Somewhere in the middle of the Google Books debate last night, it confirmed for me that we are in a ping server war. It's a little hard to see, but the ping server will become the new center of the net. Verisign's acquisition of Weblogs.com was the first salvo. I'm not sure Robert Cringley is right about Google-Mart, but he isn't entirely wrong. Google Base isn't just about volunteered structuring of data, but pushing pings (Mark Pincus isn't entirely wrong either, but that's another issue). The important point is there is tremendous value being the first to have information pass through your central node.
As an aside, the reason it occured to me in the middle of last night's debate was how part of the copyright argument was shifting from opt-in to opt-out, regardless of the specifics of this case. Google is suggesting that instead of getting permission from copyright holders first, others would contact them to opt-out. The reason this is an issue at all is because there is no registry of rights holders that is kept up to date. Maybe one day there will be a technical solution, and I'd imagine it would look something like an RSS page for each copyright holder that pings a server (or many) when ownership or contact information or license has been modified. In a moment of madness, I considered Google Books to be a marketing ploy for Google Base.
Now, a supposed ping war may not matter. Any time a network hubs around a node where the flow is valuable, an arbitrage exists. Central power of a ping server leads to the recognition of alternative servers. If that fails, the spiders start crawling faster. The only drawback is the network becomes inefficiently loaded trying to find even distribution. Such redundancy is a great reason to love the net. They dynamics here hold far less ability for control than the lower levels, we should be aware of them, but more gravely concerned about the concentration below.
So I'll apologize for this post. Can't make it groove like Steve Gillmor. Just a musing.
Great article in BusinessWeek on how wikis and IM are solving the email problem.
Soar engineer Jacob
Crossman says that's because the wikis eliminate the usual flurry of
back-and-forth attachments and resulting document-version confusion
that's rife in e-mail. At Dresdner, Rangaswami says that among the
earliest and most aggressive adopters, e-mail volume on related
projects is down 75%; meeting times have been whacked in half...
wanted an analysis of how to double profits on a particular trade.
Instead of shooting copies of the same document to several people via
an e-mail attachment, only to have to keep track of, merge, and archive
all the fixes back into a central version, he threw the problem up on a
wiki page where everyone could brainstorm, comment, and edit in real
time. In the space of two days, entire e-mail conversations evaporated
and Lennard had analytics that would have otherwise taken two weeks.
Next year's budget practically wrote itself on the wiki page.
Only one problem with the article, no mention of Socialtext. I guess I should be upset at this, but as long as we keep advancing wikis in general and delivering the above to customers, we keep on leading the market.
It's time to commend previous the whipping boys of the blogosphere. Two companies that grew a bit too fast, made mistakes and seem to have learned from them.
Six Apart is working with their community. You might remember the MT Pricing fiasco as a lesson for how not to work with a community that contributes so much to your value. They suddenly changed the game on their community and they fought back. This time, when managing performance problems, they shared the process. Their lessons learned are good for everyone:
Read what your customers have to say
Ignore the tone of nasty complaints, but pay attention to the underlying messages
Understand that the people giving feedback represent many who remain silent
Negroponte's team is seeking not only a
technological breakthrough but also a teaching breakthrough. They
believe that illiterate kids can, with a little instruction, learn to
use computers on their own and then use the laptops to teach themselves
to read. After that comes math, history—you name it. Alan Kay, a Xerox
Parc veteran, is working with MIT mathematician and educational
theorist Seymour Papert to build software that "watches" each student
and makes suggestions. Papert's "constructionist learning" approach
encourages children to reach conclusions through trial and error.
This breaks known conventions for education and technology, which could have a far greater impact than the commoditization at play.
If a knowledge worker has the organization's information in a social
context at their finger tips, and the organization is sufficiently
connected to tap experts and form groups instantly to resolve
exceptions -- is there a role for business process as we know it?
My favorite Clay Shirky quote is "process is an embedded reaction to
prior stupidity." That is, there was an exception to process and an
expert designed a way for people to work together in one context that
should fit all prior contexts. The problem is, the process becomes
calcified and accepted as the rule. After all, it's a rule, and in
corporations we follow them, even if it fails us or simply doesn't make
sense. Because of constant change in our environment, processes are
outdated the immediately after they are designed. The 90s business
process re-engineering model intended to introduce change, but was
driven by experts which simply delivered another set of frozen
processes. Because participants in process are not considered experts
in theory, they are empowered to make decisions on their own when
Organizations are trapped in a spiral of declining innovation led by
the false promise of efficiency. Workers are given firm guidelines and
are trained to only draw within them. Managers have the false belief
engineered process and hoarding information is a substitute for good
leadership. Processes fail and silos persist despite dysfunctional
matrices. Executives are so far removed from exceptions and objections
that all they get are carefully packaged reports of good news and
numbers that reveal the bad when it's too late.
John Seely Brown and John Hagel point out that while 95% of IT
investment goes to support business process (to drive down costs), most
employee time isn't spent on process -- but exceptions to process.
Further, competitive advantage comes from how we innovate in handling
exceptions. When something fails, informed and empowered employees turn
to their social network. The informal network, or heterarchy, where
most business gets done.
Today, some staid corporations are abandoning process all together (I
wish I could quote the source for this). Google is a more public
example, albeit an exceptionally new large enterprise, where wikis and
weblogs enable a culture of working openly in a flatter and
decentralized organization. This is data point helps plot the trend of
decentralized organizations that realize economies of scale, as
described by Thomas Malone in his book, Decentralization.
Assume for a moment that the 25% of GDP that is search costs falls. Or
the 50% of GDP that is transaction costs similarly declines.
Coordination costs fall with rising connectivity. The cost of personal
publishing and easy group forming are rapidly falling to zero. If a
knowledge worker has relevant information at their finger tips, can
form the right group to handle an exception, leverage the social
context of information and contribute to memory as a natural by-product
of getting work done -- what is the role of process?
A process is like a standard. It provides a common definition for
others to build upon. This is generally a good thing. In technical
systems it helps resolve complexity so higher order abstractions can
keep things simple. But even in technical systems, efficiency comes at
a cost of adaptation. In social systems, especially where not everyone
helps design what they participate in, the constraints against
adaptation are compounded.
At best, a process should serve as a reference model. Something that
others can reference when completing a task. Something that can be
leveraged for innovation, a boundary condition for experimentation at
As with many things, gaining greater participation and innovation
requires sharing control. I do not believe we are near the End of
Process, yet. I do believe the arguments for engineering organizations are being trumped by new practices and simple tools. The first organizations bringing it to an end
will have a decided competitive advantage.
UPDATE: Comments are starting to get interesting. Euan Semple nails it: Process is the sort of word that grown ups in suits use to throw their weight around and to convince others that they know what is going on and that it makes sense.
The lawyer in me may be coming out, but I'm fascinated by the Google Print project and I'm going to watch the webcast of the New York Public Library/Wired Magazine debate.
Titled "The Battle over Books: Authors & Publishers Take on the
Google Print Library Project", the cast of characters is interesting,
including Chris Anderson, David Drummond, Lawrence Lessig, Allan Adler (AAP), David Ferriero (NYPL), Paul LeClerc (NYPL) and Nick Taylor (NYPL)
If anyone else cares to join me, Ross has agreed to open up the Socialtext conference room so I can watch it on a big screen and pretend I was at the sold out event. It starts at 4 pacific...
Read on for links about the debate at the center of copyright and tech, and maybe we'll see you tomorrow.
Here's an idea for the lazyweb to solve how writers are lazy at categorizing their posts. We've had lots of attempts to make categorization easier, but readers in aggregate do a better job. I'm looking for something to leverage del.icio.us enclosed in a single post, a widget called Tastebuds:
Looks up the URL of your post
Grabs the tags people have used on your post
Displays the top 5 at the bottom of your post
Each tag is a link to a list of your posts with that tag
Double bonus points for enriching the list of posts with conversational threads like on Memeorandum, pivoting on the tags through Technorati and making the list sortable.
MORE: Here's the bookmarks of this post, care of the Tasty? bookmarklet I use frequently. In comments, there is a Wordpress plugin that does Tastebuds with a convenient bookmark this post link. However, the tag links go to all links with a given tag, rather than BlogURL+tag which gets you reader tagged archives for a blog.