Archives For Jerry

Remember tech in 1991?

Jerry —  August 24, 2016 — Leave a comment

Can you scroll your brain back before wifi, smartphones and the App Store? Before the Intertubes, the Web, Google and Google Docs, back to a world of faxes, LANs, pagers, PBXes and early (too early) pen computers?

This talk will help you. In it, in 1991, I went to Lotus Development’s HQ in Cambridge to explain a research service I was just launching called Continuous Information Environments (CIE). Lotus (the makers of 1-2-3, then Lotus Notes) was already a client of our other services including the one I launched a few years prior called Intelligent Document Management (IDM), which was sparked into being by electronic imaging technology but avoided that topic like the plague because scanned documents stored on optical media were so, well… stupid. Oh, the company that hosted all of this research was New Science Associates (hi guys!), an unfriendly spinout from Gartner Group that was later acquired by Gartner.

There are many things to note in this talk aside from my shiny forehead, double-breasted suit and firmly gripped styrofoam coffee. For example, I’m using acetates to present on an overhead projector. Acetates. That blew my mind on watching this talk again. And I don’t mention the Internet until an hour and 24 minutes in, during the Q&A. It was still a locked-away military research network to most of us.

The first three and a half minutes of this talk I’m explaining New Science’s retainer research model, so jump past that if you want to get to the tech. I did get to boast that we were using Lotus Notes to distribute our research. We (New Science) were early with electronic publishing, alongside Patty Seybold’s Seybold Group. (When I joined Esther in 1992 I got to learn to use XyWrite and AMIX, the American Information eXchange, a horribly designed online publishing platform. Two steps backward.)

A few more observations with the benefit of hindsight. At the time:

  • I was a big fan of pen computers, but a pen-less touch interface, the kind that is ubiquitous now, was not in my frame of reference.
  • Most of my examples cited male bosses and colleagues. I learned some gender neutrality later.
  • I laughed at thinking that a small device might have global positioning capabilities, an inexpensive commonplace now.
  • Momenta, my favorite pen-computing startup of the moment, hadn’t blown up on the launch pad yet. (It dosn’t even merit a Wikipedia page; sniff!)
  • At Momenta’s launch event, I sat next to Esther and gave her the CIE white paper. Then we swapped publications. Then (months later) she asked me to join her. I almost said no (thanks for the advice, Dan Miller!).
  • So many company names have vanished into the memory hole!
  • Faxes. Remember faxing?
  • Our focus at New Science was helping corporations use technology wisely, hence so many examples grounded in call centers, insurance claims adjustment, etc. Our clients ran Advanced Technology Groups — back when that was still a thing.
  • I forgot to bring a box of paper copies of our research reports with me. How 1990s!
  • I thought pen computers would be everywhere in five years, so around 1996. The iPhone launched in 2006, with no pen. Sometimes advances take a while to gestate and catch on.

Enjoy some time-travel:

A footnote: When I launched the Intelligent Document Management service for New Science in 1990, I drew this diagram to explain it:

IDM Scope Diagram

Prior to that moment, all the service brochures in our industry (retainer tech market research) were basically bullet points. Gartner, IDC, Forrester, BIS Cap, etc. From that moment forward, they went visual. Everyone needed a conceptual diagram.

And the diagram I use in the talk above is this one, for CIE:

CIE Scope Diagram

Last word: if you squint while looking at both diagrams (and maybe sip some mezcal while doing so), you can see the outlines of the tech world we inhabit today.

From 1992 to 1998, I wrote about the future of technology for Esther Dyson in her monthly newsletter, Release 1.0. We also ran an annual conference, the PC Forum, which back in that day was one of the top two conferences that all startups wanted to debut at.

My favorite panel at PC Forum was this one about online community, titled (I think) Virtual People and Places. Two of the panelists, Bob Kavner and Sherry Turkle, had just been onstage (you can see them in this video). Then three more folks joined us — Adam Curry, Carol Peters and Stewart Brand — and we had at it. In a great way. Like this.

Sometimes the ways that societies arrange themselves look strange from the outside, or from the future, but yield great results in their time.

The pre-modern British aristocracy is a great case in point. They threw lavish parties for one another at expensive “county seats” dotted around the county. They died in duels, inherited titles and didn’t train their offspring in any useful skills. Yet this arrangement gave the world Rule, Britannia for almost 300 years.

The Institutional Revolution, by UCLA historian Doug Allen, describes how this set of norms and institutions worked. Along the way, Allen creates the memorable term “hostage capital,” which describes how the aristocrats were “all in” on their lifestyle: If they were cut off by the court, they would have little or nothing to survive on. No assets, no reputation, no useful skills. Everything depended on succeeding with their responsibilities.

In this 5minU (Five Minute University), I share what I learned from his book, particularly how it relates to creating trust at a distance. For example, how could Queen Elizabeth be pretty damned sure that Sir Francis Drake was acting in the Crown’s best interests and not his own, while he was on the other side of the globe?

Here’s the book, in context, in my Brain.

Btw, if we all created 5minUs, our reading lists would all get shorter — and we’d get to know one another better. Please publish yours and tag them #5minU.

The University of Alabama’s College of Communication & Information Sciences invited me to help them plan for the future of the disciplines they cover, from the news to PR and advertising. The sincerity of their invitation bubbled up through the series of meetings we had while I was there.

At the end of those meetings, I gave a talk, followed by four respondents and questions from the audience. You can play the talk by clicking on the image below; the Prezi I used is here.

I wish Dean Nelson and his colleagues the very best in this process. As you can tell from my talk, they have tricky, shallow waters to negotiate, but there is much to fix and reinvent.

What do you suggest to media schools and practitioners?

Have you ever wanted to browse through the things one person cares about? Now you can.

For the past 17 years, pretty much every day, I’ve taken the things that flow by that are worth remembering and woven them into a giant concept map, using an app called TheBrain. I happen to have been a stop on the company’s first press tour 17 years ago. The moment I saw it, I realized that the way it looked on-screen was the way thoughts looked in my head — more or less.

So I started using TheBrain then, not knowing that this many years later I would be happily weaving more things into that same Brain file. At this point, there are more than a quarter million nodes in my Brain (called Thoughts), linked by more than 440,000 links. All entered by hand, the same way you would add a bookmark to your browser.

ipad-2048x1536-v04Now my Brain data is available as an iOS app, which means it’s portable and convenient. You can find it in the Apple Store here (link will launch iTunes; Android is a couple months away).

It’s an absolute hoot to see your face on an icon on someone’s home screen. It made me reflect also on how the rest of the app icons are inert and abstract: you never get the sense of a person behind them. Here you do, and I love it.

I’ve created a Facebook group for conversations about this Brain; you can read this post for more background. And please be in touch with your reactions and wishes. This is the start of a collaborative web of ideas and relationships that should just get better over time.

Design from trust (my Gain talk)

Jerry —  November 15, 2014 — 2 Comments

So much comes down to design. Not just graphic design or user interface (or experience, or interaction) design, or even urban design. I’m thinking Design with a big D, encompassing all the ways we design our world, from the built environment to laws, regulations, norms and software.

Gain is the AIGA‘s business conference. It’s full of designers, mostly graphic, though Design Thinking seems to be pervasive.

This year’s organizer, Nathan Shedroff, bravely turned the usual  agenda upside-down: Rather than being about the business of design, #GAINconference 2014 was about the design of business — and more. Nathan threw down a fun, broad challenge and invited a bunch of interesting people to take swings at it. Including me. You can see all the talks from Gain here; mine’s embedded below.

My goal in this talk was to help designers read the landscapes they work in, to learn to see the hidden architectures of mistrust, then to design from trust.

Here are some of the high points:

  • We’ve been designing from mistrust.
  • There are architectures of mistrust everywhere, hidden from sight by their social acceptance.
  • Pioneers in many disciplines figured out how to design from trust. Mostly, their disciplines ejected them.
  • Architecture is destiny. Design creates architecture. Intent informs design.
  • Designers face moral decisions daily they can’t identify as moral choices.
  • Mistrust is baked in everywhere, breaking society. Most everything needs creative redesign.

If you’re a designer and you’d like to take a swing at this Design from Trust thing with me, please get in touch.

Thanks, Nathan, for one of the best after-speech Q&A sessions ever! (starts at 22″)

Automation in (of) my life

Jerry —  July 27, 2014 — 1 Comment

I’ve been in the workforce for (ahem) a few years, long enough that I’ve watched a few eras come and go.

The video below describes my first real job, at Mobil Oil (before its merger with Exxon), performing a daily task that we would naturally assume today is done in software. And it is.

I found a picture of the crew that did this with me:

Mobil Stiffs Day

April and I had a blast in San Diego at the wonderfully organized and run Sustainable Brands conference. A big part of what made it special for us was getting to give the opening keynote, which set the tone for the event.

SB14 went for three more days, during which many people started great conversations with us by telling us how the talk had affected them.

Our topic was trust, starting from the observation that many of the institutions and services we take for granted these days seem to have been designed from mistrust of the average person. It’s so common as to be mainstream, but once you know to look for it (for design from mistrust), you see it everywhere.

Our talk (a tag-team talk, minus the Mexican wrestling masks) is available online now. (Note that there’s a four-minute pre-roll ad from Unilever, so now you know how far to skip ahead if you don’t want to watch it. It is moving, though.)

If you believe that consumer, mass-market capitalism is toppling, about to be replaced by something much more open and more authentic, then the FLOK project in Ecuador should be one of the top projects you follow.

Michel Bauwens, the spark behind the Peer-to-Peer Foundation Wiki, has been invited to Ecuador to help convert their economy from the normal growth-addicted model (in which Ecuador is but a little guppy) to a Peer-to-Peer or Commons-Based Economy, in which knowledge is shared openly and all sorts of things ensue.

To get a taste of what this project is and what it means, watch this interview we did with Michel and John Restakis (we = IFTF’s Sara Skvirsky, David Evan Harris & yours truly):

Last week I was in Switzerland, first to run the “Future of the Customer” workshop I described earlier (and will return to), then to attend and speak at LIFT14 in Geneva.

At LIFT, I dove into many of the topics that bubble out of the Relationship Economy: the language of advertising, minding our Commons, seeing the big picture and DFTBA.

Here’s my LIFT talk, plus some Q&A after:

Here’s the Prezi I created for the speech.