Help me find the music I like!

By

Apologies to all my readers – it’s been way too long since I posted here. I’ve been frantically busy and on the road, but these are no excuses. I resolve to do better, and have no shortage of interesting stuff to write after my recent travels, so here we go…

“Collaborative filtering” – systems that allow us to collaborate with others to find what is relevant to us in a world awash with information – will rapidly become central to our lives, whether or not this is visible to us. One of the best single implementations I’ve seen is Last.FM, a personalized online radio station. It builds a profile of your preferences based on your nomination of your favorite artists, albums, tracks, and music labels, as well as what you choose to listen to. When Last.FM is playing on your desktop, you can either let it run if you like what it’s playing, or if you don’t like the song you can press skip to go immediately to the next one, or let the system know you love or hate a particular song if you wish. As it builds an increasingly accurate profile of what you like and don’t like, it can identify other individuals with similar musical taste to you, and play you what they like. In this way you both hear what the music you like, and get to hear new music you like that you wouldn’t have discovered otherwise. There’s an article on Last.FM on Wired News that got it a lot of attention at the time.

Investment banks lead the charge on Instant Messaging

By

I opened Living Networks with the examples of Macromedia using blogging to get messages out to its developer community, and the institutional bond market on Wall Street using instant messaging to enhance information flows. Stowe Boyd has written a very interesting piece on financial markets instant messaging (IM) in his publication Message, looking at some of the drivers of adoption, and incorporating an interview with the co-chair of the Financial Services Instant Messaging Association (FIMA).

There are a whole suite of interesting issues here. One is simply how the investment banks have become enormously more collaborative over the last five years, largely as a result of technology drivers. When I speak about how very high levels of collaboration are becoming mainstream in business today—even in intensely competitive industries—one of the most convincing examples to many is how the notoriously aggressive investment banking community is now working closely together on a whole variety of issues.

A key interest for me in the adoption of instant messaging is how it changes buy-side – sell-side (client-supplier) relationships. The commoditization of information and research means that increasingly the value to fund managers of interacting with financial market salespeople is in “knowledge-based” interactions, in which they gain highly relevant knoweldge and perspectives that integrate into their portfolio decision-making, rather than generic information. A good example of this is CSFB’s Locus product, that enables salespeople and fund managers to look at the same analytics screen on possible trades, and to jointly play with assumptions to make them relevant to the client’s portfolios, and provide a basis for useful discussion of risk and return parameters. Thomson Financial—having bought WorldStreet just in time for me to update the coverage in my book—has integrated it into its Connect product, which provides a peer-to-peer XML-based platform for customization and filtering of content delivery. All of these new tools shift the client-supplier relationship, and force the development of new skills, processes, and strategies for the investment banks.

Another interesting angle is that while SMS has played a major role in changing interpersonal communication in Europe and Asia, IM has played a similar role in the US. IM still has low adoption outside the US, just as SMS is only picking up in America now. Different levels of familiarity with these emerging communication technologies affect how they are being integrated into business applications. However all around the world, it’s good to see that investment bankers are leading the charge in taking instant messaging out from teenage girls’ bedrooms into the world of business.

Distributed souls

By

For something completely different (or is it?), I’ve had an extraordinary confluence of conversations lately about where to live and where we belong. I am Australian, the city which I love the most and where I feel most at home is certainly Sydney, yet I’ve lived overseas for over half my life in a wide variety of countries, speak five languages, feel at home many cities and cultures, and travel a large proportion of the time. Many of the people I know and interact with live similarly distributed lives, with affiliations in many places. Like me, wherever they are in the world, the majority of their friends are in a distant country.

One of the key questions as you grow older is where to live. If there is a conflict between what career and personal relationships suggest, how do you play it? It’s a nice idea to split your time between countries, but the reality is it means you are not settled anywhere. Somehow it seems that almost the majority of conversations I’ve had for the last months (not coincidentally which I’ve spent largely on the road) have been about where we choose to live. I’ve decided that in many cases there is no possible resolution – we remain torn as people.

In his latest book Pattern Recognition, William Gibson describes jetlag as moving so fast that our souls are left behind, and we must wait until they can catch up with us. Perhaps those that have created deep connections in many parts of the planet have distributed souls. Wherever they are, part of their soul is somewhere else. We are moving swiftly forward into an intensely mobile, networked world. As humans adapt to living in the living networks, I believe that powerful existential issues will emerge further into our shared consciousness. The landscape will evolve as increasing bandwidth allows richer communication, but there will never be a substitute for being in the same place as people we care for, and we must make choices about where we live. More and more people will find themselves grappling with living with a distributed soul.

The evolution of legal services

By

I gave the keynote address at LegalTech LA on Tuesday, conveying to the delegates my vision of “Leading Your Clients in the Connected Economy,” in the delightful retro-kitsch setting of the Westin Bonaventure in downtown Los Angeles. The legal community—at least recently—has being fairly good on implementing information technologies, which is only natural given how information and knowledge-centric they are. However it is another substantial leap for them to extend these kinds of systems to their clients. Encouragingly, several of the leading software platforms being touted at the exhibition offer capabilities to create client extranets easily and simply. These are often just ways of making documents and billing visible to clients—which is an important step—but are well shy of allowing workflow to be integrated into the clients’ processes—which is where this is all going. Ready-to-roll customized client extranets are now available in a number of firms. The Chief Technology Officer of one of the leading West Coast law firms told me he asked at an internal conference of all their litigation attorneys how many had created extranets for clients, and was amazed to find out that 85% had done so. No arm twisting involved.

One of the key questions is to what degree clients will drive the shift to providing online legal services and transparency. At the moment these demands are coming primarily from the most sophisticated Fortune 100 companies, however the scope is gradually broadening. There is a widely held view in the global legal community that the UK law firms—and in some cases even Australian ones—are ahead of US firms in implementing knowledge management and online services. My perception is that this is not because clients in these regions are more demanding, but that the law firms are being more innovative, and arguably the benefits of this can already be seen. Law is one of the most conservative professions, not least because the partnership structure (especially as implemented in law firms as opposed to the slightly more corporatized large audit firms) is very difficult to shift. I believe that the next 5-10 years will bring substantial change in the legal industry, and what clients expect in terms of service delivery. Those firms that do not fundamentally shift how they work with their clients will find it increasingly tough going.

Creating the infrastructure for the trusted networks

By

I had lunch earlier this week with Stuart Henshall in San Francisco, and we had a delightful wide-ranging discussion on topics of common interest. We’ve known each other for a good few years through scenario planning, and have a similar vision for the future of personal online networks. Stuart focuses on—among many other very interesting issues including consumer rights—trust in building networks. His vision is of a world in which everyone has their profile online, and shares both their profile and their personal connections selectively with trusted contacts. Sixdegrees.com was the first major online player in this space. I intended to write about it in Living Networks, but it went the way of all things in January 2001. The current top players in this space are Ryze.com and ecademy. However effective trust systems are essential for these public online networks to work. In the first instance we need to be able to create layers around how much of the information about our personal contacts we want to share. Intermediating software can help, for example by identifying in a secure system the contacts we share. For example, Stuart and I estimated we would share 20-30 people in our email address books, but we don’t know who all of those people are. On the next level, if we can create software that enables people to draw on their personal contacts’ perception of others’ trustworthiness, this will enable us to more readily expand our own personal networks in useful ways. These kinds of systems can be implemented either in a global context, or inside or across organisations.

One of the key issues which comes up for me is how we are going to get there. Creating a highly functional system that enables us to see and expand our global personal networks is a fabulous vision, which I dearly hope will come to fruition, but it is likely to take a long time and there is a risk it will never happen. In the first instance, as I write in Living Networks, people need to build evolutionary business models, that can make money in creating the first steps of this vision, and easily morph into new models as the context moves on. The other key issue is standards. As in many domains, whoever “controls” this extraordinarly valuable space of personal connections can create—and extract—enormous value, and thus there will be plenty of competition to be the winner. If there are standard information definitions and interfaces between competing systems, this fragmentation can be avoided. Ultimately, if the vision is realized, it will most likely be driven by an open source initiative, which means there is usually less commercial value to be extracted. There’s a long way to go yet in creating a system that will allow everyone to see exactly how they are connected in the global networks. I’ll try keep you posted along the way.

Social Network Analysis and alliances

By

I recently shared the platform with David Ewbank, head of knowledge management and alliance management at pharma giant Aventis, at the European Business Information Conference in Paris. I spoke on the living networks, while David spoke about how Aventis is using social network analysis to undertand better how knowledge is flowing within its R&D team, and its joint R&D projects with other pharma companies—these topics tied together very well. Social Network Analysis (SNA) is not new, but it has seen an immense surge of interest in the last 6-12 months. As society and work processes become increasingly interconnected, gaining insight into the dynamics of personal networks becomes critical. However it is often not evident what “interventions” in shifting organizational structure or personal behaviors will enhance performance. We are now in a phase of experimenting with how to bring out the positive network characteristics of organizations, with Aventis doing some very interesting work in this area.

Since I believe that the the next decade and more of management will be dominated by working in a world of increasingly blurred organizational boundaries, I’m delighted by David’s dual role. The Wall Street Journal commented on this in an article on how knowledge executives are reinventing their roles. The juncture of knowledge and alliances (which to my mind includes client and supplier relationships) is an immensely important domain that will see far greater attention in coming years. One of the themes in my keynotes and work that has attracted particular interest over the last months is that of “information policies”. Organizations are subject to opposing forces. On the one hand, there is an imperative to share information and knowledge actively with key clients, suppliers, and partners. However there are still limits on what can and should be shared. The challenge is to create a culture and policies that enable effective sharing within appropriate boundaries. Extranets are now standard practice, helping to bring this issue to a head. More on this later.

Terrorism, technology, and an open society

By

Having just returned from a quick five-continent round-world trip, I am frequently asked about the mood around the world. Wherever you are, it is characterised by uncertainty. The focus is very short-term; people find it hard to think beyond a few months ahead. If we do stretch our minds a little further, there are compelling issues that will shape our future as humans. Terrorism is in the forefront of people’s minds, and the nature of technological development and the flow of information is such that ever-more frightening tools are becoming broadly available. Sun Microsystems chief scientist Bill Joy harkens a world in which “how-to” guides to create deadly self-replicating viruses are freely available on the Internet. Joy himself has suggested that research be stopped or constrained in potentially dangerous fields. Others—especially governments—want to watch us all very, very closely, leaving privacy as a historical concept. One of the key choices the human race faces is how to respond to these challenges. A recent article in Salon.com provides an insightful perspective. To try to constrain knowledge will lead to a far more divided society. What has created the most pressing problems on the planet today is division—of wealth, opportunity, and access. If we turn our backs on an open society, if we have a future, it will be deeply unhappy. We can only respond to the risks if we know what they are. There is certainly a balance to strike, but if we err, it should be towards more rather than less openness.

Making the global brain – à la Google

By

I believe one of the most important themes for our future is collaborative filtering – I will keep on coming back to and developing this theme on these pages. This is fundamental to the formation of what we can think of as a “global brain”. As I describe in Living Networks, one of the most important functions of the human nervous system is to filter the massive sensory input it receives so that we are not overwhelmed. Similarly, in a world of massive and increasing information overload, we need mechanisms that make what is useful obvious, and what isn’t useful invisible. By collaborating on this task, each of us can benefit from the perceptions and judgments of us all. (Read the book sampler on “free downloads” page for more info.) Those that help create a higher level of collaborative filtering will add massive value – and with the right business models can extract part of that value. Discrete examples include Amazon.com’s book recommendation system, the Movie Lens film recommendation service, and Media Unbound music personalization system, used by Pressplay and mentioned in my book.

Which takes us to the much-discussed Google acquisition of Blogger. Steven Johnson has written an extremely interesting article on this for Slate. In short, he suggests that Google can pick up how people navigate the web in order to draw meaning for themselves and others. The analogy with the brain is that our repeated trains of thought are not only remembered more easily, but are also the very foundation of our neural pathways and thinking. I’d go further than Johnson to suggest that applying these approaches on a global scale could be critical in creating an information architecture that is far closer to that of a brain, providing highly effective filtering and the early stages of sense-making.

One of the key issues that emerges from this is that whoever monitors our information usage patterns to create useful tools, holds intensely personal information about us. Who will we trust to do this? Google-Watch for one doesn’t trust Google.

How many degrees of separation?

By

Microsoft is about to release a beta of software for peer-to-peer social groups, called Threedegrees. Here is the CNET article. (The Threedegrees website currently is only taking email addresses to notify when the beta will be out.) The intention is to extend the functionality of instant messaging, and to create trusted communities. Users can form groups of up to just 10 people, with whom they can instant message, share photos, send animations called “Winks”, and playback (but not share) music. Users can join multiple groups, but the idea is to create more intimate fora for interaction than the usual free-for-all chat groups.

I believe strongly that technology has the potential to bring people together, and that is what people want to use it for. I’ll be very interested to see the software when it comes out – if it’s good I think it could do very well. The “killer apps” are increasingly social in nature. As readers of Living Networks or my blog will know, I see the famed “six degrees” of separation shrinking dramatically. The inner city area of major cities can now largely be spanned by three degrees of separation. These sorts of tools will shrink this further.

Proximity dating is HOT!

By

I’ve just been involved in a media campaign to promote Living Networks in Australia. It is fascinating to see what topics get taken up. My press release for mainstream media was titled “Living in Zero Degrees of Separation”, and mentioned many of the social implications of a hyper-connected world. Almost every TV and radio interview I’ve had has honed in on the idea of “proximity dating”, that I cover in Chapter 2. This is a location-based service for mobile/ cell phone users. You program in your profile and that of the person you’d like to meet, and when you’re within say 200m of someone with a matching profile your phones alert you. You can then speak, exchange photos, or even videoconference, and decide if you want to meet immediately in a local coffee shop. This is currently happening in Japan and Iceland. A similar “buddy finder” service can show a map with the locations of your friends, so you can see who’s nearby if you want to grab lunch or coffee. Japan’s Imahima is providing the enabling software to mobile providers in Japan, Switzerland, and other countries.

After having done quite a few interviews in Australia on this and the broader themes of Living Networks, yesterday Sydney’s Daily Telegraph published an article on proximity dating based on an interview with me. The rest of the media pounced on it, I’ve done several radio interviews off the back of it, and the story even appeared on the late news on national television. Both Telstra and Hutchison – which is about to launch 3G here – have got good mileage out of this, even though they’re just responding to media queries based on my press release, so they’re realizing the level of latent interest out there. All of this illustrates part of my thesis that technology has the potential to bring people together, rather than isolate us, and that these are the services that people will take up and use, not the much-vaunted idea of receiving a McDonald’s discount voucher on your cell phone as you walk by.

Let me know if you’d like to see the press release – I’ll stick it up on this website soon.