Monday, December 19, 2005

Consolidation can lead to consumer wins

It seems like the frenzy over AOL has finally ended with exclusive deals with Google and AOL. This isn't quite like the Googlezon as predicted in EPIC 2014 (and EPIC 2015)but it certainly bears watching.

Indeed, Wired has a recent article on Who's Afraid of Google? Everyone. Sure, much of this is probably competition, some likely has to jealousy...but suffice to say the landscape has changed dramatically from just a few years back.

I have no idea what the future holds, but as more companies like Microsoft introduce services like to better compete against Google, ultimately it seems that the end user wins. As more folks find tools that help amplify their voice, the better. As more folks find others with similar ideas, the better. The challenge will always be how do you balance empowerment, self-selection, community and a vibrant marketplace/diversity of ideas and voices?

Not ready for prime time -- wikipedia

Every once in a while -- I have to remember -- not everyone is online as much as I am. Lots of folks do not know the difference between a wiki and a blog. Likewise, many do not see what the fuss about podcasts and RSS is all about. By and large, these incredible tools still seem to be in the early adopter phase.

Sure, mainstream journalism is talking about this stuff a lot more. Go to any website for a major metro paper and you're likely to find some reference to a blog, feed, or even podcasts. Still doesn't mean the average person gets it, or knows what to do with it.

A prime example of this would be the whole hoopla over Wikipedia and the JFK assasination. To recap briefly, there was a prank done on wikipedia related to the JFK assassination. No one let the person indicted in the prank in on the joke, and they responded with an Op-Ed to the USA Today. Much controversy arose, many wrote about it, even Nature got into the fray.

This whole fuss reminds me of a previous post on wikis. Currently, it seems that wikis are best used in certain circumstances with the right expectations from all users/consumers. The LA Times experiment was a prime example of what can go wrong with a wiki, while Esquire seemed to do all right. Additionally, the whole Seigenthaler issue seems to be one of not really understanding what a wiki is, or can be.

Until a *much* broader segment of the users on the web understand what any of this stuff (wikis, blogs, etc) can do, I would not be surprised if more flare-ups such as this one occur again.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Bowling Alone no more?

This may be a bit of a stretch regarding what most consider to be "technology” but it does relate to community and game play.

I was recently in a Barnes and Noble or Borders the other day and I was surprised to see an inordinate amount of games for sale alongside the best sellers. Sure, finding books on poker, crosswords and sudoku are to be expected, but actual board games such as Age of Empires or World of Warcraft (games that are traditionally computer / internet based games)? Not only that, but there were a lot of niche board games that I would only expect to read about on All of this was rather unexpected. Of course, favorites such as Monoploy and Scrabble were readily found.

Maybe it's my naivety, or maybe it's been a long time since I set foot in a bookstore like that, but regardless, I think this is a good thing. Games are no doubt close to my heart -- perhaps more so after working with the casual game community for several years. There's something quite wonderful abut challenging oneself (in terms of things like crosswords and sudoku) and also about playing with others in games like chess, Monopoly or whatever.

A few years ago, Robert Putnam wrote about the decline of social capital in Bowling Alone. I don't know what the recent statistics are for bowling, but if the amount of games sold in stores is any indication, I would think that Putnam was wrong.

Monday, December 05, 2005

changing workforce demographics

As baby boomers begin to retire, and those in Gen Y enter the workforce, a whole variety of issues can manifest in the office. A few weeks ago, the USA Today did a story on Gen Y in the workforce. More recently, Business Week is getting into the game.

Loosely related, this reminds me of a recent conversation with a friend of mine who's worked with youth over the years. She discussed the ever changing role of tech -- how email is not too efficient in reaching youth, but IM and mobile phone use was. Also, we talked about some new studies looking at how people use their thumbs. For example, did you know that there's been studies showing that people are now favoring their thumbs when ringing a doorbell?

Seems to me that to really look at how tech and community intersect, I need to focus on what is going on with those still in middle school. (note to self, read Ito's research on mobile culture) Though they are already a force to be reckoned with, watch out when they take the international work/political/social world by storm.

out of the ordinary

I've been thinking about this topic for a bit -- this notion of surprise, and how what is unplanned can be a good thing in terms of community.

My first example would be at MindCamp and the lack of internet access. Though it was billed and planned as having a mesh network, things didn't work out as planned at first. Partly due to tech, partly due to lack of nodes in the mesh network, there just wasn't any connection at first. Though this did seem to put a hamper on things, I would argue that this fostered community because 1) people were forced to focus on the topics at hand 2) people had to interact with one another 3) you had an instant ice breaker of "gee, it sucks that there's no internet" 3a) shared, common experience. Apparently, others also believed the lack of access to the internet to be a good thing as evidenced by some feedback here on the wiki.

Another example of how the unexpected can be a good thing would be what happens in Seattle when it snows. First, it rarely snows, and if it does, it rarely sticks around. So it is not that surprising that people in this city get all "weird" when it comes to snow. For days the top news story was the snow. This overall weirdness though, is somewhat unique though. At work last week when it snowed, the focus of everyone in the office was elsewhere. People worried about how to get home, some had to get their kids from school, others looked in awe at the big fluffy flakes falling from the sky. Regardless of how individuals reacted, there was this overall giddiness in the office. Likewise, it seemed that there was this sense of wonder for all experiencing the snow. Just a few years ago when it did snow heavily and stay, the city of Seattle literally shut down. Hills turned into ski slopes. Neighborhood restaurants never looked so packed. The place down the corner from me turned into a ski chalet, offering free hot chocolate to those braving the weather.

In both scenarios, this notion of surprise and shared experience seems key in terms of bringing people together. It seems to shake people momentarily from their day to day routine, and we are all then able to look at the world with a sense of wonder, possibility and play.