Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

The Best Way to Play Office Politics

January 13, 2011

Be my friend

Sometimes it’s nice to be reminded of things that seem to tread the border between wisdom and plain common sense.

I enjoyed listening to this interview at HBR (while on my way to work, appropriately) with the authors of Being the Boss, which discusses the reality of all organisations being “inherently political entities” and how best to deal with this.

It contains the following nuggets about workplace politics which struck a chord with me:

Who you know determines what you get to do, and what you get to do determines what you know.

You can’t only form relationships with people you like. You don’t have the liberty to make that distinction.

Also, to paraphrase Linda Hill on the perils of forming adult working relationships:

When we were five years old we might approach other children directly and ask them “Will you be my friend?”. That doesn’t work so well in the office.

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The machinery beneath

February 9, 2010

There is a scene in a popular 90s science fiction film in which Keanu Reeves wakes up, splashing around in his pod full of slime, and is faced with the immense towers of machinery that have been powering his dream world. Similarly, in present-day reality, there are unfortunate engineers – the Oompa-Loompas of the Interweb chocolate factory – who, through their work, are denied the purely ethereal online experience enjoyed by everyone else. For them, behind each Google search, each tweet and Spotify playlist is a terrible vastitude of air-conditioned warehouses filled with miles of humming, blinking machines and endless cable spaghetti.

The anti-green credentials of the Internet are partly due to good old fashioned human extravagance. Resources are poured into the fabrication of silicon and the production of over packaged machines that, once installed, appear to do little more than turn electrical energy into heat, and then require industrial-scale cooling to keep them happy. But the machines don’t make themselves and the social demand for technical infrastructure is not slowing down.

During his talk at LSE last week Jaron Lanier described the heavy industry of the Internet as “profoundly wasteful“. His point, mainly in support of a universal micropayment system, was that current usage patterns are hugely inefficient, particularly with regard to file sharing and the endless duplication this entails. The anarchic nature of the Internet, while being one of its greatest strengths, has contributed to this. Although the actual percentage of total bandwidth sucked up by peer-to-peer networks is up for debate the fact remains that a fresh approach to digital rights management and payment could help. Currently legal file distribution remains in the grip of what Lanier refers to as “walled gardens”, such as iTunes and Amazon Kindle, whereby a perennial cycle of physical gadgets must be produced in order to make money out of intangible things.

Interestingly, the worst recession since records began has failed to stifle society’s insatiable appetite for digital content and services, with Internet traffic growth continuing on a skyward trajectory. Ofcom research reveals that even in a frosty economic climate, many people would forgo other luxuries before considering cutting their spending on broadband. It seems the UK has a new essential utility. In this environment of growth, social and economic changes will accomplish more than what can be achieved with just more efficient hardware.

Chasing the ball

January 26, 2010

Since Tim Berners Lee’s invention first began to attract the world’s interest in the mid 1990s, with a rapid transformation of the public face of the Internet, everyone has been furiously pointing and clicking, and puzzling over how best to make money out of it. The Internet has always been a social phenomenon rather than a technological one. While the underlying layers of technology change imperceptibly, the applications on the surface undergo constant development, recycling and repackaging. For example, twenty years ago Twitter was called IRC and Web Forums were called Usenet. The trends of the day are followed by magpie-minded marketing, business and media folk, like a herd of school children chasing a football around the playground.

Nowadays, in the era of social media, information sharing and collaboration are the key characteristics. As Facebook achieves 350 million users, while simultaneously failing to make a profit, there is something of the old dotcom excitement in the air amongst investors. As John Naughton points out, this seems like “the triumph of hope over experience”. How frustrating it must be to have a user base larger than the population of  the U.S and yet not be able to sell them anything, because their minds have learned to filter out the window dressing of click-through advertising. Meanwhile Google, in the context of search, have bucked the trend and managed to capitalise on Howard Gossage’s classic observation: “The real fact of the matter is that nobody reads ads. People read what interests them, and sometimes it’s an ad.”

But recently some new business models for the information economy have begun to take shape. Firstly, there are new rules to be learnt by the old guard – the telecoms companies, who have up until now been doing all the heavy lifting between the content providers and their audience. The explosion of Internet video has brought with it a fundamental change in the textbook political hierarchy of the Internet. The Tier-1 cartel of telco giants are losing their edge as the likes of Youtube (Google) peer directly with the end user networks.

As the commoditisation of raw connectivity squeezes the profit margins, the challenge is to start spinning gold not from the network itself, but from the data created as a by-product of the network being used. The data on who the customers are, where they are, who they communicate with, and when they do it. Initially this idea begins to take shape as ‘value-add’ bolt-ons to existing services. Thinking bigger, the likes of  Telco2.0 suggest that telcos could act as mediators of trust between these customers.

This week Apple will unveil their new hypebeast. This will be a device where content and connectivity come as part of the package. Is this finally some good news for the newspapers? Purveyors of traditional media have of course always struggled with the idea of an Internet where the owners of the eyeballs don’t want to pay. We have come to expect free service and free delivery, explains Martin Geddes. While Google and Facebook provide us with incredible ‘free’ applications it is worth remembering that we do pay for these, just not with money. We forfeit our privacy and give them our attention instead.