Monday, December 31, 2007

Government of National Unity. What a Concept.

I realize it is a slippery slope to talk about politics in a predominantly business-oriented blog. Therefore, even though I currently have some very strong opinions on the upcoming presidential race, I have stayed away from writing about politics...until now. An article in this past Sunday's Washington Post caught my eye. The article talks about a bipartisan meeting, which will be held on January 7 at the University of Oklahoma, that will "challenge the major-party contenders to spell out their plans for forming a 'government of national unity' to end the gridlock in Washington."

Much of the article talks about the potential backing of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg as an independent candidate for the presidency if none of the current major candidates don't make a pledge to "'go beyond tokenism' in building an administration that seeks national consensus."

I don't know enough about Bloomberg to currently have an opinion on him being our next President but I do support the underlying objectives of this session. I strongly believe Washington D.C. is in a state of gridlock because of its deeply partisan nature and nothing will get done until each party is willing to begin working with the other again. David Boren, a former Democratic senator from Oklahoma and currently the president of the University of Oklahoma, says in the article...
Electing a president based solely on the platform or promises of one party is not adequate for this time. Until you end the polarization and have bipartisanship, nothing else matters, because one party simply will block the other from acting.
I am basing my support for the next President primarily on this issue. As a nation, we are in a mess. Domestically, we have big problems that need to be addressed but nothing significant is getting done because we are deeply divided, particularly in Washington D.C. Internationally, we have lost a great deal of credibility with other countries. For our next President, I believe we need a leader who can reach across the aisle and heal our divided nation, as well as regain our nation's credibility in the global arena.

I will be watching closely to see what comes out of the January 7 session.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Have Marketing Launches Changed?

I am currently consulting to a company that is getting ready to launch their company/service. As a result, I have been thinking a lot lately about the different launches I have participated in over the years and I am going to use this post to wonder out loud, "how much time should be spent on getting the messages just right for a launch?"

My first experiences with marketing launches in the technology world was when I worked at Sybase in the late 1980s/early 1990s (yikes!). At Sybase, we used to spend an incredible amount of time preparing for our launches. In particular, we used to spend unbelievable numbers of hours getting our messaging just right. In those days, it made sense to get your messaging right since we didn't have the tools we have available today to change our messages easily. For example, when it came to developing a sales presentation, we didn't have PowerPoint so we used to send out sets of 35mm slides to our sales reps (I will pause a bit to let some of you younger people wonder how silly that sounds). If we made a change to our sales presentation, we would have to send new 35mm slides to each rep. Since you didn't want to do this a lot, you made sure you didn't change your messaging a lot.

Over the years, however, even when things like the Web and PowerPoint have made it easier to change messages, it still seems to be the mindset within enterprise companies to spend a lot of effort getting the messaging just right when preparing for a launch. A couple recent experiences of mine make me wonder if such an effort is worth it.

Over the last year or so, I have been involved with a couple launches that were very successful (a new release at JotSpot and the first public preview of Twine by Radar Networks). Based on these launches, here is my current thinking:
  • The messenger is more important than the message. Sure, time was spent on developing the messages for these launches but it was within reason. More importantly, in my mind, both of these launches had great messengers -- Joe Kraus at JotSpot, and Nova Spivack at Radar Networks -- who were able to effectively communicate the right messages.
  • A launch is the beginning of a continuous conversation, not a proclamation that needs to be "set in stone" for a period of time. Sure, you don't want to confuse the marketplace and change your messaging often. At the same time, however, it is now very easy (thanks to the Web, pdf, and PowerPoint) to evolve your messages as you learn more from the marketplace.
What do you think? Does this make sense? Or, are things different when you are marketing enterprise software to organizations, versus "Web 2.0 for business" software to individuals and small groups? (I recently wrote another post related to this segmentation.) Let me know your thoughts.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Google's Knol Initiative and Knowledge Networking

Lots of discussion today about Google's Knol initiative...
Earlier this week, we started inviting a selected group of people to try a new, free tool that we are calling "knol", which stands for a unit of knowledge. Our goal is to encourage people who know a particular subject to write an authoritative article about it. The tool is still in development and this is just the first phase of testing. For now, using it is by invitation only. But we wanted to share with everyone the basic premises and goals behind this project.
The key idea behind the knol project is to highlight authors. Books have authors' names right on the cover, news articles have bylines, scientific articles always have authors -- but somehow the web evolved without a strong standard to keep authors names highlighted. We believe that knowing who wrote what will significantly help users make better use of web content. At the heart, a knol is just a web page; we use the word "knol" as the name of the project and as an instance of an article interchangeably. It is well-organized, nicely presented, and has a distinct look and feel, but it is still just a web page. Google will provide easy-to-use tools for writing, editing, and so on, and it will provide free hosting of the content. Writers only need to write; we'll do the rest.
Much of the discussion in the blogosphere is about the impact Knol will have on other knowledge-oriented services like Wikipedia and Squidoo. Larry Dignan at ZDNet offers a different slant on Knol...
Google Knol is initially being portrayed as a Wikipedia killer and perhaps a threat to Yahoo Answers, but there is a key difference that worth noting. Wikipedia is a community effort. Google Knol will highlight authors. If John Doe is an expert on something he can share that knowledge through Google Knol.

That author distinction makes me wonder if Google Knol could really become more of a knowledge management application. Knowledge management software has been around forever in the enterprise, but never quite caught on en masse. The biggest reason: Employees like to hoard knowledge and don’t want to share much because they become less valuable.

For companies, however, collecting institutional knowledge is critical. If you’re a utility that has one third or more of your workforce retiring in the next two years, you better figure out how to store key information. Most of this information isn’t textbook material–it’s little day to day workarounds that make the business more efficient.

That’s why Google Knol could be interesting. Of course, not all of the content will be worthy, but Google’s approach–if it works–may be worth adopting in the enterprise somehow via an API and a filter that aggregates employee expertise.
I agree with Larry. I have been writing a lot about a concept I call, "knowledge networking". It's kind of like social networking but it's less about "who knows who" and more about "who knows what". We have enough services available, in both the consumer and business worlds, that help us with the "who knows who" problem. We don't have much available when it comes to "who knows what". Google's Knol initiative could be a good step in that direction.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Marketing and Sales in a Freemium World

I am currently consulting to a couple different start-ups (Pathworks Software and Radar Networks) and they are both planning to enter the market with a freemium type of business model. A term coined by Fred Wilson, Wikipedia defines "freemium business model" as:
The freemium business model works by offering basic services for free, while charging a premium for advanced or special features. The word freemium is a portmanteau created by combining the two aspects of the business model: free + premium. The business model has gained popularity with Web 2.0 companies
In the business world (versus the consumer world), LinkedIn is a great example of a freemium service. Users can use many of LinkedIn's features for free but if you want to take advantage of premium features, like posting a job opening, you need to pay a subscription fee.

From my perspective, the freemium model is very similar to the open source model and is an effective method for start-ups to build their user base; however, the model also forces marketing and sales organizations -- especially those who are used to enterprise selling -- to rethink how they run their functions. In particular...
  • The freemium model moves the "sales funnel" into the service being offered.
  • The marketing function can now be measured in a quantiative manner.
  • The sales function becomes transaction oriented, rather than relationship oriented.
Let me expand on each of these points.

The "Sales Funnel" Moves Into the Service

With any sales funnel, there are multiple steps a prospect takes before becoming a paying customer. Historically, marketing was responsible for part of the funnel (generating qualified leads) and sales was responsible for part of it (closing the deal).

With a freemium offering, the service itself plays a role in the sales funnel. As users use the free version, the service must move them through the sales funnel and entice them to pay for premium features. For this to be effective, the service must include "features" that highlight the premium features.

For example, if you providing an online document management service, one of the premium features might be extra storage. If that is the case, the amount of storage a "free" user is using should always be highlighted and as the user approaches their maximum "free" allotment, visual cues should be provided that encourages the user to sign up and pay for additional storage.

The Marketing Function Can Be Measured Quantiatively

Anybody who has been in the marketing function at a technology company has heard all of the lines -- "how do you justify that marketing budget?", "you are just overhead". It goes on and on. To some extent, it is difficult to argue against some of the underlying messages. In the past, it has been very difficult to quantitatively measure the effectiveness of marketing. Sure, there are some elements that can be easily measured (direct marketing being a good example) but it is difficult to do so for many of the functions within marketing (PR is a good example).

In a freemium model, the entire sales funnel, and therefore the marketing function, can be quantifiably measured. The number of people who visit the website, the number of website visitors who signup for the free service, the number of free users who become paid users. These are all metrics that marketing can greatly effect, and should be held accountable for.

In fact, when taking this metrics-based approach to measuring marketing, I would encourage marketing executives to take a fresh look at how they organize their department. I propose there should be one person (or group) held accountable for each of the metrics.

The Sales Function Becomes Transaction Oriented

The tone of this post thus far could lead a person into thinking that the sales function is no longer needed with the freemium model. That is not the case. The purchase decision making for any service used by a group of users is still an organizational one and it still requires some prodding. I believe, however, that the freemium model dictates a difference in how the sales function should be managed.

Unlike the direct sales model where reps are selling six-figure deals into enterprises by using a relationship-based selling approach, the freemium model encourages much more of an inside sales, transaction-oriented approach. Typically in a freemium model, the size of the early, seeding transactions tend to be small and cannot justify the expenses associated with direct sales. Over time, as a company grows and starts selling larger deals, direct sales can be layered into the sales function.


The use of the freemium business model is an exciting development in the technology market. It requires a different mindset across an entire company but particularly in the marketing and sales functions. Those organizations who can adopt the new mindset effectively will be ahead of those who remain stuck in the old mindset.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Should Enterprise Software Be Sexy?

Over the weekend, Robert Scoble set off a firestorm in the blogosphere with his post, "Why enterprise software isn't sexy". To be honest, I didn't quite get his argument. But many of the responses to his post do touch on what I consider is an important issue these days.

Nick Carr of Rough Type does a good job of hitting the issue on the head. He starts with ZDNet blogger Michael Krigsman's reply to Scoble...

As an enterprise software blogger ... I feel qualified to comment on the issue: Scoble’s question is irrelevant and meaningless. Robert Scoble misses this point: unlike consumer software, where sex appeal is critical to attracting a commercially-viable audience, enterprise software has a different set of goals. Enterprise software is all about helping organizations conduct their basic business in a better, more cost-effective manner. In software jargon, it’s intended to “enable core business processes” with a high degree of reliability, security, scalability, and so on ...

When I’m at home using Twitter, a great example of cool consumer software, I want to be delighted, thrilled, entertained, and engaged. When I transfer money through my bank, which is certainly a non-sexy enterprise system, I demand the system work every time without fail. There’s a big difference between enterprise and consumer systems, a lesson I suspect Robert Scoble is about to learn.

Carr then comes back with...

I'm sorry, but I think Krigsman is the one who doesn't understand enterprise software - or at least doesn't understand what it could become. The distinction he draws between business and consumer applications is specious. Are we really to believe that making software engaging is somehow incompatible with making it reliable and secure? That's just baloney.


By perpetuating a false dichotomy between the friendliness of consumer apps and the seriousness of business apps, all that Krigsman is doing is giving enterprise vendors cover for continuing to produce software that's difficult and unpleasant to use. Give Scoble credit. He's asking the right question, in his own strange way.
Nick has been receiving a lot of grief on his post, especially from people who follow the enterprise software space, like the Enterprise Irregulars crew. I was in the enterprise software space for a long time and I'm with Nick. I not only feel that there aren't any good reasons why enterprise software can't look as good as consumer software but I also feel that in the near future, enterprise vendors will have to deliver a consumer-like experience in order to be accepted by young users who grow up using consumer Web services.

Also, as I stated in a recent post, more and more business software start-ups are taking a bottoms-up approach to entering a market by enamoring users before penetrating the enterprise. When taking this approach, they have to remember that they are initially marketing to individuals, not organizations, and a compelling user experience is an important criteria for an individual when they decide to use a new service.

What Is The "Purpose"?

I have spent a lot of time working for start-ups in the business software space. In that space, when you are defining a new product, it doesn't take long before the discussion comes around to, "what is the value proposition of the product?". When selling to businesses, the concept of a value proposition makes sense and it is usually related to some sort of financial benefit -- increase revenues, decrease costs, etc.

Now days, start-up companies in the business software space are attempting to penetrate the market using a bottoms-up approach. Rather than selling "high" within an organization using a direct sales force, start-ups are trying to initially market to individuals. The theory goes if you can get a bunch of individuals excited about an offering, then they can act as your evangelists within an organization as you upsell to a broader set of users. The open source business model is all about this. Suppliers of business-oriented RSS readers, like NewsGator, are also taking this approach.

The important notion with this approach is that you are initially marketing to individuals, not organizations. As a result, I would argue that the "value proposition" mentality is not as relevant. When I, as an individual, decide to use a new product or Web-based service, I am not thinking about "value proposition". I am thinking more along the lines of the "purpose" the new product/service is providing me.

If I step back and think of all of the Web-based services I use regularly, each one has a defined "purpose" in my mind. I use LinkedIn when I want to see if somebody in my personal network knows somebody I am interested in talking to. I use MyBlogLog to check on my blog activity. I use Pandora to listen to music online.

I have been putting this mentality into practice recently as I consult with start-ups, especially to those who are initially marketing to individuals. I strongly encourage them to develop a succinct sentence that defines a clear "purpose" they will provide a user. Having such a "purpose" makes the requirements definition process much easier; without such a "purpose", the requirements definition process can easily lack the focus it needs to be successful.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Where Are the Big Ideas?

Rafe Needleman of Webware posted a rant today entitled, "Where are the big ideas?" In his post, Rafe wonders out loud why there aren't many start-ups tackling big ideas and, therefore, requiring big amounts of cash.

Right now, a small team with no money can start a real online business. If the founders are very lucky, they generate revenue and begin to grow. If they are exceptionally fortunate, they get sold to Google for $1.65 billion. But most of the start-ups we cover on will languish for a while in obscurity and eventually die. The problems they are solving are not big enough.

This is one of the reasons that venture capitalists are having a hard time. Many are are sitting on funds of hundreds of millions of dollars, looking for places to put large chunks of that money. But you can't put more than a few hundred thousand into a typical Web start-up without drowning it in funds it can't use. Over-funding a company can kill it, just as surely as starving it of resources.

This is a problem, because if a business can be funded by credit card debt, a competitor can come in and start the same business, and undercut whatever profit margin the first business is relying on to keep the Ramen cupboard stocked. Big businesses have defensive walls around them, and often these walls are built with stacks of money.

These are the businesses that I really like--big plays that take big money and major industry expertise to start. If they work, they change the landscape.

The reason there aren't that many big ideas these days is because it doesn't make sense to raise a lot of money when the probability is greater that a "successful" start-up will be purchased by a large company within a few years, rather than going public over a number of years.

Just take a look at the facts...if you look at the acquisitions made by Google and Yahoo! over the last few years, the acquisition price for the majority of the deals was under $100M or "undisclosed" (which means that it wasn't a large number since they only have to disclose details on deals that have a material impact on their financials).

If chances are a start-up will be purchased before they are worth more than $100M, it makes sense not to raise a lot of money. The more money you raise, the higher the exit price becomes for all investors to be happy and it reduces the options a company has over time.

I'm not saying this is a good thing. As I have argued a few times (here and here and here), I believe there is a fundamental disconnect between the currently liquidity climate for start-ups and the funding environment. Until this disconnect goes away, I think we will continue to see a lack of start-ups with big ideas.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Is Tech Blogging Happening Too Fast?

Anne Zelenka has an interesting post at GigaOM. Entitled, "Tech Blogging: The Web Mind at Warp Speed", the post raises the question about whether tech blogging is happening too fast these days. Anne cites a couple people who feel that it is...

Marketing consultant and blogger Brian Oberkirch suggests that tech blogging happens too fast, without enough thought, and that a decrease in ad spending could have a helpful effect:

A minor correction in the ad market might be the best thing to happen to blogging. Maybe writers would turn away from becoming page mills and boring the crap out of us, and instead, will turn back to value, passion, thinking things through, making connections previously unseen.

Forrester blogger Josh Bernoff recently voiced a similar criticism:

When it comes to blogging, faster is often perceived to be better. GigaOm and TechCrunch are all over the trends, covering the same announcements, often within minutes of each other.
Anne, however, feels differently...
I’m not convinced, however, that better ideas emerge by holding back on them, deeply thinking them, and polishing them until they’re just right. With the global Internet mind, offering more tentative and provisional ideas and doing it faster may be a better strategy than sitting in an isolation chamber, devoid of feedback.
If all tech blogs did was rewrite press releases, they would add little to the evolving understanding of technology. What they do instead is consistently introduce timely information and quick analysis into an ongoing conversation. While it’s not a perfect approach, it can contribute to an incremental growth in understanding — especially when that new information is mixed and mashed up by other writers working at different paces and with knowledge of other spheres.
I've been thinking about this lately. Every day, I spend a good portion of time sifting through the RSS feeds of the popular tech blogs I subscribe to. I am finding that for the majority of them, I view them as "news providers", rather than as "news analysts". I see their value as delivering news to me on a timely basis. I go through their feeds quickly, scanning the headline, rather than looking for their analysis. For this category of blogs, I am thinking of unsubscribing to some of them since they are playing redundant roles in my mind.

These days, I place much greater value on blogs that deliver lengthier, insightful posts. Read/WriteWeb, in particular, is a favorite of mine right now. I read their posts more carefully because I appreciate the analysis they provide.

So, from my perspective, I do think tech blogging is happening way too fast.

Monday, December 03, 2007

I Like the Smell of Roses

The sub-title for my blog is, "Things That Rise 'Above the Noise' in My Mind". Based on most of my entries to date, you could easily conclude that I think about nothing but business/work. Fortunately, that is not really the case, as evidenced by a few recent entries on parenting (here and here) and education.

One of the other things I spend a lot of time thinking about is sports, and in particular, USC (that is, the University of Southern California; not the University of South Carolina) sports. Although the football season didn't quite turn out the way we had originally hoped (when analysts were saying that this team could be one of the best college football teams of all time), the season ended on a good note this past weekend with USC, once again, winning the Pac-10 championship and a trip to the Rose Bowl.

When it comes to football, expectations are very high every year at USC. This is not the case when it comes to basketball so it is a pleasant surprise when the basketball team has a good season, as they did last year. Expectations are a bit higher this year since they have one of the premier freshman in the nation (OJ Mayo). So far, the season has gotten off to a fairly good start but none of this really counts until you get to March Madness.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Being a Facebook User is Starting to Get Spooky

Being a Facebook user these days is starting to get spooky as vendors start to implement Beacon, one of Facebook's new advertising vehicles. Charlene Li of Forrester just posted a blog entry on a "close encounter" she had...

Earlier this week, I bought a coffee table on When I next logged into Facebook and saw this at the top of my newsfeed:


I was pretty surprised to see this, because I received no notification while I was on that they had the Facebook Beacon installed on the site. If they had, I would have turned it off.

I had my own personal experience with Beacon this past weekend. After I purchased some tickets on Fandango, I was asked if I would like this transaction sent to my Facebook profile. I was pretty spooked when I saw this but fortunately, unlike Charlene's experience, I had the opportunity to say "no".

Needless to say, users and privacy advocates, including, are not happy about Beacon.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Don't Let Your Kids Stay Up Late

I didn't realize Po Bronson has turned into such a parenting guru (see previous post) but in the October 7 issue of New York Magazine, he wrote another interesting article about the effects lack of sleep can have in children.
Dr. Avi Sadeh of Tel Aviv University is one of the authorities in the field. A couple of years ago, Sadeh sent 77 fourth-graders and sixth-graders home with randomly drawn instructions to either go to bed earlier or stay up later for three nights. Each child was given an actigraph (a wristwatchlike device that’s equivalent to a seismograph for sleep activity), which enabled Sadeh’s team to learn that the first group managed to get 30 minutes more sleep per night. The latter got 31 minutes less sleep.

After the third night’s sleep, a researcher went to the school in the morning to test the children’s neurobiological functioning. The test they used is highly predictive of both achievement-test scores and how teachers will rate a child’s ability to maintain attention in class.

Sadeh knew that his experiment was a big risk. “The last situation I wanted to be in was reporting to my grantors, ‘Well, I deprived the subjects of only an hour, and there was no measurable effect at all, sorry—but can I have some more money for my other experiments?’” he says.

Sadeh needn’t have worried. The effect was indeed measurable—and sizable. The performance gap caused by an hour’s difference in sleep was bigger than the normal gap between a fourth-grader and a sixth-grader. Which is another way of saying that a slightly sleepy sixth-grader will perform in class like a mere fourth-grader. “A loss of one hour of sleep is equivalent to [the loss of] two years of cognitive maturation and development,” Sadeh explains.

Unlike the last parenting post where I confessed that I am guilty for telling my kids how smart they are, I (and my wife) are less guilty on this one. Okay, I feel a little bit better that I am not screwing up our kids THAT much.

Don't Tell Your Kids They Are Smart

A friend of mine (thanks, Chris) just sent me a link to a very interesting article by Po Bronson on parenting that was in the February 11 issue of New York Magazine.
For a few decades, it’s been noted that a large percentage of all gifted students (those who score in the top 10 percent on aptitude tests) severely underestimate their own abilities. Those afflicted with this lack of perceived competence adopt lower standards for success and expect less of themselves. They underrate the importance of effort, and they overrate how much help they need from a parent.

When parents praise their children’s intelligence, they believe they are providing the solution to this problem. According to a survey conducted by Columbia University, 85 percent of American parents think it’s important to tell their kids that they’re smart. In and around the New York area, according to my own (admittedly nonscientific) poll, the number is more like 100 percent. Everyone does it, habitually. The constant praise is meant to be an angel on the shoulder, ensuring that children do not sell their talents short.

But a growing body of research—and a new study from the trenches of the New York public-school system—strongly suggests it might be the other way around. Giving kids the label of “smart” does not prevent them from underperforming. It might actually be causing it.

Alright, I'm guilty (as if my kids needed another thing to blame me for when they go to therapy years from now!).

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A "Social" Network at Oracle

As a result of all of the press being generated at Oracle Open World this week, I just came across an August blog entry about a social network being developed within Oracle for its employees. In my posts on "knowledge networking", I have been saying that businesses don't need social networks a la Facebook; they need something different that allows employees to leverage knowledge among each other. Tim Dexter, an Oracle employee, concurs in a post he wrote about the social network at Oracle...
Paul was commenting on how the Facebooks and mySpaces of this world have no real relevance when we come to work, he hit the nail on the head for me saying' ,'behind the firewall however, photos and music don’t go very far' - yep, its interesting to see a colleague's new baby photo but beyond that the share photos, music and 'about' pages do not help you to get your work done, after all thats why we are here.

To be more productive at work I need fast access to files - help, designs, how to's, code 'cook books'. OK, maybe a little too geeky on the latter but most importantly, in my mind, I need access to people.

Knowing who people are and what they do is the toughest thing in Oracle, with circa 60,000 folks with their heads down all beavering away - who is the person that knows ADI inside out, who might be able to point me in the right direction for an Oracle Forms problem. Sure, mailing lists are a help but people are swamped with mail - they may not like to be contacted by a relative stranger but I for one would rather spend 2 minutes on the phone talking to someone rather than exchanging umpteen emails until we had finally worked out what the question really was about and given an answer.

I couldn't agree more.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

CEO 3.0

Today's NY Times has an interesting article on the evolution of what it takes to be a successful CEO...
The first iteration made its mark in the 1990s, as chief executives like Sanford I. Weill, Gerald M. Levin, John F. Welch Jr. and Michael Eisner built empires, not to mention their profiles, at the companies they ran: Citigroup, Time Warner, GE and Disney.

When the shares deflated earlier this decade after the burst of the tech bubble and various corporate scandals, a new cadre moved in: the Fix-it Men. They were lower-key leaders like Charles O. Prince III of Citigroup and Richard D. Parsons of Time Warner, whose job it was to repair the excesses and mistakes of their predecessors.

Now, management experts and longtime watchers of corporate America say the current environment demands, and is attracting, yet another kind of chief executive: the team builder.
This theme is very consistent with one raised by Carly Fiorina in a speech I saw last month. It's also interesting to note how often the points she made in her speech are being reiterated by others. Here's another example. While at HP, maybe she knew she what she was talking about after all.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Do Schools Kill Creativity?

The video below was just brought to my attention. It is a talk given by Sir Ken Robinson at TED 2006. As described on the TED website...
Sir Ken Robinson makes an entertaining (and profoundly moving) case for creating an education system that nurtures creativity, rather than undermining it. With ample anecdotes and witty asides, Robinson points out the many ways our schools fail to recognize -- much less cultivate -- the talents of many brilliant people. "We are educating people out of their creativity," Robinson says. The universality of his message is evidenced by its rampant popularity online. A typical review: "If you have not yet seen Sir Ken Robinson's TED talk, please stop whatever you're doing and watch it now."
It is 19 minutes and 29 seconds well spent.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Enterprise 2.0 Bullseye

I've been at Defrag in Denver for the last couple days. Lots of good presentations and conversations but the highlight for me was Andrew McAfee's presentation this morning. In his presentation, he provided a great framework, for both vendors and organizations, that links the various Web 2.0 tools (wikis, social networks, blogs, prediction markets) with the types of relationships knowledge workers have with each other. You can read a synopsis of the presentation at McAfee's blog. If you are interested in "Web 2.0 for business", I think this is a "must read".

UPDATE: Here is Dan Farber's post on McAfee's presentation.

The Social Enterprise

Alex Iskold just posted another insightful article. This one's on The Social Enterprise. Similar to what Carly Fiorina said in a recent speech, Alex says that organizations need to be agile in order to succeed...
Lately however, with the increasing speed at which our society operates, we are seeing that companies have had to become more agile in order to compete. The old hierarchical structures are unable to process information quickly enough to make day-to-day business decisions.
I generally agree with much of what Alex says in his post. There is one area where I have a slight disagreement...
Regardless of whether it is a technical or business team, knowledge acquisition and sharing is a challenge. Often, employees within the same team and even more often across teams, rediscover the same information. What better way is there to share the valuable information found on the web than a social bookmarking system?
I agree that knowledge acquisition and sharing is a challenge. Where I disagree is that it can be solved with a social bookmarking system. I think much of a person's knowledge is locked up in emails and in documents, and I think there needs to be a solution that solves this problem in a broader manner.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Two Sides to Social Networks in Business

The role of social networks within businesses continues to be a topic of discussion. Just today, I read about both sides of the argument.

In the latest issue of Information Week, the cover story is about the adoption of Web 2.0 technologies within enterprises. With respect to social networks...
Of all Web 2.0 technologies, social networking is the one that gets vendors and venture capitalists most excited. At least 17 startups are pitching social networking technology to business customers, while countless social networking Web sites are chasing individual users. But it's also the one about which our readers are most skeptical: When asked to rate the value of technologies, 68% say that public social networking sites are of no use at all. Only 5% rate any kind of social networking as very useful.
I'm not surprised by the 5% response to social networking. As I have said in the past, within businesses, I don't think there is a lot of business utility when it comes to "social" networking. I do believe, however, that is an opportunity in what I call "knowledge" networking.

The flip side of this argument is found in Dan Farber's interview with JP Rangaswami of BT. Rangaswami, former global CIO of BT and now managing director of BT Design, has been a pioneer in the use of Web 2.0 technologies within businesses. In this interview, he talks about the use of Facebook within BT as a way to break the "assembly line mindset"...
In fact if you look at what I’m doing with Facebook, what I’m really achieving, what any of us who wants to use it in an enterprise environment achieves, is to say that you’ve taken what happened at the water cooler or at the coffee shop and made it persistent, made it shareable, made it teachable, made it learnable. That’s a huge win because we’ve spent years talking about the value of the water cooler conversations, of the coffee shops, of the more amorphous softer discussions. Now we have the ability to actually understand what these relationships are, how information and decision making migrates horizontally, laterally through an organization, rather than through the published hierarchies, how people really work, and what people do as part of that work.
As I said in an earlier post, I don't see the business utility of Facebook. Next week, Rangaswami will be speaking at Defrag. I will be there and I hope to have the opportunity to speak to with him about this. I will post an update if I do.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Radar Networks, Twine, and Knowledge Networking

In one of my recent posts on knowledge networking, I mentioned that I have been consulting to a start-up that could become a player in that space. That start-up is Radar Networks, known as one of the leaders in the Semantic Web movement (also referred to as Web 3.0). Today, at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco, the CEO of Radar Networks, Nova Spivack, is previewing the company's first offering, Twine. Twine is a knowledge networking service for sharing, organizing, and finding information with people you trust. Think of it as an organic form of knowledge management that leverages social networking concepts.

Earlier this week, Nova conducted pre-briefings with many of the industry's influencers and the blogosphere is being filled with their perspectives. Some of the early perspectives are very consistent with many of my beliefs on knowledge networking and the role of Facebook within businesses.

One of my beliefs is that classic knowledge management systems have had limited success because they take a top-down approach to leveraging information among people and that there is a need for a bottoms-up approach to the problem, what I call "knowledge networking".

From John Markoff of the NY Times...
In the past such “knowledge management” services have been restricted to large corporations and to world of government intelligence organizations. Now the falling cost of computing and networking will make it available to everyday consumers and in theory support it with advertising.
And Tim O'Reilly of O'Reilly Radar...
Knowledge management is certainly a thorny problem. We all have vast collections of data, usually in various silos: our email, our bookmarks, our flickr photos, our address book. Navigating among related items is hard. And when you have a group of people working on a shared project, it becomes even harder. Who knows what? Where is it? This is the knot that Radar Networks hopes to untangle.
I also believe that Facebook is not the solution for this type of problem.

From Nicholas Carr of Rough Type...
Spivack says that Twine is not intended to compete with Facebook and other social networks. But while it’s true that Twine is a different sort of thing, it’s also true that it promises some compelling information-management benefits for business users that Facebook can’t match. If one of the assumptions behind Facebook’s rich current valuation is that it will become a popular business platform for sharing ideas and information, then Twine poses a clear and imminent threat.
Twine is a promising first step for knowledge networking. I encourage all of you to keep an eye on its progress.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Carly Fiorina on Change, Google, and Al-Qaeda

Last night, I saw a lecture by Carly Fiorina as part of a speaker series my wife and I attend. I didn't know what to expect going in to the lecture. The primary theme of her lecture was "change" -- how difficult it is for people to make changes due to their fear of doing something different; what needs to happen in order for businesses and organizations to make changes effectively; etc.

Coming out of the lecture, my initial response was that Fiorina's speech was "okay" (it wasn't as inspirational as many lectures we have seen) but I was very impressed with her. She is extremely polished and has a good understanding of a broad range of issues.

Upon further reflection, some of the points Fiorina made is resonating with me a bit more. In particular, when asked why she feels Google has become so successful, she presented an analogy that she often gives to people she consults to in our federal government. She feels that Google is to Microsoft as Al-Qaeda is to the U.S. Government. To her, this is not an issue of "good vs. bad" or "winner vs. loser" but it is about organizations who do things the old way (Microsoft and the U.S. Government) versus those that are doing things a different way (Google and Al-Qaeda).

Fiorina feels that organizations like Microsoft and the U.S. Government manage their "businesses" based on their legacy; they use a top-down, "command and control" style of management; and they are made up of a bunch of functional silos. All of this makes them organizationally inflexible and, therefore, they are unable to react quickly to market dynamics or competitive threats.

Organizations like Google and Al-Qaeda on the other hand are managing their "businesses" based on being innovative, and they have flatter organizational structures that give people autonomy to do things and foster a collaborative style of management. All of this gives them flexible organizations that can react quickly to market dynamics or competitive threats.

Fiorina feels that organizations in the 21st century, largely in part due to the effect that technology and globalization is having on our society, cannot run their businesses "the old way" anymore and have to change. The leading organizations of this century, in her mind, are going to be those that have leaders who foster a culture of collaboration, not one of "command and control". Interesting food for thought.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Knowledge Networking and the Implicit Web

As I continue to think about knowledge networking, I came across a post, "The Implicit Web", I originally read when it first came out late last year. In it, Fred Wilson talks about a lunch he had with Josh Kopelman where Josh said, "web 2.0 is the explicit web and web 3.0 is the implicit web". This got Fred thinking about the Implicit Web.
Enough about jargon, the implicit web is all about the value that will accrue to an Internet user when their every action is tracked, recorded, and used to provide value back to that user. There is also a second order play when that clickstream activity is shared with the user's permission with everyone else.
Fred goes on to give examples of how this is, and can be, applied to many Web-based activities -- the tracking of iTunes by being his favorite. All of his examples, however, are driven by the behavior a user exhibits on the Web.

Why not extend the notion of the Implicit Web beyond user behavior to a person's knowledge? What if a service kept track of the different "knowledge" you created via emails, documents, bookmarks, etc., and then used that information to point you in the direction of other knowledge or services that might be of interest to you. To me, this is the heart of knowledge networking; the ability for a person to leverage the knowledge of others, as well as content/services on the Web. This could be done in an explicit manner when a user proactively searches for knowledge within their network, or it might be done in an implicit manner when a user is automatically recommended content/services based on their knowledge being tracked. That would be powerful.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

More on Knowledge Networking

Over the last few days, I have done a few posts (here, here, and here) on what I am calling knowledge networking. In my posts thus far, I have talked about knowledge networking at a conceptual level. In this post, I will provide more details on my take on knowledge networking.

As I have described before, I define knowledge networking as the ability for people to connect with the purpose of leveraging each other's knowledge. This is different than social networking where people connect with the purpose of communicating with each other.

In business, the notion of leveraging knowledge is not a new thing. Traditionally, organizations have implemented knowledge management systems in order to address this need. I argue, however, that in today's environment, classic knowledge management systems are no longer effective for the following reasons:
  • Much knowledge today is found in emails and on web pages. Classic knowledge management systems only support documents as a source of knowledge and they don't support email or web pages.
  • People want to share different levels of knowledge with others based on their relationship with them. Classic knowledge management systems don't support this notion.
  • With the vast amount of knowledge available today, users should be able to "stumble upon" knowledge that might be of interest to them. Classic knowledge management systems only respond to explicit requests made by users.
For today's environment, I feel there is a need for an organic form of knowledge management that optimizes the leveraging of knowledge among people. This organic form is what I call knowledge networking and it has the following characteristics:
  • Knowledge networking services should support email and web pages, as well as documents, as sources of knowledge.
  • Knowledge networking services should understand that a user has different types of relationships among people and needs to share knowledge differently based on those relationships.
  • Knowledge networking services should not only address explicit requests made by users, but should also automatically locate relevant knowledge for a user based on their interests (i.e., "stumble upon" knowledge).
Now, if you were reading the above characteristics carefully, you should have noticed that I consistently said, "Knowledge networking services should..."; the word "should" being the important word. Yes, this implies I am laying out my requirements for a knowledge networking service and one currently does not exist. Based on the research I have conducted thus far, I have not seen such a solution yet. However, I have been doing some consulting recently for a start-up and they have the potential to be a player in this area. They will be making some announcements in a couple weeks so stay tuned.

Knowledge Age vs. Connected Age

Anne Zelenka of GigaOM just did an interesting post contrasting the Knowledge Age and the Connected Age. She identifies the Knowledge Age with Knowledge Work and the Connected Age with Web Work. Her table to the left summarizes the characteristics of each type of work.

I think her framework is a good one and is in line with my current thoughts about the leveraging of knowledge among people. I feel that the effective leverage of knowledge is one of the top challenges businesses face today.

In the spirit of the Knowledge Age, many organizations deploy traditional knowledge management systems and employ a top-down approach to collect and disseminate knowledge to their employees.

In the spirit of the Connected Age, I believe leading edge organizations must employ a bottoms-up approach to knowledge management that is based on leveraging relationships between people and their respective knowledge. This is what I call knowledge networking.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Should Theater Be a Part of Work?

In today's NY Times, Alice Mathias has an article entitled, "The Fakebook Generation". In it, Alice, who is a recent college graduate, talks about Facebook being closer to theater than a functional tool...
Facebook did not become popular because it was a functional tool — after all, most college students live in close quarters with the majority of their Facebook friends and have no need for social networking. Instead, we log into the Web site because it’s entertaining to watch a constantly evolving narrative starring the other people in the library.
For young people, Facebook is yet another form of escapism; we can turn our lives into stage dramas and relationships into comedy routines. Make believe is not part of the postgraduate Facebook user’s agenda. As more and more older users try to turn Facebook into a legitimate social reference guide, younger people may follow suit and stop treating it as a circus ring. But let’s hope not.
I'm with Alice. I have been in many conversations with colleagues where we ask, "what's up with all of this Facebook stuff?", especially when it comes to its use in business. I agree that Facebook does some things well -- it gives you a better feel for an individual over other people-related services like LinkedIn, it fulfills our needs to be voyeurs, etc. I don't see, however, how it provides functionality that lends itself to be a serious business tool; unless, you happen to work in theater production.

A Use Case for Knowledge Networking

In my last post, I talked about Knowledge Networking and how I feel that it is the business equivalent to social networking. Whereas social networks enable people to connect to communicate with each other, I believe that the purpose of knowledge networks is for people to connect in order to leverage knowledge among each other.

To that end, Jay Cross recently did a post on Making the Business Case for Informal Learning. He gave examples of use cases for informal learning. One of them had to do with eliminating bureaucracy...
Eliminate bureaucracy. Knowledge workers waste a third of their time looking for information and identifying the right people to talk with. They often spend more time recreating information hidden in someone else’s file cabinet than creating original material. I just heard about a company where the workers think doing their email is the work; that’s how they spend almost all of their time. Expert locators, bottom-up knowledge management, instant messaging, organization-wide wikis, and organizational network analysis all attack this plaque in the organizational arteries.

Benefits: speed flow of information, cut time wasted searching for answers, streamline organizational process, cut email by half, cease re-inventing the wheel, increase worker throughput 20% to 30%.
I think this is one of the use cases for knowledge networking. It is, in essence, an organic form of knowledge management.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Web 2.0 in Business, Knowledge Networking, and a Cool New Conference

When I was at JotSpot last year, I got a taste for how businesses -- large, medium, and small -- are using Web 2.0 services, like wikis and blogs. Since leaving JotSpot (when they got acquired by Google last year), I have been spending a lot of time thinking about the next wave of Web 2.0 services that will make their way into businesses. Earlier this year, I spent about six months incubating an idea along this vein with a couple others but I eventually decided to bow out of that venture.

For the last few months, I have been focused on what I loosely call the "Facebook for business" opportunity. I say, "loosely", because I don't think the opportunity has to do with "social" networking. I think the opportunity is all about "knowledge" networking. It's about people connecting for the purpose of leveraging each other's knowledge, not just communicating with each other. Nova Spivak of Radar Networks has his own take on "knowledge networking".

Along these lines, I recently came across a new conference, The Defrag Conference. The organizers describe their conference in the following manner:
Defrag is the first conference focused solely on the internet-based tools that transform loads of information into layers of knowledge, and accelerate the “aha” moment. Defrag is about the space that lives in between knowledge management, “social” networking, collaboration and business intelligence. Defrag is not a version number. Rather it’s a gathering place for the growing community of implementers, users, builders and thinkers that are working on the next wave of software innovation.
I think they are framing the problem in the right way. Knowledge networking, in my mind, is at the nexus of knowledge management, social networking, collaboration, and business intelligence. I hope to attend the conference and to be a part of the conversation.

Great Minds Think Alike

Alex Iskold of Read/WriteWeb just did a nice piece on The New Rules of Technology VC. I think it is a REALLY nice piece because it echoes some of the points I made in a post about a year ago.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

A Refreshing VC Perspective

In one of my initial blog posts, I expressed concern over the current financing environment for start-up software companies; I said that there is a disconnect between the current funding needs of most start-ups and the VC model. I just read a refreshing perspective from Charles Moldow, a general partner at Foundation Capital. He summarizes his perspective with the following:
To sum up, the point I’m making is pretty basic. When you’re looking to fund your young company, definitely consider venture capital, but also be aware that for your particular situation it may make more sense to explore alternatives to venture money, like angel investors or bootstrapping, with help from family and friends. We like to keep our focus on building successful, long-term companies of a certain scale. Not many mice ever grow up to become antelopes.
I couldn't agree more.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Marketing of the Nintendo Wii

Over the holidays, my family was in Santa Fe, NM visiting my brother-in-law and his family. They have a Nintendo Wii so, much to my seven-year-old son's (and frankly, my) delight, we got to spend a significant amount of time playing with it. After having hours of fun with the Wii, like David Pogue of the NY Times, even though I am not a gamer, I feel compelled to write about it.

The Wii is not only the coolest gaming system out there right now but I am extremely impressed with what Nintendo is pulling off from a marketing perspective. Explicitly, they are targeting non-gamers like myself but the brilliant part is that they have the hard core gamers as probably their biggest fans. My brother-in-law and his wife have two teenage sons who are hard core gamers and they LOVE the Wii. The scene over the holidays was something to behold -- you had everybody from my seven-year-old son to my wife (who is less of a gamer than me and that is saying something) to our teenage nephews, all having fun playing with the Wii together. This goes against Marketing 101 where you are told to target a particular market segment. Bravo, Nintendo!

BTW, for those of you who are fortunate enough to have a Wii, if you don't have the game, Rayman Raving Rabbids, I highly recommend you purchase it. You will never have this much fun again with a bunch of lunatic rabbits!

The iPhone Introduction - Marketing At Its Best!

For you marketers out there, if you haven't seen Steve Jobs' iPhone announcement presentation at Macworld yesterday, it is worth taking the time to check it out. It is marketing at its best. Besides the fact that the product itself seems to be the coolest thing since, well, the iPod, Jobs shows how presentations should be done. He uses a lot of the basic tenets on giving a good presentation...
  • Keep your messages simple and repeat them over and over again. The primary iPhone message was, "The iPhone is a three-in-one device -- an iPod, a cell phone, and an Internet communicator." There is no way you don't remember that after watching Jobs' presentation.
  • Tell people what you are going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you have just told them. For each element of the iPhone (iPod, cell phone, Internet communicator), there were key messages that were communicated, then demo'd, then communicated again.
  • Keep your slides simple. The number of words used on each slide was minimal. You didn't spend all of your time trying to read the slides.
I am generally not a gadget guy but when it comes to the cell phone/PDA, I have been a devoted Palm/Treo guy from the get-go. After seeing Jobs' presentation, however, I wish I could have run out and purchased an iPhone right away. After thinking about it overnight and after reading some of the early hands-on reviews, my feelings are a bit more tempered. Here are a couple questions I need answered before I make a purchase:
  • Will I be able to sync my Outlook contact/calendar info into iTunes? Michael Gartenberg of Jupiter Research is not sure about this. Would Apple really ignore Outlook's installed base of about 300 million users?
  • Will I be able to drive the iPhone with one hand? One of the things I love about the Treo is that I can do almost everything I need to do with one hand. To drive the iPhone with one hand, the thumb needs to be used to make gestures. In Gizmodo's initial use of the iPhone, they think you may need to use your index finger for typing, not your thumb. Is this also true for other gestures?
Despite these questions, I am still excited about the iPhone and I plan to spend some time up at Macworld tomorrow to take a look a today's version of the Hope Diamond.