OpenTech 2008

Just a reminder that the OpenTech call closes tomorrow, although we’ll probably leave the form up and working for a few days afterwards while we finalise the programme. So if you want to offer a talk at an informal, low cost one-day conference on technology, society and low-carbon living, featuring Open Source ways of working and technologies that anyone can have a go at, go for it.

posted: 30 Mar 2008

Some meandering thoughts on “The Vision Thing”

Amongst friends of a friend, there’s a conversation going on about “the vision thing” and how their (IT) industry has lost it’s way: original post, a reply, roundup.

Paul comments that most of the pitches he hears are derivative – but 95% of everything is crap, and you find a good pitch, generally you don’t have time to listen to any more. More so when you consider that there are so few new ideas, and most of them come from connecting across multiple disciplines, which very few people do.

Useful comes in phases. We need time to figure out how to use tools in new ways once they’re built, and also have a idea to use them for. YouTube has been around for 3 years now, but we’re still using it like “TV on the internet”. Granted, anyone can have a TV channel and you can embed it in web pages, but it’s still pretty much the same thing. YouTube has revolutionised media distribution, but it’s not revolutionised creation, and has probably done less than iMovie. The operative word being yet. All the bits that make the gmail interface be gmail existed for a number of years before gmail itself actually existed – what changed was simply someone putting them together in that way.

That’s not sexy or even necessarily new, And I’m pretty sure that the pitch for gmail would have sounded really dull. Until you actually used it. This site isn’t sexy, and probably wouldn’t have even taken that long to build – but think about the implications of being able to attach arbitrary points of video together. And you can go from and end up near

When anyone can shoot a video on a £50 camcorder, that’s a good reason for people who are capable of doing more being given the skills and tools to go further and use their talents, rather than be restrained by basic tools now. Over time, it will get opened to more as the barriers to entry are lowered. It’s easy to claim that anyone can do video, but not everyone can do it well (cf some youtube content). And the tools aren’t there yet on how to do that online, but give creative people a copy of final cut pro and magic can happen. They’ll bring the good ideas themselves, and overcome all sorts of hurdles to make it happen. Good ideas have a habit of fighting to get out (and sometimes they keep score).

There’s nowhere that yet integrates video seamlessly, rather than being a flashy site that says “we do video”. The fact that the definitional video site is youtube, rather than say, (or something that just uses youtube as a platform) says how far there is to go in something that could be considered good (although I’m aware the BBC are doing a redesign soon which might make this wrong overnight).

Think of the course that “DTP” took from the mid-80s to about 2000 when amateurs stopped having to care as the tools were good enough (and the professionals could get on with the interesting stuff rather than laying out a newsletter for cash). This progression takes time, and in the words of Rosabeth Moss Kanter, “everything looks like a failure in the middle”

In a post, Paul (who started this off) wrote:

Children who can’t afford shoes in Africa are given laptops so that they too can learn skills needed to write on a ‘Super FunWall’ and define the solidity of their friendships as nothing more than a button click

Working on a project with some friends, one person gave their reason for spending time on it as “because I want kids with a $100 laptop to find out why we’re bombing their country”.

If you want to see where you time is going (and you’re anything like me who does most stuff by email), look at the breakdown of email in your sent-mail folder. One good definition of who you are is what you spend your time doing. And there’s only one person who controls that (stolen from Tim Ferris, in a reference I can’t currently find).

posted: 30 Mar 2008