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Chromecast – Barbarians at the gate

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If you haven’t been living under a rock for the last five minutes (in Internet time), you probably know about Google’s Chromecast.

Chromecast is a $35 HDMI dongle that hangs off the back of your TV set.  It allows you to stream YouTube, Netflix, and just about anything you can view in your Chrome browser to your TV.  This is nothing new.  A modern TV with wireless can do the same thing.

I am not going to review the Chromecast – there are already hundreds or thousands of those.

But I am going to tell you what I thought about when I hooked mine up.


A television is an end device.  By this I mean that a traditional television set has been a specialized device that only certain content can appear on.  In the old days, about five or so years ago, you had to be someone special to get content to a television.  You had to be a “Network” (CBS, NBC, ABC, etc) or a cable provider delivering content such as AMC, CNN, CNBC, and so on.  To have content on a television, you had to have millions of dollars.  Development of television programs was done by professionals and it cost millions of dollars to produce and distribute.

The same was true with books.  In the old days, before self-publishing and easy global distribution on if you picked up a book you kinda knew that someone (the author(s)) probably spent a year of so researching and writing the content.    There was a tacit assumption of professionalism.  We had corporate entities called “publishers” that filtered the good from the bad.

What about radio?  The physical end device called a “radio” was like a television end device.  To be heard on a traditional radio station meant that you had hundreds of thousands of dollars and the value of the content was somehow commensurate with the cost of the broadcast capability.

Assembly of the Hordes

Anyone can offer an e-book on Amazon and get global distribution.  And anyone can put a video on YouTube and get global distribution.  If you listen to “radio” as Internet streams you know that anyone can be a broadcast radio station with global distribution.  The cost of the global distribution of content is approaching $0.

What has changed, is that there is no longer a vetting process for what we have traditionally understood as books, radio, and television – and lets add journalism to this as well.  The Wall Street Journal web site can appear in a tab in your browser next to any blogger on the Internet.


So when I hooked up the Chromecast to my television I knew that the Barbarians were at the gate.  My television end device is no longer a gatekeeper on the quality of content (with all respect to Newton Minow) and now a video of “a cat flushing a toilet” can appear on the same device as AMC’s Mad Men.

The Take

It may be an odd thing to say, but I think it’s true.  The traditional role of radio, television, and books was to serve as a coherent guideposts for the culture.  In a certain sense, before all this new media, we (the society and the culture) were “all on the same page”.  We all watched, listened to, and read the same limited variety of content on the television end device, the radio end device, and books and newspapers guarded by publishers distributed on paper.

But now, these “filters of coherency” have been breached by modern technology.  Content from everyone and everywhere washes over us like a tsunami on all devices.

With no gatekeepers there will be a chaos.  And in chaos, people wander aimlessly.

At $35, Chromecast has breached the walls of my television set.  The last bastion of protection is your own mind and decision-making.  There will be no “cats flushing a toilet’ on my television anytime soon.  Hope I can say the same about you when you hookup Chromecast to your TV.

Read More…

FCC Chairman Newton Minow 50 years later: a vaster wasteland


Written by frrl

September 29, 2013 at 5:51 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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What I learned about people, commitment, and quality from playing Zynga’s Words with Friends

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Social Games

There has been a spate of recent IPO‘s in the social space.  One of these is Zynga.  Zynga creates social games.  Zynga makes money by selling virtual goods and through advertising.  The Zynga stock at IPO was $10.  At the time of this writing, Zynga is trading below its IPO price. Zynga’s IPO raised about $1 Billion dollars.

So what’s the attraction of social games?  Well, I surely understand it – intellectually.  But what is the experience of it?

I thought I’d give Zynga games a try.  Zynga’s Words with Friends seemed to be my speed.  I tracked down an expert scrabble player from my social network.  I asked if she ever tried Words with Friends.  Well, she did.  And so we decided to play a few of the social games from Zynga.

The Play

When we started playing Words with Friends I was making quick moves to move the game along – experiencing the game, as was my intention.  My opponent beat me and she beat me by a lot of points.  We played another games – she beat me again.  So now it was not about “experiencing social games’.  It became something else.

There was an asymmetry in the game.  She was giving me a good game with some spectacular words in multiple dimensions.  I was not returning the favor.  That is, I was not matching her commitment to a good game,  So I changed my effort, and my commitment, and the level of play.  What were once quick moves with little consideration turned into extended studies of the board, the discovery of a strategy for play including planning the next and perhaps subsequent moves, and choosing the best option to play considering the alternate moves and point scores.

The validation

I didn’t learn anything new as much as I validated, in a very clear way, what I already knew and what I’ve observed in many corporate environments for many years.

Folks who have made it through the 1,000+ pages of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged may remember this exchange with Rearden, the creator of the strongest steel – Rearden metal.

You have judged every brick within this place by its value to the goal of making steel. Have you been as strict about the goal which your work and your steel are serving? What do you wish to achieve by giving your life to the making of steel? By what standard of value do you judge your days? For instance, why did you spend ten years of exacting effort to produce Rearden Metal?”

Rearden looked away, the slight, slumping movement of his shoulders like a sigh of release and disappointment. “If you have to ask that, then you wouldn’t understand.”

“If I told you that I understand it, but you don’t—would you throw me out of here?”
“I should have thrown you out of here anyway—so go ahead, tell me what you mean.”
“Are you proud of the rail of the John Galt Line?”
“Because it’s the best rail ever made.”
“Why did you make it?”
“In order to make money.”
“There were many easier ways to make money. Why did you choose the hardest?”
“You said it in your speech at Taggart’s wedding: in order to exchange my best effort for the best effort of others.”
“If that was your purpose, have you achieved it?”

“to exchange my best effort for the best effort of others.”

It’s interesting to observe teams.  The best teams develop a commitment to each other and this sort of commitment – “my best for your best”.  In the play of Words with Friends I surely got the idea that I was not doing my best to her best.  Of course, Words with Friends has some easy moves.  All you really need to do is form a legitimate word to send the game on its way.  But just forming any word will not win the game nor will it make the game interesting.  There is a direct analogy of this to teams of individuals working on projects.  Some give their best and some just do the least required to move the project along.  Those who do the least are often not embarrassed by their poor performance.

The Real Leadership Lessons from Steve Jobs

Walter Isaacson wrote an excellent book on the life of Steve Jobs.  It was published shortly after the death of Jobs.  Before Isaacson’s book there was “The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs“.  The reality of this is that there are no “secrets” of Innovation.  It’s not about secrets, it’s about choices among options that are clearly visible. As regards the leadership style of Steve Jobs and what made Apple so successful you don’t need to be a genius.  The genius has already been accomplished and demonstrated to the tune of more than $300B in Apple’s market capitalization.  What you need to discern are the choices that Apple (Steve Jobs) made that positioned Apple for its amazing success

Isaacson says as much in the April 2012 issue of Harvard Business Review.  The lead-in to  the special article on Jobs’s Leadership style is this… “Six months after Jobs’s death, the author of this best-selling biography identifies the practices that every CEO can try to emulate

The article lists 14 practices.  One of them is… “Tolerate Only “A” Players”

Jobs was famously  impatient , petulant, and tough with the people around him.  But his treatment of people, though not laudable, emanated from his desire for perfection and his desire to work with only the best.  It was his way  of preventing what he called “the bozo explosion,” in which managers are so polite that mediocre people feel comfortable sticking around..  “I don’t think I run roughshod over people,” he said, “but if something sucks I tell people to their face.  It’s my job to be honest,”  When I pressed him on whether he could have gotten the same results while being nicer, he said perhaps so.  “But it’s not who I am,” he said,  “Maybe there’s a better way – a gentleman’s club where we all wear ties and speak in this Brahmin language and velvet code words – but I don’ t know that way, because I am middle class from California”

The Take

Why do some people do their best and why do some people just go through the motions?  In Atlas Shrugged, Rearden wanted to make money – but he did it in the hardest way possible.  Why?  It really wasn’t only about the money, it was about the commitment to the exchange, in order to exchange my best effort for the best effort of others.  Money comes along for the ride just as Steve Jobs stressed by placing a priority of products over profits.  If you make insanely great products the profits will follow.

Does “my best for your best” exist only in an idealistic world that does not exist in reality?  In a sense, you need to create and maintain such a world.  This gets to Jobs’s leadership practice of “Tolerate Only A Players” to guard against what he called the “bozo explosion” of mediocre people.  Hire the best people in the world and maintain the culture by the disciple of straight talk and confronting people.

Perhaps social games are a stealth way to measure commitment.  These games are essentially meaningless.  The best people do the best they can no matter what it is.  And if you ask why perhaps the response from Rearden in Atlas Shrugged should suffice.  Rearden looked away, the slight, slumping movement of his shoulders like a sigh of release and disappointment. “If you have to ask that, then you wouldn’t understand.”

As far as investing in Zynga and the potential for monetizing social games… The jury is still out.  But in testing the experience of social games I was glad to get yet another confirmation that there are folks out there that always do their best – no matter what it is – and they can still take me along for the ride.

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Written by frrl

May 5, 2012 at 8:16 am

Content creators, aggregators and distributors: Forces Transforming the Content Landscape

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Bain recently issued a report associated the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2012 at Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, January 2012. In this issue of Bain Insights they write about the forces transforming the content landscape. Caught in the middle of this transformation are three types of businesses locked in both a synergy and competition.  They are: Content Creators, Content Aggregators, and Content Distributors.

As the Bain report puts it:

For content creators, aggregators and distributors, it is a time for concern as well as joy, as the landscape shifts beneath their feet. An innovation in one part of the ecosystem may reduce costs or improve the customer experience, but it might also disrupt a content creator’s business model, reduce an aggregator’s market share or diminish a distributor’s value proposition.

In this report, we profile the forces transforming the content landscape in which creators, aggregators and distributors interact with one another and with the consumer. These forces are fundamentally altering the content ecosystem with implications for users, businesses and policy professionals.

What caught my attention in Bain’s report is the section on the next level of Personalization. Companies are using technology and a number of sources to build a personal profile of you and then deliver “the most relevant content”.  Bain’s take on this is that it can rescue you from “data overload”.

Bain recognizes that micro-segmentation based on your personal habits (what sites you visit, what you search for, what you buy, what you post on Facebook, what you look at on Amazon, and probably a hundred more sources – it will only get better) may need to be balanced with a respect for privacy.

But what is not mentioned are the downsides of this “next level of personalization” or “over personalization”. You could call this aggressive personalization as “a reality of one” where content is so well “personalized” that you only see what you want to see.

The tension between protecting you from “data overload” and doing something that undermines society is well illustrated by two differing views by two men separated by 10o years of history.  One is John Dewey a philosopher and educator.  The other is Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google

Everything which bars freedom and fullness of communication sets up barriers that divide human beings into sects and cliques, into antagonistic sects and factions, and thereby undermines the democratic way of life – John Dewey

The technology will be so good it will be very hard for people to watch or consume something that has not in some sense been tailored for them – Eric Schmidt, Google CEO

You can read my previous posting here: A web for one.  The danger of agressive personalization

When a company or a government controls what you see and what you don’t see…

Read an article about Cass Sunstein, Choice Architecture, and White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs

When Nugde comes to Push and Shove

Below are a few snips from the Bain article. You can read the full content of the Bain report here

Personalisation: The next level

Key takeaways
• Consumers want relevant, personalised experiences that grab their attention and rescue them from data overload
• Companies are using micro-segmentation technologies to capture personal and contextual characteristics to create and deliver the most appropriate content
• Business operators, however, must delicately balance the consumer demand for personalised experiences with the need for respect and privacy of personal data

Key questions
• Content creators: To what extent do you let your audience dictate the direction of your content?
• Content aggregators: How do you balance personalisation with protection of each user’s privacy? To what degree must your process be transparent?
• Content distributors: How can you best incorporate micro-segmentation technologies when delivering customised content to users?

In conclusion…

Bain’s business is business.  And so they think about the changing business landscape and those challenges that are immediate – that is, personalization and the (immediate) tension with privacy.  But what they don’t think about (it’s not their mission or expertise) is the longer term effect on society.

Similar with McKinsey.  Do we really want management consultants messing with higher education ( read )?  In a McKinsey report they talk about “increasing productivity” of colleges and the reduction of “unnecessary credits”.  If the output of college is a well crafted cog to fit in the giant machine of business is that the same individual crafted for society?  Is cultural literacy an input to business – or is this an “uncessary credit”?

Bain, McKinsey, and Boston Consulting Group may be the biggest, baddest business strategy and management consultants on the block.  But beware. They tell only part of the story.  There is more to society and culture than the narrow-focused success of business enterprises.

Written by frrl

March 21, 2012 at 4:40 pm

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