RIP: Windows XP

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I was at COMDEX  in Las Vegas when Bill Gates strode purposefully onto the stage back in 1995 and did a demo of Windows 95. I still remember thinking that I saw beads of sweat on his brow when he was demoing that “brand spanking new Plug and Play technology” (which at the time Apple had already nailed). Bill plugged a drive into the computer and patiently waited for the icon to appear. In front of thousands of people. Just when I thought he was going to flip out from the stress of the moment, the icon appeared and you could see him visibly relax.

He also played a video of “what things were going to be like in 2005″ some of which was pretty prescient (like touch screen tablets) and other’s not so much (the video featured some people driving around in what they called “an old Oldsmobile Aurora” – guess Bill wasn’t prescient enough to realize that Oldsmobile would be gone by then).

Of course, even the touch screen tablet was a bit off, I think they had this in-car system but the screen was giant – kind of like having a 23 inch flat screen attached to your windshield. Yep, Microsoft had predicted something like the iPad, about 15 years early. I wonder if Steve Jobs was in that audience.

But I digress. That was ’95, XP was a different beast. XP was truly the first broad based consumer and business focused OS which wasn’t built on DOS. It really was its own thing, it was the first OS from Microsoft to use the Windows NT kernel (remember NT meant New Technology)

I’m actually surprised that Microsoft supported XP for as long as it did, but I can totally understand why it ended up everywhere – almost like a poor mans embedded system. That thing powers everything from gas pumps to cash registers to that little trolley thing that hospitals use to capture your information when you check in. I think I still have a netbook in the garage which runs XP, that thing was solid as a rock. I bet I can fire that up right now and it would still be a great experience. In many minds, still better than Windows 8. (Full disclosure, I have Windows 8.1, and a touchscreen, and I love it. Seriously. No, I do.)

Things in the tech world progress and change at a crazy rate. If you ask me Moore’s Law is nothing – we are seeing change at a much faster rate than ever before, especially in the software space – where there are really no physical limitations to what you can do. On the one hand, software keeps getting better and better (if you, ahem, forgive, asides like Vista) but on the other hand, for many enterprises, who have to think about huge changes from top to bottom when rolling out a new OS to the organization, its not an easy decision. If it ain’t broke, why fix it?

Well, it might not be broke now, but at some point, it WILL break. New hardware, new security threats, software companies don’t simply release new versions in order to help their bottom line, they do it to improve the product, release new features, and protect against new threats.

Case in point: the Heartbleed bug, which is making the news this week, exposed a serious vulnerability to OpenSSL, which drives a HUGE chunk of the internet. People everywhere are scrambling to patch for it. This is not something that is going to go away – if anything it gets worse.

So you will, at some point, even if your software manufacturer doesn’t decide to stop supporting your software, still need to upgrade. The whole question is when. Some wait until the last possible moment, others are more proactive, still others wait until something breaks. But in most cases, you can’t wait until something breaks – even though it might cost a lot to upgrade, it also costs a lot to support and maintain an old OS. Probably even more, as the skill set to maintain that OS starts to retire to Hawaii (or Florida). Try looking for someone to program an Altair 8800 nowadays.

So lets have a toast to XP, it was a great OS, and we’ll miss you. Don’t worry though, your spirit (and probably some bits of code) live on in Windows 7+, so even though you’re not around – we still feel your soul. :)

“THIS week sees the last batch of bug fixes and security patches that Microsoft will issue for Windows XP. After April 8th, computers using the 13-year-old operating system will continue to work just fine, but all technical support for XP—whether paid or otherwise—will cease. In a change of heart, Microsoft has at least agreed to continue issuing updates for its Security Essentials malware engine, which runs on XP, until July 2015. Apart from that, users who continue to rely on the thing will be on their own—at the mercy of mischief-makers everywhere.

via Difference Engine: End of the road for Windows XP | The Economist.”

Innovation Is Not Marketing

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Too often, the whole concept of innovation, and I mean, real, true innovation, is kind of a foreign thing to many companies. They treat their whole innovation function as simply a marketing play, not even an R&D play. They spend a ton of money, time and resources to develop cool new things, only to kill them before they can get into the development pipeline.

The reasons for this are numerous:

  1. The established order within the company sees innovation as a fun toy to be played with, but not a serious business
  2. The established order is aware that the innovation is the next true path of the company, but is afraid to admit it (hubris)
  3. The established order is unaware that the innovation that they are building internally will eventually replace their business
  4. The established order figures that business is doing fine, and any innovation from outside is not a real serious threat
  5. The established order thinks that innovation efforts establish the companies “coolness” but little else
  6. All of, or a combination of, the above.

I’ve run innovation programs at some pretty big firms and I can tell you that the surest way to kill innovation is to have a program which extracts it, then does nothing with it. Your innovators may release one or two ideas to you, but if those don’t go anywhere, then they usually keep the rest to themselves, maybe to start their own startup with that idea. That kind of stuff is rampant here in the Bay Area.

Innovation is not marketing. Innovation can be fun, but it is serious. Innovation is the future of your business. It is corporate strategy. Interesting how calling something “corporate strategy” makes it sounds essential, and something that is core to your business and must never, ever be cut due to lack of funding, and innovation, which some like, oh, some fun things that we do on the side which we can easily do without when the times are tight.

That is the exact opposite of what should be happening. Your innovation groups ARE (or should be, if they aren’t) your corporate strategy. Its where you are going as a company. Or at least it should be.

So I say unto you – examine the innovation function within your organization, then go big or go home. Is innovation simply a marketing play, or is it producing serious, badass thought leadership which is steering your company?

How can you tell? Simple. Look at your innovation program, not by number of ideas generated, or number of prototypes built, or even numbers of white papers or blog posts written. Look at it from a single data point “How many of these ideas are in use by our customers, internal or external, today?”

If you have generated 2000 ideas, and built 100 prototypes and not a single idea has found its way into production, your innovation program is marketing.

If that’s the case, I’d say, shut down your program and give the money to marketing instead. Or pad your compensation programs because your company will not be around for much longer, and you may as well have a decent exit strategy.

Your innovation program is your child. It is your future. It is the future of your company. If it isn’t, then your company has no future.

 

Humanity Cannot Progress Without Heaps

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Bill Gates seems to be in the news a lot lately – just a few days ago he said that its OK if half of the startups which comes out of Silicon Valley are “silly”, and just yesterday he came out with a statement saying that its preposterous that there has been a “pause” in innovation – that innovation is slowing down.

Well, Mr. Gates, I beg to differ. If you ask me, not only has innovation slowed down, in some areas, its been completely immobilized. And its not the technology which has slowed us down – if you ask me, that rocks on even better than ever. No, what’s changed is our appetite for innovation. We’ve lost the fire in the belly.

By now you’re probably saying, Chris, what are you talking about? Things are moving faster than they have ever moved before – the power of electronic devices has doubled and quadrupled every year or so, and we could never have predicted that we now hold in our hands and pockets roughly the same amount of computing horsepower as supercomputers of old. Even something a piece of electronics as minute as the camera on a smartphone has virtually rendered actual cameras obsolete – even digital ones. When you can get better resolution from a $500 smartphone than a $1500 Nikon, why wouldn’t you?

But I digress. Sure, those things have progressed. But what are we doing with all that firepower in our hands? We’re playing flappy bird, and sending snapshots to our friends that disappear in a few seconds. Whoa, that’s innovation!

Back in the olden days, say around before the turn of the last century, can you believe that we didn’t know how to fly? That we couldn’t travel enormous distances around the globe in a few hours? That we depended on real horses – yep, a one or two horsepower carriage, to get around? Around that time there was such a huge spurt of innovation that within a few short decades, we invented the car and the airplane and the jet engine. That’s when innovation was truly ripping through the world. It all sort of petered out by the end of the sixties, though.

Since then, innovation in many things slowed to a crawl. It wasn’t because the technology didn’t get better and better.

It was because we stopped taking risks. We got cautious. We got careful. We went all “bubble wrap mommy” on innovation.

I think that, even though we had gone all cautious in most ways and many areas already, I think the big final defining moment was the space shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986. It blew up 73 seconds into the flight and took with it seven souls, one of which was a teacher. In that moment, the space program was over, even though it had sort of lost its way after the moon landing anyways.

Prior to this time, humans took huge risks, hoping for huge rewards. Inventors were perfectly willing to die in order to discover some new thing. From the Renaissance to oh, around 1970, humankind was in this massive explosion of exploration and discovery, and damn the torpedoes. We grew and learnt so much as a species during that period that the mind is dazzled by all we did.

But since then, all we’ve ever done is been incremental. We’ve improved things, but have we really come out with anything new? Even the internet was born near the end of that period, maybe the last really massive innovation.

So what happened? Who knows. Maybe we got all fat and happy. Maybe we decided that it wasn’t worth being killed or maimed in the name of science.

But this is exactly why innovation has slowed, and in some ways stopped. We are holding ourselves back. We are being too careful, too cautious. and as a result, we even passed hundreds of laws to force others to also be careful and cautious. God forbid you take any risks which may injure someone, or the environment, even if it means curing cancer or discovering the secret to living to a 1000.

Some people might argue that this is better – that we should always look before we leap. But some of the most amazing discoveries of the human race were made by those who purposely didn’t look before they leapt, thus unknowingly discovered some incredible innovation we are still using today.

But I say, if we want to return to the days of incredibly rapid discovery, we need to loosen the apron strings a bit. We need to take more risks, we need to stop holding ourselves back – we need to say damn the torpedoes more often.

  • How do we know if we can clone replacement body parts if we don’t try?
  • How do we know if we can cure cancer or AIDS if we can’t genetically manipulate cells?
  • How many people die waiting for drugs due a decades long review process?

We need to stop ourselves from asking “should we”. We should just do.

One of my favorite quotes from Futurama was from Professor Farnsworth in the episode The Prisoner Of Benda. Here is the dialog between Amy and the Professor:

Amy: Good, I’m sick of cleaning up those heaps of dead monkeys. But why would you want your mind in a new body?
Farnsworth: Well, as a man enters his 18th decade, he thinks back on the mistakes he’s made in life.
Amy: Like the heaps of dead monkeys?
Farnsworth: Science cannot move forward without heaps! No, what I regret is the youth I wasted playing it safe.

“Science cannot move forward without heaps” – its a joke for sure, but it has the ring of truth. We are so worried about ending up on that heap, that we don’t even try – we don’t even take the risk.

True innovation requires risk. And almost everything that we do today attempts to iron the risk out of everything – from cars, to food, to education. We are all trying to play it as safe as possible – to not end up on the heap. But then nothing progresses. Nothing moves forward. No innovation occurs.

By now, we should have flying cars, tiny nuclear reactors powering that supercomputer in your pocket, a just-in-time education system which teaches humans exactly what they need to know, exactly when they need it, food enough for the population of the world many times over, and the end of tyranny through fully open communications between any human on the planet and every other human on the planet.

So here is my call to action: we need to take risks. We need to do new things. Even if they are uncomfortable. Even if people are hurt, figuratively or literally.

If you ask me – the human race cannot progress without heaps.

Gates also disagreed forcefully with economists and analysts who say the pace of technological innovation is slowing, and no longer driving productivity and economic growth. “I think the idea that innovation is slowing down is one of the stupidest things anybody ever said,” he said. “Innovation is moving at a scarily fast pace.””I want to meet this guy who sees a pause in innovation and ask them where have they been.””Take the potential of how we generate energy, the potential of how we design materials, the potential of how we create medicines, the potential of how we educate people, the way we use virtual reality to make it so you don’t have to travel as much or you get fun experiences,” he noted. Innovation doesn’t always work the way we think it might, he pointed out. For example, when innovation is happening fast enough, it sometimes shrinks GDP by disrupting industries e.g. the damage the Internet has had on the newspaper industry or increasing costs e.g. the proliferation of medical technology.”I want to meet this guy who sees a pause in innovation and ask them where have they been,” he said.

via Bill Gates: ‘The Idea That Innovation Is Slowing Down Is … Stupid’ – Uri Friedman – The Atlantic.

The Web Is 25 Today

mosaic.6beta_610x569If you think about it – not a lot has changed since the web was born 25 years ago – we still use browsers – even though some have come and gone and have been reborn again – even thought we’ve seen a huge uptick towards mobile, even there we use mobile browsers to view the internet. In fact, I’m typing this blog post in a browser – of course no one at the time would ever imagine how the browser and the web would fully disrupt software as we know it.

If you look a Mosaic today, what you see is a very, very crude versions or what I’m using to write this blog post – while the power of the browser itself has changed – and many layers of technology have appeared to replicate the software on my desktop experience in the browser, I’m still loading a web page. If I were to look at my source right now, I’d still see HTML and hyperlinks, just as Tim-Berners Lee imagined it.

Of course, in the early days, the power of hypertext was in the ability to let you jump to the link when you needed additional exposition on that specific word – thus the term web “surfing”, you’d bounce from page to page, sometimes digging into the pages, other times, finding another path to somewhere else, with no idea how to get back. Until of course, you pressed the “back” button.

Even though we still call it “surfing”, we no longer surf in the traditional sense, well, most people I know don’t. They take a less active role, preferring instead to allow curated content to come at them in feeds, whether they be properly curated or not, The web of today is more of a lean back experience than ever. And since most people experience the web via Facebook, Google, Amazon and the like, and rarely venture far off those beaten tracks, there is even less – and likely to be less tomorrow. We went from a free roaming experience to one on rails (borrowing from the video game world) – even though we CAN go anywhere, we choose not to, preferring the popular neighborhoods than going off the beaten track.

Where will the web be in 25 years? Unrecognizable, I should think. First of all, we are already seeing a burst of different devices, mostly wearables, which will give us new form factors to consider. The web itself will shatter into a million niches – requiring the ability to display everything from single words, to weighty tomes, in any format, on any device, in a way it can digested. It’s like responsive design on steroids – and it will have to look awesome on all of them – since design will continue to be super important.

Secondly, a lot of the “stuff” that we have to do – things that seem really complicated and formidable to accomplish, will simply disappear. Oh, they will still be there, but they will subside into a pure platform play. For example, something like eCommerce, selling stuff, paying people, that won’t be a thing onto itself, its will become integrated into the fabric of the web. There won’t be payment apps, just payment APIs, hidden from the end user. And not just payment APIs, many services which require a full app and complicated instrumentation will disappear.

So many things will become effortless and seamless. You won’t need to do many things any more – agents will do things for you on your behalf – based on things that you’ve already done, things that it thinks you will be doing, and even things that it think you might want to do. Everyone will be a rock star, as technology provides everyone with an amazing virtual entourage, anyone can enjoy a rock star experience.

After that – the web will be everywhere. Once the web is everywhere – once every dumb device is smart and connected, we will have so much big data that we are able to, we can solve every problem.

We do have the web to thank for that. If it wasn’t for Tim, then the only people using the internet would be nerds and geeks like me. And there are only so many of us.

One of the things I like to joke about is that my Dad used to say “Why are you doing computers? Computers are a fad! You should get into a business which is necessary! Like being a doctor, lawyer, real estate agents. Everyone gets sick, everyone needs a house! Even barbers are necessary. But computers?” I think about what he said and I realize that the web is not only responsible for my career over the last 20 years, but also the careers of millions more. If you can possibly imagine life without the web, and the huge driver of commerce and economic growth that it has become, then I don’t want to live in that world. I could, but I wouldn’t want to.

So cheers to Tim Berners-Lee and the web. I have not idea where I’d be if it wasn’t for his awesome invention. Probably still crawling under desks and replacing hard drives, I suppose.

Lightning Strikes: Why WhatsApp’s Success Isn’t Repeatable

lightning-strike-bolt-blackA long time ago, back before a time which we aren’t supposed to talk about (pre 2007), I used to have a podcast which talked about many different things, among them the future, innovation and politics, which I recorded on the road in the car on my way to work. I would rant and rave about all sorts of stuff, pointing out things that were happening, calling out stupid drivers on the road, and just talking generally about things that annoyed me.

At the time, there was this guy in the news who called himself a “reallionnaire” (found out recently that the guys name is Farrah Gray) – basically someone who, at a very young age, 14 I think, was able to go from rags to riches, and was now telling his story so that “you too can do the same!”. I made that the subject of one of my shows. Now I haven’t read his book, but I think I don’t really need to – its likely a pretty inspirational story, like all of these motivational books, now stop me if you’ve heard this one before – someone fights off many barriers to success, using a set of actions, which propels them into riches and success, And all you need to do is to the same thing – and you will pretty much achieve the same result. Kudos to him for being able to break out of what sounds like a terrible situation. And while his story sound pretty inspirational, what I’m trying to say is: Your Results May Vary. Greatly.

This kind of story is also pretty rampant here (without the extremely dirt-poor beginnings) in Silicon Valley – lower middle to upper middle class software engineer pulls a couple of his friends together, they work on a startup in their spare time, their startup launches, they get discovered, boom, the engineers are suddenly billionaires. Of course, the real story is that this happens so rarely that its news when it does happen. Like with WhatsApp.

Since the story broke that those not-quite-broke engineers who started WhatsApp years ago just sold it for $19b to Facebook, the tech media has been full of stories on – just like in the “reallionnaire” case, you too can be successful if you just, as they did, so the exact same thing.

Of course, when you look at the WhatsApp story, its completely different from the others where lightning struck. The WhatsApp folks build their user base over time, providing a quality product at a very reasonable price – they didn’t run ads, they charged for their product, they let people use it free for a year before charging a minuscule $1 a year to use.

Additionally, if you look at WhatsApp, IMHO, there is nothing really special about it – other than its huge user base. What really differentiates it from Kik, or Google Hangouts, or WeChat, or any number of instant messaging platforms out there – even going all the way back to ICQ (yes, I know I’m dating myself now) other than maybe the pricing model?

Also, there’s been another meme floating around about how your business should address a specific pain point – a need as opposed to a want. I blogged about this same thing myself when I talked about Haircuts, Pie and Cupcakes. Now I understand that people may have a need to communicate, but do they really have a need to communicate via WhatsApp? There is nothing really specifically interesting about it. As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t really address a specific need or want. I’ve eaten cupcakes, and WhatsApp is no cupcake.

So what my point? Simple. There is NO proven formula. There is NO single set of steps that you can take in order to go from point A to point B in order to be successful. You can become a billionaire by building a quality app and building a big user base over a long time, or you can become a billionaire by developing an app in a few months, attracting the right kind of attention and traction, then get snapped up in less than a year by some big tech firm.

There may be no specific set of steps – there is no specific criteria – on what is successful and what isn’t. It may not be pure luck, but its pretty damn close. There are, however, as few things that do make the difference – and its not about the app at all. Its about the people. Its about the connections. Its about being in the right place at the right time, talking to the right people at the right moment. That’s when the magic happens. It’s very, very close to pure, dumb, luck – you can’t engineer this stuff.

Ever read Black Swan? People read this stuff and and think – oh that’s interesting – then over time forget about it – but if you ask me its totally pertinent to many. many things in life, one of which is your startup being successful or failing miserably. Events like the WhatsApp deal may not be Black Swan like disasters, man made or natural, but they do come out of the blue. Just like lightning strikes, you can make yourself more susceptible to them by standing outside in a field in a thunderstorm, but that is still no guarantee that you will be hit. In fact, I’d argue that its much easier to be struck by lightning than to be struck as a billionaire by writing an app.

So how do you increase your chances of getting hit by lightning? You stand out in the rain. You stick out. It doesn’t matter if you’re startup cures cancer or provides and pleasant diversion. You just have to be standing in the right field in the middle of a thunderstorm with your metal helmet on – otherwise known as – building a network of people who can socialize your ideas as far and wide as possible. It’s all about who knows you – and who knows your product. You can’t make Black Swan’s happen, but you can increase the odds of getting struck by lightning.

 

Secret, Whisper, Snapchat : Anonymity IS Free Speech

Faceless2If you think about it, apps like Secret, Whisper and Snapchat and even Twitter (assuming that you didn’t share your personal details in your profile or with Twitter – or even create a fake persona), are not only perfect for our new age of outrage, they are the true embodiment of real free speech. Free speech has basically disappeared from the net, as fear of retribution has pushed people away from using their real and true persona to speak freely.

Isn’t it great when you can anonymously slam a public figure for being a jerk (or not a jerk, depending on how you feel about the following), whether it be Justin Beiber (jerky Canadian brat who thinks his fame lets him get away with anything), Anatoly Pakhomov (jerky Sochi Mayor who, I’m sure erroneously believes that there are no gay people in his city), or Jared Padalecki (who had the temerity to voice an opinion – God forbid we let people do that – on the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman) with no fear of retribution. Isn’t it great when you can vent your anger and frustration and outrage at someone anonymously, and no one can get back at you for it.

Back when we first started talking to each other – we pretty much we had to speak directly to each other. Sure, we had ways of hiding speakers identities, like anonymous letters, through messengers and other ways. When you were outraged back then, you could write a strongly worded letter, or show up at the council meeting, or wherever you wanted to air your grievances and be heard. Of course, back then there was also a pretty strong filtering system which decided whether or not to actually broadcast your message. You had no choice in the matter – either the editors saw merit in your letter and printed it, or they didn’t and didn’t. I’ll bet that most of the anonymous letters received by newspapers back then never made it to press, unless it supported the same opinions as the editorial staff.

Human beings want to speak out. They want to be heard. But for the longest time, they haven’t had that option. But now we do.However, we are still used to an ephemeral world – where things live and die. We write something down on a sheet of paper, when we want to destroy it, we shred it or set fire to it. We are used to being able to destroy things when we don’t need them anymore – or they will affect us negatively later on.

We also love to vent when we feel strong emotions – its very therapeutic – and I’m sure that there are plenty of schools of psychology that support the outpouring of emotion onto paper. Unfortunately, we no longer live in an ephemeral world.

That world is over – and only now are we catching up to that fact. Most likely every single thing that you do online is being tracked and recorded somewhere. Even if you delete these tracks, my guess is that they are probably cached somewhere at whatever place you did whatever you did at – be it Facebook, Google, or any of the big 5 sites. Being able to just destroy what you did is almost impossible now – and we are only just coming to grips with that.

And not only is the online world no longer ephemeral, so is the offline world. Just using your smartphone to buy your coffee, or a credit card – creates an indelible, permanent stamp that you were in that place at that time. Just try to delete that record – you don’t even have the rights to it – its owned by the credit card company. As the internet of things grows, less and less of our lives will be ephemeral – everything that we say and do will be permanently recorded somewhere.

Look at wearables like Google Glass. If not Glass, probably in the next, oh say two years, the wearables form factor will take off – I’ve said so myself. These devices will be so useful in our lives that we will allow them to record all of our lives. And these previously ephemeral bits of our lives will be logged and stored forever.

Now on the one hand, this is not a bad thing – as we age and get more and more dependent on our machine sides (BTW, I did say that we are already cyborgs, didn’t I?) all of that memory in the backup brain will be very useful.

But on the other hand, do you really want that alcohol laced rage-fest about your last boss blogged to the world the afternoon after you were fired out there – I mean – at all?

We now get it – everything we do or say is out there – forever. And this is one of the reasons why apps like Secret, Whisper and Snapchat are so hot – people need to speak – but at the same time – they want the ephemeral nature of the old world to keep those thoughts from hurting them in future.

Based on my Whisper research, I can tell you that the anonymity – even if its not real – does allow one to speak freely – and that free speech, for some – is truly therapeutic in a world where many people have lost their way – on the one hand giving up any guidance from something like a religion, but on the other hand not feeling strong enough to be the master of their own destiny (I guess they never read Ayn Rand in high school)

So now that we know that – and we know that people want to be able to choose to make things go away – it should be very simple to add those attributes to your product – blog posts that disappear after a certain period – images that go away – as well the the ability to be timeless  but anonymous.

My sense is that going forward, apps who force an identity requirement will become less and less prevalent, and those who allow a sense of anonymity will prevail.

So get anonymous people – your users want it.

 

Artists Should Not Work For Free

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Just Cause Its Free To Deliver Doesn’t Mean It Should Be Free, Period.

Spotify’s latest move to make all of its services free (since they raised a quarter billion dollars) is just the latest strike against paying for content.

For a while now the perceived price of content has been under fire.

The source of this probably came about during the late 60′s with Stewart Brand‘s infamous comment:

On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.

Note the part that stuck: “information wants to be free“. Ugh. But also notice that in the next sentence, he talks specifically about distribution.

While Brand was referring to the cost of distributing the information – the meaning of this has been stretched and pulled like taffy over time to extend over to the cost of the entire creation of “information”. And since this quote – all kinds of content have morphed from physical media – LPs, CDs – VHS tapes, DVDs, printed books, magazines – to information. So, its true – while the cost of distributing the information has approached zero, only in some of these areas has the cost of creation actually dropped.

For example, it used to require musicians for an artist to record, mix and release tracks of music. Recording studio space had to be secured, costs were high, as was the barrier to entry. But nowadays, free and low cost software can turn anyone into the next Skrillex (well not anyone, you need to still have the talent). In that industry the costs of creating the media have dropped, as in film. The technology required to make an independent film has dropped precipitously, so as above, anyone with a little talent and a smartphone can create a compelling vision. Not so much for writing though. The craft of writing really hasn’t changed all that much – sure the tools have gotten more sophisticated, but unless someone has created some kind of automatic writing engine which just takes concepts and spits out stories (I’d pay real money for that one), that mostly requires butt-in-seat time.

In all of this content creation – we may have shaved down the cost of the recording and distribution – but the time – and time IS a cost – and skill of the artist required to produce quality work – have remained the same. The skill to write a good story, to take a great picture, to produce an awesome track, to move people emotionally with film – those things have great value. It is my assertion that that value is being whittled away, bit by bit, by the audience – who just look at the recording and distribution costs nearing zero, as a reason that the entire cost of the object, including the time and skill the artist put into creating the work also should be zero.

When these things were physical objects, people gladly paid for them. For some reason, now that they are information – people want them to be free. We can lay the blame for this cheapening at the feet of many places – the distaste of people for what they perceive are the excesses of capitalism, the wrecking of the concept of a free market by places and services like Fiverr and iTunes, the open source and shareware/freeware software movements (on the one hand, the unfettered exchange of software is a great thing – but on the other hand, there are thousands of programmers out there, who, slave like, code for no compensation. And when people get used to you producing something for nothing, then why pay something when you get something for nothing?)

How do Fiverr and iTunes wreck a market? In a true free market, (like eBay, which is not perfect but closer to a free market) prices are set by an agreement between buyer and seller – they agree to a price where both the buyer and the seller walk away pleased with the deal – the buyer getting fair value for their money and the seller getting fair value for the time that they put into creating the product. Even fixed price markets, like Etsy, allow a seller to set a price – and there is even room for some negotiation. Places like Fiverr, where every service is one price, perverts this beautiful process, by forcing every product, content and service from shooting a video, or recording an audio track, to writing a blog post or a short story, to a single price. This sets the value ahead of time – no matter how much effort the seller does or does not put into the creation of the content, the price is the same. And in order to provide good value to the buyers, the sellers typically over deliver. Expectations are incredibly high, and the review and rating mechanisms are overly harsh to the sellers.

Since often these marketplaces often feature one of a kind created physical items, even those items are tarred by the same brush – even physical item prices – original works created by artists – suffer the same fate.

The artists are constantly getting screwed down. Probably partially based on the mistaken belief of the buyers that the full “costs” (as opposed to just the recording and distribution costs) to create a musical track, a video, or a book, or a photo, get lower and lower, the “price” a buyer should pay should also get lower and lower. Eventually, buyers will expect all content to be near zero – or even free.

There’s been a recent meme floating around the internet from a photographer, tired of his customers expecting him to work for very little or free, wrote and posted an ad on Craigslist asking for people to work for him for free, since everyone expects him to work for free – or very little:

Titled “Pro Photographer Looking for People to Do Their Job Without Pay,” the photographer decides it’s turnabout time. “I am a photographer,” the shooter writes, “and since people are always looking for free shoots I assume that they must also do their job, or provide their services, for free.”

“I am looking to hire all types of people to do all sorts of jobs for me, as long as I do not have to pay anything,” he continues. “Just think, you will gain more experience, and I will put the word out for you and let everyone know what wonderful work you do.”

I know a number of photographers, writers, videographers and musicians who are seeing it too – although the time and skill to create quality content has not changed, the price expectations has truly plummeted, to the point where one can no longer support oneself creating content, unless it’s a physical object. Only physical objects seem to hold more value, and the market which prefers physical objects is getting smaller and smaller.

What is the future path for content creators? Do they go down the path of open source developers and give their content (source code) away for free, only to make up the money in other ways (training and documentation)? I’ve read plenty of articles about how bands can’t make a penny on selling music, but make up their money in concerts and sales of physical goods. But what about writers and others? Even now, a book making its way up the charts Write, Publish, Repeat, is advocating giving away your first books for free, in order to satiate an audience that wants everything for nothing. I’m not sure that simply bowing to that pressure is the right way to go – which is why when I published my first fiction book, I priced it at what I thought was a reasonable amount, which would pay for my time and skill in creating the book.

In 2007, I filed for a patent on an idea to create a true media marketplace, where content creators and content purchasers could reach a fair price on the cost of the content – pleasing both the buyer and the seller. Since then, we’ve culturally forced down the cost of content to the point where a system like that might never allow the content creators to receive full and proper value for their time and skill.

There may be some solution for content creators in a crowdsourced environment, where some kind of bidding system would allow both the creators and the buyers the ability to reach a reasonable price for content – allowing the content creators to continue to do what they do best – create quality content – and give the buyers better content at a reasonable price.

We simply need to bring a true market back to content, and stop pushing the price near zero. We have to reassert the value in the time and skill required to take that beautiful picture, write that moving story or lay down that groove. Like never before, we have the technology and the networks in place to create a true free market for artists. Who will take the first step?

Curation: Necessary Yet Broken

filter

Not sure that these are the best filters for your content

Curation is necessary. But it’s also broken, very broken.

Please let me know if you don’t see this post on Facebook -oh wait – you couldn’t possibly tell me if you saw this because you didn’t see it. Facebook does its own curating of content from your friends and family – I could tell that this was going on over the course of time but now its gotten ridiculous – I now ordinarily miss things people who are important to me send, and my stream is full of junk – mostly ads. It takes time to scroll through the crap to get to the good stuff – and even when I see the good stuff I only seems to get a small taste of it. Makes me think of World Of Warcraft in some sense – the gamemakers purposely force you to wait periods of time before things happen in order to force you to use the product longer – I’d be very surprised if the same isn’t going on with Facebook, Twitter and most other firehoses of data.

I understand – curation is a necessary process in order to surface the most relevant information – there is no way people have the time to sift through everything coming at them in order to get at what they want. But like what’s happened with Google’s dominance and the loss of  the long tail, the same thing is happening with our social feeds.

While curation can be algorithm based, people based or a combination of both, what is happening to our social feeds is the same thing that happened to the long tail – since most people interface to the world via a small cluster of sites – and all of those sites use these algorithms – most of what we see is algorithm based. And its my supposition that these algorithms have been tweaked in order to produce the most revenue, as opposed to provide the most relevant results. In this way – curation is broken. We aren’t getting what’s relevant to us – we have to search and search to find the relevant stuff – and if this keeps going, eventually we will be back to the same hierarchical model, even for social feeds. The internet is in grave danger of shutting off all access to all of the creativity which made it an awesome place in the first place.

The other day, I was looking at a post I had made about my latest fiction novel. Beside the like button was a button I’d never seen before – “Promote” – I’d seen this for other things, but not near a post before. I clicked on it and a modal window came up. The wording was very interesting:

Promote an Important Post

Now you can promote this post to move it higher in friends’ news feeds and help them notice it. Any post that you pay to promote will be marked as Sponsored

Total: $6.99 USD

Yep – Facebook is extorting cash from me in order to post a post of mine on my friends timelines. I guess that unless I spend $7, my post will be relegated to the backwaters of Facebook, never to be seen by anyone. Is there an “Invite To Like” feature…?

Remember all of those people who exhort that you should be active on social media in order to build customers for your business? That social media is a free way to build and advertise your business? Forget it. Fairly soon, if not already, you’ll need to pay the cabal of internet fronting sites a fee just to allow people to see your personal message – not just marketing your site.

This is, of course, a nightmare to startups and other firms attempting to gain some kind of traction. The chances that someone will see your message are diminishing rapidly. There was a day, once, when you could set up a blog or a website, be reached via a search engine, and could build your audience. Nowadays, both algo based and human curation conspires to keep those companies out of the public eye.

And human curation, in some cases, is no better. There are plenty of places where startups and new businesses are featured, and in some cases, being listed on those sites is a make or break for those businesses. Alas, you can’t just apply for your startup to be listed on some of these sites – the curators of the sites sometimes don’t even accept submissions for possible inclusion – in their judgement, unless they personally stumble across a site, or a friend suggests it – it can never get into the inner circle for consideration. Your typical startup needs all of the promotion it can get in order to help gain users and traction – and once again these gatekeepers feel that their judgement is superior to others.

Being exclusive is great, unless you are the excluded. There is nothing more disheartening to a startup than being told that “due to the curators wanting to maintain the quality of the site, we’ll let you know if we let you in” – and then never hearing from them again. It’s like the internet has become high school again, with certain cliques letting only the cool kids in. Everyone else is left out in the cold.  Even if you have an awesome idea – if they decide that you don’t rate – you don’t rate.

So what is the answer? Well, I see a few things happening:

  1. People are going to start to get fed up with the results that they are getting – possibly enough to leave Facebook for something else – but what. Teens are already bailing in a big way – I’ll bet that relevance ending up in the reason list along with not wanting to hang with the parents.
  2. Facebook will need to improve relevance in order to keep people
  3. Third party interfaces to social platforms will gain more prominence as they pull together more relevant social feeds than the sites themselves
  4. New curation methodologies will start to show up – we can’t just go on the way we are now.

The important and interesting stuff used to be hard to find. For a while there, it was a lot easier to find. And now, its getting hard to find again – but this time – its our choice to do something about it – we have the people and the tech and the communications networks to properly surface the most relevant stuff – we just aren’t doing it yet.

Talk about another “next hot space”…

 

How to Create A New Logo For Your Company In 10 Minutes For $0

Just like to reveal our new corporate logo:

hflogo200x200

 

Yep – that’s right – our new corporate logo for our firm hellofuture. Pretty cool, eh?

So you wonder – how can I get as cool a logo as that? Well its very simple. It literally took me about 5 minutes to think it through and maybe another 5 minutes to develop. Here’s how I did it.

  1. Think about your company and what it does. hellofuture welcomes the future in a happy, positive way, with a hearty hello! – note the exclamation point.
  2. What do we welcome? Well, the future of course. We don’t shy away from change. In face, we EMBRACE change! – And where is this future? Well, its in front of us, or that > way…
  3. So, if you take the end of the “hello!” which is the exclamation mark and the > representing the future, you get !>
  4. Which looks OK, but not amazing. So I loaded up my trusty old standby graphics app, Paint Shop Pro 8, which I’ve used since, like forever. I also downloaded a snappy font from dafont.
  5. Also, I selected two colors (#C63E40  and #4863A0) which recur in most of my work, in order to tie it all together.
  6. Finally, in order to point the arrow up – I mean who wants an arrow to be pointed straight or down? – I turned the whole shebang counterclockwise 30 degrees.
  7. I stepped back and looked at my handiwork. Not bad at all

Of course the first thing my partner said was “well, now you will have to reprint all of your business cards” To which I said, “ah no, that’s ok” I like my business cards exactly the way they are. And if you’ve seen them you know they are pretty memorable…

card

Course, if you don’t think you can do it on your own, I highly recommend fiverr for work like this. You can get some pretty decent stuff for $5.

A Week Of Ultra Productivity

Infinity-Time1

Time Keeps On Slipping, Slipping, Slipping Into The Future

Recently I’ve read a number of articles on productivity, success and tracking – probably triggered by my new years resolution to pack more into each day. To that end – I’m going to attempt an “experiment in ultraproductivity” – over the next week – starting now I will:

  1. track every waking moment – using Timesheet, a time tracking app on my Galaxy S4
  2. spend time at the end of each day assessing the day and tracking wasted time
  3. develop a plan to refine the next day’s activities
  4. continue to refine the process over the week

Kind of like applying an Agile process to my life. Instead of a daily standup at the start of the day, its more of a daily lie down at the end of the day…

Some of the things I’m going to try:

  1. Getting up early – I’m going to shoot for 5am, which is tough for me as I’m a real night owl
  2. Exercise first thing – I have a FitBit on the Ultivator, so I need to hit my step goals otherwise I’m going to get penalized, so I need to hit that
  3. Write some fiction for at least one hour – I’ve got Precog in the Kindle store and on its way in paperback, so I need to start on the 2nd book in the series, Telekin.
  4. Write a blog post – like this one
  5. Fill up my Buffer every day with new stuff
  6. Spend time connecting with people via social networks – Facebook, LinkedIn etc…

All before breakfast.

Part of this was inspired by Ramit Sethi, a guy who alternatively annoys me and gets me motivated. He is currently selling a package of “productivity hacks” for some dumb amount of money, supposedly collecting a number of these productivity tips into one package. More power to him, but I’m cheap and I figure I’ve got enough experience to come up with my own set of hacks. I’ve applied all of this in varying ways over time – but this time I’m going to apply them all at once – and with any luck, by the end of the week, have a finely honed and ultraproductive process in place. Then maybe I’ll sell it for big bucks too.

Oh, BTW, I noticed that all of those folks who get up early never tell you when they go to bed. Do you imagine that High Powered Executive Who Gets Up At 4am To Conquer The World is in his jammies and under the covers by 9pm in order to get a good nights sleep? What is he, a kid?

Let me know if you have any “productivity hacks” that you personally use to pack more into each day below – would love to hear from you…