Thursday, June 30, 2005

Audio Feeds from Gnomedex

image of Gnomedex stage (by Rex Hammock)

Here are a few of the interesting talks from Gnomedex:

- Dave Winer Keynote (MP3 download, thanks
- Microsoft RSS Announcement (MP3)
- Gillmor Gang Podcast (MP3 download, Steve Gillmor with Dave Winer, Adam Curry, Dean Hachamovitch, Doug Kay, and Dan Gillmor)
- Adam Curry DSC-200 Podcast (WMV streaming video coverage!, thanks to Lockergnome blogger Matt Hartley, also available as MP3 from

Also, here's the Microsoft press release that explains what their new RSS strategy is all about. A blog has been created to track Microsoft's RSS extensions. The Channel 9 Site, an unofficial channel for MS developers, has a Wiki on Longhorn RSS.

And, if you want to get a touchy feely sense about what made Gnomedex the tech event of the year, read Frank Barnako's review on

[updated 20050702]

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Earth Shook at Gnomedex

Well, California was shaking last week (from numerous earthquakes). But the podcast world shook at Gnomedex in Seattle this past weekend. For one thing, Microsoft announced that RSS is going to be built into IE 7 and future versions of its operating systems, starting with the long-awaited Longhorn release. In fact, IE 7 was shown for the first time at Gnomedex.

A couple other things happened while I was away in California. The US Supreme Court decided a landmark case on file sharing, siding with MGM against Grokster and Streamcast. I certainly applaud protection of intellectual property, and I see the decision as fairly rational behaviour that will give entertainment companies more confidence to embrace digital media distribution. It's certainly not the end of P2P, although companies like Bit Torrent may end up in court, required to show that piracy is not their intent. I think it's going to increase the number of bands producing podsafe music.

The other thing that happened is that Apple iTunes v4.9 began shipping. This version supports podcast subscriptions. Disney, ESPN and ABC News are listed among thousands of content providers. Apple can probably be relieved at the outcome of the Grokster case - they will face less competition from P2P.

The subscription model of content access looks to be on a very fast growth curve.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Open Source is a Business Process

Free software is highly visible, but it is in fact only one example of a much broader social-economic phenomenon. Yochai Benkler suggests that what we are seeing is the broad and deep emergence of a new, third mode of production in the digitally networked environment. He calls this mode "commons-based peer-production," to distinguish it from the property- and contract-based models of firms and markets. Its central characteristic is that groups of individuals successfully collaborate on large-scale projects following a diverse cluster of motivational drives and social signals, rather than either market prices or managerial commands.

Recommended to me by Simon Phipps.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish

I'm still floating on air after a few days together with Steve Wozniak, Simon Phipps, Steve Gillmor and Mike Hawley. And they were all talking about Steve Jobs' Commencement Address at Stanford on 14 June. The transcript is worth reading.

A 'Snow Crash Moment' at the iX Conference

Every IT conference I've attended comes with a 'snowcrash moment' - one where a particular meme jumps from a latent to active state. I call it that because it reminds me of a Java Object being passed up for presentation to some remote user, or like data crossing from one avatar to another during a 'hypercard' exchange, or like a virus moving from metaverse to physical reality in Neil Stephensen's landmark cyberpunk novel Snow Crash.

This year's iX 2005 conference - an event I helped organize - was no different. For me it was while watching a presentation by Steve Gillmor that I realized vaguely that he was tense, petulant and somewhat evangelical in his presentation of the business opportunities inherent in podcasting. This is the same voice that Francis Coppola used to dramatic effect when promoting the 'electronic armature' of digital editing during his 'One From the Heart' period (in the early 80s, just after the 'Apocalypse Now' financial fiasco).

Gillmor postively resonated as a younger Francis and immediately re-connected me to the notion that podcasting is without a doubt a techy innovation but something that is quickly being pulled from the techies and placed into the mainstream. According to Technorati and other folks who track this stuff, podcasts are indeed going mainstream.

Reminiscent of talks I'd seen where Francis spoke so ardently about video editing on cheap betamax machines, Gillmor went on about the transformative power of having a Radio Shack studio in his shoulder bag. Sure reminded me of Silverfish.

Interior of Francis Coppola's Silverfish mobile production studio with Betamax editing tools.  Steve Gilllmor, talking podcasting at iX 2005 conference in Singapore.

According to the official website for Francis' studio, the Silverfish van was a first generation tool for transforming film production into something that was efficient, did not comromise quality, and yet was accessible to any creative person.

"The Silverfish shook up the traditional organizational structure of film production by enabling pre-production, production, and post-production to occur simultaneously. Recognizing the potential advantages of using videotape to record movie footage, the Silverfish was designed so that Coppola could review movie clips on video immediately after filming and use them to shape the next day's shooting."
But ultimately it wasn't Francis who drove the digital media revolution. It was George Lucas and his popular B-movie bankroll from Star Wars and Indiana Jones that funded so much R&D in digital media. It was Lucas's cool and calculated vision that gave us animatics, THX sound, Edit Droid (later Avid), RendermMan, motion control, digital compositing, and so much more.

So strongly did this idea resonate within me - that mainstream media is going to hijack podcasting for its own use - I spent the rest of the conference seeing Steve as a later day Francis Coppola. Francis has had a difficult professional life since the 80s but is still widely recognized as the first one to see beyond flatbed editing and into the electronic future where script, storyboard, dailies and final cut are all part of a digital continuum. Steve is certainly in the vanguard of podcasting now, but I wonder what the future holds.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

The Flynn Effect & The Pokemon Generation

There's an interesting article in the May issue of Wired entitled 'Dome Improvement', that explores how IQ scores seem to be going up around the world. The subject of the article, the so-called 'Flynn Effect', describes a newly observed phenomenon - average IQ scores in every industrialized country have been increasing steadily for decades.

Now I'm a bit of a push-over when it comes to blindingly simple explanations for complex phenomenon. Take for example the theory of metabolic ecology, which explains why when you correct for size and temperature, the metabolic rates of a hummingbird and a shark, or indeed a tomato plant and a tree are remarkably similar. The answer lies in a mathematical relationship between metabolism and body mass - called a quarter-power scaling law - that relates the fractal geometry of metabolic systems like lungs and blood vessels to the body mass of living things. I love that stuff. Guess I'm an Occam's razor kinda guy.

So when I read about the Flynn Effect, I had an 'aha moment'. What Flynn discovered is that every 4 years or so the standard IQ tests get redone, and that people who took the new test and retook the old test actually did better on the old test. When he enlarged the sample size and expanded it to cover tests given in a variety of countries over a 30 year period, he documented a trend that scores are increasing.

Now an IQ test is a kind of pattern recognition test. The most well-respected ones do not depend on language skills at all. So what would explain the improvement: genetics or environment? Are pattern recognition skills improving, and if so, why?

Most experts associate performance on IQ tests with genetic factors. They point out that twins living apart score closely, while different adopted children raised together do not show any relationship in their scores. But Flynn noted that small differences in genetic factors can often be 'amplified' by environmental factors. The example given is of a tall boy who is recruited for the high school basketball team, and eventually makes it to pro basketball. Here, a small genetic advantage is not enough to make him a great basketball player, but it is enough that environmental factors (eg- the attention of a good coach) conspire to groom him for a superlative capability in basketball.

His conclusion is that the wired world we live in requires us to become adept at pattern recognition, from learning to programme our VCR to learning to syncronize downloaded radio programmes to our iPods. I certainly agree with that. And he suggests that children with small advantages in visual acuity or motor response may not only be able to win at Pokemon, they may also be pushing the IQ average higher.

So, aside from the fact that I largely agree with Flynn's conclusion, I am excited at the potential of analyzing learning trends. An IQ test is the ultimate snap quiz (in the US every soldier is given the test upon induction), and yet we give it even more weight than an SAT in terms of determining success in life. Yet Flynn looked beyond the absolute value of an IQ test to its value as a trend-spotter when reviewed over a longer period of time.quiz handset allows students to respond to questions from the instructor

Suppose for example that students were given a quiz handset that they could use to answer questions presented by their instructor during every lecture. They would certainly be more engaged, and the instructor would be gathering metrics that he or she might use to spot trends. After all, the most significant challenge in teaching is to identify laggard students, so as to intervene early enough that support and remediation can be applied to pull laggards up to the level of the rest of the class.

Computerized classrooms have failed by almost any measure. Call it my simplistic approach, but I believe quiz handsets can help 'fast track' classrooms in ways that a desktop PC can't rival. Certainly they will provide us with continuous assessment metrics that are currently absent. And they are an engaging tool for the Pokemon generation.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Macromedia & Adobe Gunning for the Desktop

Macromedia has announced the 'Flash Platform', a complete system that includes everything you need to deliver rich content. Built on Java open source Eclipse (which is described as a kind of universal tool platform and an open extensible IDE), the new Flash Platform will encompass a range of authoring capabilities, effectively breaking out of the animation niche and plunging into the broader rich-media document space.

Flash Platform logo

The Flash Platform will provide developers and content authors with a universal client runtime, an openly published file format (SWF) specification, a programming model, development tools, dedicated server technology, integrated solutions, and the support of major systems integration partners, ISVs and OEMs.

It's been quite a week, starting with Apple's announcement that it would abandon IBM PowerPC architecture to embrace Intel's next generation chips. Analysts have been asking what it means (Apple's move that is), especially to Microsoft. The iTunes support for podcasts, and last week's announcement of XML as Microsoft's preferred document format have provided more puzzlers for pundits. It's easy to dismiss this Macromedia announcement as another me-too offering. But make no mistake, Macromedia and Adobe are keen to displace Microsoft's dominance on the desktop, and there seem to be a lot of tigers stalking Redmond these days.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Steve Jobs & Apple Boost Podcasting

In a landmark speech at the Annual Apple Developers Conference in San Francisco on 6 June, Steve Jobs had glowing praise for podcasting technology and the community of content developers pioneering with this new format. Keep in mind that there are now more than 10m iPods in use.

Jobs said: "iTunes goes with the iPod, and we just crossed 430m songs downloaded and played with the iPod and that is reflected in iTunes market share... it's now 82%. We recently announced something new for iTunes and iPod and it's called Podcasting. As you know the podcasting phenomenon is exploding right now."

"What is podcasting - it's been described in a lot of different ways. One way has been a Tivo for radio. You can download radio shows and listen to 'em on your computer and put 'em on your iPod, and listen to them anytime you want. Another way it's been described is Wayne's World for radio - which means that anyone, without much capital investment, can make a podcast, put it on a server, and get a worldwide audience for their radio show. And that's true too."

"We see it as the hottest thing going in radio, hotter than anything else in radio. And as you know, you can not only download shows and listen to them, you can subscribe to them. So that every time there's a new episode, it automatically gets downloaded to your computer, and it automatically gets sync'd to your iPod, the next time you dock. So it's very, very exciting."

"There are over 8,000 podcasts now and this is growing really, really fast. Now it's not just amateurs doing these things. The pros have realized that this is huge, and a list of just some of the companies doing podcasts now includes all the major radio broadcasters, the network broadcasters, major magazines, major newspapers, even major companies like Disney, Proctor & Gamble, Ford and General Motors. It's pretty exciting."

"And so what we're doing is we're gonna make this even easier, because you're not going to have to download other applications, and get all sorts of stuff together to make this happen. We're gonna build it [syndication] right into iTunes and iPod."

As Adam Curry is fond of pointing out, the 430m figure quoted by Jobs is just 2% of all music sales. So you can see the potential here - in just the music space alone, not to mention lectures, seminars, e-learning content, corporate communications, etc.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Opening the New SMU Campus with a Bang

The dean of Singapore Management University has graciously agreed to host a talk so that students can gain benefit from the wisdom of overseas speakers attending the iX 2005 conference. The format will be a panel discussion and the theme will be "Web 2.0: How XML and RSS are Transforming your Internet Experience".

It turns out that this will be the very first event at SMU's new campus, which I'm sure will help create visibility for the talk.

This is the beautiful new building for the IT school at SMU.  As you see, Singapore lives up to its hype as a tropical city of excellence.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Macromedia to make Flash into an Application Platform

Following the merger with Adobe, Macromedia is trying to enter the desktop application space, alongside a bunch of open source alternatives (eg- Open Office), but with Flash as the main data format. Today 550m PC's have Flash, and they can be updated in just weeks.

Flash runtime is going to be shared. A 'view source' option is going to be provided in web pages. Flash-based applications will be able to run on multiple platforms including desktop, phone, etc. There will be a new set of authoring tools, like document layout tools. Basically, Macromedia is challenging Microsoft on who owns the user interface.

You can learn more by listening to the first 15 minutes of this 1 hour podcast (which also analyzes Microsoft's XML announcement). Tomorrow watch for news in the public domain. For early news, check out CRN (Editor Mike Vizard is tracking this closely).

Sunday, June 05, 2005

A chat with Woz

I had a little chat with Steve Wozniak today. He's coming out for the iX 2005 conference, and I wanted to spend some time with him, explaining what content would work for our audience. But man, it's always erie speaking to Steve because it's like communicating with Thomas Edison in these sense of being in awe of the guy and his innovation capability. And we've known one another since college, so I'm not a groupee.

The conference will focus on Innovation: To Lead or to Follow. That's a huge issue for Asian IT companies. From the Japanese camera and watch companies after the war (WWII), to the Korean chaebols like Samsung today (chaebols are like Japanese keiretsu or zaibatsu), they always succeed first as fast followers. By the way if you are interested in Asian fast follower case studies, be sure to read the Wired article Seoul Machine. It's a fact that Asian companies are good followers, but Asian managers don't like to talk about reverse engineering or any of their follow fast strategies. Makes it kind of hard to organize a conference on the topic.

Steve had a great insight: ultimately technology products depend on math and science, and that Asians are great in math and science, so IT product development should be a natural. But that's not the same as innovation (of course we agree on this). It takes something unique to move from passion about a problem or technical challenge, to finding an innovative solution and then on to making it into a flourishing business. Asian companies do often start with an MBA and an IT graduate working together, but they don't usually start in garages... they're not wired for that.

It is said that in Singapore a lot of IT companies have their first experience with innovation when they go for a government grant. The folks giving the grant ask "what's the innovation" or "what IPR to you own". The so-called entrepreneurs come up with an innovation strategy as a result of needing to draft a grant application. It doesn't work, of course. Real innovation is inspired not cultivated.

There is a genuine debate in Singapore on the nature of creativity, in particular whether entrepreneurs are born or bred. This reflects the mentality of government agencies believing perhaps naively that creativity and innovation can be stimulated by grants or other incentives. Here's one quote from a recent lecture by our Minister Mentor Lee Kwan Yew (referring to an innovator he has known):

"Do we need more of him? Yes, I think we do. Will we have more of him? Yes, I
think we can. How? We change our mindsets, we change our educational approach,
we make venture capital available to fund such people with bright ideas. When
your venture capital, investing in California, out of 10, eight may fail, two
will succeed, then you make up for all your other failures, and that's
entrepreneurship. But it's not the same as services and industry. You have to
invent, innovate and do something which other people find useful and want and
pay for it."
He's certainly right about the formative role of the education system. As Guy Kawasaki pointed out on a visit to Singapore:

"The educational system has encouraged the society to learn and pick up
knowledge and facts but not necessarily to be creative, which is a key
factor in entrepreneurship."

I'd expect Steve to pick up on similar themes in his talk, since he shares my own interest in learning and the use of educational technology. This really comes across in his interview with Slashdot (posted first week of the millenium).

My discussion today with Steve turned to other matters. He said that Asian companies are not excellent in providing useable manuals or 'having the buttons in the right places', particularly in first generation products. Obviously, useability is something that Apple excels at, and always has. Steve bemoaned the lack of useability in Japanese cars and he compared them to their better-designed European counterparts (though if I recall correctly he once did a TV commercial for Toyota).

I asked him to speak about his recent inventions and his recent companies like Wheels of Zeus. Steve is truly a serial innovator, and it's this ability to apply his engineering passion to one problem after another that reminds me of Thomas Edison. It's a truth in the valley and indeed here in Singapore that the companies may come and go, but the people are the same bunch of folks.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Web 2.0

I work for Knowledge Platform, a small company based in Singapore. I have been asked by my company to track some emerging technologies around what is often called the 'rich media web'. As VP Media & Technology, I suppose that's to be expected. But it's a tall order, of course.

We're an elearning communications company, offering a range of services from elearning content development to digital media production services. Our typical medium of communication is Flash, but I myself am working with video - mostly Windows Media and MPEG1. All our output is for the web browser, and we typically deliver to corporate intranets or host the content on our own servers. But folks do still request CD-ROM versions.

I have been interested in XML and RSS for some time. Syndication seems to me to be as much a business model as it is a technology, and a scalable one at that. Podcasting is something that I became aware of a bit late, in January 2005, when Adam Curry and Dave Winer had already established the format for several months. I'd been following Dave's blog, but not closely enough I guess.

As one of the organizers for the iX 2005 conference happening in June here in Singapore, I began to look more closely at the podcasting space. The more I read, and the more podcasts I heard, I kept getting the feeling that RSS is fundamentally changing the way we access the Internet. And I noticed that commentators are beginning to refer to a new kind of web experience and business opportunity. The shorthand for this new web is the 'rich media web' or 'web 2.0'.

In fact, I just today learned that there's a big conference being organized for the fall in San Francisco, called Web 2.0. From the moderator (Wired's John Battelle) to the speakers Ray Ozzie (Groove), Bram Cohen (BitTorrent) and Mark Fletcher (bloglines), it looks to be a great conference.