Google goes for social networks

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Following up on my story from May on Google’s acquisition of Dodgeball, Google is now rumored to be buying another social networking platform, Meetroduction. It is conceptually similar to Dodgeball in that it is location-based, and can narrow down people’s proximity to the user to within a quarter mile. However it uses instant messaging for communication, which is increasingly viable as US mobile phones and PDAs often incorporate IM functionality. The concept of finding compatible people who are close by is an extension of the idea of proximity dating. At its best, this really is “enhanced serendipity” in action! These dual acquisitions by Google – if the rumor is correct – show that they see massive potential in real-time social networking. You bet.


Update August 13: the rumor has been denied in an interesting interview with Wendell Davis of Meetro. However even if this is the case I don’t doubt that this and similar technologies are firmly on Google’s radar.

The future of gaming

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A nice article in The Economist on video gaming. It refers to Marc Prensky’s games2train, (discussed in the first edition of Developing Knowledge-Based Client Relationships), which develops video games for corporate training. Marc originally developed training games for Bankers Trust, the now-defunct highly aggressive trading bank, whose young traders had no time for traditional approaches to training. Its role in entertainment is massive and growing, as represented by the oft-quoted statistic that gaming revenues exceed global movie box-office take (though neglect to point out that total movie revenue including videos, DVDs and licensing is still far higher than that of gaming). Current negative attitudes to games will shift. Steven Johnson’s latest book Everything Bad is Good For You: How Today’s Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter makes the case that gaming develops the skills that are most valuable and relevant in today’s world. However the big frame around gaming is very simply that it will be embedded in many aspects of our future. Movies and games will merge (far more than they have already), and gaming technology will be used to create immersive environments for, among other applications, high-bandwidth collaborative spaces, and visualization and access of information. A lot more fun – and effective! – to search the world-wide web inside a 3D game than through the stark Google interface we use today.

Being a leader in the professions

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I changed the subtitle on the recent second edition of Developing Knowledge-Based Client Relationships to “Leadership in Professional Services” (from “The Future of Professional Services”), as leadership is the primary theme I developed in rewriting the book. Professionals must be leaders outside their firms, in showing their clients the value of collaborative relationships, and leaders inside their firms, in inspiring teams and collaboration that integrate the best resources of the organization to provide uniquely relevant solutions to their clients. Philip Agre of UCLA has just written an excellent article on the very similar theme of How to Be a Leader in Your Field. It provides clear and practical advice, which although aimed at students and younger professionals, is relevant to professionals at all levels. His stance ties in closely with the issues I often talk about of “knowledge specialization”. In a world based on specialist knowledge, our personal strategies for the domains of deep specialist knowledge we develop are at the heart of our careers. Philip Agre’s website provides many other great resources. I came across his work a number of years ago, as it crosses over extensively with my interests, including shifting information flows in society, identity and privacy, and networked education. Another article of interest to professionals is his piece Networking on the Network, a guide intended for PhD students, but relevant to all professionals.

Beam me up! Teleporting today

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You probably heard that Star Trek’s Scotty recently died, with his widow planning to shoot his remains into outer space. It’s an opportune time to review where we are with teleporting. Last year physicists successfully teleported quantum bits, allowing us to dream that one day science fiction may become science fact, and we will never have to eat airline food again. On a more prosaic level, a company called Teleportec has for a few years been marketing a system that effectively projects a person to a different location, allowing a quasi-3D image and eye-to-eye contact between people. This has been used in many domains, most notably conferences. When I speak to financial services audiences, I often also note that another application is beaming financial advisors into any location, meaning even small regional bank branches or kiosks can provide customers access to experienced, trusted advisors. Teleportec says that a UK bank that has tested the system reports that 92% of customers are happy to buy from a teleported representative. The most sophisticated way of teleporting ourselves is the Teleimmersion project, which uses the ultra-high-speed Internet 2 as its backbone. This not only allows people to interact at a distance as if they were present, but embeds a whole series of sub-projects, for example for immersive data visualization. Jaron Lanier, who invented the term “virtual reality”, has been a driving force behind this project. So, while today many of us are beginning to treat web video-conferencing as an everyday tool, the next generation of communicating at a distance – that we might call teleporting – may soon be part of our day-to-day lives.

Who is watching you?

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Last week I was interviewed on Australian national breakfast television, on Channel Nine’s Today program, on the rise of public surveillance cameras. In the wake of the London bombings, Australian cities – and many others worldwide – are rushing to install video cameras everywhere. On the program I was interviewed together with the Lord Mayor of Perth, the Australian city which has the most public video cameras. These are subtle issues to address in a popular television format, yet ones that everyone should be engaged with. I am not against having some public video cameras in some circumstances. However it is a knee-jerk reaction to decide suddenly that more video cameras must be better. A rapid rise in video camera installation, together with more sophisticated monitoring and recognition technology, could well mean it is not long before every individual’s movements can be tracked, while recording everyone they interact with in a public space. What value do we place on anonymity? What are we prepared to give up for greater security, and to what degree does this scrutiny actually protect us, particularly against suicide bombers? The world 20 years hence will be vastly different from today. What our governments do today will shape that world, as loss of privacy is almost always a ratchet, not something you can regain. As in many other debates of today, many are taking a black-and-white stance on a subtle issue. However, today, the primary danger is that ill-considered actions lead us swiftly into a world where continual surveillance of our every move is accepted as normal and inevitable.

Book Now Launched!

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The second edition of Developing Knowledge-Based Client Relationships is now out, with the Global Book Launch in New York in late June a big success, despite storms that evening. It will still take another couple of weeks before it’s in bookshops outside the US, but it’s available from online booksellers. Two free chapters are available from the book website. Chapter 1 provides the high-level treatment of the idea of knowledge-based relationships, and the critical new theme in the book of professional services leadership. Chapter 6 is entirely new to this edition, covering how to develop and implement key client programs. Further book launch events or workshops are scheduled or in planning in Sydney, London, Hong Kong, San Francisco and various other US cities in the fall – see my global schedule for details as these are finalized. Please let me know if you have any thoughts or feedback on the book, and in particular further examples of leading practice in the field – I’m very interested to hear from you.

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Review of Collaboration in Financial Services Europe

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A few weeks ago now I chaired the Collaboration in Financial Services Europe conference in London. The White Paper on How Collaborative Technologies are Transforming Financial Services is now available from my website. If you’re interested in the topic, the review of the original Collaboration in Financial Services conference in New York last September is also worth a look. Both in moving on nine months from the New York conference, and crossing the Atlantic, the shift in themes was striking. It was a great day, exploring in detail many of the fundamental issues the financial services industry faces in an economy increasingly centered on collaboration. The key sponsor of the Europe conference, Reuters, has played a significant role in the development of instant messaging in financial services since David Gurle left Microsoft to spearhead the company’s collaboration initiatives. Reuters has established interoperability with all the three public IM vendors. Now, companies like Facetime, Aconix, and IMLogic have provided the wraparounds to make public IM secure and compliant. At this point we can say that IM is pretty much a robust corporate tool, though the space will certainly evolve considerably in the next year or two. One of the most interesting aspects of Reuters’ positioning is its emphasis on chat and building communities. It wants its major financial institution clients to use chat as a primary medium for knowledge-sharing, and to create spaces that link buy-side and sell-side, for example for conversations around research issued by the firms. Intelligent agents will identify posts that are of particular interest to individuals, so they don’t need to trawl through everything themselves. In addition, they want IM to become embedded in workflow, for example automating trading and integrating into STP (straight-through processing). Another domain that was explored in detail at the conference was insurance. I moderated a panel with Christoph Harwood of Kinnect and Alex Letts of RI3K. Both are essentially new-breed B2B exchange for the insurance industry – Kinnect was set up by Lloyds of London for commercial risk, while RI3K is in the reinsurance space. Their challenges and progress over the last few years are great case studies for similar initiatives that can bring great benefits to an industry, but require collaboration between many players. Clifford Chance also presented on an advanced in-house system that provides partners and staff with a portal view of activity and communication around a particular client or matter, which is just being rolled out. As far as I’m aware, the system is more sophisticated than any of the investment banks have implemented for sharing information on complex transactions.

Whether to outsource….

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Every issue of Harvard Business Review includes a hypothetical case study, together with commentaries by leading practitioners on what they recommend in the situation. The case study in the July-August issue, written by Nitin Nohria, titled “Feed R&D – or Farm it Out?” is a very interesting examination of a company that is wondering whether to outsource part of its R&D to India. Issues raised include accessing best-of-breed and potential loss of intellectual property. Of the four very interesting commentaries, the most striking is written by Azim Premji, chairman of Wipro, one of India’s top three technology services companies. He is cautious on the merits of outsourcing in this case, spends most of his analysis on the internal dynamics of the company involved, how to support collaboration, and emphasizes the importance of providing strong contractual protection of IP.

Keep on Blogging!

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It’s once again been a while since I’ve blogged. For me and many others, blogging is one of those “important but not urgent” activities that often seem to slip off the agenda in the face of more pressing concerns. I will soon be relaunching this blog to make it more accessible and useful, so my resolve to blog regularly is firming. I do come across many interesting ideas in the course of my travels, so I’ll endeavor to share more of these than I have been. To this end, I’ll experiment with sometimes making shorter postings, with more links and less commentary. Part of my problem is that as soon as I start writing about a topic, there are so many related issues I want to touch on that it soon risks becomes a full treatise, so daunting I never even get started. Perhaps if I contain my enthusiasm, I’ll end up communicating more…

Dodgeball is acquired by Google

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The topic of the moment seems to be where Google is going, with many touting it as a Microsoft-killer. (See Robert Cringely’s recent article as an interesting take on this and broader issues…). Given my interests, it is particulary interesting to see that Google is buying Dodgeball. This very interesting social software company came out of a class run by Clay Shirky at New York University. Clay’s take on the deal is here. In short, Dodgeball is a mobile service that allows friends and friends of friends to meet up at bars and parties on the move, finding where the action is at any particular time. Google has already tried its hand in the social software space with Orkut. Now it is moving into the mobile social software (sometimes called MoSoSo) space, which is absolutely a step beyond its web-based core. On one level, Google clearly is not averse to picking up lots of interesting companies and ideas and seeing what happens with them, and Dodgeball is hardly a big acquisition for them. However if Google continues to develop these strands of its business, then its increasing propensity to social software and networks could represent the emergence of what may be something far beyond a glorified search engine