Archive for September, 2009

The Social Web’s impact on Management Theory

September 28th, 2009, by Ted Shelton | located in Conversations | No comments yet | trackback
An increasing number of people are talking about how social technologies -- social media, social networks, collaboration, reviews, crowd sourcing, etc -- are impacting our understanding of how organizations should be structured and how employees should be recruited, managed, and rewarded. On Wednesday of last week I presented an initial paper in London on this subject, based on my work with companies over the past decade or so: Open Management (opens PDF on Scribd website).

The last 10 years? Yes, in May of 2000 I joined Borland as its Chief Strategy Officer and had the pleasure of working with Doc Searls (one of the four authors of the Cluetrain Manifesto) who was working as a consultant to the company. Borland had decided to develop an open source development tools product, (Kylix for those of you who might wonder) and Doc had been retained to help the company understand the Linux "community" whatever that was!

As a technology firm working with software developers Borland already had a long history of using online forums to connect with customers. But I think it is fair to say that the experience of bringing a Linux product to market significantly increased our awareness of a new dynamic between companies and their markets. This has led me on a decade long exploration of social media, social networks, and a variety of other tools which I broadly group together under the name "social technologies." Social, not because it they are about fun but because they are about people doing things with other people. In other words, social as in sociology.

And organizations, especially corporations, are one of the most interesting places to study human social behavior. For generations now we have relied upon hierarchical structures to facilitate the coordination required for large numbers of people to act together. Now technology is offering an alternative to hierarchy, one which is proving to offer significant competitive advantages to early adopters, open source being one clear example.

In taking "open" as my label for this movement I seek to focus on the difference emerging from our twentieth century business constructs. All business is "social" -- but the 21st century will see an increasing number of open business models -- open management, open communications, open source, open support, open product development, open research... It is a great time to rethink assumptions and consider alternatives to everything we know in business!

Remaking the Local

September 20th, 2009, by Haydn Shaughnessy | located in Conversations | No comments yet | trackback

We are not frequent posters – opting instead to get a post up here when we have an observation that helps the underlying argument. Hope that explains the radio silence.

Over the past week or so I’ve been trying to think how to get back to the core argument. This goes something like:

There are profound changes underway in the economy and society and they are taking place at a point where a set of new ideas meets a set of new practices. We think we can understand the probable success of the new practices by understanding the power (emerging popularity) of the ideas.

The image is of the Sintesi concept car from Pininfarina. The picture  is an example of new fabrication technology (one of the big ideas in auto) that represents one of these joining points in ideas and economic activity. It offers up an example of how resilience (a key element of new ecological metaphors or bioconsciousness)  and personalisation and customer-driven configuration (the ability to create or hack what I wish to) meet. Here is a couple more images:

So the obvious question is – why is it so interesting? The answer lies in the involvement of Materialize, who specialise in Freeform Manufacturing. Here’s how they describe their speciality:
Freeform Manufacturing uses additive technologies (also referred to as 3D printing technologies), fully automated processes that don’t require molds and thus allow a virtually unlimited freedom in design. Today, these technologies are increasingly used in the production of concept cars. Gradually, this production method will be applied for the production of final cars as well.
I came across the Pininfarina example at 3D Print. The link is this: desktop fabrication that can power the design and data output to make complex objects, cheaply, is upon us. Materialize’s facilities are desktop factories writ large. In fact the DeskTop Factory project and others are aiming at providing that facility. The interesting development (or evolution) in personal fabrication (well not quite personal but certainly local at $5000 a pop) is self reproduction in fabbing technologies. Inevitably that idea is driven by an open source community. I think we are going to be surprised by what can be self-made and at the cost. The dream of self-fabricating things like autos is definitely one for the future but how absurd sane or is it? I had the pleasure a few years back of seeing a few of the micro-cars created by impoverished engineers in the 1940s. For the most part I was looking at German microcars. They were made out of whatever an engineer could find in the rubble. Here’s an image from the Museum of MicroCars (mostly models from the 1940s and 1950s). MicroCars were homemades and they were production models. Their distinguishing feature was a skilled engineer who knew the product’s totality. We might never get back to that but future production systems offer an opportunity for people to reinvent their interests and rebuild their communities. The term “bubble car” by the way seems to come from the aircraft cockpit inspiration for these early post War designs. Finally – talking about aircraft cockpits here are two pictures of the 1953 Messerschmitt KR175,

The Unbundling of “Augmented Reality” — Behold the Bionic Eye

September 13th, 2009, by Giovanni Rodriguez | located in Conversations | No comments yet | trackback

In a story that got a bunch of reporters and bloggers excited this week (check out the post on CNN.com), Babak Parviz, a professor at the University of Washington, recently wrote about LED and radio-powered contact lenses that could both monitor health and display information over the user’s visual field. The latter functionality — information display — was the bigger story this weeks, exciting the legions of writers who are following each and every advance in “augmented reality.”

In case you haven’t been following the trend story, augmented reality is a set of technologies that enable consumers to digitally display relevant data over the image of an object. Most AR projects and experiments, however, are being conducted on the screens of smartphones. For a great demo, see the video below, by the very hot Netherlands-based AR company, Layar.

The excitement — and hype — that the Parviz article is generating is understandable. While the bundling of various technologies on smartphones — computation, video display, GPS, compass technology, messaging — appear to be driving the adoption of augmented reality, in theory there’s nothing stopping savvy technology vendors from unbundling these technologies and adapting them to the way the body naturally performs in the physical world. The Parviz lens is not the only attempt to unbundle technology. Earlier this year, a team from the MIT Media Lab unveiled a prototype for an AR-like product that enables the consumer to project data on any surface.

On a more theoretical level, just this week Nokia released a demo for a group of products that work together to create a “mixed reality” for the consumer. The most interesting of the products was a pair of spectacles that project data — e.g., the weather, news headlines, text messages from your — above the main field of vision.

Critics of these various unbundlings claim that consumers will never allow themselves to be encumbered by new tech appendanges. But that’s what makes the contact lens so provocative. There are many of — people who are too vain — who would never wear glasses. And there are many of us — people who are too fussy, too lazy, or too disorganized — who would never wear contacts. But I’d bet that there are even more of us — people who just fear looking dorky — who would never walk down the street pointing our phones at people, places, and things. With the options for “better vision” ever increasing, AR is beginning to look like it’s really going to happen.

Call Center Robots Will Answer the Most Annoying Questions

September 11th, 2009, by Giovanni Rodriguez | located in Conversations | No comments yet | trackback

A Minneapolis company called Subjex is claiming a big first in artificial intelligence: a service that enables call centers to replicate the human voice — in text — for complex conversations with human beings. According to the press release (crossed the wire just a while ago):

The AiNDEE™ hosted dialogue customer service system is intended to simulate a call center’s best employee with text voice and animated chat, all from a website. It’s designed to empower organizations that operate call centers with a more cost-effective first tier customer sales and support. It’s different from traditional online help systems because it is 100% autonomous, does not require a live human operator to answer each question, yet rivals a human’s ability to converse in a narrow area of expertise. Its uniqueness is its ability to carry on true bi-directional conversation, where questions and answers are given and answered by both parties for clarity and understanding. It handles the redundancy questions that typically clog a call center and it facilitates a more natural and cost-effective escalation path to higher levels of support.

I like the bits about “redundancy questions,” and simulating a call center’s “best employee.” How about the system’s ability to answer annoying questions? Much has been written about the dangers of robotic technology. But one of the big plusses is the capability of doing things that the best employee cannot — or simply will not — do.

Nokia’s Future Product “Mix”?

September 9th, 2009, by Giovanni Rodriguez | located in Conversations | No comments yet | trackback

Helsinki-based Nokia has been steadily raising its profile in the U.S., using its Palo Alto research center as a hub for innovation. Today, the center released a video on YouTube that nicely articulates the company’s vision for one of the most innovative — if not just over-hyped — areas of innovation in mobile tech: augmented reality. The video — Nokia Mixed Reality — is well worth a look.

For the uninitiated, augmented reality is a set of technologies that enable businesses to overlay data on top of a consumer’s view (say, over a mobile phone). The technologies have been embraced by an army of marketers and developers, mostly outside of the U.S. But with recent news that some U.S. mobile phones can now run augmented-reality applications, U.S. consumers can expect to hear a lot more about the category over the next few months.

And what is Nokia’s vision? It’s a world turned on by augmented reality that doesn’t necessarily depend on the phone. That’s a rather evolved view for a phone manufacturer. But perhaps Nokia’s world, too, has become augmented.