Archive for February, 2010

history repeats itself

History repeats itself
I didn’t learn, I wouldn’t listen
I couldn’t see the books were on the shelf
For my good sense, I never missed ’em

In the early 1800s newspaper production was extremely slow. They received news by post. Some were reports from correspondents, but most stories were copied from other newspapers as part of an exchange system.

In may of 1845, James Gordon Bennett, the editor of the New York Herald predicted with some gloom, that the telegraph would put many newspapers out of business. “In regard to the newspaper press, it will experience to a degree, that must in a vast number of cases be fatal, the effects of the new mode of circulating intelligence.”

While entrepreneurs and commerce at large created the demand for ‘fast news’, prompting Bennet to pay one of his sources $500 for every hour by which he beat other papers in getting news from Europe, he also once declared that “speculators should not have the advantage of earlier news than the public at large.”

Then along comes the telegraph… with its promise of instant information.

The following dreaded scenario was painted among the publishing Technorati of the day…

Raw news and market information arrived first at the telegraph office. Newspapers, along with merchants and everyone else, queued for it. Telegraph firms established a monopoly over news delivery, selling early news access to the highest bidder.

In this environment, papers would be unable to compete. Circulation would decline and advertisers would flee. Benett’s democratisation of news would be undone.

There was hope. Bennett believed that those few papers which provided commentary and analysis would survive. The proverbial ‘value-add’.

The telegraph did reshape newspapers and the outcome was different to the prognostications. It was a simple result of the technology itself. Although the telegraph could deliver news more rapidly than ever across the backbone, they had a “last mile” problem. Messages were point to point – unicast as it were. The telegraph was not a broadcast medium, it could not disseminate news quickly to thousands of ‘subscribers’. Instead  of putting papers out of business, the telegraph actually made them more attractive and increased their sales. The role of newspapers became focused on delivering the latest news.

As the speed of information increased, there were growing concerns that the freshness of news, and its abundance from far away places, was saturating column inches and decreasing it’s relevance to the consumer.

Writing in the Atlantic Monthly in 1891, W.J. Stillman lamented the changes in his profession. “America has in fact transformed journalism from what it once was, the periodical expression of the thought of the time, the opportune record of the questions and answers of contemporary life, into an agency for collecting, condensing and assimilating the trivialities of the entire human existence,” he moaned. “The frantic haste with which we bolt everything we take, seconded by the eager wish of the journalist not to be a day behind his competitor, abolishes deliberation from judgment and sound digestion from our mental constitutions. We have no time to go below surfaces, and as a general thing no disposition.”

Add about 160 years to these dates, replace the names of the characters and technologies; except for the money part, the story and the apprehensions remain the same. But let us be very careful. While we may see the demise of printed media, we will not see the decline of the ‘news business’. We may be simply seeing the transfer of information from ink and pulp to another medium.

Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.

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February 25, 2010 at 1:00 am 1 comment

digital asset management

Talent is an asset
You’ve got to understand that
Talent is an asset
And little Albert has it
Talent is an asset
And Albert surely has it

In my wanderings across the media landscape I have encountered, “Digital Asset Management”, “Media Asset Management”, “Content Management”, “Asset Management” etc. All terms which each of you have similarly faced. But, why so many terms for the inflection from tape to digital?

I believe the confusion arises out of workflow, product functionality and the need for vendor differentiation. Obfuscation is a remarkable sales tool, and perhaps this taxonomic confusion exemplifies the case of “those who cannot do – sell.”

On a much kinder note, perhaps the confusion is a natural response to a nascent technology, one born out of digital abstraction of a physical entity. You see, when you can touch something, as a human, your perception is that it has some innate value. When you cannot touch it, the value is diminished. Unless we actually have equity in the content, we lose the connection between perceived financial value and the invisible bits which ultimately express the value. In fact, we ascribe value to the infrastructure which enables those bits to be expressed i.e. network, PC, iPod, Plasma TV, STB etc. My theory for why even seemingly upstanding citizens engage in dubious ‘pirate’ activities. I also encountered this mindset in China in the mid 90’s when the value of a CD was in the medium i.e. the plastic, more so that what was on it. Similarly when couriering software and data mag-tapes across continents, customs officials always wanted to know the value of the tapes, not really understanding the value of their contents.

For the record, I gravitate to the term digital asset management. The core of understanding lies in understanding Assets themselves. First a little definition.

Assets have three essential characteristics:

  • The probable present benefit involves a capacity, singly or in combination with other assets, in the case of profit oriented enterprises, to contribute directly or indirectly to future net cash flows, and, in the case of not-for-profit organizations, to provide services;
  • The entity can control access to the benefit;
  • The transaction or event giving rise to the entity’s right to, or control of, the benefit has already occurred.

In normal speak, this is an ability to

  • make money or provide services
  • maintain control or access
  • leverage transactions

This seems intuitively complete for our understanding of the things we need to do to digital content regardless of type. Yet how many digital asset management systems have financial interfaces? Furthermore, how many effectively enable their content with the aforementioned characteristics? How many are just plain digital ‘libraries’ or ‘content management’ repositories?

In the financial accounting sense of the term, it is not necessary to be able to legally enforce the asset’s benefit for qualifying a resource as being an asset, provided the entity can control its use by other means.

This raises another interesting encounter with a recent customer. As a very large content creator, they were not so much interested in protecting their content with DRM as their main customers were Service Providers like broadcasters, cable companies and telcos. They distributed their content via the web, in most cases with FTP, and fully expected their business partner to abide by contractual usage provisions. In fact, if the content were ‘over-utilized’, then in a sense, that is fine by my customer – more exposure. However, their prime concern was ‘editing’ of the content, i.e. changing the creative content, or the storyline, or the brand. As long as the content was edited in compliance with regulations that was OK, but if it was edited to allow more commercial content, then that was not OK.

By extension, media asset management expands my definition of digital asset management, to include the tracking of physical copies of the content i.e. tapes, CDs, manuscripts etc. Hence the usage of the word media, implying all manifestations of content instantiation.

So, when you use the phrase ‘asset’, it is important to understand that the digital content has a ‘value’, and that this value needs to be wrapped with rights to ensure that the maximum equity is extracted for the minimum liability, financial or otherwise.  Failure to do so, in my mind implies that you are only addressing one part of the business, the technical operations.

Without an appreciation of the valuation of their digital inventory, how is a business ever going to evolve to a new digital business model?

Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.

February 18, 2010 at 1:00 am 2 comments

the user

No praise or crowd
No sound of thunder
No hero’s tale
No sign or wonder
With all I’ve known
And left behind
I find my place
In serving You

Remember the IT user? Those people who the IT department initially served? Those subject matter experts within the business. Those people who usually know best what is needed to make their daily job, business functions and therefore, by extension, the business?

Whatever happened to them? Does anyone actually listen to them anymore?

Remember the constant tussle between in-house development and packaged software? I have no intention of re-litigating that debate, but I do think, that of late, the industry has increasingly paid more attention to ‘new trends’ and ‘new products’ than on the fundamentals.

We’ve gone top down. Big picture will ultimately solve the business problems? The focus is now on the company and shareholders, rather than the stakeholders whose knowledge and effort is the driving engine of the company. Is not a balanced approach far more sensible?

This is dangerously similar to the transformation of the accounting profession. Their constant focus on moving up the corporate food chain and becoming Financial Advisors, instead of Accountants. On telling the business how to grow beans, instead of counting the beans of the business.

And so it is with IT professionals. As we look across the business landscape with our ‘Technology Focus’ we are starting to move beyond advising the CEO how to leverage technology for better business, but have promoted the notion that good technology = good business. This might be true in a technology-centric business like media, or the technology business itself, but not in general.

The ‘Financial Advisors’ ran wild with growing beans and precipitated the global economic disaster… will our love affair with all things technical, promoting technology above business interests result in tears? I think it is time to get back to serving the business…

Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.

PS. How many IT shops out there are cost-centers vs the profit centers to which you would seem to aspire?

February 12, 2010 at 6:58 am Leave a comment

making toast

If I could be like that
I would give anything
Just to live one day
In those shoes
If I could be like that
What would I do?
What would I do?

From the time programmers first tried to interact with the CPU, we have had several paradigms for human computer interaction. From switches, through paper tape to cards to CRTS to field verification to form based transactions to GUIs and even styluses (or should that be styli?). Through this evolution, two fundamental approaches to human-machine interaction have emerged. I’m sure the Interface Engineers out there will offer the appropriate terminology, but the two approaches are characterized by being ‘application-centric’ and ‘object-centric.’

Application-centric, really focuses on ‘loading the application, to access or create the data from within the application environment’, whereas object-centric is more in line with GUI approach of ‘activating the document/object and having the operating system instantiate the application and the environment to use the data.’ The latter is a very content-centric approach, one that I subscribed to until quite recently. Let me explain my change in thinking…

It all comes back to toast.

In the days before toasters, people put bread near a source of heat to make toast. It didn’t matter whether it was a wood fire, electric elements, gas burner etc. Take bread, add high heat, bread gets toasted. Toasting was a technique. A verb that subsequently became a noun, the inverse of nouns becoming verbs like Fax, Fedex, Google.

One day, as energy was channeled via a mass market utility called electricity, the ‘toaster’ was invented. It was a good appliance. It got better over time with more features to prevent burning, to defrost frozen bread, to understand different thicknesses etc.

But for all of it’s newly inherited capabilities, the toaster transformed bread into toast. And the consumer liked the toaster.

People like appliances. They are easy to use because their role is well defined. Just think of the plethora of successful inventions – invariably they have resulted in appliances or devices that are ostensibly single purpose. Cars, refrigerators, phones, ovens, lamps, cameras etc. In fact, if you have seen those combination appliances such as the coffee-maker/breakfast cooker, or the hot-dog maker (cooks franks and toasts buns), you’ll find that they are not best sellers. Why?

I think that the consumer is prepared to pay for specific functionality, not for stuff that they don’t need or understand. Also, they generally use more complicated (or potentially dangerous) appliances in a single threaded manner. Drive car (doing other things at the same time is dangerous). Microwave food (not metal, careful on timing). Saute food (make sure gas is lit, not too high, watch contents or it’ll all burn). Speak on phone (rude to not give the other end focused attention, otherwise why call?). Twitter (and listen to music, or just hear ear candy?).

It’s about focus.

Contrary to contemporary thinking, for effective, focused deep communication, the human brain is generally single threaded. Engaging in effective communication and processing deep concepts requires focused cerebral compute power. Yes, you can multi-task and time-slice your way through many things at once, but at what price comprehension?

Back to application-centric machines.

The iPhone is a perfect example. It is what you need it to be at that point in time, phone, browser, diary, etc… you don’t care where the data is stored – as long as it is! So you don’t need a file manager. Same for the newly released iPad. I believe we are seeing a new era of interfaces – more than just ‘app’ centric, it is really appliance or function-centric. Dare I say ‘wrkflow-centric’? Keep the tasks very focused, do a really good job for the consumer, then enable them to change appliances effortlessly. We’ll see some appliances running in the background, like music players, communications, content downloads etc. just like the refrigerator keeps things cool, and the bread maker makes my next loaf for more toast, while the coffee maker makes the coffee. I’ll still need a toaster, and then I have to pour the coffee and add milk from the fridge. Multi-tasking will not go away, but how we focus on our tasks will need to become more efficient and less disruptive than clicking all over a desktop, or rummaging through unruly digital filing cabinets…

The appliance-centric model provides us a clue to the future. A future that is focused on using information, rather than ‘managing information’. This needs to be the goal of computing for the mass consumer marketplace.

Now, we just need a standardized information utility grid to plug into the information… or is that the ‘cloud’?

Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.

February 4, 2010 at 1:00 am Leave a comment


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