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Some recent tech history

Considering trends, opportunities and timing:

By 1990, the CDROM market was four years from its peak and five from its crash, but it was nearly too late to get anything out of it. Microsoft was launching Windows 3.0 bringing Apple’s innovations to everyone with a computer, MacroMind, Broderbund, the encyclopedia publishers and a whole hardware and software vendor ecosystem had already played out.

By 1998, when Page and Brin changed the name of their web search concept from BackRub to Google, DoubleClick had gone already public, Amazon dominated books online and was moving into other retail areas, and the open source Apache web server market share was too strong for Microsoft to overcome. There was more room for newcomers than the CDROM market had at a comparable point in its trajectory, but, again, certain corners of the market had already been locked down.

If you get the timing wrong on ubiquitous connectivity and information physicality then you may be entering at a moment when whoever is going to win has already won, or, perhaps worse, when everyone who wants to play is forced to watch from the bench.

From: Responsive media: the race to make information more physical. The Guardian.

Powerful story telling, or cynical marketing?

Take a few minutes to watch this video (7:18) shown at Apple’s recent World Wide Developer Conference.

Though it may cause the more cynical amongst us to wince, it can’t be denied that this video demonstrates some pretty powerful story telling. Here are some questions to ponder; I’d love to hear your thoughts and reflections.

  1. How well do you think this video is pitched at the primary audience, and also to any secondary audiences?
  2. What creative devices are used to take the viewer on a journey?
  3. Is there one individual story you connect most with? Why?
  4. Overall how effective would you say this video is?

Undivided 2012

Today (5 April) sees the start of the IFES Europe student evangelism conference in Gyor, Hungary.

I’m planning to trial Storify as a means of documenting the event based on what is being discussed and shared online. I’m not at the event myself, but I hope the storify stream below will help give a flavour of what is happening and how people are responding. I see potential in using storify as a means to document other IFES events as they happen around the world. Let me know what you think by leaving a comment.

Google’s self-driving car.

A well-produced video from Google, demonstrating their self-driving car.


  •  I enjoy driving.


  • Has the potential to make the roads much safer and more efficient, increasing the capacity of existing road networks (especially by reducing the number of ‘middle-lane hogs’ on motorways).
  • There could be fewer, and more centralised car parks. Once you’ve arrived at your destination, you can instruct the car to park itself.
  • Could radically change the idea of ‘car ownership’, with the ability to rent/hire a vehicle on a per-trip basis. Massive environmental benefits.

How would you feel about having/using a car like this? Add a comment below.

Energy and the new industrial revolution.

Energy-sharing is the new internet, according to Jeremy Rifkin in this month’s Wired. In talking about the ‘Third Industrial Revolution’ he makes some interesting observations about the connectedness of both communications and energy technologies in bringing about significant societal change, as happened in the two previous industrial revolutions (more below).

I wonder what you think about his predictions about energy change. Let me know by leaving a comment below.

“History’s great economic revolutions occur when new communication technologies converge with new energy systems. Energy revolutions make possible more expansive and integrated trade. Accompanying communication revolutions manage the new complex commercial activities. In the 18th and 19th centuries, cheap print technology and the introduction of state schools gave rise to a print-literate workforce with the skills to manage the increased commercial activity made possible by coal and steam power, ushering in the First Industrial Revolution. In the 20th century, centralised electricity communication — the telephone, radio and television — became the medium to manage a more complex and dispersed oil, auto and suburban era, and the mass consumer culture of the Second Industrial Revolution.

“Today, internet technology and renewable energies are about to merge to create a powerful infrastructure for a Third Industrial Revolution (TIR).

“The democratisation of energy will also bring with it a reordering of human relationships, impacting the way we conduct business, govern society, educate our children and engage in civic life.

“The TIR will lay the foundations for a collaborative age. Its completion will signal the end of a 200-year commercial saga characterised by industrious thinking, entrepreneurial markets and mass workforces, and the beginning of a new era marked by collaborative behaviour, social networks and boutique professional and technical workforces. In the coming half-century, conventional, centralised business operations will be increasingly subsumed by the distributed business practices of the TIR; and the traditional, hierarchical organisation of power will give way to lateral power organised nodally across society.

“Today, however, the collaborative power unleashed by internet technology and renewable energies restructures human relationships, from top to bottom to side to side, with profound consequences. The music companies didn’t understand distributed power until millions of people began sharing music online, and corporate revenues tumbled in less than a decade. Encyclopedia Britannica did not appreciate the collaborative power that made Wikipedia the leading reference source in the world. Newspapers didn’t take the blogosphere seriously; now many titles are either going out of business or moving online. The implications of people sharing energy are even more far-reaching.

“The democratisation of information and communication has altered the nature of global commerce and social relations as significantly as the print revolution. Now, imagine the impact that the democratisation of energy across all of society is likely to have when managed by internet technology.”

Jeremy Rifkin is president of the Foundation on Economic Trends and the bestselling author of nineteen books on the impact of scientific and technological changes on the economy, the workforce, society, and the environment. 

Why I support the protest against SOPA/PIPA.

If you’re not sure what this SOPA/PIPA business is all about, this video is a great introduction.

PROTECT IP / SOPA Breaks The Internet from Fight for the Future on Vimeo.


Whilst my own thinking on this issue is still developing, there are some specific issues I have with SOPA/PIPA.

  • The legislation is driven by old-media content-companies who have struggled to monetise new media to extract the level of profits they are used to. We are living in a new environment with new opportunities and challenges. Legislation will stifle creativity, not protect it. The only aim of this legislation is to protect the profits of large corporates.
  • If this legislation is passed, it highlights the hypocrisy of the West in pointing the finger at regimes that control access to the internet in other parts of the world, whilst doing the exact same thing within their own borders. We need to get a grip.

However, it does also raise the question of what freedom actually is. We don’t always have the same perspective on this.

I’ve been reading the Walter Isaacson biography of Steve Jobs, and this morning read of an email exchange between Jobs and Ryan Tate of Gawker media (where, apparently, today’s gossip is tomorrow’s news, hmmm). By evoking Jobs’ love of Bob Dylan, and asking what Dylan might feel about Apple – “Would he think the iPad had the faintest thing to do with ‘revolution’?” – he suggests that revolutions are about freedom.

Interestingly, this was Jobs’ response: “Yep, freedom from programs that steal your private data. Freedom from programs that trash your battery. Freedom from porn. Yep, freedom. The times they are a changin’…”

Whilst I’m not a 100% advocate of the Apple procedure for approving apps etc, I’m struck that where many were advocating the choice for porn, Steve Jobs was advocating freedom from porn. The freedom to choose (even when this might cost others) versus the freedom from bad choices. Again, I’m not sure I trust Apple enough to always be making good choices on my behalf, but I do find it refreshing how another side is brought to light in this exchange.

Tellingly, Jobs even suggests that Tate “might care more about porn when you have kids…”. Porn enslaves millions, if you count both those forced into the industry through economic desparation, and those for whom the internet enables the secret continuation of bad choices.

Freedom and choice is a complex issue, and I recognise that many of the ‘freedoms’ I enjoy today have come – and still do – at the cost of others.

As you wrestle with these difficult choices, what advice might you give to help others make good, well informed decisions?

Educating the future-makers.

In this month’s Wired magazine, Bas Verhart asks whether education is failing the future-makers.

He says: “Some of the world’s greatest creative leaders dropped out, found a way to create the type of education they needed, and changed our world”, citing the examples of Edwin Land (co-founder of Polaroid), Buckminster Fuller (inventor of the geodesic dome) and, of course, the late Steve Jobs.

In exploring why today’s future makers are dropping out he gives some interesting examples (see the full list in his article):

  • Society is changing so fast that science-based education can barely keep up, meaning students often know more about subjects than their professors.
  • Instead of looking at absolute truths based on the past (which gives a false sense of certainty), futuremakers imagine scenarios that don’t yet exist.
  • Because futuremakers get a rush out of the next big thing, they are constantly following their instinct for change.
  • They typically have an explorative and analytical mindset, and are divergent and convergent thinkers.

“…maybe the concept of an ‘institution’ is all wrong”, Bas continues, “…maybe these thinkers had to drop out in order to find the various pieces of education, inspiration and experimentation they needed to achieve vision. Today’s schools seem to be missing out on teaching ‘discovery skills’, described in The Innovator’s DNA (Clayton M Christensen et al) as associating, questioning, observing, experimenting and networking.”

I wonder what this might look like in our education systems, where we are concerned both about the knowledge that is shared, but also the environment in which learning takes place, allowing real educational experiences of discovery. Where we give educators the freedom to create students with inquisitive minds, applying their knowledge and experience to the world around them. Where our indicators and metrics of success are radically different, and measured for the long-term.

My work with IFES gives me opportunity to interact with students around the world. We are driven by a passion to see the students of today formed into the leaders of tomorrow; students trained and transformed to shape their societies. We are in the business of equipping future-makers.

Education is changing, and must change. The rate of change in education has to increase to keep pace with the rest of society.

“Does the world need more dropouts? Probably not. But we do need more future-makers. Imagine what these edgy, creative, crazy minds could achieve if they stayed in school — the right kind of school, that is.”

What is your vision for the future of education? How can we best serve the future-makers?

Would you donate your data?

This afternoon, I will allow a stranger to stick a needle in me and extract blood from my body. This is something I do on a regular basis.

Even though I understand how valuable my blood might be to someone who desparately needs it, it still took me a while to become a blood donor.

The reasons to give blood are clearly so well understood that there is nowhere on the website to explain why it is important. Their biggest challange (judging by their home page) is to get people to make that appointment to actually part with a pint of the red stuff. There are few cultural barriers to deter people, and we all kind of know that one day it might be us in need of a life-saving blood transfusion.

It was timely, then, that I came across a few blog posts – via Jeff Jarvis: very public health – that look at other ways we might contribute to the health service (local/global?) by donating our data – by being willing to talk about our health issues.

  • Jeff Jarvis looks at some the reasons we prefer to not talk about our health issues, and suggests that sharing our health data could help with medical research. He’s clear that this has to be an opt-in issue – people shouldn’t be forced to share this kind of information – but, he suggests, we are less likely to do so today because of culture, and fear of stigma.
  • Xeni Jardin blogs (and tweets) about her first mammogram and discovering she has breast cancer. By sharing in this way, she hopes to take some of the fear-of-the-unknown out of the process, and encourage other women to book a screening.
  • Michael Driscoll compares data donation with organ donation, with the distinction that unlike your organs, you can donate your data away and yet still keep it.

I’d be interested to hear from others about the kind of information they feel happy / not happy to share online.

There are many cultural factors – from where we live, to when we were born - that affect how we feel about what we share publicly. People in Germany probably feel differently about this issue to people in Guyana, or Gambia, or Georgia. But I also wonder how the internet – which seldom respects national borders – might be shaping cultural attitudes to what we share online (thanks, Mark).

On my reading list – Public Parts: how sharing in the digital age improves the way we work and live. (Jeff Jarvis)

is technology harming communication?

Rory Cellan-Jones blogs in response to the question of whether new technology is helping or hindering communication.

Some interesting points:

  • “Technology is a massive aid to communication, but if it takes away regular face-to-face or direct conversations, then you lose something of the softer edges.” Sir Victor Blank, former chairman of Lloyds TSB.
  • “I do notice that emails are often fired off without any real consideration – they’re also much ruder than more considered communications, so I think they’re inferior.” Lord Rees-Mogg, former editor of The Times.
  • Technology firm Atos has decided to phase out email as an internal communications tool. “Email has become the easy way to communicate but also the lazy way,” says Rob Price, the UK managing partner of Atos.
  • Volkswagen’s Works Council has decreed that the German firm’s Blackberry server should stop sending emails to employees thirty minutes after their shift ends.
  • “Prior to word processors, executives would dictate messages to secretaries and speak on the phone. So the use of technology has improved literacy.” Dr Monica Bulger, Oxford Internet Institute.
  • “A third [student] summed it up for me: “You use social networking and modern technology to arrange meeting people face to face, when otherwise you might not see them for a few weeks – you might not bump into them.” We agreed that new communication technologies provided an addition, not a replacement, for traditional means.” Rory Cellan-Jones