Saturday, July 29, 2006

Real Men 06: Influence

Before I begin this post, I just want to say that Brad has had a successful operation and despite some early missteps, is on his way to recovery!

I don't want to take this blog too far off-topic, but I spent most of today at RealMen 06: Influence, this year's edition of the annual men's conference run by CCC Oxford Falls. As always, it was a struggle to make the time, spend the money and physically get myself there - but as always, it was well worth the effort. Some of it was so good, I decided it was worth talking about a little bit here.

Whilst there was a well-known international speaker, Frank Damazio, it was two of the Aussie speakers that really made my day ...

Melbournian Allan Meyer ran an awesome session on helping men maintain purity in their sexual world. He was funny, but more importantly he really helped men get a handle on how to avoid sexual temptation (outside of their marriage of course!). From his own doctorate studies he has developed the Valiant Man program:
“This 10 Session Program with study and devotional guide is designed to fortify and restore the moral and spiritual integrity of men. Valiant Man challenges all men to fight for their own personal, moral and spiritual vitality and help other men fight for theirs.”
Based on today's session, I expect the material in that course would be life-changing for many men.

At the other end of the spectrum, Perth native John Finkelde was very naughty (one session not recommended for women!), and immensely funny, but he was also worth listening to as he covered how to supply your wife's emotional needs, most especially by ensuring you “spill your guts” occasionally. But he had me in tears at several sections, sometimes because of his great humour, and other times because of his raw honesty in sharing his own battles with us. His church (CCC Hepburn Heights) also runs their own blog.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Brad, we're thinking of you ...

Brad, a good friend of mine, is going under the knife for a delicate cancer removing operation today. I just want him to know he's in our thoughts and prayers.

BBC Editors: The statistics of war

I found this a bit shocking, so take this as a warning that this post might give your heartburn ... Craig Oliver on the BBC's The Editors blog points out some disturbing statistics:
“• Around 30 to 40 people are killed every day in the current Israel/Lebanon conflict.

• About 100 people are killed every day in the violence in Iraq.

• And 1,200 people are killed every day in the war in the Congo.

All three of these stories are due to appear on tonight's Ten O'Clock News. They will probably run in that order - with the Middle East getting by far the most attention.

Does this say something about how we value human life? It's a fair question and one I worry about.”
Wow. That really makes you stop and think, doesn't it. After all, we worry about World War III breaking out because of the crisis in Lebanon, and look with horror on the images coming out of there and Iraq, but what the hell is happening in the Congo?! Where is our humanity?

I guess some of the problem comes down to the old Kirk/Spock dilemna ... in the original series of Star Trek, Captain Kirk would always conflict with his Science Officer, Spock, because he would invariably put the good of many people at risk in order to save the life of the few - based usually on the strength of the relationship he had with the few (usually Spock).

Spock would always lament such “illogical” behaviour, yet you always felt like you wanted to cheer Kirk on, and his choices seemed eminently reasonable. I think it is our tribal nature, our preference to favour the known over the unknown, that leads us this way. In that light, the conflict in Lebanon seems much more real because we are more familiar with its history (often from a biblical sense) than we are with the Congo. The media's bias in reporting is based on this, but it also serves to continue to feed this preference as it focuses on the conflict there to the preference of others.

Here is Craig Oliver's reasoning behind the order of stories:
“The Middle East needs more time and space for a variety of reasons:

• The sheer complexity of the situation requires space to help provide context and analysis.

• The current conflict plugs into so many other stories around the world, from what Tony Blair and George W. Bush call the "War on Terror", through to the price of oil, even the situation in Afghanistan.

• Many people fear the consequences of conflict in the Middle East more than anywhere else, and it is our job to help people understand a "scary world".

In short, our judgement is that Middle East is currently the biggest story in the world - by a wide margin - and it has the greatest implications for us all.”
Certainly the conflict in Lebanon repeats themes that are central to the War on Terror coverage - with terrorist attacks by Muslim militia, excessive retaliatory attacks by conventional military forces, the use of civilians as 'cover' and accusations of interference by foreign states by both sides. Yet the ongoing conflicts in Congo should not be ignored or put aside for that reason. Wikipedia has this to say about the conflict:
“For the next several years, even as the Second Congo War wound to an official end, a low level conflict continued in Ituri, with tens of thousands more killed. Half of the milita members are under the age of 18 and some are as young as eight. The continued conflict has been blamed both on the lack of any real authority in the region, which has become a patchwork of areas claimed by armed militias, and the competition among the various armed groups for control of natural resources in the area. In response, the United Nations directed its MONUC peacekeepers to carry out aggressive disarmament exercises against local milities.”
In some ways that is an even easier situation to resolve, yet we don't see Condoleeza Rice flying into the Democratic Republic of Congo for peace talks. There aren't regular newscasts from embedded reporters showing us what is going on, or how the global prices of gold will be affected by further conflict, or a sudden outbreak of peace ...

If conventional media want to find any unique role to play in this new wired world, then this is it - they can highlight conflicts and issues that may have little 'pull' on our tribal nature, but that are important and vital items to address and think about. Bloggers may (like I have) spend some small time talking about these issues, but unless someone goes there and helps make it real for the average punter by putting it front and center in the daily news, we won't get the sort of public awareness that moves governments to act resolutely to affect change*.

Without such action we lose our souls to self-absorbed, reality TV drivel, that plays screeching chords upon our most intense tribal reflexes, yet leaves critical issues in the real world untouched, unloved and ignored. I can imagine such a situation all too easily; as Agent K in Men in Black says:
“A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals, and you know it.”
Conventional media is still one of the few ways you can really reach out to individual persons en masse (just ask advertisers), we must therefore ask that news editors take these things (i.e. like those statistics) that they may well know, and introduce them to us in our daily news, current affairs or even (gasp!) newspapers. They may not help us relax, or escape the daily grind, but they will help us appreciate what is really happening out there in the world beyond ourselves.

* Some people might point out that we have issues closer to home to worry about, and it is true we do have issues like youth suicide, indigenous health and water use - but they pale in comparison to 1,200 people dying per day.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Iranian SharePoint Blogger

SharePointBlogs logoFarvashan is a blogger from Iran, he recently started an English SharePoint blog on His English is a lot better than my Farsi, but still requires slow reading to get his meaning. However he's keeping up with the latest changes in Microsoft's SharePoint technologies and has an interesting POV operating within the economic and political restrictions in Iran.
“We have two big simultaneous issues, about developing software and designing IT systems, in my country.

One of them our main policy from the government about working based on the open source technologies, because unfortunately no direct contact with the US government.

The other is bad integration of open source technologies, with the other great Microsoft technologies, especially side of users and clients. As you know in the small to midrange business it’s almost impossible developing systems without using the Microsoft technologies.

We must always choose a trade off between them; I think for the small to midrange business needs we have no other choice but Microsoft technologies.”

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

SaaS is letting me down

I'm getting pretty pissed off with my SaaS suppliers at the moment. In the main, that is GMail, and Blogger. My main issues are twofold:

1. Slow performance
Dave Stephens recently gave his commentary on a recent Aberdeen report on Procurement SaaS. A key comment caught my eye because it resonated with my own experience:
“The only real negative I could find was in one statistic: 88% of respondents said that in house software system response time & performance was equal or better than SaaS. This reinforces my SaaS = renting-an-apartment analogy. At peak times some customers’ showers are running out of hot water! But it’s a solvable problem - the SaaS providers need to design their on-demand systems for peak load, not average load. And hopefully they will start doing that.”
Start. Doing. That. Well, yes, could they please get off their backsides and take care of this!?

[EDIT: Phil Jones rants more about Blogger on his Platform Wars blog. In the comments to his post, John from FreshBlog mentions the Blogger Hacks Wiki as a good place to find how others are 'hacking' Blogger. Heard about Phil from Dave Winer's Scripting News.]

GMail was wonderful when I first started using it, but in the last few months it has slowed to a crawl - even on a fast internet connection I find that simply labelling a post in my inbox takes 10-30 seconds. has had some very public issues with its performance, which their main competitor, NetSuite, blames on their 'big iron' architecture. But the bigger issues for them are over-reliance on an old web interface paradigm, that in these heady days of AJAXified web apps seems a very inefficient way of forcing users to work with their data. Blogger has the least problems in this regard, because of its nice good UI design and their simple technical model (i.e. publishing your blog as static web pages to maximise cacheability and performance).

It's nice to know I'm not the only person getting annoyed at this.

2. Gluggy feature sets
gluggy slow, sluggish - used to describe the operation of a computer”
Urban Dictionary
Blogger is the biggest culprit here. They've managed to add a handful of features to their blogging application in the last few years, and as a result now offer a far less satisyfing feature-set than many of their competitors. It is only thanks to the strength of the original design (pre-Google I might point out) and the great user-community, that people who want extra features (like categorisation) still hang around. The time must come soon though, when people start to move elsewhere, especially now that China, India, Pakistan and Ethiopia have taken to blocking access to blogger blogs. is bad in a different way, they have made me sluggish. Yes, AppExchange is a wonderful idea, but did we really need to get drowned with a thousand different applications? There is something to be said for having our choices restricted to a few truly great options, rather than the mess of good, bad and ugly that AppExchange really is. Once I wasted several hours looking at different applications, I realised that none of them would offer me anything I really needed or wanted on top of the basic functionality (although I hear that one free one offers RSS feeds, that might be worth looking into). I could have better spent that time getting more use out of's existing functionality rather than surfing the AppExchange Deadzone.

GMail has added some features, and steadfastly ignored others that users clamor for (like sorting by sender, or date, within a label or search view). The integration with Google Calendar is painful and half-baked. The fact is that my own use of it relies heavily on Greasemonkey, and so I find that using it from within IE (as I usually do outside of home) has become oddly stilted, as I reach for functions and options no longer available.

In Summary
I am a strong believer in the viability of the SaaS model. Removing maintenance headaches and installation gotchas are worth a lot, but the efficiences gained in being accessible anywhere and having economies of scale in the backend make it really appealing. I find myself agreeing with Jeff Kaplan on his identification of SaaS Myths, but in reality the applications on offer are still not fully ready for the enterprise. Many of them have not yet been tested on their performance, or security, or ability to keep up with technology changes. Market leaders like, GMail and Blogger are showing signs of not handling things as well as they should, perhaps because the SaaS technical model is not yet fully mature, or simply because there is yet to be a realisation that they must handle peaks in demand, not just the average.

Technically speaking, SOA and advances in grid computing promise to deliver new levels of performance scalability, but applications must be built from the ground-up to full utilise these advantages. However, this sort of application programming can be pretty tricky (and yes, I know that threading <> grid computing, but it's got similar problems). However, there seems to be a recognition that this is an area of great opportunity, and some new vendors are planning to supply this next generation architecture.

From a security standpoint, enterprise IT departments have fundamental issues with hosting their data outside the corporate firewall. We have seen a recent rise in online storage providers, with ones like Amazon's S3 being aimed squarely at developers needing back-end data storage. Perhaps the next wave will provide data storage that is transparent to the SaaS application, but where hosting can either be outsourced or kept in-house. After all, SaaS providers usually have to promise not to access your data anyway, so why should they be bothered hosting it?

I think that the current depictions of SaaS 2.0 are missing the point if they think that better SLAs are all that is needed. Vital issues, such as performance, require both that the application be built differently from its very foundation upwards, and depend on the rollout of faster broadband access speeds across their marketplace.

For more on this subject see Dion Hinchcliffe's blog. But from my POV, the tipping point he's looking for ain't here yet. tags:

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Wallabies 49 vs Springboks 0

The ARU Match Report says it all:
“The Wallabies have annihilated the Springboks 49-0 at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night, running in six tries and keeping the South Africans scoreless for only the second time in the two teams' history.”

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Blog Style Changes

I've made some minor edits to the way my blog looks. For a start I will be making long posts look smaller by hiding most of the post on the main page and only showing it on the specific post page.

I'm also going to try to make sure I use the tags on all my posts. It was easy when I could use Firefox and Greasemonky, but I also need it to work in IE.

Finally, I've reduced the screen real estate dedicated to my Cafepress products, and made just one area that rotates randomly through them.

[EDIT: Yes, there is a problem with the main page's structure as the area between the main box and the sidebar is incorrectly filled with white. I'll fix this at some stage (or just refresh the whole template).]

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Dell's Got a Blog!

Well, well, it looks like Dell finally worked out that they ought to be using the web to talk to their users and have started a blog called One 2 One. Of course I only found it because Scoble's talking about it.

Hint for corporate marketing types - don't bother launching a blog if you can't get important bloggers in your industry to mention you. I guess the Hit mentality is still there in the blogging world.

Perhaps just as important, you must allow your staff to make mistakes whilst communicating with customers on the blog. They must be able to attempt to have open, honest and human communication with customers, otherwise it's just another one-way information pipe (oh yeah, Scoble talks about that too).

Death by Wikipedia

The Washington Post has an interesting article by Frank Ahrens called Death by Wikipedia: The Kenneth Lay Chronicles. Frank looks at the hot topic of how much we can trust Wikipedia given that it is entirely user-editable. He looks at the way Kenneth Lay's death was handled as the classic case of this and concludes:
That Wikipedia's greatest strength is its greatest weakness.

If the statement that "history is written by the winners" is too gross, it does speak to an underlying truth: All definitive encyclopedia authorship comes with the point of view of its times. It is unavoidable. As august and reliable as the Britannica is, one need only look back to 19th-century versions to see its Anglo-centric viewpoint and curious study of others that treated foreigners (say, Africans) as anthropological subjects rather than human equals.

An encyclopedia written from many points of view should, in theory, help eliminate that flaw. Further, as well-girded in research as encyclopedia authors are, there are countless experts on thousands of topics that know more than the Wikipedia authors; every topic has its fetishists, and thank goodness. If the goal is the ultimate compilation of truth-tested facts, Wikipedia could be a powerful tool.


But here's the dread fear with Wikipedia: It combines the global reach and authoritative bearing of an Internet encyclopedia with the worst elements of radicalized bloggers. You step into a blog, you know what you're getting. But if you search an encyclopedia, it's fair to expect something else. Actual facts, say. At its worst, Wikipedia is an active deception, a powerful piece of agitprop, not information.
(emphasis mine)

I think that's a fair call, there is some very questionable material there. Perhaps more importantly, the basic content of any Wikipedia article is dynamic. This can lead to people getting all sorts of ideas about the topic, or indeed about Wikipedia's accuracy, when the offending material might be reverted, edited or removed within moments of them leaving that web page.

For example Dave Winer mentioned on his blog that a friend had looked at the Wikipedia page about Dave and thought it pretty terrible stuff. Dave's critics on the Eye on Winer blog found this laughable as (to them) the article steers a fairly neutral course between the fairly polarised views on Dav'e contributions to blogging, RSS and podcasts.

However, a stroll through the History tab on his Wikipedia page shows a number of vandalism attempts that have been reverted (usually within a few hours), as well as some toning down of material deemed too "fanboy" by one or another named Wikipedia users. Usually vandalism is done by anonymous users, not registered Wikipedia users, a fact which helps Wikipedia editors identify vandalism more quickly (any edit by an anonymous user is worth checking out, especially on disputed articles).

If Dave's friend had seen the article at the wrong time, it might have looked very bad, and certainly this is the impression they got, whilst later viewers looking at it see nothing wrong with it (let's leave aside the two sets of viewers obvious bias). The ephemeral nature of Wikipedia edits is one of the main problems that I have with trusting it for anything other than fun research on hobby topics (like Vikings). Yet, increasingly, we see news websites referring people to Wikipedia for detailed information on a specialty topic (I've seen this at least twice myself from

I doubt that there's an easy answer to this issue, other than suggesting that people use more than one source for facts, and take anything they read with a grain of salt. This does speak to the issue of whether wikis are appropriate tools for the enterprise environment. Whilst they are great at capturing corporate knowledge, they are just as good at enshrining stupidity and promoting divisive views. But perhaps that is their real strength, the ability to lift the veil between people at work and reveal the real talent or lack thereof? To expose dramas and stresses that are hidden below normally civil exteriors?

Friday, July 07, 2006

Long Tail Wisdom

Chris Anderson's Wired article, The Rise and Fall of a Hit is an extract from his book The Long Tail that I've read a lot about, but not actually read myself. Coming after yesterday's post it is interesting how it highlights the way that the hit mentality is evident in the world outside of music/movies:
If it’s not a hit, then it’s a miss. It has failed the economic test and, therefore, never should have been made. This Hollywood mindset is now how we allocate space on store shelves, fill time slots on television, and build radio playlists. It’s all about allocating scarce resources to the most “deserving,” which is to say, the most popular.
Fred Wilson (the guy who coined the term Freemium) has this to say:
... I believe VC fund sizes have gotten very large requiring ever bigger winners to move the needle. When I started in the business 20 years ago, a $100mm exit, generating $20mm in value to our fund was always considered a big win. For many of the VC funds today, that would be a yawn. And that's a problem because for many entrepreneurs, a $100mm exit is plenty big, particularly if they can figure out how to hold on to 20+ perecent [sic] of the company before the exit happens. The $100mm exit moves the entrepreneur's needle but not the VC's. That's a problem.
It's a problem because it generates a chasm between entrepreneur and VC expectations, one that may well be leading good ideas to not find VC funding, and therefore get trapped in the “lifestyle” business stage more because there is a lack of VC vision, than it suits their business model. The VCs are still trapped in the Hits model, but the market has moved on from them.

This seems to be happening in many different areas, for example, makers of tabletop/pen-and-paper roleplaying games (RPG) are bemoaning the death of the industry as they know it. This is largely because the market has fragmented, and other than a handful of successful companies, the average RPG publisher is working on it as a hobby, a part-time, or at most marginally successful business.

Chris Anderson claims it has had broad impact; “Practically every other sector of mass media and entertainment has witnessed a similar shift away from hits.” He points to popular music, movies, TV and even best-selling novels as all exhibiting a move of consumers away from the mega-hits, to exploring more specific niche selections. If Web 2.0 companies are aiming their products/services at the consumer market, then this fragmentation is both good and bad news. Good news in that there is a place in the market for almost anyone, bad news in that it is becoming increasingly difficult to clearly capture enough of the market to justify the capital expenditure required to develop the products/services being offered.

I think that increasing numbers of entrepreneurs will have great ideas and launch them using their family/friends' capital, but fail to either attract enough of the market to continue to fund growth internally, or to promise to move the needle enough to attract VC investors. My answer for them is to look towards natural aggregators of users, and in one sense that is exactly what the large enterprises are. The Web 2.0 edge in that enterprise market must surely be that users can be attracted and looked after as individuals consumers first, and then second become evangelists for the Web 2.0 product within the enterprise itself. Leave it to IBM to employ a thousand salespeople to win over the CIO, Web 2.0 will win through guerilla tactics, winning the users heart and minds, and taking the IT department by surprise!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Success/Failure Web 2.0 Style

Ben Barren has an interesting post on New Web Success vs New Web Failure. Hip dude that he is, he's using the "New Web" term to encompass the old "Web 2.0" world. The basic idea is that whilst things are easier (i.e. cheaper) to start nowadays, the payoff is also less, initial investors don't get a big bang IPO.
There may well end up being many more “lifestyle” businesses than billion dollar IPO’s, but hopefully there will be less failures, and a less savage bust next time around, as overall expectations are better managed.
I think a lot of the Web 2.0 entrepreneurs are looking to the Freemium business model, getting busy implementing the free level, and hoping that they'll work out the premium level's business case before they go broke.

There is some value in that, after all many of these businesses are breaking new ground, and there is no guarantee that the original idea ('hey, let's do an online linking game'), will match the end result when the mob gets a hold of it ('a collection of favorites' a la For people wondering what is the attraction of this model, David Beisel says:
The answer is that they separate the initial delivery of value to the customer away from the ultimate monetary payment corresponding to that value. This time lag minimizes the risk involved for the customer, thus prompting increased usage.
And the Web 2.0 mantra is that the more users you have, the more likely your business will succeed.

It does ignore the fact that a user does NOT = a paying customer, however they are certainly potential customers (prospects), or at least people who could recommend the service to potential customers (referrers/fans). I suspect that a lot of the business successes and failures we will see over the next few years will be due to a basic failure to convert prospects to customers. Funnily enough, that is Sales 101 ... and is the very essence of an old web business.

One very real barrier to the Freemium model's paid level is that the business world still doesn't get Web 2.0. There are slow signs that they are using hosted solutions, looking at RSS, etc., but I suspect that the real paradigm shift will only come as staff bring their personal favorite Web 2.0 tools into the workplace and then demand an enterprise version of it (probably for improved security, reliability and secrecy). Until that changes, you are looking at convincing consumers to buy your premium level, or small businesses. Both are highly competitive areas for Web 2.0, and both tend to have very fickle customers that are as likely to cancel a service as quickly as they take it up. The answer I'm afraid is that Web 2.0 must break into the enterprise market (as Google Maps is trying to), I wonder who will do that first?