Category Archives: Business

Trouble at the Video Store Part 2

My last post [Trouble at the video store] seemed to have caused a bit of an “OMG I Know” stir in the comments.

Here is the other shoe.

Clearly the video rental model, like that of the CD store is well known, even by it’s owners, as obsolesced industry coasting through it’s sunset years. Despite a diminishing base, they can probably make money a while yet provided they don’t have to invest heavily to change anything. Sure it’s increasingly anachronistic, but if the system still works for now, what the heck right.

What’s bigger though is the much broader parable to retail in general.

There’s a lot of the connected and information-rich experience we now take for granted in online shopping world which is still conspicuously and almost entirely absent not just at Blockbuster but also at your favourite clothing retailer, home/office despots, grocery store or nifty boutique for that matter.

So much thought, tech and innovation poured into eccommerce shopping. Yet the grand prize, the retail retailing market is still out there and nearly 10 times as big. A few innovations like credit cards and elevator music aside, in 2008 we’re still shopping at retail with pretty much the same experience we had in 1908.

what gives?

There’s a general category to file this thought under: Easy Web2 stuff + thinking outside the screen + ubiquitous rich connectivity = the next big thing

Pierre Karl Peladeau on Wireless Competition

To set the scene for you yesterday at the Empire Club luncheon: Perre Karl Peladeau, CEO of Quebecor and would-be new entrant in the Canadian mobile industry, 200 investment bankers in serious suits, former prime minister Brian Mulroney of Canada sharing the rubber chicken, and one blogger/web2.0 troublemaker.

Pierre:

: I am here to talk about the future of wireless
Holds up an iphone, could cost $900/month to use all the features of an iPhone, you might have to take out a mortgage

RIM is jewel of Canadian genius, but a lot of Canadians don’t have access, because it is priced out of the market.

The very symbol of Canadian wireless success is being denied to Canadians
Why we need more competition

Status quo: restricting the growth of new media. Wireless is the future. We are impairing our capacity to compete in the world. We have fallen behind

We are asking the federal govnt to set rules to ensure competition
- Enough spectrum- existing owners have enough spectrum already, but would buy to shut out completion
- Spectrum is more valuable for any operator who wants to block access than to a company that wants to gain access because the latter needs to build infrastructure
- Monopolies carry great weight and spend millions in Ottawa
- As a Canadian, wants to see more services and lower prices 3g is essential to news gathering and is essential to all businesses in Canada.

Pierre is asking for the following rules

  1. Segment of spectrum should be set aside for new entrants
  2. Pole sharing: Incumbents should be required to share pre-existing towers and poles with new entrants.
  3. Roaming within Canada while rollout – Rollout of any new service will take time, existing carries should be required to allow

Canada deserves better let the new low cost competitive market begin. [end]

amen.

Pierre is yet cagey as weather Quebecor would expand nation-wide.

Of course, before we get too excited, remember that despite these fine words, Pierre won’t be giving away new wireless services for free. It will cost billions in spectrum + infrastructure to rollout. Pierre will have a plan to earn this back.

Still more completion is the best thing that could happen for Canadian consumers, Canadian culture and Canadian businesses (well all but a certain three Canadian Businesses). The facts on the ground are unambiguous. Canada is not competitive globally in wireless, and something needs to change.

Much more coverage of the event in the mainstream press.

Guilds as a model for new (un)organizational behaviour

Michele Perras has a great article up on her blog about the emergent signal of tech-and-media-enabled communities and how they do and don’t echo a very old form of organization of professionals guilds.

looking at the innumerable communities that have emerged and exploded, in large part due to what people are doing with web/mobile technology, over the past 15 years or so, it’s apparent that their underlying social and economic structures are guild-like.”

” historically, guilds existed to create and share innovative developments and specific forms of knowledge – such as the practices of goldsmithing or stonemasonry or other recording of ideas into tangible form. guilds primarily relied on the manipulation and transformation of materials into social, cultural, economic, political or military capital, and were key in the emergence of money and credit as goods were produced and exchanged on larger and larger scales, across greater geographic territories and cultures. the ability to utilize a raw material’s transition into a cultural artifact with high economic value was highly prized and, in cases such as the medieval guilds, extremely protected within a particular guild.

access to those communities required commitment and authenticity – and i don’t think mastery was never truly acquired as your learning never really ended -… knowledge, and the skills to implement and innovate upon it, was the most powerful competitive advantage you could have…”

As Michele says “sounds familiar?”

Good stuff! read on… [ the re-emergence of the guild, pt one ]

Implications to Enterprise2.0: To me Michele’s analysis also ties to the memes of ‘Open Innovation‘ and Wikinomics. Critical knowledge (and IP) creation, once key basis for proprietary competitive advantage, is happening as much in the ‘digital guild’ the interstitial spaces in-between as opposed to within the walls of organizations and wholly owned R&D departments.

Has Facebook killed blogging?

Have you noticed the blogosphere growing quiet? The pros and the a-listers and the corporate blogs are still at it as strong as ever. But tumbleweeds blow through the empty feed folders of personal friends. Flickr too is fading away. Maybe it’s just summer and we’re all outdoors, as we should be, instead.

But I think it’s Facebook, first twitter, but now much more powerfully Facebook is sucking all that personal stuff, all that social presence and ambient intimacy behaviour and desires (usecases for you techies) out of the blogosphere and in to it’s fearsomely purpose-designed boxy blue and white world.

There’s a flavourshift in the blogosphere. The olde flavour of blogging is leaving us.

When you think of it, (personal) blogs never really caught on anyway.

Compare this one data point, my blogroll: 21 my FB Friendlist: 249

Blogs as dead media. At least as we once (hardly) knew ye.

Blogs are for pros, facebook is for friends

blogs dead. long live blogs.

The most interesting piece of news this week.

Now this could change everything. Will Canada follow?

UPDATE:More from the horse’s mouth (thanks Michele: Our commitment to open broadband platforms – google

UPDATE2:
[FCC Says Wireless Could be America's "Third Pipe"] FCC responds:

In a congressional hearing on Tuesday, three out of the five FCC commissioners told lawmakers that they are supportive of the open-access standards as proposed by FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin, according to Reuters. “A network more open to devices and applications can help ensure that the fruits of innovation on the edges of the network swiftly pass into the hands of consumers,” said Martin, speaking to the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee.

Democratic commissioner John Adelstein specifically noted that an open-access approach “could open these key airwaves to badly needed competition in the broadband space.

Negative Space in Product Design – Value from things that things don’t do.

I figure the single sound that must bring the most collective happiness to people the world over is exactly the sound your alarm clock doesn’t make as soon as you hit the snooze button.

I’ve been trying to think up, ever since my alarm came back on this morning, some other examples of this principle in practical action. In visual design negative space can be as important to a composition as the subject.

1. (When it works) Google search creates it’s value from the search results that it doesn’t return.

2. Desani creates value by not putting all that sugary Coke crap in your Coke water – and just giving you not flavored Coke water in a handy portable container.

3. Of course the iPod shuffle was most distinctive features were the ones it didn’t have.

4. Tokyoflash makes a (awesomely cool) business out of not making it easier to know what time it is.

5. Strategic nuclear weapons

8. What else there must be lots? What softwares or products are handy for features they don’t have or, for features they do have, are handy for the negative not-uses of those features?

The Tricks and Challenges of Social Computing in the Office

Great set of notes (thanks Stephanie!) on Suw Charman’s recent talk at google (been meaning to link to this for a while) on the tricky art of introducing social software to the office.

“Low-level fear of social humiliation. How are they going to come across to their peers and bosses? Fear of making mistake. People don’t realise they’re afraid, they just feel a bit uncomfortable talking /publicly/ to their collegues. E-mail is different because it feels private, it’s 1-1 communication…

ut often if permission isn’t explicitly given to use such tools, that will really get in the way. “Blogs as diaries”, etc — psychological mismatch. What the boss /thinks/ blogs are, and what they are used for in business.”

“Some very mundane use cases: Disney used blogs to announce events (threw away their customer crappy tool). Personal knowledge management — “what have I been doing, what stuff do I need to find again?” Person who has to report on what he’s doing: blog about it, and let boss read. Competitive intelligence. What’s happening out there/in here. Also, “oh this is interesting!” — people blogging about social things, not business-related things. Actually good, allows people to get to know each other. steph-note: I think Google understands that. We tend to underestimate the importance of social relationships in business.”

The Science of Hits and why you can’t pick them

New research shows us the old adage “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like” – is just not true. We don’t know much about art -or- what we like. A recent study shows that intrinsic quality of a work (in this case a song) is at best a 50% predictor of it’s future popularity.

Can’t remember if I pointed to this article before but it is enormously important.

…predicting hits is not only difficult but actually impossible, no matter how much you know about individual tastes.

The reason is that when people tend to like what other people like, differences in popularity are subject to what is called “cumulative advantage,” or the “rich get richer” effect. This means that if one object happens to be slightly more popular than another at just the right point, it will tend to become more popular still. As a result, even tiny, random fluctuations can blow up, generating potentially enormous long-run differences among even indistinguishable competitors

This article seems to keep coming up in everything I’m looking at these days. It also influenced my think around flavour as in the line between how much of the flavour of our modern world is deliberately arbitrary vs how much the result of the uncontrollable chaos of snowball effects, tipping points or butterfly wings in the amazon? Alternately if we are building social media platforms – or content – how we can harness, or at least make the best of, these effects.

I strongly believe these affects are fundamental to all mediums affecting everything from fashion, to technology adoption to political ideas.

That memes (or mediums) can be popular just for being popular. Who would ever have guessed.

Open thoughts for open cities

..Because gifted children are able to consider the possibilities of how things might be, they tend to be idealists. However, they are simultaneously able to see that the world is falling short of how it might be. Because they are intense, gifted children feel keenly the disappointment and frustration which occurs when ideals are not reached. Similarly, these youngsters quickly spot the inconsistencies, arbitrariness and absurdities in society and in the behaviors of those around them. Traditions are questioned or challenged…

When gifted children try to share these concerns with others, they are usually met with reactions ranging from puzzlement to hostility. They discover that others, particularly of their age, clearly do not share these concerns, but instead are focused on more concrete issues and on fitting in with others’ expectations. Often by even first grade, these youngsters, particularly the more highly gifted ones, feel isolated from their peers and perhaps from their families as they find that others are not prepared to discuss such weighty concerns…
-Existential Depression in Gifted Individuals

I’m sure many of you out there can identify. I would like to think, more positively, that everything arbitrary about the flavour of our world is itself an untapped resource, an opportunity gap. But then I also want to believe that massive weight everything that’s arbitrary in our modern world and culture is also obvious – or even perceptible. As I see it

The trouble with gifted children
is that they have the imagination to just taste the flavours of what could have been. But are not in the position

to do anything about it.

As grownups we,
however,
are -or should be-
finally in a position
to DO
something about it,

if we can just recapture
some of that
imagination

or the wisdom to see
whether any given thing
is the way it is
just because it is
or actually because it should be.

The second paragraph resonates as well – but more about whether it’s even healthy/productive to worry about such things. Maybe there is no hope.

How do you see it?

The office as occupied territory, and three rules for collaboration

Jevon today had an entertaining riff on positive vs pejorative connotations of “collaboration”.

However you look at it, whether it’s collaborating with the occupying regime or subversive collaboration among La Résistance (so to speak), I would argue that effective collaboration in an organization requires 3 things:

  1. Opportunities to collaborate.
  2. Are your people finding where they are most needed, when faced with a major challenge or just a simple question, how easy is it to even find someone who could help you out. Are some cube dwellers near the breaking point with stress while others bored silly?

  3. Willingness to collaborate.
  4. Just because your people could be collaborating, are they? As a rule, the best people are already too busy, and no doubt the monthly/quarterly/yearly targets are already made up and probably your request isn’t on there. Are the social bonds, and the social incentives in place to do the right thing when the opportunity arises vs guarding one’s fiefdom, playing politics or just catching the home on time?

  5. Efficiency of collaboration.
  6. Okay assuming people are actually working together, how quickly and efficiently can they get stuff done? How quickly/easily can you share knowledge, keep track of projects in order to delegate work?

Traditionally IT has focused on doing a really good job at #3 (not that there isn’t still room for improvement in this area alone). Meanwhile, the softer human elements of 1,2 has been left to the fuzzy world of HR.

In my mind Social Computing*, when it works, is about putting in place the tools and practices for accelerating all three of these conditions for collaboration.

Vive La Revolucion?

 

* a.k.a. “Enterprise2.0″ though more an more I’m liking the term Social Computing better.

Is it just me or is Outlook archiving dumb?

Is it just me or is Outlook’s (and Exchange’s) insistence on “archiving” items and restricting the size of your inbox just stupid and something that must irritate and/or baffle millions of users?

‘Would you like to archive old items now?” no, I would not!

How is an average user supposed to even know what that means? what’s an archive? where does it go? can I get it back? why are you taking away my inbox? In an age where gmail (or hotmail) can give me 2.8GB inbox for free and gigabytes cost pennies, what’s wrong with corporate email?

iDubya’s are Enterprising Searchers and other things learned on MSoft’s Bar Tab

The good folks at Microsoft and High Road invited a dozen or so of us types out for drinks last night to talk all about Microsoft and Enterprise Search to us. After taking, of course, the (dubious) precaution of well saucing us in advance. We bloggers are a surly lot of soapboxers at the best of times.

This is what I learned:

# Microsoft actually calls their enterprise search product by what it does “enterprise search”. Kudos. More companies should do that. Esp, this from a firm that once brought you branding horror shows like “Windows Live Local”.

# Microsoft calls Information Workers IWs, pronounced i-dubya’s

# IW’s want to be able to find information and expertise inside their organizations

# Search increasingly interface of choice – (though Bryce points out there’s frequently also a backlash because today Enterprise Search tends to be so bad in reality
Good/better specialized search products tailored for various industries exist but very expensive

# Consumer web search (eg product search) keeps getting better and raising the bar. Users expect Enterprise Search to work as well as Google internet search and the i-dubbya’s get upset because it doesn’t.

# Search is not just about search boxes but also something to do with “facets” and intuitively narrowing down results by ticking through categories of results (like eBay or Amazon searching). Letting users build sophisticated queries step by step without them even knowing they’re doing it.

# Microsofties consciously try very hard not to use “google” as a verb in regular conversation. Unsuccessfully.

# The trouble with Enterprise search is because “pagerank” doesn’t work as well in the enterprise. There’s much less useful link structure in corporate intranets to help identify most relevant content.

# [Social Media in the enterprise a.k.a. Social Computing is clearly the answer to this]

# Microsoft thinks that social side of search will be the killer app in the enterprise – but they don’t really have a credible story (yet) as to what they’re going to do enable that. Technically
Sharepoint supports blogs and wiki’s, and technically these are “social media” but I don’t believe MS quite “gets” social computing in the enterprise just yet (they are thinking hard now though, wait for SharePoint 2011).

# Potential long term MS advantages in search, they control the desktop, the user directory, the intranet portal and the rest of the hydra that is SharePoint, so theoretically they have a lot of implicit and explicit data they could be using to inform search.

# MS is looking to search as the catalyst to sell/upgrade SharePoint 2007 into organizations

# Other troubles with Enterprise Search: i-dubya’s find stuff they weren’t supposed to find, customer data, search for “confidential” in docs etc. and all that porn stashed on the shared folder.

Things I learned from what MS didn’t talk about:

# MS is not talking about visual search. (get idée for that!)

# MS is not talking about federating desktop search across multiple desktops. (Damn, for someone who works from 3 computers). I guess that’s what Groove is for.

# MS is not talking about video or audio search (Sutha and I were thinking about machine transcription and indexing of voip conference call meetings or video media)

# MS is not talking about Enterprise Search as a filter for driving better search results on the outside web. This is another (theoretical) killer app talked about by social computing types.

# MS is not talking about Social Bookmarking at all (but then I have mixed feelings about social bookmarking myself).

Thanks to Jared Spataro of Microsoft for the show and tell.

StartupNorth has launched

StarupNorth.ca has launched. Tracking Canadian startup stories and celebrating the vibrant startup community that is in Canada – though you might not know it. If there’s one thing that silicon valley is good at, it’s self promotion. It’s time we got on that train ourselves. There no reason Canadian entrepreneurs need to impress Scoble or Arrington before they have cred. StartupNorth is MapleleafCrunch goodness, enjoy.

Social Media, the Importance of Communities (and how to get one)

Visa Canada asked me to talk about the following topic this morning for 140 mid to senior level execs in the areas of ecom, marketing, finance and risk from online merchants.

Merchant Experiences in Social Media: Insights and tips into the strategies that merchants have taken to successfully harness the power of social media. An overview of recent merchant experiences – what’s worked, what hasn’t, and why.

3rd Annual Visa E-Commerce Summit (for merchants), April 23rd, 2007

It went pretty well! Here’s what I came up with:

Open Data more than Open Source Debates is What Matters Now

There’s a battle for openess going on these days, but it’s not the same as the old open source debate. The ability/openess to modify software is just not that important to most people. Statistically speaking, almost nobody modifies their software (though the few that do can sometimes create enormous value for everyone else – that much is still true).

What I worry about is the battle for open connectivity. The media and telecoms landscape is shifting and the connection providers are the new gatekeepers.

to quote Warren Buffet recently:

“Simply put, if cable and satellite broadcasting, as well as the internet, had come along first, newspapers as we know them probably would never have existed. “

And just considering the internet, you could say the same for the telephone, radio, tv and the cell phone.

*All* of these media are just abstractions of bits traveling on a line.

Given a good enough general-purpose internet data connection, there’s really *no* reason your local cable co should be offering you TV channels or your local telco phone services — rather than the cableco or telco of timbuktu. — or any startup that pops up next week that does just a slightly/hugely better job of it. *cough* skype *cough* joost or Asterix the (heh) open-software telephone switch.

No reason, except an accidental happenstance of history. Oh and the fact that they gave you some hardware like a handset or cablebox with a few simple buttons and a remote control to make your life easier. Oh, well, and the fact that the local cable/tel-co invested -at great fixed expense- built out and maintain a last-mile connection right to your door. They even reinvest upgrade this network (from time to time). And these things matter*.

The debate of the future is how do we encourage investment in connections and bandwidth to the last mile — without selling out to those same providers, the permission to lock us in to the proprietary media services for which we needed the connection in the first place.

It’s the lack of competition and the co-ownership of the physical connection and the services upon it are a problem (not to mention ownership of legacy/cash-cow voice and cable businesses). There needs to be balance between encouraging both investment and access to data in canada.

But the marketplace in this country hasn’t found it yet.

Case in point: Rogers Inc. a major carrier in Canada just started rolling out a highspeed HSDPA wireless network (cool!). With their new “Vision Plan” you get a fancy subsidized phone (nice) can do amazing things like access any number of Rogers Video Services (or one of 50 Rogers-selected YouTube clips), or Rogers Music Services or Rogers Email Services, in fact they’ve built out a whole new little internet. And there’s no charge when browsing the Rogers Internet to purchase any Rogers games, media or service. As for the rest of the Internet, posted rates still as high as 414/min**, but they do generously offer 10MB of completely free Open Data access in the basic plan.

At (the advertised) HSDPA speeds, that’s in the range of 1 min/month. (very bad)

have fun with that.

*(Other metaservices Account servicing, support and billing are neither here nor there – it’s probably been done out of India already — thanks of course to cheap wholesale VOIP data rates.)

**Theoretical HSDPA speeds up to 1.8 Mbs
1.8Mbs = 230.4 KB/s
at $0.03/ KB This is $30 / Megabyte = $6.91 / second or $414/minute (how can this be possible?). On the open internet, better just use that data connection for *very* small WAP pages. For rich media, there’s no way you can use this connection for anything but Rogers Rich Media content.

Warning the product and rate descriptions on the Rogers site are a mess, and specially for the new products. And the pages don’t display properly in Firefox. sigh.

Canada Worse than 3rd World Countries when it comes to Mobile Data Access

Travesty of Canadian Mobile Carriers

The motto of the CRTC, Canada’s telcom regulator is “Communications in the Public Interest”. Right.

If you live in Canada, write to your MP. The CRTC, as an institution, needs to be taken out and shot.*

This chart charts the best rates available from all carriers. And all levels of government say that “ICT” competitiveness is key factor in Canada’s future economic
prosperity. Ya. Right. I would like to say that Canada is a 3rd world country when it comes to Mobile ICT, except you can clearly see from this chart that even *Rwanda* has orders of magnitude better Mobile Data service than Canada.

As I’ve noted in the chart, 500MB is about 100 minutes of usage at a Canadian Carrier’s maximum (advertised) download speed of 700kB/s (your mileage will vary, International carriers are typically twice or four times faster). 500MB is not a lot of data in the grand scheme of things, a few GB could make a better example but in that case the red bars would be completely off the charts.

If you don’t live in Canada but you or your small business depends on mobile connectivity or net neutrality in general, don’t come here.

If see these numbers makes you mad, then Digg this article and spread the word on your site.

(and leave a comment, what is mobile service like where you live? why do you think mobile data is important?)

Here is the complete data table including data speed and Caps for each of the services listed. You’ll notice Canadian carriers lag substantially in every category.

see also on this blog: Bell to charge you $3600 per hour for Wireless Internet access. (the situation has not changed in a while)

supporting links:
www.vodafone.co.nz/pricing_plans/broadband.jsp?st=ourserv…
www.t-mobile.com/shop/plans/default.aspx
powervision.sprint.com/mobilebroadband/plans/index.html
www.terracom.rw/services/internet/evdo/pricing.php
www.telstra.com.au/business/products/internetanddata/mobi…
www.telusmobility.com/on/business_solutions/connect_megab…
www.bell.ca/shop/en_CA_AB/Sme.Sol.Wireless.Internet.Plans…
www.fido.ca/portal/en/domore/options.shtml
www.shoprogers.com/business/wireless/plans_services/busin…

*not literally of course, we are Canadian after all. (the CRTC is the Canadian regulator for radio, television, and telecomumnications). Here’s the Canadian Telecommunications Act that governs the CRTC. I like parts 7 a, b and c.

UPDATE May 2010: While the situation (and competition) has improved significantly in Canada since this post was first published, according to OECD data Canadians still pay among the highest cell phone bills in the world.

UPDATE December2007: For ongoing and more up to date coverage of the Canadian wireless industry, data rates, carriers, spectrum auctions, and mobile startups, I recommend WirelessNorth.ca

The Language of Omaha

Warren Buffet’s annual letter is up on the internet. As usual it is a joy to read. Don’t you wish everyone in business could speak so plainly? Okay, On the one, hand I do suppose that anyone who made their shareholders 16.9B last year (yes, that’s with a ‘B’) would have the prerogative to talk anyway they like, and the ‘homelyness’ of Buffet’s style surely well practiced. On the other hand though, I think it may simply/also require an extraordinarily rare degree of competence in everything you do to be able to speak about it so clearly. Judge for yourself.

Speaking of clearly speaking Omahanians, if you never have, you must read Charlie Munger’s famous speech. Charlie Munger is Buffet’s longtime partner at Berkshire Hathaway. This little (okay not so little) speech, ostensibly about stock picking, is rather perhaps the single best -and most complete- treatise on business that you’ll ever read.