JB Links (2)

A short video from the BBC. Maybe not enough to justify the entire licence fee but an interesting take on why paper remains such a feature of modern life. Examining what happens at the national archive we learn that they have 180km of shelf space, while only 8% is digitised and available over the internet. To reduce the number of boxes produced in the reading room each year, by only 20%, would cost a staggering £259m. The problem? Making it searchable. Scanning the paper only creates images, making it available needs metadata added, and that is expensive.


An interesting essay from Issac Asimov examining degrees of wrong. In this current day, with a resurgent creationist movement starting to push outside of the boundaries of the Americun south it is instructive to remind ourselves that even though science is not a universal oracle with absolute truth at its fingertips, it is a reliable process of ongoing discovery and knowledge – even IF,or more importantly because, that knowledge is constantly updated.



What’s next for newspapers. A look at 3 different approaches to the problem of getting a profit out of the news. Here we learn how Warren Buffet, Rupert Murdoch and the Newhouse family are taking the challenge forward (well in one of those examples backwards). Who even knew that Buffet had taken an interest, clever man.



The Mast brothers make some enticing sounding chocolate. I can’t tell you if it’s any good as I haven’t seen it on this side of the Atlantic, although I have suggested to the manager at Sage and Bailey in Wimbledon village that he gets me some. They are a little too painfully hipster cool for me, but are a great example of affluence leading the push to old school process and sustainable activity. The beans for their chocolate are literally transported over from South America under sail and then made into chocolate in Brooklyn. Also their blog



And finally the weather forecast we all want. NOW please.


The Intention Economy

I recently finished reading Doc Searl’s “The Intention Economy” and have no qualms at all in suggesting that anyone, with any interest as to what the next 15 years might bring, should read it.

The book is a comprehensive overview of VRM or vendor relationship marketing. For all that that sounds like yet another scheme to empower business, which it is, it proposes to do so by balancing the playing field and empowering not the vendor, but the customer, to the betterment of all involved.

It is a much required antidote to the current marketing landscape that refuses to recognise how incomplete and inefficient current data practices are, and more acutely, how these inefficiencies are, in part, caused by the deterioration of trust between individuals and corporations.

The thrust of the argument is that free markets require free customers, and proceeds to show us exactly how current accepted norms are in fact quite counteractive to such a goal.

The magic ingredient is to give customers ownership and control of their commercial data (and non-commercial data for that matter), how it is used and whether and for how long a 3rd party (such as your electricity company) can use and store it. The quid pro quo for business is the evolution of a paradigm whereby we signal our commercial requirements, the terms we are willing to do business under and other data that may be valuable to the assessment of the transaction. They won’t need to spend untold millions to guess our intentions, if we are happy to tell them in plain language. It will be a damn sight more accurate too.

On the bare bones of a 900 word blog post that seems quite some challenge, which, of course, is the reason why you should read the book.

For me, the key revealed concept was the solution to the trust issues that permeate the current commercial relationships across almost all areas of business. I have long been of the opinion that the current trend to big data was always going to come unstuck in the marketing sphere. The line in the sand for me was the potential for data aggregation of several permissioned data sets, to deliver information to commercial entities that was clearly not within the intentions of the individual, when they signed each individual data release.

Rapleaf in the US, has already fallen foul of this trend, caught by the WSJ using personally identifiable information. Initially marketed as a reputation management system it didn’t take long for them to sell your data onwards.

Rapleaf still operate. Indeed in some circles are still considered something of a pioneering  trendsetter. For me, though, they clearly demonstrated that I could not trust them with my data (not that they ever asked permission). And they aren’t alone. Aside from the fact that in most circumstances I don’t have a choice, I am not happy giving faceless commercials ownership and control over MY data. I won’t use an app that requires data that is not essential to the service they provide. An asinine game, that insists on access to my phone number, my device ID and the numbers I am connected to, is, quite frankly, taking the piss. I know many don’t seem to care, but I do.

The VRM paradigm solves this entire problem.

Imagine having a personal data store, a personal RFP (request for proposal tool) that is linked to all commercial entities and a set of tools that easily allow you to set the rules as to how your data can be used. You will tell the market what you want, how, when, where and how much you are willing to pay. And the market will respond to you.

This will facilitate real relationships, something that just doesn’t happen today. Social is not personal (to puncture one current trend), and any relationship based on an un-negotiable contract of adhesion is one based on such ridiculously one sided power that to call it anything other than an abusive relationship must be a misunderstanding. All those TOS you accept? They are all contracts of adhesion, an aberration of civil expectation brought about by the complications of mass marketing and production. The communicative flexibility of the internet allows us to move beyond this legal lunacy.

The VRM movement, started in 2006, has been quietly laying the foundations for this massive transformation via ProjectVRM at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University.

There are many different providers of personal data stores lining up products (mydex, singly, personal.com).

Kynetx has built the language KRL for writing the rule permissions I mentioned earlier.

Doc Searl has written a highly accessible book to summarise the progress and the vision and there are many many other players in this space active and alive. It really isn’t just an academic projection.

Not only do we have the theory and the vision, we have the protocols (the bit without a business model) and the tools. But perhaps most surprisingly we have traction with governance.

The UK government has launched Midata. An initiative that, among other things, is encouraging commercial parties to release data back to their customers.

Scottish Power are the first to play and have recently announced that they will release back to their customers their usage data. If that doesn’t sound massive to you (it is) imagine how crazy it is that until now you didn’t have access, to this admittedly basic data, in usable form, at all.


29. Elvis said it best: “We can’t go on together with suspicious minds.

I’ve got 2 books on order from Amazon, The Intention Economy by Doc Searls and Liars & Outliers by Bruce Schneier. I, obviously, haven’t read either of them yet but I am familiar with both writers through their blogs and as is custom nowadays, that means I have a broad outline of what the books are about, because they’ve both been discussing these ideas for some time now.

Doc , Bruce

One idea that links the 2 books is trust, at many levels, personal, corporate and sovereign. Trust seems to be enjoying a little personal  steam engine moment in my surfing/reading/watching currently.

Indeed I am writing this post now because as I was ordering the books, a repeat of the episode of Coast (my TV was on in the background), that had originally given me this observation, came on.

An island with a new bridge and a new causeway changes within itself. People on islands rely on each other, for sure, but when you can get on and off 24/7, not so much.  As we expand the personal reach of our communications, we don’t maintain equilibrium, trust in the local realm suffers.

Doc Searls is one of the authors of the Cluetrain manifesto, which if you aren’t familiar is where the title of this post comes from. I, personally, find it extremely reassuring that the authors found a way to reference Elvis in a marketing / technology manifesto.

Since 2006 Doc has been developing the concept of VRM, or vendor relationship management, and this is what his new book is about. I’m looking forward to hearing about the structure of an economy where the consumers are fully empowered participants, with ownership over their personal data, and where markets converge around buyers, not vendors. It’s a practical extension of the concepts first aired in the Cluetrain manifesto (which is now 13 years old!), and as it’s an unashamedly futuristic piece of writing, we should consider that we don’t seem to have moved into the digital future first hinted at by Cluetrain very effectively.

Bruce Schneier is a security technologist who has long held a reputation for bold and incisive observations, and accurate too.  He has been a highly vocal critic of the ‘security theatre’ of the TSA in America, and was recently ‘uninvited’ from the formal TSA effectiveness hearings, a move widely interpreted as inappropriate and partisan. He covers a range of issues from international / airport / cyber / tech /crypto ……. There is almost always something fascinating, and new, on his site.

Trust and cooperation are the first problems we had to solve before we could become a social species. In the 21st century, they have become the most important problems we need to solve—again. Our global society has become so large and complex that our traditional trust mechanisms no longer work. – Bruce Schneier

This, incidental post, is a great example of what he’s on about in practice.

On the economic front I think we could all agree that a little more trust between populations and banks (deserved trust that is) would be a good thing. If you are unsure of just how important trust can be in the economic structure of a nation have a listen to this podcast from This American Life about how they finally tackled Brazil’s hyperinflation problem.

…..the government tricked, 150m people into believing again that their money was worth something when there was absolutely no evidence to support that claim, and it worked

The issue of trust is also fundamental to terms of identity, maybe even a part of the definition? If I can’t trust you to actually be you, how can I trust the data we exchange.

Consistency of identity is a somewhat recent human concern, brought to the masses by the internet. The ease of almost any legitimate exchange (of goods or opinions) is enhanced by trusted identification, needs usually define the differing levels of trust needed (you will be much more concerned that your child’s teacher is who they say they are, than say your milkman – if you even know who he is at all).

Issues of anonymity and how we structure law to reflect the new logistic realities of our world are deeply important and I imagine will be highly instructive in terms of what the internet becomes. Technical structure and user experience design will both rely on, and inform whatever becomes the dominant solution. People are looking at all this.

Then there is this plaintive cry from Joan Slonczewski

I’m not sure I like her assertion that the author, the construct of an author that is, is the ultimate monopoly. As in the only person who can create a piece of work that is a genuine Slonczewski, is Slonczewski herself. I think she’s right, I don’t disagree. but I do dislike the usage because it brings the economic far too close to the concept of personal identity than I am comfortable with.

Here’s a great little story, although you might have to check yourself as you read through it, because it’s so easy to believe that this could be happening right now. In fact I’d be amazed if it isn’t actually a significant reality somewhere in the world today.

I’m going to close with the Coast story, quoted above, again.

I wrote that after hearing the boatman to the Isle of Skye, in Scotland, talk about how the community there changed when they built a bridge. I think the line “when you can get off 24/7, not so much” was his.

That’s not such a ground breaking observation on the face of it, until you see the corollary in modern communications technology.

However, another key insight, well for me anyway, from this, is that much of what we call trust is created by circumstance, not by some inherent human capacity.

If you live on an Island community and you are the midwife, you will get out of bed at 3am to birth a child even if you hate her mother, largely because there is no-one else, and you have to. Your community exists on this interdependent web of available skills amongst the island’s population. On an island you serve the community, such that it serves you when you need it.

If you live in London, and you are the midwife on duty when the woman you hate comes for her birth, I’m pretty sure you’d be professional and do your duty then too. But I’m not so sure the woman you hate, however, the mother to be, would be so trusting, and may well insist on another midwife. From her perspective, you have nothing to lose. You have no interdependency at all.

What will modern digital islands look like? Or, more precisely, how can we create the same compulsion to trust that exists in the geographic island paradigm, in our emerging digitised society. Answers on a postcard please.

A Day Made of Glass (videos)

When I first saw the movie, Minority Report, I thought they had made a very plausible stab at addressing the issue of how futuristic computing interfaces might be designed and operate. I was mesmerised by those wonderful scenes with Tom Cruise waving his hands around, seemingly randomly, but actually interacting with a number of ghostly hologramatic system controls supported by additional voice commands. Nice.

Then I heard that filming those scenes was difficult because they could only do about 45 minutes before the actors became tired. I don’t know if that is really true or not, but it made some sense to me. Largely because I know how quickly I get tired when forced to play on the wii at Christmas. Whether or not the story about Minority Report is true, I can personally testify that playing on the wii for 30 minutes has me a little puffed, but the same game on a PC, I could play all day if I needed to. The simple differential between the 2 interfaces is that one tries to minimise the energy I expend to interface, and the other expands the energy I expend to interface. Of course, both outcomes are quite intentional.

I don’t think the wii has to worry about its place in the console world, the whole point after all, is to introduce athletic exertion into computer gaming. That’s a slam dunk in my opinion, but on the other side I am pretty certain that full body gestural interfaces will not become the reference format for computer operation. Getting physically tired by our increasing dependence on computing is just not going to float.

Thinking about the nature of interfaces raises some interesting thoughts about how we could more usefully categorise some of the nascent trends we see forming today. One of those trends, mobile, is I believe highly disserviced by the way we have named it.

You see, I don’t think we come close to succinctly summing up what’s important about how the mobile trend is changing actual behaviour. Mobility, in lesser forms anyway, just isn’t new. At the blunt end we have long had books and newspapers, both of which are generally designed with mobility in mind. In turn this means we have long had mobile advertising, whether that be in newspapers, magazines or perhaps even the on the radio. Mobile phones have been here for a while now, but even before that we invested, as nations and cities, in networks of public telephony.

Of course, all that is a pale image of what we can now do with our mobile devices. And that’s why the label, mobile, isn’t good enough. It doesn’t start to get close to identifying the key axis of what’s going on.

For me there are 2 key pieces of information.

  1. It’s actually about ubiquitous computing, both personal computing through PC’s and smartphones as well as infrastructural computing, freely enabled access and the growing internet of things and all the intersections therein
  2. There is a centralisation going on here, enabled by all this mobility. Increasingly our computing devices are becoming data viewers. Tools that can be used to consume, interact, create, distribute and edit the same pieces of content. You might own, or have access to maybe 4 computers, but increasingly you will work on the same data accessed from a central point of some kind, on whichever computer you are using, for whatever reason at whatever point in time.

Neither of those observations is encapsulated in the phrase du jour, mobile.

So, me, as a contrary bugger, what word would I use.

Screens. That’s what. That’s the word I’d use. Not terribly snappy I know, not a classic buzz word, but it does force you to think about computers and not phones, it delivers you directly to the proliferation of computing as viewing devices. It focuses your thinking on the interface. This is important. What general purpose people mostly experience, during the general computing experience  is the interface. We have generalised ‘computing’ to a point where users don’t need to understand computing, they just need to understand how to operate their screens. The screen is the human bit. Particularly now that we have to touch it too.

We have 3 broad areas for interface development, to my mind. Hands and keyboards (evolutionary), gestural and vocal. I imagine we will see bits of all 3, and may even see an amalgamation of all 3 into a broader palette of interface options and interactions. But as far as I can tell, within my lifetime, there will always be a common role for screens. Until we interface computing with our neurology and our vision systems, we will be computing with and reading from glass and glass derivatives for some many years to come yet.

Have a look at this stunning video “a day made of glass 2”, from Corning incorporated, a specialist glass manufacturer. It’s a beautifully made vision of the future (the original ‘a day made of glass’ is also well worth a look) based around a surprisingly wide array of functional glass.

It’s as interesting a piece of imaginative futurology as I’ve seen in some time, looking at the issue with serious concern to the actual issues at hand. This is how the glass industry is seeing the future. Marvellous.

Ownership and possession

Compulsive ownership is a philosophy of acquisition, come what may, as insurance against … well … come what may

This is the buy it to eat it mentality, on a just in case basis. With CD’s, DVD’s and books an aspect of ownership is the solidity of it. It’s a thing, a something I can touch. MINE. NOT YOURS.

Now we have the cloud

Now we have the access mentality, as well as the philosophy of acquisition

Do we still need to acquire? Can we take always on, to taking on just about the right amount?

Etymology: Authority

Let’s start thinking about this in terms of memory. I’m going to set out some definitions. They’re not meant to be definitive just shorthand, if you like, for some of the concepts I want to discuss.

Common (human) memory: I can remember that yesterday you were wearing a green t-shirt, for example. There is huge variation here between individuals, and also for those individuals, when they find themselves in differing circumstances or conditions or health. Some people have good memories, some people don’t.

Outsourced memory: In the general instance this is the use of media to record human exchanges and agreements and data. This covers, for example, the writing down of laws. And, of course, it is in the writing down of laws that laws themselves retain an air of civility, of justice. Writing down law does not remove controversy and disagreement, particular in matters of interpretation and perceptions of justice (hello the legal profession in its entirety), history clearly tells us this. It provides something much more valuable, the basis of modern society. Extending the concept beyond merely law and we have our collective knowledge, at species level, being turned into artefacts to travel across both time and space.

Although the concept of outsourced memory is nothing new we are more aware of it today as we see such a proliferation of the product becoming available through retail. It used to be a book or a library. Today it is a computer, a flash stick, a portable drive, or the cloud.

Potentially timeless memory: Is the idea that binds this all together. The idea that gives recorded words their power. The idea is simple, that we can capture at some point in time, either exactly what happened, or exactly what was agreed, and that our capture, our recording, will not degrade over time. We depend on the, often unspoken, thought that we can if required refer back to the document and resolve any conflicts that may have occurred. Was it 4% or was it 5%? Whereas that sounds simple, or even an oversimplification to make a point (be honest most of us could remember which of those two was agreed, right?), please remember that the most significant part of many contracts is the agreed cut.

Potentially timeless memory is an idea, not an actual delivery of eternal memory. It doesn’t need to be demonstrably timeless, it simply needs to have the potential. This view is facilitated as much by the fact that any individuals’ personal needs are only really affected over the 100 years or so they might be alive, as by anything else.