  Better yet, when the software comes with information services it becomes alive

I buy software when I know it will get better, rather than worse, over time.  Appreciate appreciation.  But that's just one consumer's take.

8:00:54 AM    comment []

Monday, May 19, 2003

The Matter of IT

As the technology industry emerges from the bottom, it criticism has been lowered to the nature of being.  Information Technology has always been a source of competitive advantage.  At the bottom of the business cycle, advantage is basic survival, risk taken only on low hanging fruit.  But now, as the leaky pipes have stopped dripping, some wish to relegate the job of IT to that of a plumber.

Friday's article in the NY Times by Steve Lohr asks the question, "Has Technology Lost its Special Status?"  Technology as an industry is 10 percent of the economy and 60 percent of business spending.  According to John Gantz of IDC, technology spending has increased 2-3 times the rate of economic growth since the 1960s.  The question is if the industry will return to its historical growth rates, the driver of valuation multiples.  Lohr reports:

That assumption about technology's special role is questioned in a provocative article this month in The Harvard Business Review, titled "IT Doesn't Matter." The article asserts that information technology, or I.T. for short, is inevitably headed in the same direction as the railroads, the telegraph, electricity and the internal combustion engine — becoming, in economic terms, just ordinary factors of production, or "commodity inputs."

"From a strategic standpoint, they became invisible; they no longer mattered," Nicholas G. Carr, editor at large of The Harvard Business Review, wrote in the article. "That is exactly what is happening to information technology today."

John Hagel and John Seely Brown believe this is an important article because it very effectively captures the backlash sweeping through executive suites against IT spending...But Carr’s article is also dangerous because it endorses the growing view that IT offers only limited potential for strategic differentiation....and are preparing a rebuttal in the July issue of HBR:

  • Extracting business value from IT requires innovations in business practices. In many respects, we believe Carr attacks a red herring – few people would argue that IT alone provides any significant business value or strategic advantage.
  • The economic impact from IT comes from incremental innovations, rather than "big bang" initiatives. A process of rapid incrementalism enhances learning potential and creates opportunities for further innovations.
  • The strategic impact of IT investment comes from the cumulative effect of sustained initiatives to innovate business practices in the near-term. The strategic differentiation emerges over time, based less on any one specific innovation in business practice and much more on the capability to continuously innovate around the evolving capabilities of IT.

Some tech executives have countered in the NY Times article:

"I.T. is the vehicle by which you turn ideas and content into intellectual property products," Mr. Craig Barrett (of Intel) said. "As a nation and as a company, you either upgrade your I.T. infrastructure or you won't be competitive."

Samuel J. Palmisano, chief executive of I.B.M., made the case for his industry's growing at twice the rate of the economy when he spoke to analysts on Wednesday. "The industry is fundamentally a growth industry because it underpins productivity," he said.

Kevin Werbach speaks of new models in the Post-PC era in his Supernova report:

...The point of the article is not that tech is dying, or that innovation is drying up. It's that enterprise technology is moving into a new phase. Bigger, faster, and more feature-laden are no longer selling points in the same way. Smarter, simpler, more efficient, and more flexible are the new criteria. It's much harder to make powerful system simple than to make them complex....

Zack Lynch points how IT drives growth in other sectors:

For instance, although not a punctuated leap in competitive advantage, social software has the potential to accrue significant value for companies that leverage its potential to accelerate innovation. In some industries, two product cycles can be the difference between corporate life and death.

For example, decreasing innovation cycle times in the pharmaceutical industry by 10% could slash years off product research, development and approval processes.  When translated into revenue and market capitalization impacts, intelligent adoption of social software could significantly disrupt the balance of power in this multi-billion dollar industry.  Who says IT competitive advantage is dead?

What is unique about IT compared to other revolutions is how it extends the capabilities of people and groups.  IT fuels competitive advantage by enhancing productivity.  Erik Brynjolfsson of MIT has demonstrated that productivity gains occur not through IT in and of itself, but when it is introduced with new business practice and process.

This is actually a contrarian point for many.  Some private equity investors shy away from technologies that require change of behavior, for example, because it adds risk that users will resist change.  But in fact, that's the real promise of IT, to extend our capabilities in new ways.  Changing behavior is good in a changing world.

Brynjofsson's studies have been in process-intensive areas of organization.  Areas where economies of scale can be easily realized.  When business process is defined, it is almost immeadiately outdated because environmental conditions change presenting new sets of information. This underscores the need for business practice that realizes economies of scope (agility), but also the limits of process itself.

What remains is knowledge work.  Most jobs in the service sector spend the majority of their time undertaking unstructured tasks in social context.   And this time is where innovation occurs (Palmisano points to IP creation, but that's just one set of montetizable outcomes). 

IT will continue to drive competitive advantage for business because an incremental enhancement of how groups work still yields exponental benefits.

11:38:47 PM    comment []

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