Be on the wave or under it
The News – 06/18/03
The Cheap Revolution, Part 3
In parts 1 and 2 of this
series, I talked about a variety of trends that are shaping both
business and technology:
- The Cheap Revolution – Not only falling PC and server
prices, but the ability to replace supercomputing might with
what could be termed Redundant Arrays of Inexpensive Computers
(RAIC perhaps, but definitely not RAIP(rocessors))
- The stock resurgence of consumer Internet plays – eBay,
Yahoo and Google are becoming Wall Street’s darlings again;
has eCommerce crossed the chasm?
- Information/technology wants to be free/expensive –
the eternal tension among the usefulness of a thing, its accessibility,
and its price
- Grid computing – A somewhat separate trend in the enterprise
that may power the Cheap Revolution
- Disruptive innovation – Clayton Christensen’s assertion
that MBAs are the carbon rods in the atomic reactor of innovation
- The Headlong Future – The future’s coming faster and
faster; some believe the rate of change is changing at an exponential
- Autonomic Systems – Should technology – and business
– mimic nature by developing self-organizing, self-adjusting,
self-healing systems that provide adaptability as well as reliability?
- Is Small Beautiful? – As descendants of hunter/gatherers,
we may be wired for efficient action in smaller groups, say,
less than a hundred; the wisdom of the last century was big
is better; which is right?
- Cheap, Fast, and Out of Control – is this the new paradigm
for the agile business of the future?
It comes as no surprise to anyone that not everyone agrees with
me on all these points. Dr. Andrew Odlyzko, director of the Digital
Technology Center at the University of Minnesota, took issue with
my support for Ray Kurzweil’s assertion that the rate of change
is changing and the world is changing faster than before.
In many ways it is not, and in fact
that was probably the most fatal assumption behind the dot-com
bubble. I wrote about this in a short note, ‘The myth of Internet
time,’ in the April 2001 issue
of Technology Review, which was based on an earlier 1996 article,
‘The slow evolution of electronic publishing,’ (which despite
its title is devoted largely to the general question of how quickly
new technology diffuses through society).
Prof. Odlyzko’s point about Internet time (the phrase was actually
trademarked by VirtualFund while I was there – you could look
it up) is that it:
was the perception that product development
and consumer acceptance were now occurring in a fraction of the
traditional time. [ . . . ] If indeed seven years of traditional
product cycles were now compressed to one year, then anything
might change in the blink of an eye. [ . . . ]
Yes, product development cycles have
become noticeably shorter. This is true not just in software,
but also in such old-economy products as cars. (The Internet is
partially responsible for this, as is Japanese competition of
the 1980s.) However, consumers do not operate on Internet time.
Novel technologies do not diffuse notably more rapidly than they
used to. We have basically just one example of rapid adoption
by the masses of a strikingly new product, namely the browser.
The beta version of Mosaic was released in early 1993, and by
the end of 1994 Web traffic dominated the Internet, as millions
of people rushed online. However, that was an exception.
Prof. Odlyzko goes on to list several world-beating technologies
that were on slow adoption curves when he wrote in 2001:
- HTTP1.1 – A browser protocol that, by 2001, had been
out six years without dominating
- IPv6 – The new Internet protocol designed to solve
several technical problems, including that of limited address
- Amazon.com – Although the dominant online book seller,
it did not even account for 10 percent of book sales in the
- Internet telephony – Predicted to be the doom of established
- eBay – Has had little impact on the classified ads
that sustain newspapers
“All these technologies and companies are transforming the economy,
but not in Internet time,” Odlyzko said. “The general rule is
that it takes around a decade for even a compelling new product
or service to be widely accepted.”
To these very well reasoned points, I would rebut: You’re only
seeing the handle of the hockey stick, and there are multiple
hockey sticks all queued up for exponential growth. Each succeeding
disruptive technology of the 20th century was adopted
at a quicker and quicker rate. I expect that trend to continue.
The very fact that the Web can come out of nowhere, essentially
in 1996 (though you can argue the exact timing) to dominate business
architecture by 1998 proves that something is afoot. Granted,
the Internet prepared for the Web’s success with more than a decade’s
growth, but two things – the US government permitting commercial
use of the Internet in 1995 and the graphical browser (well, really,
Netscape) in 1996 – ignited its growth rocket.
Or how about Instant Messaging? When I left ACNielsen in 1999,
I didn’t know anyone who regularly used IM for business. How many
people do you know now who do, despite the fact that it’s an insecure
and risky technology?
Or how about Short Messaging System, basically IM for cell phones?
Marketers have flocked
to this new medium in droves, yet four years ago you probably
never heard of it unless you were in Europe.
Or how about Wi-Fi (802.11 wireless networking)? Three years
ago, the smart money was on Bluetooth as the darling of wireless
networking, and critics forecast the demise of Wi-Fi. Now most
Dell laptops come equipped with it.
The point is, we can all cite various technologies to prove things
don’t develop faster or that they do. I say Napster. You say push
technology. I say the DVD. You say digital movie theater projection.
The real test will come in the next few years when several of
the trends I mentioned at the beginning of this article will mix
with others like nanotechnology, smart appliances, wireless video
and machine intelligence to establish a virtuous circle of rapidly
Ray Kurzweil calls that the singularity
and it may not be as far off as we think. There are countless
other nascent disruptive technologies in the wings ready to take
off. A recent example: A few days ago, Microsoft co-founder Paul
Allen took the wraps off a secret project called Project Halo.
preliminary success in enabling computers “to answer questions
they've never seen before and to state their reasoning.”
One of the companies Allen funded, Cycorp, I’ve been
tracking since 1992 when I first became aware of Doug Lenat’s
work, already in process for eight years at that time, on giving
computers common sense. So 19 years later we have a breakthrough.
That doesn’t mean it took that long for users to adopt the technology.
It just means it was a real hard problem that took a real long
time to solve. You can bet, however, if Allen speaks true, your
help desk staff better update their resumes. I will guarantee
this is one technology that’s not going to idle for a decade before
becoming mainstream. (See my Prediction
Tracking page for other rash things I’ve said.)
I’m also willing to bet that Allen’s solution requires oodles
and oodles of processing power, which fuels the demand for the
Jeffrey Harrow, author of the Harrow
Technology Report, a fine emerging technology newsletter,
recently cited the following comforting quote:
“Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have
to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against
Sage advice from a long dead Roman, Marcus Aurelius, who wrote
“almost two thousand years ago when the Romans were suffering
from their own burgeoning technologies – not electronics, but
military and civil engineering, and more.” Harrow’s point is that
the debate over the rate of change and the introduction of new
technologies and systems has been raging for centuries, and I
sure don’t think we’ll solve it here today.
We may disagree on how rapidly new technologies are being assimilated
into our lives, and how the rate of their introduction will change
or not change in the future. But it’s hard to argue that the last
decade has seen some pretty significant changes in our everyday
lives. Often when I speak, I ask for a show of hands from people
in the audience regarding their personal use of various technologies.
In 1995, how many of you had:
- A beeper?
- A cell phone?
- An Internet connection?
- An Internet email account?
- A company Web page?
- An employer that did electronic commerce (EDI, etc.)?
In 1998 how many of you had :
- Internet access faster than 28.8Kbps?
- A free Internet email account?
- Ever heard of MP3 or Napster?
- Sent an Instant Message?
- A Personal Digital Assistant?
- A personal Web page?
Unless I have an audience of geeks or other bleeding edge adopters,
very few hands ever go up. That’s a lot of technological change
in just eight years. Most of these things are completely commonplace
among businesspeople today.
Does it really matter if any or all of these technologies struggled
for years before acceptance? No. They all achieved mass acceptance
in the last eight years. And they’re just the tips of the iceberg
– or the overture to the singularity. The disruptions are going
to start coming faster and closer together because there are so
many world changing, paradigm-busting new technologies in the
works. And I wonder if Marcus Aurelius’ assurance that we can
handle it is going to be enough to get us through it, both personally
That’s where I’ll leave it until part 4, when I’ll really, truly
try to wrap this all up with a nice bow. Honest.
Cheap Revolution Part 1
Cheap Revolution Part 2
- Shameless Self-Promotion Dept.:
Coming next month: A new service from StratVantage – The WiFi
Guys. Preview the new Website at www.TheWiFiGuys.com.
My feature article, Grid
Computing Takes Off in the Enterprise, was published in
the inaugural issue of Fawcette Technical Publications’ Enterprise
Architect magazine. (Registration required to view.)
My article, “Innovative Marketers Target Unwired Customers”
was published in the NetSuds
Coming Soon: A new eBook, Be On the Wave Or Under It™
will collect the best of SNS’ insights over the last couple
of years, along with additional material from CTOMentor white
papers and new material. It will make a great gift (Independence
Day?) for associates and friends in need of a guide to the latest
and greatest technology. Watch for more information in upcoming
Several issues ago I debuted SNS Begware, an opportunity for
you, gentle reader, to express your appreciation by tipping
your server via PayPal. See the sidebar for more info. Total
in the kitty so far: $56.48. Thanks, Cliff!
I repurposed and adapted an article about the wireless service
known as Short Messaging Service (SMS) for the Reside newsletter.
It’s entitled, Wherever
they go, there you are and it points out how marketers
can use – carefully – this new way to contact their customers.
StratVantage has been accepted as a member of the World Wide
Web Chamber of Commerce and now displays their logo on our Websites.
In addition, I’m featured in Manyworlds’ Thought
Leader Showcase, which lists a few of the white papers I’ve
done. I’ve also added their fancy icon to the StratVantage site.
- The Last SNS Was Spam:
Or was it? I always send SNS to myself so I know when it goes
out. And my mail is filtered by Spam Assassin. So imagine my
surprise when I found the last issue of SNS in my SpamBox! Turns
out I made a couple of bad word choices in the text that caused
my spam score to exceed the threshold I’ve set. Here’s what
Spam Assassin had to say:
Content analysis details: (5.40 hits,
(2.2 points) BODY: Drastically
(1.1 points) BODY: Opportunity
- What a deal!
(0.5 points) BODY: HTML has a
big "font" and "B" tag combo
(0.1 points) BODY: HTML included
(1.1 points) BODY: Message is
40% to 50% HTML
(0.1 points) BODY: Includes a
URL link to send an email
(0.2 points) URI: URL of page
(0.1 points) Message only has
text/html MIME parts
I got 2.2 whopping spam points for this sentence: “Well, the
jury's still out on the popularity of video streaming over cell
phone networks, and a new technology from British Telecom may
drastically reduce the bandwidth necessary for streaming.”
I used the fatal word combination “drastically reduce.” I guess
that’s a no-no.
I got 1.1 spam points for “A couple issues ago I debuted SNS
Begware, an opportunity for you, gentle reader, to express
your appreciation by tipping your server via PayPal. See the
sidebar for more info.” While this is a naked appeal (uh-oh,
shouldn’t say naked!) for money, it hardly elevates the whole
message into spamdom, does it?
And I got 1.1 points for sending an HTML email.
This little object lesson underscores the fact that it is getting
harder and harder to communicate via email these days. These
are just one set of the hundreds of rules Spam Assassin uses,
and there are scads of other spam filters out there. Industry
pundits are beginning to predict the end of email as we know
it, but no one yet knows what its successor will be.
So if you didn’t get the previous issue of SNS in your email
box (the subject line started, “Nothing to Disclaim”), let me
know, and I’ll remove the offending phrases and send it on again.
- 802.11g Standard Ratified:
Finally, after three years, the IEEE committee in charge of
the faster Wi-Fi (54Mbps) standard has ratified it. Vendors
who have been selling wireless networking equipment based on
the draft standard should already or shortly have software upgrades
for their gear. Now we get to wait another three years for the
next big standard: 802.11n, which will offer at least 100Mbps
throughput. Does anybody else think that technology is changing
far too quickly these days for a three-year standards process
to be worthwhile?
- Computing On Tap Not the Next Big Thing:
As loyal SNS Readers know, I recently wrote an article on grid
computing for Enterprise Architect magazine. Grid computing
is variously defined, but in general it is about combining the
resources – sometimes just the idle resources – of dozens or
hundreds or millions of computers to solve some problem. Many
proponents of grid computing, including IBM, assert that supercomputing
muscle on demand will be a big success and a major way in the
future that enterprises get access to supercomputer capabilities.
Industry pundit Clay Shirky disagrees. “Supercomputing on tap
won't live up to this change-the-world billing, because computation
isn't a terribly important part of what people do with computers.
This is a lesson we learned with PCs, and it looks like we will
be relearning it with Grids,” Shirky said in a recent newsletter.
Shirky says that most PCs are not used for computation most
of the time. The obvious reason is that most PCs are idle most
of the time: The users either are not at their PCs or not “are
not tackling computationally hard problems, and especially not
ones that require batch processing – submit question today,
get answer tomorrow (or next week.) Indeed, whenever users
encounter anything that feels even marginally like batch processing
– a spreadsheet that takes seconds to sort, a Photoshop file
that takes a minute to render – they begin hankering for a new
PC, because they care about peak performance, not total number
of cycles available over time . . . If users needed Grid-like
power, the Grid itself wouldn't work, because the unused cycles
the Grid is going to aggregate wouldn't exist.”
That’s quite a paradox Shirky has identified, yet it may miss
the point. As long as supercomputer power remains out of the
reach of enterprises with huge computing needs, grid computing
will be a viable option. Shirky claims that current desktop
computing power costs a penny a gigahertz/hour and Moore’s Law
will make it even cheaper, thus destroying the economic incentive
for hooking machines into a grid. I think that no matter how
powerful individual machines become, someone will always be
able to envision an application that requires even more power
than is available.
I do agree with Shirky that grid computing will have difficulty
in becoming a mass-market phenomenon, with a significant percentage
of total computing hours being provided by utility-like grids.
Grid computing will become another tool in the toolbox, another
advantage delivered by having everything connected to everything
Economics, and Culture
- Wal-Mart Requiring RFID Tags:
The gorilla has spoken: Retailing giant Wal-Mart is requiring
all of its top 100 suppliers to have RFID (Radio Frequency Identification)
smart tags on all their pallets by early 2005. Tagging pallets
will allow Wal-Mart to better track their inventory. This move
is one step toward an eventual requirement of RFID tags on all
consumer goods sold at retail. This trend is really heating
up, as discussed in previous SNS issues here
Of course, RFID and the associated AutoID product numbering
project have been listed on the
TrendSpot since July 2000.
- RFID for Money? Oh, I
sure hope not! Alert SNS Reader Tim Plas sent a pointer to The
Harrow Report emerging technology newsletter previously mentioned.
Jeffrey Harrow used to write The Rapidly Changing Face of Computing
newsletter until going out on his own, and he’s got a keen eye
for the edgiest of leading edge tech. Anyway, Wal-Mart’s RFID
move reported above instantly legitimizes a whole new technology
that, although it was certainly gaining momentum, probably would
not move so fast without a gorilla behind it. Gillette’s ordering
of a half a billion RFID tags earlier this year and their Smart
Shelf collaboration with W-M (reported in a previous
SNS) were early signs RFID was coming out of the niche markets
and into mainstream practice. Ditto Michelin’s move to put RFID
tags in its tires (reported in another previous
Tim and I are worried, however, about the unintended consequences
of technologies like RFID. And rightly so. The Harrow Report
comments on a recent news
item concerning efforts by Hitachi and the European Central
Bank to imbed tiny RFID tags in every Euro banknote. Ostensibly,
this move is intended to combat counterfeiting and money laundering,
but I’m sure we all can think of other, privacy-invading uses.
If you know where the money is, who has it, and where it’s been,
law enforcement would get quite a bit easier.
Tim mentioned to me similar concerns with tags that may be imbedded
in clothing. At least here the solution is obvious: Don’t do
that. Make the tag part of a price tag that is removed after
the sale. But what can you do if your money allows you to be
tracked? In Gillette’s case, you may not care if people know
you use their shave cream or razors. But what if anyone could
track your movements by reading the RFID tags in your Michelin
tires? Or what if people can find out what medications you use
by remotely scanning your medicine cabinet?
Luckily, most RFID tags today need to be in fairly close proximity
to the reader for the information to be read. But, in the name
of supply chain efficiency, I could see the range being increased
dramatically in the future.
Harrow Technology Report
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