Weblogs and Publishing

Clay Shirky‘s distinctive voice on what weblogs really do to publishing:

The search for direct fees [by webloggers] is driven by the belief that, since weblogs make publishing easy, they should lower the barriers to becoming a professional writer. This assumption has it backwards, because mass professionalization is an oxymoron; a professional class implies a minority of members. The principal effect of weblogs is instead mass amateurization.

Mass amateurization is the web’s normal pattern. Travelocity doesn’t make everyone a travel agent. It undermines the value of being travel agent at all, by fixing the inefficiencies travel agents are paid to overcome one booking at a time. Weblogs fix the inefficiencies traditional publishers are paid to overcome one book at a time, and in a world where publishing is that efficient, it is no longer an activity worth paying for.

His conclusion: “The vast majority of weblogs are amateur and will stay amateur, because a medium where someone can publish globally for no cost is ideal for those who do it for the love of the thing. Rather than spawning a million micro-publishing empires, weblogs are becoming a vast and diffuse cocktail party, where most address not `the masses’ but a small circle of readers, usually friends and colleagues. This is mass amateurization, and it points to a world where participating in the conversation is its own reward.”

I am one of the “mass amateurs”. I write because I love to do, as Shirky put it, “participate in the conversation”. What I have seen over the past few months that I have been blogging is that (a) my reading now has a purpose – to share with others (b) my own thinking has become clearer (c) I have my own personal knowledge management system (d) the weblog has become a sort-of business card, helping me connect with people I would probably previously have never met.

RSS for News Reading

Writes San Jose Mercury News: “By fetching headlines and other content from the Web and dumping it onto a user’s desktop, news readers can dramatically limit needless Web surfing. From my desktop now, I can scan headlines and news summaries of dozens of sites simultaneously and then decide if I want to go to the site for more information. It’s a bit like scanning headlines at a row of sidewalk newsracks. But the difference is I’m not limited to mainstream news content. Virtually any Web site can be set up to feed information to news readers.”

A related story talks more about RSS feeds: “Developers are discovering new uses for the technology seemingly everyday. Yahoo is beta-testing a financial news feed. Web enthusiasts have recently figured out how to suck Amazon book titles and Google news headlines into news readers. And other developers are fiddling with ways to import calendar and weather content. Even government has discovered RSS as a way to share press releases, documents and data with the public and other bureaucrats.”

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Outlook, Exchange and Office

Two stories from News.com – the first talks about the enhancements to Outlook and Exchange, while the second is an interview with Jeff Raikes on MS-Office and the Tablet PC.

Writes News.com:

The PC version of Outlook will sport a new look, with Microsoft moving the window that previews the text of an e-mail from the bottom of the screen to the right-hand side. Another new feature is the ability to group e-mail based on when messages arrive. Outlook will also feature improvements in sorting mail, including new multicolored flags that people can use to determine each e-mail’s importance. Computer users can then put flagged e-mail in multiple folders in their inbox.

Microsoft said the future version of Outlook will automatically run in a “cache mode,” meaning a copy of contacts, schedules and e-mails will always be stored locally on users’ computers. The local copy on the PC will regularly sync up to the corporate network to ensure information is up to date, said Chris Baker of Microsoft.

The new version of Exchange and Outlook also compresses the data being sent back and forth between the computer and back-end server, Baker said. The two new features–compression and “cache mode”–reduce the workload on the back-end servers, allowing businesses to save money because they can support more people on each server, he said.

We need to track all these Microsoft applications because we provide their Linux alternatives in the form of Evolution, MailServ (which is our own solution) and OpenOffice to organisations.

Internet’s Scale-free topology

The Economist writes about the work done by Barabasi (author of “Linked”):

Scale-free topology is resistant to random failuresone reason the Internet, despite the lack of artifice in its design, has proved so reliable. On the other hand, because there are disproportionately many hubs (as well-connected routers are known), the net is particularly susceptible to deliberate attacks on those hubs, the sort of thing that cyberterrorists might attempt.

Already, understanding the net’s scale-free structure has led to new results. For example, it had long been thought that the best way to curb the spread of a computer virus was to change the software of machines on the net so that they were less easily infected. Studies using random graphs had shown that changing the software on more and more machines had a cumulative effect. That is not true in a scale-free setting. There, most software changes make no difference to the rate at which a virus spreads (although they obviously protect the machines in question). However, treating a relatively small number of hubs in a scale-free system can stamp viruses out completely.

TECH TALK: The Years That Were: History Lessons

That was then, and this is now. If there is one thing which is clear thinking about the past few years, it is this the future is unpredictable. At the same time, we have to make bets on the future. Therein lies the challenge for us. As we look back over the past decade, there are many bets which went wrong the network computer and broadband are two examples. Many star performers of the past have stumbled or even vanished. And some companies like Microsoft and IBM just go on and on, bruised a little, but never vanquished.

Even the smartest among us make mistakes. The key is to adapt quickly. Vision and Strategy are important, but so is the discipline of Execution. In the last two-and-a-half-years, many dotcoms have learnt the real art of running businesses. The ones who have put their heads down and focused on the basics of working towards being profitable are the survivors. Amazon, written off as dead more than once before, has managed to carve out a nice slice of the eCommerce business. On the other hand, Yahoo, who could do no wrong, faces questions about its future, even as it faces competition from a fast rising Google. EDS could do no wrong till a few weeks ago, and look whats happened now.

Business today requires a very wide-angle lens. There are many developments happening in different areas which can be disruptive. We have to track multiple technologies and be aware of what is happening in various countries. Whats happening in wireless in Japan and Korea could happen tomorrow in our country and if it does, then what are the new challenges and opportunities that will be created. Wireless LANs could be disruptive to 3G and the hundreds of billions of dollars bet by many telecom companies. A couple years ago, few could have imagined that the wireless future would be anything but 3G.

Newspapers, magazines and research reports are great at post-facto analysis. They too get caught up in the hype of whats the latest hot technology and move on. They are not prognosticators of tomorrow. As much, while we need to read them, we have to do our own thinking of the world that is being created and the impact different technologies will have. We need to expose ourselves to a wide variety of views but, at the end of the day, need to build our own vision of the future. There is no substitute for reading, thinking, talking to people (customers, friends and others) who are at the frontlines and writing. Writing (especially blogging) helps clarify thought and encourages others to provide feedback, enriching the thought process.

Past success is no guarantee for future success, and conversely, past failure does not mean history will repeat itself. Even though change may seem very incremental as we are living through it one day at a time, change is constant and relentless. When we are in thick of things, everything seems to take longer than we can imagine! It is only when one steps back and takes a macro, multi-year view that we realise how much technology has changed our lives and impacted the way we go about our regular activities. If there is one thing which the past points to, it is that the velocity of change going ahead is going to be even faster.

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