Word Lens is a Gift for Travellers

Now, I just stumbled across this and think it’s fabulous. Word Lens is an iPhone app that works even without a connection to the internet. It reads signs through the iPhone camera and translates them for you.

Don’t believe me? Take a look for yourself.

Of course, the real question is whether it can translate American. Or Chinglish.

How To Pitch

Here’s an interesting presentation on how startups should pitch to investors. There’s nothing earth shattering – but the design is great. But perhaps, the most interesting thing about this presentation is how widely it could be used.

Don’t just think of pitching a new business or startup. Think about your own projects (internal or external). Think about how you need to convince your wife that you should have a shiny new motorbike, or a sports car or a trip to Vegas. Use the same approach with your boss when pitching for a raise.

The same principles apply in all cases. Now just bite the bullet.

The Consumer Expectations of the Business User

There is a quiet revolution taking place in the enterprise. It’s not something you are going to notice at first. It doesn’t manifest in the kind of disruption that raises the eyebrows of management. It is quiet. Oh so quiet.

This revolution lives in the hearts and minds of the people who we loosely call the “business user”. And the business user is people like you and me. It’s the people who use business systems as part of their daily work. It may be that we use these systems for customer relationship management, timesheets or expenses or it may be that we use them for the heavy duty number crunching of forecasting, accounting, payroll or logistics. Many of us have been using these systems for years.

But at the end of the day, when we log out of these systems, abandon our cubes and head home, we open the door to a whole other world of digital experience.

Grabbing a beer with colleagues at a local bar we use our smartphones to check in on Foursquare. We text friends to let them know where we are, or put out a message on Twitter with the #tweetup hashtag. The more sophisticated will link FourSquare with Twitter and also with Facebook (or Facebook places) to reach different groups of friends with the same message.

Over the next hour there will be tweets, twitpics and Foursquare badges claimed. Photos snapped on our mobile devices will be published to our Posterous blogs or Tumblr sites, pushed to Flickr and tagged on Facebook. We’ll check for restaurant recommendations with our favourite foodies on Twitter, ask @garyvee for a recommendation on a nice bottle of red.

At home over the weekend, we will tag and categorise our pictures, linking people with the places and events of the last week. We will add commentary to our own photos and those of our friends. We will write reviews of restaurants, add tips to locations and “experiences” that we enjoyed and maybe even blog about it all. We are actively engaging, controlling and managing our digital experiences.

But the thing is – we CAN do this. Mobile devices – smartphones, iPads etc all give us access to enterprise grade computing systems framed in a way that links activity, purpose and lifestyle. The fast, powerful, platforms that manage the publishing, distribution and contextualisation of our content vastly outstrip the performance many of us experience in the office. We are increasingly living an on-demand, always-on, connected existence.

What does this look like from the outside? To be honest, it looks like a bunch of people, ignoring each other, sending email on their BlackBerrys or iPhones. But psychologically, you are witnessing a moment of flow. Of connectedness. Or what Mihály Csíkszentmihályi would call “flow” – a state of completely focused motivation. This, of course, is what every employer wants to see in their employees, right?

The problem comes when we take our consumer expectations into the office. Some of our business systems simply do not respond in the way that more “consumer” oriented systems have conditioned us to expect. They take us out of the state of flow. Sometimes this is to do with business rules but often it is simply down to responsiveness. If Facebook can give us an uninterrupted digital experience – keeping us engaged and in the moment – then why can’t our business systems?

As Jakob Nielsen explains, there are three important limits when it comes to response times:

The basic advice regarding response times has been about the same for thirty years [Miller 1968; Card et al. 1991]:

  • 0.1 second is about the limit for having the user feel that the system is reacting instantaneously, meaning that no special feedback is necessary except to display the result.
  • 1.0 second is about the limit for the user's flow of thought to stay uninterrupted, even though the user will notice the delay. Normally, no special feedback is necessary during delays of more than 0.1 but less than 1.0 second, but the user does lose the feeling of operating directly on the data.
  • 10 seconds is about the limit for keeping the user's attention focused on the dialogue. For longer delays, users will want to perform other tasks while waiting for the computer to finish, so they should be given feedback indicating when the computer expects to be done. Feedback during the delay is especially important if the response time is likely to be highly variable, since users will then not know what to expect.

So, when you are thinking about the business systems you use – or that you want others to use – make sure you are delivering to their expectations. After all, you want business users to achieve their objectives. You want to support them in their work. And this means removing those barriers to flow.

A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace

Way back in 1996 – before Wikileaks was a glint in the anarchic eye of Julian Assange, the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s John Perry Barlow published A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace. It speaks of a social contract. A different world. Utopian? It certainly is. But there is also a clear vision of a more open, transparent world where the exercise of power is exposed to the citizens of the world. After all, it is in the name of those citizens that power is aggregated and wielded by both governments and private sector institutions.

Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.

We have no elected government, nor are we likely to have one, so I address you with no greater authority than that with which liberty itself always speaks. I declare the global social space we are building to be naturally independent of the tyrannies you seek to impose on us. You have no moral right to rule us nor do you possess any methods of enforcement we have true reason to fear.

Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. You have neither solicited nor received ours. We did not invite you. You do not know us, nor do you know our world. Cyberspace does not lie within your borders. Do not think that you can build it, as though it were a public construction project. You cannot. It is an act of nature and it grows itself through our collective actions.

You have not engaged in our great and gathering conversation, nor did you create the wealth of our marketplaces. You do not know our culture, our ethics, or the unwritten codes that already provide our society more order than could be obtained by any of your impositions.

You claim there are problems among us that you need to solve. You use this claim as an excuse to invade our precincts. Many of these problems don't exist. Where there are real conflicts, where there are wrongs, we will identify them and address them by our means. We are forming our own Social Contract . This governance will arise according to the conditions of our world, not yours. Our world is different.

Cyberspace consists of transactions, relationships, and thought itself, arrayed like a standing wave in the web of our communications. Ours is a world that is both everywhere and nowhere, but it is not where bodies live.

We are creating a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth.

We are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity.

Your legal concepts of property, expression, identity, movement, and context do not apply to us. They are all based on matter, and there is no matter here.

Our identities have no bodies, so, unlike you, we cannot obtain order by physical coercion. We believe that from ethics, enlightened self-interest, and the commonweal, our governance will emerge . Our identities may be distributed across many of your jurisdictions. The only law that all our constituent cultures would generally recognize is the Golden Rule. We hope we will be able to build our particular solutions on that basis. But we cannot accept the solutions you are attempting to impose.

In the United States, you have today created a law, the Telecommunications Reform Act, which repudiates your own Constitution and insults the dreams of Jefferson, Washington, Mill, Madison, DeToqueville, and Brandeis. These dreams must now be born anew in us.

You are terrified of your own children, since they are natives in a world where you will always be immigrants. Because you fear them, you entrust your bureaucracies with the parental responsibilities you are too cowardly to confront yourselves. In our world, all the sentiments and expressions of humanity, from the debasing to the angelic, are parts of a seamless whole, the global conversation of bits. We cannot separate the air that chokes from the air upon which wings beat.

In China, Germany, France, Russia, Singapore, Italy and the United States, you are trying to ward off the virus of liberty by erecting guard posts at the frontiers of Cyberspace. These may keep out the contagion for a small time, but they will not work in a world that will soon be blanketed in bit-bearing media.

Your increasingly obsolete information industries would perpetuate themselves by proposing laws, in America and elsewhere, that claim to own speech itself throughout the world. These laws would declare ideas to be another industrial product, no more noble than pig iron. In our world, whatever the human mind may create can be reproduced and distributed infinitely at no cost. The global conveyance of thought no longer requires your factories to accomplish.

These increasingly hostile and colonial measures place us in the same position as those previous lovers of freedom and self-determination who had to reject the authorities of distant, uninformed powers. We must declare our virtual selves immune to your sovereignty, even as we continue to consent to your rule over our bodies. We will spread ourselves across the Planet so that no one can arrest our thoughts.

We will create a civilization of the Mind in Cyberspace. May it be more humane and fair than the world your governments have made before.

Davos, Switzerland

February 8, 1996

So how does this declaration read to you in light of the global actions being taken on both sides of the Wikileaks divide? Hackers operating loosely under the collective Anon_Operation are variously targeting institutions who are supporting efforts to close down Wikileaks. Interestingly, where hackers would usually organise quietly, Anon_Operation are clearly sharing, collaborating and orchestrating their efforts in full public view. Perhaps for me, this is the most interesting aspect of the community response – it’s participatory. It’s empowering. And it makes for riveting viewing. Who needs TV?

UPDATE: Twitter has suspended the @Anon_Operation account. (9/12 – 10:30am)


Is Google on Your Reading List?

I remember about 8-10 years ago thinking that MySpace was all pervasive. That nothing was going to overtake it. Then Friendster came rolling over the horizon and created a whole new category of online participation only to become the first casualty of a resurgent Facebook. The web – if anything – is a story of wave after wave of innovation.

A great example is to look at eCommerce. When Amazon changed the book retailing landscape it seemed that they were so far ahead of their competitors that the industry would never recover. But every industry has a level of resilience. Within a year or two Borders, Barnes and Noble, the Book Depository and dozens of others had responded. And rather than cannibalising their markets, they were able to grow the whole sector.

And today, another goliath enters the fray. Google opens its doors to the world of eBooks. Will they transform yet another industry? Will it create opportunities for new markets and players? It’s too early to tell (and too limited in release, being US-only at this stage). But it does make for interesting pre-holiday season gift giving.

The Wilderness Where You Live

wilderness When I arrive at this site, The Wilderness Downtown, I have no idea what to expect. I know it’s a “chrome experiment” and that it uses Google Maps but that’s pretty much it. The site asks for only one thing – the place where you live (or more precisely, the place where you lived). Already I’m settling in for an experience. I can already feel the powerful pull of nostalgia deep in my gut.

On a whim I decide to enter the childhood address of my grandmother. I am interested to see what this experiment may yield – especially considering what Google Streetview was able to yield in my genealogical enquiries. I am hoping for a different kind of story, perhaps a visual panorama – a mashing of time lapsed images that recreate the emotional landscapes that we once inhabited. Expectantly, I click the Play Movie button and turn up the sound.

The soundtrack pumps and browser windows spawn across my screen. There’s a man running down the street. He’s hooded and he’s pounding the tarmac as though the music is driving him forward. It could be the same street. It could be any street in any city.


In another window I see the street where my grandmother lived. I’m flying with a flock of birds, cruising what is now the high density fringe of the inner city of Sydney. I don’t recognise it from up here – it’s all warehouses and flat roof buildings. Then, on the ground, at street level, I recognise the brickwork, the panorama. Suddenly the aerial view matches up and I recognise the still existing row of slum terraces clinging to their city purchase.


The man’s still running. He’s not looking back. But in a way, that’s what I am doing. I am struck by the changes on the landscapes in which we have lived for generations. I am reminded of the personal stories and current dramas of close friends and family – of unexpected and almost fatal accidents and their aftermath; of diagnoses of cancer and the challenge of its treatment; of chronic pain and helplessness; and of the growing awareness of ageing and what it means to see your own history fade before your eyes.


There is wilderness downtown – and this amazing web experience leads beyond my description. Experience it for yourself – you’ll be surprised – or click here to see what I saw. But there is also the wilderness where you live – where you must live – where you can only live. There is a wilderness in our own hearts.

Be sure to explore it while you can.

Google Ups the Ante this Instant

As we rush ever faster towards the latest thing we risk being overwhelmed – by data, life, connections – the to do list that sits threateningly at the edge of our consciousness. In an age where the act of doing – of performance – supersedes the act of being, we can sometimes look over our shoulders and realise that while only twelve months has passed, it seems like a lifetime. The pace of change is certainly accelerating.

How do we cope?

Despite our often pathological resistance to change, human beings are supremely well adapted. We can quickly and consciously change our behaviours, our environments and our ways of thinking. We can assimilate technology, create innovation and do so single mindedly.

Google Instant taps into these evolutionary traits, giving us instant matches to our search terms. Now we don’t even have to wait to press the I’m Feeling Lucky button.

And while I like the cleverness of this technology, I am more impressed with the video clip that Google are using to launch it. It’s a nice piece of high-tech high touch that John Naisbitt would be proud of.

OMO Knows Where You Live – in Brazil

We have been talking about the “smart home” for over a decade – where all your home appliances become devices, transmitting and connecting to each other to create a kind of home intelligence. For example, refrigerators could determine when your supplies are low and automatically place online orders for food and drink.

But what if the products that you buy were “connected” in this way? What if the manufacturers could track you back to your home, transmitting their locations via a hidden GPS?

This is being trialled for an OMO promotion in Brazil. According to Shun Ma, this OMO detergent promotion includes a GPS in a select number of boxes of washing powder. There are 35 teams across the country ready to swoop on your home, tracking down your “beeping box” of washing powder to offer you a prize. But there’s a catch. There will be cameras, photos and reportage. Your location will appear on the Experimento Algo Novo website – so like never before the phrase “we know where you live” could be both a promise and a threat.

And as location based services become more prevalent – and as platforms like Facebook bring geo-location data into your social graph – we will see more debate around the what it means to be "private".

While knowing "where your customers are" appears, on the surface, to be a kind of demographic nirvana, most businesses already have a great deal of customer data that is going unused. For many of us, just building a great product or creating a memorable experience/interaction is difficult enough – I wonder whether this is another layer that pushes an authentic experience further into mediation. In an age of transparency, the enforced intimacy of personal location may well be a step too far – or it could create a whole new mode of connection.

Early experiments with technologies like this always raise questions. It’s a risk – and it can backfire, or prove a huge success. But the last thing anyone wants is to see an OMO moment turn into an OMG moment.

How Google Works – The Scary Truth About Search

I can remember when Google first came along, promising improved search. I scoffed. “Who needs better search?”, I said. After all, I knew the most relevant and valuable websites. I knew some people who kept and updated good site lists. I could navigate the web with confidence. I felt like a Renaissance Man of the early web.

And even after my colleagues began using Google, I resisted. I kept plugging away at AltaVista. I kept alternating with Yahoo! I leapt over to Excite for certain search types and AskJeeves for others. I was proud of my knowledge and capabilities.

But I did not know what I did not know.

A couple of tentative searches on this white, clean, non-polluted search engine changed my online behaviour. Now, I did not need to know where to go, because Google knew for me. I could colour my searching by including not just keywords but also sentiment related words. I could search wider, faster from a single interface, rather than jumping from search engine to search engine.

The results were good. Better. Best.

But then, as I began to take on more responsibility for the creation of sites, I realised that there was not just art, but also science, involved in making your site “findable”. The exact recipe for this was held tighter than Colonel Sander’s secret recipe.

And it still is.

But those clever folks over at the PPC Blog have created this stupendous diagram that shows just how Google search works. Well – it’s a good approximation. After all, this really is the secret to Google’s $20 billion a year business.

Take a look and think about how Google (and therefore your customers) find and access your website. Then think about whether you are delivering business value with your current setup. Try to be honest. And then, when you think you have all the boxes ticked, throw “social” into the mix and see how you stack up. Scared? You should be.