Insight sector not immune: Gigaom closes

Several commentators have picked up the report that Gigaom and Gigaom Research have become insolvent and closed down.

I haven’t myself been a Gigaom user, even at the free subscription level, so no analysis of what went wrong. But Outsell re-linked the report from USA Today which, although it’s not from the tech press, is a fair summary in a few paragraphs of ths history of the company.

There are, it seems, no plans to file for bankruptcy protection or to re-launch. Gigaom’s tech content is still accessible on the website, but it’s not impossible this would be removed at quite short notice. Clients especially: review, and download!

Links:
• About Gigaom, Gigaom website, 9 Mar 2015
• Tech site Gigaom closes as creditors take over assets, USA Today, 9 Mar 2015

Location services move indoors: Apple’s iBeacon

An incidental headline in Outsell’s information market monitoring email brought my attention to Apple’s new iBeacon technology, announced last year.

We’ve long been used to the idea that the smart devices we carry around with us might/can detect nearby things of interest: for example, alerting us to an offer from a store nearby. Location services, based on GPS, on your current WiFi connection, or on triangulation from your mobile signal, do this. So can active RFID.

But indoor location is difficult. Current technology is an updated version of the old nautical dead reckoning. It notes where you are when you lose your accurate GPS/cellular/WiFi positioning, and uses motion sensors to track.

iBeacon is different. It’s a nearer-proximity application and is based on Bluetooth detection of your smartphone. Apple says: Instead of using latitude and longitude to define the location, iBeacon uses a Bluetooth low energy signal, which iOS devices detect. So you need Bluetooth turned on as well as having an appropriate app loaded. This leaves you a modicum of control, I guess.

What alerted me was Outsell’s note that London-based online community specialist Verve has added Apple’s iBeacon technology to its Community Panel app, allowing it to track individual members as they travel into and around stores fitted with the iBeacon device. The report, from “MrWeb”, is firmly in the market research space. This is very much a retailer’s app; it tracks the device in detail through a store, identifying where the user spends time – and how long they stay there – and possibly triggering instant marketing surveys on that basis.

Verve is a newish (2008) company. They describe themselves as “The community panel for research”. Their business is the creation of community panels, acting as consultants to companies needing consumer-focussed research. There’s no  indication, therefore, of what incentives are offered to users to join panels; but one might assume instant offers would be the least of it. There is some client information in their “About Us” section (but one client is T-Mobile, which hasn’t existed independently since around the time Verve were formed, so one wonders …).

Apple’s developer website suggest a range of applications:

From welcoming people as they arrive at a sporting event to providing information about a nearby museum exhibit, iBeacon opens a new world of possibilities for location awareness, and countless opportunities for interactivity between iOS devices and iBeacon hardware

A link will take you through to a video from the 2014 WorldWide Developers Forum. This is awkward to get at: unless you’re using Safari on a recent MacOS you will need to download the file to play it. But it’s worth it; it takes you on a journey from existing RF triangulation, adding motion sensors when indoors and out of effective range, to the new beacon-based technology. And on the way it suggests more user-oriented applications, such as finding your way roung Heathrow Airport; or through an unfamiliar hospital on a family visit. Watch about the first 15 minutes, before it routes to coding stuff for developers.

Technically, interesting; a new twist on location services. Practically useful; but watch out (as always) for what it may do to your privacy. As they say: enjoy!

Links:
• iOS: understanding iBeacon, Apple
• iBeacon for Developers, Apple Developer website
• Verve Adds iBeacon Tech to Panel App, Mr Web Daily Rresearch News Online, 5 Mar 2015
• Verve: community panel research
Taking Core Location Indoors, Nav Patel, Apple WWDC, June 2014. Page down to find the expanded link

Turing Lecture 2015: The Internet Paradox (links updated)

Following a move, I’m no longer close enough to London to easily attend the BCS and IET’s prestige Turing lecture in person. So this year, for the first time, I will be attending online.

Robert Pepper is VP Global Technology Policy at Cisco. His topic: The Internet Paradox: How bottom-up beat(s) command and control. The publicity promises “a lively discussion on how the dynamics of technology policy and largely obscure decisions significantly shaped the Internet as the bottom-up driver of innovation we know today … Dr. Pepper will cover the next market transition to the Internet of Everything and the interplay between policy and technology and highlighting early indicators of what the future may hold for the Internet.

I’m expecting a good objective discussion. As I learned many years ago, listening to Peter Cochrane when he was head of BT’s research centre, those who provide technical infrastructure don’t have a reason to hype up the different services which will run on it. Quite the opposite: they need to assess investment to satisfy demand, but not exceed it. Let’s see what we see. I’ll update this blog as we go, and probably abbreviate it tomorrow.

Starting on time: Liz Bacon, BCS President, is on stage. An unexpected extra: Daniel Turing, Alan Turing’s nephew, is introducing the Turing Trust with a mention of The Imitation Game, the Turing film, and of The BCS’s role in rebuilding Turing’s codebreaking machine (“the bomb”). The Trust recycles first-used computers to less well off countries. In our move last year, I passed quite a lot of old equipment to Recycle-IT who ethically re-use or dispose of un-reusable kit.

Now the main speaker (bio online). He describes himself as a “recovering regulator”; regulation is the intersection of policy and technology. Big iron to nano-compute, and we haven’t even seen the Apple Watch yet! This (and the cost/power changes) drives decentralisation of computing. Alongside, 1969: 4 “internet” locations (packet switched) on the west coast. By 1973, extended outside continental USA (London, Hawaii). 1993: global.

1994-5 the US Government outsourced (privatised) the network. NSF had been created. Restrictions were dropped to permit commercial use; and other governance was created. In the diagram, the biggest nodes (most traffic) are Google and Facebook; but China is coming up fast!

An alternative view: in stages. 1: connectivity (email, search). 2: networked economy; 3, Immersive. 99% of the world, though, is still unconnected. 1000 devices with IP addresses in 1984; forecast 20 bn by 2020. 50bn if you include non-IP such as RFID chips. Internet of Everything will encompass people, processes, data and things. Such as, by 2018, four IP modules on each of 256million connected cars. Such as, sensor clothing for athletes. I have a 1986 news clip from MIT Media Lab about the prototypes for exactly this. The quote was: “Your shoes may know more about you than your doctor does“.

Things create data which, through process, can positively affect people. But only 0.5% of data is being analysed for insights! There’s an example from nutrition. Take a photo of a product in the supermarket, and see if it’s appropriate (for example, no alcohol with your prescription). Or the “Proteus pill” to help with older people’s medication, which the FDA has already approved. Or the Uber cab app.

So that’s the technology. Now, on to policy and governance.

Internet governance developed bottom-up and is not centralised; it’s a multi-stakeholder global ecosystem of private, governments (lots of them!) and intergovernmental, providers, researchers, academics and others. There’s a diagram of those actually involved, which will be quite useful when I can retrieve it readably. First RFC was from ARPAnet in 1969. The first IETF met in 1986. ITU’s World Conference in 2012 saw proposals from some member states to regulate the Internet, and these were rejected. In 2014 the (US Dept of Commerce) proposal is to transition IANA to become a multi-stakeholder global body, so that the US finally cedes control of the network it inaugurated.

Now: as many of us know, the international standards process we currently have is done by consensus and can take years. Contrariwise, the IETF works by “Rough consensus and run code” (everlasting beta). Much faster. Based on RFCs that come in, and with a combination of online and face-to-face meetings. There are NO VOTES (Quakerism works in a similar way); “rough consensus” in IETF is assessed by hum!

Robert shows a slide of a “Technology Hourglass” (citing Steve Deering, 2001; Deering is also a Cisco person. I can’t find the actual reference). IP, at the centre, is in essence the controlling/enabling standard. Above (applications) and below (infrastructure) there can be innovation and differentiation. (My comment: in the same way, both 19th century rolling stock and modern trains can run on today’s network.) The suggestion: it’s a martini glass because at the top there’s a party going on!

There’s no need to ask permission to innovate! This is the Common Law approach: you can do anything that’s not prohibited. The UK has almost 1.5 million people working in this area. They are here because of Common Law: European countries have the reverse (you need permission). The information economy now dominates the previous waves of service, industry and agriculture.

Internet is a General Purpose Technology, like printing and transport and the telephone. Other things are built on it. Increasing broadband provision links to growth: this is not correlational, it is causal. Digital-technology innovation drives GDP growth in mature economies (McKinsey); the impact is on traditional sectors enabled by the digital.

Third: the paradox. There’s decentralisation of compute, to individuals, to nanodevices, and to stakeholders. But right now, governments want to reverse this approach and take control; to re-create silos, have forced localisation of standards, content and devices. This is already the case with some classes of data in some countries.

The issues: (1) extending connectivity to those who are not connected. (2) safety, security and privacy – where there clearly is a role for government, but be clear that these are not just internet issues. Others on a slide about Internet of Everything. Some governments are well-intentioned but not well informed; others, more dangerously, were the reverse. And old-tech assumptions (how you charge for phone service, for example) doesn’t match the new realities; the product is connectivity (not voice).

Swedish study: if you can’t transfer data, you can’t trade (nor have global companies). Localisation of data will impact severely on the global economy. Note: Economist Intelligence Unit looked at some proposals; 90% of the authoritarian regimes voted for new internet regulations on a multilateral basis, 90% of democracies against. Enough! We are at a crossroads where the Net could take either direction, and they are not equal.

Final quote: Neils Bohr. How wonderful we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress!

I’m not going to try and capture Q&A. Heading over to Twitter. Watch the webcast; I’ll post the URL in an amendment when it’s up on the IET website.

Has it been an objective discussion? In one sense yes. But in another, Robert Pepper clearly has a passionate belief in the model of governance which he is promoting. What’s been shared is experience, insight and vision. Well worth a review.

Links:
• BCS/IET Turing Lecture 2015: online report (BCS); or view the webcast replay from The IET
Proteus Digital Health including a video on their ingestible sensor
Watching the Waist of the Protocol Hourglass, Steve Deering, seminar 18 Jan 1998 at Carnegie-Mellon University (abstract only)
Turing Trust
Recycle-it (don’t be confused; other organisations with similar names exist on the web)

Embedding a blog in a website

I’ve just posted an update to the website for the Lewes Passion Play. Editing HTML for a news panel has served the purpose for several years, but with a performance in less than three months there will be more going on. So I wanted to embed a blog feed, as this will enable more people to update the news feed directly. Preferably a Google Blogger blog as this is easier for people to access and at least one potential contributor already uses Google.

Quite a palaver and one or two dead ends. For a start I didn’t want to go down the <iframe> route and embed the entire blog page, because that would confusingly duplicate menu items and links, required for the free-standing blog.

So I started with WordPress, since that’s where this blog is. And WordPress does have a built-in embed code generator. But here I learned the difference between a timeline and a full embed. WP delivers just the first part of a blog post; readers have to click through in order to get the whole post. So, sorry, not what I wanted.

Online reports suggested using Tumblr. It looked promising, but in the end the interface didn’t look easily useable for non-specialists (my potential contributors). And I got into a bind, because I lost the password and (unlike most similar sites) Tumblr won’t just send a reset link to the email they have on record for the account.

But I discovered a great service called feed2js. This will take an RSS feed, which Blogger delivers easily. The website creates a Javascript embed which will deliver a feed of the complete articles. Better still, it has embedded CSS so you can style it (hint: if this is only going on one page of your site then create a separate style sheet and link it just to this page). Yes, there are one or two niggles but it works and I’m pleased with the result!

Links:
• Lewes Passion Play, and see the native Blog
• feed2js.org
• Tumblr
Blogger feed URLs, Blogger help

How complex can it be to open a new savings account ?

We’ve recently gone through the exercise of opening online access saving accounts, looking for online instant access accounts with something more than a derisory rate of interest. The exercise has been instructive and at some times extraordinarily frustrating. Terms and Conditions varied from a couple of pages to around forty. It’s worth sharing a few observations which relate, it seems to me, to pseudo-security and to not thinking from the customer’s perspective.

There was one genuine complication. We have recently moved house. Online identity confirmation uses electoral registers, so we don’t show up: and most providers therefore asked for some form of additional confirmation. I don’t have a problem with that, but some make it easy and some don’t!

I’ll name one provider: Virgin Money. Their online process ran like clockwork, their checks were easily completed, and we were up and running in better than even time. The documentation was brief and a model of clarity. And, since they provide the account with an “ordinary” sort code and account number, the initial deposit could be made easily by the third party who was holding our funds.

It’s a pity the others couldn’t take a leaf out of Virgin’s book.

Most of them asked for paper documentation, which is fair enough: typically a certified copy of a passport and a driving licence would do. Certification, like a passport photo, could be done by pretty much any professional: but our first attempt, asking our own bank to do it, met with a refusal. They will only do it for their own products – not even their own customers. The Post Office will do it, for a fee, which is a good solution if you’re new to an area and haven’t yet acquired a wide circle of professional friends. One provider, linked to a major supermarket (one which is somewhat in the news at the moment) wouldn’t even tell us what documents they would ask for until the account had been opened and the initial deposit made. Some were quite quick to send postal correspondence, others much slower. Access codes of course also arrived in the post: fair enough, I count that as good practice.

Then there’s the “linked account” issue. Many savings providers, especially the ones that aren’t clearing banks, require that you nominate a “linked” bank account which must already exist in your name. Some insist that you sign a direct debit in their favour from this account, so you’re not transferring money to them; they’re claiming it off you and you’re subject to their processes. I guess this may avoid the limit which most banks quite properly put on online transfers.

And the rules vary. Some will only accept deposits from this linked account. Some will only pay out to it. Some will only pay interest into it, and some will only add interest to the deposit. All these arcane rules get in the way of what you actually want to do, which is to deposit a sum of money and earn interest.

Third, one account had persistent problems trying to get through the login sequence using Internet Explorer on Windows 8 – hardly an uncommon platform. Firefox on Mac was fine! For another attempt, we persistently failed to get to the starting gate on the online system at all, even after three separate interactions with their tech helpdesk; guess what, they didn’t get the business.

So don’t ever believe a deposit account which says it only takes half an hour to set up. For a start, do make sure you read the T&Cs, and that you can live with how you will be able to deposit money and get it back (including on account closure). Expect to spend up to an hour reading the T&Cs, and another hour working through the setup process. Expect the security checks, other confirmations and postal correspondence to take at least a week and possibly two.

But here’s the key question. If Virgin can make it quick, easy and efficient – and yet, presumably, secure and compliant – why does any other organisation have to make it so complex and frustrating? IT people: don’t let your organisation swamp your interface work with un-necessary complexity!

Links (just one this week)
• Virgin Money: Instant Access e-Saver. See how simple it is!

Crowdfunding: not just for geeks. Help Free Ruggiero

Just a short post. Teaching the Open University’s technology foundation course a couple of years ago introduced me to the idea of crowdfunding – I’m sure I’d have encountered it anyway, but seeing it as part of the wider picture of the social revolution added an extra dimension. Of course, crowdfunding isn’t entirely new; people have always subscribed readily to popular conventional share issues, not just in the privatisations of the last few decades but in the 19th century railway boom and earlier (look up the South Sea Bubble for one that historically went badly wrong). What’s different is that the reach is extended via the Web to people who might not otherwise think of being subscribers; and the range of rewards, while often creative and interesting, doesn’t extend to ongoing shareholder participation.

Shortly after learning about the idea, I joined one crowdfunding initiative as a result of which I now own a board game called Dreaming Spires which is about to have its official public launch. And now another, firmly in the realm of  the Arts.

We’re supporting members of the Brighton Early Music Festival (BREMF) which is a music festival with a difference. Not just early music concerts of a considerable excellence – and this year we were privileged to be part of two of them, built on choral and instrumental workshops we attended. But also projects which present the music in a new light, set in its historical context. This year, for example, we learned of the developments of “new” music as the style moved from Renaissance to early Baroque; feelings ran high, and “the old music” was held by some as a standard which the newer styles were pushing aside.

Next year’s BREMF will look at women composers, and the festival wants to stage what we’re calling Free Ruggiero (it has a long Italian name) which is the first complete opera known to have been composed by a woman: La Liberazione di Ruggiero dall’Isola d’Alcina written in 1625 by Francesca Caccini. If you apply for Arts Council funding you need to show you already have backing from other sources, and BREMF are raising this by crowdfunding through the Zequs platform.

Visit the Zequs page to find out more, if early music which challenged the norms and set ideas appeals to you. As I write, you only have nine days left to subscribe!

Links:
• Free Ruggiero on Zequs
• Brighton Early Music Festival (not just in the season)
• Dreaming Spires on Kickstarter

Analyst Directory update

It’s a long time since the InformationSpan blog index has been updated – not since February. To be fair, I had a look in May but there were too few changes to be significant. However, there’s now enough to report, and the index has been thoroughly reviewed and updated.

First, Gartner: a handful of new analysts have appeared. The main comments, though, relate to past acquisitions.

I’ve finally removed almost all references to AMR, but in true Gartner fashion there are some inconsistencies. If you look on Gartner’s Research marketing page, there is of course Gartner for Supply Chain Professionals, created out of the former AMR service. All traces of AMR seem to have disappeared until you look also at the Gartner for Enterprise Supply Chain Leaders service. The flyer for this service is headed “AMR Enterprise Supply Chain Leaders” and is replete with references to AMR services. It’s dated 2010, just after the acquisition; but it’s still on the system. I did not find any other reference to a service called Gartner for Enterprise Supply Chain Leaders.

Burton service have also been fully absorbed; most of the Burton analysts have left, the IT1 tag also seems to have disappeared, and one of the remaining accessible legacy blogs has moved to inaccessible. However, six Burton blogs can still be found and I’ve discovered there are also TypePad profiles linked to them. There’s also still one accessible (but moribund) Gartner IT1 blog, and a fair sprinkling (as always) of blogs left over from other analysts who have left.

There have been more changes to the Forrester page. First, perhaps most significantly: Forrester seem to have shed their Business Technology tag. It was a good one, but didn’t catch on; and I suppose George Colony has decided to go with the market. These services are now referred to as Technology Management.

There have, too, been some changes within Forrester’s categories. Business Process and Content & Collaboration seem to have become moribund (no new content for over two years), and there remain a number of still-extant blog names which redirect somewhere else (and have done so for some time). Interestingly, within the Marketing & Product Strategy group, there’s a blog which had been dormant since 2008 but Consumer Product Strategy has acquired a new posting recently. Forrester seem better than Gartner at tidying up when analysts leave, but there are three or four still-extant blogs from departed analysts.

I reviewed the Others page too. I haven’t added any new analyst sources (suggestions??) but Erica and Sam Driver’s ThinkBalm content has now been lost. Charlene Li’s Altimeter group now has a fully integrated blog section within the main website (not new, but I haven’t noted it before) as well as personal blogs maintained by Charlene herself and some colleagues. I have, though, included Euan Semple’s The Obvious which offers so many of us great insights and ideas. If George Colony hadn’t already grabbed Counterintuitive as his blog title, it would be a good alternative for Euan!

No Links here, but click the link at the head or right hand side of this blog to go to the InformationSpan Analyst Blogs Index.