Thursday, July 28, 2005

Communication Design

The means by which architects, planners, and builders communicate with clients and with the public are changing - and this is an inspiration to all of us Webbers working in the Internet world.

For the first time in history, communication professionals have a powerful, interactive, multimedia communication channel: the Internet. Direct, two-way communication of visual and spatial ideas with targeted audiences, motivates ambassadors' and ordinary citizens is now possible. Moreover, hypertext gives designers the ability to make powerful connections between isolated pieces of information, supporting collaborative design and group decision making.

Information designers (the web people, as one says) have unique communication requirements. Most of our work is described using graphical two- and three-dimensional media. These forms of communication content, link and relationship building are optimized for online communication buzzword alert: 360 degree communication) and are restricted by the standard one-dimensional documentation.

Geometrical or spatial thinking (based on three-dimensional models) is better suited for the next wave of web users - those born with online games, virtual libraries and Google. In a connected society, one in which stakeholders are demanding more participation than ever in planning their own lives, the Internet is giving everyone in a chance to communicate more effectively to an expanded audience.

Integration and synthesis are the core skills of an information designer. Taking disparate bits of information, making trade-offs, synthesizing them into a cohesive realization: hybrid training uniquely prepares them for this kind of problem solving. Information and, in general, internet design can be thought of as the ability to make connections among a producer needs and budget, a site, a palette of materials, code requirements and to shape those connections into a tangible piece of the environment - the internet landscape.

But no design can be realized without the ability to first communicate it to others, because communication is a collaborative art.

Much has been written about the apparent disconnection between how 'web people' are trained and the work they actually do.

In recent years the profession has renounced as archaic the ‘lone creator’ myth of designer portrayed in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. But web managers still think of themselves as visionaries, the one generalist in the entire PR, Media, Communications, marketing and advertising process who is able to conceptualize the whole. Indeed, many Webbers are attracted to the field precisely because of the opportunities it offers for integrative problem solving and the opportunity to create networks - virtually.

Virtual teaming is a buzzword very much in vogue throughout the industry, but it is nothing new in the information and internet design field. Teams of specialists that are assembled to create one project and then disbanded have been the norm for some time. Webbers have long known that such project teams require an intense coordination of efforts.

What is new is that such virtual teams can now be free from the constraints of physical co-location or even organizational affiliation. The Internet becomes both the source of new-found managerial complexity and the means of controlling it. It is certain that the function of coordination is more important than ever, but will that role continue to be the Internet Project Manager, or will a new kind of professional - the Information Manager - be needed? Any ideas?

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Media met the Web and then came Mobile

Somewhere between the mid-'90s and today, the WWW moved from technophile playground to 21st century marketplace. Along the way, well-established newspapers found themselves competing with upstart new-media companies for both readers and advertising dollars. Too bad for them - the message was getting out - ownership of information was waning .... or was it?

One of the earliest predictions about the World Wide Web was that it would eventually make available valuable information tucked away in countless books and periodicals previously accessible to only the most tenacious researchers. Soon after the mainstream public began to get online, however, it became clear that digging for data using search engines such as Google could be a frustrating, time-consuming affair.

By 1997, a nascent solution called “push” technology enabled media outlets to send news stories, stock quotes and other information directly to users’ computers rather than forcing them to log on to a Web site to access the same information. Though push quickly fizzled due to bandwidth and other issues, the concept lives on in two very different forms that newspapers recently have adopted for their own uses: RSS technology and the BlackBerry personal e-mail device.

RSS feeds—also known as Rich Site Summary and Really Simple Syndication—send story headlines and links to readers’ computers throughout the day based on the readers’ individual preferences. To subscribe to an RSS feed, readers only need a special piece of free or low-cost software such as FeedReader. The latest versions of Web browsers such as Apple Computer Inc.’s Safari and Firefox from the Mozilla Foundation of Mountain View, Calif., already contain RSS-reading capabilities.

Yet, a November 2004 survey from the Pew Internet & American Life Project in Washington found that only about 5 percent of Internet users subscribe to RSS feeds. The reason, many think, is because the technology is still too technical to be understood by most Web users.

This year, several newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times and The Denver Post, are expected to release their own software designed to make RSS feeds less intimidating and easier to use.

Realizing that the way RSS is presented to readers is “mysterious and so aimed at early adopters,” those at the Denver Post developed News Hound, based on an application called NewsGator from NewsGator, is expected to be released this summer.

The technically minded will probably say News Hound looks dumb, but it’s friendly. It doesn’t look like a Microsoft Outlook dialog box. And yes, there’s a doggie on it. There also is a place on the News Hound window to carry a banner ad, of course.

More importantly, it puts readers in complete control of their newspaper Web site experience. They will be able to choose to receive story links related to more than 100 different categories, including those pertaining to specific communities in the their respective metro area.

Another new-media technology is similarly changing the way news is consumed.

As of May 9, there were more than 3 million people worldwide using some form of the BlackBerry personal e-mail system from Research In Motion. In April, the handheld BlackBerry device became one of the latest distribution points for The Wall Street Journal’s online content - now that's platform agnostic!

Similar to the WSJ Mobile product for cell phones, the BlackBerry system picks up headlines that are “pushed” from the Web site and other internal news sources. The service also can be set up so that a BlackBerry device will emit a beep when news on a pre-specified company arrives, he says. The current version doesn’t allow for alerts based on other subjects.

Now we're all on the lookout for the next news dissemination technology. The mobile landscape, is always evolving. Screens will not last - mobile is where we should all be looking. I will.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Off Topic - All Rock, No Action


LIVE 8, that extraordinary media event that some people of good intentions in the West just orchestrated, would have left us Africans indifferent if we hadn't realized that it was an insult both to us and to common sense.

Read the rest ... here ...

here's the full text - the NYTimes is requireing login these days .....
Op-Ed Contributor

All Rock, No Action


Published: July 15, 2005 - Yaoundé, Cameroon

LIVE 8, that extraordinary media event that some people of good intentions in the West just orchestrated, would have left us Africans indifferent if we hadn't realized that it was an insult both to us and to common sense.

We have nothing against those who this month, in a stadium, a street, a park, in Berlin, London, Moscow, Philadelphia, gathered crowds and played guitar and talked about global poverty and aid for Africa. But we are troubled to think that they are so misguided about what Africa's real problem is, and dismayed by their willingness to propose solutions on our behalf.

We Africans know what the problem is, and no one else should speak in our name. Africa has men of letters and science, great thinkers and stifled geniuses who at the risk of torture rise up to declare the truth and demand liberty.

Don't insult Africa, this continent so rich yet so badly led. Instead, insult its leaders, who have ruined everything. Our anger is all the greater because despite all the presidents for life, despite all the evidence of genocide, we didn't hear anyone at Live 8 raise a cry for democracy in Africa.
Don't the organizers of the concerts realize that Africa lives under the oppression of rulers like Yoweri Museveni (who just eliminated term limits in Uganda so he can be president indefinitely) and Omar Bongo (who has become immensely rich in his three decades of running Gabon)? Don't they know what is happening in Cameroon, Chad, Togo and the Central African Republic? Don't they understand that fighting poverty is fruitless if dictatorships remain in place?

Even more puzzling is why Youssou N'Dour and other Africans participated in this charade. Like us, they can't help but know that Africa's real problem is the lack of freedom of expression, the usurpation of power, the brutal oppression.

Neither debt relief nor huge amounts of food aid nor an invasion of experts will change anything. Those will merely prop up the continent's dictators. It's up to each nation to liberate itself and to help itself. When there is a problem in the United States, in Britain, in France, the citizens vote to change their leaders. And those times when it wasn't possible to freely vote to change those leaders, the people revolted.

In Africa, our leaders have led us into misery, and we need to rid ourselves of these cancers. We would have preferred for the musicians in Philadelphia and London to have marched and sung for political revolution. Instead, they mourned a corpse while forgetting to denounce the murderer.

What is at issue is an Africa where dictators kill, steal and usurp power yet are treated like heroes at meetings of the African Union. What is at issue is rulers like François Bozizé, the coup leader running the Central Africa Republic, and Faure Gnassingbé, who just succeeded his father as president of Togo, free to trample universal suffrage and muzzle their people with no danger that they'll lose their seats at the United Nations. Who here wants a concert against poverty when an African is born, lives and dies without ever being able to vote freely?

But the truth is that it was not for us, for Africa, that the musicians at Live 8 were singing; it was to amuse the crowds and to clear their own consciences, and whether they realized it or not, to reinforce dictatorships. They still believe us to be like children that they must save, as if we don't realize ourselves what the source of our problems is.

Jean-Claude Shanda Tonme is a consultant on international law and a columnist for Le Messager, a Cameroonian daily, where a version of this article first appeared. This article was translated by The Times from the French.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

LA Times lets readers re-write the editorials

I know that it has already been discussed a bit throughout the blogosphere (here & here), but I would be remiss if I didn't bring it up here as well. LA Times recently deployed a wiki-based program that allows readers the ability to re-write published editorials.

Trouble stirring? Out of control? They call it wikitorial and as you see under the link - there been issues. As a culture, we're not quite there ... but almost. Wow.

I love the concept. True interactive journalism, without a doubt.

This begs the question if the wikitorial-ized opinion piece will differ much from the published editorial. After-all, we all tend to gravitate toward media that reinforce our own opinions. That said, people who tend to write letters to the editor are typically those who have deep reactions to media content - either for or against. Will a more conservative voice be heard in LA?

Hmmm ... you're not going to get me to make that prediction here.

This experiment is a wonderful move forward made by an organization that embraces interactive technology to engage their readers. I look forward to seeing how this program develops. I am sure their competition and the media establishment as well. Learn? Slowly, remember, it's not about the voice - it's the bottom line, stupid.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Traditional Media has now lost it's Edge

Change? Check this out ... when former Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael K. Powell watched television coverage of the London bombings last week, he noticed that most of the significant pictures didn't originate from professional photographers employed by news agencies. They came from witnesses at the scene using cell phones and digital cameras to document the tragedy.

"Journalists are trained not to be emotional, like a doctor doesn't fall in love with his patients," Powell said on CNN. "But people experiencing a tragedy can convey what actually happened while at the same time express deep emotion and engage in spirited storytelling. A photo of someone climbing up through train wreckage is extremely powerful. A reporter rolling up to the scene behind a police line can rarely give you that."

Before, blogging was largely fixated on the failure of mainstream media, ya, that's what I said - failure. Now it has become a necessary supplement, and in some cases, a substitute. But let's take this further - London showed that blogging has morphed into the art of raw, personalized storytelling.

As opposed to watching CNN or reading, which are fine for the facts but stale and bit removed the blog posts and Flickr photos beat them at their own 'all day, every day' game.

If you think about it, Technorati a real-time search engine for blog content, has become a public utility on a global scale.

While Google didn't invent the internet, it made it easier to navigate by organizing billions of web pages. Today there are about 12 million blogs, with 10 new ones created every second.

Since March, the number of posts has increased 40 percent a month, from about 350,000 a day to 850,000 a day.

At its essence, Technorati may be a search engine, but its approach is vastly different. Google, for instance, views the web as the world's largest reference library, where information is static. Instead of the Dewey Decimal System, Google employs its PageRank technology, which orders search results based on relevance. Google uses words like web page, catalogs and directory, which are more than just words: They convey an entire worldview.

In contrast, Technorati sees the, internet as a stream of conversations. This makes it much more immediate. Google requires two to three weeks to input a site into its search engine. (Although it does post frequently updated content from news sites.)

For Technorati, it takes about seven minutes to index a post. Those who use complementary tools like LiveJournal, AOL Journals and Blogger can expect their posts to pop up on Technorati almost instantaneously.

With Technorati, you know what is being said, when it is said, and who is saying it - you can track the metamorphosis of an idea, not only who commented on it last but who came up with it first.

In meme epidemiology, knowing the first person to say something is the first step to understanding the contagion, why some memes are contagious while others aren't - when you stop thinking of the web as pages and documents, you begin to understand it's all about people - read this line again - it's important.

I like to think of a blog as the record of the exhaust of a person's attention stream over time, you actually feel like you know the person. You see their style, the words they use, their kids, whatever there is.

Although I believe the emergence of Technorati and the rise of blogs may threaten mainstream media, the reality will probably be different. Both the established incumbency and radical innovators make the mistake of thinking they will replace the other. Just like cable news hardly writes news, instead broadcasting the front page of The New York Times, blogs and traditional media will become mutually dependent on each other.

In fact, they already are. Earlier this week, CBS announced it would launch a web log to comment on newscasts, joining a long list of cable news outlets, magazines and newspapers that have assimilated blogs into their websites.

Someone has to cut through all the contemporaneous smog, however, and that would be Technorati, which includes information about every poster in each search result. That way you can gauge bloggers' "net attention" -- calculated by the number of people who link to them -- so you can locate the most authoritative views.

One indication that the phenomenon that spawned three years ago has worked itself into the fabric of internet life is that in China, bloggers are using Technorati tags to get around government censors.

The Adopt-a-Chinese Blog program works by volunteers announcing their intention to host a blog on their server by employing a special Technorati tag. That way, bloggers in China can locate the blogs through a special page.

Since the pages are served outside of China, the government can't censor them. Isn't that was the digital devide is about - transfer of power - certainly traditional media can't claim that position anymore.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

What's a Blog to do ....

There's lots of hype around Blogging these days. I was recently at a conference where Jeff Jarvis of Buzzmachine was promoting himself and how he and Blogs will change the world. Listen, I've been in this biz for 20 years and here's my point of view...

Blogs were there in 1985 - they were called NewsGroups then
Blogs were there in 1992 - they were called AOL Chatrooms then
Blogs were there ion 1994 - they were called Websites then

There's nothing new about having an opinion and expressing that opinion. This forces us to explore questions of human agency and democratic process in the technical sphere through the example of "virtual community." The formation of relatively stable long-term group associations--community in the broad sense of the term--is the scene on which a large share of human development occurs.

As such it is a fundamental human value mobilizing diverse ideologies and sensitivities. The promise of realizing this value in a new domain naturally stirs up much excitement among optimistic observers of the Internet. At the same time, the eagerness to place hopes for community in a technical system flies in the face of an influential intellectual tradition of technology criticism. This eagerness seems even more naive in the light of the recent commercialization of so much Internet activity - read: BLOGS.

Adding to the theoretical challenge, let's discuss the generalizing about patterns of media power - the core question of just what we mean by media these days.

With the fragmentation of mass media channels and audiences, and the proliferation of new digital communication formats, it is difficult to draw sharp boundaries around discrete media spheres. As various media become interactively connected, information flows more easily across technological, social, and geographical boundaries. Which brings us to yet another chapter: the rise of global protest networks aimed at bringing social justice to the neo-liberal world economic regime.

These activist networks have used new digital media to coordinate activities, plan protests, and publicize often high quality information about their causes. Considerable evidence suggests that global activists have not only figured out how to communicate with each other under the mass media radar, but how to get their messages into mass media channels as well. They are doing better than most. Communication and media professionals - watch this channel - there's something here that we need to learn.

Many activists are sharply critical of mass media coverage, often charging that the press and officials have criminalized their protest behaviors. However, it is also clear that global activists have neither been isolated nor destroyed by mass media filtering.

The dense information networks of the Web offer ample evidence of internal communication. Large numbers of mass actions around the world have received extensive, if generally negative, media coverage. At the least, such coverage signals the presence of a movement that is demanding a say in world economic policies and their social and environmental implications. Finally, numerous campaigns against corporate business practices, trade and development policies have received favorable coverage in leading media outlets.

All that said, Blogs are being sourced and quoted all the time - look at the Nike uproar over Indonesian slave labor, Dan Rather, - Iraqs first blog - what are we going to do about it? Are we going to speak up? Like I said - freedom of speech isn't new but in this dense landscape of information - be smart, be precise, be intelligent.

Present a balanced view, invite challenges and let the games begin!

Who's Left? Right! (part two)


Last century, machines proved they could replace human muscle. This century, technologies are proving they can outperform human left brains - they can execute sequential, reductive, computational work better, faster, and more accurately than even those with the highest IQs. (Just ask chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov.)

Transfer of power, right?

Consider the financial services industry - one of the first to be overhauled by the effects of the internet. Stockbrokers who merely execute transactions are history. Online trading services and market makers do such work far more efficiently. The brokers who survived have morphed from routine order-takers to less easily replicated advisers, who can understand a client's broader financial objectives and even the client's emotions and dreams.

Or take lawyers. Dozens of inexpensive information and advice services are reshaping law practice. With an uncontested legal divorce online for $249, who needs to pay the cost of a divorce lawyer. The Web is cracking the information monopoly that has long been the source of many lawyers' high incomes and professional mystique. Consequently, legal abilities that can't be digitized - convincing a jury or understanding the subtleties of a negotiation - become more valuable.

In the old days, anybody with even routine skills could get a job as a programmer. That isn't true anymore. The routine functions are increasingly being turned over to machines. The result: As the scut work gets offloaded, engineers will have to master different aptitudes, relying more on creativity than competence.

Any job that can be reduced to a set of rules is at risk. If a $500-a-month accountant in India doesn't swipe your accounting job, TurboTax will. Now that computers can emulate left-hemisphere skills, we'll have to rely ever more on our right hemispheres.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Who's Left? Right! (part one)

When I was a kid in small time Canada, getting good grades, going to university, and pursuing a profession that offers a decent standard of living was what one did. If you were good at math and science, become a doctor. If you were better at English and history, become a lawyer. If blood grossed you out and your verbal skills needed work, become an accountant. Later, as computers appeared on desktops and magical CEOs on magazine covers, those who were really good at math and science chose high tech, while others flocked to business school, thinking that success was spelled with an M and a B and then an A.

During this time, Peter Drucker coined an enduring, if somewhat wonky, name: knowledge workers. These are, he wrote, "people who get paid for putting to work what one learns in school rather than for their physical strength or manual skill." Any of us could join their ranks. All we had to do was study hard and play by the rules of the game. That was the path to professional success and personal fulfillment.

But a funny thing happened while we were pressing our noses to the grindstone: The world changed. The future no longer belongs to people who can reason with computer-like logic, speed, and precision. It no longer belonged to those that 'owned' the information. The future is starting to belong to a different kind of person with a different kind of mind. Right? Right!

Scientists have long known that a neurological Berlin Wall cleaves our brains (100 billion cells forging 1 quadrillion connections) into two regions - the left and right hemispheres. The left hemisphere handles sequence, literalness, and analysis. The right hemisphere, meanwhile, takes care of context, emotional expression, and synthesis.

Until recently, the abilities that led to success in school, work, and business were characteristic of the left hemisphere. They were the sorts of linear, logical, analytical talents measured by year end exams and GMATs. Today, those capabilities are simply no longer sufficient. In a world upended by outsourcing, overwhelmed with unstructured data, and choked with choices, the abilities will make the most impact are the specialties of the right hemisphere - artistry, creativity, empathy, seeing the big picture, and pursuing the transcendent.

Beneath the nervous clatter of our half-completed decade stirs a slow but seismic shift. The Information Age, yes, that time that some of you are still waiting for... well, it's already ending! Rising in its place is what may be called the 'Conceptual Age'.

The effect: the scales tilting in favour of right brain-style thinking. The causes fall along the same 'China and Chips' argument but if I expanded this argument, I think they are: Asia, automation, and abundance.


Few issues today spark more controversy than outsourcing. White-collar workers in India, the Philippines, and China are scaring the holy smokes out of software jockeys across North America and Europe. And it's not just tech work. Visit India's office parks and you'll see chartered accountants preparing American tax returns, lawyers researching American lawsuits, and radiologists reading CAT scans for Canadian hospitals.

As the cost of communicating with the other side of the globe falls essentially to zero, as India becomes the country with the most English speakers in the world, and as developing nations continue to create extremely capable knowledge workers, the professional lives of people in the West will change dramatically.

Narrow left-brain work such as basic computer coding, accounting, legal research, and financial analysis is migrating across the oceans. Wanna get ahead? You must do right-brain work better.

In a few days, I talk about the 2nd cause - automation. You get it, Right?

PS: If you are reading this Annina, I was only kidding about the 'year end exams'. They are still VERY important for you!!

Friday, July 08, 2005

Why do I Write this Stuff?

I received quite a large number of emails and comments about my last few posts. As a general response to some of the requests, I will and do respond to comments but I don't write posts about specific topics on request. I don't want to show the comments on the blog - people comment directly to me, not to the general audience. It's a privacy issue, I guess and I do respect the privacy of everyone that writes me.

I do weave in answers to your questions in my posts but I will now answer the most often asked question.

Why do I write this stuff?

I don't really want to get political but the internet, for me, represents a true transfer of power. The only transfer of power that I want to discuss openly in the transfer of information from those who control it to those that don't. Look to what the internet has done to our world. Not the regular hype and bla bla. Look at the real change.

To me, it represents a true information revolution. There was a time where the saying, 'information is power' held true. But today, it is the use of information that exercises real power. The transfer of information has balanced this power polarity. and is making the world a better place.

Imagine - free information. Free power to change your own life. Free facts to evaluate. Free decision assistance at your finger tips.

MIT now offers several of it's courses online! Free! All you need in an internet connection. Imagine what that means to someone who cannot afford an MIT diploma.

Another example (besides the obvious commercial applications) is health information. A true social change is happening right in front of our eyes. Patients are now more informed than the doctors. Patients can now inform themselves and make their own simple diagnosis without religious, commercial or political baggage. This is saving lives right now. Imagine. The internet saving lives.

Imagine how that is shaping the minds of people in developing nations, changing attitudes, changing actions. War on terrorism? This is where is starts. Give the people the information they need to educate themselves; the information to make better and more informed decisions. This is the transfer of power that scares those in control. From doctor to patient, from lawyer to client, from financial institutes to people trying to make an extra buck.

The change is good. It's worth the price. That's why I write about the internet. It is changing our world. My world. Me. You.

Now, that is powerful, eh?

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Complex Problems Require Sophisticated Solutions

Does a complex problem need a complex solution? Do we need a complex application in order to manage complex relationships? Is it really that hard to get information to a targeted audience? My own beliefs and practice I would say no.

Whether you like it or not, cyberspace has become the new frontier for establishing relationships. People are making friends, colleagues, lovers, and enemies on the internet. People are building relationships with organizations on the Internet. Right now... and now ... and now.

The fervor with which many people have pursued this new social realm is matched by a backlash reaction from the skeptics. Relationships on the internet aren't really real, information cannot be trusted. Building realtionships in cyberspace is just a cultural fad, a novelty, a phase that people go through. The critics say it can't compare to real relationships - and if some people prefer communicating with others via wires and circuits, there must be something wrong with them. They must be addicted. They must fear the challenging intimacy of real relationships. The critics are usually the ones being denied their control!

I'm not talking about natural assembly or artificially complex systems, nor about anarchy vs. organization. I'm talking about communication channels, key messages, and the underlying technology that helps support comprehensive results - results that we can actually use in our day-to-day lives!

As the technology and communications function undergo unparalleled market growth, so too does the regulatory environment for businesses operating in, or making the transition to, the new information economy. This is good to a certain extent. Health information is under attack. Just like the health care industry, both private and public.

But just like intelligent stock trading alerts, why can't we have smart information alerts with a credability valuation or certificate? What are we aiting for?

In my environment, working for a large Pharmaceutical company, no one can argue against the fact that we have some pretty sophisticated solutions. Certainly computational biology and bioinformatics are a necessary (albeit, very exciting) evil but what about the business solutions that we are asked to develop. Is complexity getting the upper hand? Is IT trying to out-complex the business world? I believe it is.

So the goal is to increase the sophistication and minimizing the complexity.

We can do this by:
  • Aligning tools to co-exist your corporate processes and culture
  • Implementing a portfolio management system (understand where the sinergies within the organization are)
  • Overcoming the fear that technology will replace management experience and intuition
  • Removing the stigma of the “black box”. Increase transparency.
  • Standardize on a technology and information platform – corporate vs. business unit vs. Country organization
  • Understand that Global-Local is really Global-Local-Global
  • Incentives in place that reward strategically aligned recommendations and decision making
In an ideal world, we could have it both ways. We could manage our relationships in-person and in cyberspace, thereby taking advantage of each realm. But we don't always have the luxury of ideal circumstances. Move towards integrating the channels and apply the best channel by evaluating the customer needs.

In the not too distance future, most people will have three types of social lives that will be distinct but overlapping. We'll manage relationships only in-person, only via the internet, and both in-person and online. This is how we will inform ourselves and others. This is how we will adapt and learn. This behavior modification is key to our success.