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Archive for the ‘The Future’ Category

The aim of most businesses is to create wealth for those working at it. Generally it is preferred to do this in a sustainable, scalable fashion so that wealth may continue to be generated for a long time. The specific methods may involve seeking public valuation in the markets, selling more and more product directly profitably, private valuation and investment and more. The aim of most technology based companies to make the primary activity and product of the business involve technology. Most common understanding of the “technology” refers to information technology, bio technology, advanced hardware and so forth – i.e. tools or methods that go beyond long established ways of doing things and/or analog approaches. So the aims of a technology company are to create and maintain sustainable, scalable wealth generation through technological invention and execution.

Perhaps there are better definitions of terms and clearer articulation of the aims of business but this will suffice to draw out an argument for how technology companies could fully embrace the idea of a platform and, specifically, a technological platform. Too often the technology in a technology company exists solely in the end product sold to the market. It is a rare technology company that embraces technological thinking every where – re: big internet media still managing advertising contracts through paper and faxes, expense reports through stapled papers to static excel spreadsheets and so on. There are even “search” engine companies that are unable to search over all of their own internal documentation and knowledge.

The gains of technology are significant when applied everywhere in a company. A technological product produced by primitive and inefficient means is usually unable to sustain its competitive edge as those with technology in their veins quickly catch up to any early leads by a first, non technical mover. Often what the world sees on the outside of a technology company is The Wizard of Oz. A clever and powerful façade of technology – a vision of smoking machines doing unthinkable things. When in reality it is the clunky, hub bub of a duct taped factory of humans pulling levers and making machine noises. If the end result is the same, who cares? No one – if the result can be maintained. It never scales to grow the human factory of tech facade making. Nor does it scale to turn everything over to the machines.

What’s contemplated here is a clever and emergent interaction of human and machine technology and how a company goes from merely using technology to becoming a platform. Consider an example of a company that produces exquisite financial market analysis to major brokerage firms. It may be that human analysts are far better than algorithms at making the brilliant and challenging pattern recognition observations about an upcoming swing in the markets. There is still a technology to employ here. Such a company should supply the human analysts with as much enhancing tools and methods to increase the rate at which human analysts can spot patterns, reduce the cost in spreading the knowledge where it needs to go and to complete the feedback loop on hits and misses. There is no limit to how deeply a company should look at enhancing the humans ability. For instance, how many keystrokes does it take for the analyst to key in their findings? How many hops does a synthesized report go through before hitting the end recipient? how does the temperature of the working space impact pattern recognition ability? Perhaps all those details are far more of an impact to the sustainable profit than tuning a minute facet in some analytic algorithm.

The point here is that there should be no facet of a business left untouched by technology enhancement. Too often technology companies waste millions upon millions of dollars updating their main technology product only to see modest or no gain at all. The most successful technology companies of the last 25 years have all found efficiencies through technology mostly unseen by end users and these become their competitive advantages. Dell – ordering and build process. Microsoft – product pre-installations. Google – efficient power sources for data centers. Facebook – rapid internal code releases. Apple – very efficient supply chain. Walmart – intelligent restocking. Amazon – everything beyond the core “ecommerce”.

In a sense, these companies recognized their underlying ”platform” soon after recognizing their main value proposition. They learned quickly enough to scale that proposition – and to spend a solid blend of energy on the scale and the product innovation. A quick aside – scale here is taken to mean how efficiently a business can provide its core proposition to the widest, deepest customer base. It does not refer solely to hardware or supply chain infrastructure, though often that is a critical part of it.

One of many interesting examples of such platform thinking is the Coors Brewing company back in its hey day. Most people would not consider Coors a “technology” company. In the 1950s though it changed many “industries” with the introduction of the modern aluminum can. This non-beer related technology reduced the cost of operations, created a recycling sub industry, reduced the problem of tin-cans damaging the beers taste and so on. It also made it challenging on several competitors to compete on distribution, taste and production costs. This isn’t the first time the Coors company put technology to use in surprising ways. They used to build and operate their own powerplants to reduce reliance on non optimal resources and to have better control over their production.

Examples like this abound. One might conclude that any company delivery product at scale can be classified as a technology company – they all will have a significant platform orientation. However, this does not make them a platform company.

What distinguishes a platform technology from simply a technology company is one in which the platform is provided to partners and customers to scale their businesses as well. These are the types of companies where their product itself becomes scale. These are the rare, super valuable companies. Google, Apple, Intel, Facebook, Microsoft, Salesforce.com, Amazon and so on. These companies often start by becoming highly efficient technically in the production of their core offering and then turn that scale and license it to others. The value generation gets attributed to the scale provider appropriately in that it becomes a self realizing cycle. The ecosystem built upon the platform of such companies demands the platform operator to continue to build their platform so they too may scale. The platform operator only scales by giving more scale innovation back to the ecosystem. Think Google producing Android, offering Google Analytics for Free and so on. Think Facebook and Open Graph and how brands rely on their facebook pages to connect and collect data. Think Amazon and its marketplace and Cloud Computing Services. Think Microsoft and the MSDN/developer resources/cloud computing. Think Apple and itunes, app store and so on.

It’s not all that easy though! There seems to come a time with all such platform companies that a critical decision must be made before it’s obvious that it’s going to work. To Open The Platform Up To Others Or Not? Will the ecosystem adopt it? How will they pay for it? Can we deal with what is created? Are we truly at scale to handle this? Are we open enough to embrace the opportunities that come out of it? Are we ready to cede control? Are we ready to create our own competitors?

That last question is the one big one. But it’s the one to embrace to be a super valuable, rare platform at the heart of a significant ecosystem. And it happens to be the way to create a path to sustainable wealth generation that isn’t a short lived parlor trick.

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Apparently a lot of people want to live forever.

Last week I read an article about cryonics company, Alcor, and their founder.  Apparently he passed away. A couple of years ago I read the book “Frozen”.   (Alcor has been fighting that book for some time.)   I’ve also read / watched stuff from Aubrey De Grey and all the stuff from Ray Kurzweil.   I’ve had conversations face to face with “singularists”.   And, of course, the efforts to get humans to mars I watch with extreme curiosity.

All of these are modern equivalents of the search for the fountain of youth, religious salvation and belief in the afterlife.

Do you, dear reader, want to live forever?  Do you want to preserve some specific way of life, your way of life, humanity?   It’s maddening to me that a large number of humans want to make some basic version of this existence go on forever.   It seems insane to me to want to promote this specific way of life considering how little we actually know and how frequently we kill each other and the planet.

Personally I’d find it miserable to live forever or to be reanimated in the future with my current form.   One lifetime, as a human, is enough.   A couple of years ago I read this book, Forever, by Pete Hamill.  It depressed me a great deal.   The main character lives forever.  He watches many generations and friends live, suffer and die.   All the joy and up moments were dwarfed by knowing it was an endless cycle – living forever wasn’t all there was!  It was a similar lesson I pulled from Man from Earth and Moon.  Maybe I need to read and watch more hopeful views of living forever.

Chasing immortality strikes me more as fear than some aspirational ideal.  If not the fear of death or regret over something not done in the life time, it must be some ridiculous belief that one or humanity SHOULD live forever and promote this particular formation of life.   Whether it’s fear or some anthropocentric imperative the pursuit of immortality seems like a big fat cop out.

People die.  Species go extinct.  We have limited time and resources at our disposal.  We should stop looking for infinite sources of energy and life and start learning to live better (in whatever way you take that) with less.   Stop damaging other things in pursuit of a cop out.  It’s a waste.  In fact, it appears to me to be a HORRIBLE strategy for ultimate survival of whatever it is we’re trying to protect.

But is the pull of survival of genes, the body, the species so great we can’t help ourselves but to spread the human and our own gospel?  I don’t think so.  Thousands of other species of life execute a variety of other strategies that don’t seem so damn selfish and fated.   Insects, fish and the dinosaurs have about 100x+ the longevity as humanity and as far as history suggests, none of the creatures in those phylums chased immortality.

Could “intelligence” be at the root of this?  Hard to give a truthful argument for this idea.   I conjecture that it’s actually a horrible side effect of “intelligence” in the same vein as the illusion of free will.   Intelligence conjures these things up by accident and they seem to fit conveniently into a world view that keeps the intelligent being going – being fruitful and multiplying.   It might also be the case that this is an evolutionary mutation where a strategy extinguishes itself.

We’ll never know… or maybe some will find a path to immortality and they will come to know.  or maybe we’re actually creating these immortal versions of ourselves in all these Web based things we keep inventing.  If any of that comes to pass I hope whatever carries on has a far better grasp of reality and what’s worth carrying on.

And please oh please don’t let immortality be born out of freezing our heads and reanimating them in some weird duct taped, half baked future.  It’s just creepy.

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Just watched absolutely fascinating NatGeo Explorer episode, The Moment of Death.

This is a really uncomfortable show to watch.   Asks some amazing questions AND unemotionally explores some answers/approaches.

What got me really thinking was listening to the Drs. and researchers who work on this stuff everyday.   It’s shocking to many of us who don’t deal with this stuff everyday, but for these researchers, its clinical.

Absolutely fascinating research over hundreds of years.   Some really kooky stuff.

There’s a part where this Dr. “MacDougal” attempted to measure the weight of the soul in the 1800s.   WHAT??!?

There’s an amazing part involving the air force testing the effects of G on pilots’ brains.

Definitely a much watch, if you can handle it.  It’s not for everyone.

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from Ron Williams…

In the October 29, 2010, edition of the Wall Street Journal (The Potential Pitfalls of the Winning Big) reporter Gerald F. Seib wrote, “In an interview with National Journal out this week, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell was asked what his party’s main political job will be after next week’s election. He gave a surprisingly stark answer: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

At a time when the country is fighting a major war, facing a severe economic recession that rivals the Great Depression, and having the largest federal deficits in the country’s history, it is telling to see that the focus of the Republican Party is not to address any of the great problems facing this country.  Rather, their focus is on politics as usual.

And the fact that the American public is about to give them the same Party and laid the groundwork for most of these problems seems to me say that we are a country of amnesiacs.  When President Bill Clinton left office we had budget surpluses, we were not at war with anyone, and the economy had not collapsed.

Then we had eight years of Republican governance.

The Republicans had control of the Executive Branch and both houses of Congress.  What did that get us?  The answer is two foreign wars, the budget deficits, and the beginnings of the great recession.  All were precipitated on the policies of the Bush administration and a Republican Congress.  The Republican governance approach was underfunded budget cuts for the very wealthy and deregulation of just about every industry. Now, it seems that both they, and apparently a significant portion of the American populace, have forgotten what a disaster Republican governance games this country and are prepared to allow the return of those same disastrous policies.

I fear for this country. Example, the governor of New Jersey has just canceled the Tunnel Project, and has ended a project needed for the future transportation needs of the Northeast region.  During the Great Depression it was just the sort of New Deal Projects that helped jumpstart this country out of the Great Depression.  Republican politicians these days cancel these projects.  We see Republican and Tea Party candidates stand their time sending racist and sexist e-mails around the country with others focus on anti-masturbation campaigns and witchcraft issues.

We see a Republican Party which has as one of its favorites ex-governor Sarah Palin, a politician who has yet to complete the term for any office she has been elected.  I’m amazed to think that anyone would support a politician who resigns from office midterm to pursue other financial interests and then expect you to support their election to the next higher office.  It is one thing to leave an office to run for a higher office, it is something else to quit an office to be a commentator on Fox News.  And Tea Party members want this woman to be our next president?

I despair for this country.  Democrats have had control of the Executive Branch and both houses of Congress for the last two years.  President Obama was elected on a campaign promise of putting forward major social and economic changes.  Instead of using that control in both houses and the Executive Branch to make good on these promises, President Obama and the leaders in the House and the Senate spent two years dickering with Republican Senate and House members (who was declared goal was to block every single legislative program with the express purpose of capturing more seats in the midterm elections.) And that is exactly what has happened.  Democrats have not had the guts to push their own agenda.  I believe they deserve to lose.  If you don’t have the courage of your convictions, then perhaps you use should not lead.

I believe the 2008 and 2010 election cycles are based on the electorate crying out for leadership. I think most of us feel the country has been headed in the wrong direction for the last ten years and wanted a change. They asked for that with the election of President Obama.  He has failed to deliver.  For example, the health care bill did not go far enough.  He did not cause runaway health-care costs to be reduced for the average Of American.  He spent too much time dickering with the healthcare industry (the folks who are causing the cost run-up in the first place) and with Republicans (again those people whose only goal in life is to recapture the presidency).

It is the same thing with re-regulation and control of the financial industries. The regulations being put in place today are being written by the same group of Ivy League financiers that gave us the problem in the first place. The regulations do not go far enough in controlling this industry. The American public knows it and is angry.

Last year, there was an uproar when the same bankers who caused the financial meltdown were being awarded large bonuses. In answer to this outcry, the Ivy League financiers trotted out the argument that the bonuses had to be paid because of “contractual obligations”. The problem is that we all knew that the Ivy League financiers knew about these large contractual bonuses when they were negotiating the bailout of these major banks.

During this bailout, detailed contracts were being renegotiated and new terms set in place. These individual contracts, with their large salaries and their scheduled large bonuses, could have and should have been renegotiated at that time. If an individual refused to accept these renegotiated terms, then their employment could have and should have been terminated. With economy as tough as it was unsure that they would have accepted those terms.

Further, with all of the layoffs in the financial industry, it goes without saying that finding well-qualified individuals to fill the spots of those who quit would not be hard to come by. This is what happens to the steelworker, on a file clerk or even the PhD executive. In this economy, there’s always someone willing to take the job in a lower, more reasonable, salary and to forgo bonuses. If this wasn’t, so it seemed like politics as usual. And this is going to cost the Democrats in the election.

It is activity like this that is fueling the anger on the Right, and that the lack of enthusiasm on the Left.

I would not despair if the Republican Party had more to offer than tax cuts for the wealthy and the slashing of any program that supports the elderly, poor or the disabled and a return to the deregulation of any and all industry. These programs have proven to be disastrous and there’s no reason to believe that going back to them would do anything other than bring on more of the same.

I would not despair if the Democratic Party could find its way clear to have the courage of its beliefs and fight for their policies as hard as the Republicans fight for theirs.   But it seems as if the Democrats won’t, so I despair.

[Ron Williams is a frequent quest writer on this site.  He is a former attorney and a current Texan living in a free country with changing contingencies.]

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I seriously wonder about this all the time.

Spending a lot of time thinking about collective intelligence and collaborative filtering over the last decade has led me to believe that most of the stuff we’re creating actually reduces our vision.

From Facebook to twitter to iphones…. we’re pruning our networks and our opportunities to actually run into new people, new experiences.  Why have a new, uncomfortable conversation at a school function when you can just text your friends on your phone?  why participate in a town hall meeting when you can just join a Facebook group?  why surf the web anymore when twitter can just tell you what’s hot?  why go to a bar for a band you’ve never heard of when Pandora can just pick what you like?

Maybe it’s just me.

Food for thought.

Read the following Edge piece or check out “You are not a gadget”.

34. The Internet today is, after all, a machine for reinforcing our prejudices. The wider the selection of information, the more finicky we can be about choosing just what we like and ignoring the rest. On the Net we have the satisfaction of reading only opinions we already agree with, only facts (or alleged facts) we already know. You might read ten stories about ten different topics in a traditional newspaper; on the net, many people spend that same amount of time reading ten stories about the same topic. But again, once we understand the inherent bias in an instrument, we can correct it. One of the hardest, most fascinating problems of this cyber-century is how to add “drift” to the net, so that your view sometimes wanders (as your mind wanders when you’re tired) into places you hadn’t planned to go. Touching the machine brings the original topic back. We need help overcoming rationality sometimes, and allowing our thoughts to wander and metamorphose as they do in sleep.

David Gelernter

and do all this before midnight tonight when you pre-order your vision reducing iPad, like me!

oh well….

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I don’t do hardcore predictions as most interesting things are fundamentally unpredictable.  That Black Swan thing and all that.

However, I do think it worthwhile to lay down some context and shifts in the business, social and other environments that will shape our lives going forward.

Microsoft and Facebook Merge

Facebook is what Microsoft likely wanted Passport and then Windows Live to be – the single sign on for the planet.  Owning the sign-on and digital trail people leave behind is the single most valuable (to a business) asset any media/software business can own (well, really any business).  Not even search engine advertising is as valueable.  Search is just one of the hundreds of things we all do online and it isn’t nearly as revealing as the comments we post, the products we buy, the addresses we ship to, the people we connect and the jobs we take.

Facebook brings together efficiently so much of what Microsoft makes billions on: messaging, apps development, gaming, mobile…

If you look at how tight Microsoft has been with Facebook from Television ads to deep integration into XBox live it seems that a deepening relationship is inevitable.

Beyond that it would be quite a trojan horse into Apple and Google to have MSFT-FB, as Facebook is a major factor in the continued success of iPhone and Facebook is the only viable-still growing by leaps and bounds advertising platform.

Now, is it Facebook that has the commanding position over Microsoft?   Perhaps a strong Facebook IPO (a very likely event in 2010) will give Facebook enough power to make several very bold moves.  Maybe it starts smaller where Facebook absorbs Yahoo….  Again, these things are complex, but I very much think it’s Facebook=Microsoft that mounts the serious competition to the growing Google empire.

For fun, a prediction:  As a specific thing I can see happening – you will be able to login to your windows OS based device via Facebook connect.    And that could get very interesting for all things cloud computing, social gaming and so forth!

Print Focused Companies (retailers, publishers, distributors included) to Be Very Aggressive and Then Flame Out

Again, hard to be too specific here but it’s clear after the massive holidays for digital assets that there’s not much hope (hope=transactions!) for the mega bookstores, the mostly print based publishers and daily newspapers.

Borders and Barnes and Noble simply failed on ebooks and their stores are a wreck.  I visit at least 2 bookstores a week.  Week over week I see a decline in inventory, more and more Twilight displays and a growing impulse buy check out line.  All of those things mean that consumers are browsing the shelves and buying inventory.  Local borders seem much more like a Hallmark store than a book store.  Endless BS gadgets and gifts and a truly horribly vanilla book selection.  Sadly the mega bookstores stopped focusing on what made them so attractive – the experience of buying a book.  This was their last defensible asset.  And now they are probably the WORST way to buy a book – price, fidelity, distractions, over selling, etc.

(If they had the balls they could save themselves.  Give away ereaders, give discounts to buying ebooks instore, install print-on-demand binding machines, expand the cafes, hire actual booklovers/experts.   It would take 2 years of investment but in the end these would be beautiful places to socialize, read, explore… and the margins would go way up because they wouldn’t have shitty inventory, confusing displays and everything else that comes with a bad bookstore.)

Print publishers won’t see the return of the ad dollars.  And fewer and fewer people will subscribe.   Once the grocery stores dump the lame magazine and newspaper displays (they don’t make us much money as the energy drink displays) print will really suffer.   Print publishers still have tons of great content in them they just can’t get off the crack of the gross margins of the past print monopolies.   No, new emagazine readers aren’t going to save this stuff.   There’s a business is feature content, but it’s not at all like the business of old and the near future will reveal who’s going to adjust to a tighter business model with no investment in print.

Print on Demand, Self Publishing services (iuniverse and the others), ebook stores will continue to erode the distribution and agent infrastructure.  I’m sure eventually we’ll have widespread “SEO/findability consultants” for authors. (I’ve advised a few authors and agents).    With megabookstores and other “stands” for print content going away there won’t be any need for restocking and all that.  It’s going to be 90% digital very soon.  (what does this mean for printers? paper makers?   many that i’ve looked up don’t look much like paper companies anymore!)

We will see a near term explosion of activity with these companies as they struggle against the tide.  The tide is too great, though.

Network TV goes On Demand Only

The NBC – GE- Comcast deal earlier and now the Time Warner / Fox feud is the precursor to network TV going all on demand.  There’s no long term business model for free-over the air-high cost network TV.  The ad rates don’t support it, the consumers don’t watch it and content creators don’t need it any more.   Yeah, it will take years to unwind this business but it’s pretty clear you the network brand doesn’t mean much in the world today.

The recent reselling/movement of fairly popular (or what seem to be popular shows) while still popular is an interesting data point.  Scrubs from NBC to ABC, Medium from NBC to CBS, ESPN and Disney brand all over ABC, Oprah from ABC to her own thing.  MLB network, NFL network, NBA network…..  all of these entities are far more on demand and digitally integrated than the networks.

Once the current crop of executives age out/move on the facade of network TV will be over.

Education becomes Wikified

Public schools simply can’t keep up and it’s not really their fault.  Their main value (in most locations) is a social function.   Their content, methods, resources are simply not sufficient to deliver a functional modern education.   Very soon parents won’t worry about home schooling being something that weird/non-social people do… public schools will make sure home-school is the norm.  The public schools will become community centers.

How can I say this?  It’s already happening!  I have a pre-K kid that goes to the pre-K program for a couple of hours a day.  She has homework assignments.  We have mandatory parenting meetings.  Everything else is home or third party based.   I have a 1st grader.  She has at least 1 hour of homework a day.  The school is closed for 3 weeks in the holidays, has a good amount of short days, etc.   Parents now comprise the majority of in room help and supply almost all of the fundraising and community awareness.  The community and each family is already contributing so much ON TOP of taxes that eventually parents en masse will decide that the ruse of public school as a valuable curriculum resources and effective learning environment is over.

I’m socially close to quite a few teachers (at all levels) and administrators.    Teaching isn’t nearly as rewarding as they’d hoped, the resources aren’t there and pay simply won’t keep them afloat.

So…. the community will just take it over directly.  $300 netbooks, endless curriculum online, widespread social networking makes schooling from home something that is tangible, effective and affordable.

And, no, private schools and higher education are not immune to this.  They have a slightly longer life span because of their deeper resources but even they won’t be able to compete long term in any of their current forms.

I think the initial tipping point came when schools no longer were the best place to get access to technology.  That happened in the early 2000s.

Presidential Campaigns to Start Early Into Presidents First Term

Personally I think the next presidential campaign has already started.   From Sarah Palin’s actions to the still aggressive use of social media by the parties the next campaign is basically underway.  I suspect the national parties will get revved up with formalities even sooner than the last presidential election.

The news outlets and late night shows and blogs will see to it.  The rise of current media leaders  rise coincided with the last election and it’s the only trick they know to keep that ever-needed growth going.   The media, if we let it, is going to start the next election in 2010.

Brandon Marshall Ends up on the Bears

Well, I hope!  I don’t see how the Broncos and Marshall ever get along.  Cutler and Marshall just worked.  Make it happen.

I have more to flow out on the shape of things…. sadly The Little Mermaid II just ended on the old VCR so the girls need attention. 😉  Talk at ya later.

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