Friday, April 22, 2005

Non-Obvious Relationship Awareness

I'm enjoying the new O'Reilly Radar, blog, and am intrigued by this post by Tim on Non Obvious Relationship Awareness:

.... Jeff Jonas [is the] founder of System Research and Development (SRD), the data mining company that made its name in Las Vegas with a technology called NORA (Non-Obvious Relationship Awareness) -- software that would alert casino security, for instance, that the dealer at table 11 once shared a phone number with the guy who is winning big at that same table....

His current focus is "anonymous entity resolution" -- the ability to share sensitive data without actually revealing it. That is, by using one-way hashes, you can look across various databases for a match without actually pooling all the data and making it available to all. As you can imagine, solving this problem is fairly critical to the government if they want "total information awareness" while maintaining citizen privacy and some semblance of civil liberties.

O'Reilly Radar also led me to this great post on Object-centred Sociality, with which, it is probably pointless to say, I very much agree. :) I'll have to check out The Practice Turn in ContemporaryTheory by Karin Knorr Cetina. I just ordered it.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Community Building

What does it take to be Flickricious? Sony might find out.

Absolutely, Mr. Sony, don't shut the PSP hackers down! This kind of hacking is the scrimshaw of the computer age, and if you suppress it, you'll lose a huge opportunity to connect meaningfully with people.

As for the question, with how many users does the meaningful commmunity activity begin, I'd have to say it doesnt matter how big the community is -- on Flickr we saw this kind of spontaneous participative creativity arising when there were only the first 300 or so users, and I've seen this happen in online groups as small as 10 -- and this on a mailing list.

These kinds of communities are not as "step out of the way and let the community do its thing" as the article would suggest. First the community has to come into existence, and while this looks easy, it's actually a very difficult thing to get going, as the many companies who have attempted to create online communities will attest.

In the beginning, the creators of the community space have to create the tone and attitude of the place, set the parameters of what is and what is not allowed, and participate heavily, engaging directly with other people, mercilessly kicking/banning trolls, creating a real sense of there being a there there. Friendster, and the banning of "Fakesters" is often used as an example of a misunderstanding of online community -- but I think this misunderstanding went back further, to the beginning. I was an early member of Friendster and, the first message I got was from the founder. "How do you like the service?" he asked, and not -- and this is really the crux of it -- "Pynchon! Man, how can you read that stuff! DeLillo is 10X better." or "ZEPPELIN ROX! Zoso is my *so* favorite album!!!" I'd filled out a profile. See what I mean?

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Like Sasquatch

Paul Kedrosky, on his blog Infectious Greed (a must-read!) contemplates the difficulty VCs have in finding the Successful Serial Entreprenuers.

It is admittedly a guess, but my hunch is that for every ten entrepreneurs who has a seven-figure exit from their first venture only five or six bother to try again. And for every ten that has an eight- or nine-digit success the number of repeats falls even faster, rapidly heading towards one -- or, asymptotically, toward zero. (Granted these ratios change from country-to-country and era-to-era, but it is a good first approximation.)

Why the die-off in repeat entrepreneurs? Because frankly, even entrepreneurs are prone to saying no mas. Faced with the idea of 18-hour days and seven-day work weeks people are happy to sit on boards, advise other companies, travel, become venture capitalists, ski, fix their house, do angel investing, and so on. They don't feel as obliged as entrepreneurship dogma says they do to do it all again. After all, if they were more eager to do it again then it wouldn't be so darn hard as a venture capitalist to find more successful serial entrepreneurs -- they'd be everywhere, and they sure aren't.

As several people wrote in -- and I think this it's true -- the ones I know of are off funding their own companies far from the VCs rapacious grasp.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

A story in the MIT Technology review about "which emerging technologies are the most important for their nations’ societies and economies, and to explain what makes these technolo­gies uniquely characteristic of their countries", What matters most depends on where you are.

Each country reveals its own preoccupations, usually born out of its peculiar history and current circumstances. Leave it to the Dutch, for example, to pour computer modeling resources into the management of water and soil—endeavors without which the Netherlands’ very existence would be imperiled. The United States has measured the value of R&D projects largely by their potential for adding to the nervous nation’s power to fight wars and defend against terrorist attack. In Germany, home of the world’s first superhighways and some of its most storied carmakers, it’s no surprise to see projects aimed at making driving safer and smarter.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

It's a Flat World After All

It's a small world, after all by Thomas Friedman.

Some of the good parts:

''Outsourcing is just one dimension of a much more fundamental thing happening today in the world,'' Nilekani explained. ''What happened over the last years is that there was a massive investment in technology, especially in the bubble era, when hundreds of millions of dollars were invested in putting broadband connectivity around the world, undersea cables, all those things.'' At the same time, he added, computers became cheaper and dispersed all over the world, and there was an explosion of e-mail software, search engines like Google and proprietary software that can chop up any piece of work and send one part to Boston, one part to Bangalore and one part to Beijing, making it easy for anyone to do remote development. When all of these things suddenly came together around 2000, Nilekani said, they ''created a platform where intellectual work, intellectual capital, could be delivered from anywhere. It could be disaggregated, delivered, distributed, produced and put back together again -- and this gave a whole new degree of freedom to the way we do work, especially work of an intellectual nature. And what you are seeing in Bangalore today is really the culmination of all these things coming together.''

At one point, summing up the implications of all this, Nilekani uttered a phrase that rang in my ear. He said to me, ''Tom, the playing field is being leveled.'' He meant that countries like India were now able to compete equally for global knowledge work as never before -- and that America had better get ready for this.

Nilekani is the CEO of InfoSys in Bangalore.

''Today, the most profound thing to me is the fact that a 14-year-old in Romania or Bangalore or the Soviet Union or Vietnam has all the information, all the tools, all the software easily available to apply knowledge however they want,'' said Marc Andreessen, a co-founder of Netscape and creator of the first commercial Internet browser. ''That is why I am sure the next Napster is going to come out of left field. As bioscience becomes more computational and less about wet labs and as all the genomic data becomes easily available on the Internet, at some point you will be able to design vaccines on your laptop.''

I'm cutting and pasting all this because whenever I read a great article on the Times web site, they take it down so I can't get back and refer to it:

How did the world get flattened, and how did it happen so fast?

It was a result of 10 events and forces that all came together during the 1990's and converged right around the year 2000. Let me go through them briefly. The first event was 11/9. That's right -- not 9/11, but 11/9. Nov. 9, 1989, is the day the Berlin Wall came down, which was critically important because it allowed us to think of the world as a single space. ''The Berlin Wall was not only a symbol of keeping people inside Germany; it was a way of preventing a kind of global view of our future,'' the Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen said. And the wall went down just as the windows went up -- the breakthrough Microsoft Windows 3.0 operating system, which helped to flatten the playing field even more by creating a global computer interface, shipped six months after the wall fell.

The second key date was 8/9. Aug. 9, 1995, is the day Netscape went public, which did two important things. First, it brought the Internet alive by giving us the browser to display images and data stored on Web sites. Second, the Netscape stock offering triggered the dot-com boom, which triggered the dot-com bubble, which triggered the massive overinvestment of billions of dollars in fiber-optic telecommunications cable. That overinvestment, by companies like Global Crossing, resulted in the willy-nilly creation of a global undersea-underground fiber network, which in turn drove down the cost of transmitting voices, data and images to practically zero, which in turn accidentally made Boston, Bangalore and Beijing next-door neighbors overnight. In sum, what the Netscape revolution did was bring people-to-people connectivity to a whole new level. Suddenly more people could connect with more other people from more different places in more different ways than ever before.

And more: Six Flatteners: Outsourcing, Offshoring, Open-Sourcing, In-Sourcing, Supply-Chaining, Informing.

The fact that the Y2K work could be outsourced to Indians was made possible by the first two flatteners, along with a third, which I call ''workflow.'' Workflow is shorthand for all the software applications, standards and electronic transmission pipes, like middleware, that connected all those computers and fiber-optic cable. To put it another way, if the Netscape moment connected people to people like never before, what the workflow revolution did was connect applications to applications so that people all over the world could work together in manipulating and shaping words, data and images on computers like never before.

Indeed, this breakthrough in people-to-people and application-to-application connectivity produced, in short order, six more flatteners -- six new ways in which individuals and companies could collaborate on work and share knowledge. One was ''outsourcing.'' When my software applications could connect seamlessly with all of your applications, it meant that all kinds of work -- from accounting to software-writing -- could be digitized, disaggregated and shifted to any place in the world where it could be done better and cheaper. The second was ''offshoring.'' I send my whole factory from Canton, Ohio, to Canton, China. The third was ''open-sourcing.'' I write the next operating system, Linux, using engineers collaborating together online and working for free. The fourth was ''insourcing.'' I let a company like UPS come inside my company and take over my whole logistics operation -- everything from filling my orders online to delivering my goods to repairing them for customers when they break. (People have no idea what UPS really does today. You'd be amazed!). The fifth was ''supply-chaining.'' This is Wal-Mart's specialty. I create a global supply chain down to the last atom of efficiency so that if I sell an item in Arkansas, another is immediately made in China. (If Wal-Mart were a country, it would be China's eighth-largest trading partner.) The last new form of collaboration I call ''informing'' -- this is Google, Yahoo and MSN Search, which now allow anyone to collaborate with, and mine, unlimited data all by themselves.

So the first three flatteners created the new platform for collaboration, and the next six are the new forms of collaboration that flattened the world even more. The 10th flattener I call ''the steroids,'' and these are wireless access and voice over Internet protocol (VoIP). What the steroids do is turbocharge all these new forms of collaboration, so you can now do any one of them, from anywhere, with any device.

The world got flat when all 10 of these flatteners converged around the year 2000. This created a global, Web-enabled playing field that allows for multiple forms of collaboration on research and work in real time, without regard to geography, distance or, in the near future, even language. ''It is the creation of this platform, with these unique attributes, that is the truly important sustainable breakthrough that made what you call the flattening of the world possible,'' said Craig Mundie, the chief technical officer of Microsoft.

There's more:

As if this flattening wasn't enough, another convergence coincidentally occurred during the 1990's that was equally important. Some three billion people who were out of the game walked, and often ran, onto the playing field. I am talking about the people of China, India, Russia, Eastern Europe, Latin America and Central Asia. Their economies and political systems all opened up during the course of the 1990's so that their people were increasingly free to join the free market. And when did these three billion people converge with the new playing field and the new business processes? Right when it was being flattened, right when millions of them could compete and collaborate more equally, more horizontally and with cheaper and more readily available tools. Indeed, thanks to the flattening of the world, many of these new entrants didn't even have to leave home to participate. Thanks to the 10 flatteners, the playing field came to them!

It is this convergence -- of new players, on a new playing field, developing new processes for horizontal collaboration -- that I believe is the most important force shaping global economics and politics in the early 21st century. Sure, not all three billion can collaborate and compete. In fact, for most people the world is not yet flat at all. But even if we're talking about only 10 percent, that's 300 million people -- about twice the size of the American work force. And be advised: the Indians and Chinese are not racing us to the bottom. They are racing us to the top. What China's leaders really want is that the next generation of underwear and airplane wings not just be ''made in China'' but also be ''designed in China.'' And that is where things are heading. So in 30 years we will have gone from ''sold in China'' to ''made in China'' to ''designed in China'' to ''dreamed up in China'' -- or from China as collaborator with the worldwide manufacturers on nothing to China as a low-cost, high-quality, hyperefficient collaborator with worldwide manufacturers on everything. Ditto India. Said Craig Barrett, the C.E.O. of Intel, ''You don't bring three billion people into the world economy overnight without huge consequences, especially from three societies'' -- like India, China and Russia -- ''with rich educational heritages.''

And so on. I'm really putting this up here so you can get to it -- I've already put the whole thing into my DevonThink database.