Do commercial forces drive the development of the web?

Seth Priebatsch claims the social graph is built and I think he’s right. We’re connected online to people we should be connected to and they are likewise. It’s all set up – but now what? I feel a bit like I did at one of my old school exams once I had filled in all the details on the front cover. Details like name, date and candidate number but then drawing a bit of a blank on the opening question requiring an explanation on the relationship between Lady Macbeth and her husband. What does one do next?

Communication channels between friends and work colleagues are well established (via Facebook and LinkedIn to name the largest) and embedded tools for better search and increased variety are increasing. The communication that still hasn’t found a natural home is that from the mass of people and companies who want to sell us something, the sales-force. From selling cars to a credit checks, anyone with anything to sell are considering the web. Are sellers and groups (those who have a sales target) destined to be an integral part of all of these technologies where their importance imparts a significant influence in the development of the web?

Once there was an established postal system, junk mail began, later as the telephone became ubiquitous then machines were made to make automatic selling calls, similarly with emails and now the new mediums. Sellers don’t seem to provide the innovative platforms and instead seem to react to them as they appear. There are many examples within Facebook from games to dating to Maketplace.

New communication methods don’t seem to be created to satisfy the original needs of sustaining a sales force, but it seems that these sales forces have become interwoven into the internet.

Although there are commercials and banner-ads in almost every page you see, I suspect our networks will move on without them and that intrusion and disruption will eventually decrease. Whether sales forces in their quest to obtain return on investment will ever actually become a force for good is a little harder to foresee, but I hope so.

A great word we should find more often

I was driving home and after three and half hours behind the wheel I thought of a great question: Is there a cost to serendipity?

Serendipity is a great word that I first happened upon when I attended a dinner hosted by the Real Time Club who had invited Dr Aleks Krotoski to deliver an after dinner talk.

It could be defined as an “aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident”.

But what I have come to suspect is that serendipity is not free. You do have to be out to stumble upon fortunate discoveries and ideas. More than this, these need to be remembered and followed through upon. How many times do we just forgot or let things go?

Ramping up a sales effort

I read about a company that was looking to increase their bottom-line by increasing various performance metrics of their sales force. The business plan was almost entirely focussed on “selling better” which would presumably and hopefully result in more sales.

If a product needs to be “sold”, where “sold” includes some degree of persuasion or cajoling, then does this mean the real focus ought to be on the product or service?

If the effort went into making the product better, one that was actually wanted, then the only remaining effort need be in a marketing function where marketing serves to make people aware of the product.

After all, if you have ever “been sold” something you didn’t want, you are almost certainly going to resent the company.

In fact I have to keep reminding myself about this basic tenet in other things, basically focussing on sales is just cutting the corner off product betterment.

Get up and save everything, it’s all disappearing

Inflation is the erosion of value over time. In it’s natural state it penalises idolness or non-improvement. For now let’s avoid the vulgarity of money, but consider other types of real-life inflation that we may see in our lives: If I don’t work out every day I get fatter and so I need to train to maintain my fitness. If I don’t repair faults around my home and garden, the house will loose value. If I don’t keep upgrading my computing power I become diminished in my abilities both relatively and absolutely. Inflation pervades everything. But I argue it is critical for the sake of humankind.

Without inflation things would get better on their own. I would be sitting here, typing on my computer that was gaining in power, inside a house that need never needed to be cared for in order to gain get better, and all the while I would be getting fit enough to reach the Olympics. This is not the design of nature or a world where we strove for improvement – and quickly.

High inflation demands higher efforts to maintain some sort of value. Higher inflation leads to the creation and design of tools and methods of better production. It is this type of very high inflation, an environment where the best can loose their position very quickly that we are now experiencing. It is this environment that demands and nurtures the fastest rate of development.

It has been pointed out to me (Thank Y) that this may all be described by the Second Law of Thermodynamics where disorder can only increase. But just like this, without persistent disorder we would not have a lot to do or reason to be here to do.

If that had a brain it would be dangerous…

It’s difficult to know when we first imagined when machines could think. The day that they imagine they may think would change us and everything irrevocably. With some big brains and big money pursuing, exemplified here by Vicarious Systems, this new world, if it could exist, may become attainable. With artificial intelligence would come artificial life. What would we do if the computer asked you to leave the light on when you went to bed or if a gentically modified cow asked you to leave open the gate? Please let me know before the next bubble.

More bits and pixels than we know what to do with

Can you remember when you first saw Google Earth? I initially remember not believing that the concept of such vast data gathering was possible. In the last twenty minutes I have visited a small road in the Australian Bush and the Arch of Trumph in Pyongyang. How can anyone not be impressed. The world is whirring away, indexing everything we have; From some of the most precious art (Google Art Project) to our “likes” of all things. I think it’s fair to say that this indexing is in our character, it’s what we do before we try to understand, but the big difference now is the sheer quantity of data. The new data of indexed data is something we are going to have to learn how to put to good use.

Community needed

I was lacking inspiration as to what to write and eventually I went back to first principles. This was the insight. Bernard of Chartres (around 1150’s), long before Newton or Oasis, observed from his already lofty perch, that we are standing on the shoulder of a giant. So in order to find something to discuss, I should look to others. The key observation was that what we write and read depends on what others have laid down before us. We depend on others for both a potential application of our ideas and also for the ideas themselves. Alone, we can’t make giant leaps. Instead, we inch our way forward, we take ideas before we can give ideas. Even if one could believe an innovation is independent of a community, then an innovation (which is almost by definition useful) must serve some community. Recognition of the marriage between the innovation and the community serves to show that the innovation couldn’t actually have been made without some community.

With “social” driving all the thinking within technology it seems everyone is talking and moving in the same direction. Social will take us to the next level. Social can do, but it will still be considered an inch of progress when viewed from afar. It is a pretty heady catalyst that focusses our energies on communities and unleashes the tools and means of production to the entire population, long tails and all.

How can you beat a stronger enemy?

Sun Tzu, in his Art of War said “Focus your strength against the enemy’s weakness”. His words have carried through from five hundred years before Christ and we can still apply his teachings. I first saw this on a tweet by Smarter Comics and it really made me think of how this could be applied in todays world of international commerce. When once we thought of enemies, now we think of competitors, and applying Sun Tzu’s teachnigs we should look for failings and deficiencies in other companies and businesses. Focussing our strength by virtue of our ideas and abilities on these frailities is where market advantage is achieved and innovation born. It is this biggest weakness where the world needs the biggest improvement, and demands it most urgently.

My analogy here is the high-jumper who has to focus on the lowest part of his jump. Only when this is done can the bar be raised.

Stop! Police!

The UK Home Office have launched a new service to show crime crime rates and anti-scoial behaviour incidents within the UK. The concept is intended to move police accountability to the people and so the enevitable discussion will move to police priority. The magnitude of this step by Government to allow and encourage decisions on a more local level reflects the change in the larger world due to the massive democratisation of power due to cost and ease of access to internet technologies. This is the long arm of the law being controlled by the Long Tail of the people.

The only worrying part is that my own village doesn’t seem to be covered by a police force!