Monthly Archive for June, 2009

Can the newspaper industry please stop their damn whining

Google is not a blood sucking vampire. In fact, the newspaper industry is a spoilt little brat.

Search engines such as Google and aggregators (like the constantly criticised techmeme) provide a huge amount of economic value for the newspaper industry. They enable discovery by people that are not regular subscribers to their content. They provide traffic, which drive up the page views, that enable them to sell inflated prices for perceived access to an audience.

Newspapers put their content on the web for free by their own choice. They have plenty of ways of excluding their content from being freely accessible, either through a paid wall or technology conventions like the robots.txt…But they don’t want to completely do that, because they lose the traffic.

Subscription models will be the future revenue model for content. One where people will pay for constant access to a particular information provider (as fresh access – not static objects – is where the real value comes from in information and especially in news). Of course, this means people with established brands can only do this as people will not pay unless they know what to expect. However despite their current lead in this game due to their century-old mastheads, the newspaper industry is refusing to solely go down this route. And the reason for this, is because they still rely on advertising for the majority of their revenue mix – and advertising is driven by traffic.

Newspaper executives want the economic value provided by search engines and aggregators in discovery and traffic – but they whine consistently because these innovative new businesses in the information age have found a way to monetise this function in the value chain.

The solution is simple: cut public access, and put all content behind a paid wall. And only participate in exclusive aggregators. The search engines and free aggregators no longer have your content to add to their mix – and yes, you Mr newspaper executive no longer get as much traffic. But that’s what you get for being a whining little kid.

I am sick and tired of hearing industrial age executives refuse to compromise with information age business models.

Interview with an Iranian about the elections

Below is a podcast I recorded two days ago on Tuesday 23 June 2009 around 1200 UTC. For your benefit, I’ve attempted to transcribe the conversation as best as possible.

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[Time=00:00] Hi my name is Elias Bizannes and I have done a podcast with an Iranian, who has grown up and still lives in Iran, as a way of trying to create some clarity into the situation that we’re seeing currently in Iran. A bit of background ‚Äì in 2005 I went traveling around the world, and one of the countries I visited was Iran. I spent about ten days in this beautiful country – exploring it ‚Äì and I really got a unique insight into the place. Since I heard about the issues hearing about the issues in Iran, I reached out to some friends of mine, worried that they might have been hurt themselves. And I finally got a response ‚Äì and as I was hearing about the things that are happening, I thought it might be interesting to share that information to the rest of the world ‚Äì because there is a lot of speculation and I think people are misunderstanding a lot of the events that are happening. So hopefully this will give you a bit of insight. If you have any other questions,¬† or if you would like me to get some further clarity, feel free to contact me. You can visit my personal website eliasbizannes.com

[1:08] So let’s now tune into my friend, who’s identity can’t be revealed, sitting in Iran right now.

[1:17] Are there protests happening outside of Tehran? Is there widespread discontent with the population?
I‚Äôm not living in Tehran, I‚Äôm living in a centred city of Iran ‚ÄúKashan‚Äù. There are not big rallies here, and the protests here are not widespread. Y‚Äôknow people here are much rural people and living in villages. And y‚Äôknow¬† – people that are a low level of thinking, there not so much student, not so much talented and open-minded people here. Y‚Äôknow, they’re public people in here.¬† But inside of the university of Kashan – there are so – much rallies and protests against the government. And the first day after the election results, the boys and girls in here staged rallies and they canceled the exams ‚Äì even the exams that they are holding. And they took the papers from the students, and they canceled the whole exam. And it had a very tough reaction from the security of the university ‚Äì and I heard there were some security forces outside the university and they were determined to use tough action against the students if they stepped out of the university. And there were some protest continuing at the university for three days. People were wearing black clothes, in mourning of those youths killed in Tehran and Esfahan. And they find some candles‚Ķ

[3:35] Are people being killed in Esfahan as well? Because what we are hearing in the West, is that all the protests are happening in Tehran. Has there been a lot of…
Yeah yeah. I hear from a friend of mine in Esfahan that there were some rallies at Esfahan university and there were some bombings in there. And they – students I don’t know if students or some people else – they fired the amphitheatre of Esfahan university of technology. There were broken windows and this situation there was so much much worse than here.  And the university of Esfahan is completely off these days. But, in my university, the exams are holding, but in the University of Tehran and the University of Esfahan, the exams are completely off.

[4:40] Yeah right. The situation is that everyone thinks the election was rigged. What makes people think it is. Has there been evidence or people just think it? Why do people think it has been rigged?
Well, y’know the majority of people that I confirmed, they don‚Äôt actually think that actually Mr Mousavihas actually won the election. They think that Mr Ahmadinejad has won, but not with the huge margin that they say. Y‚Äôknow, they want to rig the election because Mr Khatami won 21 million votes and they wanted to break his record by Mr Hashemi. They wanted to show people that Mr Ahmadinejad is more popular than him.¬† Y‚Äôknow, students and people ‚Äì they were saying that the people around them ‚Äì they were not seeing the villages ‚Äì y‚Äôknow inside the cities. They were thinking it was just themselves that were voting.¬† I think that Mr Ahmadinejad has won, but not with this huge margin. Maybe the election might be, is going to be next level, and Mr Ahmadinejad I don‚Äôt think he won the 50% plus one votes. Alright?

[6:24] Yeah ok. So from what I understand also is that people don’t want to completely overthrow the government and have another revolution.  They just want a better government.  Is that true?
Yeah – yeah, not concurring that this situation is 1979. The notion that the people don’t want a huge change in the system. The majority of people they do believe in the mullahcracy in Iran and the governing mullahs, they do believe in them and they do believe in the Ayatollah and they do believe in the in the fundamentals of the Islamic Republic, which are the government of the clergy men – Islamic clergymen. They just want their votes back, and they expected Mr Mousavi to change the situation Mr Ahmadinejad made in foreign affairs and in internal affairs they feel a huge mess, and I can see so much disappointment in the face of the people here because of this situation Mr Ahmadinejad has made. And they just wanted a change in the situation, changing the way in treating the world and the way in treating the people inside the country. They were tired of not being honest, tired of the legitimacy of the government, and they were tired of a government which is not straight forward to people and lying to people.  So I think people want big change Рalright…

[8:22]…And what do people think of Musavi and his backer Rafsanjani.  What are the perceptions of the public to those people?
Mr Mousavi is not a hero.  Of course, then he was not a hero, but now he’s a hero.  No – he is a person which was so popular to Mr Khomeini and he was so close to him and one of the people who had a very huge role in the victory of the Islamic Republic. He’s someone inside the system, and he’s not come outside of the system to change it – he’s one of them. Actually, before these protests people said he was one of them – but when he showed so much courage and so much bravery in behaving and consulting in these situations in Tehran – he didn’t push back and he didn’t take down the protesters – and encouraged them to more and more protest.  They now think he is a very brave man; he’s not one of them – he’s come to change the situation.
About Mr Rafsanjani – I know, the people were not backing Mr Rafsanjani in his presidential period, which was for eight years.  And people hated him Рand in the previous election, they think that anyone but Mr Rafsanjani that was competing against Mr Ahmadinejad, he would have won the election. But because of Rafsanjani, Mr Ahmadinejad won, and whomever was in front of Ahmadinejad was losing – er, was winning the election but Mr Rafsanjani. But after that, people saw lots and lots of criticism from Mr Rafsanjani of Mr Ahmadinejad, they think he changed his behaviour, and when he supported Mr Mousavi – I’m not saying that people are now a fan or supporter of Mr Rafsanjani – but people think that he’s changed. But, they hate him anyway right now, but not as much as before. His family – people believe, there’s so much evidence about his families financial corruption in the country – people are always talking about his daughter, his boys Рand their corruption.

[12:10] So, what’s happening right now? What are you seeing around you? Are there people all over the streets, police that are restricting movements? Have they cut down the Internet? What are you seeing right now?
Around me, which are students of the university,  I can see so much disappointment in their faces about their future. Lots of my friends and lots of students here are determined to learn English, and send applications to foreign universities overseas, and apply to different universities to get out of this country. They say they cannot endure this situation anymore. Me neither can endure this situation here, and I am determined to leave this country. And some people that are stuck to the system, they remain here – people that are not satisfied with the situation will leave the country. The intellectual people are among those who are not satisfied with the situation, and if these people leave the country, there will not be any more intellectual engineers, there are not more talented people in here, and I think it’s going to be a huge mess.

[13:55] What would people want to see though, to prevent this sort of drain of people leaving the country. What is it that people want to see to fix up Iran?
Well first of all, they want their votes back. They do believe that the election was rigged. And they do want Mr Mousavi to take back their lives, their votes…first of all, they don’t want Mr Ahmadinejad anymore. As you can see in Facebook and other Internet communities that there are some causes,  people are saying that he should go Рjust go – it is not important who should be our president, but it should not be him, should not be him…

[15:03] So if Ahmadinejad is taken out of government, would people be a lot happier?
You mean to crackdown this government?

Yeah – do they just want different people elected? Is that the only change they want?
Um – I think the majority of people want Mr Mousavi to become president. They do hope for a bright future and for positive changes in the country with Mr Mousavi – I think they just want Mr Ahmadinejad to resign and to be taken out of Iran politics.

[16:06] Something I want to get clarified and that would be interesting  Рthings like Facebook, Twitter and all that – have they been blocked by the government?
Yeah yeah, these whole websites are filtered. We can’t Facebook – YouTube – even I cannot access my Yahoo Messenger and mailbox Yahoo.com – and the situation is very tough. Even some websites inside the country which had permission from the Islamic Republic like cloob.com which is a website inside the country – they just don’t want the information to spread around the world. And with the pictures, they don’t want the world to see the violence. And some extremist websites and TV like we the voice of America, which are so extremist about pulling down this government. They are scared of truth! What the BBC says, y’know the BBC with no personal focus, just saying the truth – they re sending so much noises on satellite. Given the BBC has gone down, its broadcast on Hotbird start broadcasting on Telstar and Eutelsat?

[18:05] How are people organizing the protests? Is it through SMS and telephone calls then, if all these important websites are blocked, to organise?
The SMS was also cut down for about a week and a half. The mobile phones are ok, but not in Tehran. In Tehran, the whole telecommunications system was cut down and people were just using card phones, home phones – and they were spreading the news just on the internet via Yahoo messenger, especially some blogs – and people are using anti-censors and proxies to access the website and get the information about the place and the dates of the protests…but the SMS service was not on for a week and a half.

[19:26] What’s going to happen now?  What’s going to happen in the next few weeks? Do you think it’s going to be predictable, or do you think everything is unpredictable at the moment?
I think the protests have calmed down, and its not going to happen anything. And the tyranny of of Ayatollah Khamenei and Mr Ahmadinejad, is growing up more and more – and nothing is going to happen. But I think in the next few years, there is going to be more and more protests. And this government and this system, has not firm fundamentals and firm foundation anymore. People do not believe in the Ayatollah anymore…
(phonecall dropped out exactly at this point and podcast discussion ended)
(music)

Bye Sydney, Hi San Francisco

My life is about to get a big shakeup. I’ve accepted an offer at San Francisco based Vast.com, after spending nearly four valuable years at the Sydney office of PricewaterhouseCoopers.

New job, new industry, new city, new country.
In the last few years, I’ve come out of nowhere (meaning no idea how!) to become a person driving a global industry movement (the DataPortability Project) and a recognised champion for my nation’s Internet industry (Silicon Beach). Ironically, I don’t have a computer software background (I’m a chartered accountant), and I don’t work directly in tech (I’ve worked in financial services) So this transition is a realignment in my life, that I hope will bring me closer to doing what I’ve recognised is my true passion: building Internet companies that add value to our world.

What will I be doing?
Reporting to the CEO, I’ll be managing the overall finance and accounting functions of the company. However with time and as the company grows, I’ll be taking on additional responsibilities that can extend my current skill-base and experience. I’m thankful that the CEO Kevin Laws (one of the smartest guys in any room – seriously!), the chairman Naval Ravikant (one of the most successful Valley entrepreneurs around – 15 companies and counting!), and Director of Product Steve Greenberg (wisest guy I’ve ever met – both in insight and wit) believe in me and want to help me reach my potential…whatever that may be. Vast.com has an exciting business model with a veteran executive team – I don’t know where my future is headed but I know it’s in good hands.

So are you giving up on Australia?
No way! In fact, I think my presence in Silicon Valley is going to allow me to extend the Silicon Beach effort. I will have a permanent couch reserved for all of Australia’s tech entrepreneurs (well if I can – housing and room-mate pending!) and I’ll be developing my expertise from the world’s best to share back with my compatriots. I do hope one day to return to Australia and I have plenty of reason to do so – my family is in Sydney as are my half-dozen best friends who quite literally are the best mates a guy could have. I’ll still be doing the Silicon Beach podcast’s and whatever else I can to keep me connected to Australia – socially, professionally, spiritually – but having said that though, it may be a while before I do come back. I’ve got a hell of a lot to learn first!

This is a move that I hope will position me for bigger and better things. Its been a very hard decision to give up my near perfect life in Sydney, but I’m also very excited about the opportunities possible in my new position. Living overseas is something everyone needs to do in their lifetime for their own personal growth, and working in Silicon Valley is something I had to do (or as my new boss Kevin has said repeatedly now, “you belong here”), otherwise I’d forever regret not doing it.

I’ve still got a month to wind up things here in Sydney but I plan to be in San Francisco by 1 August 2009 at the latest. For those in Australia, I hope I get to catch you all before I go. For the American’s: be warned – trouble’s coming. 🙂

Wish me luck!

Opera’s Unite is democratising the cloud

Opera Unite - youtube imageOpera, the Norwegian browser with little under 1% market share of the English market, has made an interesting announcement. Following a much hyped mystery campaign, “Opera Unite” has been announced as a new way to interact with the browser. It transforms the browser into a server – so that your local computer can interact across the Internet in a peer-to-peer fashion. Or in simpler words, you can plug your photos, music and post-it notes into your Opera Unite installation – and be able to access that media anywhere on the Internet, be it another computer or your mobile phone. I view this as conceptually as an important landmark in data portability. The competing browser company Mozilla may lay claim to developing ubiquity, but Opera’s announcement is a big step to ubiquity the concept.

Implications: evolving the cloud to be more democratic
Opera Unite features 1I’ve had a test drive, but I’m not going to rehash the functionality here – there is plenty of commentary going on now. (Or better yet, simply check this video.) I don’t think it’s fair to criticise it, as it’s still an early development effort – for example, although I could access my photos on my mobile phone (that were stored on my Mac), I could not stream my music (which would be amazing once they can pull that off). But it’s an interesting idea being pushed by Opera, and it’s worth considering it from the bigger picture.

Opera Unite features 2There is a clear trend to cloud computing in the world – one where all you need is a browser and theoretically you can access anything you need for a computer (as your data, applications and processing power are done remotely). What Opera Unite does, is create a cloud that can be controlled by individuals. It’s embracing the sophistication home users have developed into now that they have multiple computers and devices, connected in the one household over a home wireless network. Different individual computers can act as repositories for a variety of data, and its accessibility can be fully controlled by the individuals.

Opera Unite features 3I think that concept is a brilliant one that brings it to the mass market (and something geeks won’t appreciate as they can already do this). It’s allowing consumers an alternative to storing their data, but still have it accessible “via the cloud”. As the information value chain goes, people can now store their data wherever they wish (like their own households) and then plug those home computers into the cloud to get the desired functionality they desire. So for example, you can store all your precious children pictures and your private health information on your home computer as you’ve chosen that to be your storage facility – but be able to get access to a suite of online functionality that exists in the cloud.

As Chris Messina notes, there is still an opera proxy service – meaning all your data connecting your home computer to your phone and other computers – still go through an Opera central server. But that doesn’t matter, because it’s the concept of local storage via the browser that this embodies. There is the potential for competing, open source attempts in creating a more evenly distributed peer-to-peer model. Opera Unite matters, because it’s implemented a concept people have long talked about – packaged in a dead easy way to use.

Implications: Opera the company
WebFS-on-the-desktop
For poor little Opera, this finally gives it a focus to innovate. Its been squashed out of the web browser market, and its had limited success on the mobile phone (its main niche opportunity – although with the iPhone now facing a big threat). Google’s chrome is fast developing into the standard for running SaaS applications over the web. But Opera’s decision to pursue this project is innovating in a new area, and more inline with what was first described as the data portability file system and the DiSo dashboard.

Like all great ideas, I look forward to Unite being copied, refined, and evolve into something great for the broader world.

The Internet, Iran, and Ubiquity

P1040449What’s happening right now in Iran is absolutely remarkable. It validates the remarkable impact ubiquitous computing and ubiquitous connectivity to the Internet has and its potential to disrupt even the most tightly controlled police state in the world.

The rejection of the election by the public is creating public chaos, finally giving the people a reason to revolt against a regime they’ve detested for decades now. This situation has the potential to escalate to bigger things – or it likely will settle down – but regardless, it gives us a real insight into the future. That is, how these new technologies are transforming everything, and disgracing the mass media in the process.

What I saw in Iran
This blog of mine actually started as a travel blog, and one of the countries I wrote about was Iran. In my analysis of that beautiful country, I hypothesised a revolution was brewing based on societal discontent. What prevented this revolution from ever occurring, was a legitimate trigger – one that wasn’t shut down by the Islamic propaganda.
P1040208
A interesting thing I noted was that the official messaging of the country was anti-American and very over the top – no surprises there. But when you talked to people on a one-on-one level, you realised the Iranian’s actually respect the American’s – and it was the establishment they detested. It seemed the regime had a tight grip on society, using Islam as a way of controlling them in much the same way the Bush Administration use patriotism and the War on Terror, to do what it wanted and silence criticism. But by controlling the media (amongst other things), it essentially helped control society from revolting.

How ubiquity has changed that
In my previously linked article, I talk about the rising trend of a ubiquitous world – one where connectivity, computing, and data was omnipresent in our world. Separately, we are seeing a rising trend toward a “network” operating model for internet businesses, as demonstrated with Facebook’s CEO recently saying how he imagines Facebook’s future to not be a destination site.
denied
The implication is that people are now connected , can share information and communicate without restraint, but better yet, do so in a decentralised manner. The use of Twitter to share information to the world, isn’t reliant on visiting Twitter.com – it’s simply a text message away. It’s hard to censor something that’s not centralised. And it’s even harder to control and influence a population, where they no longer need the mass media for information, but can communicate directly with each other on a mass scale.

Take note
Social media is having a remarkable impact. Not only are we getting better quality reporting of events (with the mass media entirely failing us), but it’s enabling mass collaboration on a grand scale. One where even a government has the risk of being toppled. I’m still waiting to here from my Iranian friends to get their insight into the situation, but if it’s one lesson we should take note of, is that the Internet is transforming the world. Industries are not only being impacted, but society in the broadest sense. If a few picture-capable phones, a short-messaging communication service, and some patchy wireless Internet can rattle the most authoritarian state in the world, then all I can say is I’m gobsmacked at what else is on the horizon.

The ‘always-beta’ culture is affecting more than just journalism

always in betaMichael Arrington, one if the world’s most successful bloggers, writes about the latest battle he’s had against the mainstream media. He quotes the progressive journalism thinker Jeff Jarvis who identifies the conflict as a difference between “process” and “product” journalism. This is a brilliant step forward in understanding the evolution of the news media (highly recommend you read both posts), and to validate it, I will share how this very fact is true in other domains (specifically, web2.0 in the enterprise).

How I sold the idea of a wiki at PwC
In 2006, I pitched to senior management at my firm – the world’s largest knowledge firm – that we were failing at how we did knowledge. More specifically, I argued that the systems in place was creating opportunity cost, because the way we viewed “knowledge” was wrong – and the systems we had only supported one type. As a solution, I proposed we implement Web2.0 tools as a way of changing this.

What I want to share more of however, is the actual problem I identified. It was a problem that senior management knew existed but in different words. What I did was give the intellectual justification that created the “ah-ha” moment.

Soft knowledge versus hard knowledge
Central to my thesis was that knowledge had a continuum, and that we have traditionally said knowledge was a product only. The physical output of knowledge in the industrial society has been some published form like a book or a magazine. This output therefore defined the perspective of this product – multiple reviews of the content, close scrutiny of what was being said, and careful consideration of what made the final cut. It was expensive to create a book, and so quite reasonably, we’ve aimed at making it perfect.

However most knowledge within a firm doesn’t exist in a published form. When we talk about sharing knowledge within organisations, we are actually actually referring to having people talk to each other. Human conversation is the most established type of human knowledge transfer, and until the alphabet was adopted by various cultures, was the only way knowledge could be transmitted. This is called “soft knowledge”, and it’s not better or worse than “hard” knowledge, but just a different state on the continuum.

tree roots

Soft knowledge rapidly evolves. It never has a fixed state. Sometimes, it never ever makes it up the line to become “hard” knowledge, or solidified – but this doesn’t make it useless. In fact, when it comes to doing our work, this tacit knowledge doesn’t need a fixed state – it’s a fluid piece of knowledge that will never justify it being published in a hard-bound book. Like a dynamic conversation between a group of people, the ideas are rapidly evolving so fast that trying to lock it down actually ruins the process. Soft knowledge is not so much a product but a process – like rapidly firing electrons remixing towards the goal of a more solid state.

The ‘always-beta’ culture
Technology is enabling us to evolve our ability to communicate. Its gone beyond a one-to-one and one-to-many model that we’ve traditionally been accustomed to, but now allowing a many-to-many model. This new form of communication is allowing knowledge to get better captured in this ‘soft’ state. Categories are no longer useful, even though as a society hierarchies and linearity is how we are accustomed to the world. We need to now become more adapt at analysing knowledge through a network.

When it comes to information (including the news), the value comes not from its accuracy but its availability. If I have an emergency situation on a client, I want all the available options for me to assist in my decision making. As a professional, I can then assess what route to take. Although pre-certification of knowledge has value in accuracy, sometimes full accuracy results in a bigger opportunity cost: inaction.

crushing waves

There will always be a place for news as a product. But what we need right now is to understand blogs do news differently, and potentially for news itself, might be a better model. And whether you like it or not, it’s worked before- after all, we’ve been doing conversation now for close to a 100,000 years. If we never did it, we’d never end up to where we are now.

Google Wave will take a generation

google wave logoChris Saad used to ask me questions about tech in enterprise due to my history (I’ve got the battle scars rolling out web2.0 at PwC), but he asked me after he wrote this post. So instead of telling him he’s wrong by email (ironic given the topic), I’m going to shame him to the world!

Why Google Wave will take over ten years to turn into a trending wave
As I previously wrote when the news of Google’s new technology was announced, there is a hidden detail Google hasn’t announced to the world: it requires massive computational power to pull off. It doesn’t take a brain to realise it either – anyone thats used a bloated Instant Messenger (like Lotus Same Time) probably understands this. All that rich media, group chat, real time – Jesus, how many fans are we going to need now to blow the steam generated by our computer processors? Mozilla pioneered tabbed browsing – and it’s still trying to pioneer on the same idea – from your computer crashing when you have more than a few tabs open!

Don’t get me wrong, Google Wave is phenomenal. But it’s only the beginning. The fact Google has opened this up to the world is a good thing. But we need to be realistic, because even if this technology is distributed (like how email is), the question I want to know is how many users can one server support? I’d be surprised at these early stages if it’s more than a dozen (the demo itself showed there’s still a lot of work to be done). Do I have inside knowledge? No – just common sense and experience with every other technology I’ve used to date.

Why Google Wave won’t hit the enterprise in the next 12 months
Now to the point where Saad is *really* wrong. “20% of enterprise users will be using wave in the first 12 months for more than 50% of their comms (replacing email and wiki)“.

chris saad google wave

Yeah right. It’s going to take at least three years, with a stable and mature technology, for this to work. Email sucks, but it also works. IT departments, especially in this economy, are not going to try a new form of communication that’s half working and is not a mass adopted technology (wiki’s are a new thing – there’s a cultural battle still being fought within enterprises).

The real time nature potentially might even scare communications departments. Entire divisions exist in firms like mine, to control the message sent to employees. If you are revealing a message before the final message has been crafted, you’ve given away control to that message – the process now becomes just as important as the final message. I understand this functionality can be turned off, but I’m raising it to highlight how enterprises think.

Google Wave rocks
Again, don’t get me wrong. Google Wave blows my mind. But let’s be realistic here – big ideas take time. It took a while for Google the search engine to domiante. Heck, Gmail has taken nearly a decade to get to the point of being called dominant. And you can fix bugs, deploy software, and roll out sales teams – but sometimes with big ideas, it’s a generational thing.

Wave will dominate our world communications – one day. But not for a while.