I laughed out loud when I read this Wall Street Journal (registration required) article on the podcasting "land rush." Not so much because I'm an Internet technology/media snob/purist (although I probably am), but because you can just see these things coming like the hyperbolic snowball that becomes all these Internet phenomena: blogs, RSS, podcasts, etc. ad nauseum ad infinitum.
So, I'm going to stay off my e-centric high horse and talk about this from a perspective that hopefully we can all relate to via the more important concept that has come to be referred to as "time shifting."
Here's the deal: Time is the most precious commodity any of us have these days. Most of us spend way too much of it at work, or travelling to and from work, or to, from, and at kids' after-school events, etc. There aren't enough hours (much less minutes or seconds) in the day, and so time has become the most precious commodity any of us have. We allocate it even more preciously than we do our money (well, maybe not, but you get the point). I'm surprised nobody has figured out a way to package up time and auction it on eBay in small bottles. If anybody has, please ping me.
Which is where the point of this rant comes in, the media. Once upon a time, the so-called "traditional" media worked to slice and dice us people into neat, demographic segments that they could then package up as "audiences" and sell access to us to them marketers. (A friendly reminder: The first radio serials were produced by Proctor & Gamble, which sent sales of Oxydol laundry detergent into the stratosphere).
This model is intrinsic to most major media today, and it worked well for oh, let's say, about the last 70 years.
Then digital technologies began to emerge that sent many media executives running for the Geoffrey Moore new business-model, paradigm-shifting, crossing-the-chasm whiteboard, mainly those media on and enabled by the Internet.
If these traditional media were an oligarchy, these new media are a democracy. They are much more participatory in nature -- renowned media theorist Marshall McLuhan called them the "cool media" -- and they require the audience to become more actively engaged in the consumption of and response to the media. Napster, TiVo, podcasting, etc....the list of the most recent culprits goes on for several scrolls in your standard browser.
But the fragmentation of the mass media is as much representative of the opportunities that this fragmentation creates for consumers as the threats it presents to those in the media business. That's because these new technologies empower the you's and me's of the world to take back some of our time and consume media at our leisure, increasingly when and in what format we chose. In turn, it is encouraging the traditional media to innovate and develop new business models that let them capitalize on these new opportunities whil addressing their threats.
When I got my first digital video recorder type device (other than my PC), I was living and working in New York City at the height of the Internet bubble. I didn't have a lot of free time at the time, and I hardly watched any TV. Within days of getting my ReplayTV box, I had turned into a virtual TV junkie. What happened, you ask participatorily?
I had been liberated from the enslavement of the network TV schedule. I could now watch whatever I recorded, whenever I wanted, without the rocket science degree required to program my VCR and with the intelligence intrinsic to the new digital technology. My time was again my own, and the media companies were rapidly encouraged to think about new ways by which they would reach me. Today, I use a more sophisticated cable box DVR, and while I may skip some commercials, I watch plenty of others.
The rising time shift liberates all schedules.
Your iPod, blogs like this one that alert you to the notification of new postings via RSS feeds, your digital cable's personal video recorder...all of these new technologies are nothing more than a mere means by which you can grab some of that precious time back.
Precious free time that I now spend most of checking out all these really cool new technologies. ; )[Read More]
Todd "Turbo" Watson -- IBM Corporation
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Today marks the 60th anniversary of the opening of the Watson Scientific Computing Laboratory, which has evolved into the largest corporate research division in the world, IBM Research.
No, there's no relation -- however, I have watched with great admiration at the innovations that have come out of the Watson Labs, many before I even set foot on this planet.
Here's just a select few of the Watson Lab breakthroughs: the world's first magnetic hard disk; the FORTRAN programming language; one-transistor dynamic RAM (better known today as DRAM); relational database technology; Reduced Instruction Set Computer architecture; the Scanning Tunneling Microscope...the list goes on and on.
Also emanating from Watson Research: The esteemed team who designed and programmed the Deep Blue super computer that dominated Gary Kasparov in the 1997 Kasparov v. Deep Blue rematch.
Since the mid 1990s, IBM has invested about $5 billion a year on research, and as a result has received more U.S. patents than any other company for 12 years running. The 2004 tally was 3,248 new patents, an average of nearly 9 patents per day.
But ultimately, it is the productive and business-enhancing use of these innovations by our customers in their own organizations which makes us the most proud.
Happy Birthday, Team Watson.[Read More]
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Why This, Why Now?
As has been discussed in previous posts, health-related information and the use of information technology to help people in the medical care ecosystem better communicate, collaborate, and transact is expected to change dramatically over the next decade. While we expect significant benefits from the use of genetics to personalize and improve treatment and prevention, there are also going to be opportunities for all stakeholders to improve the management of such records: for security, privacy, and to help protect such information from inappropriate use.
We believe there is ample reason to plan ahead and develop policies and practices that appropriately balance the beneficial use of such information with respect for individual preferences and protection against the harmful use of such data. That means that public policy, private-sector leadership and individuals must work together to create a non-discriminatory environment that is needed to enable continued advances in healthcare and medicine.
Already, 30-plus state legislatures in the U.S., as well as the U.S. Congress, are considering the enactment of Federal genetic non-discrimination legislation, and other countries have already enacted such laws. Without such legal protection, leaders in the genetic sciences and the medical community are rightly concerned that individuals may forego genetic testing in light of uncertainties as to how their information may be used, particularly by their employers.
What Does It Mean?
IBM's involvement in the Genographic Project, the Human Genome initiative, bio-banking, and other information-based medicine frontiers all clearly revealed the need for clarity in this emerging and important area of science. As a fourteen-year IBM employee, it provides me great comfort to know that the company is formally indicating that it will not solicit or have routine access to any genetic tests I may have undergone.
While I recognize and applaud the tremendous progress that scientific and medical communities have made over the past decade in decoding and mapping the Human Genome, and I have no doubt this progress is already presenting significant opportunity for positive medical enhancements -- often in the form of preventative care that can treat diseases before the symptoms of such conditions have even appeared -- the potential for abuse of such information by employers and others is considerable.
The confidence that such genetic privacy policies can create for the protection of personal health information should, if applied properly, in turn create confidence in the amazing therapeutic opportunities that genetic medicine can provide. To my mind, that is the best way forward, and I am glad to see the company I work for have to taken this important and noteworthy step.[Read More]
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I'm not even in San Francisco for Web 2.0, but I can feel the ground quaking all the way out here in Austin.
I do have a friendly mole on the scene, and have also been monitoring the situation here in the On Demand Web control room, between endless conference calls and email exchanges.
The most common words I've heard to describe 2.0 so far (today is the second of three days): Standing Room Only. 1999. Social apps. AJAX. Tag everything. Identity crisis.
I still expect some major announcement bombs to fall, but thus far, the spin has centered around blogging content and distribution deals (AOL's acquisition of WebLogs, Gawker's deal with VNU), as well as more new new things, including personal tagging, linking every Web service under the sun to Google Maps, Rollyo (Roll your own search engine), Zimbra (open-source collaboration server), utter fear on Madison Ave of Internet marketing rationality...Sand Hill Road has also apparently been directly connected via causeway into downtown San Francisco, there are so many VC about.
It's an utterly irrational return to 1999, stupid!
Everybody in the Bay Area just take a deep breath and count to 10...1...2....3....
If Malcolm Gladwell could only rise up to the ceiling of the Argent Hotel and thin slice the new new mania for us. I'll take mine with mayo, hold the hyperbole.[Read More]
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If you've had any involvement in the development or ongoing sustenance of a Web site, you've hopefully stumbled upon the topic of usability. Unfortunately, it's an issue that falls down the business radar screen, particularly when managers put on their quarter-to-quarter blinders and can't see past March 30, June 30, September 30, or December 31.
Here's my issue with that: Your customers couldn't give one clickthrough about what quarter it is. They want to be able to use your Web site, period, end of sentence, all the time, everytime. They want to be able to come visit it, do their business, and finish their transaction, hopefully with not a lot of resistance on your part.
As part of an extended family that works on the worldwide IBM Web site, a big part of our ongoing challenge inside IBM is convincing our own quarter-to-quarter quarterbacks to invest in basic blocking-and-tackling usability improvements to our Web site. But Turbo, you say, you're the company that invented on demand business! This is heresy, the Web emperor hath no clothes!
My response to that is simple: We're just like any other business, and we have to do the same amount of convincing to invest in fuzzy things like usability, just like everybody else. It's a never-ending battle, but it's a good fight and one well worth fighting. And the way I see it, your loyalty depends on our fight.
What more business leads need to understand with respect to usability on the Web is this: Time is the most precious thing most any of us have these days, and none of us have nearly enough of it. If you take too much of it from your customers, they'll be happy to take their money somewhere else, plain and simple. And that's exactly what happens when your Web site isn't user-friendly. Your customers can't do what it is that they need to do, and so they go elsewhere.
As we said during the boom, your competition is only a click away.
Which brings me to Jakob Nielsen's "Top 10 Web Design Mistakes of 2005." Nielsen has long been one of the Web's pre-eminent usability gurus -- he's called the "king of usability" in Web circles. In the past, Nielsen has observed that good usability improvements can bring ROI anywhere from 0% to 6,567% (one site he cites improved 65X -- probably not exactly something you want to brag about in your latest 10-K filing, but most certainly a great relief to that company's Web site users).
In 2003, Nielsen observed in one of his Alertbox reports that "ease of use doesn't come from wishful thinking." Rather, he suggests that it comes from "conducting systematic usability engineering activities throughout the project lifecycle. This is real work and costs real money, though not as much as some people fear." Amen to that.
After conducting an analysis of data from 863 design projects that included usability activities, Nielsen's study indicated the usability costs for a project generally amount to between 8% and 13% of its budget. Averaged out, that's about 10 percent. When it comes to Web projects, let me just state for the record that it's my belief that that is the best 10% you'll ever put into your Web site.
Why? Because the Web is a utility vehicle. People don't stand around admiring Web sites...they use the things! Increasingly, they use them to contact your business, to get informed and educated about your products and services, to conduct transactions with you, to buy stuff from you, and yes, even to complain to you. If you don't understand what it is that they need to do, and if you're not investing in how to make what it is that they need to do easier, then you're probably not getting near the ROI on your site as you ought to be.
The good news is, the most important baby steps on the usability front are generally free. Start by asking yourself some basic questions:
If you can start to answer, and resolve, some of these basic questions before your next Web overhaul, you'll be well on your way to making the most of that 10 percent.
But more importantly, your customers won't be spending so much time asking that most frustrating of questions, "How did I get here?"[Read More]
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BusinessWeek's Stephen Baker posted an interesting question this past Friday on his blog: How long would it be before CEOs and other top execs turn their backs on blogging? He suggested that many execs just don't have the time [to blog], and that while "blogs are powerful tools," they work only "when the bloggers are ready and willing to dive in."
Many in the b'sphere jumped in to comment. Phil Gomes from Edelman suggests the real backlash is going to come because companies either don't have policies guiding both the CEOs and their external commenters, or more terrifying to execs, when the SEC starts to wonder why their blog postings and regulatory filings aren't in synergy with one another.
Wired's Chris Anderson writes in "The Long Tail" that Baker misses the point, that business and executive blogging are two different animals, reminding us that "markets are conversations" and that people want to hear from real people, not "remote authority figures." Actually, I'd probably parachute and land somewhere in the middle of this blogging war zone. I want to hear from both the rank-and-file and the remote authority figures; oftentimes, they both have something valuable to say.
What went unsaid in this debate is that each constituency presents two very different points of view: one from the bottom or middle looking up, where one gets great clarity seeing from a short distance; and the others from high upon Mount Business Olympus, where execs have a unique vista from which to observe things usually missing from the view halfway down.
Both views are valid, and both can be extremely useful in charting the course of a business. To that end, IBM has made its own contribution to this discussion, in this case from two individuals who have the view from higher up.
Both have also been instrumental in shaping the blogging dialogue inside IBM: Harriet Pearson, Chief Privacy Officer and Vice President for Corporate Affairs (read: her beat includes IBM blogging policy), and Willy Chiu, Vice President of IBM's High Performance On Demand Solutions Group, who has been thinking about how businesses can start to make better sense of all that unstructured, but valuable, "blogodata" floating around.
Check out their dialogue here.[Read More]
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If you want an object lesson into the power of blogging and real-time customer feedback, you need look no further than Apple headquarters in Cupertino.
First off, full disclosure: I don't work for Apple, and never have. I did watch a biopic about Steve Jobs starring that guy from "E.R." once, and I recently bought a picture book that tells the story of Apple's history and which has some really cool pictures of now ancient Apple products.
However, I do own an iMac (for the record, the one which contains the IBM POWER chip), I think Apple's TV commercials are really cool, and I recently purchased one of their nifty new iPod nanos.
So, at minimum, I am qualified to comment on the situation as an interested consumer who recently bought one of their newest and sexiest products only to witness, before the product had even been delivered, all ---- break loose in a raging Apple PR blogostorm over the past several days.
Before we get to the nanostorm, let me just hit rewind and play back for you how it was that I came to want to buy a nano. Because it was certainly not a deliberate and considered purchase for a product to which I had no real practical need and whose primary function was already being served by another product I bought two years ago.
See, I already have an MP3 player...a 40GB Creative Labs Nomad that's about the size of a large pack of cigarettes and which holds most of the music library of the Western Hemisphere (and probably some of the Eastern's as well). So Turbo, you ask, why in the world do you want or need another MP3 player?
Well, first, having already admitted a weakness for Apple advertising, I saw the TV commercial. Don't underestimate the power of moving images and music coming through a large HD television set, particularly in a really cool and simple TV ad by a really hot ad agency.
Second, I watched the Webcast in which Steve Jobs introduced his new baby, and if Steve Jobs does nothing else, he does great launches.
Third, everyone but me jogs around Town Lake here in Austin with an iPod or iPod mini, and I decided it was time to up the ante and take the whole iPod jogging social Darwinism thing to a new level.
And, yes, I even read the nano reviews, particularly Mossberg's, and being the consumer electronics and gadget junkie that I am, I simply couldn't resist. Okay?!
I went to the Apple Web site, made my purchase, and began to wait patiently for the FedEx truck to arrive, constantly checking my order status and wondering when my custom laser-engraved nano was going to leave the dock and hit my doorstep.
So, sheer and utter panic set in this past Monday when I turned on my ThinkPad and visited techmemeorandum to see what was going on in the tech blogosphere and realized that a full-fledged "nanogate" had broken out, and this before I even took delivery of the product!
The clamor was apparently about the susceptibility the nano's small screen had to break and be easily scratched.
Let me get this straight, I thought: The blogosphere is already screaming about product returns and recalls for a product I just ordered and haven't yet received?! I haven't even had a chance to touch or hold my nano, much less scratch it or admire the cool custom laser inscription on the back, and I might already have to send it back when it hasn't even arrived yet?
I felt violated.
But here was the best part: The nanostorm was created by some guy named Matthew Peterson who had put up a Web site -- a blog, really -- hosted...get this...on the Apple .Mac hosting service.
Let me replay that for you: Some guy, who was ticked off about his broken iPod screen, used a Web site hosted by the company that made the product to send out his fire alarm to the marketplace -- and to Apple -- that he wasn't happy his iPod screen broke.
There's something poetically justified about all this, and yet, if you're a marketing or public relations professional, it must want to send you running for the exits.
But here's the best part: Matthew won.
Apple responded, and appropriately so in my humble, yet biased, "I-just-bought-a-nano-and-haven't-gotten-it-yet-delivered" opinion, by indicating that they had had "a vendor problem with a small number of units" and would gladly replace those susceptible to breaking through the company's AppleCare service. As to those concerned about the potential for scratching screens, a spokesperson suggested they consider buying one of the nano's nifty cases to keep it from getting scratched.
So here I am, one eye staring out the window, keeping watch for the FedEx truck, another on the Apple Web store, back on the digital hunt to spend good money to buy one product to protect a screen for another product that I have seen only in a TV commercial, and all because of some guy writing on a blog hosted on a service by the company that made the product that he was complaining about in the first place.
But that's okay: I just want my nano.[Read More]
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Well, Hurricane Rita wasn't nearly as bad as we had originally expected, but tell that to the folks in southeast Texas and southwestern Louisiana whose homes were wiped off the map by Rita's storm surge or heavy flooding, or those areas in New Orleans which were re-flooded when Rita's waters overtopped the levees there.
While I'm happy to report that my cousin from Beaumont made it safely to Dallas, she's still waiting to learn the condition of her family's home, and it could be some days before they know for certain. I keep my fingers crossed. My other cousins noisily, but safely, waited out the storm amidst the tall pines of east Texas.
I'm also happy to report that IBM's offices in Houston, Clearlake/Space Park, and Corpus Christi are open today, that there were no injuries to IBMers as a result of Rita, and that we are asking our own employees to follow the staggered return plan as outlined by Texas Governor Rick Perry.
Meanwhile, IBMers are helping out where they can. The IBM Crisis Response Team is on the ground in Baton Rouge and in close contact with Texas officials to provide assistance in the form of both services and technology. We are also hosting Web sites to help evacuees and the public locate missing family members, including the CNN Safe List. Please refer anyone you know who may be still looking for someone post Katrina or Rita to this resource and, if they don't have Web access, identify someone who can help them use this tool. As we've learned from both Katrina and Rita, often the most conspicuously absent commodity after these storms is reliable information.
To help folks conduct an even more comprehensive search, we also have teams working with the state of Louisiana to implement the "Entity Analytics Systems," which can help integrate different databases and make it possible to search a single, unduplicated, up-to-date list of missing persons so that friends and relatives can better locate one another.
Finally, we're working in the background to help hurricane refugees find employment through a new job post and search Web site, one which brings together the largest number of opportunities from the Web and targeted jobs developed by local chambers of commerce. We're doing this in partnership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, local chambers in the Gulf Coast region, and not-for-profit groups.
If you know of other useful resources, from IBM or anywhere else, please feel free to comment and add the links to this post.[Read More]
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Not that anyone has thought a lot about this but me, but "Rita" is short for "margarita" -- probably the closest thing we have to a state drink aside from Bud Light -- but for those of us in Texas, we're likely going to need a few of them before this storm is over.
I am situated in Austin, Texas, a couple of hundred miles from the coast, but have friends and family who are situated much closer to the Texas Gulf Coast. So, I have been keeping a very close eye on the big red radar blob slowly inching its way toward the Texas coast.
I spoke with cousins in Houston earlier today, and they indicated that the gas station near their house was 35 cars deep. They're far inland, and not leaving, although they are concerned about those items their neighbors who fled may not have tied down.
My other cousin who was fleeing Beaumont for Dallas indicated that she made 40 miles in about two hours on the highways. My other cousin is situated among the tall Texas pines of Huntsville. She indicated that due to the winds from Hurricane Alicia, back in 1983, those treetops touched the ground from wind gusts more in the 100 MPH range. Rita is currently spinning at about 200 MPH -- I just hope she loses some of her tequila on the way in to shore.
All these storms this year started me to thinking about learning how local municipalities, states, and the federal government could potentially use technology to try and stave off some of the economic damage and prevent more fatalities moving forward. After Katrina, it became pretty clear that they need all the help they can get.
IBM Research has been working on a project called "Deep Thunder", which attempts to build applications based on customized, focused short-term weather forecasts, all with the express purpose of saving lives, minimizing economic damages, and maximizing the operational response to storms. These forecasts can provide detailed information about temperature, winds, precipitation and other key data points from the surface of the earth to 15 km, and can help industries like agriculture, construction, and others impacted by the weather make proactive decisions in advance of major storms. They do this with super-computing technologies not dissimilar from our computer chess master, Deep Blue.
As I think about the oil refineries along the Houston and Corpus Christi channels, and the hundreds of thousands of people moving a few miles per hour on some of the most spacious freeways in the country, I can't help but think that such applications are going to be increasingly critical to helping municipalities become more on demand responsive in the future.
Check out the Deep Thunder Web page to learn more, and check out the video if you have the time. It makes the seemingly theoretical approach appear to be most practical.[Read More]
I'll be the first to admit I'm somewhat digital-centric...if it's not online, whatever it is, and it could be, you're likely going to get a severe and violent allergic reaction from me when you ask me to do so something offline that I could save lots of time by doing on.
"What do you mean I can't get access to my health insurance information via the Web?"
"What do you mean you need me to fill out that form again?"
"What do you mean you need a fax for that claim? A fax?!?!"
Every time I go into a new physician's office, I'm asked to fill out a lengthy personal medical history (lengthy in the questions they ask, not necessarily in my personal medical history.)
Of course, I understand and absolutely embrace my doctors' request to have my medical history. I want them to have it. But every time I have fill out those endless forms, I can feel precious seconds of my short life falling away like the water droplets out of an I.V. bag.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
Can't they, at minimum, give me a little microchip or USB drive or something to carry from one office to another, so that I don't create a new medical condition in the form of writer's cramp as I fill out page after page every time I visit a new physician's office?
Subconsciously, this chore alone has very likely limited my willingness to switch doctors over the years. Never mind the economic inefficiencies inherent in having thousands of doctors shuffling papyrus around when they could be sending bits and bytes amongst themselves, their patients, their insurance companies, and other interested parties.
Also, as we have witnessed recently with Hurricane Katrina, having some form of electronic health information portability is now found to be essential when we find that tens of thousands are suddenly forced from their homes and all their medical and prescription records destroyed.
I had a personal experience with a related challenge in 2003 that nearly left me absolutely stunned as to how unwired healthcare could be in the U.S. My uncle was lying in a vegetative state at a hospital on the outskirts of Houston (yes, that Houston, home to leading edge medical bellwethers such as MD Anderson Cancer Center and Baylor Medical College of Medicine).
Amazingly, no one on the staff knew of a way to download a digital file of my uncle's electroencephalogram to a diskette, much less ship it via the Internet to another physician who lived 90 miles away and whose second opinion we desperately wanted to receive in a timely manner -- so that my immediate family could make a fully informed and, ultimately, life-changing decision. Due to its lack of digital capability, the hospital ended up having to print reams of paper for my cousin to ship it to the other doctor overnight via Fed Ex.
Sadly, the decision was ultimately made to remove him from life support -- but it was a decision unnecessarily delayed while my family waited for a plane to fly from Houston to Memphis and back so that a stack of paper could await a signature at a doctor's office somewhere in Beaumont, Texas.
So much for filling out all those forms.
A Little Preventative Medicine Goes a Long Way
Every year, the U.S. alone spends $1.9 trillion on healthcare, and yet it makes up less than 2% of what we spend on information technology. And employer health care costs are growing faster than revenues, with 2004 marking the fifth consecutive year of double-digit increases (at 12%).
If those numbers don't stagger you, write these down on your R/X pad: Nearly 100,000 people die every year in the U.S. -- more from AIDS, homicide, and car crashes combined -- because of medical errors preventable by better information systems.
I'm happy to report that IBM has arrived at the ER and is doing what it can to improve the patient's condition. In particular, I was heartened to read an article in the New York Times yesterday about an experiment in Duchess and Ulster Counties north of New York City to create a Web-accessible database available for doctors, hospitals, insurers, and employers in the region.
Entitled the "Taconic Health Information Network and Community," the system will initially provide secure access to electronic medical information such as lab reports to X-rays and other imaging results, and later to electronic medical and prescription records. (IBM is both a technology provider for and beneficiary of this initiative, as we employ over 60,000 people in the mid-Hudson Valley.)
Some of our healthcare industry experts also recently started a blog called "HealthNex," that addresses the "building blocks of connected care." It includes discussions on everything from electronic health records to building a more integrated healthcare ecosystem. A recent post cites a RAND study that indicates electronic medical records specifically could yield $81 billion annually for the U.S. healthcare industry. Check the HealthNex blog to learn more.
In the meantime, feel free to encourage your local physician to replace all those forms with a browser. Collectively, we'll all be much healthier when we can make that transition.[Read More]