The age of the micro multinational

“If the late 20th Century was the age of the multinational company, the early 21st will be the age of the micro multinational: small companies that operate globally”

I found this great quote on Neil Perkin’s ‘Only Dead Fish’. It’s a statement from Hal Varian, Google Chief Economist and I can only like what I see here. It supports our own opinion (at Duval Guillaume) that you don’t need to be huge or have offices around the whole world to be able to service clients globally. 

A recent Policy Brief from the Lisbon Council states:

“Traditionally, these small, self-starting, service-driven companies would have been described as small- and medium- sized enterprises, or SMEs, but thanks to the Internet, the emergence of new business platforms and the increased openness of the global economy, these companies can enter markets with a minimum of bureaucracy and overhead. Add to that their unparalleled ability to respond promptly to changing market developments, a collaborative DNA that often translates into superior innovation performance and the lack of the institutional inertia and legacy relationships plaguing larger organizations, and one begins to see the transformative and paradigm-changing potential.”

According the brief the big paradigm shifts that are taking place making all this happen are:

  • Most jobs are created by young companies and start-ups
  • Today technology makes it possible for small companies to gain the reach and traction of big companies at very low cost
  • New platforms and online business services are making it easier for small companies to focus on areas where they add value
  • Internationalization – the key to success for almost all contemporary businesses, large and small – is easier to achieve via the Internet
  • Today’s workforce has changing priorities
  • Experienced and highly skilled individuals are setting out in record numbers to work for themselves

Yet another reason why the future looks bright.

Does technology generate more talk, less conversation?

There’s an interesting article in The Atlantic based on an interview with the publication and Sherry Turkle, a psychologist and a professor at MIT. She recently released the book Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other in which she argues that we are losing the art of conversation:

“Conversations, as they tend to play out in person, are messy—full of pauses and interruptions and topic changes and assorted awkwardness. But the messiness is what allows for true exchange. It gives participants the time—and, just as important, the permission—to think and react and glean insights. “You can’t always tell, in a conversation, when the interesting bit is going to come,” Turkle says. “It’s like dancing: slow, slow, quick-quick, slow. You know? It seems boring, but all of a sudden there’s something, and whoa.” Occasional dullness, in other words, is to be not only expected, but celebrated. Some of the best parts of conversation are, as Turkle puts it, “the boring bits.” In software terms, they’re features rather than bugs. The logic of conversation as it plays out across the Internet, however—the into-the-ether observations and the never-ending feeds and the many, many selfies—is fundamentally different, favoring showmanship over exchange, flows over ebbs. The Internet is always on. And it’s always judging you, watching you, goading you. “That’s not conversation,” Turkle says. She wants us to reclaim the permission to be, when we want and need to be, dull.”

I like the idea of the occasional dullness. The idea that breaks or gaps in a conversation is actually help drive the conversation. Check out the whole article.

Is your smartphone becoming too smart for its own good?

The feature phone. A ‘new’ name for something that exists for a long time already just so we can differentiate it from the more recent forms or versions, as so called retronym. Because that’s what it is, for people my age we used to refer to the feature phone just as a mobile or cell phone. That’s until the smartphone came along and before we all started using that.

It wasn’t just a phone with a contact list that was stored on your SIM card (and limited to a certain number of people), the smartphone was also a camera and would have a browser to surf the internet etc. And the smartphone only got smarter and smarter over time. Today you can have a phone that is a very good alternative to a lot of digital cameras, it’s packed full with apps that can do the most amazing things like track your running, sync all your documents over the cloud, recognize music, program your DVR, and a whole more.

And it doesn’t look like we have reached the end of all smartphone smartness. The new iPhone has a fingerprint scanner, another step in the process of our phone becoming a key. A key to our data of course, but also a key to our house or our car? It’s only a matter of time. With the right apps and add-ons your smartphone is also becoming a payment device and since it can also already hold your tickets, vouchers, loyalty cards it will replace your wallet. It is also becoming a health appliance, you can use it to geo-locate people or items, etc etc. And of course let’s not forget the camera, a pretty damn good camera these days.

What’s more, it’ll drive most of the content and functionality of your smartwatch, of your smart (Google) glasses, … the smartphone is replacing so many things and powering just as many other things that it is becoming incredibly powerful.

Awesome. And at the same time a problem. Since the battery life of the phone hasn’t evolved as much as the feature set and actually is getting worse with every OS update, the all-in-one promise of the smartphone is a dream. Just like most of you I am using my iPhone for quite simple tasks – calling, email, agenda, todo, a bit of social and the camera. And I cannot make it last a full day. And if I’m at an event at which I do more photography than usual than I’m out of power before 5PM and I cannot make any calls anymore.

So the idea of using the smartphone to its full power is unreal today. And since everything is in there at some point you will lock yourself out of your house and you don’t have the ability to call anyone for help. Nor can you pay anyone to fix your problem. Am I exaggerating? Probably. But the problem is there. How much I love the idea of using the iPhone for all the things mentioned before, the device needs to change drastically before I actually will lock all these things into this one single device.

Your thoughts?

Is technology slowing us down?

Seriously, is it? This might sound like a strange question from a technology early adopter and yet I believe this is a valid question. I realize that technology is actually fueling growth, opening up new opportunities and markets, giving access to consumers that were previously out of reach. It’s at the base of many new products and helps us connect with the world. But it also seems to be a burden, a barrier for many businesses in that same quest for growth. Every week I see decisions being taken – with clients, partners or friends – that are based upon technology and that should have been taken weeks, months or even years ago. Or even worse – decisions which we all know are wrong from the start, but where technology forces to do things in a certain way. This is just an observation but one I encounter too regularly to ignore. And I think these are the main reasons:

People can’t keep up. Being an early adopter for technology is one thing. It opens up opportunities if you are one, but it’s not really an issue for business when you’re not. The real problem with the rapid technology development is that this rhythm is very different than the business/marketing rhythm of many businesses. Even if they know which technology offers real opportunities, they haven’t got the means nor the organization to cope with that. On top of that the early adopters don’t care about that problem, they’re too busy being first with something new that it’s not their problem that the rest of the world can’t keep up. That is not the biggest issue though, the biggest issue is that business are seeing that the gap between the expected level of change and the ability to manage is is getting bigger by the year. And that that is largely related to technology. I didn’t  make that up, it was one of the key findings of the IBM CEO study.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” Charles Darwin

How to judge the expert’s expertise? At the introduction of new technology, experts are born. These experts range from people that have been researching about this new tech for the last x years to others who have read a lot about all this over the last few days/weeks/months. That makes them pretty different even though both will claim their expertise in similar ways and in both cases they will sound pretty knowledgeable to all people that are new to the topic. I’ve always found this a serious problem because everyone knows the importance of a good introduction to something new, and how hard it is to change people’s minds when that introduction wasn’t meeting expectations. You never get a second change to make a first impression.

Wrong decisions from the (recent) past. Maybe the worst reason of all. Companies often know that the technology decision they’re taking today is not the ideal one, but that earlier decisions and investments define the window in which they can decide. That’s really unfortunate of course, it’s like the perfect way to maneuver yourself out of competition. It’s also a very challenging one, because at the one hand you would suggest to make sure everything is researched properly before making a decision (to avoid things to turn out badly later) and yet we’re already being too slow to begin with. A big part of these decisions are platform decisions and I don’t think businesses need to take more time to decide, I do believe they need to approach platforms different compared to what they do now. More on that in a separate post.

Organizational hierarchy. There’s no better way to put this than with Putt’s Law below – this may be from 2006 but it’s still very much true today. Make sure you have the right people take the right part of the decision when it comes down to technology.

“Technology is dominated by 2 types of people: those who understand what they do not manage and those who manage what they do not understand.” Archibald Putt

When augmentation is about reducing (Pt. 2)

In February of this year I wrote a post about Kevin Slavin’s talk on Augmented Reality at PICNIC NY Salon. In that video he talked about something that made total sense to me… which to be honest is true for most of what Kevin says anyway :)

“His thoughts around augmented cities and why maybe ‘augmented’ should be about taking things away instead of just adding them to the world as we are already drowning in data as it is.”

So when I got this video today from a colleague about a research project on ‘Dimished Reality’ by Jan Herling and Wolfgang Broll of the  Ilmenau University of Technology, it was like a proof of the concept Kevin talked about a year ago now. I don’t like the name ‘Dimished Reality’ because it still is doing more on top of what is really there. But in this case less really is more, check it out:

Photosynth: it’s here!

I can’t count the number of times I’ve written about Photosynth anymore, but trust me when I say the number of times I wanted to say even more is even bigger. I remember how the first reactions (the oohs and aahs) were quickly followed by questions about the computing power that would be needed to create synths your own. Well, we’ve been having access (I work for Microsoft) to the tool that allows you to create your own Synths for a while and yes your personal computer will do just fine. And since yesterday, you can all give it a try for yourself (only on Windows for the moment though).

Synther

Explore the nicest Synths right here or start creating your own right away. Here’s how to do it. Read more about this fascinating technology on the Photosynth blog, or read some of the reviews that are popping up: Mossberg, Scoble, Webware, O’Reilly Radar, …

Surface spoof

During the pre-conference we had at MIX08 there was also a presentation from one of the guys that works on the Surface team. To give an introduction of the Surface for those who wouldn’t have seen it he showed a video about it. The funny thing though was that he didn’t show the original video, but a spoof made by SarcasticGamer.com. Apparantly it’s around for a while but I hadn’t seen it before. Kudos to the guys who created it and also to the Surface team for using it in their own presentation!

Surround video

Although it seems like this is pretty much a creative idea, and nothing quite real today, I like it immediately. Good out-the-box thinking from the researchers at the BBC. Imagine how this could bring a totally immersed movie experience into your living room. Or think about gaming, COD4 to name a one for instance, now that would be absolutely amazing.

surroundtv1.jpg

[Via David Bausola]

Improving online video

I’m not such a big fan of predictions like we see them all over on the web at the start of the New Year. There are a few good ones like those of John Batelle for instance, but other than that many predictions sound more like acknowledgement of something that’s already happening today or a wish-list for something we would like to see happen.

One good example is mobile for instance. It’s going to be the year of mobile since 2005 I think and as I said before, 2008 is not going to be the year of mobile either. Or talk about video, I had a discussion with someone recently about online video after a statement that 2008 would be the year online video will get big. That’s just not true, 2007 was that year already. As a counter argument I did say I believe 2008 will be the year in which online video will become more useful, of better quality, with better metrics, better advertising, … you name it.

And that’s what is happening today indeed. Yesterday Read/Write Web reported on the launch of Dailymotion HD upload & playback, including automatic bandwidth detection which allows easy switching to lower quality versions. Check out the HD example in their post. Now I can see how HD quality might not be on top of everybody’s wish-list for online video, but I do believe it’s a must have for future development of online video.

About a week ago, MIT AdverLab reported on a new innovative technology related to video advertising. The technology developed in Microsoft’s AdCenter Labs included tools for content analysis and speech recognition for advanced contextual advertising. (again disclaimer: Microsoft is my employer). Definitely take a look at the video below to get an idea of what they exactly mean with that:

Now as I am in advertising, I’m interested in this but not only for advertising purposes. If you watched the video you will understand that there are also opportunities for websites for instance to relate archived content to in-video content (think news sites) or how the technology can create automatic chapters in a video for more useful video browsing for instance. There are quite a few exciting technology usages you can think of with this new development.

A last improvement will be about making video more searchable. The technology mentioned before will definitely be able to help in that area, but quite a few startups are working in that area as well. A few weeks ago at the LIFT Venture Night we saw Viewdle showing off their approach on this, including face recogniation etc. Neat stuff as well.

Content analysis, speech recognition, chaptering, contextual advertising and content (based on the video – not on title or tags), HD, … Yes, online video is big already, 2008 will be the year in which it will get better.