The Big Switch

June 3, 2008

Diagram of cloud computing architecture.

Image via Wikipedia

Great couple ‘o weeks under our belts here at e-Me. Sure, we drove 30 hours in a 48 hour time-frame. Yup, we saw how hot semantic content can be at Nstein. No doubt, we built tables out of doors. Yes siree, we’re gaining Wedia clarity. Can’t deny it, we’re all over Google Sites to contain our project management needs.

And now, in a serendipitous pulling-together of some of our thoughts, I read about The Big Switch. No, I did not actually read the book (thanks to my utter lack of a Kindle). But, I’ll trust MIT to outline the main points for me.

  • Cloud computing is coming at you fast
  • Businesses are created on top of utilities
  • And guess what, computing is a utility
  • Differentiate yourself on something else besides computing

This affects Wedia in two ways

  1. You best be building Wedia on a robust utility instead of a DIY/homegrown one-off that doesn’t differentiate the business
  2. Watch out. After computing, content is the next thing to become a utility (go ahead, debate me on this one)

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Official Seal of Northwestern UniversityImage via Wikipedia

Medill at Northwestern is a renowned Journalism School just an hour El ride from e-Me HQ. Seeing as we’ve got a bent towards new media and the like here at Wedia Up, we figured it’d be good to try to engage some of the students.

Lucky us, it was Medill Career Day. Unlucky us, we failed to sign-up and pay the fee to have a booth at the event. Undeterred, I packed my old-school flyers and went searching for students to bring into the Wedia Up conversation.

Asking a couple questions at the registration desk, I was quickly introduced to the Director of Career Services, Jim O’Brien. Jim understood what I was getting at and was very helpful. Not surprisingly, he noted that my old and busted flyers wouldn’t garner much attention from J-students (I knew that, but how else to turn a physical event into an online meeting?). The solution: send Jim the e-Me info so he could distribute to students via electronic-mail. Genius, Jim. Genius.

So, the Medill conversation begins. If you’re a Medill Student coming to join the conversation, welcome. I’d be interested to know if you heard about us via the flyer or email.

FreakonomicsImage via Wikipedia

One line from a recent entry on the NYTimes Freakonomics blog struck me, and it is the title of this post. Freakonomics explains why innovation is so vital, and yet so difficult to measure. We often strive for the big event of a successful innovation, but the event only happens if the process is sound. Innovation isn’t reducible to quarterly forecasts like revenues. Innovation takes patience and failure, and will every once in awhile yield big successes.

The process of innovation does not guarantee success, but success is only repeatable (i.e., not a fluke) if there is a sound innovation process. This is what we’re striving for at Wedia Up and e-Me Ventures. We’re finding our innovation process in order to have a shot at the big event.

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KickApps CorporationImage via Wikipedia

We had a little experiment called Project 1two5 going on over at the white-label social network, KickApps. After setting it up and playing with it for a few weeks, the user interface, navigation, blaring ads, and customization options just didn’t meet our needs. Good experiment, but now it’s time to shut ’em down and find a better venue for the important dialogue that needs to be had around New Media, Wedia, Innovation, Semantic Web, Content and Collaboration. This fits right into our goal of failing early and failing cheaply. Now we just need to fail more often.

To be clear, our Project 1two5 still exists, just not on KickApps. Project 1two5 is about discussing and collaborating on how to bring Wedia Innovation to LoMediaCo’s. This can be done in many places, including here at Wedia Up, and over on our Facebook Group. In fact, our friend (and father figure to some), Chuck Peters, launched a blog that is an important part of this discussion over at Local Information Utility. Check it one time.

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Man - Back Into the FutureImage by jovike via Flickr

Us fellas over here at Wedia Up saw the future on Thursday. And the future is obvious.

Back-end systems are the bane of any aspiring company. There is so much infrastructure building to slog through before you can get to the meat of an idea. This slows innovation, costs a bushel of benjamins, and can weigh down morale.

But what if the infrastructure was already there? All of the servers, security, databases, and computing power you could use?

The go-getters over at force.com (as in, salesforce.com) are rolling out such a thing called Platform as a Service. We saw it in action on Thursday, and most other methods of programming quickly seemed antiquated. Platform as a Service is an obvious next step in computing, but only obvious once you’ve seen it. We’ve seen the future, and are gonna be running towards it.

As with anything that “is the future”, LoMediaCo’s gotta understand it and find the benefits.

We’re starting the process of understanding all this, and will update our thoughts often.

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Graffiti with MeaningImage by David Reece via Flickr

Over the past two weeks, the e-Me team has been giving me flack about the notion that ideas are cheap and that it’s all in the implementation: this is where it gets hard and expensive. During a recent conference, Tom sent the tweets, Nick was all over it, and I was having loads of fun with overpriced accountants trying to close my books for the year. Nice!

To be fair, there is some truth to this notion. It’s just that the truth, like most things, is in the context. Morning epiphanies in the shower always feel world-changing when you’re lathering and singing. But you get to the office, you chase it for a bit and get far enough to learn that you don’t know squat. Now you have to do work. Assuming your smart enough to socialize the idea, you learn that there are lots of great ideas about your ideas that better inform your ideas – but you still don’t know how to pull it off. In this context, yep, you betcha, ideas don’t take you far. What you need is all the stuff that comes after: a formed concepts, a basic design framework, some development tools, customer testing and feedback, yaddah, yaddah, yaddah. Damn! It really is hard! So yeah, splat! The idea dies.

But imagine that the tools, how-to knowledge, and related piece-parts were available; at minimal to no cost. And what if you had a sandbox to develop and test. Then what? Know what you need then? Yep, IDEAS. And not the flippant garden variety of idea (those are opinions, and like that hidden orifice, everybody has at least one). What you need is that vetted, socialized, scrutinized idea that is the basis form a good concept. And once you have a decent concept – well, you can start doing stuff. Because, it just so happens that more and more, the cloud offers lots of options.

On Nick’s post, he noted that “we can crawl the web, pick up on good ideas and tweak them to our needs. After all, ideas are cheap and it’s no biggie for us to steal them”. But you know, the iPod is not completely original. Portable, personal, music was invented by Sony. When we can borrow, tweak, edit and improve, we move the big ball forward. As easy as this is to say, it’s difficult for a guys, like me, who grew up building technology in labs and development “centers” in a race against time and the other guys who are trying to take you out. I learned (mumble-mumble) years ago that, as the renown philosopher, Austin Powers, would say “that’s just not cricket, baby”.

Today, it’s all about the great idea, great (and cheap) implementation (i.e, it ain’t great if it chokes your cash flow) and fast deployment. So if the process, tools, platforms and pieces are now cheap, what isn’t? Great ideas, from great people with huge passion and awesome skills to manage great (fast and cheap) deployment.

To all the great thinker-uppers out there: Rock On!!

Tapes 'n Tapes performing at the Siren Music Festival.Image via Wikipedia

I love how two disparate things can converge so nicely. Thing #1: Great post over at MediaShift calling out Newsrooms to “Walk the Talk of Change”. Check out some great examples of Talk and Action over there.

Thing #2: My favorite band, Tapes ‘n Tapes, released their 2nd Album today entitled “Walk It Off”. Take a listen over at MTVU. It’s piping hot if you’re into the independent rock.

I hope you agree that these are disparate things. Now comes the convergence.

Instead of Walk the Talk, I like the concept of Walk It Off for LoMediaCo’s. Walk the Talk connotes some blustery guy saying all the right words and pretending to know precisely where he’s going. Walk It Off is saying, “I think that ‘it’ is over there, and instead of measuring exactly where it is, I’m just gonna approximately walk towards it. If I’m close, great. If not, I’ll have a better viewpoint to walk it off again.”

Wedia Up is an exercise in Walking It Off. Tom and I thought it’d be great to do something in the Wedia community, so we got on WordPress in an hour. We’re walking towards where we think Wedia should be.  It may be an imprecise innovation method, but we think it will get us where we want to be more quickly.

Walking It Off is great for the innovation muscles.