Back from a long weekend in Cornwall and Somerset and it already looks like I'll be too busy to post anything much here before I head off again to Yorkshire next week.Most interesting thing I saw over the long weekend - Tintagel castle. Not only incredibly atmospheric in the rain, it is also an excellent lesson in how easy it is to build an utterly unassailable
fortress, so long as you don't mind locating it somewhere of no
strategic significance whatsoever.
Over at Voicesage Paul Sweeney cites some research into how 100 recently-dissolved Irish companies spent their final six months trading:
"97 had not taken any action against debtors – 92 had received no payment since oldest invoice – 50 continued to supply customers with debts of over 90 days 40 of the 50 doubled the customers indebtedness"
Never mind seven habits of highly successful people; there's four behaviours that correlate with financial ruin you can avoid right off the bat.
Currently away on holiday in Cornwall and so - I assumed - little or no posting. But I have brought my Asus EEE and today I discovered that the B&B I'm staying in for one night in Truro has free wifi. Free wifi has come a long way.
As an occasional amateur futurist I'd like to touch on a subject that you'll find coming up with increasing and wearying frequency between now and Dec 22nd, 2012. The ancient Mayan calendar or the "long count" - which, thanks mainly to the addled rantings of von Daniken is accorded some sort of mystical significance by the sort of people who are susceptible to such things - happens to come to an end on Dec 21st, 2012. Thus, goesthetheory, the world will end that day. Of this, Laurie Pycroft writes
"The Mayans were primitive folk who didn't know what a star was, and
it's absurd to think that they had any kind of special knowledge. I'm
sure lots of interesting and impressive things are going to happen in
2012, but the end of the world is not one of them."
For my part I simply note that I took great delight, when I visited the Yucatan peninsula a few years ago, in snorkelling out beyond what the Mayans considered the end of the world - to whit, the horizon visible from the Atlantic coast. It felt...mildly intrepid. I think the fact that this feat is replicable by any able-bodied modern human with ten dollars worth of snorkelling gear tells you everything you need to know about the credibility of the ancient Mayan position vis-a-vis the imminence of armageddon.
Much debate over the past couple of days on what it means for mainstream news (whatever that is now) that, as Jemima Kiss puts it, "rumour has it that Twitter 'beat' even the US Geological Survey in reporting the earthquakes in China".
Mathew initially suggested that Twitter may have become "the first draft of history" and then goes on, a day later, to clarify that this is a long, long way from saying Twitter is killing traditional media. Indeed.
I'd suggest thinking about the impact of Twitter on mainstream/traditional/whatever media in this way.
Q: what problems does a news company solve when it puts journalists into the field, sets up expensive international bureaux or otherwise goes about gathering the news from around the world?
A: it tells its readers/viewers/PSKATAwhat's going on; it tells them what it means; and it validates that the story is true.
Twitter is yet another possible shortcut to the first of these solutions. Currently it has negligible impact on the second or third.
If something's going on in China, no-one needs to wait until the BBC or even the US Geological Survey finds out. The guys in China that it's happening to are going to tell us. Which means that...sure, we'd like a news source that we trust to confirm that any given news story is real (or the possibilities for Twitterers around the world to yank our collective chain become unmanageable). And we still need a guide as to what it means. But Twitter is another - even faster - way in which we don't necessarily need news reporters to just tell us that something's going on somewhere. By the time they know, we know.
As the world's only famous corporate raider, Carl Icahn - the man on whom, urban legend never tires of claiming, the character of Gordon Gekko was based - enters the interminable Microhoo fray, I am reminded of my long-standing hope that next on his list of takeover targets will be the McDonalds corporation. Because then, you see, every newspaper will do a headline saying "Icahn has cheezburger?", and afterwards every newspaper will have to run yet another explanation of what a lolcat is (or by then was). And we can all laugh at them.
Adrian Monck points today to News Spectrum, a news visualisation tool, and suggests we "go and have a play". From the Neoformix blog:
"It is a
visualization of the words used for two topics in the latest results from Google News.
One topic is coloured blue, the other red, and the associated words are coloured and positioned based on how highly
they are associated with the two topics. Click on any word to see the related Google News results.
This is a generalization of my recent Obama McCain News Spectrum
that allows you to enter your own terms of interest."
I've been having a play. My very first thought was to see what happened if you enter not two news topics but two news sources. As it happens the results are...fascinating.
And so we move another step towards an annotated world, in which I simply point my phone at things - buildings, parks, streets - and ask "what's that?"
(The other big Google Maps news, currently limited to the US, is of course real estate search - which brings us down a different road altogether in which I point at buildings and ask "how much do you want for it?")
Reading the ever-fascinating Grant McCracken recently, I discovered the following about Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen:
"Paul Allen, the Microsoft cofounder, has a yacht that is 416 feet
long. It cost something like a quarter of a billion dollars. It
carries two helicopters. It's so large it cannot dock anywhere on the
French Riviera. (That's why it needs those helicopters. They are the
only way to get to port.)"
As I commented to Grant, think for a moment about what this means for Microsoft. Even in his leisure time, the company's co-founder has chosen to over-engineer something so cumbersome that it is incompatible with any existing user interface and requires a hugely expensive work-around to be of any use at all. Microsoft's problems are truly in the DNA.
It keeps coming true. Umair keeps saying it. Recently YCombinator's Paul Graham said it as well. Build something actually useful and worry about the business model later and - so long as it really is a useful something - you'll figure out a way to make money out of all those users in the end.
Google famously came up with a business model relatively late in life. Craigslist only implemented one at all to increase the listing costs for spammers and scams to prohibitive levels.
Now Mozilla reckons it can use its browser to collect better behavioural surfing data than the incumbent (Hitwise, comScore, Alexa) providers. There's a lot of money to be made of providing genuinely reliable market data for the web. Opt-in collection at the browser level ticks all the boxes - comfortable fit with the way the product is naturally used rather than a "monetising" add-on, genuinely useful, not evil.
Here's hoping they can make it work. The web needs accurate market data (it's laughable, really, that this most measurable medium really has worse data than TV and print). Mozilla deserves the money and - unlike Phorm, unlike Facebook, unlike even Google really - I trust them to do something good and useful with both the data and the money they stand to make from it. Ultimately, that's the position you need to be in to operate a service that relies on being trusted with millions of peoples' data*.