Trying to escape paper’s enormous shadow

“Let’s implement a paperless process”. I heard that sentence several times the last few years. However the tools or medium you are using in your process are really not important, therefore I really don’t know why there is such a run on becoming paperless. Same goes for what seems to be a trend at the moment: predicting the death of the newspaper. However it is not paper /print that is causing the trouble, it is the business model most newspapers still have. It seems to be paper / print did something wrong in the last few centuries such a relief could be detected around the web on its potential disappearance.

Andrew Keen:
The truth is it’s not their newspapers, magazines, and books that are dying, but rather the archaic medium of print. And the good news for both trees and technophiles is that in 2009 paper is finally being replaced by affordable and ergonomically sophisticated digital devices for reading electronic content.

However will ‘the archaic medium of print’ disappear? I tend to differ in opinion and Nick Bilton too has a second thought about it. He believes it can disappear however “..this evolutionary process is going to take time. History tells us so”. He also provides some great examples from the New York Times in the 19th century:

New York Times March 22 1876
… Thus the telephone, by bringing music and ministries into every home, will empty the concert-halls and the churches …

New York Times November 7 1877
… The telephone was justly regarded as an ingenious invention when it was first brought before the public, but it is destined to be entirely eclipsed by the new invention of the phonograph. The former transmitted sound. The latter bottles it up for future use …

I really do think that print media and paper will not be replaced a 100% by technological solutions. Especially since there are still services like PostSecretDawdlr or  Postcrossing (via SitePoint). Paper can add value to your process (or life) do not ignore it because it is an old medium, it can be useful. William Powers wrote in his paper ‘Hamlet’s Blackberry: Why Paper Is Eternal’:

[…]

Though paper appears to be a relatively “dumbâ” medium, it too performs tasks that require special abilities. And many of paper’s tricks, the useful purposes it serves, are similarly products of its long relationship with people. There are cognitive, cultural and social dimensions to the human-paper dynamic that come into play every time any kind of paper, from a tiny Post-it note to a groaning Sunday newspaper, is used to convey, retrieve or store information. Paper does these jobs in a way that pleases us, which is why, for centuries, we have liked having it around. It’s also why we will never give it up as a medium, not completely. For some of the roles paper currently fulfills in our media lives, there is no better alternative currently available. And the most promising candidates are technologies that are striving to be more, not less, like paper. Indeed, the pertinent question may be not whether the old medium will survive, but whether the new ones will ever escape paper’s enormous shadow.

[…]

The message is quite simple: do not replace paper because it is paper. Replace it because it adds values. You can replace forms with an online variant, however you should still add value to make it a success. Just implement something technical since it can is not a good thing. Combine for example multiple functions; and “mashup applications,â” solutions that are quickly assembled from multiple services, potentially from many different sources inside and outside the organization. That is a way to add value and to have at least an option to escape paper’s enormous shadow.

Does it rain or does it pour?

Cloud computing is one of the disruptive technologies (read some facts here) that is the new standard in the invisible infostructure. As Mark stated earlier on this blog, Cloud Computing is about trust and ‘trust is a value I am choosing to rely on for anything I do on the web. Without trust, the web wouldn’t have evolved into what it is today’. Trust is a good thing, however trust does not solve everything. By trusting a party you can help a party to exist (merely your trust consists of paying for their service), however you cannot prevent them to disappear from the stage while taking your Cloudy services with them in their exit.

What is your exit strategy?

Have you ever thought about that? The Cloud may be part of the ecosystem of Internet, however it is not unlikely, that, like a real cloud, it will start raining. After the rain stopped the Cloud will be smaller. What if your data / application, service in the Cloud will disappear due to the disappearance of a service provider. You cannot expect that all providers of Cloud services will keep on existing the next ten years (do you remember the free hosting providers Geocities, XOOM and Fortunecity in the late nineties? Geocities was bought by Yahoo, Fortunecity still exists, and XOOM disappeared as free hosting provider, and so did its data).

Currently it is rather cloudy and the Cloud keeps expanding, however it is a fact that the expanding stops and that some pieces of the Cloud will rain down. What kind of measures did you take to prevent that your data is lost or that you cannot use a service in the Cloud? What is your fallback for your Cloud usage or will it pour at your place when it rains?

Do not block please

It is not uncommon that companies, schools and universities block social networking services, video and photo sites. Blocking is usually a respons to mis-usage of those tools: tools are used in a wrong way or at inappropriate times. However you couldn’t be more wrong than by blocking them. By blocking those tools you do not help the people that using them in the right way at the right moment and you do not help the people mis-using these tools since they will probably will have a work around (or an alternative) in a few hours.

Blocking is natural behavior

If you look in the past you can see that the blocking is a common reaction: first there was a block to call outside the company, then to call international, a block on email, a block on visiting websites, a block on instant messaging etcetera etcetera. A lot of things were blocked and most of them were unblocked after a while. Why? Because all these tools are useful in a way. The only thing you should do is to create a clear understanding with each other how to use these tools properly to prevent any mis-usage of these tools.

Freedom

Same goes for all the tools that are being blocked nowadays: social networking services contain a wealth of information and provide not only a big fun factor, but also tons of free marketing and consulting possibilities and an awful lot of new possible employees and customers. Do not block these kind of tools, just use them for your advantage. You cannot expect from employees that they will spent 100% of their working hours on their work. That is not necessary, let them spent some time during working hours on social networking services and other tools, there will be a return on investment if employees use it properly.

Tech predictions 2009: Dead of the money making core product

Selling your product for money is a very normal business model. If you make a product it will cost you some money and to make a profit you’ll ask more money for the product than you spend on manufacturing it. The same goes for services you offer. However your product is very seldom unique and if you are selling a not unique quite homogeneous product, you should not ask money for it. You should offer it for free to your customer.

Selling value

Customers will not buy your product or your service since it is 2 euro’s less expensive, customers buy your products since ancillary products and services add value to your product. Therefore let customers pay for the ancillary product and not for the core product itself. Also there are more ancillary products to think of than core products, so perhaps you could even earn more money with those products than with your core products (seems to be something like The Long Tail again).

No revolution

This is not a revolutionary business model: Ryanair offered som of their flights for free (or very low prices) and they are planning to earn money completely based on ancillary products (which already was not quite new, since KLM used to have some money in the Hilton Hotels). Zappos (online shoestore) has a brilliant story around it that someone phoned them asking where they could order a pizza and the employee of Zappos provided them with five numbers they could order pizza from (not an ancillary product though, however very good for Zappos reputation). And the newly launched service Rypple (which is for free) does offer an awfull lot of service and direct interaction concerning their service. When I used it the first day I already got some extra followers on Twitter and a good mail conversion with David Priemer from Rypple about the service and its possible improvements.

Your core product will be your lead to sell the ancillary services and products that make the real money and gain marketshare.

The Long Tail is not a fail

Anderson downgrades Long Tail to Chocolate Teapot status:

“The end came quickly,” as authors of morbid weepies like to say. On Monday WiReD magazine editor Chris Anderson effectively admitted game over for his “Long Tail”, the idea he’s been dragging so lucratively around the conference circuit for the past four years. In as many words, he downgraded it from “the future of business” to something that’s, er, not very helpful for your business at all.

Off course there should be a bit of nuance in this quote from The Register: The Long Tail can be the future of your business as well it can be not very helpful for your business at all.

Mass market and Long Tail both work

The Long Tail used to be something of mythical proportions making the mass market approach something dirty that was doomed to fail. However the mass market approach does work as well as The Long Tail does (and they even work well when you apply them both on the same market). What you should keep mind in:

  1. The market in which you operate
    Some markets are not for The Long Tail, that is not something bad, that is just a fact. Some markets are better off with a mass market approach and you should not feel bad about that.
  2. Your business
    Not all businesses have the ability to adopt their business models and their processes to The Long Tail. It can be very hard to implement The Long Tail concept and still be cost effective (most common result of The Long Tail concept is that costs will increase harder than the revenue). A kind reminder: The Long Tail is not only about maximizing profits and earning tons of money, it is also about getting a larger audience for your products and services.

Do keep in mind that The Long Tail can work, however it does not work due to the fact that you are applying a myth to your business. It does work when the market allows it and when your business has the ability to implement The Long Tail in a cost effective manner.

Tech predictions 2009: Information filtering and behavioral targeting are the new gold

Clay Shirky mentioned it some time ago “It’s Not Information Overload. It’s Filter Failure”. And he is right, currently there is so much information that it is hard to filter it correctly to come to the information you need (Well it is not hard to filter it, it is hard to find a filter that fits your needs). Not only will you have this issue in your RSSreader or your inbox, you’ll also experience it when visiting websites.

The Quest for information

Not only website visitors will experience this issue, website owners will experience related issues. Due to the fact that the visitors cannot find the information they are looking for they will either stop looking and do nothing or will contact the organization of the site via another channel that is more expensive (a call to a helpdesk costs approximately 7 Euros for the helpdesk owner). The result however is a bad user experience for the visitor. Visitors will either not visit the site again and will try to find another more userfriendly site or they will only use the more expensive channel. Both results are not pleasing for neither the owner of the website (resulting in more costs and perhaps even lower revenue) nor for the visitor (bad user experience and wasting time on another channel than he initially prefered).

Save time by filtering

Therefore information filtering as well as behavioral targeting is the big thing for 2009. It will enables the visitor to get to the information he needs within the amount of time he wants to spent to look for this information. By customizing the website in run time on the personal needs of the visitor the site owner is able to create a nice you experience and the website owner will save money by having less phone calls and perhaps even earn more money due to the fact the visitor is seduced by some products he really could use that pops up thank to behavioral targeting.

Tech predictions 2009: ‘Trust’ is the new version of ‘Control’

When using applications or services in the Cloud and you incorporated them in your business processes you already made the decision that control isn’t everything anymore and trust is more important. The decision of putting trust above control (or perhaps even instead of control) will be one of the big decision to be made in 2009.

Control used to be vital

The matter of control on solutions was something that was probably vital some years ago, however in the last few years it is not control that is important, it is trust that matters. Do you trust the service provider to share your knowledge and data, with the help of their infrastructure? Do you trust the service provider that they will not misuse this data and share it with a third party? Do you trust the systems of the service provider enough that there will not be a security breach? Do you trust your network of people which can help you to find solutions for your problems, or will they misuse your information about the issues you have?

Gain advantage by trust

If you want control, you should develop a local solution that is 100% behind the firewall. However at that very moment you are reinventing the wheel, investing more money than necessary on short and long term (since your solution should be hosted somewhere and should also be maintained) and you will hardly be able to collect views from your network outside your firewall. Off course you can do that in 2009, however you could also save money and gain competitive advantage by doing these things outside your firewall. You could even discover and developer new products and business models when you trust the outside world enough to speak with them about the issues you have.

If you want to make it through 2009 you really should giving up the want to control everything and starting to trust others. Would you trust me on this predication?

Tech Predictions 2009: Cisco will be KLM – Air France biggest challenger

Having to attend a lot of meetings can result in traveling a few hours per week to arrive at the meeting place. Especially when your colleagues are working at a different location (or even in another country) you can earn a lot of Airmiles. You can give yourself a nice present from your enormous amount of Airmiles, however I do think you prefer a less time consuming, less costly and even perhaps a greener solution.

As Cisco moves the last few years by buying Webex, Postpath, Pure Networks, Faive Across and acquiring Jabber it is clear that communication is a big thing for Cisco. Since Cisco is so thoroughly expanding its footprint on communication it is could be just a matter of time that Cisco will become the biggest challenger of the passenger transportation branch. Cisco is able to offer a platform on which you interact with each other without spending hours in airports or in your car, without spending hundreds of euros / dollars on gasoline or tickets and without increasing the CO2 exhaust more.

Save time, solve traffic congestion issues

The new way of traveling to meetings will be gaining ground in 2009: you will have your meetings at the place you prefer and the other attendees will be at the place they prefer. You’ll travel less, saving you days or even weeks of time in which you can do useful things. You’ll save money on tickets and gasoline and you can even mention that you are a greener person who is not pushing extra CO2 in the atmosphere while driving your car to another meeting. You could even be one of those who is solving the traffic congestion issues by not being on the road during peak hours.

I’ll be looking forward to my meetings in 2009, are you?

There is no such thing as a phase two

When developing enterprise 2.0 solutions there is no such thing as a phase two in which you can do product enhancements that are left out in phase one. If you did not start with a proper enhanced product or service within your E2.0 environment that has value for your colleagues or employees, you will deliver a bunch of code that can be redirected to the scrapheap.

In E2.0 you have to create services that add value, in Web2.0 you cant ake the risk of not doing that. Why is E2.0 so strict? Simply: your target audience is way smaller and mistakes aren’t tolerated in E2.0. In Web2.0 you create a poorly interface or service and people still will adopt it (Twitter is one of the best examples, it had structural outages, a poor interface and still the community was growing). Besides that E2.0 does not equal Web2.0. Just building your E2.0 solution is not enough, as Thomas Vander Wal said in his Tale of the two tunnels :

Many organizations initial believe that Web 2.0 tools will take off and have great adoption inside an organization. But, this is not a “build it and they will come” scenario, even for the younger workers who are believed to love these tools and services and will not stay in a company that does not have them. The reality is the tools need selling their use, value derived from them, the conceptual models around what they do, and easing fears. Adoption rates grow far beyond the teen percentages in organizations that take time guiding people about the use of the tools and services. Those organizations that take the opportunity to continually sell the value and use for these tools they have in place get much higher adoption and continued engagement with the tools than those who do nothing and see what happens

For example: I overheard a conversation concerning a portal that should be build within a company to help employees with their work live balance. This portal would contain, in phase one, only functionality to plan a trip from location A to B and would provide a comparison on different transportmodes (phase two would have more functionality). Imagine you being at home starting your day with planning how you could get from your home (location A) to a customer (location B) and you start planning with the tool provided on the internal portal: You first have to startup your company laptop, than connect via VPN to the company network, go to the portal and than plan your trip. Or what you also could have done was going to a public site that is offering exact the same service and plan your trip (without using VPN, without your company laptop, you can even use this public application via phone).

It might be clear that there will not be a phase two for this portal project. Simply because it does not add value and the adoption rate in phase one is too low (if any at all). If you are planning to build an E2.0 solution: add value, sell value, sell value, add value, sell value, sell value, sell value, add value (this process is should be repeated over and over again).

Mashups can be made by your grandma

There used to be a time that creating a webpage was a hard job. You had to open notepad, vim (or whatever editor was suitable those days) and you had to create every piece of markup by hand. Then came the first web editors (Microsoft Frontpage, Macromedia Dreamweaver, Adobe Go Live) which made these things easy. I have to admit they produced horrible markup, however everybody, even my grandma who is currently 92 years old, could make a webpage.

Nowadays we got used to the ease to create pages on the web, even more, we got used to the fact that we can even create mash ups in a few mouseclicks. The nerdy / geeky developer used to be the only one who was able to create a proper mashup. Especially since you needed to the understand the API of a component, you had to be able to understand XML and sometimes XSL and foremost you had to code this by hand in notepad, vim (or whatever editor you use nowadays). Well this is the past, everyone, even my grandma, can create a mashup using only their mouse and their browser (or using their mouse and a third party application).

Taking things for granted

It is even better: people do not know anymore they are mashing / meshing things, they take all components for granted. All the components used in mash ups are so omni present some of the mouseclicking mash up creators don’t even realize that there are developers for these components (yes, Google Earth is developed as well as Yahoo Pipes is a result of a development by others). Facebook is also an excellent example of a mashup platform where all components already are taken for granted, Facebook is always there, the data is always there and a new widget / gadget for Facebook is easily created via a specific widget for Facebook.

What to do with your developer karma?

Is there something we can do with notepad, vim (or other editors) instead of creating webpages or mash up to maintain our mysterious developer karma? Well tons of things, however in the end everyone will be able to create the things you create in your notepad. Even my grandma will build better solutions than you using those (to be developed) tools than you do nowadays in your notepad. The developer will be building on the platform and the cloud components more and more, a platform and components that my grandma can use to build her solutions. The developer will not build any end solutions anymore, those solutions will be made by the masses in the tools they prefer to make them. The outcome is that web developers will be obsolete in the near future.