Peripheral Vision

Steh Levine writes: “One of the great challenges of business in general and smaller, fast growing businesses in particular is figuring out the balance between near term focus and long term vision. While all companies become slaves to the calendar (striving for quarterly sales targets, specific product release dates, etc.) too many never look up to see where they are really headed…To borrow an analogy from mountain biking (sorry cycling season is in full force and it’s on my brain), companies need to be focused on where they are headed, as opposed to where they are, and use their peripheral vision to avoid current obstacles. In cycling you look up trail focusing not on what you’re riding over at the moment, but what you’re about to come upon (and by the time you’re there, you’re focused on the next thing). The faster you’re moving, the farther ahead you need to be looking (because it’s on you before you know it).”

Names

David Beisel writes: “From appearances, one of the most difficult decisions that a set of founders make about their early stage company is what to call the company and/or first product (often one in the same). The name game appears to be so difficult because, at the end of the day, the rationale for each choice is largely subjective. For this reason, the process often becomes one that antagonizes the company for too long. But it shouldnt be that way…I think the only rule that matters in a naming process is that founder(s) should listen to all advice but then absolutely trust their own gut as to what runs parallel to their vision.”

Usability Lessons

[via Rick Segal] Matt from Truition writes: “First, small changes can make a big difference. Not all small changes will result in a positive effect on a system, but well thought out changes can. In my case, upside-down coffee lids made a marked improvement on the overall coffee experience. The wood stir sticks were more effective too.”

TutorVista

The Economist profiles K Ganesh:

TutorVista further hammers home its labour-cost advantage through its pricing model. It offers unlimited tuition in a range of subjects for a subscription fee of $100 per month in America (and 50 a month in Britain, where the service launched earlier this year) rather than charging by the hour. Tutors are available around the clock; appointments can be made with only 12 hours’ notice.

It is too early to gauge the impact of the service on educational outcomes, says Mr Ganesh, but take-up is brisk. TutorVista has 2,200 paying subscribers at the moment (most of them in America) and hopes to boost that figure to 10,000 by the end of the year. The company is expected to become profitable in 2008. Even cheaper pricing packages are on the way. Launches of the service are planned for Australia and Canada. Mr Ganesh is also investigating the potential of offering tuition in English as a second language to students in South Korea, where high rates of broadband penetration make the market attractive. Get that right, and China looms as an even bigger prize.

Weakening Network Effects?

Rich Skrenta writes:

In an environment where travel is free and instantaneous, you get flash mobs.

If a place is cool, or new, or interesting, you go there to check it out.

A place might be interesting simply because there are a lot of other people there at the moment. We’re instinctively drawn towards crowds. “Why are all those people gathered over there? I’ll check it out too.”

A swarm of bees clumped on a particular tree branch doesn’t mean that the branch is some magical bee-place with a lock-in for centuries.

Sure, maybe they stay there.

Or maybe the bees move to a new hive.

TECH TALK: Good Books: The Ghost Map (Part 2)

Jason Kottke wrote in a review of the book on his blog:

The Ghost Map is a book about:
– a bacterium
– the human body
– a geographical map
– a man
– a working friendship
– a household
– a city government
– a neighborhood
– a waste management system1
– an epidemic
– a city
– human civilization

You hooked yet? Well, you should be. As the narrative unfolds around the 1854 London cholera epidemic, author Steven Johnson weaves all of these social, geographical, and biological structures/webs/networks into a scientific parable for the contemporary world. The book is at its best when it zooms among these different scales in a Powers of Ten-like fashion (something Johnson calls The Long Zoom), demonstrating the interplay between them: the way the geography of a neighborhood affected the spread of a virus, how ideas spreading within a social context are like an epidemic, or the comparison between the organism of the city and the geography of a bacterial colony within the human colon. None of this is surprising if you’ve read anything about emergence, complexity, or social scale invariance, but Johnson effectively demonstrates how tightly coupled the development of (as well as our understanding of) viral epidemics and large cities were across all of these scales.

The New York Times wrote in a review:

Theres a great story here, one of the signal episodes in the history of medical science, and Johnson recounts it well. It centers, figuratively and literally, on the infamous Broad Street pump. That pump, which was public, free and previously considered a safe source of drinking water, drew from a well beneath Golden Square, home to some of Londons poorest and most overcrowded people. In the last week of August 1854, many residents of Golden Square suddenly took sick and began dying. Their symptoms included upset stomach, vomiting, gut cramps, diarrhea and racking thirst. Whatever the cause, it was fast fast to kill (sometimes within 12 hours of onset) and fast in spreading to new victims. Hundreds of residents had been seized by the disease within a few hours of one another, in many cases entire families, left to tend for themselves in dark, suffocating rooms, Johnson writes. Seventy fatalities occurred in a 24-hour period, most within five square blocks, and hundreds more people were in danger. You could see the dead being wheeled down the street by the cartload.

Johnson goes beyond the immediate details of the 1854 epidemic to consider such related matters as the history of toilets, the upgrading of Londons sewer system, the importance of population density for a disease that travels in human excrement, and the positive as well as negative aspects of urbanization itself. Never before Victorian London, Johnson reminds us, had 2.4 million primates of any species lived together within a 30-mile perimeter.
By solving the cholera mystery, Johnson asserts, John Snow and Henry Whitehead helped make the world safe for big cities. And cities are where the action is (he really does use that phrase, alas), being centers of opportunity, tolerance, wealth creation, social networking, health, population control and creativity.

A final word from Fred Wilson:

Woven into the story is a textbook on cholera, microbes, biology, society, urbanization, epidemics, sewers and cesspools, and much more.

It is the way I love to learn. by stories that mean something as opposed to dry textbooks or lectures that put me to sleep.

If you are fascinated by technology and its impact on society, you should read this book.

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