Reserve your free tickets now for NET/WORK Baltimore on Thursday, February 20th. If their last event (Technical.ly Philadelphia, shown here) is any indication, it looks like it’ll be a great event for job-seekers!
Photo courtesy of Jamie Mellor under Creative Commons license
Jeffrey Phillips, author of Relentless Innovation, recently posted a really interesting piece on why so many companies churn out crappy products. And with the Consumer Electronics Show about to start tomorrow, it seemed like a perfect time to inject some reality into the hype. After all, when the hype-machine smoke clears and everyone wakes up from the party in Las Vegas, most of us realize that Sturgeon’s Law is true: 90% of anything created in any industry is crap.
In his examination of why so many new products are “undifferentiated and indistinguishable from the other products or services” a company offers, he focuses on what he calls “The Process of Crap,” the inputs, activities, and outputs of a company that lead to crappy products:
Strategy: It’s easy for a company to come up with a strategy, it’s another thing in the face of time, competition, and business pressures to actually follow that strategy. “The failure to live out strategy,” Phillips writes, ensures the production of crap.”
Inputs: Phillips notes that while many companies have good intentions when it comes to listening to customers and the marketplace, the reality is that “many businesses have success filters that knock down ideas or reject insights that don’t align with the existing thinking and models and processes the business has codified.”
Activities: Simply put, industrial systems and processes are designed to produce crap because they “are…imbued with the ability to sand off the unusual bits, round the edges and ensure complacency and conformity.” In other words, not only is thinking different hard, actually “doing different” is even harder.
Culture: Finally, Phillips puts the blame squarely on corporate culture which has turned many companies into “conformist, risk averse places where short term goals are paramount and satisfying the customer is king.” It’s tough to innovate and differentiate when doing things differently isn’t really rewarded.”
Good lessons for all, even if you’re not making new electronic products. But next time you’re disappointed when you try out The Next Big Thing, now you’ll know why.
Torrent Freak summarizes a working paper from University of Toronto PhD candidate Laurina Zhang that shows that music sales from 4 major labels increased by 10% after they removed copy protection (also known as Digital Rights Management or DRM) from their music. Looking at 5,864 albums from 634 artists, Zhang discovered that the effect wasn’t uniform, however: albums with lower sales (under 25,000 copies) showed the biggest boost, with a 41% increase in sales after DRM was removed. Top-selling albums showed little difference in DRM and non-DRM versions. Why the difference? According to Zhang, “My results are consistent with theory that shows lowering search costs can facilitate the discovery of niche products,” or, in other words, allowing people to share music from lesser-known artists made it easier for others to discover (and then buy) new music.
If you’ve been following the news at all, you’ve probably heard heard a lot about something called “bitcoin” lately. Typically it’s billed as a “virtual currency” or, less generously, as an “alternative payment system.” Stories about Bitcoin are usually accompanied by at least one of two other elements: 1)a breathless reference to how the “anonymous currency” is the new currency of drug dealers, arms traffickers, and other criminals; and/or 2)how a lucky few people who got in on the whole Bitcoin thing before it was cool are now discovering, thanks to the incredibly volatile Bitcoin market, that they’re Bitcoin Millionaires. If a pseudoanonymous, open source, distributed, global, virtual currency could be considered hip, Bitcoin is the new “It” coin.
Unfortunately very little of the buzz around Bitcoin actually takes the time to explain what the heck it is. How is it created? How do you get it? Where can you spend it? Is it really “money?” How the heck does the whole thing work? All in all, Bitcoin is more than a little mysterious.
Luckily there are people like Alexandra Berke out there who are able to bridge the gap between the tech-know-it-alls and the rest of us by providing a remarkably clear explanation of the inner workings of Bitcoin. In the first part of her two-part series “Bitcoin Demystified: A Hacker’s Perspective,” Berke lays out the basic vocabulary of Bitcoin, how Bitcoins are created, how you own them, how you spend them, and how the built-in features of the virtual currency virtually guarantee that it can’t be counterfeited. It’s a great primer for anyone who’s been confused about Bitcoin. Let’s just hope she writes part 2 soon!
Teens seem to be ditching Facebook, especially outside the US. Image courtesy of Mark Hellen.
If you’re a social media veteran (or still in high school), you probably saw this coming for a long time. On the other hand, if you’re one of those folks who’s just now getting the hang of the whole social media thing, this may come as a shock (and a bit of a disappointment). Either way, the trend is pretty clear: teens are fleeing from Facebook to other, more mobile-friendly social media channels.
Hot on the heels of the big Twitter IPO last week, The Observer reports that the social networking giant is seeing a “decrease in daily users, specifically among teens” who seem to be switching to other networks.
Why are teens switching? The Observer article cites a number of obvious reasons: Facebook’s inability to really take advantage of mobile, competition from an ever-increasing number of apps, privacy concerns, and (understandably, though regrettably if you’re a parent who’s just getting into the game) because (shockingly!) teens aren’t too keen about hanging out with their parents and families online.
But if you read between the lines in The Observer ‘s piece, you’ll see one other trend that doesn’t get much play in the US: believe it or not, the rest of the world doesn’t revolve around apps and networks developed by US companies. In fact, according to this report from McKinsey & Company, over 300 million Chinese use social media…and almost none of them are using Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.
The Future, brought to you by the Internet of Things!
Puneet Pandit, Founder and CEO of Glassbeam recently posted a clear, concise, and very down to earth article that identifies 10 big changes he believes the “Internet of Things” will bring to the workplace. What’s “the Internet of Things,” you ask? It’s a phrase describing the ever-increasing reality that more and more objects in our lives our being connected to the Internet, providing a huge amount of data through their sensors and other feedback mechanisms. As Pandit points out in his piece, analyst firm IDC now estimates that by 2020 “things” connected to the internet will outnumber people 26:1. That’s a lotta things generating a whole lot of data, and the ever expanding Internet of Things is one of the main forces driving the parallel rise in interest in “Big Data,” another loosely-defined buzzword that encompasses a whole range of developments in data collection, management, manipulation, and analysis. (As a side note, Profs. Bento and Aggarwal from UB recently published a book dealing with cloud computing and Big Data) Pandit predicts that these trends will lead to a number of changes in not only how we work but what kind of work we’ll do in the future.
So what’s going to change? According to Pandit, just about everything. The Internet of Things will bring us everything from easier and more efficient commutes to new jobs, greater productivity, greener businesses, and more flexible workplace environments. It may sound a little Utopian, but so did a lot of predictions about the Internet back in the 90’s. Why not get a jump on the future today?
The Social Good Summit, a joint project of social media news site Mashable, the 92nd Street Y, The United Nations Foundation, The United Nations Development Programme, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and mobile phone giant Ericsson held a panel yesterday which focused on the issues around so-called “Big Data” and social good around the world. In attendance were Robert Kirkpatrick, Director of the UN’s Global Pulse initiative, Cario Ratti, an MIT architect and director of the MIT Senseable City Lab, and Elaine Weidman-Grunewald, Ericsson’s VP of Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility. The discussion covered a wide range of issues dealing with governments and their ever-expanding capabilities for collecting data on their citizens. And while opinions ranged from the alarmist to the sanguine, it was Cario Ratti who probably summed up the problem best:
“When you digitize things, then the way you interface with it is different, you create a world of total recall, a world where its impossible to forget.”
The Financial Times published an interesting piece Friday that provides a great overview of the latest developments in self-driving cars and some speculation about the social change that autonomous cars could bring. With Nissan pledging to bring a self driving car to the mass market by 2020, those changes may not be too far away.
Maybe. It may not be technology that slows adoption of the self-driving car but rather the love affair humans have with driving. Technology changes quickly…people change slowly:
… it will be humans who determine whether driverless cars become the norm. Habits and cultural norms do not change quickly – particularly when they concern an object that has become a conspicuous part of daily life. A study by the UK’s Automobile Association found that 65 per cent of people liked driving too much to want an autonomous car.
It may take generational change to overcome such deeply ingrained beliefs. Mr Saffo, who came of age in California in the 1960s – the golden age of the car – says: “For my age cohort, freedom was a car.” But of the students he teaches now at Stanford University, he says: “For them, freedom is a smartphone.”
The desire to be liberated rather than enslaved by a technology will be the decisive factor. The average American spends 38 hours a year stuck in traffic. Cars spend more than 90 per cent of their lives idle. That is an inefficiency that carmakers say would be eliminated if cars ruled the road, and passengers could get on with their lives. “They’re on the way,” says Deloitte’s Mr Woodward. “It’s all a question of time.”