Friday, December 16, 2005

Ahhh... Those were the days

In honour of the fifth year since I founded Enfolding Systems (which was originally called Burning Tiger), I thought that I would repost a conversation we had in the early days about precision vs. expressiveness. This conversation was captured by my friend and colleague Stewart Butterfield (later of Flickr fame), who was working with us at the time.
"...we humans spend most of our time classifying and constraining: This is a fax number and not a cell phone; this is a press release and not an airplane manual. The free-form world is made up of primitives that we assemble together to construct more complex systems. The challenge, as I see it, is that these primitives are themselves made up of yet smaller things, and so forth, fractally. You could go to the nth degree of detail, but that's not how humans work. We get to an acceptible level of detail for our purpose, and then approximate the rest. For any given actor in a particular context there is a level of detail that is acceptible, and it can be substantially different given a different actor or even subtle changes in context."

Who's watching whom?

Here's something new and interesting...
"The TiVo Videoblog Project is currently experimenting with ways to make the new medium of videoblogs accessible on television. If you have a videoblog or are interested in participating, please fill out this form."
So, here is Tivo asking for viewers to participate in the creation of content on their network. How about a version of the Tivo hardware that is for 'casting as well as viewing? Camera and microphone built in, bundled with a hosting service, etc. I can think of a few people who would love it, including my parents, who are always interested in seeing more of their grandchildren.

A Medicine for Melancholy

A Medicine for Melancholy and Other Stories by Ray Bradbury

Levi's has launched an interesting project in Europe called Antidote (my apologies to my readers for whom this is older news - I realized I hadn't posted this article before). Levi's will provide support for youth grassroots "self-publishing" projects. Poetry Slams, "collaborative fashion exhibitions", small-scale local magazines, music/photography exhibitions - their intent is to support approximately forty such events across Europe in the first year.

Helene Venge, who is the Digital Marketing Manager for Levi's in Europe, says:
"Youth reality today is defined by what you choose to believe, not what you are told to believe. This is one of the reasons indie or �amateur� publishing is at an all time high. Antidote�s content is driven by the views of cultural passion communities at a local level and shared across Europe in a way that only the Internet allows. It�s a dynamic, integrated program across three streams, ultimately coming together online. This means three different opportunities with which to reach our target audience where they are, in a way that is relevant for them."
"Levi's� Antidote is a living, growing snapshot of what people are thinking and doing across Europe. It's a collection of stories, images, sounds and movies in bite-sized chunks. With each chunk you can find out about the people behind it, and ways you can get involved in the program. We collaborate with many contributors to share their work here on the site and in a free quarterly print magazine, which is distributed in Levi's� stores across Europe. We collaborate with many contributors to share their work here on the site and in a free quarterly print magazine, which is distributed in Levi's� stores across Europe."

As you know, I'm fascinated by how young people (like my own four children) effortlessly extend their senses and identities beyond the boundaries earlier generations take for granted. I think what Levi's is doing here, supporting the exploration of these new spaces, is tremendously powerful. And pretty brave: they're not entirely in control here. I wonder when this effort will make it to North America? Or maybe somebody else will beat them to the punch?

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Nobody's watching - they're all in the studio working on the next episode

We Are the Web, by Kevin Kelly in Wired Magazine.
The electricity of participation nudges ordinary folks to invest huge hunks of energy and time into making free encyclopedias, creating public tutorials for changing a flat tire, or cataloging the votes in the Senate. More and more of the Web runs in this mode. One study found that only 40 percent of the Web is commercial. The rest runs on duty or passion. Coming out of the industrial age, when mass-produced goods outclassed anything you could make yourself, this sudden tilt toward consumer involvement is a complete Lazarus move: "We thought that died long ago." The deep enthusiasm for making things, for interacting more deeply than just choosing options, is the great force not reckoned 10 years ago. This impulse for participation has upended the economy and is steadily turning the sphere of social networking - smart mobs, hive minds, and collaborative action - into the main event.
I have a question for you: what happens when the quantity of content produced is greater than we can consume? What happens when it's 10x? 100x? What then? It's nearly there already. Think of all the content you create in a day, passively as well as actively. Five hundred channels seems conservative now, even quaint. How about five billion channels?

Monday, December 12, 2005

But this one goes up to eleven...

Kathy Sierra writes in Creating Passionate Users about using what she calls "EQ Modelling" to come up with Breakthrough Ideas. It's reminiscent of the book Blue Ocean Strategy, which talks about defining an entirely new space for your product to compete in. If you make yourself uniquely valuable to your customers, you make the competition irrelevant, or at least give yourself some breathing room.

Coming up with breakthrough ideas using EQ modeling

  • Least effective way: Figure out what the existing sliders are for this product or service, and change the value of one or more sliders. This is how most companies compete, and it's usually the most painful--the constant struggle to reduce price, add features, whatever it takes to stay one step ahead of the competition.
  • More effective: Tune one or more of the typical sliders in an extremely dramatic way. For example, instead of cutting the price, make the product free. But this usually means you end up creating one or more new sliders for whatever business model allows you to make this drastic change.
  • Much more effective: Add new sliders for things that competitors have taken for granted, and haven't been competing on. In other words, dramatically change the weighting of things the competition had not considered changing. Example: our books.
  • Most effective (for breakthrough ideas, not always the best ideas ; ) Add wildly new sliders for things nobody in that industry had considered. Note that what's "wildly new" for one type of product or service might be standard/typical for another. A Customization slider, for example, would not be unusual for a wedding cake bakery, but was very unusual for athletic shoes.

This is great stuff. Sometimes it's easy to forget the joy to be had in the unexpected; the gift you never would have thought to ask for, or the ingredients you never would have thought to mix together (Whisky in tomato sauce? Carrots in salsa?). It's also easy to forget that sometimes you just need to trust your intuition and head out into the undiscovered country.

Time flies like an arrow, but fruit flies like a banana

It's coming up on five years since I formed Enfolding Systems, now a subsidiary of Blast Radius more commonly known as XMetaL. I would like to take a moment and recognize a few people who have positively impacted my life in the last five years. Dethe and Ron, who were the first two people I recruited to my crazy scheme. Michael Gannon and Paul Prescod, who were crazy enough to accept job offers for this strange startup, and who have been an unbelievable treat to work with. Most of all, Deborah (you know why). ..And to everyone who's contributed to our progress so far: customers, employees, partners, investors, friends... Thank you.