Category Archives: Technology

News and analysis about the world of information technology and innovation.

Using Scenario Analysis to Predict the Future of the Semantic Web

Next week I will have the privilege of speaking to the Special Libraries Association (SLA) once again. The SLA audience is always interested and engaging, and I always have a lot of fun. I’m really excited to get another chance to talk two topics I really enjoy: the semantic web and scenario analysis.

The “semantic web” is a nebulous and imprecise term. It is generally intended to apply to a collection of technologies that unify digital content with meaningful meta-data. The semantic web makes it possible for computers to process textual or spoken information the way computers have traditionally processed numerical data. Semantic technologies make it possible for computers to “understand” the concepts that are embedded in written and spoken language.

The semantic web is a truly disruptive technology. It will make new products and services possible, many of which are futuristic or unimaginable today. Apple’s Siri, IBM’s Watson and the Wolfram Alpha search engine are contemporary examples of semantic technologies. Readers may be aware of the quirks and limitations of these tools. Disruptive technologies improve on logarithmic or exponential scale. Most critics assume that these technologies will improve on the same linear scale that defines most incumbent technologies.

The role of the information professional changed with the introduction of quality search engines, e.g. Google. Search engines made it easier for non-experts to find information. For librarians the search engine was a disruptive technology. The semantic web will make it possible for computers and search engines can understand the meaning of digital content. This will make sophisticated search, retrieval and processing of information possible for non-experts.

Scenario analysis is one of my favorite competitive intelligence and strategy tools. It’s a very advanced method for developing a vision about the future and enriching strategic dialog. Scenario analysis cuts through cognitive biases that hobble many organizations when they try to plan for long-term futures. When it is used well a scenario analysis can inform a robust set of early warning activities.

Is the semantic web a threat or an opportunity for information professionals? Anyone who wants to dig in their heels and protest the technology is likely to lose that battle. So how information professionals align their skills with the change the semantic web will bring? These are the questions my audience and I will explore. We’ll apply the tools of scenario analysis to create a view on four possible futures for the semantic web.

I hope to see you at SLA 2012 in Chicago.

If you are unable to see the SlideShare embed please feel free to download the PDF.

Doubleplusgood

I’ve been exploring the potential of Google+, the new social media platform from Google. So far the platform appears to have a lot of potential as a platform for team collaboration and communication. It feels more professional (like Twitter or LinkedIn) than social (like Facebook).

Please feel free to add me to one of your circles there. Here’s my Google+ profile.

If you don’t have an invite yet leave a comment and I will send one to you (while Google lets me).

The Competitive Intelligence – IT Interplay

I am currently taking part in a survey of Competitive Intelligence (CI) practitioners by a UK graduate student.  I’ll share more about the survey results once that is complete.  This week the survey included a back-and-forth on the impact of Information Technology (IT) on the effectiveness of the CI team.  While I am a strong proponent of the importance of IT for organizational effectiveness, I was surprised upon reflection that I hadn’t thought about the importance of IT for the effectiveness of CI.  It only makes sense that IT, with its multiplier effect on productivity and communications reach, would contribute (or detract) from the effectiveness of a CI function.  The key attributes that determine this interplay, I believe, are the technical savvy of the CI team (especially the manager) and the enablement mindset of the IT group.

Here is the original survey question that motivated this line of thinking: There could be so much information (data) out there that you have to use technology to filter and aggregate data to help internal clients sort through what they need to read. Also, my thoughts are that technology should be used to capture internal knowledge and disseminate analysis to internal clients. Therefore from your perspective do you believe that leveraging CI as a competitive weapon is dependent on the technology infrastructure that an organisation have? Do you believe the notion that without a technology infrastructure CI data is wasted; thus impacting scenario analysis and competitive advantage?

This was a very interesting question, and this is what motivated my reflection on the topic of the interplay between IT and CI.  Rather than simply conclude that the determining factor is availability of IT, it seems that the CI manager’s ability to get the maximum value from IT was also a critical element.

I’ll apologize in advance that my answer, as written, can be read to reflect the stereotype that tends to equate age inversely with technology savvy.  This is a relationship that is not as simple as generational stereotypes would lead us to believe.  Likewise the tendency to rely or defer to the corporate IT group’s authority on all technology issues is not really directly correlated to the CI manager’s age.

Here is the complete text of my answer on the subject:

An important role for the CI professional to add value is to function as a combination of a human filter and aggregator that also provides historical and industry context for the information that does make it through that filter.  Particularly in circumstances when there is a large volume of data and information, technology can play an important role in the successful execution of this role by the CI professional.

Older professionals tend to be more completely dependent upon the corporate IT function to provide all of the technology tools they will use in the process of doing their job.  These are the CI managers that purchase proprietary CI-specific software packages that purport to simplify the process of information aggregation, analysis, product creation and dissemination.  Often these professionals will rely very heavily on their corporate IT function to install, maintain and train on these custom tools.  The IT staff will not necessarily step up to these expectations,  and often these tools and the support needed to implement and maintain them come at considerable capital and operational expense.  Often technology will be a large part of a CI professionals budget, and these budgets are very often modest.  To the extent that this CI manager sees technology as adding value their ability to leverage that value will be dependent upon the corporate IT function.  Some managers in this situation may decide that technology is not an option that can realistically add value to what they are trying to do.

By comparison, technologically savvy and generally younger CI professionals come to the job with a clear understanding of the functionality that is available from standard tools e.g. Microsoft Office and inexpensive or freely-available hosted solutions e.g. Google Reader.  These professionals will often devote much effort to working around the limitations imposed by the business IT function.   In this paradigm IT’s role can either be an enabler or an obstacle.  In the instances where IT staff is an obstacle, the CI professional must expend effort and budget to work around barriers to use cloud-based services, purchase software or hardware.  In instances where IT is an enabler, technology savvy CI professionals can deliver maximum value for money of technology by leveraging free and low cost solutions as well as engaging with the IT staff for custom or proprietary solutions that will deliver additional value.

As I answered this question a two-by-two matrix became obvious to me based on the technical savvy of the CI professional and also the enablement mindset of the IT staff.  There are really four scenarios for the interplay of CI and IT, and they are as follows:

High Tech Savvy of the CI Professional, High Enablement Mindset of IT Staff

The best of all worlds.  The CI professional is able to leverage the best free and low-cost technologies, and guidance from IT makes sure that this is done in a manner that protects corporate information.  The IT team is also available to support software implementation or custom projects that will deliver additional CI value.  These higher-cost solutions will only be implemented (and hence the costs incurred) when the tech-savvy CI professional can envision and execute to deliver value from these solutions.

High Tech Savvy of the CI Professional, Low Enablement Mindset of IT Staff

In this model the CI professional is able to take advantage of free and low-cost solutions, but incurs risk for themselves and the organization in doing so.  Many of the steps that the CI professional will take to work around obstacles (such as web filters, blocking access to resources, locking down company-owned hardware, etc.) will result in sensitive corporate information placed on key drives, employee-owned equipment and in an unsafe manner in cloud applications.  The CI team will not have any leeway to implement value-added, premium technology solutions.

Low Tech Savvy of the CI Professional, High Enablement Mindset of IT Staff

This is perhaps the scenario that delivers the lowest value for money.  The CI manager will tend to rely on expensive software tools without considering inexpensive means to achieve the same ends.  The IT organization will be able to support these efforts, and often the IT team will be asked to support non-standard applications and actually support the CI team in a highly operational manner.  This comes with great opportunity costs because of the other IT projects that cannot be undertaken or the CI resources that cannot be purchased because of the high-touch support the CI team requires.


Low Tech Savvy of the CI Professional, Low Enablement Mindset of IT Staff

In this scenario the CI team is very limited in their ability to deliver value through manual means only.  In any industry that is even remotely dynamic this scenario cannot stand for long.

Those thoughts are based on quick reflection and some minimal analysis.  I’m interested in hearing what the broader CI community thinks.  A couple of questions bubble to the top for me:

  1. How can CI professionals that might recognize they lack technology savvy address this gap?
  2. What are the most important knowledge and skills of “technology savvy?”
  3. What is the relationship between business risk (usually related to to information security) and cost in IT support for Competitive Intelligence.

I’m interested in reading what you think.  Please share your thoughts in the comments.

My Top Personal Productivity Technologies of 2010

As we welcome Baby New Year 2011 we are deluged with lists of the bests and worsts of 2010 and the trends to look forward to for 2011.  I didn’t want to be completely left out of the fun.

One trend we saw gain traction in 2010 was the consumerization of IT.  Tools that are available to individuals make creativity and productivity possible that cannot or has not yet been duplicated by our corporate IT departments.  I felt the benefits  of this trend in 2010.  So I’ve decided to do a list of my top personal productivity technology of 2010.

Hardware

I’m beginning this survey with hardware because there was a new entry into the world of hardware that makes new, unimagined kinds of productivity possible: the iPad.

Apple iPad: My status as an Apple fanboy remains intact.  I was able to resist buying an iPad for all of about two days.  I found myself in the Apple Store and was unable to resist.  The functionality completely blew me away.  An iPad is so much more than a big iPhone or touch computer.

For starters, the iPad has liberated me from my laptop in situations where a digital device would be useful but a laptop would be unwieldy.  I am a lean, mean tweeting machine now at conferences.  I can actually get work done on a plane with no worry that the guy in the seat in front of me is going to snap my laptop in two!  I watch many more video podcasts, TV shows and movies.  The iPad has replaced both physical books (everywhere possible) and my Amazon Kindle.  As you read my other 2010 tech picks you’ll see that the iPad played a central role in my 2010 productivity improvements.

Fujitsu ScanSnap Pro: 2010 was the year of the home office upgrade project.  Starting from mid-year I took on a project that lasted until last week to upgrade my home office.  While this is the sort of project that I never really finish, I was very successful in one area: eliminating excess paper.

I had file cabinets bursting with old records and files.  I was able to scan these files quickly and eliminate a significant amount of clutter with the easy-to-use Fujistu ScanSnap Pro.  The hardware handles stacks of pages in short order.  The software was phenomenal.  After I eliminated the backlog of old files I can now scan new documents like bills, records and receipts as they come in.  I save up these files to do a clean-up once every week or so, and it takes literally minutes.

GeekDesk:  A few years ago I was experiencing some pain in my lower back.  For several weeks I worked at a standing workspace that I kludged together in the kitchen.  I felt like I had more energy and more concentration when I worked standing up.  I did like to take a load off a few times during the day for some relaxed reading, too.

GeekDesk is a large desk that I can raise and lower through the magic of hydraulics.  I generally lower the desk once a day for longer conference calls or webinars.  The desk itself is very attractive with room for my two laptops, monitor, speakers, iPad, iPhone, podcast microphone, lamps, etc.

Software

Another trend we saw garner a huge amount of attention in 2010 was “the cloud.” The software packages I found most valuable in 2010 either incorporate cloud elements or take advantage of the cloud in some way.

MindNode: Mind mapping has quickly become the way that I create my best work, project plans and outlines.  It’s also the most enjoyable approach to planning or mapping a complex project.  Much of what I created in 2010, including this and most other entries on this blog began as a mind map.

I really like the MindNode software because there is a version for my Macintosh, iPad and iPhone.  I can also export a mind maps in several formats, including an image of the mind map or an OPML file.  The latter is useful and beneficial because I can import OMPL files into OmniOutliner or OmniFocus on my Macintosh.  From OmniOutliner I can transform the mind map into an outline and finally into the finished written product or presentation.  In OmniFocus I can turn the outline into a full project plan, because OmniFocus is the software I use to track my projects and action items.  The integration is nearly seamless, and the mind map can move in my personal workflow from brainstorm to plan to action.

Notational Velocity and SimpleNote: For several years I’ve been using the simple TextEdit application to take notes on my Mac.  This year I installed a simple note-taking program on my Mac called Notational Velocity.  With it I can quickly create a new note.  It’s really easy to quickly search my notes library to find the notes from the specific meeting or on a topic.

Notational Velocity synchronizes my notes library with SimpleNote, a combination of a cloud service and iPhone/iPad app.  Thanks to synchronization I can access, edit or add notes on any of my devices.

1Password: For a long time I engaged in the bad security practice of using the same password for multiple sites, and often weak passwords at that.  Recently the password breach at Gawker Media put the fear of God in me about my password security.  I knew that I needed to do something, but I was very annoyed by the proliferation of sites and software that required log in credentials.

1Password was the answer that I’ve been waiting for all my life!   I had been hearing about 1Password on various podcasts for a long time.  With the Gawker breach I finally caved.  Not only does 1Password manage your log-in credentials, it can generate very strong passwords so that you can have insanely difficult, unique passwords for all of your accounts.  All of these are saved in an encrypted file that itself is password protected– you have to remember that one on your own, and you should make it a strong one.  1Password syncs among my Mac, iPad and iPhone, so the tough passwords are always with me.  There is a plug-in for all of the major web browsers (including my beloved Chrome) so that I can easily provide log-in credentials when I go to a web site.  This software is so great because it has both increased my level of security and made my life easier all at once.  Take that, TSA!

Cloud Service

DropBox: Having access to important files across all of my machines has always been a major challenge, particularly work files between my personal laptop and my work laptop.  DropBox helped save me a lot of time swapping files on key drives, and also helped me avoid version control problems.  DropBox also is a functional back-end for synchronizing files across devices for other software (such as 1Password).  DropBox is what Apple’s MobileMe iDisk should be.  It just works amazing well and plays so nicely with the other toys.

Back-ups

In addition to paranoia about passwords, I’ve taken some life lessons from friends who have lost valuable data due to hard drive failures and laptop theft to create a good back-up strategy.  I roughly follow the model of having multiple back-ups in multiple places, including off-site:

Carbonite: This is a very easy-to-use service to back-up my laptop to the cloud.  Carbonite is constantly adding my new and updated files to an encrypted cloud back-up.  Carbonite addresses the need for an off-site back-up that will save your data in the event of a major disaster at your home that destroys your hard drive.

Carbonite does not back-up any material on external hard drives but has the benefit of being so extremely easy to use.  Carbone recently rolled out an app for the iPhone and iPad that you can use to access your files that are stored in your back-up.

ChronoSync and my Drobo: ChronoSync is a software application that I used to create scheduled back-ups of specific folders on my laptop.  Deep in the cold, dark night it backs up my documents, iTunes media and iPhoto files to my Drobo each and every night.

The Drobo is an external hard drive enclosure that holds multiple hard drives in a RAID-like array for on-board data duplication.  You can add storage capacity with new or larger hard drives.  While the Drobo is more expensive than a traditional RAID it is easier to set up and maintain.

SuperDuper: I use this application to copy my entire laptop hard drive to an external hard drive.  This is a complete, bootable duplication.  I run this a couple of times a month and stash the hard drive in a secure place.  If ever something happens to my laptop I can boot a Macintosh directly from this back-up and pick up right where I left off.

iPad Software

Worthy of special mention are the many apps that I have found indispensable on my iPad.  Some of these are translations of software for the Macintosh that I’ve already mentioned: MindNode, 1Password and SimpleNote.  Others are worth a bit more background:

OmniFocus: I love the software that the Omni Group creates, and OmniFocus is my favorite.  I’m an adherent to David Allen’s Getting Things Done
framework for personal productivity, and OmniFocus is a project and task tracker created from the ground-up with GTD in mind.

OmniFocus on the iPad is a thing of beauty and a joy to use.  It’s strange but true that the form factor actually makes it easier to plan out my projects and tasks.  The software synchronizes with OmniFocus on my Mac and my iPhone.  I’ve already mentioned how I can bring my mind maps from mind node into OmniFocus for the Mac.  This application ecosystem has enabled me to create a terrific workflow.

Reeder:  This is a great RSS reader application that synchronizes with my Google Reader account.  I can quickly look through all of the new items from my RSS feeds, share items of interest or send articles I want to read in-depth the Instapaper.

Instapaper: This is a great combination of a service and application that lets me take web pages I want to read in detail and read them offline.  The app pulls out the text for a clean, easy to read view of news articles, blog posts and the like.  I can download articles to my iPad and read them even when I do not have an Internet connection.  I save up articles of deep interest and set aside some time to read them when I can give them the appropriate level of attention.  I save up some long-form articles for when I’m going to be on a plane.

Looking Forward to 2011 and Some Remaining Honorable Mentions from 2009

2010 was a great year for technology enabling personal productivity, mostly because of some of the tools that the cloud and iPad make possible.  Some older tools from 2009 remain favorites, e.g. Google Apps, Google Voice and my Verizon Wireless MiFi.

There are technology tools that I’m aware of and want to add to my toolbox for even greater productivity in 2011:

Diigo: Social bookmarking that takes where Delicious started and builds from there.

TextExpander: I’ve owned the application on my Mac and iOS devices but have yet to make the best use of it.  TextExpander lets you create shortcuts for text snippets to save you from typing them again and again.

Hazel: File management automation for the Macintosh.  Specifically Hazel would help me streamline some of my paperless office workflows.

OmniPlan: Also from the Omni Group, this is what Microsoft Project should be.  I’ve used it a bit in the past and always found it useful.  In 2011 I expect I’ll need to add this to my traditional workflows for more complex projects that require coordination with large groups of people and stakeholders.  I also have several repeatable project workflows that I want to “standardize.”

GoToMeeting: I have to say that Citrix designs some great projects.  I like the simplicity and functionality of GoToMeeting compared to some of the other packages out there.  I’m looking forward to using GoToMeeting for some personal projects that require virtual collaboration.

Verizon Wireless iPhone: I don’t know that it’s coming, and would definitely NOT be blogging about it if I did know.  We all expect it, though.  I for one can’t wait for the best device on the best mobile network in the US.  Insert standard Verizon employee disclaimer here.

What was your favorite tech tool of 2010 and what were you able to do with it?  What tools are you adding to your toolbox for 2011?

The Level(3) – Comcast Spat is not About Net Neutrality

Recently there has been a lot of coverage about a disagreement between Comcast and Level(3) related to carriage of streaming video from Netflix.  On November 29 Level(3) issued a press release that claimed “Comcast is effectively putting up a toll booth at the borders of its broadband Internet access network, enabling it to unilaterally decide how much to charge for content which competes with its own cable TV and Xfinity delivered content.”  These claims confuse peering with network neutrality.  This is also an interesting clash of two competitors’ distinct strategies.

Netflix Picks Level(3) for their Content Delivery Network

In  November Level(3) won a contract to become the primary Content Delivery Network (CDN) provider for Netflix (Reuters Canada Report).  Previously Akamai was Netflix’s primary CDN.  The switch to Level(3) is a BIG deal because Netflix streaming content can represent up to 20% of all downstream Internet traffic during primetime television watching hours.  That estimation comes from this report from network policy solutions provider Sandvine issued in October.

The FCC and pundits took much interest in Level(3)’s claims.  This attention comes at a sensitive time for broadband providers in general and Comcast specifically:

Comcast sent a letter to the FCC (pdf) explaining their perspective on the disagreement.  Comcast counterclaims “Level 3 is trying to game the process of peering – one that has worked well and consensually, without government interference, for over a decade – in order to gain a unique and unfair advantage for its own expanding CDN service.”

Everything You Could Ever Possibly Want to Know about CDNs

CDNs like Akamai, Level(3), Amazon, AT&T and Limewire deliver high-volume, delay intolerant Internet traffic faster than can be provided over a general purpose Internet backbone.  Your Netflix streaming movie, your YouTube video, your friends’ photos on Facebook and your iTunes download all rely on CDNs.  Generally CDNs consist of the following 3 components:

  1. CDN-owned Internetworking Protocol (IP)-based backbones that employ traffic prioritization technologies such as MPLS and DiffServ.  These technologies are used in corporate Internet backbones to differentiate the performance and priority of various types of traffic.
  2. Distributed servers that duplicate content with high-volumes of downloads  by end users.  When you click on today’s most-read article from the New York Times or “The History of Dance” on YouTube the content is being served up by a CDN server instead of the New York Times or YouTube servers.
  3. Interconnection with broadband providers.  The closer these interconnects are to the user requesting the content the faster and more efficiently the content can be served.  These interconnects are commercial arrangements between the CDNs and broadband providers.  The more interconnects a CDN has the more reliable the content delivery.  These interconnects are based on standard peering agreements (see more about peering below).

CDNs Improve the End User ExperienceThe purpose behind CDNs is to distribute infrastructure to achieve efficiency and improve end users’ experience.  Building a CDN is a capital expense, and there is a direct relationship between the capital deployed, network efficiency and the end user experience.  The better CDNs charge more to cover the up-front capital costs of building their superior CDN and can demand a premium because of the end user experience they are able to deliver.

Being Judged by a Jury of Your Internet Backbone Peers

Most people know that the Internet is a network of networks that use the Internetworking Protocol.  These include public nets, private nets, long-haul nets, metropolitan nets, local nets, fat nets, skinny nets, nets that climb on rocks…

Two nodes on the Internet do not have to be connected to the same network to exchange traffic.  As users access Google, Netflix, Facebook or any other sources of content available via the Internet the traffic to and from those sources traverses multiple networks.  Each “hop” comes with a (usually very minor) delay.

Networks are constantly trading traffic back and forth with one another.  Networks that exchange a lot of traffic with establish private peering interconnections to facilitate those exchanges.  The idea is that peers Network Provider A and Network Provider B will move roughly equivalent amounts of traffic over one another’s network.  If Network Provider B puts a lot of traffic onto Network Provider A’s network and carries a much smaller amount of traffic for Network Provider A, then Network Provider B will compensate Network Provider A.  Network Provider A incurs real and opportunity costs to deploy and manage additional Internet backbone capacity to carry Network Provider B’s traffic.

Peering is an industry-led balance of payments regime formulated to ensure fairness in an interconnected network infrastructure.  A balance of payments for terminating international telephone calls serves as a decades-old precedent and model for this approach.

Level(3) Needs More Interconnects to Serve Netflix Content to Comcast’s Customers

Prior to their winning the Comcast traffic, Level(3) was not a leading CDN, having only acquired the relatively small CDN business from Savvis in 2006 to augment their own wholesale Internet offerings.  Level(3) have not made major capital investments to their CDN by building the large number of interconnects with other Internet providers to provide a high-quality CDN.  Level(3)’s Internet backbone business was so much larger than their CDN business that peer Internet providers, including Comcast, usually compensated Level(3) because of the deficit in traffic they carried for Level(3) compared to the Internet traffic Level(3) carried for them.  Level(3)’s CDN was not putting anywhere near as much traffic onto Comcast’s networks as Comcast’s customers were putting on Level(3)’s backbone.

Akamai is far and away the leading CDN with network assets deployed very close to end users to minimize the number of network hops any of its customers’ content must make to reach end users.  CDN is Akamai’s core business.  In strategic terms, Akamai differentiate themselves by focus and differentiation based quality, while Level(3) pursue a cost leadership strategy.

When Netflix sought bids for a new CDN, Level(3) offered a low-cost alternative to Akamai.  No doubt the Netflix RFP specified service level agreement (SLA) including metrics of end users’ experience.  I am a Netflix customer, and often after I watch streaming content I receive an e-mail from Netflix asking me about the quality of the experience.  I can only imagine that one of the metrics to which Netflix CDN partners must abide is a percentage of customer respondents confirming an excellent or acceptable viewing experience.

I do not know whether or not the Level(3) team realized the capital investment that would be required to deliver those SLAs.  According to Ars Technica, Level(3) asked Comcast to eat the cost of nearly 30 additional CDN interconnects.  The Comcast team agreed that 6 new interconnects would address their peering traffic deficit with Level(3).  Additional interconnects and traffic would turn Comcast’s traffic deficit with Level(3) into a surplus and thus require Level(3) to compensate Comcast accordingly.  It was in response to this point that Level(3) issued their press release and sought relief from the FCC by claiming that Comcast was seeking to block its customers from accessing Netflix’s streaming media services.  Netflix is the lead in cutting edge services that are challenging traditional television program models such as Comcast’s cable television business.  Level(3) were suggesting that Comcast was using its market power in their broadband business to protect their cable television business.

Conclusion and What’s Next

What did Level(3) hope to achieve with their complaint?  I cannot say for certain.  Based on the long-standing peering regime I cannot imagine that the leadership at Level(3) assumed that there was any legitimacy to their claims.  There is no FCC action warranted in this circumstance, and no consideration of Level(3)’s complaint should be considered in the FCC and DoJ’s review of the Comcast merger with NBC Universal.

As I was considering this blog entry I wrote a series of tweets that outlined my arguments.  Fellow Titterer Pranav Desai commented that it’s perhaps time to re-examine the peering regime and that we will see more cases like the Level(3) – Comcast conflict as “over the top” television services compete with the television services offered by cable and telecommunications providers.  These are great points, and I really appreciate the discussion.

On the point of re-examining peering I can offer a definitive “maybe.”  It is not for Level(3) to unilaterally re-define a decade-old industry self-governing regime.  Level(3) undercut a competitor and then sought to offload the cost of delivering on their Netflix contract onto Comcast.  That’s not right.

What dimensions of competition will come to play as over-the-top media services such as Netflix, Hulu, iTunes and others eat into traditional television programming offered by Comcast, Verizon (my employer) and others who provide both television programming and broadband Internet connectivity?  The Netflix-Level(3)-Comcast dust-up is an example of the conflicts we might see in the coming years.

iPhone and iPad in the Enterprise

CIO.com’s Tom Kaneshige has an interesting article on some errors he believes Apple has made in their iOS Developer Enterprise Program.  There are clearly some issues that Apple is going to need to address in order to make iOS a viable platform for the enterprise outside of niche applications.

The  iOS Developer Enterprise Program enables enterprise application developers to:

  • Distribute applications in house.  An important limitation is that the applications can be deployed to employees and contractors only.  Not being able to extend distribution to suppliers, channel partners, franchisees or other partners is overly limiting for many enterprise applications.
  • Test applications under development on iOS devices.
  • Receive code-level technical support
  • Participation in the Apple Developer Program

Kaneshige makes soem great points about the issues enterprise customers are seeing using the consumer iOS App Store to purchase generic applications.   Some companies are having their employees purchase apps on the store and expense those purchases back.  The enterprise, unfortunately, misses out on the benefits of volume pricing or enterprise license agreements.  Likewise the firm incurs the cost of processing the employees expenses.

One of the major issues with which enterprise CIOs will need to struggle is Apple’s effective “kill switch” to deactivate all apps deployed on iOS devices.  As unlikely as this is likely to be, this strikes me as an unacceptable risk for enterprise customers.  Often Apple’s decisions with respect to applications in the consumer apps store have appeared capricious, and the decision-making is extremely opaque.  Beyond deliberate decisions to kill an apps there is always the possibility of mistakes or misunderstandings that lead Apple to pull an enterprise app down in error and then take hours, days or weeks to correct that error.  The notion of exposing a mission critical application to this sort of possibility is the sort of thing that will keep a CIO up at night.

Until Apple can address some of these critical issues we should expect iPhone and iPad use in large enterprises to be limited to niche, non-mission critical applications or basic productivity such as e-mail, instant messaging, video conferencing and the like.  Web-based apps that can be accessed securely on mobile devices are likely to be more widely deployed by enterprises.  Cross-platform functionality is another benefit of the web-based approach.

A Curated News Stream: My Google Reader Shared Items

Google Reader logo

One of the primary benefits the social media cognoscenti put forward for the value of Twitter is the human-curated news stream. On Twitter you follow people you trust, know or who interest you for some reason. As they come across news, blog posts, YouTube videos or other items on the web that interest them they will tweet about them. If these are people you have chosen to follow, it is highly likely that the items they share will be of interest to you as well based on some shared interest or personal connection that led you to follow these people.

My own experience is that the human curated news feed I capture from the people I follow on Twitter is extremely valuable. This is probably the most consistent value I have captured from Twitter. A number of interesting and highly relevant items have come to my attention solely because somebody in my Twitter stream chose to share those news item.

There is another Internet tool that I find extremely valuable: Google Reader. I use Google Reader to track hundreds (yes hundreds) of RSS feeds for blogs, publications, search alerts from Google, Bing and activity on RSS-enabled social networks (sadly Facebook is not among them). I scan through well over 1,000 news items on a daily basis in a series of relatively painless quick sessions of 15 – 20 minutes max. So in under 1 hour each day I am exposed to over 1,000 unique news items in the domains of general news, telecommunications, strategy, competitive intelligence… the list goes on.

Several months ago the people at Google Reader added a “Share” function that allows people to share items of interest with their Google Reader social network. Your Google social network generally defaults to your fellow Gmail users you have added to your Google Chat contact list. Recently the Google Reader team have added tools that enable you to find fellow Google Reader users with shared interests and subscribe to their shared items.

I am a promiscuous sharer on Google Reader. How I structure my marathon review sessions to get through the large volume of news items that are in my Google Reader at any one time is that if there is an item that I find interesting I actually share it so that I will come back to it when I have more time to read it. My thinking is that if I find the item of interest it’s likely that the few dozen people following my shared items on Google Reader might also find it interesting.

My default cognitive model is to share (my own version of “publish, then filter”). If you are interested in the latest news about strategy, competitive intelligence, marketing, social media and knowledge management this is a well-curated stream of information. Not all of it may be of deep interest to you, but the odds are high that a large proportion of the material will be worth at least a momentary glance. I’ve featured the most recent shared items on the right-hand side of this blog page for some time now below my Twitter stream and above my Delicious bookmarks.

If you are a person that needs to cast a wide information net I highly recommend you consider creating your own Google Reader account. You don’t need to be quite the addict that I am, though I am confident you’ll find value from Google Reader. If you share an interest in the topics that I’ve mentioned in this blog entry (you’re reading this blog, so that is probably a “Yes”) you should follow me on Google Reader (I also want to follow you back). If you are using another RSS reader you can subscribe to the RSS feed of my shared items. If you are kicking it old school and still not ready to step up to RSS you can see the web page of my shared items from Google Reader.

I love My MiFi!

In an effort to establish professionalism, I do try to not pimp my employer’s products or services.  I’m an unabashed user of a product on a competitor’s network (iPhone) and try to make it clear that the content here represents my own opinions and not those of my employer.  So I hope that you will maintain a level of respect for me and give me some objectivity points when I say that I have a new love: my Verizon Wireless MiFi.  It’s a pocket-sized wifi hotspot for up to 5 devices that connects to the Verizon Wireless EV-DO 3G wireless broadband network.  The device is manufactured by Novatel Wireless and is also sold by Sprint.

My Verizon Wireless MiFi, next to standard business card for size comparison.

My Verizon Wireless MiFi, next to standard business card for size comparison.

If you’ve been reading this blog for any period of time you have no doubt concluded that I am a gadget hound and tech nerd.  Would it surprise you to learn that when I travel for business I usually travel with two laptops?  It’s a sickness, I know.  I’m a firm believer in keeping my work work on my work PC (an HP) and my personal material and projects on my MacBook Pro.  In most hotels this has resulted in a life-or-death decision of which computer will be registered for the (usually expensive and slow) hotel broadband connection.  In a few instances in the past I was able to use my Apple Airport Express to connect multiple devices to the hotel broadband.  In those instances the connection is generally very slow, and often I find myself unable to use my VPN to connect to my work e-mail and other intranet resources.  Bummer.

Even when I bite the bullet and decide that my work PC will be the sole digital link to the outside world performance is inconsistent.  In my years of travel I have found it amazing how many times my VPN did not work.  It still also amazes me how many hotels still treat broadband as an optional amenity.  It’s not– a hotel room might as well not have electricity or running water.  The net is central to how I and many others live our lives today and is non-negotiable if I am going to remain a productive employee while on the road.  It also still amazed me the rates hotels charge for Internet connectivity: $12.95/day seems to be the standard.  You don’t learn the VPN won’t function until after you’ve connected the work laptop and tried to connect.  Want to cut bait and just use the personal machine?  That’s another $12.50, please.  Don’t even THINK of connecting your iPhone or other wifi-enabled smart phone (you can generally fall back on your usable if somewhat slow 3G connection there).  Coffee shops and other hotspots also have spotty, inconsistent support for VPN connectivity.  A lot of productivity has been lost struggling to get a VPN connection only to give up and just resign myself to days of catching up on e-mail and other tasks when next I am at home or in the office.  To put it mildly, connectivity when traveling sucks.

I don’t have to worry about that anymore.  Since I bought my MiFi I’ve had one day of meetings outside of the office and one business trip.  On my day running around the Washington metro area I was able to use my down time to great productive effect   The VPN works flawlessly every time.  I can connect my PC, Macintosh and iPhone all to a blazing fast (in wireless terms) network with great coverage.  On my recent business trip I did a speed check to find that I was getting 1097 Kbps down and 652 Kbps up.  While it’s not as fast as my FiOS connection at home (I will limit myself to pimping one Verizon product in this post) it’s faster than most hotel broadband connections.

I’m not the only one who loves this devices and have made productive use of the MiFi.  Andy Abramson of VoIP Watch and Bob Gourley of CTOVision have both sung the praises of their MiFis.  Guy Kawasaki made a great post to the American Express OPEN for Small Business blog highlighting some valuable use cases for his Sprint MiFi, and some relevant to people who are not afflicted with my tech nerdery:

  • In your hotel room
  • Traveling with kids
  • MacBook Air, iPhone and iPod Touch owners
  • Smartphone users using VoIP such as Skype
  • Making a sales pitch when you need a reliable and fast Internet connection
  • Conference attendance (often wifi at a conference is either completely unavailable or an additional daily expense.  Now you can even use the MiFi”s support for multiple connections to make friends and influence people).
  • Speaking or presenting when you need an Internet connection (a requirement I can say with experience many venues are challenged to provide reliably)
  • Alternative to tethering your computer with a mobile phone

One challenge I have had with the MiFi is maintaining a charge on the device.  On my recent business trip I learned that my MiFi as well as a few other devices that charge via USB do not like my Belkin travel surge suppressor.  This is a handy three-outlet surge suppressor that also has two USB ports to charge devices without the need for additional power adapters.  This I think is a problem more of the Belkin than the MiFi, because my iPhone also would not take a charge from this device.  So the one cautionary advice I would offer is that travelers should take the MiFi’s power adapter on the road with them just to be safe.  The MiFi can be charged via USB from your computer, and I found this to be somewhat idiosyncratic and felt that the MiFI didn’t get the full charge it does when plugged in directly to an outlet.

Overall this is a device I strongly recommend.  The retail price is competitive with standard 3G adapters for laptops (that only support connectivity for that single device).  You barely have to travel more than once a month to make the $60 monthly price (5 Gigabytes cap) more cost-effective than paying for daily connectivity at hotels, in airports or coffee shops.  The MiFi has already paid for itself this month and kept me happier and more productive in the bargain.

Forbes gets Amazon – Sprint Relationship Wrong?

Back in January 2007 I wrote a blog entry trying to explain the basics of network neutrality one more time.  This was in response to a Forbes column by Peter Huber that claimed Content Delivery Networks such as those from Akami, were violations of network neutrality.  On the contrary, I argued, CDNs were examples of well-designed solutions to deliver a great customer experience while also maintaining the basic tenants of network neutrality.  At the time I speculated that the claim that CDNs violated network neutrality was an attempt to confuse the policy debate on the issue.

A recent Forbes article suggests that efforts to confuse the debate are continuing anew.  The article March of the SkypeTube from the June 08 edition of Forbes leads me to wonder if there is not still a movement to confuse the debate around network neutrality (especially wireless network neutrality) with a specific bit of misinformation.  From the article:

Creating stable economic value in these markets depends on creating stable service-content-bandwidth bundles. Amazon’s Kindle is a good example. The elegant tablet runs on bandwidth that Amazon purchases wholesale from Sprint; Amazon then embeds the cost in the price of the books, magazines and such that it sells and delivers. Everyone prospers–publishers of books and magazines, middlemen like Amazon, manufacturers of the hardware that handles the delivery at the customer’s end and secures copyrights at the same time, and customers, who seem to be delighted with the whole package. Maybe that’s why nobody has dared point out that the whole setup is a grave affront to “network neutrality”–Amazon’s bits get preferential carriage on Sprint’s bandwidth, until Google or Ebay strike their own deals.

I added the emphasis to the claim that Amazon receives preferential treatment for Kindle traffic that moves across Sprin’t network.  I have looked and looked for evidence of an arrangement between Sprint and Amazon to give priority to Kindle data packets over other data packets. I have found no such mentions of data prioritization being an element of Amazon’s contract with Sprint for wireless connectivity for Kindle e-book readers.   I do not believe that any such arrangement exists,  I do acknowledge that details of the contract between Sprint and Amazon are by nature proprietary, and so it is conceivable that Mr. Huber has access to legitimate information that I do not.  However, I am fairly certain that this is not the case.  Such an arrangement would no doubt cost Amazon a premium, and the latency-tolerant nature of Kindle data does not mandate data prioritization.

Generally when there is a discussion of providing priority to specific types of traffic on an Internet backbone or wireless data network the application being discussed is a latency intolerant application or medium.  Real-time media such as voice over Internet, video and high-transaction business applications are put forward as the examples of applications backbone providers would want to prioritize.  End users will see a real difference in the experience or the performance of prioritized traffic: the applications will perform noticeably better in most cases where their packets are given higher priority and therefor greater effective throughput from point of original to point of destination.

The electronic books, publications and blog entries on the Kindle are not consumed in real time the same way an on-line video or Internet phone call is.  In other words, giving the data priority over other data on Sprint’s wireless network would not make any difference to how the end user experience.  The difference in performance would be a matter of seconds for a piece of information that the suer consumes over the course of hours, days or weeks.  There is zero reason to give such latency-tolerant data priority.

The fact that electronic books are latency-tolerant, combined with the lack of any mention of priority treatment for Amazon’s data on Sprint’s wireless network, leads me to conclude that indeed no such arrangement exists.  As the Obama administration, Congress and the still forming FCC re-examine the debate over network neutrality, I believe this is an attempt to subtly introduce additional confusion into that debate.

An Alarming Technology That Threatens Capitalism Itself

This morning I came across a presentation in my RSS feed that describes the real threat represented by an alarming “social media” technology that threatens the modern corporation.  We’re all familiar with the threats that Web 2.0 both inside and outside the corporation represent.  I thought I was on top of things, but clearly I didn’t know the HALF of it.  Look at this distributing presentation from Norman Lamont of Lloyds Banking Group and you will be as concerned as I am: