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Be on the wave or under it™

The News – 06/18/03

In this Issue:

Recommended Reading

I realize this is the only newsletter you’ll ever need, but if you want more in-depth detail, check out:

Stan Hustad’s
The Coaching Connection

Management Signature's
The Express Read

The Cheap Revolution, Part 3

In parts 1 and 2 of this series, I talked about a variety of trends that are shaping both business and technology:

  • The Cheap Revolution – Not only falling PC and server prices, but the ability to replace supercomputing might with what could be termed Redundant Arrays of Inexpensive Computers (RAIC perhaps, but definitely not RAIP(rocessors))

  • The stock resurgence of consumer Internet plays – eBay, Yahoo and Google are becoming Wall Street’s darlings again; has eCommerce crossed the chasm?

  • Information/technology wants to be free/expensive – the eternal tension among the usefulness of a thing, its accessibility, and its price

  • Grid computing – A somewhat separate trend in the enterprise that may power the Cheap Revolution

  • Disruptive innovation – Clayton Christensen’s assertion that MBAs are the carbon rods in the atomic reactor of innovation

  • The Headlong Future – The future’s coming faster and faster; some believe the rate of change is changing at an exponential rate

  • Autonomic Systems – Should technology – and business – mimic nature by developing self-organizing, self-adjusting, self-healing systems that provide adaptability as well as reliability?

  • Is Small Beautiful? – As descendants of hunter/gatherers, we may be wired for efficient action in smaller groups, say, less than a hundred; the wisdom of the last century was big is better; which is right?

  • Cheap, Fast, and Out of Control – is this the new paradigm for the agile business of the future?

It comes as no surprise to anyone that not everyone agrees with me on all these points. Dr. Andrew Odlyzko, director of the Digital Technology Center at the University of Minnesota, took issue with my support for Ray Kurzweil’s assertion that the rate of change is changing and the world is changing faster than before. 

In many ways it is not, and in fact that was probably the most fatal assumption behind the dot-com bubble.  I wrote about this in a short note, ‘The myth of Internet time,’ in the April 2001 issue of Technology Review, which was based on an earlier 1996 article, ‘The slow evolution of electronic publishing,’ (which despite its title is devoted largely to the general question of how quickly new technology diffuses through society).

Prof. Odlyzko’s point about Internet time (the phrase was actually trademarked by VirtualFund while I was there – you could look it up) is that it:

was the perception that product development and consumer acceptance were now occurring in a fraction of the traditional time. [ . . . ] If indeed seven years of traditional product cycles were now compressed to one year, then anything might change in the blink of an eye. [ . . . ]

Yes, product development cycles have become noticeably shorter. This is true not just in software, but also in such old-economy products as cars. (The Internet is partially responsible for this, as is Japanese competition of the 1980s.) However, consumers do not operate on Internet time. Novel technologies do not diffuse notably more rapidly than they used to. We have basically just one example of rapid adoption by the masses of a strikingly new product, namely the browser. The beta version of Mosaic was released in early 1993, and by the end of 1994 Web traffic dominated the Internet, as millions of people rushed online. However, that was an exception.

Prof. Odlyzko goes on to list several world-beating technologies that were on slow adoption curves when he wrote in 2001:

  • HTTP1.1 – A browser protocol that, by 2001, had been out six years without dominating

  • IPv6 – The new Internet protocol designed to solve several technical problems, including that of limited address space

  • – Although the dominant online book seller, it did not even account for 10 percent of book sales in the United States

  • Internet telephony – Predicted to be the doom of established phone companies

  • eBay – Has had little impact on the classified ads that sustain newspapers

“All these technologies and companies are transforming the economy, but not in Internet time,” Odlyzko said. “The general rule is that it takes around a decade for even a compelling new product or service to be widely accepted.”

To these very well reasoned points, I would rebut: You’re only seeing the handle of the hockey stick, and there are multiple hockey sticks all queued up for exponential growth. Each succeeding disruptive technology of the 20th century was adopted at a quicker and quicker rate. I expect that trend to continue.

The very fact that the Web can come out of nowhere, essentially in 1996 (though you can argue the exact timing) to dominate business architecture by 1998 proves that something is afoot. Granted, the Internet prepared for the Web’s success with more than a decade’s growth, but two things – the US government permitting commercial use of the Internet in 1995 and the graphical browser (well, really, Netscape) in 1996 – ignited its growth rocket.

Or how about Instant Messaging? When I left ACNielsen in 1999, I didn’t know anyone who regularly used IM for business. How many people do you know now who do, despite the fact that it’s an insecure and risky technology?

Or how about Short Messaging System, basically IM for cell phones? Marketers have flocked to this new medium in droves, yet four years ago you probably never heard of it unless you were in Europe.

Or how about Wi-Fi (802.11 wireless networking)? Three years ago, the smart money was on Bluetooth as the darling of wireless networking, and critics forecast the demise of Wi-Fi. Now most Dell laptops come equipped with it.

The point is, we can all cite various technologies to prove things don’t develop faster or that they do. I say Napster. You say push technology. I say the DVD. You say digital movie theater projection. The real test will come in the next few years when several of the trends I mentioned at the beginning of this article will mix with others like nanotechnology, smart appliances, wireless video and machine intelligence to establish a virtuous circle of rapidly accelerating innovation.

Ray Kurzweil calls that the singularity and it may not be as far off as we think. There are countless other nascent disruptive technologies in the wings ready to take off. A recent example: A few days ago, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen took the wraps off a secret project called Project Halo. Allen claims preliminary success in enabling computers “to answer questions they've never seen before and to state their reasoning.”

One of the companies Allen funded, Cycorp, I’ve been tracking since 1992 when I first became aware of Doug Lenat’s work, already in process for eight years at that time, on giving computers common sense. So 19 years later we have a breakthrough. That doesn’t mean it took that long for users to adopt the technology. It just means it was a real hard problem that took a real long time to solve. You can bet, however, if Allen speaks true, your help desk staff better update their resumes. I will guarantee this is one technology that’s not going to idle for a decade before becoming mainstream. (See my Prediction Tracking page for other rash things I’ve said.)

I’m also willing to bet that Allen’s solution requires oodles and oodles of processing power, which fuels the demand for the Cheap Revolution.

Jeffrey Harrow, author of the Harrow Technology Report, a fine emerging technology newsletter, recently cited the following comforting quote:

“Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.”

Sage advice from a long dead Roman, Marcus Aurelius, who wrote Meditations “almost two thousand years ago when the Romans were suffering from their own burgeoning technologies – not electronics, but military and civil engineering, and more.” Harrow’s point is that the debate over the rate of change and the introduction of new technologies and systems has been raging for centuries, and I sure don’t think we’ll solve it here today.

We may disagree on how rapidly new technologies are being assimilated into our lives, and how the rate of their introduction will change or not change in the future. But it’s hard to argue that the last decade has seen some pretty significant changes in our everyday lives. Often when I speak, I ask for a show of hands from people in the audience regarding their personal use of various technologies. I ask:

In 1995, how many of you had:

  • A beeper?
  • A cell phone?
  • An Internet connection?
  • An Internet email account?
  • A company Web page?
  • An employer that did electronic commerce (EDI, etc.)?

In 1998 how many of you had :

  • Internet access faster than 28.8Kbps?
  • A free Internet email account?
  • Ever heard of MP3 or Napster?
  • Sent an Instant Message?
  • A Personal Digital Assistant?
  • A personal Web page?

Unless I have an audience of geeks or other bleeding edge adopters, very few hands ever go up. That’s a lot of technological change in just eight years. Most of these things are completely commonplace among businesspeople today.

Does it really matter if any or all of these technologies struggled for years before acceptance? No. They all achieved mass acceptance in the last eight years. And they’re just the tips of the iceberg – or the overture to the singularity. The disruptions are going to start coming faster and closer together because there are so many world changing, paradigm-busting new technologies in the works. And I wonder if Marcus Aurelius’ assurance that we can handle it is going to be enough to get us through it, both personally and organizationally.

That’s where I’ll leave it until part 4, when I’ll really, truly try to wrap this all up with a nice bow. Honest.

The Cheap Revolution Part 1
The Cheap Revolution Part 2

Briefly Noted

  • Shameless Self-Promotion Dept.: Coming next month: A new service from StratVantage – The WiFi Guys. Preview the new Website at

    My feature article, Grid Computing Takes Off in the Enterprise, was published in the inaugural issue of Fawcette Technical Publications’ Enterprise Architect magazine. (Registration required to view.)

    My article, “Innovative Marketers Target Unwired Customers” was published in the NetSuds newsletter.

    Coming Soon: A new eBook, Be On the Wave Or Under It™ will collect the best of SNS’ insights over the last couple of years, along with additional material from CTOMentor white papers and new material. It will make a great gift (Independence Day?) for associates and friends in need of a guide to the latest and greatest technology. Watch for more information in upcoming SNS issues.

    Several issues ago I debuted SNS Begware, an opportunity for you, gentle reader, to express your appreciation by tipping your server via PayPal. See the sidebar for more info. Total in the kitty so far: $56.48. Thanks, Cliff!

    I repurposed and adapted an article about the wireless service known as Short Messaging Service (SMS) for the Reside newsletter. It’s entitled, Wherever they go, there you are and it points out how marketers can use – carefully – this new way to contact their customers.

    StratVantage has been accepted as a member of the World Wide Web Chamber of Commerce and now displays their logo on our Websites. In addition, I’m featured in Manyworlds’ Thought Leader Showcase, which lists a few of the white papers I’ve done. I’ve also added their fancy icon to the StratVantage site.

  • The Last SNS Was Spam: Or was it? I always send SNS to myself so I know when it goes out. And my mail is filtered by Spam Assassin. So imagine my surprise when I found the last issue of SNS in my SpamBox! Turns out I made a couple of bad word choices in the text that caused my spam score to exceed the threshold I’ve set. Here’s what Spam Assassin had to say:

Content analysis details:   (5.40 hits, 5 required)


(2.2 points)  BODY: Drastically Reduced


(1.1 points)  BODY: Opportunity - What a deal!


(0.5 points)  BODY: HTML has a big "font" and "B" tag combo


(0.1 points)  BODY: HTML included in message


(1.1 points)  BODY: Message is 40% to 50% HTML


(0.1 points)  BODY: Includes a URL link to send an email


(0.2 points)  URI: URL of page called "unsubscribe"


(0.1 points)  Message only has text/html MIME parts

I got 2.2 whopping spam points for this sentence: “Well, the jury's still out on the popularity of video streaming over cell phone networks, and a new technology from British Telecom may drastically reduce the bandwidth necessary for streaming.” I used the fatal word combination “drastically reduce.” I guess that’s a no-no.

I got 1.1 spam points for “A couple issues ago I debuted SNS Begware, an opportunity for you, gentle reader, to express your appreciation by tipping your server via PayPal. See the sidebar for more info.” While this is a naked appeal (uh-oh, shouldn’t say naked!) for money, it hardly elevates the whole message into spamdom, does it?

And I got 1.1 points for sending an HTML email.

This little object lesson underscores the fact that it is getting harder and harder to communicate via email these days. These are just one set of the hundreds of rules Spam Assassin uses, and there are scads of other spam filters out there. Industry pundits are beginning to predict the end of email as we know it, but no one yet knows what its successor will be.

So if you didn’t get the previous issue of SNS in your email box (the subject line started, “Nothing to Disclaim”), let me know, and I’ll remove the offending phrases and send it on again.
Spam Assassin

  • 802.11g Standard Ratified: Finally, after three years, the IEEE committee in charge of the faster Wi-Fi (54Mbps) standard has ratified it. Vendors who have been selling wireless networking equipment based on the draft standard should already or shortly have software upgrades for their gear. Now we get to wait another three years for the next big standard: 802.11n, which will offer at least 100Mbps throughput. Does anybody else think that technology is changing far too quickly these days for a three-year standards process to be worthwhile?

  • Computing On Tap Not the Next Big Thing: As loyal SNS Readers know, I recently wrote an article on grid computing for Enterprise Architect magazine. Grid computing is variously defined, but in general it is about combining the resources – sometimes just the idle resources – of dozens or hundreds or millions of computers to solve some problem. Many proponents of grid computing, including IBM, assert that supercomputing muscle on demand will be a big success and a major way in the future that enterprises get access to supercomputer capabilities.

    Industry pundit Clay Shirky disagrees. “Supercomputing on tap won't live up to this change-the-world billing, because computation isn't a terribly important part of what people do with computers.  This is a lesson we learned with PCs, and it looks like we will be relearning it with Grids,” Shirky said in a recent newsletter. 

    Shirky says that most PCs are not used for computation most of the time. The obvious reason is that most PCs are idle most of the time: The users either are not at their PCs or not “are not tackling computationally hard problems, and especially not ones that require batch processing – submit question today, get answer tomorrow (or next week.)  Indeed, whenever users encounter anything that feels even marginally like batch processing – a spreadsheet that takes seconds to sort, a Photoshop file that takes a minute to render – they begin hankering for a new PC, because they care about peak performance, not total number of cycles available over time . . . If users needed Grid-like power, the Grid itself wouldn't work, because the unused cycles the Grid is going to aggregate wouldn't exist.”

    That’s quite a paradox Shirky has identified, yet it may miss the point. As long as supercomputer power remains out of the reach of enterprises with huge computing needs, grid computing will be a viable option. Shirky claims that current desktop computing power costs a penny a gigahertz/hour and Moore’s Law will make it even cheaper, thus destroying the economic incentive for hooking machines into a grid. I think that no matter how powerful individual machines become, someone will always be able to envision an application that requires even more power than is available.

    I do agree with Shirky that grid computing will have difficulty in becoming a mass-market phenomenon, with a significant percentage of total computing hours being provided by utility-like grids. Grid computing will become another tool in the toolbox, another advantage delivered by having everything connected to everything else.
    Networks, Economics, and Culture

  • Wal-Mart Requiring RFID Tags: The gorilla has spoken: Retailing giant Wal-Mart is requiring all of its top 100 suppliers to have RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) smart tags on all their pallets by early 2005. Tagging pallets will allow Wal-Mart to better track their inventory. This move is one step toward an eventual requirement of RFID tags on all consumer goods sold at retail. This trend is really heating up, as discussed in previous SNS issues here and here. Of course, RFID and the associated AutoID product numbering project have been listed on the TrendSpot since July 2000.
    Yahoo Finance

  • RFID for Money? Oh, I sure hope not! Alert SNS Reader Tim Plas sent a pointer to The Harrow Report emerging technology newsletter previously mentioned. Jeffrey Harrow used to write The Rapidly Changing Face of Computing newsletter until going out on his own, and he’s got a keen eye for the edgiest of leading edge tech. Anyway, Wal-Mart’s RFID move reported above instantly legitimizes a whole new technology that, although it was certainly gaining momentum, probably would not move so fast without a gorilla behind it. Gillette’s ordering of a half a billion RFID tags earlier this year and their Smart Shelf collaboration with W-M (reported in a previous SNS) were early signs RFID was coming out of the niche markets and into mainstream practice. Ditto Michelin’s move to put RFID tags in its tires (reported in another previous SNS).

    Tim and I are worried, however, about the unintended consequences of technologies like RFID. And rightly so. The Harrow Report comments on a recent news item concerning efforts by Hitachi and the European Central Bank to imbed tiny RFID tags in every Euro banknote. Ostensibly, this move is intended to combat counterfeiting and money laundering, but I’m sure we all can think of other, privacy-invading uses. If you know where the money is, who has it, and where it’s been, law enforcement would get quite a bit easier.

    Tim mentioned to me similar concerns with tags that may be imbedded in clothing. At least here the solution is obvious: Don’t do that. Make the tag part of a price tag that is removed after the sale. But what can you do if your money allows you to be tracked? In Gillette’s case, you may not care if people know you use their shave cream or razors. But what if anyone could track your movements by reading the RFID tags in your Michelin tires? Or what if people can find out what medications you use by remotely scanning your medicine cabinet?

    Luckily, most RFID tags today need to be in fairly close proximity to the reader for the information to be read. But, in the name of supply chain efficiency, I could see the range being increased dramatically in the future.
    The Harrow Technology Report

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Can’t Get Enough of ME?

In the unlikely event that you want more of my opinions, I’ve started a Weblog. It’s the fashionable thing for pundits to do, and I’m doing it too. A Weblog is a datestamped collection of somewhat random thoughts and ideas assembled on a Web page. If you’d like to subject the world to your thoughts, as I do, you can create your own Weblog. You need to have a Web site that allows you FTP access, and the free software from This allows you to right click on a Web page and append your pithy thoughts to your Weblog.

I’ve dubbed my Weblog entries “Stratlets”, and they are available at Let me know what you think.

Also check out the TrendSpot for ranking of the latest emerging trends.

In Memoriam

Gerald M. Ellsworth

March 14, 1928 - July 5, 2003

In Memoriam

Jane C. Ellsworth

July 20, 1928 - July 20, 2003