Saturday, October 28, 2006

Reinventing HTML 2.0

It will be interesting to see if many care about this and who they are if they do. In some ways, this flurry coming from the W3C stalwarts is the reality test of the continuing or discontinuous relevance of the W3C to the evolution of standardized web systems on the Internet.

It is possible that without much fanfare and little notice, the control of web evolution has passed back to the industrialists who quietly sponsored it and insisted on its primacy in major acquisitions. At least in the USA, those institutions passed into the control of MBAs from B-schools whose dominant computer literacy is with spreadsheets.

So the question is, can spreadsheet-augmented intelligence fix the mess made by Tim Berners-Lee et al with the launch of HTML and the Mosaic web browser if Sir Tim and the W3C can't?

This will be fascinating to watch. The mammals are relentlessly innovative in their messmaking and the means they deploy to clean it up or to avoid cleaning it up. In the latter, the well-financed announcement is usually something to the effect that the mess is actually a clever, simple solution and simple is always preferred.

In technology and politics, the best approach is always slow and steady with diplomacy preferred and guns kept unlocked but loaded.

Friday, October 27, 2006

A Faster Horse

In an article on mastering complexity while innovating, Henry Ford is quoted as saying, "If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have asked for a faster horse."

In the quote is the dilemma of innovation for companies that use surveys, product planning, consultants hired away from their customer base and like strategies. It is expensive and it doesn't work reliably. Over the years, the best results I've seen come from those who talk to the customers casually. This accomplishes what the article recommends: you get to understand the heart of the customer.

The devil in the stone is getting developers to trust those who do talk to customers and getting those who talk to customers to translate that faithfully. In commission-driven sales environments, that is tough to achieve. In any management suite where numbers and the promise of numbers drive the day to day operations, it is almost impossible.

A colleague who was a field representative to a major American city related that sales efforts for an account with that customer were doomed because over lunch she had heard the decision maker relating to another co-worker that our company wasn't even being considered. We took that information to management who promptly discarded it as gossip because a consultant had assured them that our company was indeed the front runner. With that positive relationship spinning, we went on to spend a very large sum of money and company resources on a bid that we did lose just as our field rep told us we would. Why? No one believes bad news when hope marries propaganda. Numbers are often just that: propaganda from the management suite. See Iraq.

Another problem is incrementalism. After our new General Manager made her reputation for being 'customer-focused', development became saturated with requests for product changes. In the past, development could decline these as non-strategic, meaning they added no value for the majority of the customers. Under the new GM, technology didn't matter. Keeping customers happy so they wouldn't generate bad press did. Once the customers understood that, bad press and liquidated damages became the topic of every conversation and of course, we slipped further behind the broad market requirements and deeper into the technology chasm because we did not have the resources to rapidly educate ourselves and develop new products.

Filtered views and closed doors are barriers to innovation. It is one thing to say we are listening; it is another to actually hear what is said. Understanding requires patience in conversation and that means time. Those who are ‘time-sensitive positive relationship managers’ can open their doors to their employees or their customers, but they will only hear what they think is important, and then they will demand a ‘faster horse’.

To solve problems like these, more conversations need to be had with more of the players most of the time. Companies need new ways to talk to customers often and casually and at every level of the company. Blogging companies know this and they are wining in the market. They understand that there is no such thing as an inward facing and outward facing set of communications. That strategy is the buggy whip of today. In a network-savvy company, ALL communicators face in ALL directions ALL of the time. That they may not use them is apparent, but they have them when they need them.

Blogs are one means but blogs tend to be ‘one guy on a soapbox talking loud and gathering a crowd’. That is fine for topics that require depth, but the hints the lead to understanding the heart of the customer are typically discovered in casual conversations. For that the web offers chatrooms.

Chat rooms have a mixed reputation given the problems of Ally Oxen Come Free chat rooms that are the majority on the web. Corporate chat rooms are a different beastie. They are corporation sponsored and corporation hosted. They can have corporate policies just as corporate bloggers heed, and they produce server logs that can be mined. While this flies a bit in the general wisdom that less control is better, and it usually is, a corporate chat room is not a public web site. With the right technologies, it is also a corporate communications center, a branded face on the corporate conversations, and can be a means to show off products new, old, and emerging.

An innovation for this is to move the corporate chat world into a virtual world using free and relatively simple real-time 3D technology such X3D and ABNet. The advantages are exactly as promised: presence and branded identities for customers, employees and press. As long as the conversations are casual, the encounters unhindered, and the style is entertaining, these corporate 3D rooms can serve as a place of fun, familiarity and business without the bar tab.

It is a cheap experiment to conduct given the available technologies. Given these technologies can be applied to other customer needs, it is also a cheap means to move a company up the learning curve fast before the spreadsheet nazis can send out a memo or tell the customer that this technology is ‘just a toy’. When the Macintosh and the PC were introduced, they were also ‘just a toy’. Virtual worlds like other innovative technologies need time to find their markets, but the potential for them to be a means to understand and find markets is already there.

Why Not X3D on Macintosh?

A colleague says, "… until someone makes a decent player for the Mac, you'll never see all the amazing content created on a Mac in the VRML world. You must realize that most high end content is created on Mac. 90% of high end Hollywood 2D and 3D content is for sure. Besides, even if most of the world owns PCs, pretty much every "creative" I talk to about VRML is on a Mac for their real work and they all wish we had some decent players for Macs.”

Snob. ;-) Let me be my curmudgeonly self...

Really. X3D is not a high end format and VRML wasn’t one when it started. Lots of creatives are on PCs, but more importantly, the vast majority of web customers are, and that is what the web as a marketplace is about: customers. Savvy creatives adapt to the customer base. Hollywood is not that customer base. It is a high end production town with high end developers. If they want to put content on the web, they adapt to the web or they adapt the web. It won’t happen by promoting Macs unless the Mac becomes a TV the way iPods became transistor radios.

I’ve never seen a decent Mac VRML client. That is the point. If Apple owners want them, they need to bug Steve Jobs. He built a closed system and is satisfied with his high-end developers and architecture. If he wants to put 3D on the web, he has to develop a client. If he wants that client to be standard on the web (something Apple isn’t famous for doing in the majority of cases), he steps up to the web standards for 3D or does what he always does: launches yet another closed system, in this case, Safari’s canvas tag. Who gets to see that? Safari users who own Macs. PC owners? Jobs doesn’t care about PC owners.

That’s the problem of the Mac vs The Web. Job doesn’t have to care about Mac content or Mac customers; he owns them both. iTunes is a splendid example of how well that strategy works. It took him all of two years to slam the doors on indie musicians and production and open them up to the middlemen. He managed to reconstruct the BadOlMusicIndustry with lightning speed under his control.

And that is what you want for X3D content and the 3D user community?

Say anything you like. That is how the Apple market shakes out. PC owners just don’t care and never will. They can’t. It would mean giving up their chance at the Big Break to The Man from Cupertino.

If Mac owners want X3D, they can demand it. They are the customers but they have to demand it from the boutique dealers where they buy the rest of their stuff because the guys selling commodity products know full well that Macs ain’t commodity products. And they never will be because that isn’t what Jobs wants to sell or else he would be Bill Gates. Talk to any Mercedes dealer about Fords. Who invented the car and made it the best it could be at the time: Mercedes. Who put the masses on the road? Ford. Who took the market away from them both? GM. Why? Smarter than both at both jobs. Who took it from them? Toyota. For the same reason. Who’ll take it next. Who knows.

Would production quality X3D editors and viewers for the Mac result in high-quality X3D? Heck yes, but it will only happen when the boutique content makers decide they want to sell lower-cost knock-offs at Wal-Mart.

That day may come sooner than some think. The web-based portals are becoming gazillion-channel broadcast networks. YouTube is a fluke the way that HTML was: a low end access point to lots and lots of content but that matters. Over time, people want more and better and new and different and eventually in any flat-market a talent longTail begins to rise up and dominate the landscape. It’s sad for the rest of the talent community when that happens, but competition is a reality of markets. As that point is reached, Hollywood and their evil zombie cousins in New York, Atlanta and Nashville will do as they’ve always done: dominate the management of the talent by paying them lots and lots of money. And then they will all buy Macs.

Web business sustainability evolves toward controlling the sources for resources just as any commodity market differentiated by limited sources does. This is where Radar O’Reilly and Mark Cuban lose it with the ‘real sharing’ riffs. At the point of maximum uncertainty, forces are applied to hold an object in orbit. $$$ is the strong force. Egoboo is the weak force. Guess which one wins as the customer locale expands in reach and scope?

So would it help X3D quality if the professional Mac talent began to work on X3D content at night when they aren’t working for the moguls? Sure. But meanwhile, the web is the land of opportunity for the hobbyist and the visionary and the deeply irrationally persistent junk yard dogs that just won’t lie down or roll over when told to.

Unless given a bit of petting AND a treat. A pretty enough dog always gets both because dogs will be dogs.

3D is today where the video tape market was when the owners of video stores discovered that storing more tapes on low-rent shelves sold more rentals. Who were the losers? Makers of boutique art films. Who were the winners? Pornographers and major releases. The difference is major releases stayed the same, but porn quickly became much better porn.

That is how the long tail actually works: the best get the point and the rest get the tail.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

A War Lyric

War is only understood by those who fight one. The rest of us are witnesses.

My Son's Time To Go

Two men stood on the platform
Watching the train pull away
In the diner car their only sons
Waved goodbye that day.

One was going to Canada
One to Vietnam
Two fathers sharing wordlessly
Sorrows yet to come.

Two men fought in another war
And served there side by side
Not for flag or apple pie
But to keep each other alive.

Their sons grew up together.
They tried to raise them right.
Now one would go to speak his truth,
And one would go to fight.

No one knew if they'd come back.
Their Momma's cried and prayed.
Goodbyes break the brave and few
When a father has to say:

"Son, just fight the good fight.
Be true to who you are.
Don't try to be a hero.
Your faith can take you far.
Though I've been there and I came back,
I want you to know
How proud I am to be your Dad.
It's my son's time to go."

A soldier returned to an angry world
His cousin was standing in line
Among some far-out people
"Singing songs and carrying signs".

The grunt Marine put out his hand.
The hippie shook his head,
"Man, I don't think I know you."
The soldier wearily said,

"Kiss my ass. I'm not proud
Of all the things I've done,
My country called. I had to go
To a war that couldn't be won.

I only want to see my Mom.
If you'll kindly step aside
I won't call you 'family'.
Remember that I tried.

I went to fight the good fight.
I was true to the cause I served.
I lost my friends in the Mekong,
But I never lost my nerve.
Peace and love and all good things
Have a price, they tell me so.
I paid that price, but I'll be sad
When it's my son's time to go."

Two men stand by the window
Watching a plane pull away
Ferrying their only sons
To a place they wouldn't say.

Thirty years without a word
These men have lived apart,
Now one holds out his palsied hand
To the one with the broken heart.

"Will you come to my house, please;
So, we can kneel and pray?
The Lord will keep our sons alive
And bring them home one day.

Peace and love and all good things
Have a price, but I didn't know
How sad I'd feel to be his Dad
Now its my son's time to go.
How sad it is to be the one.
It's my son's time to go."

len bullard

Comment Policy

If you don't sign it, I won't post it. To quote an ancient source: "All your private property is target for your enemy. And your enemy is me."