Archive for October, 2005

Other side of the coin: Web 2.0

Monday, October 24th, 2005

In all the excitement and rapture of Web 2.0 and the interesting qualities of Open Source and Pro-amateurs we need to take one step backwards and look at these issues with critical eyes.

I had just read some stuff about technological singularity, how the web might “awake” and perish us all. This is the least interesting stuff about singularity: the most interesting parts include the data about exponential growth of complexity in our society, which is useful to understand that we need to change the way we learn and connect information in our daily lives.

I among others tend to push Web 2.0, wikipedia and blogosphere everywhere I go as something that is more worth than what it really is. I’m interested in all of this and for a reason. I learn every day new things because there is so much innovation going on.

But look at Nicholas Carr’s “The amorality of Web 2.0″ and wake up for a moment. This might be a step backwards in terms of culture if things go horribly wrong. There is religious-like qualities in the way people worship technology in these exciting days. So…

…let’s can the millenialist rhetoric and see the thing for what it is, not what we wish it would be.

[: UPDATE :]

Excellent criticisms criticism by Evelyn Rodriguez. We should not forget that professionalism comes from somewhere. Amateurism is defined as having love and passion to what ever the amateur is doing. The result might be as professional as professional can be. Silicon Valley is full of amateurs. Today, we need no formal degree to be higher in the intellect, the world of higher self-education is in our finger tips.

Network orchestrators or influencers?

Friday, October 21st, 2005

When the world is moving towards a network economy we start to see new management practices emerging that take into account the fact that supply chains often include autonomous actors. Vertical companies in the past controlled the production of goods from start to end. Now globalization has resulted in increased competition and various verticals are starting to focus on their core competences and out-sourcing the rest. This transformation from vertical integration to horzontal integration requires new ways to think about how to improve the outcome of a supply chain. Often the approach is to emulate the past practices of leadership to cover the new structure, something that we may call network orchestration.

Often these new kind of supply chains are called networks. My definition of network limits a network to such an organization of nodes in which a node autonomously chooses whether or not to connect to another node or not. The driving force is win-win, in which both parties have mutual interest to cooperate or connect together.

I think this definition is somehow in lines with what Manuel Castells calls the network society. Today, many organizations see the ability to network as one of their core abilities to stay in business. This bottom-up behaviour is very different from the top-down organization where one node has total control over the other nodes and chooses who is part of the “network” and who is not. These are more like virtual organizations, intentionally managed by very powerful nodes.

If we think about the word “orchestrator”, the original meaning of orchestrator was to describe someone leading an orchestra:

Orchestration or arrangement is the study and practice of arranging music for an orchestra or musical ensemble. In practical terms it consists of deciding which instruments should play which notes in a piece of music.

– Wikipedia

Think about this for a moment. The orchestrator decides which instruments should play which notes in a piece of music. In business terms, if the music is the network, notes are business transactions and instruments are the various companies, we see that orchestrator is some single company in the middle who controls the whole masterpiece. There is no freedom for innovation, mutual partnerships or emergence. The structure is defined by one party and it stands. Sounds like a synonym for tyranny.

This is one of the reasons why I think that networks cannot be led like cattle. In true networks in which we have multiple autonomous actors, the most influential are hubs that have more connections than others. The reason why hubs exists is often the value that is generated through the hub, for example the connections the hub already possess and/or the value in the hub itself. In the book Linked, Barabasi explains the concept of so called scale-free networks in which the average connections per node follow a power-law distribution. Rich get richer, hubs that have a lot of connections have good chances to receive more connections than others. All successful ecosystems like life itself follow the properties of a scale-free network. In terms of the network, life is self-organizing itself.

In 1990, sociologist Elinor Ostrom argued that external authorities can damage communities that create common pool resources (CPR). Common pool resources are centrally important, because if the number of free-riders (overconsumers) in a network overpasses the number of actors that add more value in the network than they take, the network will fall apart. A self-regulating community which is collectively able to choose, modify and judge the rules, sanctions and conflict-resolution mechanisms that govern the community will be able to produce common pool resources and work towards a common goal. Once an external authority alone orchestrates all the rules, boundaries and sanctions, the members of the community will start to drive their own self-interest. This results in increase of the number of free-riders. Humans are very bad collaborators. Voluntary cooperation among other participants often emerges only if the community members are aware of being part of a community and have freedom to participate in creating the rules that define the community.

In today’s network economy it’s more important than ever to have qualities to become a hub. To become one, one needs to know how to be influential enough to create a lot of win-win opportunities for cooperation. This is leadership without leadership. Knowing how to be an influencer rather than an orchestrator.

Weblog usability

Monday, October 17th, 2005

Jakob Nielsen, the usability guru, writes about weblog usability. This is good reading for anyone who runs a weblog, as it highlights common mistakes both in writing & linking as in navigation.

I just moved my blog from blogspot and settled on WordPress as my personal publishing platform.

What I notice now with the usability critic hat on, is that a lot of weblogs include bad practices in their default installations.

For example, in this blog if you click on any entry (in the now default Kubrick design you can’t even see that the title is clickable), you get on a page that has no link back to where you came from, no clear links back to front page and no breadcrumbs or anything like that. Sheesh, what usability is that.

I need to fix this in my own blog when I have time. I also think I have too many categories to choose from. I need to focus the topic of this weblog more on social software.

Why web 2.0 is important for startups

Saturday, October 15th, 2005

Danah Boyd put me into thinking the relationship of startups with big corporations in front of web 2.0.

According to Boyd, Web 2.0 enables glocalization, customizing global information networks into local needs.

A startup has the agility and dynamics to move very fast. What they can do is innovate with emerging technologies and spin great services for local needs. What startups are especially useful for is to generate small compact products that do one thing very well.

If we connect small pieces loosely joined – the unified theory of the web – into this thinking, we see that startups play a very important role in creating small pieces.

I also think this small pieces thinking is the future of Open Source. So far we have emulated large proprietary software products with products like OpenOffice, Firefox and Linux.

In the other hand, the hundreds of thousands of small and uninteresting software pieces that are buried in services like SourceForge will play a much more important role in the future when Web 2.0 really busts into our reality. The loose-coupling of small Open Source pieces will result in rich value generation streams.

In the case of startups, the ability to build pieces that interconnect very well with other pieces on the market becomes a core success factor. Building blocks that are more like glue than cement is the way to go, pieces that support the emerging open standards of the web as a platform. Ability to connect a small piece with any other piece without any economic constraints is the key.

Big corporations will have the resources and ability to feed these startups with infoware, web services in which the information is more important than what software it runs. This enables a completely new layer to emerge on top of the web. In return, big corporations will have a rich stream of small pieces available, which they will use to create completely new types of services. It’s a natural symbiosis of large and small.

Insanity of time and place

Friday, October 14th, 2005

I still hear people talk about distant learning as being “independent of time and place” (“ajasta ja paikasta riippumatonta” in finnish). Last time I heard it was at the eLearning conference. Blah..

I had a deeper thought on this statement. In asylums we tend to categorize people in a very poor condition as having “no sense of time and place”.

I always thought there must be something rotten and mad behind that statement. As if the web is a shortcut to insanity.

Can we be independent of time? Originally I guess this has meant that we do not need to explicitly schedule time for an event. But being independent of time is not true, because we always need time, even if it’s in an informal setting outside of work or school. To be more spesific, we need time to focus our attention.

Can we be independent of place? When we first went online, we wanted to be part of a global village. The problem with villages is that no-one wants to be part of a global village. What we want to be part of is local social networks, as we will never be able to be emotionally connected to every social network in the world. You are more likely to share a common ground and feel like home with people who share the same cultural background. What happened the global village shattered into thousands of local pieces, having weak links between various local networks to form a global system. The talk that place and geography doesn’t matter is completely false. In physical terms, we will always need a safe place to access the digital world.

But the idea that community is some kind of a place with clear boundaries is blurring. I see myself as part of a loosely-defined community in a small corner of the blogosphere. When I go from link to link I find myself home in new houses I come across. The problem is I can’t see when I have crossed the line, whether or not I’ve entered the community I feel I’m already part of.

Having time in a nice and cozy place, I’m writing this and wondering… the networked computer is my 7th sense, an ability to tap into networks, having the world in my finger tips. I’m dependent of it to iterate my knowledge towards eternity in an exponential world. Without the network I feel alone, misaligned of time and place.