Archive for July, 2007

Email, blogging and sacking

July 27, 2007

After a leisurely Friday lunch, possibly involving the local hostelry, there’s many an employee who might spend part of the afternoon emailing a few old friends, doing a bit of IM and perhaps spending some time in their favourite social networking site.

Beware.

Wired magazine reports that nearly ten percent of companies (of those surveyed at least) have fired an employee for violating corporate email, messaging and blogging policies. Almost a third of companies actually employ people to analyze the outgoing email. The survey was carried out by Forrester (on behalf of Proofpoint, an email security company) amongst large American corporates but, still, makes you think doesn’t it?

Web 2.0 and email

July 20, 2007

The speed at which Web 2.0 technologies and services are changing the way young people communicate continues to gather pace. I spent the beginning of the week at a conference of university website managers and Web development staff. One of the speakers, Alison Wildish, from Edge Hill University, had some fascinating stats about students’ communication habits gained from some surveys she had carried out at the university.

Of the first year students who started last autumn, 98% had already been active in the blogosphere and social networking media space (MySpace, Facebook etc.). They had a strong preference for Instant Messaging over the use of e-mail for basic communication. Indeed, Alison revealed that only 25% of these new students had made any use at all of the student email account provided for them by the university. Obviously, this has made life a little difficult for academics and support staff wishing to communicate with the students. I’d have thought they would be grateful.

Something for the weekend: Web 2.0 and the digital bubble

July 13, 2007

Two recent reports from consultants KPMG make interesting reading if you are planning a quiet weekend in a garden chair or hammock. The first, Enterprise 2.0: fad or future, by Gary Matuszak, covers the emerging use of Web 2.0 social software in corporate environments. It argues that such software can be used to help tackle what it refers to as key modern management challenges: “knowledge sharing and management, problem solving, innovation and collaboration”. The report gives a number of interesting corporate examples of the use of Web 2.0 in these different areas. For example it details the use IBM has made of a series of internal wikis for project collaboration and a chat-room process in which thousands of employees participate, simultaneously, in “innovation jams” to debate new ideas.

The report is generally pretty up beat, arguing that Web 2.0 services could “fuel a burst of productivity, as e-mail and the Internet have already done.”

This contrasts neatly with the other KPMG report, The Digital Bubble, which argues that we are in the midst of a revolution driven by the digitization of content. Although this presents unprecedented opportunities, the report warns, darkly, of the great potential for a “digital bubble” not unlike the dot-com boom and bust of the early 2000s. KPMG argue that in the kinds of environment that currently prevail for many Web-related businesses (rapid growth and change, over-heated valuations, unproven business models etc.) there is a tendency for management to focus on growth and increasing market share at the expense of ensuring that “the operational strengths required to support this growth are properly in place”.

One thing the report doesn’t mention is the role that the ‘Network Effect’ played in the original boom and bust. This is an Economics concept that describes the increase in value, to the existing users of an interactive service (e.g. a telephone network), as more and more people start to use it. This increase in value is often used in business model calculations and is one of the big ideas driving the Web at the moment. However, it is not without problems. Without getting into the ins and outs of it, it turns out that recent work by two academics might show that the original formula used to calculate the Network Effect may have been badly understood. If you’re interested in this, I discuss it more in the section on the ‘big ideas behind Web 2.0’ in my report on Web 2.0, which was published in February. The reason I think this is important is because we need to understand where we’ve gone wrong in the past, and if the Network Effect was part of it, then it has to factored in to future business models.

We have been warned!

Liquid lunch not such a good idea

July 11, 2007

The LA Times reports that, according to new research by staff at Purdue University, Indiana, consuming a liquid lunch is not such a good idea. For those of us raised on the antics of Private Eye’s mythical journalist, Lunchtime O’Booze, this is probably not exactly news. However, the liquids the researchers are referring to are not beers but liquid versions of solid food.

The research finds that experimentees who drank a liquid version of a food (for example, a fruit juice) with their lunch actually ate more over the course of the rest of the day. If they consumed a solid version of the food (e.g. an actual piece of fruit) they consumed less.

It is thought that eating solid foods may send ‘signals’ to the brain that the stomach is getting full (for example, as a result of the pressure of the food on the stomach). This may be one of the issues connected to rising levels of obesity since, according to the article: “Today, people may get 20% to 50% of their calories from beverages — but for most of human history, the only beverage was water.”

Pass the crisps.

3-D Web

July 4, 2007

A few weeks ago I mentioned the 3-D Web in a post about Second Life. Along these lines, an interesting press release arrived this morning from a company who are launching a three-dimensional visualisation for Web searching – a tool they call SpaceTime.

A quick look at their demonstration shows that after executing a Web search all the relevant webpages are displayed in a three dimensional visualisation – what they call a 3-D stack – stretching away from the viewer. Clicking on a page brings it to the fore. This could be particularly useful for searching for an image as you can ‘thumb’ through the stack looking for the best one and the company says the product will work with Google Images and Yahoo images.

I’ve not had time for a detailed play but what’s interesting is that this way of moving around a connected series of visual images reminds me of a demo I saw a couple of years ago of Ted Nelson’s ZigZag data structures project. The data appeared in a series of connected stacks and you could mine information by spinning around a kind of three-dimensional ‘wheel’ of connected data.

As the amount of information we have to handle at any one time increases, the use of the 3rd dimension is going to become more prevalent.

Apple seeds of discontent

July 3, 2007

How extendable is the new Apple iPhone? By this I mean open to modification and the addition of software packages. The iPhone comes with an email client, calculator, calendar, and can read (not write) Word documents and PDFs, but what about other sorts of apps that you can run on your desktop PC or Mac?

Well, er, it’s not good news, I’m afraid. The iPhone platform does not allow the addition of new applications. In fact, it’s even more closed than a normal computer. Much to the chagrin of software developers Apple is not allowing third parties to port (adapt) their applications to the phone.

(more…)

A new Apple drops from the tree

July 2, 2007

The Apple iPhone went on sale in the States this weekend. Over half a million were sold. This is rather a lot—roughly equivalent to one iPhone per head of population of Washington DC and more than twice the expected level of sales.

The reason why there is so much excitement about it is that the iPhone attempts to marry a mobile phone, iPod and handheld computer, with Apple’s “celebrity gadget” appeal. The blogoshere is a-hype with instant reviews, videos etc. (Engadget’s video, for example, was one of the first to show a demo of the working product) and already there are the first signs of a backlash. Concerns are being raised about the speed of Internet access (it uses what is known as 2.5G or EDGE mobile phone access for data transfer—an older, slower version of the 3G system common in Europe), battery life, and the cost and quality of the contract with AT&T, who are providing the telecomms part of the deal (see, for example, New York Times review).

Despite these concerns it does seem to offer a new and exciting platform for accessing the Internet whilst on the move. Steve Jobs gives an interesting insight into his company’s thinking on the iPhone in a hour-long, and under-reported, interview which took place in June at the Wall Street Journal’s D5: All Things Digital conference (which is available through ZDNet as a video). He describes the product as offering three key things: a cell phone, an iPod and “Internet in your pocket”. To me the latter is by far the most interesting.

Here’s why. To date all efforts by mobile phone companies to offer the Internet whilst on the move have been widely derided. The screens are too small, the browsers are not fully featured and the phone companies have often attempted to control (and charge for) access to content (known as the “walled garden” approach). As Jobs points out in his interview, people don’t want this—they want full, unadulterated Web access. The iPhone claims to provide this, with a large screen and a full version of Apple’s Safari Web browser.

Internet access is provided either by WiFi (when in range) or the mobile phone data network. The device allegedly switches seamlessly between the two depending on what’s available. The speed may be an issue when using the mobile phone data network, but perhaps less so in Europe, where the device is likely to be 3G from day one. Incidentally, though, I can’t help wondering whether European mobile phone companies will want the automatic switch from 3G to Wifi, as the need to recoup revenue spent on 3G licence fees is a major issue for them.