How we blew up the economy

Thinking about banking, finance, the web and innovation in general at the moment and came across this rather fine explanatioin of the credit crisis from Jonathan Jarvis, an artist. If you’ve got ten minutes and want for once and for all to understand how we got into this mess, then have a watch…


The Crisis of Credit Visualized from Jonathan Jarvis on Vimeo.
Via Free Exchange

Welcome to Mars: electronica/documentary hybrid

Image: Cover of the Welcome to Mars soundtrack CD
Image: Cover of the Welcome to Mars soundtrack CD

One of my favourite things that I have – at least digitally – is a podcast series in twelve parts called Welcome to Mars. A work of pure genius, it combines a series of unscripted monologues by Ken Hollings with some giddying, insanely inspired synth music by Simon James.

It says it is about “the fantasy of science at the beginning of the American Century”. That doesn’t tell the half of it…

Let me list the reasons I love it:

  • American history: First off the history is facinating, and I’m a sucker for 20th century history. It’s a stroll, and then a scamper and lurk in the shadows of the post-World War II period, the beginning of the “Amercian Century” as some call it. We hear about the industrial-military complex’s evolution, the growth of suburbia, paranoia about Sputnik. These are all things I’ve heard about them before, studied at university in fact, but Hollings presents them afresh, in a new, very odd context. He brings alive the uncertainty and fear that charcterised those times, when it is tempting to see the advance of the United States as a confident march into the space age future that never came…
  • Weird coincidences and neo-conspiracies: Hollings throws you off-guard by connecting dates, people, organisations in ways you weren’t expecting. OK, we’re familiar with Levittowns and consumer culture, by what’s Alastair Crowley doing in the mix trying to score acid in the 50s? He never wanders in loonyville conspiracy theorising, but you feel spooked nonetheless. It reminds me of James Ellroy’s last two books American Tabloid and The Cold Six Thousand, which deal with, respectively, the period before and after the Kennedy assassination. Even though there may be some artistic licence at work, the most unsettling facts, and the overall mood, are utterly authentic.
  • Retro Sci Fi: There’s always something delicious – and insightful – about the past’s visions of the future. This is about my Father’s – even my Grandfathers’, though I’m not sure wither of them had a taste for it –  science fiction, the 40s, 50s. The times when, even over here in the UK, there was such a strong confidence in the momentum of the space technology that a Navy officer would predict that the children he was speaking to might one day command star-ships in Her Majesty’s Galactic Fleet.
  • It’s unlike anything else I’ve ever heard: It’s not a history exactly, but it’s far from fiction. This a compelling piece of musing, provocation, art. I have had it on my iPod since last Autumn and I keep going back to it when I’m in the right mood. I listen to it on my own, often when I’m travelling, as it has a great distracting, cocooning quality to it. It feels like this is a new, hybrid art-form that works peculiarly well as a podcast. And, er, did I mention it was free?
  • Insanely good electronic music: Yeah, Simon James is a genius. The music, evocative of Sci Fi films of the period adds so, so much to the experience. As well as playing as background to Hollings’ monologue, there are interludes that are amazing to listen to in their own right. And, ad fans out there will appreciate the spooky re-mixes of 40s and 50s ads for American consumer products.

So there you go. If you want to try it yourself, it’s free to get the Welcome to Mars podcast. You can also check out The Simonsound Simon James’s website, buy the soundtrack and Ken Hollings‘s blog for more related wonderfulness.

Image: The Simonsound's album cover makes use of retro space age images
Image: The Simonsound's album cover makes use of retro space age images

A very useful site: Communities and Networks Connection

Me brain is hungry. I’m going through one of those exciting phases where I’m reading more-than-average amounts of RSS and rooting around my networks for fresh ideas, new energy, directions.

The other day I was delighted to find the digital ethnography class’s collaboration space. Now today I’ve come across a new aggregator, bringing together posts from a group of bloggers about networks and communities.

It’s called Communities & Networks Connection and it looks like this…

communities-and-networks-connection

If you are interested in networks and the like, I recommend a visit. The blog-roll alone is worth the visit and I saw three posts immediately that were useful and set off interesting trains of thought…

Via Patti Anklam.

Reminder: you’re always (potentially) on the record online

Image: The NUJ's website - inadvertently blowing the whistle on itself?
Image: The NUJ's website - inadvertently blowing the whistle on itself?

It pays to be a little paranoid about emails, IMs and the likes sometimes – about not saying things in them you wouldn’t like repeated elsewhere. Especially when it comes to matters professional and commercial…

When Adam Tinworth voiced his anger at the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) and its attitude to social media in a post on his blog, I’m sure he expected officials there to read it. I’m sure he even expected the lively discussion that followed in the comments section of his blog.

Analysis of the links that were sending traffic to this post gave an insight into the NUJ‘s reaction to the piece in a rather unexpected way. One link in particular he decoded as being from an email at the NUJ that must have been headlined “Effing Blogs”.

No problems with attitudes to social media there. Sounds very open minded.

Despite years of leaks, gaffes and slip-ups involving emails, voice mails, Tweets and IMs, people don’t seem to get it. So, once more, for the record:

You’re always (maybe) on the record online.

Best to act that way.

Don’t be distracted by the Facebook climbdown “victory” – big issues remain

I wrote yesterday on the iCrossing UK blog some thoughts about the Facebook decision to revert to its old Terms of Sevice (TOS) in the face of a user revolt.

M’learned iCrossing NYC colleague Alisa is on the warpath over the Facebook Terms of Sevice (TOS) debacle. Seems she’s on to something, and I’m listening closely:

Some people have claimed that user data on Facebook is worthless (silly people). I recently wrote a post for Mashable on how Facebook could build a revenue model by essentially selling even anonymized user data. Silicon Alley Insider then posted about this same idea. Commenters to the SA post clearly didn’t get that what they view as “useless” or frivolous Facebook data is in fact extremely rich and valuable trend data– worth a lot of money to marketers, government entities, and private enterprises.

Its the value of our data that incenses me so much over the current Facebook TOS hub-bub. Its not enough to say “Facebook doesn’t own your data” when the license we grant them is so wholly encompassing so as to allow full usage of user data as if they did own it.

The FB-TOS debacle dominated the top of the Techmeme news/blog aggregator yesterday, showing that this was issue number one for the digerati. From Perez Hilton to Pete Cashmore, everyone had a view.

Now it’s tucked down at the bottom of the page, with a couple of posts which have a users-force-Facebook-volte-face sort of flavour.

Was reverting to the old TOS is just legerdemain, misdirection on a grand scale? If so it hasn’t worked. This is an issue which has hit the mainstream, much more so than the Beacon advertising issue of a year ago, and many people have a niggling doubt in their minds about Facebook and their data.

It’s good to see the BBC continuing to look closely at the issue in its coverage. According to its man in Silicon Valley law suits were being prepared by privacy activists against Facebook at the moment that it decided to revert it its old TOS.

It’s made me think more about the concerns Tom Hodgkinson voiced in his article for the Guardian – one of its most popular articles ever, I believe – about Facebook’s suitability as the keeper of so much of our most private data.

How to set up a nice simple group collaboration space

A nice piece of social media literacy here from Dr. Michael Weschand, a cultural anthropologist focused on digital, and his group at Kansas State University.

Everyone in the class (Mediated Cultures: Digital Ethnography) has their own blogs, all of which are aggregated into a single feed. This sits on a Netvibes page alongside RSS feeds of other useful data for the teaching staff and students, like the course calendar (from Google Calendar), bookmarks (from Diigo, a bookmarking service I’d not looked at yet), Wiki edits and a comments feed.

Image: The Mediated Cultures Netvibes page
Image: The Mediated Cultures Netvibes page

It looks like a great simple approach for any group collaborating on a project. Must increase my own literacy and start working more like this!

The other amazing thing is, of course, that we can all watch their work live on the Netvibes page. Which makes me feel better about the fact that even remotely I wouldn’t be able to fit in a course like this for a couple of years…

Upload to Facebook = donate your content to Facebook?

perez
Image: Perez say NO!

* * UPDATE: Check out my NYC colleague, Alisa’s analysis of what the Terms and Conditions mean in Facebook: All Your Data Are Belong to Us…

Facebook’s new terms of service make it sound an awful lot like they own anything you put up there forever. Ulp!

Some think this may even have consequences for brands that upload content. Double ulp (on behalf of brands)!

While others, publicity shy as they are, are calling for a Facebook boycott.

Now Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO going on an, er, charm offensive:

In reality, we wouldn’t share your information in a way you wouldn’t want. The trust you place in us as a safe place to share information is the most important part of what makes Facebook work. Our goal is to build great products and to communicate clearly to help people share more information in this trusted environment….

…the interesting thing about this change in our terms is that it highlights the importance of these issues and their complexity. People want full ownership and control of their information so they can turn off access to it at any time. At the same time, people also want to be able to bring the information others have shared with them—like email addresses, phone numbers, photos and so on—to other services and grant those services access to those people’s information. These two positions are at odds with each other.

He says he’ll post more soon. Best had – this issue won’t go away…

Thanks to @tacanderson and @dirkthecow for points via Twitter…

Upload to Facebook = donate your content to Facebook?

perez
Image: Perez say NO!

* * UPDATE: Check out my NYC colleague, Alisa’s analysis of what the Terms and Conditions mean in Facebook: All Your Data Are Belong to Us…

Facebook’s new terms of service make it sound an awful lot like they own anything you put up there forever. Ulp!

Some think this may even have consequences for brands that upload content. Double ulp (on behalf of brands)!

While others, publicity shy as they are, are calling for a Facebook boycott.

Now Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO going on an, er, charm offensive:

In reality, we wouldn’t share your information in a way you wouldn’t want. The trust you place in us as a safe place to share information is the most important part of what makes Facebook work. Our goal is to build great products and to communicate clearly to help people share more information in this trusted environment….

…the interesting thing about this change in our terms is that it highlights the importance of these issues and their complexity. People want full ownership and control of their information so they can turn off access to it at any time. At the same time, people also want to be able to bring the information others have shared with them—like email addresses, phone numbers, photos and so on—to other services and grant those services access to those people’s information. These two positions are at odds with each other.

He says he’ll post more soon. Best had – this issue won’t go away…

Thanks to @tacanderson and @dirkthecow for points via Twitter…

Upload to Facebook = donate your content to Facebook?

perez
Image: Perez say NO!

* * UPDATE: Check out my NYC colleague, Alisa’s analysis of what the Terms and Conditions mean in Facebook: All Your Data Are Belong to Us…

Facebook’s new terms of service make it sound an awful lot like they own anything you put up there forever. Ulp!

Some think this may even have consequences for brands that upload content. Double ulp (on behalf of brands)!

While others, publicity shy as they are, are calling for a Facebook boycott.

Now Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO going on an, er, charm offensive:

In reality, we wouldn’t share your information in a way you wouldn’t want. The trust you place in us as a safe place to share information is the most important part of what makes Facebook work. Our goal is to build great products and to communicate clearly to help people share more information in this trusted environment….

…the interesting thing about this change in our terms is that it highlights the importance of these issues and their complexity. People want full ownership and control of their information so they can turn off access to it at any time. At the same time, people also want to be able to bring the information others have shared with them—like email addresses, phone numbers, photos and so on—to other services and grant those services access to those people’s information. These two positions are at odds with each other.

He says he’ll post more soon. Best had – this issue won’t go away…

Thanks to @tacanderson and @dirkthecow for points via Twitter…

Comrade Excel and the Glorious Five Year Plan

Image: Tragically, Zepplin trips were outside of Lenin's core value proposition
Image: Tragically, Zepplin trips were outside of Lenin's core value proposition

Spreadsheets aren’t strategy, as Umair Haque is fond of saying.

Turns out they can actually be quite dangerous, for the temptation they bring to reduce a business (a complex, human enterprise) to a set of numbers on a page. Even more dangerous when they trick us into thinking we can predict the future and call the extended line of equations based on assumptions facts. And then, once the “facts” are there, start getting upset when behaviours in your lovely bundle of corporate human potential don’t follow the script.

I loved this post yesterday by Mark Earls about how central planning was utterly discredited at a macroeconomic level (i.e. communism was a disaster) but at a micro-economic level (in our businesses) we persist with command and control approaches.

Mark  muses on an excellent article by Simon Caulkin in Sunday’s Observer called Inside Every Chief Exec There’s a Soviet Planner:

Does your CEO tell the shareholders (and the other stakeholders of the business) stuff like, “we’re not sure what’s going to happen….”? Probably not – certainty in what will happen and the plan to meet it are essential fictions of today’s CEO.

All of which leads to the bloating of the managerial classes in any large organisation

“Central planning imposes a huge co-ordination burden – which is why there is just so much management.”

Curious then, as Caulkin observes, that when coupled with a fervent commitment by the same folk to laisser faire macroeconomics, we get oh….a total mess.

I think I totally failed to post a comment yesterday, so here’s what I was going to say:

It seems such an obvious contradiction now, but we’ve indulged the spreadsheet fantasy of control and predictability in our companies. In fact, to be outside it is to be a heretic.
“What are your projections for Q-whatever, FY-blah?” are questions that seem to demand a suspension of disbelief by all involved.

I recommend standing to attention, staring straight ahead and appending the word “comrade” to the end of any response to such questions from now on. It’s the only sane response…

Large organisations need to plan, but plan in a more agile way. One Truth is a lie. A spread, a loose plotting of your possible courses, and some ideas about how you would react to different scenarios…

There are three things this all boils down to for me:

  1. Organisations aren’t machines.They are far more human and complicated than that. If you treat them like machines they will break.
  2. Don’t be trapped by your plan.  Spreadsheets, business plans – as with all innovations, tech, methods – should serve us, support human potential, not make servants of those gathered round them.
  3. Management is a burden. It needs to be kept light or it destroys value.

Otherwise you end up, Like Hugo Chavez and his cohorts here in this public examining of the accounts trying to work out how you went off-plan…

how-many-beans

And when the answer doesn’t match the spreadsheet…

it-cannot-be

Questions need to be asked. The spreadsheet can’t be wrong, so who is…

there-is-no-excuse

Oops.

Anyway, thanks to Mark for summing it up nicely like that. He and the ever-wonderful Johnnie Moore have put together a podcast yesterday on the same subject which I shall be listening to with great interest later…