The browser is the new desktop

Last september, I commented Google’s launch of Chrome with thoughts along those lines. Having watched the demo of Google Wave yesterday, I am even more convinced that the browser is the new desktop (screenshots from 7:40 into the video)

For our digital society, this development brings the power of the web and computing closer to the masses – consumers at all levels of society. The ubiquity of the mobile phone with built-in browsers paves the way for broadbased access to the masses. Admittedly, it will be a while before the phones morph to mobile internet devices (MIDs), but the potential is definitely there. And soon the MID will be the new PC.

It is tempting to view Wave as Google’s “reply” to Microsoft’s Bing and Vine services. And while its a bit hard to nail these Microsoft services, I suspect Wave will catalyse Redmond in “bringing it together”.

Aside: Interestingly Google is copying Microsoft’s market approach – i.e. targetting the developer community. But with a big difference, they are making this product Open Source. In my mind, I can see that this competition is going to benefit everyone… except probably the manipulators and lobbyist. Transparency and mass-participation are getting powerful tools!

I’m confident that the difficult challenges with technology will be solved as the masses put these technologies to use in regular tasks at work and in social contexts — to support their work and improve their lives. The developments in Wave and Vine definitely encourage sharing of knowledge and co-creation. Thus promoting crowdsourcing as a means of value-creation and innovation. I revisted the Harvard Business review article “Disruptive innovation for social change” by Clayton Christensen that I blogged here.

I am reminded once again that disruption is continuous — happening as we speak; that there is no such thing as a revolution, just rapid evolution.

Posted in crowdsourcing, innovation, knowledge sharing, transparency | Leave a comment

Microblogging or blogging

Just not had enough time to blog — with so much happening on different fronts. I suspect my posts in the future will be something between micro-blogging and long blogposts. My Twitter feed can fill in the blanks (see right-hand-side column of this blog for Twitter updates).

As I make yet another attempt to scope a research proposal on the Digital Society, I am drawn by Larry Lessig’s work and highlight two articles (1) lecture on new media is great because of great content on a relevant theme (2) post on citizen-funding vs public-funding. I find both these posts relevant for the discussion around “deep democracy” — one where the grassroots are more involved; and where the role of a societal infrastruture is critical.

“Us Now” the film on grassroots democracy had a global webcast last week. The film touched on many topics, the most fascinating was about Ebbfleets United football club where owners can actually choose the team before each match. Interesting use of technology from MyFootball club. Hopefully the message of the film spreads to all corners of the world. What would be cool, is if the film could be sub-titled in a crowdsourced manner. (My tweet).

Just learned that Shashi Tharoor (ex under Secretary General of the UN) has won his seat in the Indian parliament. Last week he wrote and interesting article on the nature of “soft power”. Definitely worth the read. The next few months in Indian politics look to be very interesting!

Posted in business models, crowdsourcing, societal digital infrastructure | Leave a comment

We need more critical thinking

The glut of information and social networking tools is not exactly strengthening our ability for critical thinking. On the contrary. Unfortunately it is often being exploited by bigots who continue to play on humans’ base instincts and polarize rather than clarify.

This post came to be as I was preparing an email note to my good friend Tommy Fernandes. What started as a conversation over a nice dinner has continued by email. It centered around the lack of critical journalism to bring key issues to the foreground. I think that when discussing any issue today there are 3 forces we need to deal with:

  1. high inherent complexity of the subject matter
  2. increased volume of information and
  3. Lack of time and/or knowledge

The combination of these forces makes it difficult for us (citizens) to relate to real issues. We need to rethink how we consume information and we must work to raise our standards and those of the media institutions we have. Not everyone can be an analyst, and hence we must push our elected officials to promote transparency and inclusion, so that we (who they represent) can make better decisions. We must not allow them to induce (artificial) complexity in the issues, that confuses.

Technology can help by providing easy-to-use tools for search, structure and visualization – but it can never replace context and critical thinking. I recall my January post on Nicholas Carr’s article and my comments on EPIC and am happy to post a link to an updated version of EPIC (for 2015)

More than ever before, our increasingly digitalised society needs critical thinking!!

Posted in search, social responsibility, transparency, visualization | 2 Comments

Digitization of health care services

New Your times reported that Walmart is out there, marketing solutions for electronic health care records. What? That was exactly my reaction! Could the distribution strategy using Dell + eClinicalWorks trigger a tsunami for interoperability and standardization? I gues only time will tell.

But, the cat is out of the bag since the move signifies commoditisation and hopefully the much needed standardisation of information interchange. The next move is to expect these systems to “talk” seamlessly to Microsoft HealthVault and Google Health so that my doctor can actually syndicate data about me to my personal site, powered by HealthVault. HealthVault will not be run by Microsoft, but by the health care providers (but powered by Microsoft technology).

The Obama stimulus package can actually stimulate better services as a side effect. Now, I wonder when this type of services would arrive here in Norway? Today, I still have to look at the screen on my doctors PC to see the medication he prescribed or the results of the tests he has conducted….. and then I need to go to the hospital to see the records they have of me there.. and then to the Emergency ward to see what they have on me. I’m sure you get the get the picture.

I hope Walmart’s strategy succeeds (I do not own any Walmart shares). Its just that we may then be able to see some creative services emerging.

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“Us Now” and participative democracy

Us Now is definitely a film to watch for those of us interested in the way grassroots movements are exploiting collaborative technologies. Director Ivo Gomley has manged to capture many aspects and examples in the documentary. Also thanks to Sermo for making this happen.

After nearly 4 years of blogging on the topic of the Digital Society — often times meandering out on to my technology-jaunts — I have for the first time got a sense of this phenomenon — Society 2.0 or “deep democracy” — taking root. I could hardly contain my excitement watching the different examples. Was also busy tweeting to capture my thoughts for later blogging (some tweets in Norwegian).

The debate that followed the screening was not really a debate — the speakers were more or less in agreement on most issues. Which is just fine. We got some “confirmation to proceed”; what is needed now is to sustain the level of discussion and find ways to uncover the real issues in making Society 2.0 happen. The general election in Sept this year is very tempting to try out some ideas to get the issue up on the table. Anyone out there with ideas?

In earlier posts, I talked about the need to get law-makers and businesses to get together. Watching the film today, I am convinced we must hurry if we are to give ourselves time to evolve our societies and influence the global world order over the next 10-20 years. I would like to see a multi-discplinary think-tank (TT) formed; comprising political scientists, social scientists, computer scientists and business organisations to name a few players. This TT should take no more than 6-9 months to propose a long-term approach (say 4-5 years) to revise some laws and policies for eg in areas like education, healthcare, civil law, welfare and employment. Make changes that are more favourable to this “deep democracy” we want to happen. This will not be a revolution, but a very fast evolution.

In earlier posts I talked about Norway as a test-bed for creating services for the digital world. I’m not quite sure right now. It appears that maybe Norway does not have “enough pain” to want to stretch itself to experiment with participative decision-making. I guess the old adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” holds true. However, I’m not giving up the thought completely. Two areas I’d love to see more work is in Education adn Health care.

Watch this space…

Posted in collaboration, innovation, societal digital infrastructure | Leave a comment

Society 2.0?

Over the last few weeks I have been revisiting the role of entertainment and new media technology in the context of the digital society and I am struck by how far we have come in creating virtual arenas. Not just to entertain but also educate and engage through simulation and virtual reality technologies. Gaming technologies are growing in leaps and bounds, so is information visualisation; as we look for better ways to manage the deluge of information.

We are pushing the development in technology but also in policy and business and, in doing so, creating this digital experience that impacts all aspects of our society and all walks of life. Our challenge, however, is to ensure it reaches all levels of society, particularly those at the bottom-of-the-pyramid.

In my very first post to this blog, I mentioned I wanted to avoid the term Society 2.0, as I was sceptical to terms with 2.0 suffixes. However, on further reflection I sense that we are witnessing a rapid transformation of societal behaviour. And clichés like global village and John Lennon’s Imagine suddenly show potential to have real representations. The possibility to create a “new version” of our society is very real. A society developed by principles of “consumer-citizen”-centered design and increased self-determination. A society where democracy changes from shallow to deep, where the notion of representation is challenged. We still have a long way ahead and a lot of hard work along — but quite reachable.

Which is why I’m excited about the “Us Now” documentary that will be screened in Oslo next week (link in Norwegian)– and the panel session that follows the screening. I see it as the debate of the digital society entering the mainstream. Financial Times did an interesting review (link) of the film that sets the context for what “Us Now” represents. Good to note that it is less about technology and more about policy and society. And I hope the balance and interdependency between policy, technology and business is brought out during this session.

In some ways, my sense of excitement is tinged with a sense of apprehension. To see how this event pans out – will it be relegated to the yawns and hype? or will it energize to raise the discussion to a new level of debate. Will it raise awareness for the pressing need to study and examine the phenomenon closer – so we can better manage this transformation.

For now: I’m just hopeful of meeting like-minded individuals who may be able to progress the discussion to a level of seriousness that the topic really deserves.

Posted in business models, consumerisation of IT, social responsibility, transparency | Leave a comment

Googlezon and robotic journalism

I just read Nicholas Carr’s note on the Web-Wikipedia-Google connection. It got me thinking about the way society in general perceives content from the Web as the sole truth (I too quote from Wikipedia, mainly definitions). The line of thinking in Carr’s article got me digging into my mailbox for an email I wrote to friends on the EPIC video made by Matt Thomson and Robin Sloan.

Well, Googlezon is not here …. at least not as yet. However, since publishing the EPIC video, we have seen the rise of Facebook and the Huffington Post, YouTube is now a Google company and Amazon and Google are priming their products and services for cloud computing. The technology building blocks are taking shape (see my comments on Chrome and Web 2.0) and media ownership is changing rapidly. EPIC could be a reality pretty soon.

I’m hopeful that, as a society, we will push back the homogenisation and group-think that technology brings — but it will not come easily. Developing our sense of critical thinking will be crucial. Besides, will our politicans and lawmakers resist the temptation to quote irresponsibly? We must evolve the governance structures of the hierarchical, atom-world to also address the networked, bit-world.
Sure, its not going to come easily and its definitely not going to be done overnight. Patience and diligence needed.
PS! Unless Britannica can be as easy to use as Wikipedia, I’m afraid Wikipedia will still be the preferred source of quotes. I tried quoting from Britannica for this article and it was far from easy.
Posted in cloud computing, collaboration, knowledge sharing, transparency | 2 Comments

SaaS and HaaS

The blogosphere is alive with Microsoft’s patent (link) for pay-as-you-go hardware services. There are a number of patents being filed and awarded and Microsoft has its fair share. What makes this different? I have two thoughts on this event relevance and the innovation process.

Relevance – Microsoft is a software ecosystem company (Cusamano of MIT calls it a platform company – which I feel is a narrow definition). Microsoft has built a formidable partner network that it depends on. So this patent appears to be more of a message to their partners (and the market) that the entire ecosystem needs to be renewed to take part in the software-as-a-service (SaaS) wave. It is interesting, that hardware vendors that are factored into the SaaS equation., as hardware players are often times ignored when discussing the SaaS wave. Could this spark a wave of more cloud-infrastructure providers? and not just the likes of Amazon and Google? Providers who would be enticed to provide SaaS platforms like Azure which was launched earlier this year. I recall Microsoft attempting a pay-as-you-go subscription model for its enterprise software sometime in 2002-2003. The model and the billing engine was in place but not rolled out. I guess CIOs were not quite ready to budget for software as a billed service – it was just too unpredictable. But, maybe now that PUPM (“per user per month”) is commonplace, CIOs maybe more willing to discuss this. It will be interesting to see how Green IT, the economic downturn and other events and marketing hype shape this developement.

Innovation process – Microsoft has been a great follower and superb software business operator but not often considered as an innovator. I do not wish to debate what constitutes innovation and what does not, however I believe that innovation in product companies (eg Apple) is different from platform companies (Cisco) and is different from ecosystem companies (Microsoft). And that Microsoft is not doing enough to innovate. However, what is interesting about this patent is that Microsoft filed for patent in June 2007, and would have probably have been working on it for at least a year before that – and must have battled for at least a few months before that to secure funding. So we are talking about an “idea to patent” cycle of 2-3 years. And the hard part is still to come – to make the idea viable and pay off! There are many questions that need to be answered like how to secure intellectual property rights, how to fund open innovation, how to capitalise on investments in research and my favourite – how do we calibrate or overhaul our education system so that we can think and act “glocal“.

The next year is going to show us many examples of innovations in the SaaS space. I believe this will drive service-based businesses to greater heights. Programming the web is getting real. And consumer/citizen-centered design will be the dominant way to create services.

Happy new year!

Posted in business models, cloud computing, education, innovation | Leave a comment

On demonstrators and innovation

In earlier posts, I talked about Norway as a test-bed for developing services in a digital society (my first public statement on this topic was at the First Tuesday network event in Oslo, May 2006 where I presented contexts for digital services).

In an attempt to understand more about this vision of “citizen-centred design”, I decided to conduct “small experiments” that could serve as demonstrators and learning arenas. Using services in Norway as a departure point was both practical and necessary to create of these demonstrators. And as expected, making the journey from ideation to practice called for floating timelines, simplified definitions and results – basically adjusting to the constraints of reality. (I kept my day-job but stretched my free time to the limit – and honestly nothing would have happened if my wife and sons had not “allowed me” to spends endless hours in the blogosphere).

Anyway, let me summarize these last two years by sharing 3 interesting “demonstrators” that have given me invaluable experience and insight in citizen-centred service design (see origins). Hopefully, creating a better understanding of consumer/citizen-centred design. For the short term, as we move into the eye of the storm of economic downturn, I am convinced that the role of citizen-consumer-centricity is not only a good thing but is critical for businesses to emerge from the storm successfully. The three demonstrators are:

Healthcare insurance for retired teachers – A demonstrator inspired by the concept of social insurance as a basic right for residents of Norway and the undeveloped insurance market in India that had opened up for foreign direct investment. Targeting teaching and non-teaching staff (including retired staff) from my childhood school in Mumbai and leveraging the global network of school alumni as micro-philanthropists this idea demonstrates the benefits for staff (afford basic healthcare that poor salaries / pension would not cover), school (create a caring place to work), alumni (giving back to the institution), insurers (innovation in user-designed insurance products) and society (inspiration that a caring glocal society can work). After two terms of successful fundraising, one can see that the concept has merit. And that there is hard work ahead – to make this repeatable and viral. Also makes the case for a much needed societal digital infrastructure. Others who want to replicate this idea can read more here. See also this link.

Rural electrification – solar-powered computer room – Regions that should have been able exploit solar energy, are unable to do so due to the lack of infrastructure and investment – but even more so due to the lack of knowledge and incentives on making this possible. Watching the efforts of the Norwegian solar energy businesses like REC, led to a small project that provided a school in rural Maharashtra, India with an uninterrupted power supply to power the computer room. The solution is “service-oriented” in that it is delivered as a turnkey project including 1-year of on-site service. The added dimension to “service-orientation” is growing the potential to develop skills of local resources as means of livelihood and hopefully grass-roots innovation. Teaming with Tommy Fernandes of Insite International, a solar energy advisor here in Norway, who also financed the solution; school administrators in Talasari district, a supplier in Rajasthan India and my alumni network in Mumbai this demonstrator aims to provide a concrete solution and to increase knowledge and the potential for more win-win-win-win arrangements. For the investor, a working concept that can help close deals; for the school administrator, increased self-sufficiency and a better understanding of the potential of solar energy; for the supplier, a cost-effective means to reach to smaller markets and for the alumni (opportunity to give back and create business ideas). A HOWTO whitepaper is available if interested.

Learning platforms for hyperlinked education networks – With my technical background it was not long before I was involved in the efforts at my children’s school here in Norway — in adopting an ICT-based learning platform. That was 5 years ago; the platform (Fronter) links schools in a creative manner allowing for the creation of “horizontal learning networks” and ability to do school work “virtually”. I visualized students and teachers of the 8th grade of Linderud skole in Oslo collaborating on a school assignment with the 8th grade of my childhood school in Mumbai! Together with Fronter we are working with two schools in Mumbai in a collaborative pilot as they try out the Fronter learning platform and explore the potential of horizontal learning networks. As my school prepares to celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2013, I hope we will have created a learning mesh to support collaborative learning. This is very much an on-going project with benefits for teacher (save time and build a community of practice for teachers), school administrators (easier admin and create a creative place to teach), alumni (give back creatively as mentors to students and teachers), parents (participate in the learning experience and follow progress), government (increase the reach to rural areas) – and most importantly for students (a learner-centric experience that prepares him/her for a world of collaborative work).

So, where is Norway as a test-bed? Well, last week 10th Dec, Fronter was sold to the Pearson Group. My first reaction was yanbga “yet-another-Norwegian-business-gone-abroad” — and initial concern, but Roger Larsen, the energetic and visionary co-founder is a keen supporter of this learning experiment. Fronter has used Norway as a test-bed ever since they started in 1998 – and through a lot of hard work and determination now provide a learning platform for all public schools in the Nordic captial cities and London (about 3000 schools, colleges and univesities). And have become the 2nd largest player in the world in the learning platform market. 10 years on and in a move to take on the huge emerging markets like India, China etc they have teamed up with a learning content provider to increase the “service content”. Companies like Trolltech and FAST were acquired by Nokia and Microsoft respectively, presumably to reach a global market.

However, I am not convinced that selling out is the only way to “go global” – I believe there is a lot to gain in an alliance-based model. This is even more relevant in these days of the cloud. Some pertinent questions: how does one sell and price cloud-based services? how should cloud-based business operate? how should governments support (and tax) cloud-based businesses? As “the cloud” drives the shape and nature of the multi-polar world we must think differently. Businesses and national agencies should think creatively to create incentives to drive business activity “glocally”, knowing that some or all of business will inevitably end up “on the cloud” — for the global marketplace. A lot of research to conduct and a lot to learn for all of us in this rapidly shrinking world – to be creative to retain the unique in our small societies while still being part of the global society – unity in diversity.

I wish us the best for a reflective, relaxed and fun-filled Christmas break. And for peace and success in our endeavours in 2009!

Posted in business models, citizens' portal, cloud computing, education, sustainability | Leave a comment

Actively participating in society

The events of the last few days in Mumbai – the city of my birth – has brought terror to me in a manner most chilling. Terror has reached my doorstep! I do not live in Mumbai, however my wife and I have our parents and siblings and loads of friends who live there. I visit Mumbai every year and exactly 4 months ago I was dining at the Cafe Leopold and at the Taj hotel.

I am still numbed by the magnitude of the events and trying to balance sadness with anger while trying to think constructively as to what we can do to move ahead. The blogsphere is alive with posts, tweets, and groups on Facebook. People are voicing their apprehensions and giving advice.

But how does one control a heterogenous crowd of 19 million people? Even if, hypothetically, one were to restrict freedom and curtail the openness of Mumbai, it is a difficult task! Difficult but not impossble, if we think creatively and honestly.

I believe the answer lies in citizens getting more involved in how Mumbai is run and how the country is run. How? by getting involved in civic matters in your local environment. Why? To start some place small! To build trust! and to address issues that creates a sense of community. A community that is solution-focused and transcends boundaries of religion and social strata. Why? To understand how to share the responsibility with the authorities in creating a good place to live. This simple involvement will create an understanding of challenges and generate practical solutions. Those solutions will infect others and you will be infected by others. And then as the picture of the issues and potential solutions gets sharper; you can support politicians to make democracy work “for the people and by the people” on your terms. Your involvement will have created a sense of transparency and can be used to challenge politicians who are reluctant to change.

With what? Use social networking technologies like http://www.mysociety.org/ to create tools to make this work. Impossible? No! 2 years ago people dismissed claims that Barack Obama could be the next US president. With his roots in communty service, he has managed to galvanize millions to work for change. So lets start now and hopefully in two years we will have reached a milestone in creating a transparent society. A caring and just society. One that is proactive and bonded. One that destroys corruption.

Where to start? Begin by identifying the local politicians and what their promises were and what their responsibilities are. Confront them with this. Use the Right to Information Act and use social networking technology. Educate at the school-level! Educate at the ALM-level? Create networks with diaspora Mumbaikars! Grow at the grassroots! Leverage alumni networks and other action groups. Use this vast human resource that India prides itself with. Get involved!

A society that is transparent and proactive will never allow terrorists to operate in peace.

Comments please!

Posted in citizens' portal, social responsibility, transparency | Leave a comment