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Preview: 5th Constituency

5th Constituency



From Sumser and the interbiznet Greenhouse: A Deeper Faster Look



Last Build Date: Tue, 21 May 2002 20:03:11 GMT

Copyright: Copyright 2002 interbiznet
 



Last Labor Shortage Brought Wage Freezes
The time of the Black Plague was the last historical example of a sustained labor shortage. Read the King's decree about wage freezes



Whoa!
Hossein Derakhshan: "There are about 1000 Persian weblogs." (image) [Scripting News]



Blog Notes 5: For Whom The Blog Flows

Embedded in most current blogging software is an odd notion. Because the systems are self-referential and the overall audience is in its early growth stages, there is an interesting assumption that one "blogs" for oneself or other bloggers. Conventions, like blogrolling (a cross linking scheme that builds traffic within the blogging community), have a nearly religious fervor associated with them.

Community building, as we've mentioned in other Blog Notes creates the essential social infrastructure on which the long term success of blogging rests. As the community voraciously consumes the product of other community members, a momentum develops. It's good for groundwork and subject to replacement at the beginning of the second phase of growth in the phenomenon.

Part of the difficulty ion understanding the real long term implications of this (or any technology) is learning to distinguish between bootstrapping mechanisms and the final ediface. The issue has large implications for the development community and is one of the flaws in an open source approach. Things that are useful in the bootstrapping of an approach *do* become irrelevant in later phases.

The challenge, as blogging moves towards the mainstream, includes figuring out who the end customers are. They could be bigger and better versions of the current blogging community. They are more likely to be my Mother and behind the firewalls large corporate users. The features that remain in later versions will be a function of the majority of users at that time.

So, the question is "How does an open source movement account for future customers?"

 




Background Checking On The Increase
Worker background checks raise privacy concerns. [Privacy Digest] The solution? Why not worker generated background certification under the direct control and ownership of the employee?



Customer Success, Not Bug Free Code

The response I hear to the question of why software projects fail is that the customer did not plan well or didn't delegate well or made poor decisions. Is that really fair? Shouldn't the company selling a product that costs millions of dollars shoulder some responsibility for its ultimate usefulness?
Siebel: Absolutely. This is the point I'm making. We don't see it as our obligation to simply deliver bug-free software. We do whatever it takes to make sure the customer succeeds. So absolutely, I think it should be the software company's responsibility. And this is the responsibility that we take upon ourselves.  




Why Companies Fail

Fortune.  Why companies fail [John Robb's Radio Weblog] Might be called: identifying sources of talent and knowing what to say.







Recruiting Inventors

To attract some of the world’s top inventors to participate, Myhrvold and Jung not only want to compensate them well but also aim to tap into the sheer joy that inventive people draw from their work—an emotion that they believe has largely been missing in corporate labs for a long time. As Myhrvold puts it, “Invention is so exhilarating that most true inventors would do it for free.”

See invention factory . [Memex 1.1]




Balance Sheets

The basics of understanding a company: Decoding a Balance Sheet.  [The Motley Fool]




Feel The Momentum Shift

Chief execs upbeat despite downturn. Despite massive unemployment, sluggish sales and bottom-feeding stock prices, executives at tech start-ups are optimistic about the future of their sector.

Although most will slash administrative and travel expenses, many say they will soon expand employee ranks. Eighty-nine percent of the CEOs say they plan to hire new employees, but most are being conservative. Of those hiring, 49 percent anticipate adding less than 25 new employees; 20 percent plan to add 26-49 new employees; and 12 percent expect to hire 49-100 new employees. Only 6 percent say they plan to add 101-200 new employees, and a paltry 2 percent plan to hire more than 200 employees. [CNET News.com]




Email Distracts

Technology: Working parents 'spend longer on email'. Parents who work spend on average twice as long dealing with email as playing with their children, according to Government figures.

From:[NewsBlip.com]




Best Human Network

"The perfect network is perfectly plain, and perfectly extensible.  That means it is also the perfect capital repellant, [which] implies a guaranteed loss to network operators, but a boon to the services on the 'ends'."
- Roxane Googin's High Tech Observer as  cited in The Paradox of the Best Network

Take a moment to scan The Paradox of the Best Network. We've cited the piece before. The quote, which prompted the Paradox piece in the first place, suggests that the best network is the one that produces the best results for its users (the ends). The Paradox article and the quote are referring to telecom and internet networks. We wonder if it's true and if it has relevance for human networks.

There are few, if any, for fee human networks that produce results that compare with free informal networks. In fact, there seems to be an inverse correlation between the perceivedvalue of a human network and its price. That's the only meaningful way to explain the perceived difference between recruiting results produced by external recruiters and internal referral networks. Should we say "The best human network produces maximum results for its members while accruing the least capital?"

No answers, just a good question.

 




Blog Notes 4: Categories

No Audience is Interested in Everything You Produce

XML gives Weblogs the capacity to be organized into categories. It's good news and bad. When authoring an article (or one of those littler bloglets), the author is confonted immediately with a series of usability questions like:

  • If I put this piece in several categories, does that reduce the meaning of each category?
  • If the piece is on the home page and in a category, why would anyone ever go to both?
  • If the piece is only in a category and not on the home page, how does anyone know?
  • If the piece is only on the home page, what are categories for?

In other words, the use of xml/categories forces every Weblog Author or Editor (perhaps the word is Authitor) to consider the audience from a structural perspective each time a piece is developed, particularly in the early weeks of the development of the blog's basic style.

There seem to be few conventions and the act of producing a weblog changes your perspective on the subject while the thing unfolds.

We imagine that there are a variety of useful approaches and are waiting eagerly to try Stapler 2.0 which strips headlines out of the XML so that the headlines can complement the category decisions by pointing to material not on the current page.

Categories are extremely useful for knowledge-management applications. They give an 'Authitor' the ability to tell a specific group of readers that all of X sort of material will appear in x section thus allowing the development of discrete conversations about subsets of the overall architecture.

When forming categories, the producer of a Weblog (Authitor is a wee bit clumsy, don't you think) needs to ask whether the weblog will be viewed as a magaizine/newspaper type of periodical with discrete subject areas or whether the subject areas overlap. In our case that means forecasting whether the Usability audience is interested in Web Services and so on. It means asking, about each item, is it relevant to categories x through z?

No Audience is Interested in Everything You Produce

XML creates the opportunity to keep that question open for a while as the blogger develops a real time feel for audience structure and composition.




The Lines
In the most abstract case, technical people tend to work in a linear process, marketing people work in circles. (Before the email floods in, we know that technical processes are often described as iterative and that marketing people in fact usually work in a linear direction.) That's why we described the proposition as "the most abstract case."

The distinction is important as we navigate this plateau in the development of capacities for our industry. Although it looks like a lack of technical movement, we think we can trace it to marketing questions. Some explanation is in order.

A great technical team participates in the development of a spec. From then on, accomplishment (except in the very untidy world of technical bootstrapping) is all about the accomplishment of a very large "to do list". When we say it is a linear process, we mean that a focused technical team is simply not productive unless it is always accomplishing the next most important thing. This focus on prioritization, essential for smooth functioning in an IT department, creates a train of results that must be carefully managed by the project's leadership.

It becomes marketing's job to explain the results of this process to the customers and potential customers. That's where the problem starts. 

If you ask technical people about the results of their work, they nearly always focus their story on the priorities of the project or its most challenging technical aspects. The marketing department's job is to somehow translate that linear dialog into a description that is customer oriented. Customers rarely care about technical challenges or the company's priorities. They care about solving their problems.

At the simplest, a marketing person is responsible for reframing the technical features (as told by the developers) into a series of benefits (as experienced by the customers). That requires standing far back from the work and seeing it with the customer's eyes. So, while the Yukon Denali is, in fact a huge SUV with a really big engine and lots of special automation in the transmission, marketers focus on its heated seats and tight turning radius because the desired customer is a woman.

Figuring out how to reframe the technical accomplishment as a desirable commodity in the market often wounds the feelings of early entrepreneurs who are focused on linear technical accomplishment. We're certain that there are grumblings in the design ranks of the Denali team. But, tech specs do not sell a product. 

The right question to ask a company is "What does it do for me?" In our world, asking only "What does it do?" opens the door to a flood of technical answers that probably don't tell you the most important customer benefits.

From The Electronic Recruiting News




Risk

John Robb's essay "The New Economy"  hit the streets late Friday night. It's interesting to see the experience of an entrepreneur generalized into a political perspective. A military pilot and researcher by trade, Robb's immersion in a profoundly bootstrapping company (both technically and financially) combined with the military "can-do" sensibilities make him an attractive spokesman for the notion that economic sluggishness is somehow someone's fault and that a price will be extracted as a sort of karmic punishment.

Things are decentralizing. Things are simultaneously centralizing. The power of decentralization is clearest to those who benefit most from it. The same is true for the forces of aggregation.

It's hard to see our economy clearly. Small companies, the backbone of everything, have always been the backbone of everything. The small business owner knows this even while the bureacratic functionary in a large organization lauds his security and compensation over the head of the entrepreneur.

Small businesses create capital that is given to banks so that large companies can multiply it. Like lawyers, large organizations are risk mitigators whose challenge is not creation but maintenance. This is a task that small operations routinely fail. Small organizations make large gains possible. Large organizations thrive on the incremental.

If you asked the supposed 'culprits' at the homes of the various scandals what in the world they thought they were doing, you'd most likely hear something like "we were trying to be less risk averse. We were trying to instill the principles of entrepreneurial strength into our organizations."

It's the paradox. Big organizations have their purpose and we need them. Little organizations have their purpose and we need them as well. What we don't need is one acting like the other.

Corporations can not lie. They are not people. People lie. Worse still, people delude themselves and believe that they are doing the right thing (remind me, at some point, to tell you about my theory that evil is the aggregate effect of any group with good intentions). This is nothing new.

What is new is the broad spectrum of possibilities that have opened up for those of us who are willing to risk our lives and livelihoods on the bet that we can create better than we will be given. We take responsibility for things beyond our control and make them into realities. There are more of us. We have ever better tools.

We're pioneers in the heartiest of American traditions. Where we're headed is unknown. After we've been there a while, the one thing you can predict with some certainty is that big organizations will follow. The risk will have been mitigated.

So, John, with all kindness, thanks for the provocative essay. Write more.




Blog Notes 3 - Blogging Is A Way of Thinking

Blogging is a way of thinking. Rather than simply absorbing information, as in passive consumption of broadcast information (including the passive web), Blogging requires that the blogger act as an active filter.

It's a skill that is practiced in a range of settings already; from cocktail party preparation by strong networkers to competitive intelligence gathering. Consuming information with an editorial eye and then redistributing it is the method that most social networks favor for maintaining their vigor. It is distinctly different from the eye-glazing flow-thru of data that characterizes the normal absorption process.

The blogger must, with some level of vigilance, ask the following questions

  • "Is this important?"
  • "Why Is This Important?"
  • "Who Cares?"
  • "What Does It Mean?"
  • "Is it worth explaining?"

It is no accident that some  (maybe most) blogging software contains a newsfeed (in XML, of course). The constant flow of ideas by the eyes of an active filter are an important part of keeping the filter (the blogger) engaged.

The fact the creation of a blog requires either a shift in thinking or a shift in attention for someone who already thinks this way is a limiter in the growth of public blogs. We are no more likely to see a blog on every desktop than we were to see a website on every desktop. The world is probably forever divided into producers and consumers.

Even so, blogging software creates an editorial envioronment in which it is easier to become a producer than ever before. The raw written communication involved in the process is something that simply gets better with practice. It's the way of thinking that makes the biggest difference.




Secrets Of Networking
From x Blog: Secrets of Networking cool! When will we see one for blog networks?



Privacy and Corporate Knowledge

We've always said that privacy is like tailoring. If you want a perfect suit, you have to let a tailor probe around in spots usually reserved for a spouse's touch. Without that sort of intrusion, you may as well just buy the thing off the rack. People who have never worn a hand tailored suit may not understand the extraordinary differences in fit and feel. Be assured, the intrusion is usually worth the return.

That doesn't mean that we want everyone groping us trying to make their products fit.

In a solid article (from the Direct Marketing - DM - perspective), Lee T. Capps, a CRM pro now working for Revere, makes the case that better customer service can be provided by merging and sharing CRM data between companies. Of course, consumer choice and participation gets short shrift in the discussion, that's the perspective of a DM pro.

Yes, we'd like Safeway to better understand our needs (right now they're just tracking what we bought, not what we came for and couldn't get) and, yes, we want things that fit better in general.

But, we want to decide which tailors we let stick their hands into our crotch. We're protective down there.

CRM technology will migrate rapidly into the Labor Market. The combination of blogs, CRM and solid human networking skills will be the model of Human Capital Acquisition over the next century.

Observing the dynamics of CRM in the consumer markets with a critical eye on the relationship between choice and privacy is a critical element of developing effective systems.

(Privacy Digest alerted us to the article)




Seniors Online

Seniors are the fastest growing group of online users and a powerful resource to focus on the emerging labor shortage.

This group mirrors the early Internet population:

  • About 60 percent are men.
  • Forty percent are women.
  • They're more likely than their offline peers to be married.
  • They're highly educated.
  • They have relatively high retirement incomes.

Characteristics:

  • Many wired seniors are newcomers to the Web.
  • They're more likely than younger Americans to be online on a typical day.
  • The most fervent wired seniors say the Web helps them better connect with loved ones and makes it easier get information they seek.

The five top uses of the Web by seniors:

  • using email
  • looking up hobby information
  • seeking financial information
  • reading the news
  • checking weather reports

Ooopsie....looks like we're almost seniors by these definitions. From ClickZ







Blog Notes 2 - A Dozen Things We Know

Blogging is in a primitive form. The heavy users only know that it is possible. "Why?" is a question that awaits a claifying "How?" 

Here are a dozen things we know.

  1. Personal publishing has always moved from the grassroots out to society and blogging is an advancement in personal publishing.
  2. The technical ground beneath "blogging" (web services, net services or whatever you want to call it) is moving from the grass roots out (and not from the top down as Oracle, Sun, IBM and Microsoft would have it.)
  3. The blogging phenomenon itself is a market based example of a self-organizing system that appears to be producing features and functions just as they are needed.
  4. The growth vectors associated with blogging dwarf the original growth vectors of the Web in Phase 1 (circa 1993-1995).
  5. The sprawling, "static web" is in need of a function like consciousness that guides and focuses attention. Blogging makes that a volunteer job (in the sense that the great assignments go to volunteers who see risk differently than the 'never volunteer  for anything' set.)
  6. As was the case in early static web publishing, the egos of the individual contributors are larger than life so the story is exciting.
  7. In it's current state, 'blogging' is the product of technologists who are less concerned with "Why?" than "How?" although they grapple with "Why?" as content.
  8. Even as the technology finds its limits, applications are being unearthed. Knowledge-Logs (or K-Logs) are an underground phenomenon that may deliver what Lotus Notes promised.
  9. While the throngs of marketing professionals have not yet embraced the phenomenon clusters of influence are forming. That sort of infrastructure (the social network that creates technical momentum) has a longer half-life than the technical innovation itself.
  10. The first real beach-head in the maturity of the tool set will be the arrival of the "usual suspects". Although some from the "Wired community" are on board (see boing boing), expect near term entries from the standard digerati.
  11. The rhetoric is heating up. With forecasts like "blogs will overturn conventional media by the end of 2002" circulating widely, there is relative assurance that this thing has the standard 3 year adoption windup. As near as we can tell, it's still year one.
  12. Blogging is a nuance. If the Bugler, the Scripting News, the Electronic Recruiting News and EGR haven't been blogs for the past 8 years, it's the underlying technology, not the form. That said, the nuance makes the form accessible to a far broader array of participants. Automatic transmissions, which made automobiles accessible to the majority, were a similar form of nuance.






Usability Is Not Generic

Neilsen's Top-10 Guidelines for Homepage Usability are an interesting starting point. But, don't think the battle is over because you have met a couple of graphic design rules. Usability is really a market targeting and segmentation exercise. The question is not "is this website usable for everyone?" Rather it is "is this material usable for my audience in the way that they want to use it?" That means that usability begins with the question "Who is my audience?"

While the high profile blogs and websites can afford to use guidelines about usability that apply to everybody, the challenge is more severe when communicating with a small group.

Many of the general principles of usability break down when applied to niche communications. When audience motivation is high, the idiosynchracies of a small author/publisher are endearing and actually facillitate usability. The exact same approach fails at 'scale'.

So, the next most important usability question is "How large is my audience?" followed immediately by "How motivated are they to consume my stuff?"




Blog Notes 1

It's exactly why techies don't fare well as marketers. The single most obvious flaw in Weblog design is that the full newsfeed (the home page) is seen as the most important component of the game. It certainly makes infinitely more sense for the full xml feed to be hidden so that readers pick form categories.

When I tell new readers about the 'blog', I inevitably send them to the root level of the folder. "Here's the blog at http://xxx.xxx.xxx". Truth is that they wouild be better served by being given a category as a target destination. I'd love to hide the full flow and have an ongoing dialog (comments about categories) about how to tailor the delivery into sub categories.

While the full newsfeed is the technical wonder, the utility is in the categorization. (Readers, in the "Channels" section are a number of categories; this entire -and obviously burdensome - flow of news is parceled into subgroups of material by category. It happens as a part of the publishing process)




Sumser Rides Again
A while back,  we exchanged mail with Dave Winer (head of Userland, the producer of Radio which we use to build the blog). The article is worth a short read