Wednesday, 28 February 2007

Wallet Phones

Burgers paid for by mobile phone’. This article on the BBC news website made me laugh this morning. One of Japans top mobile phone providers has made a deal with McDonalds to allow customers to pay for their happy meals with their mobile phone. Besides the fact it allows corporations to collect more information on your spending habits it seems like a great idea.
I have already seen mobile phones used for payment into football matches, concerts and so on by swiping a bar code in a text massage on your phone instead of a ticket. Also, my personal favourite which is using your mobile phone to pay for ‘pay and display’ parking by phoning a particular number, they even send you a text ten minutes before your time is up. This potentially would save me lots of money. I tend to have the more relaxed attitude of not paying for parking if I don’t have any change based on the argument that if I get a £30 ticket one in ten times then the saving on the parking payment will pay for the ticket. Unfortunately this hasn’t quite worked out for me just yet.

But the burger example uses a different technology. This is a variation on the ‘mobile wallet’ technology, where can be used similar to a contact-less fob key to pay for purchases (a pin number is used for more expensive transactions). So, soon enough my mobile phone which is already my camera, MP3 player, PC and photo album will also be my new visa card, train pass and sports club card. Then, I would really be depressed if I lost my mobile phone

Friday, 23 February 2007

Blogged Pipes, Are They Something To Look Forward To?

No sooner am I getting to grips with blogging, understanding the role of Social Computing and setting up my own account on Google to keep track of some of my favourite sites someone says have you heard what Yahoo have just launched?

Well I hadn't but strangely found myself actually wanting to know what it was. It is called Pipes and has been described by Tim O'Reilly as "a milestone in the history of the Internet" Quite a bold statement to make I thought bearing in mind how fast new technology comes along so I had to have a look to see what all the hype was about. Could this be an example of disruptive technology? I thought getting ahead of myself. First I need to try and work out what it is.

This tool, as I understand not being particularly technical, is a tool that lets people manipulate data feeds from a number of different web services. I am just starting to get familiar with the term Mashup, which business week describe as a mix, match and mutation of different websites. A good example of a mashup in operation, I think, is seen here on Thinkproperty. It produces the search results from their dbase of houses for sale on a google map. Pipes then to me could be defined as the mother of all mashup tools. The main difference being, however, that it has been built for the average internet user. It has simple drag and drop editors that allow you to connect data sources, process them and then re-direct to produce your output. The result is a tool that enables you to connect to the growing number of structured data sources on the web. You then use it to monitor muiltiple listings to a level of detail that has not been possible before.

I like the idea but the important thing to me is whether it can be used within a business environment, would it improve the way a business operates and ultimately make money. I think used properly it could, for example an Antiques dealer / collector could use it to tap into auction sites around the world to price watch specfic items that are of interest to him/her. A car dealer could potentially "Pipe" very precise feeds from Auto Trader to alert them to a car that they would be interested in sourcing from say a private seller at a price they believe they can turn into a profitable sell on.

Pipes do take things to another level, but I am not convinced that it qualifies as disruptive technology. I can't help think how long will it be before we get something bigger or better (probably from Google) so the question is should I try to dig deeper into Pipes or should I wait a while?

Here are some examples of Pipes in action and if like me you want to see a simple explanation of how Pipes works check out these tutorials

Thursday, 22 February 2007

Bloggers beware

I was just reading the news and came across the story of Abdel Kareem Soliman. He is an Egyptian blogger who has just been sentenced to four years in jail for insulting Islam and the president of Egypt on his blog.
As the blogoshere, now a global soap-box, propagates can governments (oppressive or not) hope to control or censor what is said. Is this the first time in history that everybody has access to free speech or should blog accounts come with a health warning ?

Tuesday, 20 February 2007

Bloggard to Floggard to Vloggard

Definition of a bloggard - a person who discovers the technology of blogging as the technology is about to become obsolete.

I have in the last three weeks traveilled the internet world and evolved from a bloggard to a blogger, flogger - confused about this one then read on , to a vloggard.

Last Friday I was told by a fellow student that in my previous blog, my prediction that blogs would never cross the chasm, was potentially right.

I sat back with a sense of self righteous smugness only to have this shattered when he informed me that this obsolescence would happen not because of humans resorting to use the communication aides they evolved with - i.e speech and facial expression, but because of flogging.

At this juncture I again became very smug, thinking that all my scare mongering about the internet being used by people who had 'different' emotional and sexual inclinations, was completely founded. I then started to visualise what a flog could possibly be, only to realise that I had completely misheard and in fact he was referring to a VLOG - a video log. I am gutted! Just as I am beginning to embrace the technology of blogs and advocate them to the world as the way forward, I find out that yes they are a beta max or BSB box (both of which my father in law was an innovator with) and about to be replaced by a technology where your thoughts are posted to vlog sites.

Whilst this vlog thingy goes someway towards addressing some of my concerns in my virgin blog about losing the power of speech - see subversive, laggard or luddite posting on this blog - it also starts to for me, raise a whole other set of issues.

For instance I typically blog late at night or early in the morning - at these times there is a common thread which is I am usually in my pyjamas and look an absolute mess. Imagine if I were vlogging at these times I would have to spend hours putting on makeup and getting my hair done etc therefore is the emergence of the vlog an attempt by the beauty and cosmetic industry to increase profits. Even more disconcertingfor me, is the loss of protection and security afforded to me by only those people I choose to inform, knowing I am JJB. Imagine walking down the street and some person who fundamentally disagrees with what you have said, accosting you on the street.

I realise by not 'digging' vlogging for these reasons I am completely contradicting my previous views about the anonymity of blogging being a major security concern and an opportunity for people to masquerade as A N Other - but there you go, the virtual world is a funny old place full of contradictions.

On that note and because I cannot think of anything else meaningful to say - I will leave you today with a quote from an esteemed management guru which you can apply to the take up of new technologies - 'eagles may soar but weasels do not get sucked into jet engines'. Am I an eagle or a weasel and which is better?

Speak soon - JJB.

Sunday, 18 February 2007

Social Computing is it a Sustainable Reality?

Can social computing succeed against the drive for commercial organisations to exploit it or governments wanting to control it?

“Freedom is fostered when the means of communication are dispersed, decentralised and easily achievable” Ithiel De Sola Pool (Political Scientist)

Current levels of internet access, speeds of connectivity and ownership of digital cameras & mobile digital telephones mean that you could argue that this is what the internet is capable of delivering, and is in fact the result of what Social computing delivers. The question is, will it be allowed to continue and can it become truly global?

Social computing is growing at a phenomenal rate and large organisations are already developing strategies designed to turn this to their advantage. Start up sites such as Myspace and more recently Youtube have already been swallowed up for unbelievable sums by Newscorp $580m and Google $1.65bn respectively, these are to name but 2 of many examples (facebook, flickr, friends reunited) . This is the sign that the future of social computing will be driven by commercial organisations so can it remain true to the factors that have brought the early success?

Social networks share information, experiences and advice and as a result are very interesting for any business to be able to gain acceptance within these communities. Compete Inc have recently found, through research, that social computing influences online sales, this is being termed social commerce. It has been identified that social site members listen more to peer feedback than any other source of information. This may not come as a big surprise, and early examples can be seen throughout the web, a clear one being the online buying and selling site e-bay. Buyers submit feedback and ratings that act as a comfort or re-assurance for other buyers if they can see feedback about the seller they are looking to buy from. This however can be open to exploitation as there is nothing to stop sellers submitting positive feedback about themselves, both from the private individual level and from a business’ point of view.

The next stage in business exploitation comes as a result of the technological advances online and the growth in blogging (Technorati claim 55 million blogs currently exist Feb 2007), marketers are now looking to take advantage of these opportunities to try and communicate with potential consumers. Marketing is effectively a means used to sell something to someone, what makes it happen does not matter. What one could argue is that an agency or organisation can produce better “stories” which are presented as better content which in turn get noticed. Organisations are generating enormous amounts of content, either directly or through third party agencies with the initial hope of being noticed, but the ultimate objective is to gain acceptance that will lead to sales. Blogs have been used by businesses to spread messages but now with the introduction of even richer rich media - vlogs they have a very effective means of communication, vlogs enable commentary and video that makes bloggers voices heard.

Even websites with the force of major organisations behind them have to make sacrifices in their corporate aims due to pressures from the governments of certain countries. Google’s aim of indexing the world’s information to make it easy for anyone to find whatever they are looking for suffered a setback at the hands of the Chinese Government who have insisted on restricting what actually is made available to the Chinese population. In France the Government insisted that Greenpeace removed a mash up as it contravened an EU law. How can social computing succeed and become truly global if organisations have to bow to regulation and legislation within certain geographies. Potentially more concerning is the question as to whether bloggers become open to prosecution as a result of their site content, the answer to this question is yes on more than one occasion.

3 questions to contemplate in relation to Social computing going forward. Please feel free to offer your opinions.

  1. Will we be able to distinguish between true consumer generated content and organisational content in the future?
  2. Will consumer content become lost amongst a battle ground for organisations and brands to gain share of voice?
  3. Will Governments around the world hinder the chance of social computing to grow to its full potential?

Blogs for Business.

Are Blogs really going to be able to continue to be truly independent representations or will they be hijacked, manipulated for the good of the corporate.

Blogs, tags and Wikis offer perfect opportunities for organisations to use in the area of product development. An organisation can use blogs to push out ideas, concepts relating to current product enhancements or indeed new products. This will automatically generate a buzz around the Internet with target consumers being more than happy to offer valuable feedback, but just as importantly they also push the concepts out to like minded individuals through their network of contacts. This is where organisations can, if managed properly, engage with a wide network of users to deliver the products that consumers want, hence limiting risk and cost in product development. The smart organisations can also use these networks for competitor intelligence gathering, used to its full potential an organisation could potentially identify and react to competitor activity much quicker than has been possible in the past. Market research is already benefiting from the advantages offered by the internet with larger samples, wider geographic & demographic reach and cheaper data collection & analysis. Blogs are just an extension on these benefits enabling organisations to develop two way communication with a very targeted group of people.

General Motors have taken full advantage of the ability to use blogs with key consumer groups of their vehicles. They believe that by using a dedicated blog they have a virtual focus group with whom they can conduct regular research. The financial return on developing this blog can also be measured. If they were to conduct research to deliver the information obtained it would be at a cost of $15,000 per month (Forrester Research)

What does the future hold for blogs, will they be used in the same way they are today or will they start to become dominated by business?

Thursday, 15 February 2007

Humans in the loop, what a to-do!

A lesson this week for all those who have been seduced by the offer of technological wizardry, reduced costs and quality customer care. It appears that we as a nation are not happy with talking to people in remote corners of the world about our insurance claims. The classic conversation between the three hard of hearing old ladies takes on a new slant, “Is it windy?”, “No, dear I think it’s Thursday”, “Oh yes, I’d love a cup of tea”. Many Call centre customers it would seem no doubt relate to this after a chat with someone at a non UK call centre.

Companies eager to benefit from the lower wage costs and a highly educated and motivated workforce flock to India. Only for many of them now to come home to the UK with their heads bowed. Yes, the technology was fine, Manchester to Mumbai in the flick of a switch if only we could understand what was being said at the other end of the phone it would have been great.

The rapid embrace of technology is not always going to give you the results you expect because you have one strange thing in the equation: human beings.

Tuesday, 13 February 2007

Diamond Blogging

Strangely enough this whole new world of social computing and blogs, is starting to impact on my everyday and worklife. On Saturday evening I managed to hold a reasonably intelligent conversation about IT and the potential of the internet, only demonstrating my real ignorance when I started to refer to Mozilla Firefly :-)
On Monday I bored the pants off my colleagues and really worried my boss when I started to refer to blogs as the way forward and in our weekly team meeting started to try and explain what a blog really is to my colleagues and sounding relatively intelligent and knowledgeable in the process and furthermore giving an idiot's guide (me as the idiot) to our esteemed Geffrey Moore and his book crossing the chasm
Anyway enough of my meteoric rise to the status of blogging expert and of my work experiences chasing the tornado - real purpose of blogging this evening is to talk about diamond bloggers - a term I picked up in the Sunday Times webwise article of 11.2.07.
The article if, as I am, you are becoming almost geekish with your obsession around blogs, quite interesting. It informs the reader that there are over 50M blogs, with the large proportion being rubbish - obvious exceptions to this and of course 'my blog' does not fall into this category - or does it, who out there is interested in what I have to say judging from the lack of comments posted since Sunday, not very many of you -Joe did you press post as I keep checking and nothing there.) Apparently one in every 200 internet visits are to web based journals (according to hitwise) _ does this statistic in itself illustrate that not that many people are currently interested in blogs and, is this because blogging has not yet crossed the chasm and is in fact only at the innovator stage, or because it is another betamax video and will never cross the chasm. Nobody knows for sure but instinctively I think it will cross the chasm in the current youth generation, but not so sure about the 30+s.

So back to diamond blogging - and what is it? Well the article does not define it and I guess it can be subjectively interpreted, but in my mind the term is a very appropriate and visual term as I guess you have to look through a lot of coal before you find a diamond. My hope (and plea) is that you fellow bloggers out there regard this site as a diamond blog and start to comment please, as otherwise I may fail my MBA project but I guess more importantly it may confirm my initial ludditeish view that blogging is not the future.
Speak soon

Sunday, 11 February 2007

What am I a subversive, laggard or luddite?

Oxford English Dictionary Definitions :

Subversive - seeking or intended to subvert an established system or institution
Laggard - a person who falls behind others
Luddite - a person opposed to industrialisation or new technology

I am in week 5 of an MBA module - Managing Information Systems (MIS) at Manchester Business School and boy oh boy, to quote Katie and Peter - am I entering a whole new world?
I consider myself computer savvy and able to appreciate what I can do - I have a grade C computer studies O level (really useful to know how many nibbles=a bit and bits =a byte) and in recent job roles have rolled out and implemented major IT developments but oh boy, am I feeling challenged by this virtual world.
Until five weeks ago my only experience of the virtual world was courtesy of Johnny Vegas in Room 101 - one of the funniest bits of TV I have seen and I urge you to watch it if you can. Anyway, in the last five weeks I have been educated in this virtual world and find out that multinational companies purchase land in this virtual world (did they pay cash?) and that people regularly communicate via blogs. Here in lies my issue - will we lose the art of verbal conversation, social interaction in the real world and the ability to read how people are really feeling by watching their facial expressions as we converse? Who lives in this virtual world - normal people, lonely people, shy people, everyday people who like IT (lovingly referred to me as Geeks) or at the extreme scale, terrorists and perverts. Who knows? Am I a mean parent for not letting my 11 year old son use chat rooms which I perceive as full of danger - on the flip side I let him cross roads - but have provided him with the skills to reduce the associated risks with crossing the road and should I not do the same for the internet and this virtual world.
Do all these thoughts make me a subversive, laggard or luddite - I have no idea - but what I do know is that my roast beef is not going to cook itself and my family won't be happy with a virtual Sunday lunch and therefore I am off now to sort that out. I think therefore for the present I am happier in my real world but will dabble in the virtual as I know if I don't I will get left behind.
Speak soon JJB

PS - Have to say this is the second time I have written this article - lost the first one (flamin IT for you when I tried to link this piece with web links to Katie and Peter - help please Shoja next weeks lesson please in blogging is how to do this?

Saturday, 10 February 2007

Internet Democracy, Not Yet!

So the Governmnet sets up an online petition on the Number 10 website, gets 1 million signatures then ignores it, "The power of the web!" How many people will it take before the Government will act? It's an interesting start to the concept of internet democracy. Paul's article discusses how social computing will redefine bureaucracy, I don't think the Government are set up for being redefined just yet! I imagine that they are a little scared!

Friday, 9 February 2007

Social Computing

Thanks to some interesting comments on Paul's blog about social computing. I have been looking into the world of Mashup, and Wikis. Yes, I am sure you have all heard of Wikipedia, but creating your own Mashup Wiki, well that was a new one for me. It transpires that those clever people at IBM have been creating a drag and drop interface to use widgets(?) that allow you to create your own Wiki mash-up for any reason. Mash together your own customer database, Google maps , BBC news , and weather to create a complete synchronised up to date picture of the area where one of your customers may be operating. This hand waving IBM guy tells it how it is.

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

Why are we luddites or laggards? we should at least have the option of Leaping i.e. to leap into the void of this new WWW2.0. the way "nobody even knows what it means?" Tim Berners-Lee .