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the big blog company | Sui Generis
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October 02, 2005
Obscure underdogs
Adriana Cronin-Lukas • Sui Generis 
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No longer, as the New York Times mentions BrainStorm, the best, simplest and flexible application for sorting out your thoughts.

Next is a truly obscure underdog: software called BrainStorm, created and sold by two independent programmers in England. Its kind of elegance, quite distinct from the style and polish of the Mac or TiVo, is the stripped-down functional beauty of an excellent sharpened knife.

BrainStorm is a return to the early days of personal computing, in its resemblance to outstanding DOS-era programs like XyWrite and GrandView. Its display is text only, with no graphic grace notes, and the only thing it does is manage lists - of ideas, tasks, references, names. Behind this simplicity is surprising power, or so I have found since buying it on a friend’s recommendation several months ago. The program makes it very quick and easy to add, subtract, rearrange, or reconsider information you are working with.

David Tebbutt, one of the handful of bloggers whose off-line company I have a chance to enjoy, has spend much time and loving care on BrainStorm. I find it very useful when preparing for presentations, for example, as my thinking tends to be lateral and disorganised. Using BrainStorm enables me to switch from the creative (unstructured) to the analytical (structured) mode in a very convenient manner. I do recommend it, not only because I know how much effort went into it, but because it works. I also think that BrainStorm is like one of those little secrets that people like to keep to themselves - a phone number of a reliable and inexpensive plumber or a builder. Fortunately, Brainstorm can take the rush in orders, so off you go, organise and grow your brain.

Cross-posted from Media Influencer

June 30, 2005
Disruptive Skyping
Adriana Cronin-Lukas • Sui Generis • Trends 
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An excellent article by Gordon Cook in strategy+business about Skype’s challenge to both telcoms and traditional companies. Skype is a “softphone” — a software-based telephone that uses a computer, cellphone, PDA, or any other equipment connected to the Web to deliver voice with simultaneous file transfer and instant messages over the Internet.


It is different from the growing number of “voice over Internet protocol” (VOIP) networks offered by phone and cable companies, because it is a peer-to-peer system, creating ad hoc computer-to-computer links over the Internet whenever Skype users want to reach one another. The big issue here is that no central networks mediate
or manage the connection and so the user to user calls are free. Since its debut, Skype has signed up 35 million users and, at any one time, well over 3 million people are logged into its network.

Those of us who use it, know how revolutionary it is and how it changed the voice communication and its cost. But as Gordon Cook points out, the road to Skype’s domination is not smooth as most corporate IT and telecom managers are trying to avoid Skype at all costs. It is for sound security reasons, but I am sure the idea that employees can be using something that is not controlled by the company and/or its IT department plays a role. But because Skype gives more control to the individual I don’t see how its progress can be halted without resorting to drastic measures:

Soon it will become imperative for larger companies to take Skype seriously, if for no other reason than that peer-to-peer architecture is one of the most efficient, most direct, and least wasteful systems of digital interaction.

But perhaps the most lasting influence of Skype will be that it will force management and IT executives to consider how to structure a network that exists both inside and outside the corporate firewall. To improve innovation and their own productivity, employees will gravitate to the most advanced collaboration and communications tools with the most reliable levels of quality, no matter what price is paid in weakened security.

Indeed. The corporate firewall is a technological equivalent of the great business divide between the company and the ‘consumers’ whose porousness Cluetrain has so effectively pointed out. This is not a statement about no need for security but for looking at the landscape in a bit more peer-to-peer way, you might say…

Cross-posted from Media Influencer

May 25, 2005
Some serious trendspotting…
Adriana Cronin-Lukas • Sui Generis • Trends 
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The Future of Television by Conan O’Brien:

To begin, the trend toward larger and larger televisions will continue as screens double in size every 18 months. Televisions will eventually grow so large that families will be forced to watch TV from outside their homes, peering in through the window. Random wolf attacks will make viewing more dangerous. And, just as televisions grow larger and more complicated, so will remote controls. In fact, changing channels will soon require people to literally jump from button to button. Trying to change the channel while simultaneously lowering the volume will require two people and will frequently lead to kinky sex.

via Doc Searls

May 23, 2005
Bloc notes
Adriana Cronin-Lukas • Blogs & Blogging • Blogs in the media • Sui Generis 
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Loic tells the blogosphere that the French have decided what to call ‘weblog’.  Journal Officiel has given an official translation to the word weblog:

“Weblog" should be in French “Bloc Notes”

Literally, “Bloc Notes” in english translates back to “Note Pad”.

The “Journal Officiel” even thought about a short version, equivalent to “blog”, it should be “bloc” which should translate back to “pad”.

Blogs are what we call them, not what we are told to call them. If the French official organs can’t get that, then they do not understand the nature of what they are trying to define and prescribe.

May 02, 2005
Does Creative Commons need more buzz?
Adriana Cronin-Lukas • Sui Generis 
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This blog has Creative Commons license attached to it. We like Creative Commons and think that it is the kind of copyright that makes most sense online where the point is to distribute and attribute, not to protect and charge.

So, it is with interest that I saw the news of Creative Commons going into a partnership with BzzAgent. They launched a grassroots marketing campaign to promote Creative Commons on 29th April. Hang on, I thought the whole CC was a grassroots project. But as Lawrence Lessig points out one of the aims of the partnership is to extend their work offline as the vast majority of BzzAgent action occurs offline.

The marketing campaign is a network of volunteer brand evangelists who share their honest opinions about products and services with other consumers. The Bzz agents are regular joes like you and me who bzzz (or promote) different campaigns.

Still, I have a problem with this. Why? Because there is a fine line between a genuine conversation about something one is passionate about and a controlled or contrived engagement on behalf of a client. However genuine the opinions of the bzzagent are transparency and therefore credibility will always be a problem. Oh, I can clearly see the benefits of generating buzz by such agents to marketers and perhaps see it working for a while as a novel marketing technique but I am afraid I can’t see it work long term. The perverse result will be that when someone recommends a product genuinely, people will not trust their enthusiasm anymore. Well, I wouldn’t but that may be just me… On a more theoretical note, I remember reading about BzzAgent a few months ago and I found the best explanation of where the line such marketing crosses is, in this New York Times magazine article. It relies on the different between two different markets - monetary and social. Although in the article, this is used to supports the point of the viability of agents, this holds true only for as long as they are unpaid or unrewarded for their efforts, which certainly no longer seems the case.

Why would the volunteers work so hard to get other people excited about these products? Another line of research suggests a possible answer. This school of thought would characterize word-of-mouth volunteers as operating not in a traditional money-in-exchange-for-effort ‘’monetary market,’’ but rather in a ‘’social market.’’ A social market is what we engage in when we ask our friends to help us load up the moving van in exchange for pizza. The research suggests that we are likely to get a better effort out of our friends under the social-market scenario than by offering the cash equivalent of the pizza. (A recent article in the journal Psychological Science finds that ‘’monetizing’’ a gift, like the pizza, by announcing how much it is worth, effectively shifts the whole situation from social market to monetary market.) Under some circumstances, we will expend more effort for social rewards than we will for monetary rewards. This suggests that the agents may do more to spread word of mouth precisely because they are not being paid.

For the round up of the debate, Suw rose to the challenge as did Gwai Lo. Also worth checking feedback in comments on lessig blog.

Update: A thoughtful blog post about the whole issue from a personal persective of a dispassionate CC supporter.

March 21, 2005
Brain of the blogger
Adriana Cronin-Lukas • Blogs & Blogging • Sui Generis 
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Eide Neurolearning blog wonders what effect is all this blogging having on the brains of bloggers… This question is based on the assumption that

… our mental activities actually cause changes in the structures of our brains--not only what we think, but how we think as well. Given such activity-directed change, it always makes sense to ask whenever large numbers of people start using their brains in new and different ways, what effects these new activities are likely to have on brain structure and function.

This is what Drs. Fernette and Brock Eide discover:

  1. Blogs can promote critical and analytical thinking.
  2. Blogging can be a powerful promoter of creative, intuitive, and associational thinking.
  3. Blogs promote analogical thinking.
  4. Blogging is a powerful medium for increasing access and exposure to quality information.
  5. Blogging combines the best of solitary reflection and social interaction.

For the full juicy goodness (and explanation of the above points), read the whole thing.

The conclusion is that it looks as if blogging will be very good for our brains. There, dear reader, and you thought it was all such a waste of time… grin

The meaning of interactive
Adriana Cronin-Lukas • Sui Generis 
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This is what agencies consider interactive. Nothing wrong with that notion - it’s just another world… Enjoy.

via Adverblog

January 30, 2005
Kicking ass or giving a damn about employees…
Adriana Cronin-Lukas • Sui Generis 
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For the whole and true story, click on the image. There is not much to add to it apart from restating the Big Blog Company’s ‘hidden’ (well, not really) agenda. Apart from evangelising about blogging, educating the world about blogs and getting companies blog, we also believe that employees are the most important components of most businesses. The assumption is that the basic unit of a company is the individual, not a department, process or even a team. Creativity and innovation comes from individual minds that can collaborate and cooperate to make good ideas happen. Blogs are the perfect tool for the individual and by introducing them to business, they have the potential to influence the way employees interact not only with the outside world but also inside companies.

What Sun is doing, with its ‘eval system’ is short-sighted at best and very wrong at worst. The manager who not only allocated the Exceeded Expectations quota but also had the audacity to argue when reminded of Kathy’s sacrifice that:

That’s not the point. This is simply about numbers. My hands are tied.

was as confused as the donkey who kicked her face. And I don’t think it’s difficult to guess which one felt worse.

Oh, and don’t get me started about companies that use ‘eval systems’ rating their employees according ‘meets expectations’ and ‘exceeds expectations’. Yeah, we are all individuals…

December 01, 2004
PDF rant
Adriana Cronin-Lukas • Sui Generis 
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This is just too good to miss. Doc Searls lets rip:

< RantOn >

See, the manifesto is a @#$%^&*()+!!{{{{{FUCKING}}}}}!! .pdf. Have I made it clear I hate .pdfs? I do.

Says here “our PDFs don’t suck.” Because they’re beautiful and “a joy to read.” Excuse me, they do suck if what they contain isn’t also on the Web in relatively ugly but open, unowned, nonproprietary, standard and non-infuriating HTML (or its more modern and no less standard successors and derivatives). PDFs, no matter how beautiful, are not a joy to quote (how about all them line breaks you have to edit out?), or to link to.

Forgive me. I’m in a bad mood today about people breaking the Web.

One way they do it is by taking writing off the Web and offering it only as a .pdf “download”. AAARg.

A prime example, to me at least, of not knowing when to leave money on the table. Think where we would all be now, including Adobe, if the company had opened up the .pdf standard and Acrobat, way back when the Web was young. Perhaps there are millions (or billions?) Adobe might not have made. But I’m sure there are many more that they could have made because of the .pdf standard (rather than with it, which is what they chose to do). But alas.

< RantOff >

Do you get the impression that Doc hates pdfs?

November 16, 2004
More than the sum of its parts
Adriana Cronin-Lukas • Sui Generis • Trends 
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In September FT was doing a series of articles on innovation called Mastering Innovation. It is sponsored and so available to everyone. Yay!

There are several articles in the series that are a must-read for those pondering innovation and its mysterious ways. The article that got me most interested was called More than the sum of its parts and it basically explains, in a nice FT speak, all that magic of networks that we keep talking about here.

The challenge is no longer how to manage the business, but how to manage it within the wider context of networks. A network can be defined as a complex, interconnected group or system, and networking involves using that arrangement to accomplish particular tasks. This is especially relevant in the context of innovation which, at its heart, is about knowledge and combining a wide range of knowledge elements to create something new. Managing innovation is about bringing together different people and the knowledge they carry, and this involves building and running effective internal and external networks.

Precisely. And the $64,000 question is how to build and maintain those effective internal and external networks. There are many ways but very few actually work. What we are seeing in the blogosphere - the emergence, creation and diffusion of information, the good, the bad and the ugly fighting it out in the free market way is a phenomenon that can be understood, tames and replicated to some extent inside enterprises. Blogs are currently the most effective tool for connecting and networking that encourage innovation because they are based on the basic unit of creativity - the individual.  There is much to learn from the way of the blogs, which is evolving as we speak. On the one hand, this makes it a tremendously exciting area to be in, on the other, it makes it a very frustrating experience when trying to explain all this to companies. FT does a great job:

Why do we need innovation networks? One reason is that the innovation game has simply become too big and complex for any single player to handle. But it is also about exploiting potential - making the whole genuinely more than the sum of its parts. ...Increasingly, the issue is being seen not as one of knowledge generation (creating the ideas in the first place), but of knowledge flows (spreading and applying the ideas widely). Once again, this is a vital role for innovation networking.

The overriding message seems to be that future growth through innovation is increasingly going to depend on following E.M. Forster’s famous imperative: “Only connect”. Learning to do so effectively is going to be one of the key innovation management challenges, both for researchers and practitioners, for some time to come.

There are many concepts that are counter-intuitive to the traditional businesses such as “open innovation”, where links and connections become as important as the actual production and ownership of knowledge. Another one is the concept of emergence that I have been observing with fascination in the blogosphere and elsewhere, which is alien to many command & control enterprises. Acceptance of shared learning within a network is needed before companies can benefit from the network effect in their innovation and creativity.

All this is already happening in the blogosphere - lateral and random connections, links, emergence, shared learning and exchange. Combine that with speed and you have got a dynamic and chaotic place, not a tidy, managed network. It is a marketplace of ideas where the stuff that emerges is increasingly more innovative than what any one company achieves in the traditional top-down context. Cross-polinations of concepts, self-correction of errors and inconsistencies (over time and over the network), distributed expertise that can be brought to bear on a particular issue, these are the kind of processes that the blogosphere already produces even when at its most chaotic.

There is a way to harness this and apply it inside a company. We have developed three assumptions that make this process easier for us:

  1. Innovation and knowledge management is a human problem, not a technological one, no IT project will solve it
  2. Nothing was ever invented in a meeting - agreed, implemented, clarified and elaborated but not first invented
  3. Basic unit of a company is the individual, not process, department or even team
October 27, 2004
The Tea Lounge
Jackie Danicki • Sui Generis 
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I didn’t bother to take my wifi-enabled laptop with me to Paris - why bother when there is an internet café (complete with huge M&Ms vending machine and plenty of high-caffiene energy drinks) two doors down from your hotel? And when that internet café is charging a mere €3 per hour of usage, it gets even more difficult to justify lugging a laptop around with the rest of your luggage.

But I am always on the lookout for good wifi hotspots, especially in London. If only this one that Stee has found was here instead of in Brooklyn - it has free wifi, good (and cheap) food, lots of comfy seats, as well as a full bar.

And… and you’re going to think now I’m just lying… videogames. Joust and Ms. Pac Man. I know!

Anyone know any good wifi hotspots in London? 

October 11, 2004
A job well done: Aubergine Print and Business Post
Jackie Danicki • Sui Generis 
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When we needed new tBBC business cards, we went to Aubergine Print - they had done beautiful, sturdy cards for Kate and Adrian at PeopleFanClub, and when Adrian told us how reasonably priced they were (£49.50 per 250 litho-printed in full colour on 350 silk art board with matte laminate as standard), we were sold.

click for a closer look at tBBC's new business cards

Fast forward to last week. I sent our artwork, created by our talented designer, to Aubergine. Late Thursday night, I got email telling me that our order had been despatched. It was due to arrive on Friday, when we were having our all day session at the Phene Arms. Luckily, the Phene is no more than a 60 second walk from tBBC HQ in Chelsea, but sitting in all day, waiting for Business Post to deliver our order was not an option.

First thing Friday morning, I phoned the Business Post depot in Park Royal, from which our order had been despatched. (How did I know which one had it? Because Aubergine had helpfully included that information in their despatch confirmation email, along with the directions for how to track the order via Business Post’s website.) The line rang for ages, but eventually someone answered. I explained that no one would be around to sign for the delivery, but that as we would be just around the corner, it would be hugely helpful if the driver could call us when he was either on his way or on the doorstep. It took a couple of phone calls between the girl who answered the phone, the driver, and me, but eventually the driver agreed to ring me when he was on his way.

And he stuck to his word, calling when he was 20 minutes from tBBC HQ. Perry nipped out of our session and over the road, and was back in no time with the order. The cards are every bit as gorgeous as we could have hoped, and several attendees of our session commented on how nice they are. We are extremely pleased with Aubergine’s work, and with Business Post for finding a way to get our delivery to us as planned - so much so that I said, when we were admiring how attractively the order was packaged and presented, “These are so great - I am definitely blogging this.” After all, how better to spread the word than via the blogosphere?

Which reminds me: At least one of these companies should have a blog. I cannot be the only one who would be massively interested in reading the diaries of a Business Post deliveryman.

September 23, 2004
Persistence is money
Adriana Cronin-Lukas • Sui Generis 
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Joe Kraus, one of the founders of Excite , has started a blog called Bnoopy, an entrepreneurship blog on September 14. Already there are two riveting posts about persistence in starting up and getting ahead with business you believe in.

The first is a story about Excite and its concept-searching technology and about meeting Vinod Khosla who funded Excite. After many a presentation to VC firms, the Excite team were still looking for funding:

By then, our deal had developed a certain “smell”—smart guys with interesting technology but an uncertain business plan. The demo to Vinod started off like they all did, but about 10 minutes into the meeting things got very different. He interrupted

“Can the technology scale? can you search a large database?”

Big Pause. It’s not the money question. No one has ever asked us this before. Ummm.

“We don’t know, we can’t afford a hard drive big enough to test.”

Then, an amazing thing happened. Ten minutes into this meeting, his first introduction to the company and us, he pulls out his his cell phone, dials his assistant and buys us a $10,000, 10Gb hard drive.

How refreshing. Although the heady days of and technology spending were nigh, this does not make this approach less effective. In fact, in the long run, it probably saves a lot more money.

But the phrase to take away from the blog post is “unencumbered by reality"…

The second post is taking persistence to a whole new level, relaying the story of Netscape putting the destinations of the NetSearch and NetDirectory buttons up for bid.

Fact 1: There were at least three bidders for the two buttons: us, Infoseek and MCI (they had a yet-to-be-launched web search and directory product that, I think, was going to be called Genuine).

Fact 2: We had a little less than $1,000,000 in the bank.

Fact 3: We were screwed.

To find out what happened, here’s the rest of the story.

via Venture Blog

September 15, 2004
I still don’t like talking about the weather, though
Jackie Danicki • Sui Generis 
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Lots of good stuff in defence of small talk from David Weinberger, Suw Charman and Stowe Boyd at Get Real. In case people still need reminding in 2004: Employees are people, not workbots with motherboards and hard drives where their brains and hearts should be. The company that devalues informal social networks not only devalues its employees, but limits its own success.

Speaking of which, Perry and I had a nice meal at ASK last night when I returned from seeing our friends and clients at the ASI. Several non-work-related subjects were discussed, and we also came away with plans of action for several projects, but it would have been worthwhile even if all we’d done was talk about our favourite colours and what trees we’d be if we were trees.

September 12, 2004
Blogging the PR nightmare
Jackie Danicki • Sui Generis 
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Daniel pretty much sums it up:

I have a job that makes you lie. To everyone. All the time. It’s tearing at my soul.

Check out the lie-filled email he had to write to one director who has produced what Daniel calls “the worst, most offensive movie I’ve ever seen,” which he closed with:

Thanks and best,

[too humiliated to sign my own name]

But at least it gives him good fodder for amusing blog posts. 

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