Saturday, December 29, 2007

It's your business

Huh? I do apologize for the totally lame post title, but... I stole it... from Robert Scoble. He has a very long, rambling post entitled "It's your business" which I was getting annoyed with for not getting to the point, but finally he got down to "business":

Which gets me back to the headline I used here: it's your business.

I'm watching how Loic Le Meur is building Seesmic by including the community into every decision he makes. ... Le Meur is building up a ton of love in the community for his approach.

The participants are in control there. It is your business.

Ah, finally he was starting to make some sense. Not a lot, but at least some sense.

Then he started to "rant" again:

I'm tired of getting used by companies who just use and use and use without giving me anything in return. I remember three years ago when I first heard the words "user generated media." That term still pisses me off. ...

I've heard him and a lot of other people say that a lot, but it was always a "So what?" kind of issue for me.

 But, then, finally, he does in fact poke through the clouds and say something that resonated with me:

... I'm not a user, I'm a participant.

Actually, at first it did not resonate with me and seemed like a silly semantic distinction, but maybe his seemingly lame post title (my business??) reinforced his seemingly too-subtle distinction.

Aha! Finally I am getting his point, which is to essentially level the playing field field between businesses and consumers or users or whatever you want to call them. The terms "user" and "consumer" make it sound as if you are at the receiving, short end of the proverbial stick and at the mercy of "the business."

Still, I only half-agree with his use of the term "participant", since even that has connotations of being at the mercy of the "organizer" of the team or game or conference or whatever.

I would have chosen "partner", suggesting a truly equal relationship.

Nonetheless, his key point was that is is my business as well as the organizer's. I would prefer to say that it is our business.

Looking forward in his upcoming venture, he assures us that:

So, whatever I do next will place that philosophy at the center. It is your business.

I can go with that, but I do wish he had called it "our business." And I do wish that he would make us all partners rather than mere "participants."

-- Jack Krupansky

Monday, December 24, 2007

Space, the final frontier?

We are all familiar with the intro to the old Star Trek show, "Space, the final frontier", but in the virtual universe of the online "world" what is the nature of "space" and is it really a frontier?

Most people would agree that linear distance is completely irrelevant in the online world, where computer systems thousands of miles apart might as well be in the next room and a click could take you to data less than an inch away or a world away. An exception is that once we start communicating outside of the physical earth (e.g., Mars or deep space probes), latency becomes a very real issue.

Density of "space" (in terms of computing nodes or locations of files) is similarly completely irrelevant in the online world.

Space in terms of quantity of bits and bytes and data fields and database records is also completely irrelevant in the online world, with the exceptions of 1) occasional lack of local storage space due to artificial "quotas", and 2) latency and access time.

The next form of space is page layout. In print, writers have very hard and fixed boundaries for the amount of text and graphics that can be included in their stories. Getting an extra inch or page requires mighty effort. The Web page has no such limits. As such, space on web pages is effectively infinite and not a frontier at all.

But, there is another form of space online, screen size. The client device, typically a PC, does in fact have a relatively limited amount of space available. Sure, you can scroll and page through your large web pages, but there is a usability factor at work as well. Most "readers" do not read sequentially at all, but scan and bounce around. Their attention span for "viewing" a web page is limited, so asking them to scroll and page and click to get to the rest of the content is frequently too much to ask. The average reader has an unlimited number of content sources and will migrate to wherever screen size limitations are most respected.

Blogs and RSS readers introduce another layer  of space constraint. Sure, you can still page and link to get to unlimited amounts of space, but there is a clear premium value given to terse and concise blog posts that convey the essential meaning of a post in a single "view" in a small subset of the total screen space without demanding extra effort on the part of the user.

Finally, there is an even more intense constraint, or frontier if you will, imposed by accessing online content on a handheld mobile device such as a smartphone. Sure, you can certainly zoom and scroll and page and link to access an infinite amount of content, there is a clear premium value given to content providers who can format and express essential meaning in small-screen chunks.

So, in some sense the online world frees us of the limits and frontiers of three-dimensional and print space, but our access devices and human perceptual limitations give us new frontiers to tackle. We can look forward to a wealth of innovation in how to express, chunk, format, view, and navigate within online content in the years to come. Even the vaunted iPhone only scratches the surface. Even Google has not yet mastered the small screen.

Given the ease with which we can construct large computer networks with vast amounts of data storage and the vast, unlimited expanse of the Web, it certainly does feel as if the small screen of handheld devices is in fact a true frontier where opportunity is unlimited and existing solutions are quite limited.

-- Jack Krupansky

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Should writers blog while developing and writing stories?

Stephen Baker of BusinessWeek has a blog post entitled What if I had blogged the cover while reporting? in which he raises the question as to the extent to which it may be beneficial for print journalists to blog about stories they are developing in advance of the story appearing in print. As he simply puts it:

So, which is better: Writing what we learn as we learn it, or holding it secret and publishing it later?

He gets a few comments, covering the range of both extremes, including mine:

I suspect that the "right" answer is to do both: cover the "journey" online for readers who are just as interested in the back story and greater details that may be prone to being edited out of a print story and then release the distilled and refined "story" for those who prefer a more concise and crisp and professionally presented "story."

Online, we can follow along on your "journey" and actually get value out of dead ends, cul-de-sacs and greater detail that simply doesn't make sense in a print story. And, you get a chance to interact with readers along the way and get their feedback that may in fact help you write a better print story in the end.

In print, you and the editor get to have more careful control over the narrative flow and can produce a story that can leave the reader feeling that they just had a profound, insightful, and exciting experience.

Maybe one is technically "better" than the other, or maybe both in tandem is best.

He does give us his current view on the question at the end of his post:

All that said, I'm planning to try starting my next stories online. I'll start in January (I'm on vacation now) I want to see if it can lead to a new type of magazine story. Or at least new for me. I'm tired of worrying about getting scooped.

So much angst over something that is so obvious to people living in the Web 2.0 world.

But, at least we should be grateful that Stephen was willing to air the question "in public" at all, let alone biting the bullet and committing to giving the hybrid approach a try. I look forward to reading about his next story before it is "officially" really a story in the minds of "management" at BW.

-- Jack Krupansky

Should I get a Mac?

Should my next personal computer be an Apple Mac?

Sure, there are all sorts of technical pros and cons for why you should consider a Mac versus a PC, but I was just starting to think about how to think about 2008 as a fresh new year and trying to come up with a list of little things I could change in my life that may have a big impact. Switching from a PC to a Mac seems to be one of those ideas to consider.

Do not get me wrong, I am not at this point seriously considering going out and buying a Mac for myself for Christmas, but at least it is an interesting intellectual exercise.

To me, the important question is what ways might the use of a Mac impact or influence or change the way that I think or change what I think about in a way that is truly dramatic and will make a big difference in my life in the coming year? I do not have a proposed answer to that question yet, but that is the question I will contemplate. Maybe some insightful readers will share their own answers and experiences.

My current view is that I can do most of what I want to do on a PC (browse the web, send and receive email, blog, etc.) The real question is whether a Mac would somehow provide a whole new level of capability and inspiration that would enable and assist me in rising to a whole new level of performance.

I do have the simple answer: Who knows?

Maybe I'll wander into the local Apple retail store here in downtown Bellevue, WA and ask their sales staff that question, or a variant: I am reasonably happy with Windows and my Toshiba notebook computer... how might a Mac change my life? If I am happy with Windows and Office and Internet Explorer, what will the Mac add to my life?

Will I be a better blogger with a Mac?

Will I write better email with a Mac?

Will a Mac help me search the Internet more effectively and produce more insightful results?

Will a Mac help me stay up on the news more effectively?

-- Jack Krupansky