Gilmore of the eponymous law

~ A few times now I’ve referred to Gilmore’s Law and wanted to share a bit more about its author. John Gilmore is one of the true mavericks of the internet, and he is a self described entrepreneur and civil libertarian. His ideas are further out on the edge than most, but I think our society needs people who question and push the boundaries.

On his website under the heading “Things I’ve Said (That People Sometimes Remember)” he discusses what has come to be termed Gilmore’s Law:

“The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.”
— John Gilmore, 1993

It has been popularised as a law by Mark Pesce who has discussed it in a number of places, for example in Understanding Gilmore’s Law.

And as Gilmore says:

This was quoted in Time Magazine’s December 6, 1993 article “First Nation in Cyberspace”, by Philip Elmer-DeWitt. It’s been reprinted hundreds or thousands of times since then, including the NY Times on January 15, 1996, Scientific American of October 2000, and CACM 39(7):13.

In its original form, it meant that the Usenet software (which moves messages around in discussion newsgroups) was resistant to censorship because, if a node drops certain messages because it doesn’t like their subject, the messages find their way past that node anyway by some other route. This is also a reference to the packet-routing protocols that the Internet uses to direct packets around any broken wires or fiber connections or routers. (They don’t redirect around selective censorship, but they do recover if an entire node is shut down to censor it.)

The meaning of the phrase has grown through the years. Internet users have proven it time after time, by personally and publicly replicating information that is threatened with destruction or censorship. If you now consider the Net to be not only the wires and machines, but the people and their social structures who use the machines, it is more true than ever. “

Some of the other things Gilmore has started include:

No matter what one might think of Gilmore’s politics and activism it is worth remembering his leadership in some fundamentals that we take for granted with the internet. His ongoing battles over personal freedom are fascinating to read about on his website.

On our way to a networked society.

In an earlier generation all computer networks were for business or the military. That is, they were point-to-point connections between large organisations and were vastly expensive to setup and run. But the invention of TCP/IP and the modern internet changed all that. Now networks are between ordinary people using simple and easy to operate equipment (like their mobile phones or netbooks).

And now as we move from the society of the book into a networked society there are some important influences working to shape the future.

Amplification is important in that it enables ordinary people’s opinions to have reach via social networks (like Twitter or Facebook). In the past I could stand in Sydney amongst my friends at the pub and complain about a bookstore moving certain kinds of books to a dark corner in the back of the store. And nobody but the people at the pub, or perhaps a few of their friends, heard about it. But when Amazon recently did the same thing with gay and lesbian books, social networks around the world went crazy with the news. Suddenly an ordinary person can have the same kind of reach which was previously possible only through mass media.

Amplification is working together with each of the other items under discussion here. Each item amplifies and is amplified by the others. This is systems theory in action, with feedback loops driving change. Thus, with the recent Amazon problem, mainstream broadcast media picked up the issue from the social networks, amplified it, and fed it back into the social networks.

Many people misunderstand the nature of communities that are developing now. Simply because the communities that are growing are mediated by technology does mean that are not genuine communities. I am fascinated by the number of groups of people who’ve met online via Twitter and have subsequently formed real life relationships, such as attending trivia nights together, attending music festivals, or various kinds of tweetups. For example: STUB, MTUB, PTUB, BTUB, CTUB demonstrate this kind of crossover of online relationships into daily life (here’s some pictures of a recent tweetup in Sydney).

There are also some ‘laws’ that are useful in thinking about the development of a networked society. That is not to take these as legislative imperatives but rather as heuristics to inform our thinking.

Metcalfe’s Law is helpful, not because it is necessarily directly applicable as originally proposed back in 1980. It is helpful because it gets us thinking about how networks create new relationships, and how those relationships can amplify the power of the network. Metcalfe was considering small hardware networks and posited that “the value of a network increases proportionately with the square of the number of its devices”. The principle that a network (even a social one) can grow exponentially depends upon a number of variables. These variables would include things like actions taken or affinities developed or destroyed by members of the network, since unlike devices, people can act of their own volition. These social networks create feedback loops and amplify both positive and negative effects across the primary network, and even reach out into other loosely connected networks.

Gilmore’s Law is also very useful in thinking about the growth of a networked society. The funny thing is that people often mistake modern networks as being only about the technology. But this is not the sum total of our modern networks. Instead a network’s value is in the real human beings with substantive relationships. The technology merely mediates the relationship. Since it is about relationships between people, blockages in the network that impact upon those relationships are perceived as an organic threat. People don’t like to have their relationships interrupted. And when there is some kind of blockage in the technology that mediates those relationships then the people will find ways to route around it. Thus even political interference in the network will merely be interpreted as damage to relationship management channels.

The degree of connectedness available to us in a networked society is far higher than at any time since most of us lived in small villages. And, more than anything else, the networked society seems to be like a village. But more on that another time.

Telstra IT transformation woes

I was about to write some more about the networked society but this article by Michael Sainsbury caught my eye: Telstra trauma as tranformation costs mount.

This is a sad, but all to common, tale of a large organisation that desperately needs to update its core systems, and to integrate the various acquisitions over the years into a single system. And, like most telco disasters, this one is centred around a billing system, which necessarily also includes customer information management systems. It is getting hard to keep count of the billing system disasters that unfold with monotonous regularity.

For Telstra the problem is a myriad of different systems billing and customer management systems that have evolved or been acquired over many years. The goal is to get them all onto a single system to achieve vast savings and make it easier to move staff around without retraining them. Some of my sources have told hilarious stories of the arcane, arbitrary  and mysterious nature of some of the billing systems over the years.

Mr Trujillo appears to have trod the road followed by so many previous leaders of large companies:

  1. announce large and expensive transformative IT program;
  2. bring in a bunch of consultants to run it;
  3. sideline the internal staff who have a clue about some of the actual challenges in implementing such an ambitious program;
  4. completely underestimate the scale and complexity of the task embarked upon;
  5. not chunk up delivery into bite sized pieces so that failures and problems are minimised in their impact;
  6. fail to understand the appropriate level of governance required to ensure effective delivery;
  7. and, resign and leave the country before the program is completed.

According to Sainsbury, the essential next phase of any large enterprise project disaster is already underway – i.e. run for cover and blame people who’ve left for the entire problem:

The Australian understands a number of the candidates are now trying to distance themselves from Mr Trujillo’s management-consultant-led program and have highlighted a range of areas in which the transformation is over budget, over time and not meeting its targets.

This is not a problem to be taken lightly for one of Australia’s most significant corporations. The impact of this program’s failure will translate into pain for shareholders, as Sainsbury notes:

The biggest problem for the company is the IT overhaul, the centrepiece of which is a problematic new billing and customer service platform.

It is now well behind schedule and over budget … and this will delay Mr Trujillo’s promise of improved earnings.

It is very frustrating to see the same drama played out over and over again in different companies. It is especially exasperating when there exists an enormous body of knowledge about how to run successful projects. It’s always worth checking out Michael Krigsman on the topic of IT project failures and how to avoid them.

From society of the book to a networked society

Neerav Bhatt did an interesting post about Encyclopedia Britannica, saying:

Organisations in the information industry such as Book Publishers and Libraries would do well to learn from Encyclopedia Britannica’s precipitous fall from grace. Formerly a powerful company that could demand and receive large payments for access to it’s storehouse of human knowledge, it’s now been reduced to near irrelevancy and suffers the ignoble fate of being sold by discount clearance stores. — Neerav Bhatt

It is very easy to sit here in 2009 and critique Encyclopedia Britannica’s decisions with 20/20 hindsight. But it is a difficult situation for a business when:

  1. the world you inhabit has been stable & profitable for a very long time, and your product has worked very well in that environment;
  2. then quite quickly the very thing that has made your product valuable (i.e. fact checked and professionally researched articles delivered in hard copy volumes) is no longer valued in the same way as previously.

Few organisations seem able to develop metrics that help them to detect seismic shifts in the competitive landscape. An interesting parallel is the iPhone & all the other mobile phone manufacturers. The entire playing field has shifted from the simple mobile phone to a converged mobile computing/music/video device and the other manufacturers are scrabbling to catch up.

The problem for Encyclopedia Britannica was that they were in the middle of a genuine paradigm shift (in the Kuhnian sense) and that they did not realise it (nor did many of us back in those days). This is the shift from a society of the book to a networked society. We are still only at the beginning of this shift and Encyclopedia Britannica was an early casualty.

The shift from a society of the book to the networked society has been made possible by the emergence of the internet and its continued evolution.

What do I mean by this? In the past we had the book as a unit of collected information. It was revolutionary! A book was easy to share with others and to transport anywhere. Knowledge that was once transmitted by one person to another orally could be translated into a book and shared with many. Nor did the author need to be physically present to transmit their ideas. It was only necessary that the audience become literate for books to revolutionise the world. The power of the book is evident in the Protestant Reformation and the various European revolutions of the nineteenth and early twentieth century.

But the problem with books is that to merge ideas from two texts it is necessary to create a new book. However, with the internet and HTML we moved from the unitary texts to hypertexts. With web 1.0 many us whiled away hours surfing the hyperlinks to find new information and find things we’d never know existed before. With the current phase of the web (sometimes called web 2.0), we have moved beyond textual linking to linking people, information, groups and applications. And the next generation of the web, sometimes called the semantic web, will enable networking to be taken even further. This is sometimes referred to as the internet of things, and it will enable us to connect people, places and things.

It is this growth of networks that will create a networked society.  And it is one of the reasons why Twitter is such an interesting example of how these network based technologies can be a force for social change.  Unlike Facebook, which is all about people we already know, Twitter is about people we don’t know yet.  An important part of this change is the ability to recreate a village like set of relationships that are not constrained by physical co-location.  These social networks give us the ability to experience non-localised proximity with other people.  They extend our reach from those physically nearby to anywhere in the world.

When we put this all together with the democratisation of technology that has accompanied web 2.0 then it is the beginning of a shift in societal relations akin to the printing press. I wonder where it will take us?

possum – magic – lithe

These are the words I threw out to David Niall Wilson when he asked for three words upon which he could base a poem.

Many others responded too and the results of his three word poems are here. There is not enough poetry in the modern world so it is great to see a good writer turning his hand to verse.

But the one he wrote for my words is:

There are magic places hidden deeper
Within the forest glens than you should go,
Cloaked by vines, and brush, and clinging creeper
Where nothing craving sunlight’s kiss can grow.
You’ll see the temptress in her shadow gown,
Wink and dance to steal your tender heart.
Her face is fair, her dark hair, soft as down,
Her dance a black seduction from the start.
Do not be fooled, avoid her lovely gaze,
The lithe and mesmerizing way she moves,
She promises the world, but means to raze,
Your soul, and trample you beneath her hooves
The wolf and bear and cougar lick her feet
The rabbit, possum, mole, and you? Her treat.

— David Niall Wilson

Remembering The Lost Uncles

Photographer: Leading Aircraftman Rodney Welch

I commend this video by Nick Hodge to you this ANZAC Day. Nick talks about the people side of war and how he has tracked down some of his family history about WWI and WWII using online resources.  This is a different perspective to a lot of what we hear regarding ANZAC Day – a really personal perspective.

Just to put the lost uncles in perspective, Australia’s population in 1914 was 4,948,990; Australian war deaths in WWI were 61,511; and total enlistments were 416,809.

It is interesting to consider that these deaths did not just impact the individual who died. Many women were deprived of husbands and potential husbands and this had a flow on effect on society. Families were deprived of brothers and uncles. In addition, the returned servicemen suffered from post traumatic stress, which was unrecognised at the time, but it impacted family life and society for many years.

Nick also talks about Sir John Monash a little as well.

ANZAC 2009 – remembering Monash

They shall grow not old,
As we that are left grow old,
Age shall not weary them,
Nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun,
And in the morning
We will remember them.
— Laurence Binyon

Australia and our ANZAC history has produced many amazing characters, but General Sir John Monash is one of my favourites.  Sadly he is little known to many in our day and I’m taking the opportunity to remember him this ANZAC Day 2009.

Australian’s tend to love the stories of underdogs who triumph over adversity. Monash is an archetypal Australian underdog success story and he overcame many barriers to achieve that success.

Of Jewish background, he was born in Melbourne 1865 and he died in October 1931. He was dux of his high school and became an engineer with a successful business in Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania between from 1894 to 1914. His business went bust in 1902 and he built it back up from scratch. At the same time he served in the Citizen Military Forces (nowadays called the Army Reserve).

He rose through the ranks in the reserves and in 1913 Colonel Monash took command of the 13th Infantry Brigade. At the outbreak of World War I he was given command of the AIF 4th Infantry Brigade and landed at Gallipoli on 26 April 1915. Later that year he was promoted to brigadier. It is worth noting that reservists were not always highly regarded by the regular military, and he constantly battled that stigma.

After the failure at Gallipoli and during the carnage on the Western Front Monash came to believe that the Allied tactics were futile, saying:

“… the true role of infantry was not to expend itself upon heroic physical effort, not to wither away under merciless machine-gun fire, not to impale itself on hostile bayonets, but on the contrary, to advance under the maximum possible protection of the maximum possible array of mechanical resources, in the form of guns, machine-guns, tanks, mortars and aeroplanes; to advance with as little impediment as possible; to be relieved as far as possible of the obligation to fight their way forward.”

In mid 1918 Monash was promoted to lieutenant general and took command of the Australian Corps on the Western Front. Under his command the battle of Hamel came to be considered a “perfect battle”. Monash was knighted as a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath by King George V on 12 August 1918, and it was the first time in about 200 years that a British monarch had thus honoured a commander on the battlefield.

He remained in command through the last months of the war. He was an innovative leader who earned high praise from many leading political and military figures. But he also had a very modern appreciation for good publicity, and as a result he was criticised for allegedly exaggerating Australian achievements.

He stood up for the Australian troops – whose casual appearance did not sit well with the British – saying:

“not lip service, nor obsequious homage to superiors, nor servile observance of forms and customs…the Australian army is proof that individualism is the best and not the worst foundation upon which to build up collective discipline”

This is the kind of idea that we still talk about in Australia today, especially in the social web area.

After the disgusting losses on the Western Front, for example in the Somme in 1916, it must have been refreshing to have someone with a different perspective. Although, I suspect his approaches were not welcome in some quarters. His ideas about not wasting human life on futile attacks, and using good planning and strategy to define and execute attacks made a real difference. Some people consider Monash to have been the Father of Blitzkreig (which is kind of ironic given his German origins).

A lot of his ideas and approaches have a very modern feel. For example I have always liked his idea that:

“The main thing is always to have a plan; if it is not the best plan, it is at least better than no plan at all.”

After his return from the First World War Monash remained active in public life. He represented returned soldiers and provided advice on military and engineering matters. He was also active in Jewish affairs. Monash was Vice-Chancellor of the University of Melbourne from 1923. But the passion of his final years was the building of the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne, which was a challenge due to the impact of the Great Depression on fundraising.

Upon his death in 1931 Sir John Monash was given a State funeral and an estimated 250 000 mourners came to pay their respects. Monash University in Melbourne was named after him in 1958.

An example of how he was viewed by other military folks is Field Marshal Montgomery (commander of the British army during the Second World War had been a junior officer in the First World War) and he wrote of Monash:

“I would name Sir John Monash as the best general on the western front in Europe.”

Women in IT Sunday Brunch May 10

One of the social events that are part of the Connecting Up 09 conference is a Women in IT Brunch at which Jody Mahoney (Vice President, Business Development, at the Anita Borg Foundation) is the guest speaker.

For the uninitiated, the Anita Borg Institute was founded in 1997 by renowned computer scientist Anita Borg, Ph.D. (1949-2003). The Anita Borg Institute seeks to:

  • increase the impact of women on all aspects of technology, and
  • increase the positive impact of technology on the world’s women.

Cost for the brunch is $65 and it is at 10.30 am on  Sunday 10th May 2009 at Brighton Le Sands – registration form is here (opens pdf).  Any queries call : +61 2 9280 3677

Connection – desire and distaste

A buddy, Iggy Pintado, has just published a book called Connection Generation which talks about how connection determines our place in society and business.

It’s an interesting idea and ties in nicely to my idea that the new digital divide is not between age cohorts, nor is it between the geeks and others. Rather the new digital divide is about our willingness to be connected.

The digital divide is not really about access to technology any more, except possibly for the poorest in our society. And, with the growth in social networking and the ease with which ordinary people can use it, individuals are now confronting a choice about how connected they really want to be.

People who have avoided any consideration about how connected they are to friends, family and businesses are now being forced to confront this issue.

Changes in technology, like the iPhone, are driving this change in people’s behaviour.  But still we are seeing people of every age choosing not to connect with social networks, mobile phones, email or the internet.  While others are embracing this new connectedness and integrating it into their lives.

Are you part of the connected generation? Check out this Facebook application if you want to find what kind of connector you are.

A really big question is what impact does the degree of connection an individual chooses have on their personal or professional lives? How will our desire or distaste for being connected determine our future?

BTW: I know Facebook has gone mainstream because my Auntie Doreen sent me a friend request earlier today.

Social media for business

Let’s look at a few facts about the world today from a social computing perspective. Social computing has gone mainstream. When you consider the sheer number of people who are actively participating in social media and social networking every day it is no longer the early adopter. When your grandparents start doing something it is probably

Google handles over 235 million searches a day

If your business wants to be found this is the new yellow pages

Twitter hits 5 billion tweets
45-54 year olds are the top demographic followed closely by 25-34 year olds
US site visits per month > 260 million
More than 24 million people in US alone visit per month

Twitter is the new home of breaking news & buzz

Facebook growing by over 700,000 users a day
30 million users update their statuses at least once each day
900 million photos are uploaded to the site
1 billion pieces of content (web links, news stories, blog posts, notes, photos, etc.) are shared each week each month

I think it’s time to call this one mainstream

A mere recitation of facts is not very interesting. But the facts remain, social computing has become mainstream and we need to work out how to incorporate it effectively into our business planning and marketing.

The traditional marketing model – a monologue comprising TV advertisements, print advertisements and a series of promotions – is breaking down before our eyes.

In its place something else is evolving, I’m not sure what it is, but I am sure that it socially oriented and based on dialogue.

The old marketing model was based on monologue and it was hard to both talk or listen to customers. Communication tended to be expensive and somewhat unreliable in its returns. We used fairly primitive proxies to obtain feedback from customers, such as focus groups and surveys. None was terribly effective.

Now with social channels we can obtain immediate and direct feedback. With the right technology we can track behaviour from the call to action all the way through to purchase and beyond.

The new saviour for all of us is to be the Cluetrain with its two way conversational model that is going to be cheaper, faster, better. But I’m still not so sure about this being possible unless we build it into our business plans and into the way we use these social channels.