Tag Archive for 'case-study'

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.

Amazon
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.

Facebook
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
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
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.

Smugmug
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
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.

You need to be persistently adaptable

Tim Bull has recently written an interesting discussion point on when is the right time to innovate. In a post titled “Steam engine time“, he asks:

If innovation is a process of the right idea, in the right place and at the right time, how do we judge what the right time is and measure what is going on around us to hit the right spot?

Some would say luck has something to do with it, although I believe that is the perception from an outsiders point of view. In my eyes, a core set of attributes are required for innovation.

Consider this quote from Calvin Coolidge, 30th president of USA:

Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.

I think Tim is wrong to ask when is the right time, because innovators understand their environment, adapt to it – and then push until they get there. Persistence and adaptability, in my eyes, are two crucial aspects needed in a person or even a country or company, for it to successfully move forward. However whilst persistence is key – you need determination to push forward despite the barriers you are going to encounter – adaptability is the real secret to successfully innovating.

A case-study: multiculturalism in a flat world
Although I was born and bred in Australia, I have been brought up under a very strong Greek influence. With an Australian-born father, and a fresh-off-the-boat Greek mother – I have lived a life straddled in two cultures. Going to an Anglo-Saxon school, yet at the same time doing Greek classes at 9am Saturday (but leaving early for my schools footy games) – I grew to resent Australia’s multiculturalism policy. Without going into too much detail because this will turn it into a political discussion and detract from the point I wish to make – I disliked the fact that Greeks in Australia refused to integrate into the local culture. The Australian government’s stance of officially supporting Multiculturalism, which does things like pay for that Saturday morning tuition, was to me a stupid policy.

Fast forward to 2005, when I visited the Balkans as part of my nine months traveling around Europe. Serbia’s story is one of the saddest stories in Europe. Walking around the city of Belgrade, interacting with its inhabitants, and just generally experiencing Serbia – you realise you have come across a hidden gem in Europe. Yet once you look at the statistics and talk to some of the educated, you understand otherwise: a basket case situation that has little hope.

Serbia, like a lot of other countries I discovered in my travels, have a cultural problem: they can’t let go of the past. Millions of people have died over differing interpretations of history. The Republic of Macedonia’s identity is entirely staked on the fact they are situated on the lands of Alexander the Great. Identity to the nation states of Europe, is in history. And challenges to that history, and their identity, has led to some stupid wars affecting millions of innocent lives.

So guess what? I now think multiculturalism is the best thing my country could ever do, for the simple fact we can never have a fixed identity – what it meant to be Australian 50 years ago looks very different from what it looks like now. In Europe, identity is based on ethnicity with a fixed identity tied to history, language and a religion. In Australia, our identity isn’t allowed to be based on a certain ethnicity, and forces us to find common ground on what really matters like our way of life. If it wasn’t for the policy of Multiculturalism, we would be turning into one of these static nation states within Europe who become fixed as a certain point of time. The Greeks are still mourning over the Turks capturing the Great City of Constantinople from them in 1453 (which is why Tuesday is the unlucky day of the week for them). Yet for the countries like Australia, who don’t have much of a history – they are not locked – and consequently look forward, rather than back. Multiculturalism is a crucial ingredient to our success, because with all that diversity, it means we are constantly evolving our culture to the times without any one group fixing it. And with a globalised word, Australia’s ability to adapt to circumstances will be a key competitive advantage we have over countries.

If you don’t agree with me, have a read of Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat – a book a entrepreneur/intrapreneur suggested I read. This guy who told me about the book was a German from Argentina, working for an Indian company to set up the company’s presence in Turkey! He told me that after he read that book, he quit his job and got himself into his current role. He faced the facts, and adapted his career.

Adaptability as success
You’re probably wondering what I am trying to get at, but to tie it back to my point about adaptability, successfully innovators need to constantly adapt to their environment. What happens with people once they get an idea, is that they spend all their time trying to fit it into a world that once existed, only for the world to be a entirely new place. Successful innovators need to constantly evolve their ideas, to the changing circumstances.

In October last year, I made a proposal at my firm to implement a new technology. For the months leading up to that point, people had to some extent talked down my idea and some even flat out rejected it. October however had me find the right person to hear my idea. And yet if I look at what I originally had thought, and what it is now – it is almost a completely different thing. Because when I pitched my idea, I was asked “why” it works and “how” is it different from anything else. It was that ‘why’ question that had me spend countless hours researching and understanding – adapting – my idea to the scenario being presented to me. I successfully made my business case, because I was given the opportunity to reframe my idea and adapt it to the circumstrances I was presented. Had I not adapted my original idea and vision, I wouldn’t be doing what I am doing now.

Of course, I could have summed up the above by mentioning Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Survival of the fittest, right? Adapt to the Green forest like that Green lizard that looks like a leaf, and you’ll find some food (rather than being the food yourself). Adaptability in life is a key critical success factor; and with innovation, it is the hidden factor that on the outside and in retrospect by others, gets attributed as luck.

Update 20/6/07: Catching up on some reading, I just came across a great posting by Marc Andreessen, an internet pioneer, who talks about the four types of luck and which nicely complements my thoughts above.

Patents: more harm than good

When I was in Prague two years ago, I met a bloke from Bristol (UK) that very convincingly explained how patents as a concept, are stupid. Because alcohol was involved, I can’t recall his actual argument, but it has since made me question: do you really need a patent to protect your business idea?

Narendra Rocherolle, an experienced entrepreneur, has written a good little article explaining when you should, and shouldn’t, spend money to protect your IP. Racherolle offers a good analysis, but I am going to extend it by stating that a patent can be dangerous for your business, and not just because of the monetary cost. Radar Networks is my case-study – a stealth-mode “Semantic web” company, that has received a lot of press lately because apparently they are doing something big but they are not going to tell us until later this year.

Continue reading ‘Patents: more harm than good’