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Sunday, December 31, 2006

Consumers and CPG Search

Short article with stats about how consumers use search for Consumer Package Goods (CPG) products. Package goods like those found in a grocery store, are smaller investments, and thus considered less likely to be the subject of internet search. This piece suggests that search is still important for CPG choices.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Mobile Persuasion

Stanford correspondent B.J. Fogg writes:
"Mobile phones will soon become the #1 platform for changing people's behaviors., That's why my Stanford Lab is hosting the premier event on mobile technology designed to motivate and persuade people. I'm excited about what we'll learn, and I invite you to join us., "Mobile Persuasion" -- Stanford University -- Friday, February 2, 2007. Register. "

Is Web 2.0 Simply Narcissism?

Dawdy at Furious Seasons makes some clever points about the real nature of Web 2.0.

Metaverse Media

Another thing I have been doing to better understand the texture of virtual worlds is to read some of their media. Notable is the Second Life Herald, a blog journal of things ongoing in Second Life (SL). I would not recommend it if you have not experienced the virtual world itself, since it uses terms and descriptions that are at least mysterious if have not have not experienced it yourself. Other media examples, a weekly, the Metaverse Messenger and New World Notes.

Particularly interesting are descriptions of happenings that may be unclear to those experiencing them. For example, 'griefers', or participants who periodically harass residents and disrupt social activities. Also, scripts, or programs can be written to make objects seem intelligent in SL, they can also be used to harass or at least perplex visitors. I experienced both griefers and harassing scripts during my first month in SL. In fact I posted a complaint about one, and based on the serial number I was given, SL gets about 500 such complaints a day.

SL's infrastructure also continues to be shaky, the world slows down and does perplexing things. For example sometimes it does not replicate clothing and leaves characters grey and naked. This will have to be solved before it is business ready.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

IBM and Circuit City in a Virtual World

I have been exploring Second Life and had the rare experience of watching IBM and some of its contractors set up their virtual Circuit City store in Second Life. Watching a half dozen avatars 'construct', tune and correct the experience is a revelation. It has been formally opened now. Since the opening I have returned a number of times, its usually not very crowded, have had some interesting conversations with others in the location. Its their first experiment in linking the store experience to the home experience. IBM plans to set up a number of virtual development centers. Have had a number of interesting encounters there. Search for location 'IBM 10'. Below is their text introducing the location:
" ... We've partnered with Circuit City to explore and experiment with how we can apply virtual worlds to their business -- from doing business inside of virtual worlds to connecting the virtual world with the real world to create a richer, more immersive Web environment.

This early build of a virtual Circuit City store is an area where we are experimenting with how to enrich a user experience by using virtual worlds to augment both the Web experience and the real world experience. For example, instead of browsing through a catalogue on a website, people can use their avatars to walk the aisles of a virtual Circuit City store, and pick up and examine products in a way that is closer to real life.

They can also easily link to an order form to shop in these virtual worlds in a way similar to ordering on the Web.
In addition, this build demonstrate a really powerful advantage that virtual worlds have over the Web... in the area of customer service, instead of simply talking someone through technical issues or how to use certain products, they can actually show the user their product in 3-dimensional virtual worlds and explain exactly how and where to fix or examine the product to find the problem and get it resolved.

Other immersive features that IBM and Circuit City are experimenting with include an interactive home theater, where customers can easily recreate their own home environment to do things like setting up a home theater -- users can easily move a couch at the proper distance from where they want to put a new TV, and it automatically tells them the optimal size TV to purchase for their room dimensions, and eventually will add other features like where to place speakers for a surround sound system

This is in the early experimentation phase, and we are eager for feedback from consumers and other businesses on how we can make it better ...."
There is still much to do here, they are attempting to mimic a real-world retail experience in a virtual world that does not effectively support that illusion. Will continue to track.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Tim Berners-Lee Blogging Again

Richard James points out that web inventor Tim Berners-Lee is blogging again, followed him for a short while, but stopped due to lack of traffic. Hmm, he does one good thing and then slacks off :) One of his latest projects is the Tabulator, a proposed semantic web browser that is worth a look.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Incessant Barking

From a 2006 New Yorker Cartoon, pretty much on point:
Two dogs are facing each other, one speaks:
"I had my own blog for a while, but I decided to go back to just pointless, incessant barking".

Friday, December 22, 2006

Saffo on Intelligent Enslavement

" ... Fear of enslavement by our creation is an old fear, and a literary tritism. But I fear something worse and much more likely -- that sometime after 2020 our machines will become intelligent, evolve rapidly and end up treating us as pets. We can at least take comfort that there is one worse fate -- becoming food -- that is mercifully highly unlikely ..."
Paul Saffo, director of the Institute for the Future, on the evolution of smart machines in the 12/06 Communications of the ACM.
Paul, who we have connected with since the late 70s, as a practitioner, I disagree here. I don't think the type of intelligence he suggests will be here sometime shortly after 2020, if ever. There are still very fundamental problems with cracking the problem of intelligence. Its not about faster machines, or more memory, or more connected networks .. but about understanding how to make things smart. Its not about knocking down straw men like playing chess, but its about very deep forms of pattern recognition that allow us to abstractly understand our world. The most common computing intelligence we use today is still simple search. I think the old question of whether a dog could make a machine smarter than itself has still not been shown to not apply to us as well.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Swiss Army IT Model

This has seen lots of press. The largest swiss army knife, reviewed in the Guardian. Lots of demand, most likely as a conversation piece as opposed to a practical solution. Brought to mind many of the things we do in IT today. Is it a model for Google? Is it SAP for the large enterprise? My knife has a couple of blades and a corkscrew, quite sufficient.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

NY Times and Consumer Generated Media

Pete Blackshaw, longtime colleague, writes in his always lively consumer generated media blog about an article in the NY Times on consumer generated media: " ... the writer, Keith Schneider, using Nielsen BuzzMetrics as his backdrop, asks all the right questions about whether CGM, and in particular CGM analysis and text-mining, is destabilizing the typical "go to market" strategy for most brands ...". Fascinating view of where all this is going, where measurement is ultimately the driving force. Quote from the NY Times article:
" ... the branding game has changed radically, largely because of the myriad choices the Internet provides consumers and because of the economic influence of widespread Web pontificating, known as the blogosphere, which barely existed as a popular force until about four years ago...As consumers eagerly post word-of-mouth commentary in online communities, message boards and Web logs, a straightforward question confronts brandmeisters: Who wins and who loses as time-tested practices of mass production and mass marketing are undermined by the informed and often cranky voices of the knowledge age?... "

Using Strategic Thinking to Enable IT

P&G's Filippo Passerini: Using Strategic Thinking to Enable IT, In Computerworld.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Google Patents

A colleague writes to remind me of Google's patent searches: Patents site, which searches full text on all US patents, this search, returns only about 740 patents assigned to IBM, far fewer than there are, from a database of about 7 million. So appears to be far less inclusive than that of the USPTO office. I like the simple search, though. Its also not well known that you can search for US patents in a normal Google search by entering the word 'patents:' in front of the number, e.g. 'patent:4288291'. One odd thing, I used to often use Google's UPC code search by typing in just a 10-digit UPC/Bar code to ID a grocery item and also get some sample prices. Now when you do that I note that it sends you to a UPC search site.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

IBM's Dogear

From IBM Think Research Magazine: Fetch!. An article on their Dogear social bookmarking research. IBM's Think Research is a development journal I have followed for years. IBM positions Dogear as the first social bookmarking method that is usable by organizations. They are planning to announce offerings that deliver some of their internal social technology work:

" ...Social bookmarking services have dramatically changed the way we find information on the Internet. Popularized by a service named del.icio.us, these Web-based applications provide a centralized place to store, organize and share Internet bookmarks. There are two distinguishing characteristics of social bookmarking systems. The first is the use of keywords, or tags, that a user enters to describe the links he or she saves. These tags allow users to organize and display their collection with labels that are meaningful to them. Furthermore, multiple tags allow bookmarks to belong to more than one category, a limitation of the traditional hierarchically organized folders found in most Web browsers. The second significant characteristic of these social bookmark applications is the social nature of their use. While bookmark collections are personally created and maintained, they are typically also visible to others. As a result, users benefit by getting pointers to new information from others while at the same time getting a general sense of what other people's interests are ...."

Friday, December 15, 2006

Is this the Way to Run a Meeting?

I have spent some time in the last month getting up to speed in the Second Life (SL) virtual world. I worked with similar things, notably Blaxxun, back in the 90s. Always have been interested in highly visual interfaces, so this is a great example that I awaited with anticipation. It also has received much interest from the business world.

I received an invitation from IBM to attend a tour of their new virtual islands today. This was the first time I attended a formal meeting in SL. There were about 50 or so avatar participants and maybe 10 IBM speakers, tour guides and helpers there. Not all of the participants (including me) were highly skilled at controlling their character, so there was lots of bumping, colliding and fidgeting before getting people in their seats. The interface does not lend itself to precise control. Some seated avatars were so large and strangely adorned that I wanted to yell 'down in front'! But it did not actually matter since there was little to see down in front.

Like most SL presentations this consists of words typed in a chat box and supporting visuals. The visuals, though, require some adeptness with zooming in to a screen, also something more of an advanced technique. As a result the visuals were mostly just repetitions of the chat text. While the presentation goes on, you can IM other people in the crowd to create a back conversation, but that too can become confusing, and if you type in the wrong box, your acid comment becomes part of the public presentation!

Once the short presentation was over, we were invited to group teleport to a number of venues that IBM and their clients had developed. Teleporting groups is also something that the interface does not do well, so with each teleport some folks were left behind. You could also fly there, if you knew the way.

One of the venues I was most interested in was the Circuit City store. Last night I had watched as the IBM architects spent some last minute time fixing it up, and that process, done by avatars in virtual space, was fascinating to watch. That worked well, at least in my perception, because there were only a few folks, and they were very focused on a task.

The building of the Circuit City store (In SL search for 'IBM 10') and all of the store venues along a virtual street in SL are very well done. Much effort has been expended to get these looking architecturally good. Inside the store, however, things are different. I have interacted with some real-world store designs, and the CC world is strange indeed, very large aisles and too small products. Once you get more than a few shoppers things become chaotic. Its another case of precision control of your avatar, and a relatively small space, that makes it hard to do anything like they envision. Also, what they are trying to do is create a old style 'a pick and choose store' in a virtual space. People are now used to click- picking things from a screen to do online shopping, they don't need the illusion of aisles. Most stores in SL use click able pictures on the wall to sell their goods.

Once outside of the store you can fly and explore at will, you don't need the precision required in a narrow space. Leaving, I felt that breath of relief when you get out of a too-enclosed space.

What was amazing is the amount of effort that IBM has put into this effort. Dozens of staff and those that I talked to were very enthusiastic about the idea. The SL space also allowed an openness that I had not seen before. On the steps of the virtual Almaden Virtual labs (the real one is in San Jose) I got into some great conversations about virtual space, navigation and data interaction. Made some great connections. That would have been hard to set up otherwise.

I chatted with a colleague about this and his reaction was that IBM is investing in this not for the now, but in the belief that this will become something in the not too distant future. A very good point. Sure the SL interface is klunky and imprecise, but that problem will be solved, perhaps by some other vendor.

So congratulations to IBM to get this work started for us. There is lots to do. Its worth exploring on a not too crowded day. We need to understand how real companies can sell real things in a virtual world. And along the way, just how to have a simple meeting there.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Second Life Guide

Making my way through Second Life: The Official Guide, by Michael Rymaszewski et al. This is a good introduction to the idea of SL, but its not a substitute for at least a demonstration of the real thing. The book does not build a case for SL, assumes you have some enthusiasm already. Its a good skim after experiencing SL, because it will alert you to a number of things you had probably not understood. Good jump start in virtual worlds.

Graphically well done, as should be the case with a visual world. A useful appendix, but no index. Does not give you an alert to the fact that all is not running smoothly in SL of late, with slowdowns and odd behaviors. Mild cautions, but no dirt here. The advanced section on building and scripting is not a manual, but an introduction, the book points to online resources. There is an attached CD with code samples I have not examined as yet. Finally a lot of emphasis on avatar appearance, which I can find distracting.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Made to Stick

Scott Underwood, correspondent at IDEO, sends along his view of the forthcoming Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Die and Others Survive , by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. The question is a useful one:
" ... Why do some ideas thrive while others die? And how do we improve the chances of worthy ideas? In Made to Stick, accomplished educators and idea collectors Chip and Dan Heath tackle head-on these vexing questions. Inside, the brothers Heath reveal the anatomy of ideas that "stick" and explain sure-fire methods for making ideas stickier, such as violating schemas, using the Velcro Theory of Memory, and creating "curiosity gaps." ..."
Made to Stick website (with a lengthy excerpt).

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Google Research Video Picks

I recently discovered the videos that Google Research puts together from speakers on their campus. Some very interesting topics about technology, research and directions. They just put together a 'top twenty' thats worth scanning for gems. Example: How to Survive a Robot Uprising.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Coke Teams with YouTube

About Coke's Wishcast effort:
Coke Taps YouTube For Video Card Campaign
" ... COCA-COLA IS TEAMING UP WITH YouTube for a new joint marketing effort--one that doesn't involve Mentos or exploding Diet Coke bottles. Instead, Coke is sponsoring a page on YouTube that enables users to select or create their own holiday video "cards" to send to friends and family ..."
Here former P&G I-Marketing manager Tim Kopp of Coke invites you with a (rather wooden) video. Will follow this to see if it takes off.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Grace Hopper's 100th Birthday

I see that this past Friday was Grace Hopper's 100th birthday. Here is a personal reminiscense from my first professional IT experience:

In 1975 I was freshly graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in astrophysics. There were few opportunities for someone with an undergraduate degree in that field, so I took the civil service exam, and ended up taking the train from Philadelphia to Washington for the first time. I had hired on as an analyst for the national Military Command Systems Support Center at the Pentagon. We were some number of floors below the ground, responsible for keeping several military computers running. We were managed by the Navy, so even though we were far below dry earth, when a new officer arrived they were 'piped on board' in shipboard fashion.

Just around the corner from my cubicle was the very humble office of then Captain Grace Hopper. Having always been interested in the history of technology I recognized the name mainly due to her involvement in the development of compilers for the computer language Cobol. She gave a talk a few months after my arrival and I was impressed by her vision. Her talks gave a nod to computer history, which she had been a key part of, but even more so she was sincerely interested in the future of computing. In her talks then and for many years afterward she always carried a length of wire with her as a prop, this wire, she would declare, is a nanosecond ... equating time and computing power. She then would talk about where she thought computing was going. Her views were mainly about numerical rather than symbolic computing, but even in this realm she understood computers were stretching far beyond just numbers.

She was very rarely in her office, even then acting as an ambassador for military computing. I made it a point to stop by one day when she was there and introduced myself, a slightly longhaired young computer neophyte. She was gracious and invited me in. We hit it off because most of my work in school had been about solving differential equations, which had been an interest of hers. I was particularly interested in the pre-compiler world of the computer, when developing code was more like wiring a machine than writing logic. She also spoke about her involvement with Eckert and Mauchly, early pioneers of computer hardware. Looking back I should have had far more questions, but our chat ended far too soon. It was our only meeting, I moved on soon afterward, though we said hi a few more times in the hall.

She was appointed to admiral in 1985 and died in 1992, just as the Web had been developed. What might she have thought about that development? Many millions of non-technical people using 'Hypertext Transfer Protocol' to communicate? Her development of the compiler was a first step from numerical computing to using computers to manipulate text and communicate thoughts freely between ordinary people. She showed the way in the very early years and helped make it happen.

Good short overview of her life and achievements.

FA Dill June, 2004

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Volvo Designed by Women

At a recent futurists meeting (more on that later) Volvo Brand presented about a car designed entirely by, but not necessarily just for women.

" ... When Volvo Cars' all-women team developed the YCC (Your Concept Car), they had a thesis: if you meet the expectations of women you exceed the expectations of men..."

Its a concept car, and as you know, concept cars don't usually go directly to the market, if they are ever sold at all. Ideas in the cars do evolve and are typically integrated into new models. Here is more with lots of pictures.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Operating Theaters of the Future

Recently attended a local meeting on RFID tagging. One presentation at that meeting was by Jim Milkovitch and Jim Waldron of Johnson & Johnson's Ethicon division. They currently have over 150 people and 35 projects working in the area of RFID tagging. One particular area of interest is their work with hospitals to created what they are calling 'operating theaters' of the future. In such an environment anything that enters the room is tagged. Patients, doctors and nurses will wear active (battery powered) tags which will be read at entrance portals. Instruments will carry passive tags. The inventory, movement and use of every object in the room will be micro tracked to determine its use. The use of objects in the theater will be compared to lists of procedures and processes to check for errors. Costs will be automatically determined. This will allow J&J to give value-added capabilities to their instruments and surgical goods. Whats useful here is the linking of sensors to procedure and location. Areas that require very precise manipulation, risk and cost, certainly like surgery, are where we will see early useful of these capabilities.

Power of Your Data

Who deals better with data than the casinos? The Las Vegas company Compudigm here a number of times, in the recent copy of Teradata Magazine (Good mag that I have neglected for too long) , an article by Craig Mullins about advanced analytics, especially consumer behavior. Since most casino customers use loyalty cards and most purchases are made at the point of choice, they can be tracked and analyzed in ways just dreamed of by retail. We met with them a few years ago, and they had just started to work with retail data. Good example of visual abstractions overlayed on location data.

" ... Traditional business intelligence (BI) enables companies to understand the "here" and "now," and even some of the "why," of a given business situation. Advanced analytics goes deeper into the "why." Employing a business-focused approach, it comprises techniques that help build models and simulations to create scenarios, understand realities, improve decision making and determine forecasts. These techniques include--but are not limited to--data mining, predictive analytics, applied analytics, data visualization and statistics ..."

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Blacksmith's Gift

Former colleague Dan T. Davis has become an independent author of children's books. " ... The Blacksmith's Gift was awarded the 2005 Benjamin Franklin Award for the 'best independently published juvenile/young adult fiction of the year' ...". Congratulations, Dan. Check out the site.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Big Brands and Brain Waves

In a recent WSJ article: Biology of Brand Identity, another article on what has come to be called neuromarketing. The images at the right describe the findings that a big brand requires less brain work, top image, than a weaker brand, bottom. This idea has reaped considerable controversy in implying that it could result in a 'buy switch' that could be activated by the right kind of marketing message. This is new research that specifically looks at the strength of brands, and tried to determine how that aspect effects the brain. I believe that this and and related ideas will ultimately become important if they can be validated. . "... use of MRI to gauge consumer response eliminates the risk of dishonest or incomplete answers in market surveys. In an informal experiment, she says she asked a student to name his favorite brand of sneakers, and he said Adidas. But under MRI, the Puma brand evoked a more positive response, and the student admitted that his favorite shoe was a Puma model that was out of his price range ...". Some of my other posts discuss this further and compare it to other biological sensor models.

Shortfuze Machinima

New correspondent Juhi Shareef of Arup's futures group sends along this link to Shortfuze's Moviestorm, a machinima moviemaking package. We have been experimenting with Reallusion's Iclone. What can businesses do with machinima? It can be used to link prerecorded audio to animated avatars. It can also be used to place prerecorded video into virtual worlds. Or easily set up creative storyboards. Other ideas are welcome.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Home Robots in Retreat?

PC Mags Lance Ulanoff in his Holiday Robot Buying Guide, writes about the status of home robotics that aim to do real work. Following this for some time, I get a similar read. Though I did see the Roomba prominently displayed at the local Costco. No things we could really use; robot butler, or home maid or laundry helper yet on the horizon.

" ... Wow Wee's Robosapien and Roboraptor and iRobot's Roomba should have been the sparks that ignited the industry. Instead, the lit fuse has been snuffed out. Wow Wee's newest Roboreptile is entertaining, but it has done little to move the industry forward. Meanwhile, the excitement surrounding iRobot's Roomba has dimmed, and the Scooba floor mop has not been a Roomba-like hit. Worse yet, instead of more companies flooding into the consumer robot space, there seem to be fewer. Sony dismantled its consumer robots division and killed off the AIBO and the Qrio, and Radio Shack dumped the Vex robot kit ..."

Friday, December 01, 2006

Expert Systems on Handheld Devices

More Expert Systems Migrate To Handheld Devices

Exsys ports its Corvid expert systems software to run on Hewlett-Packard's iPaq pocket PCs and 40 other handheld devices. Exsys was one of the expert systems companies we worked with in the 90s. The article uses the term 'inference engine' ... let me explain. Almost all computer code today, like that running the browser you are reading this on, is operating in a step by step order determined by the code itself. This process is fundamentally not much different from the coding that was done in the 50's.

If you use an inference engine, the program logically proceeds to a desired business conclusion we were attempting to resolve. This sounds more like the way our thought process works (if we really were that logical!) so its considered a part of artificial intelligence. Its also much easier to understand the code used, making maintenance easier. Back in the late 80s, we thought that by now all computer coding would be done with 'inference engines', but it turned out to be more difficult than we thought.

" ... You may soon be carrying expert systems in your pocket or briefcase. More companies are adapting their software to run on handheld devices that use inference engines rather than hard coding, and customers should have more choices in the coming months and years.

The latest evidence is from software vendor Exsys, which this month ported its Corvid expert systems software to run on Hewlett-Packard's iPaq pocket PCs. The software also can run on about 40 other handhelds that rely on the Document Type Definition subset of IBM WebSphere's Java Virtual Machine. The ability to arm knowledge workers with expert systems loaded onto handheld devices makes expert knowledge much more accessible. This could be especially useful to sales reps, technicians, or field repair workers.

The National Park Service is looking at using the handheld version of Corvid to evaluate areas that experienced environmental damage, Exsys CEO Dustin Huntington says. With the software, the Park Service could hire people with limited environmental background to go to a site and evaluate the situation as if they were environmental engineers conducting the survey. The expert system, in the form of a questionnaire, would guide the surveyors down the right path, prompting them to seek specific new information based on the response to the last question they entered. "By having that knowledge there," Huntington says, "they're able to put the logic of the decision maker out there in the field." ...

Short Persuasive Videos

Professor BJ Fogg of the Captology Lab at Stanford, who we have worked with a number of times asks for our help:
" ... My Stanford students have created short videos (averaging 2 minutes) that show how Web 2.0 services persuade people and change their behaviors. The videos are interesting -- and sometimes funny. I'm inviting you to help evaluate some of these videos before December 4th. You can rate one video or twenty. The choice is yours. To watch and rate the videos. The videos with the highest rating will be featured in the Captology Film Festival on December 7th at Stanford. You're invited to join us at that event. For more info ..."
The Captology Lab is worth taking a look at. It addresses the problem of how to use computers to persuade, beyond just the advertising level.