This, the first of our regional blogs, is authored by the technology and financial journalist Dominic Basulto. Dominic is a New York native, has been a senior editor at Corante since day one and has written for a number of online and offline media companies. Send tips or story ideas to: email@example.com.
About this weblog
Here we'll report daily on the latest tech and business developments in New York City. Impossible we concede: comprehensive coverage of the city's every story. What we hope you'll find: tips, tidbits and perspectives you won't find elsewhere. As well as unique insights, original interviews and more that should be of interest to New York's vibrant community of technologists and those who track, invest in and report on them.
Venture capitalist Pip Coburn has an interesting post on the Always On Network, where he writes that "watching traffic patterns at Starbucks can reveal all we need to know about the future pace of adoption of the ubiquitous wireless broadband cloud." Working off three major assumptions, Pip makes a link between seat density patterns at New York-area Starbucks and the future development of ubiquitous broadband Internet access.
In the first major stage, people learn to work in large numbers at "third places" like Starbucks. Then, these people start to demand broadband network access [i.e. T-Mobile] while working there. Finally, when these behavioral patterns become more established, they begin to demand broadband network access everywhere. In New York, we're definitely at stage 2.5 and maybe even stage 3.
Pip puts on his cultural anthropologist hat while digesting information about traffic patterns at local Starbucks stores:
"So a few weeks ago, my partner Dave Bujnowski was shut out at his local Starbucks in Greenwich Village—frequented by Mike Myers and Malcolm Gladwell he claims—at 11 in the morning when he went over to diddle on his Dell. No seats at Starbucks at 11 am... The next day, I wandered over to the Starbucks at 48th and Park and the same thing happened at about the same time of day. No seats at Starbucks... Then last Wednesday, Arnie Berman—our great friend and newly appointed central figure in tech research at Cowen—and I were forced to sit outside of that same 48th and Park Starbucks around 3 pm in the afternoon. No seats at Starbucks."
Clearly, there's something happening as more and more workers find ways to get their work done at "third places" like Starbucks.
On the surface, Donald Trump would appear to be worth several billion dollars - or at least, that's what he'd have you believe. In reality, his net worth may be significantly lower. Forbes recently pegged his net worth at $2.7 billion, making The Donald one of the 100 richest people in America, but a sure-to-be controversial book due out on Wednesday says that there's a big difference between "verbal billions" and real, tangible wealth. On Sunday, The New York Times published an extended, seven-page excerpt from the book (TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald) that dug deep into Donald's finances and found a lot of "funny money":
"Forbes, in bestowing a $2.6 billion fortune on Donald in its 2004 rich list, credited him with owning 18 million square feet of Manhattan property, which certainly is an impossibility... Between 2000 and 2004, Forbes allowed Donald's verbal billions to grow by $1 billion. The jump came during a period when the stock market bubble burst, Donald's stake in his casinos - one of his most valuable assets until "The Apprentice" came along - had fallen in value to $7 million and, despite Manhattan's red-hot real estate market, he owned much less real estate there than he let on. Donald said his casinos' myriad problems - no profits, suffocating debt, disappearing cash - did not mean that he had failed in Atlantic City. Instead, he described his management of the casinos as an "entrepreneurial" success, defining "entrepreneurial" as his ability to take cash out of the casino company and use it for other things."
Last week, The New York Times ran a fascinating piece on Korea's high-tech utopia - a man-made island off the South Korean coast, about 40 miles from Seoul, that has embraced the notion of ubiquitous computing. This city of the future is being built from scratch and, if all goes according to plan, will become a real-life urban metropolis boasting a ubiquitous computing lifestyle (a so-called "U-Life") by the year 2014. In this U-City, all major information systems will be hooked together into a vast network, and computers will be built into houses, streets, buildings -- basically anything that can be wired for computing.
So what are the characteristics of the U-City? Well, there will be "public recycling bins that use radio-frequency identification technology to credit recyclers every time they toss in a bottle," in addition to "pressure-sensitive floors in the homes of older people that can detect the impact of a fall and immediately contact help" and "cellphones that store health records and can be used to pay for prescriptions." There will even be a central park in the middle of New Songdo modeled on New York's Central Park. According to a research director at the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, a similar type of urban metropolis of the same scale has never even been contemplated in the States: "There are really no comparable comprehensive frameworks for ubiquitous computing. U-city is a uniquely Korean idea."
Who knows? Maybe one day, New Yorkers will wake up to RFID tags on garbage dumpsters and vending machines operated by cellphone.
After reading through Freakonomics, the wildly popular New York Times bestseller that has edged economics into the mainstream, I'm reminded of a saying attributed to Mark Twain, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." Well, if Mark Twain were still living today, he'd probably amend that to say, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and Freakonomics." After all, instead of being a serious book about economics, Freaknomics is really about the art of statistical data-mining. The forward to the book even admits that there's no unifying theory that holds the entire book together -- it's like Malcolm Gladwell on steroids (big on anecdotal evidence and pop culture references, little on rigorous academic thought). The two co-authors come up with a whole number of "freakish" conclusions by sifting through mounds of statistical data. In the process, they conclude that swimming pools are more dangerous than guns, that sumo wrestlers behave like cheating schoolteachers, and that most drug dealers - far from being blinged-out millionaire gangsters - are actually minimum wage foot soldiers who still live with their mothers.
That's where the "why bloggers are like drug dealers" reference comes in. Consider this interesting passage from "Freakonomics" (page 106 of the hardback edition):
"In the glamour professions - movies, sports, music, fashion - there is a different dynamic at play. Even in second-tier glamour industries like publishing, advertising, and media, swarms of bright young people throw themselves at grunt jobs that pay poorly and demand unstinting devotion. An editorial assistant earning $22,000 at a Manhattan publishing house, an unpaid high-school quarterback, and a teenage crack dealer earning $3.30 an hour are all playing the same game, a game that is best viewed as a tournament.
The rules of a tournament are straightforward. You must start at the bottom to have a shot at the top... You must be willing to work long and hard at substandard wages. In order to advance in the tournament, you must prove yourself not merely above average but spectacular... And finally, once you come to the sad realization that you will never make it to the top, you will quit the tournament. (Some people hang on longer than others - witness the graying "actors" who wait tables in New York - but people generally get the message quite early.)"
There you have it - entry-level bloggers tapping away on their keyboards at $500 - $1000 a month are like entry-level crack dealers making $3.30 an hour and hoping for the big score. Just like there are no 30-year-old crack dealers (according to the authors of Freakonomics), it also makes sense that most bloggers toiling in obscurity are below the age of 30. Thanks to Freaknomics, it's now possible to understand the basic business model of the blogosphere!
Brooklyn's Steven Berlin Johnson (the author of Everything Bad is Good for You) explains why the current version of the Web is more like a rainforest than a desert. The Web 2.0, supported by a thriving blog ecosystem, "does a brilliant job of capturing the energy that flows through it." According to Johnson, understanding the role of information within this ecosystem is key:
"Think of information as the energy of the Web’s ecosystem. Those Web 1.0 pages with their crude hyperlinks are like the sun’s rays falling on a desert. A few stragglers are lucky enough to stumble across them, and thus some of that information might get reused if one then decides to e-mail the URL to a friend or to quote from it on another page. But most of the information goes to waste. In the Web 2.0 model, we have thousands of services scrutinizing each new piece of information online, grabbing interesting bits, remixing them in new ways, and passing them along to other services. Each new addition to the mix can be exploited in countless new ways, both by human bloggers and by the software programs that track changes in the overall state of the Web. Information in this new model is analyzed, repackaged, digested, and passed on down to the next link in the chain. It flows."
As part of a special guide to Manhattan home design, New York Magazine profiles origami cabinetry - "a now-you-see-the-laptop-now-you-don’t approach to the home office." Here's the inside scoop on this Upper West Side original:
"Some find solace in media, others in the absence thereof. But for the owner of this Upper West Side study, balance was achieved by wrapping computer, stereo, and television in an envelope of rice paper—pairing moving screens with his collection of antique Japanese scrolls. “It’s where he does his e-mails and his writing away from his family,” says the designer Johannes Knoops... “It developed into this idea of origami, because that would be sympathetic to the scrolls. It is in the Japanese tradition of the scholar’s study.”
On his blog, Donald Trump weighs in on the need for high school business courses (some of them, presumably, offered by Trump University online). According to The Donald, these high school business courses could go a long way in preparing high school kids for college - and for their future careers in the business world:
"I know that school systems have a lot of educational ground to cover in those four critical years, but I think they're leaving something out if they're not offering a good introduction to business course in high school. Plenty of schools offer basic accounting skills if students already profess an interest in that area, but I'm talking about broader-reaching, all-encompassing classes that would really get students ready to tackle serious business prep once they hit college... Imagine the advantage that these future business leaders would have if they had the chance to develop business skills early on in their education. I think it's never too early to introduce students to business concepts. High school would be the perfect place to start."
Eli Noam, a professor of finance and economics at Columbia University, has penned an interesting column in the October 2005 issue of Communications of the ACM: "Why the Internet is Bad for Democracy." Point-by-point, Noam deconstructs the principal arguments of those who say that the Internet promotes better democracy. In the process, Noam discusses why the Internet does not raise the level of political dialogue, why direct access to public officials is nothing more than an "illusion to access," and why the Internet does not necessarily facilitate political participatory action. Noam concludes by putting the Internet into historical context:
"The Internet does not create a Jeffersonian democracy. It is not Athens, nor Appenzell, nor Lincoln-Douglas. It is, if anything, less of a democracy than those low-tech places. But, of course, none of these places really existed either, except as an ideal, a goal, or an inspiration. And in that sense, the expectations vested in the Internet are a new link in a chain of hope. Maybe naive, but certainly ennobling."
Mr. Noam has been giving the same type of talk for years, so apparently little or nothing has changed in the past five years or so. From the Columbia University Web site, I found a link to a 2001 speech by Noam called "Will the Internet Be Bad for Democracy?"
"Crain's reports that Frank Gehry will be designing jewelry and tabletop items for Tiffany & Co. This is a big deal, as it's the first new designer Tiffany has "hired" in twenty-five years (Paloma Picasso was the last), but Gothamist is thinking one thing: Uncomfortable. While we expect Gehry to design something pretty awesome-looking like a hammered metal necklace or a warped vase ("Mr. Gehry...will work with precious metals, stones and wood"), we're not so sure it'll be practical. But that's not the point is it? Well, Gothamist would certainly buy a titanium Guggenheim-Bilbao shaped salt-and-pepper shaker set..."
The New York Daily News reports that six New York City residents have received $500,000 "genius grants" from the MacArthur Foundation. Among the winners: "a Bronx activist fighting to revive Hunts Point, a Brooklyn writer who waxes lyrical about Boerum Hill... a Manhattan painter who is redefining abstract art... and Brooklyn documentary filmmaker Edet Belzberg." A big hat tip to each of these winners.
Donald Trump says that, at heart, he's really a small business kind of guy. Forget everything you've heard about billion-dollar real estate deals and huge corporations. Small business is where it's at: "I have incredible respect for small business owners. There are millions of them in the United States, and they are a powerful force, driving our economy."
Love him or hate him, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman is still an intellectual rock star with an international following. Fortune magazine explains:
"He dazzles crowds. He brews conventional wisdom. He charms CEOs. And he drives some people crazy. Meet Tom Friedman, the oracle of the Global Century."
At a recent event in Aspen, Friedman sold out an audience of 1,700 with tales of global politics and insights into the world of tomorrow. Seemingly, everybody wants a piece of Friedman these days -- including all manner of politicians, celebrities and A-listers from Hollywood to Washington to Wall Street. In fact, says Fortune, "The last newspaper columnist of comparable ambition and influence was Walter Lippmann, who from World War I through Vietnam guided Americans through their nation's transformation from isolationist island to global superpower."
My guess is that the weekend edition of The Wall Street Journal -- coming to a doorstep near you on the 17th of the month -- will be a bit weightier than most people are predicting. Consider an article from today's print edition of the WSJ: "How Not to Eat Like a Power Broker: Time-Pressed Dieters Try to Alter Habits." It looks at the eating habits of on-the-go Wall Streeters, and advances the notion that "Wall Street Eating Syndrome" (no breakfast, small or light munchies during the day, over-the-top dining and drinking at night) leads to obesity.
In contrast, says the WSJ, French women don't get fat: they eat balanced meals throughout the day and don't snack. So there you have it -- a practical piece of dieting advice for both men and women, mixed together with insights from daily life on Wall Street, a pinch of mass consumerism (that best-selling book about French women) and a dollop of pop psychology. Hopefully, there will be more of the same from the weekend WSJ.
Terence Bradford is a Citigroup banker by day, hip-hop performer by night. He goes by the stage name of Billy Shakes and is out to inform lower-income youth about the importance of understanding personal finance and planning for the financial future. Divine Cipher picks up on the story from Fortune magazine: "This is a cat who came out of Castle Hill Houses projects up in the Bronx to become first a stock broker and now a sales manager for Citi Mortgage... The idea of using Rap to spread the gospel of financial and economic self-determination or to flip the idea of what wealth really is, is a dope idea."
Looking for some tips on how to present data for that upcoming PowerPoint presentation? Edward Tufte will be in Manhattan from September 27 - 29 to offer a one-day course on "Presenting Data and Information." The Boston Globe has called one book by Tufte a "visual Strunk and White," while PC Magazine has called the same book "a touchstone of style." Tufte has also written a famous essay on how PowerPoint affects thought. For examples of his work, check out Tufte's Web site.
Disclaimer: We're not getting paid by Tufte to do this -- we like him because he's both a Tiger and a Bulldog. That not enough? The New York Times has called him "the Leonardo da Vinci of data." The guy has a master's from Stanford, a Ph.D from Yale and seven honorary doctorates. Plus, he's a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. In other words, he's a heck of a lot smarter than you'll ever be.
Getting a high-performance team comprised of superstars to produce outstanding results can be harder than it sounds. How do you get a bunch of opinionated, high-volume, ego-centric individuals to contribute to a common cause without hijacking the venture for their own personal gain? How do you recognize superstar contributions and massage the egos of each individual without sacrificing group consensus and the long-term health of the organization? That's the premise of a recent article in the Harvard Business Review: "Can Superstars Play the Team Game?" It's required reading for anyone working with so-called "virtuoso teams." (Or, at least, for Eagles coach Andy Reid).
Think of a blogging network, for example -- a virtuoso team comprised of superstar contributors in cyberspace. Some blogging networks - like Nick Denton's Gawker Media - seem to click. Others, like Always On, seem to be more disconnected and distant. What's the difference between blogging networks that "get it" and those don't?
Over at ClickZ, Mark Kingdon writes about the far-reaching effects of the CGM (consumer-generated media) Revolution. Traditional content businesses are under pressure like never before, while new forms of consumer-generated media (i.e. blogs, podcasts) seemingly appear every month. With users now in control, new business models are emerging for aggregating and distributing content. So what does it all mean?
"Traditional news isn't going away anytime soon. But CGM is no longer marginalized to the Web's outer reaches. No matter what consumer-facing industry you're in, this trend will affect you -- if it hasn't already. For Internet marketers, it means if you have a brand with a powerful connection to users, it might be time to think about a sponsored community..."
Andrew Rasiej, candidate for New York City Public Advocate, is the guest blogger this week on Joshua Marshall's "Talking Points Memo," considered one of the top political blog destinations on the Web. Josh explains why he chose Andrew to guest blog:
"I had him on because he's talking about a bundle of issues and ideas about technology and reinventing civic life in the United States, ones which are just as relevant in Houston or Cincinnait or San Francisco, and ones which should be of particular interest to many readers of this site..."
If you have a chance, try to drop by the Talking Points Memo Cafe: Andrew started blogging in the morning about why "politicians just don't get it" and has already racked up 25 user comments by mid-afternoon.
Curbed points out that Donald Trump (or is it one of his Apprentices?) is now blogging over at the Trump University site. Deep thoughts from The Donald on all the usual topics: fame, fortune, glamour and the Trump lifestyle.
Booz Allen Hamilton's Strategy + Business magazine - must reading for anyone in the consulting industry - has an interesting feature on how management gurus like Jack Welch are working with principals of New York Citys public school system to create a future generation of leaders in the city. Andrea Gabor, who is part of the business journalism program at Baruch College at CUNY, shows how a little 'straight from the gut' thinking from Jack Welch can transform your average NYC principal into a lean, mean business machine. It's all made possible through the New York City Leadership Academy, a "selective leadership training program for high-potential principals."
It's a provocative thesis -- that NYC public schools can be reformed internally with talent already on hand. All it takes is a little know-how from some of the sharpest management minds around:
"At a time of roiling debate about educations role in the competitiveness of the United States economy and about the efficacy of such reform strategies as school vouchers, education tax credits, and the privatization of public school systems the leaders of one of the nations largest and most troubled school systems have declared that schools can be reformed from within, with the help of business. New York is declaring that principals, though rarely thought of as managers at all, at least not in a conventional sense, have the same need for managerial and leadership development skills as rising corporate executives."
This is MBA-type stuff adapted for New York City public schools -- "process mapping," "best practices," the notion of "leader as teacher," "peer-to-peer" learning, reality-based problem scenarios and distributive leadership.
Business Week has a great story & slideshow dedicated to the future redesign of the traditional yellow cab. 2007, after all, marks the 100th anniversary of the New York City taxi, so it's almost time to think about "the cab for the next century." With that in mind, the Design Trust for Public Space, in collaboration with the Parsons School of Design, initiated a project ("Designing the Taxi") to come up with innovative ways of thinking about the yellow cab experience.
Pictured is an airport taxi stand for New York City airports. Weisz + Yoes came up with a high-tech kiosk for travelers: "Not just merely a dispatcher shelter, this version has multiple plasma screens with news on the weather, traffic conditions, and landmark scenes of the city to help orient frazzled travelers. It echoes taxis' yellow color for easy orientation and provides brochures and information for queuing passengers."
On his campaign blog, Andrew Rasiej recently invited New Yorkers to come up with "21 New Ideas for the 21st Century":
"Were looking for your best suggestions. Got an idea how to make life in New York City better, safer, smarter? How to improve education, or make it easier for people to find housing or health care? Or how to make your community more livable, or your commute more bearable? Send us your suggestions, and well add yours to ours to produce 21 new ideas for the 21st century."
At this point, you're probably wondering: What's in it for me? Well, I'll tell you: if your idea is picked as one of the 21 best, then you'll win a free wireless router and a lunch with Andrew Rasiej. If you really impress Andrew and his campaign staff, one supposes, that lunch just might be at the 21 Club in midtown.
MIT Technology Review and Michael Zimmer, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Culture and Communication at NYU, recently got into a minor tiff over the social impact of technology.
Zimmer kicked things off with a withering critique of the magazine:
"Technology Review just doesn't understand the complex relationship between technology and society... At times, they've provided thoughtful insights into emerging technologies and trends, but too often, they seem to ignore many of the social impacts of the technologies they exault. In short, TR too often engages in technological utopianism without properly assessing the social, value and ethical implications of our emerging technologies."
Then, Technology Review fired back:
"It is grossly unfair to accuse Technology Review of utopianism. We are, if anything, aggressively skeptical about new technologies. We worry about whether novel technologies will work as advertised, and we fret about the unintended consequences of such technologies when they do work. We are not fools: we also know that all new technologies are human artifacts and are good and bad in so far as we make them so."
Without choosing sides in this debate, it's fair to say that Zimmer raises a good point: is it really only "social" technologies like blogging and instant messaging that have a social impact on technology? Or do all technologies, in one way or another, influence the way that we interact with each other.
In last week's Tempo section, the New York Post profiled 34-year-old Cindy Maria Quezada, a scientist at Rockefeller University on the Upper East Side, who was one of five American women to win LOréals annual Women in Science award. According to the Post, Quezada is already a real role model for Latina women in the sciences. After leaving San Salvador with her family in 1980, Maria is now studying bacteria at the bio-molecular level -- work that could be of immediate value in preventing a bio-terrorist attack.
Steven Berlin Johnson returns from vacation and discusses how the media is responding to his new book, Everything Bad is Good for You. There's a "long and entertaining profile" in the Washington Post. And there's also a mention of his new book in a recent Doonesbury cartoon:
"You know you've hit some kind of weird zeitgeist critical mass when your book shows up in Doonesbury. (It's being spoofed, of course, but hey -- it's Doonesbury!)"
"We used to be one nation, undivided, under three networks, three car companies and two brands of toothpaste for all. Today we are the mass niche nation... Increasingly the brick-and-mortar world resembles the virtual one: an infinite landscape of microscopic subcategories, in which one loses oneself, twice."
According to Schiff, "there's a niche born every minute."
This is more inspiring than a triple espresso... Mark Cuban of Blog Maverick has some inspirational thoughts about success for entrepreneurs everywhere who are trying to hack out a workable business model:
"It doesn't matter how many times you strike out. In business, to be a success, you only have to be right once. One single solitary time and you are set for life. Thats the beauty of the business world... It doesnt matter how many times you fail. It doesnt matter how many times you almost get it right. No one is going to know or care about your failures, and neither should you. All you have to do is learn from them and those around you because All that matters in business is that you get it right once. Then everyone can tell you how lucky you are."
In case you missed it: in Monday's Washington Post, there was a profile of Buzz Machine's Jeff Jarvis (aka "Blog Boy"), who recently quit a corporate job with Advance Publications to do some blog consulting work for the New York Times and About.com. Even if you're a regular reader of Buzz Machine, there's still plenty to chew on about citizens' journalism and the give-and-take between Old Media and New Media.
MIT Technology Review has been sponsoring Innovation Futures, a "predictive marketplace" focused on technological innovation as it relates to economic growth. It's similar in nature to the futures markets for political elections, which claim to predict the outcomes of elections with uncanny precision. If enough people believe it's true -- and are willing to put their money where their mouth is, it must be true... Or something like that. Anyway, it's worth checking in now and then to see how popular sentiment is shifting:
64% predict that more than 7.0 million satellite radio receivers will ship in 2005
53% think that approximately 15% of US households will have an HDTV by the end of 3Q05
44% think that SIRIUS will have between 2.5 million and 3.0 million subscribers by the end of 2005
36% of those polled believe that there will be 2.51 million to 2.75 million VoIP US subscribers by the end of 2005
Heather Green of Business Week's new Blogspotting blog interviews Buzz Machine's Jeff Jarvis about his decision to quit his full-time job and devote himself full-time to the blogosphere and citizen's media.
Jarvis, who will be a consultant for About.com and the New York Times, explains part of his vision for distributed media at About.com:
"The world of centralized marketplace is yielding to distributed news. Our new role is finding new ways to aggregate. I am hoping there are ways to set up ad hoc networks. I want to enable good things to happen and allow people to be supported, with training, content sharing, etc. About starts with this incredible army of people putting out 500 guides. It's my hope that they can become a platform for distributed media. A locus and starting point for new and great things."
The New York Daily News has the details on Trump University, which won't award grades or degrees, but will charge $300 per course for a business education approved by The Donald:
"Dont expect ivy-covered walls or a football team. Trump University will consist of online courses, CD-ROMS, consulting services and Learning Annex-type seminars."
(We will expect, however, a cool coat of arms that looks like something from Oxford or Cambridge as a logo for the school)
At a press conference, The Donald explained how the learning mission of Trump University differs from that of traditional schools:
"The problem with school is that school is a little academic, a little theoretical, not necessarily practical. It doesnt necessarily serve the general public, who may just want to know how to do something. [Trump University] is going to be a tremendous venture. Its going to really help a lot of people, which is what we really want to do."
If nothing else, the project is an interesting way to take advantage of unleased space at 40 Wall Street, one of Trump's properties that will serve as the HQ for the new "university." We speculate also that Donald Trump may need to create a third category for the next edition of "The Apprentice" -- E-learning Smarts. (The most recent season of "The Apprentice" featured a team of "Book Smarts" versus "Street Smarts.")
Jeff Jarvis of Buzz Machine explains why editors and politicians are customer-service representatives. Not literally, of course, but in the way that they respond to the needs of a community. To support his claim, he points to Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, who frequently refers to himself as a customer service representative. In snippets from a Q&A at the Personal Democracy Forum in New York, Craig explains why trust and goodwill are important factors in providing any customer-focused service and why customer service is actually "a high expression of moral values."
The "The Long Tail" thesis, first proposed by Wired Magazine's Chris Anderson last year, continues to draw its fair share of proponents, adherents and supporters. At the Syndicate conference in New York earlier this week, for example, Martin Nisenholtz of New York Times Digital mentioned the theory at least twice in his keynote address.
Now, there's a complementary (competing?) theory known as the "Variety Revolution" thesis that is being developed by Virginia Postrel. At her Dynamist site, Postrel explains what it all means:
"The variety revolution is one of the biggest business stories of the past decade. Thanks to production and distribution innovations, consumers now have access to far more choices for all kinds of goods and services, from fresh vegetables in the supermarket to DVDs from Netflix... The variety revolution is an economic story, but it has much broader implications for how we think about pluralism and individual differences."
Postrel's most recent book (The Substance of Style: How the Rise of Aesthetic Value Is Remaking Commerce, Culture, & Consciousness), published last September, started to explore many of the concepts that form the basis for the Variety Revolution thesis.
According to Jay Greene of Business Week Online, Microsoft founder Bill Gates is in the preliminary stages of writing a new book that will look at the future of technology, especially as it relates to world health and education. In 1996, of course, Gates penned a bestseller (The Road Ahead) that "predicted technical wonders we take for granted now." Expect more of the same this time around. (Thanks, Craig)
Writing in Sunday's New York Times, journalist and novelist Daniel Akst challenges the conventional notion that we are living in a time of tremendous technological change. For the past 35 years, in fact, Americans have been living under the identical impression that "things were changing so fast that people couldn't keep up." Yet, writes Akst, "we still live in the same sort of houses, read the same sort of alarmist books and get around in the very same way - in cars, planes and trains, none of them much faster than they used to be."
The bottom line? The pace of technological change may be occurring a bit slower than we think. Take last week's news that the New York Stock Exchange will merge with electronic stock market Archipelago:
"What on earth has taken so long? The technology for electronic trading has been around for years and is used widely on other exchanges. It's another example of how the pace of technological change is not nearly as fast as it's made out to be - or as it could and should be."
Everybody knows that the tech industry produces a constant stream of buzzwords and jargon. With that in mind, this month's issue of IEEE Spectrum provides a look at the newest terms and catchphrases that will be showing up soon at a Web site near you:
PPMT (Pre- and Post-Mail Tension): waiting impatiently for e-mail replies from other people
Nanopretenders: companies that have nothing to do with nanotechnology that are attempting to cash in on the nanotech craze
Wife Acceptance Factor (WAF): features added to electronic gizmos and gadgets that make them more appealing to women
Gak factor: the tendency for some online sites (e.g. porn sites) to lose business once a parent or spouse discovers a number of unexplained credit card charges
For more terms and the latest neologisms, be sure to check out the Word Spy site run by Paul McFedries.
More than a dozen New Yorkers made the Time 100 list of the world's "most influential" people, including Malcom Gladwell of The New Yorker, Martha Stewart, Eliot Spitzer, Jeffrey Sachs and a handful of names from the world of entertainment and culture (Alicia Keys, Jon Stewart, Dave Eggers, etc.).
The New York Academy of Sciences is commemorating 100 years of the Einstein Papers and celebrating the relationship between The City College of New York and Einstein with a Student Research Conference on April 11-12. Special guests at the conference will include City College Nobel Laureates.
A group of 21 kids from the South Bronx won the state Robotic Championship in February (beating out smarty pants from some of the city's elite schools), and are now raising money to make the trip to the national competition in Atlanta. The South Bronx robo-kids designed a LEGO robot that shoots basketballs, climbs stairs and serves food, all in less than 3 minutes.
John Battelle of Searchblog discusses what he calls "traffic of good intent." Look at recent deals in the Internet space, says Battelle -- the types of companies that are most valuable to buyers are companies like Flickr, Bloglines and Ask Jeeves -- companies that have lots of high-quality traffic that is growing rapidly. This is more than just the "eyeballs" argument used during the early days of the Web, says Battelle. In essence, search has changed the competitive dynamic:
"It sure smells like Web 1.0, where it was all about eyeballs. But the shift from eyeballs to intent is important, because thanks to search, intent = revenue, and that can be measured, bargained for, and purchased."
So what's a start-up, independent site to do? Get traffic -- and get it in volume. Maybe this is over-simplifying things, but if you have high-quality traffic, you are valuable:
"My new measure of a company's success is pretty simple - forget the technology, the promises, or the backers. Just look at the traffic. Is it good, and is it growing? Getting good, growing traffic is a really hard thing to do. If a company manages it, it tells you a lot. Pretty simple stuff, but there you have it."
17-year-old Bronx teenager David Bauer, a senior at Hunter College High School, won the top prize in the Intel Science Talent Search for creating a sensor that detects exposure to toxic agents such as nerve gas. According to Bauer, the project could be useful in the event of a terrorist chemical attack.
Adam Balkin of NY1 goes backstage at one of IBM's R&D Labs to get a glimpse of the Next Big Thing in computing. So what's new at IBM? Well, there's the assistive mouse adaptor "so that computer users with hand tremors or Parkinson's Disease don't get frustrated trying to point and click." There's also a new watch that is "designed to do everything from unlocking your car to displaying your medical history in an emergency."
At the O'Reilly Emerging Tech Conference next week, staff writer James Surowiecki of The New Yorker (author of the highly-popular The Wisdom of Crowds) will be giving a presentation called "Independent Individuals and Wise Crowds, or Is It Possible to Be Too Connected?". Surowiecki and Malcolm Gladwell are probably two of the best examples of New York media figures who are doing some of the most creative and innovative thinking about trends that affect the future direction of business & technology. Among the questions that Surowiecki will be tackling:
"How can we reap the benefits of collaboration and collective decision-making, while still ensuring that people remain independent actors? Are networks problems as well as solutions? What might it mean to be too connected?"
Corante recently launched a new Science and Society blog from David Lemberg, the executive producer of the Internet-based talk radio show of the same name. David -- a New Yorker who recently relocated to the sunnier climes of Southern California -- has been interviewing some of the top minds in science since he launched the show in June 2003. On the blog, he'll be continuing his coverage of many of the same topics - the life sciences, physical sciences, planetary and earth sciences as well as discussing K-12 science education and the intersection between science and art.
Barry Diller's online travel businesses may be experiencing some tough sledding, but he apparently has a few tricks up his sleeve... According to informiTV.com, Diller is now predicting a revolution in interactive television. One of the linchpins of this strategy could be HSN (Home Shopping Network), which could add interactive capability sometime in 2005.
Diller on the future of interactive TV: "There is no question that interactive TV is going to be in a lot of homes within the next few years and I think were going to be very, very early in the process.
InterActiveCorp's CFO also is talking up the concept: HSN has the ability to talk directly to 85 million consumers directly in their homes. Thats an amazingly powerful communication and selling device and one of our goals is figuring out how to leverage that... We think [interactive TV] will provide both ease of ordering and also potentially a gateway to new and interesting ways of doing business through the television and internet channels. Were excited about it but its very early.
Noting that a number of A-list bloggers (like Andrew Sullivan) are putting aside their blogs at least temporarily in order to focus on upcoming books, Corante's Zack Lynch admits that he, too, is finding it "relatively difficult to write an interesting daily blog while simultaneously write a engaging, well researched book." It's the blog/book writing paradox, says Lynch.
So what's a busy book-minded blogger to do? Maybe the solution is to partner with a group of other like-minded bloggers to work on a collaborative effort. Lynch, for example, is partnering with 100 other bloggers on an upcoming new book -- "101 Bloggers: The Power of A New Conversation."
In a New York Times Book Review essay, Steven Berlin Johnson takes a look at the array of new writing tools available to creative types looking for a little inspiration.
Johnson writes, "2005 may be the year when tools for thought become a reality for people who manipulate words for a living, thanks to the release of nearly a dozen new programs all aiming to do for your personal information what Google has done for the Internet. These programs all work in slightly different ways, but they share two remarkable properties: the ability to interpret the meaning of text documents; and the ability to filter through thousands of documents in the time it takes to have a sip of coffee. Put those two elements together and you have a tool that will have as significant an impact on the way writers work as the original word processors did."
Check out Johnson's blog -- there he has screen shots and more details of the DevonThink program mentioned in the Times article.
In his "The Numbers Guy" column, Carl Bialik of the Wall Street Journal takes a critical look at a recent study showing that taxi passengers have lost tens of thousands of cellphones, PDAs and laptop computers over the past six months. "Too much precision in a statistic is a good signal to dig deeper into the methodology and the origin," writes Bialik. "In this case, both are dubious." Most damagingly, the survey was funded by Pointsec Mobile Technologies, which claims to protect data on mobile devices in the event they are lost or stolen. In addition, the study relied on extraordinarily small, non-random samples of taxi drivers.
New York State boasts 13 of the 40 Intel Talent Search competition winners, including six rising young stars from Long Island and four from the city. Some of the projects from these kids sound truly mind-boggling, like one high school senior from Long Island who's working on building a quantum computer and one girl from Brooklyn who's using genetic research to find a cure for cancer. While a number of high school principals across the metropolitan area are beaming with well-deserved pride, there may be one school that's not so happy with the results: Stuyvesant High School was shut out of the awards for the first time in 15 years.
When not writing about the "new, happy, fun, grim meathook realities of marketing and advertising," Hugh Macleod at Gaping Void continues to crank out a series of cartoons that are often illuminating, disturbing and just plain laugh out loud funny at the same time. The cartoons are really no more than doodles, but they really capture the "incandescent lucidity" of living in New York.
Consider this cartoon from January 17: "In Manhattan, it's the carcasses that feed on the vultures." That's something for Martha Stewart, Dick Grasso and Sam Waksal to think over.
Malcolm Gladwell kicked off his book tour for "Blink" (which looks at phenomena like "thin-slicing" and snap judgments) last night at the Barnes & Noble in Union Square. He's already been featured in the New York Times, Fast Company and Slate, so I figured it was worth taking the time to see what the big hullabaloo was all about...
Judging from the size of the crowd, it looks like the new book will be a big seller, along the lines of The Tipping Point. The only problem is that so many of the observations in the book appear to be, well, obvious. Considering that his last book came out in 2000 and it's already 2005, I was hoping for something a bit more profound. Nevertheless, when I heard that major companies plucked down $40,000 a pop to hear him speak, I wanted to get a taste of the secret sauce. Gladwell started the book talk with a talk about the "snap judgments" that orchestra conductors make when they audition trombone players for new parts, and followed that up with the "spooky" fact that most CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are three inches taller than the rest of Americans. In my opinion, it's not the fact that taller Americans make better CEOs, or that boards of directors like to appoint tall CEOs -- it's the fact that athletes have the type of poise, confidence and team-building skills that are in demand for the CEO position. And, well, most athletes are taller than the average person. So what's so "spooky" about tall CEOs?
In a 30-minute presentation, there were three major points made by Gladwell:
(1) So-called "snap" judgments are often extraordinarily complex and contain a number of hidden assumptions that we, as thinkers, may never even suspect.
(2) It is often the case that it is better to make decisions with "less" information, not "more" information. Too much information can lead to a form of analysis paralysis.
(3) While it may be impossible to change someone's opinion or thought process, it is possible to change someone's environment. By changing the environment, it is often possible to produce a very real impact on the final outcome.
Of these three points, #3 is probably the most important from a business perspective, followed by #2 and #1.
Joseph LeDoux, a neuroscientist at NYU and the author of The Synaptic Self, shares his thoughts: "For me, this is an easy question. I believe that animals have feelings and other states of consciousness, but neither I nor anyone else has been able to prove it. We can't even prove that other people are conscious, much less other animals. In the case of other people, though, we at least can have a little confidence since all people have brains with the same basic configurations. But as soon as we turn to other species and start asking questions about feelings and consciousness in general we are in risky territory because the hardware is different."
Pull up a chair and grab a big cup of coffee -- Jay Rosen of Press Think has posted the Top 10 Ideas of 2004. As always, Press Think has some provocative thinking about wide-scale changes happening in the world of New Media. While the subject headings below tell much of the story, there's a lot more to mull over at the Press Think blog:
1. The Legacy Media.
2. He said, she said, we said.
3. What the printing press did to the Catholic Church the blogging press does to the media church.
4. Open Source Journalism, or: "My readers know more than I do."
5. News turns from a lecture to a conversation.
6. "Content will be more important than its container."
7. "What once was good--or good enough--no longer is."
8. "The victory of affinity over geography."
9. The Pajamahadeen.
10. The Reality-Based Community.
On Sunday, the New York Post posted a list of 25 New Yorkers to watch in 2005. Mostly fashion/entertainment/sports names, but coming in at #11 is Malcolm Gladwell:
"The author and New Yorker magazine staffer's new book Blink is poised to be a best-seller. It's about how we make decisions all day long without even knowing we're making them. Look for it mid-January, and expect a crowd when he reads and signs this month at the Union Square Barnes & Noble..."
Forget about TV, radio, music or books as the place where new buzzwords and slang are coined. As the New York Times points out, everybody knows that the real action is happening online: "Now the great conduit is the blogosphere, both a neologism itself and an uncharted space that, the more we map it, looks more and more like our collective unconscious. It dreams up the new words and disseminates them directly into the language, no longer by IV but by instant messaging - a term, by the way, that may soon require its own retronym: messengered message."
John Sexton, the president of NYU, looks into his crystal ball for 2005 and predicts that the FIRE sector (finance, insurance, real estate) will become less important to the future of New York City. Instead, more attention will be given to the ICE sector (intellectual, cultural, educational).
Sexton explains: "We have more students in higher education per capita than any other American city. Too few of us know and celebrate that New York is the leading importer of college students from the other 49 states. This concentration of intellectual activity displays itself vividly in science: over 100 Nobel Laureates in science; 45 active members of the National Academy of Sciences in bioscience alone; the highest concentration of science students and post doctoral students; and more Ph.D.s granted in life science than 48 states. In short, we are the educational capital of the world."
Malcolm Gladwell's new book "Blink" is due out in early January, and the buzz is already starting to build. Fast Company, for example, has made him the cover story for this month's issue, calling him the "Accidental Guru." Ever since the publication of his "Tipping Point" book in 2000, Gladwell has been on fire as a "business thought leader," with his speaking gigs reportedly fetching as much as $40,000 apiece. (Gladwell's book tour kicks off in New York City on January 13 at the Barnes & Noble in Union Square)
"It's a pure work of persuasion, arguing that popular culture, on average, has been growing more cognitively challenging over the past thirty years, not less. Despite everything you hear about declining standards and dumbing-down, you have to do more intellectual work to make sense of today's television or games -- much less the internet -- than you did a few decades ago. It will definitely be the most controversial of my books, but I think it's also going to be a fun read."