Monthly Archive for April, 2009

Data portability and media: explaining the business case

The information value chain I wrote about a while back, although in need of further refinement, underpins my entire thinking in how I think the business
case for data portability exists.

In this post, I am going to give a brief illustration of how interoperability is a win-win for all involved in the digital media business.

To do this, I am going to explain it using the following companies:
– Amazon (EC2)
– Facebook
– Yahoo! (Flickr)
– Adobe (Photoshop Express)
– Smugmug
– Cooliris

How the world works right now
I’ve listed six different companies, each of which can provide services for your photos. Using a simplistic view of the market, they are all competitors – they ought to be fighting to be the ultimate place where you store your photos. But the reality is, they aren’t.

Our economic system is underpinned by a concept known as “comparative advantage“. It means that even if you are the best at everything, you are better off specialising in one area, and letting another entity perform a function. In world trade, different countries specialise in different industries, because by focusing on what you are uniquely good at and by working with other countries, it actually is a lot more efficient.

Which is why I take a value chain approach when explaining data portability. Different companies and websites, should have different areas of focus – in fact, we all know, one website can’t do everything. Not just because of lack of resources, but the conflict it can create in allocating them. For example, a community site doesn’t want to have to worry about storage costs, because it is better off investing in resources that support its community. Trying to do both may make the community site fail.

How specialisation makes for a win-win
With that theoretical understanding, let’s now look into the companies.

They have a service that allows you to store information in the cloud (ie, not on your local computer and permanently accessible via a browser). The economies of scale by the Amazon business allows it to create the most efficient storage system on the web. I’d love to be able to store all my photos here.

Most of the people I know in the offline world, are connected to me on Facebook. Its become a useful way for me to share with my friends and family my life, and to stay permanently connected with them. I often get asked my friends to make sure I put my photos on Facebook so they can see them.

Yahoo owns a company called Flickr – which is an amazing community of people passionate about photography. I love being able to tap into that community to share and compare my photos (as well as find other people’s photos to use in my blog posts).

Adobe makes the industry standard program for graphic design: Photoshop. When it comes to editing my photos – everything from cropping them, removing red-eye or even converting them into different file formats – I love using the functionality of Photoshop to perform that function. They now offer an online Photoshop, which provides similar functionality that you have on the desktop, in the cloud.

I actually don’t have a Smug mug account, but I’ve always been curious. I’d love to be able to see how my photos look in their interface, and be able to tap into some of the features they have available like printing them in special ways.

Cooliris is a cool web service I’ve only just stumbled on. I’d love be able to plug my photos in the system, and see what cool results get output.

Putting it together

  • I store my photos on Amazon, including my massive RAW picture files which most websites can’t read.
  • I can pull my photos into Facebook, and tag them how I see fit for my friends.
  • I can pull my photos into Flickr, and get access to the unique community competitions, interaction, and feedback I get there.
  • With Adobe Photoshop express, I can access my RAW files on Amazon, to create edited versions of my photos based on the feedback in the comments I received on Flickr from people.
  • With those edited photos now sitting on Amazon, and with the tags I have on Facebook adding better context to my photos (friends tagging people in them), I pull those photos into Smug mug and create really funky prints to send to my parents.
  • Using those same photos I used in Smug Mug, I can use them in Cooliris, and create a funky screensaver for my computer.

As a customer to all these services – that’s awesome. With the same set of photos, I get the benefit of all these services, which uniquely provide something for me.

And as a supplier that is providing these services, I can focus on what I am good at – my comparative advantage – so that I can continue adding value to the people that use my offering.

Sounds simple enough, eh? Well the word for that is “interoperability”, and it’s what we are trying to advocate at the DataPortability Project. A world where data does not have borders, and that can be reused again and again. What’s stopping us for having a world like this? Well basically, simplistic thinking that one site should try to do everything rather than focus on what they do best.

DataPortability Project

Help us change the market’s thinking and demand for data portability.

Why open wins

Open standards matter, but so does the water; and just like water is not what creates a Mona Lisa or a Hoover Dam alone, so too do open standards not really matter that much to what we are trying to do with the DataPortability Project in the longer term. But they matter for the industry, which is why we advocate for them. Here’s why.

Hoover dam

Bill Washburn is one of the soft-spoken individuals that has driven a lot of change, like leading the charge to open government technology (the Internet as we know it) to the rest of the world. He’s been around long enough to see trends, so I asked him: why does open always win? What is it about the walled garden that makes it only temporary?

Bill gave me two reasons: technologies need to be easy to implement and they also need to be cheap. It may sound obvious, but below I offer my interpretation why in the context of standards

1) Easy to implement
If you are a developer constantly implementing a standard, you want the easiest one to implement. Having to learn a new standard each time you need to do something is a burden – you want to learn how to do something once and that’s it. And if there is a choice to implement two standards that do the same thing, guess which one will win?

That’s why you will see the technically inferior RSS dominate over ATOM. Both allow syndication and give the end-user the same experience, but for a developer trying to parse it, ATOM is an absolute pain in the buttocks. Compare also JSON and XML – the former being a data structure that’s not even really a standard, and the latter which is one of the older data format standards on Internet. JSON wins out for using asynchronous technologies in the web2.0 world, because it’s just easier to do. Grassroots driven micro-formats and W3C endorsed RDF? Same deal. RDF academically is brilliant – but academic isn’t real world.

2) Cheap to implement
This is fairly obvious – imagine if you had two ways of performing something that did the same thing, but one was free and the other had licensing costs – what do you think a developer or company will use? Companies don’t want to pay licensing fees, especially for non-core activities; and developers can’t afford license fees for a new technology. Entities will bias their choices to the cheaper of the two, like free.

I think an interesting observation can be made about developer communities. Look at people that are the .Net community, compared to say something like Python advocates. You tend to find Python people are more open to collaboration, meetups, and other idea exchanges rather than the .Net developers who keep to themselves (a proprietary language). With the Microsoft owned .Net suite requiring a lot more costs to implement, it actually holds back the adoption of the technology to dominate the market. If people aren’t collaborating as much when compared to rival technologies, that means less innovation, more costs to learning – a longer term barrier to market adoption.

The most important point to make is on the actual companies that push these standards. Let’s say you are Facebook pushing your own standard, which although free, could only be modified by and adapted by the Facebook team. That’s going to cost resources – at the very least, a developer overseeing it. Maybe a team of evangelists to promote your way of thinking; a supervisor to manage this team. If you are the sole organisation in charge of something, it’s going to cost you (not anyone else) a lot of money.

Bridge being built on the Hoover dam

Compare that to an open community effort, where lots of companies and people pool their resources. Instead of one entity bearing the cost, it’s hundreds of entities bearing the cost. On a singular basis, it’s actually cheaper to create a community driven standard. And honestly, when you think about it, why a company fights over what standard gets implemented has nothing to do with their core strategic objectives. Sure they might get some marketing out of it (as the Wikipedia page says “this company created this standard”), but realistically, it’s rewarding more the individuals within these companies who can now put on their resume “I created this technology that everyone is using now”.

Why Open wins
In the short run, open doesn’t win because it’s a longer process, that in part relies on an industry reacting to a proprietary approach. In the long run, Internet history has proven that the above two factors always come to dominate. Why? Because infrastructure is expensive to build and maintain, and usually, it’s better to pool our efforts to build that infrastructure. You don’t want to spend your money on something that’s for the public benefit, only to have no one in the public using it – do you, Mr Corporate Vice-President?

The WSJ nails it with their iPhone app

For years, people who have bothered to think, have known the newspaper industry was going on a downward spiral. But now that everyone is fretting that this industry is collapsing due to sudden events, it’s time people joined the thinkers about the future of the newspaper industry because there is hope. Having spent a few days with the Wall Street Journals iPhone app, I think I see a light in the tunnel for them.

I don’t read newspapers for a simple reason: I don’t have the time to. During the day, I’m out at client sites under the pump that I barely even read the online news. After hours, I am either out or working on one of the many projects I am involved in. I might be only in my twenties and still early in my career, but my workaholism has made me busier than you think. Did you hear that newspaper exec who’s spent a decade worrying how you’d catch my generation?

WSJ iPhone app - main screen

Which is why the iPhone is a God-send for me. My attention is limited, and information creators need to work on my schedule if they expect me to consume – hence why the WSJ app that was released a few days ago, hits the spot for me. I am able to read the news and my emails on the go, whenever I have down time (like catching a train to work).

Just look at the screen shots. You’ll notice it’s easy for me to scan the news -like a newspaper. It allows me to mark and share the news, which is a feature that draws me to using it. In fact, it’s just plain enjoyable reading the news – the same sense of enjoyment you get from putting your feet up and reading the weekend broadsheet. Newspapers are an experience, and this application is the first time I’ve felt a digital newspaper experience reawaken that feeling.

WSJ iPhone app - article screen

But forget about me for a bit, because that’s not why the application has nailed it. Have another look at the screenshots, and tell me who is the #1 business software company?

As you may have heard me before, I believe advertising is a bubble economy. It’s going down, down, down – and that is the real problem with the newspaper industry, which has relied on it as it’s revenue model. However, just because I think it’s a bubble, doesn’t mean I think all advertising is dead – just some types.

The reason why advertising is not really working on the Internet, is because the traditional media relied on the assumption their audience was captured (on the Internet, they’re not). When an ad plays on the TV or the radio, there is little you can do but put up with it. Most people change the channel, but no one could prove that. Unlike the Internet, where people genuinely can ignore ads (either through banner blindness or block-out technologies)…and which can be proven because online advertising is more measureable.

The thing about mobile and why it’s so promising, is because the audience is once again captured. Because the screen real estate is so precious, any advertising that gets shown, is genuinely noticed by the consumer. The phone user has less control on manipulating their viewing experience, which they do on a desktop computer.

I actually clicked on that Oracle ad three times, which is amazing considering I rarely click on ads. The first time was because I genuinely was interested to see what was behind the link. But the other two times were because my tapping on the screen to read an article was mistaken thanks to my fat fingers. It might have been accidental, but as far as Oracle and the WSJ is concerned – I’ve just shown them engagement. And even if I don’t want to follow through on the ad, I sure as hell noticed it.

How Twitter is using psychology to bootstrap an unbelievable trend

The core activity of Twitter compels its users to act in ways that makes them forget about what they are really doing.

When I first came to accept that lifelogging was an upcoming trend, I thought how the hell would people allow that to happen? Lifelogging (or lifestreaming as I prefer to call it) is a constant stream of your life, in a way that is reminiscent of the Truman Show. Put yourself in the mindset of someone in 1995, 2000 or even 2005 – and imagine if someone said: "One day, you will make public your inner most thoughts about the world". What would your response be? I would have probably laughed in disbelief.


How people get caught into the river of lifestreaming
The Facebook homescreen (which came to life in late 2006), certainly gave the lifestreaming concept a big jump forward by forcing it on their users. Arguably, you could say blogs started it all – but it’s not quite the same as what Twitter is creating.

With Twitter, people usually start hesitantly and confused. They send messages, and drop a few personal insights into their life, because they realise that’s what other people are doing. As they acquire followers, they develop a more persistent relationship with their service. They realise the value of connecting with new people, which happens as they develop their social melebrity status. There is a sense of status in the fact hundreds of people willingly follow you – with status being a core human aspiration. They get hungry: they want more followers.

How a race distracts from the behaviour you then permit
What Aston Kutcher did is typical of what all Twitter users do, albeit on a smaller scale (ie, increase their following). The fascinating thing about this, is that people forget that they are now chasing an endless tail, which further entrenches them into the lifestreaming phenomenon.

Twitter requires people to explicitly share. The focus on this core activity, makes people attempt to create a witty message or one that people value. They get caught up in participating in lifestreaming, completely forgetting and then accepting (if confronted) what they’ve lost.

That being, we’ve now given up the thing people most freak out about in electronic communications: our anonymity and privacy in the world.

As more and more people get onto Twitter, and as more celebrities get caught up in it which will bring the non-tech world into the fold – watch this phenomenon. The natural cycle of a Twitter user, which eventuates in follower acquisition to increase their sense of status, is actually opening up a world I never thought would actually happen.
One where we share our inner most thoughts and details in life, because psychologically, we feel compelled to.

Truman show exit

Think about that last sentence for a bit. That’s kind of crazy.

15 great people I met in America

On March 2nd, I departed Australia for a six week tour in the United States of America. I spent three days in LA, two weeks in San Francisco, a week in Austin, three days in Boston, a week in New York, a week in Miami, and a weekend in Vegas. Sadly, I’m writing this at the airport for my flight back to Sydney.

It was part vacation and part career development. The two weeks with my three best friends from Australia partying with me in New York, Miami and Vegas was an experience in itself. But that wasn’t the catalyst for this trip: I knew all these people in the industry but had never actually met them. I ended up getting a lot more than I bargained for.

Rather than self-indulgently recount my trip here and views of this amazing country, I thought I would do something more useful. Below I highlight some cool people I met, who you should aim to meet one day. Meeting quality people is not an easy thing – I’ve now got 15 you can hunt down and stalk.

There are certainly a lot more people I want to mention, but for the sake of your attention span and my limited battery at the airport, here are a few. They are in my eyes, all people to watch – some are just starting out, other’s are well established. But either way, there was something that made me click when I spoke to these people.

Best workaholic: Brady Brim DeForest
Brady Brim DeForest
The workaholic tag is not something I drop on someone lightly because I am one of the biggest workaholics I know. But Brady redefines the word, and the fact he limits his sleep to only a few hours to get it all done, is proof. I’ve been working with Brady for a year on various things, but only met him for the first time now.

The Streamys on Times Square Looking at all the projects he is involved with gives you an understanding why he’s so impressive. Things as diverse as owning an art gallery, being a judge for the Oscars, lobbying for sustainable food practices, and have founded multiple efforts in technology that have made him wealthy in all senses of the word. For example, Kodak has an ad boasting that they were a sponsor of the Streamy’s on Times Square – a thing Brady started this year. He is 25, and he has more experience than people twice his age.

Biggest change agent: David Recordon
David Recordon
I’ve come across Dave a lot because things I work on in the DataPortabiliy Project overlaps with what he does. We had never actually interacted, but we knew each other existed from afar. But what blew me away was actually meeting him and getting an insight into his personality.

Dave is influencing the future of the web more than anyone else on this list…and yet he is only 23. I feel inspired to know that people are creating a better future that you don’t even know about; are passionate – and for the right reasons. I know enough about Dave because of his open source reputation in the industry: but I only recently found out about his attitude. Which is why he is on this list.

Biggest wise guy: Steve Greenberg
Steve Greenberg
Steve has become one of my mentors in life, where we have spent hours arguing about things, and him telling me how I need to evolve with my future. He’s the main reason I did this trip, but the ironic thing is that we had never met up until now. I don’t need to talk up Steve – the fact I regard him a mentor to influence me, should communicate more than you need to know.

Most successful person I knew but didn’t know that I got to know: Naval Ravikant
Naval Ravikant
Quite randomly, I ended up meeting and getting drunk with Naval, having some of the best food in San Francisco (thanks mate!). The funny thing is, I had no idea who he was (I thought he was just a friend of Steve’s), but after I checked him up, I realised I had spent an evening with one of the bigger people in the industry.

For example, in Australian tech circles, Venturehacks is considered one of the top blogs for entrepreneurs to track. I knew Venturehacks. But I didn’t know Naval was the person behind it!

He has started 15 companies before (and is he still only in his thirties). And I’m not talking about some little venture that put’s up a pretty website and that’s it – but the kind that make the headlines in technology. Like Epinions – one of the hottest company acquisitions in recent years. He has phenomenal investments in companies like Twitter and Vast – the former considered the hottest company in the industry and the latter what I think is the hottest company in the industry (but that nobody realises yet…sorry, can’t say why I think that).

Best thinker: Jonathan Vanasco
Jonathan Vanasco
Jonathan is an entrepreneur from New York that I’ve talked with before and finally met recently for the first time. The guy is whip-smart, done a lot, and level headed. I learned more from an evening with Jonathan than I did in a semester at university. He’s probably spending a bit too much time on lawsuits with Google, but seriously, is a brilliant mind. Nothing more needs to be said.

Best ‘holy-crap-dude-I didn’t-realise-you-had-achieved-that-much-in-your-life’: Steve Repetti
Steve Repetti
Steve’s another guy I’ve worked with a lot in the last year, but had never met or actually knew that well. We caught up in between my hangovers in Miami, and I honestly was floored by what he has done and is doing. He’s successfully started and run companies – validated by the wealth he now has. He’s worked in a variety of roles, including being CTO of listed companies to running virtual corporations.

Understanding his history, how he recreated his life, and how he thinks about the future with his company is why I’ve added him here. The guy is brilliant. And I can’t believe after knowing him for so long, I only realised that once we had a beer. Hold on – no that sounds right – beer is the solution to everything.

Best drunk conversation: Gabe Rivera
Gabe Rivera
Speaking of beer, I challenged Gabe to drinking with Aussies at SXSW, but we never ended up meeting. And then we ended up getting both invited to an Aussie party in San Francisco, which he dropped by to follow up on my challenge. We had a great chat, and I got some really good insight into things by Gabe. And it might have been just one drunk conversation over a few hours, but it was enough to make me realise how he thinks and what he’s passionate about.

Ok, so what? Well Gabe was recognised by Time magazine as one of the 25 most influential people on the WebBest sober conversation: Devin Holloway
Devin Holloway
Devin is someone I would regularly talk to on the phone about…the future. I know, it sounds a bit random, but we did and holy crap we came up with some cool ideas. We came across each other a year ago, found we had similar thoughts about things, and we’ve since kept in touch because we challenge each other and think about things.

And yes, we finally met! With a background in sales, Devin is another guy in his 20s that’s getting broad experience and will be the type of guy that people wonder how do successful executives like that get made.

Best lunch conversation: Bill Washburn
Bill Washburn
I randomly sat next to Bill at a lunch, and had an amazing chat about the industry. He’s had a very distinguished background in technology both in education and private practice, and he oozed with wisdom about things. He gave me perspective on things that I’ve spent months trying to work out!

Yes, there is a trend here: I’ve listed people who I consider highly intelligent, motivated, and experienced. There is actually another dozen people I want to include, but it’s time we end the procession of males and now highlight women who are under-recognised.

The women
A disappointing thing is that a lot of the celebrated women in the industry are the equivalent of celebrity bimbos – they are celebrated more for their social media status and MySpace pose avatars than any contributions that drive the industry. I want to see less talk about "where are the women" and more talk about "look what these women did".

So I am going to do better. The below women are attractive enough to beat any social media bimbo celebrated in the industry. But they also have brains. And I got to know them well enough, that I think other people should know them as well. There needs to be more role models, mentoring, and promoting of women in tech – start with the women below if you’re looking for some.

My new big sister: Daniela Barbosa
Daniela Barbosa: child star
This is a picture of Daniela when she was a child star in Portugal. Hidden in a box in her house. Whoops…

I first met Daniela through the APML workgroup, and have worked very closely with her on the DataPortability Project. So it’s not fair to say I only just met her, but I stayed with her and her dude of a husband for a while, enough to make me realise a more complete side to her.

Daniela is a genuine leader in the industry, with a prominent role in a large enterprise (not so much in title, but internal influence which is very evident) and an advocate for some of the main trends coming to light (like the attention economy and the data web). As a trained librarian, this whole information sector thing is fitting with her like a glove. She knows her stuff, knows a lot of people – and better yet, is making a massive contribution to the industry in a way that is yet to be recognised.

Most likely to beat someone up: Mary Trigiani
Mary Trigiani
Mary is a marketing strategist I worked with a year ago and finally met recently for the first time. I am sure I will get in trouble for giving her a title like the above, but that’s what I love about Mary for real – she doesn’t put up with crap.

Mary get’s marketing, has raw experience from the trenches, and pushes ahead without the bullshit. Manage to stay out of her way when mad, and you’ll definitely learn a few things from her.

Best thank-god-we-did-coffee person: Kaliya Hamlin
I’ve known Kaliya for over a year, and we haven’t exactly had the most positive relationship. All our interactions seemed to be arguments, and we never really got off onto the best foot.

So we met for the first time and the whiteboard got a fresh wipe. Kaliya is quite simply brilliant and we had some great chats. The best way I can categorise her is as a community organiser – she’s prevalent with things in the identity world as well as women in tech. She knows a lot of things, people and is doing awesome stuff that will be transforming the industry.

Having described three prominent women that already have a reputation (the above), I am now going to highlight three without one (or still developing). I am willing to put money on them that they will a Big Deal in the next decade, and the only thing stopping them is them not realising their potential.

Most likely to shake things up: Alisa Leonard-Hansen
Alisa Leonard-Hansen
Alisa is an analyst and strategist that has somehow found herself working in marketing. And now, she’s determined to shake thing up – give her some time, and you’ll see how.

Another New Yorker, she understands upcoming trends better than most people. But I think what really slammed the door in making me realise she was the real deal, was the fact she knew about the origins of Hypertext. She has even read the Memex – the 1940s book that influenced people to create the technologies behind the Web. Now that I’ve revealed that to the world, I’m going to have to drop that as one my tests to sus out people – but no one has ever passed that test before. Look out for her – this chick is smart.

Best uncut diamond: Wicky Mendoza
SXSW friends
Wicky on the far left (me on the far right) + other quality friends we made at the conference whilst drunk as skunks
I was at a party at SXSW alone because the people I was meeting there didn’t end up making it. Wicky approached me out of the blue, and started talking to me. And as we talked and talked, she blew me away with what she’s done and the way she thinks. When people talk about uncut diamonds waiting to be discovered, Wicky should be the dictionary definition of that.

I don’t feel like I can share why I think Wicky has brilliant potential, as it’s not something easily communicated, especially when it’s someone still breaking their teeth in the industry. I suppose when I judge people (yep, all of you), there are certain personality traits I look out for, and she met those.

Someone needs to pull her out of Dallas and put her in the front and centre of a business, so she can grow as your business grows. You’ll thank me for it, trust me.

Best user of the English language: Sarah Townsend
Sarah on the left, yours truly on the right
So if talking to people for over a year without having met them is weird, then how I know Sarah is even better. I met her at SXSW, in a conversation with two friends of hers about their blogs. Nice chat but I didn’t say much – I walked away in my drunken slumber, and that was that.

Not quite. A photo was taken of us during our chat which I stumbled on a week later. I said hi nice to meet you and before I knew it something like over 100 emails over the next week, some longer than this post, were exchanged between us.

So unlike the others, I didn’t sit down and have a real-world one-on-one conversation which gave me an insight into her, but I’ve learned enough to realise she’s got a lot potential. But again, it’s not up to me to determine whether she will reach that – just like Alisa and Wicky, as much as I can identify ability, it’s going to be up to her to realise it.

Ok, so my battery is about to die. I’ve made a commitment to myself to always talk-up good people I come across in life, purely for selfish reasons: it means other people can also become better people making my life more enjoyable! I haven’t exactly got much to gain from writing this as I already have relationships with the above and in selecting some people and not others probably does me more harm than good (blame the battery). But for those of you loyal enough to read my ramblings – hopefully you will try to connect with them because they are people worth connecting with.