For the Week of December 22, 2003
My career here at a-clue.com has gone through two distinct stages, so far.
The first stage was the boom. The newsletter was a marketing vehicle. People saw what I was writing about Internet Commerce, saw how I was writing it, and called me to do it for them.
By the year 2000 I had 14 different columns going, in addition to this one - daily columns, weekly columns, monthly columns, and one due to run once every two months. In addition to covering (and laughing about) e-commerce, I was writing about politics, publishing, business-to-business, the ISP business - all sorts of interesting stuff. I had a six-figure income.
Best of all I didn't have to take it seriously. I had written here from the first that this was a Bubble, that it was bound to burst. I knew my success was temporary. I was the grand de-bunker, the Internet Bubble's jester. I called millionaires and billionaires "clueless." And they paid me for it.
For me the end of Stage One came in San Francisco, at a show called Ad:tech, in the spring of 2000. It was a great time. I was staying, free, at a fancy hotel, and I had just come from a free lunch on a free launch in San Francisco Bay. I was in a bus with a bunch of yuppies. One started complaining about the recent turn in the market, how cruel it was that venture capitalists were suddenly demanding a bigger percentage of his deals, and how some of his friends weren't even being seen at all. "It isn't fair!" he moaned.
I laughed. I laughed and laughed. Since when do vulture capitalists have to be fair, I said. Since when is the market fair, I said. The market doesn't exist for your clueless benefit. When bubbles pop, they pop. Get over it. And the more he wallowed, the more I laughed. I'd been predicting this, I knew this was coming, it was as hilarious as I had believed it would be. I laughed and laughed. For a few minutes, I was Mephistopheles collecting Faust's soul.
But time passed. Time does. And while I had predicted this fall from grace, I was not immune to it. Columns began cancelling. New work came in a trickle, then it stopped flowing at all. By 2002 I was down to one pitiful gig, then that died.
The period from 2000 to now is the Second Stage, the bust.
"Once I had a Web site, made it run.
Made it race against time.
Once I had a Web site, now it's done.
Buddy can you spare a dime?"
The upshot of the song is that "Buddy" won't spare a dime. Buddy has decided that . you are a bum.
"Say don't you remember, they called me Al.
It was Al all the time.
Say don't you remember...I'm your pal!?
Buddy, can you spare a dime?"
Buddy walks on.
"He walks on, doesn't look back
He pretends he can't hear her
Starts to whistle as he crosses the street
Seems embarrassed to be there"
It's just another day for you and me in paradise. The cruelty of the period was predictable but it was hard just the same.
I was lucky. My wife had an "essential" job, programming systems for a company in a good business. She was even a "winner" from September 11. Her "prize" of a weekend in Martha's Vineyard on September 13 was replaced, thanks to the attack, by a week-long luxury cruise of the Caribbean. For two! The bust was good for my marriage, and good for my family. I was there for my kids as they entered their teen years, when they really needed me. And I found being needed was a wonderful, fulfilling thing indeed. It was wisdom my lovely wife had all along, and it was good. My marriage grew stronger. I was happy.
But the money ran out, and out and out, and we had to downsize. The kids started going to public schools. We stopped going out to eat. We put off work on our house as long as possible, then borrowed the money rather than paying cash. We didn't vacation any more. We kept our cars running past their expiration dates. I dropped my second phone line, then the cell phone.
I'm not looking for sympathy here. As I say, I was lucky. But everything I tried to do in order to get things going again failed for me. I tried working for some publishers free. They started demanding rewrites, or cancelled my pieces altogether. I tried writing a book. It was a great book () but without marketing behind it any book will fail.
I was out of options, going through the motions, down to my last swing of the bat. It was the Supercomm in Atlanta last spring, the last Supercomm in Atlanta. (It moves to Chicago next year.) And there, in the press room, I met a man who would change my life, literally.
His name was Barry Cohen. He listened to me, sympathetically. We hit it off. We walked the show floor together. He gave me his card. He suggested I call.
I did more than that. I was lucky enough to be invited to a dinner honoring a great friend of mine in New York, at the famous Four Seasons restaurant . It was just a few miles from Barry's office.
So we both flew up, Jenni and I. We figured to make a weekend of it, our first real vacation since that cruise, all writable-offable. Progressive Strategies has a prestige address, just a block from Union Square. But it's really a bare bones outfit. Most of its workforce is remote. They were looking for brainpower. Both Barry and his partner, Dan Spiner, thought I could be of use. Suddenly I was no mere reporter. I was a "Business Analyst."
I changed my sig file, I started writing blog items for Barry. For a long, long time nothing happened. Then came a little writing, then a project. The work was fun. The clients seemed happy. The amount of work I had to do began to grow. (Right now it seems unmanageable.) And then, last week, after I flew up again for the corporate Christmas party, the boss gave me the final proof of a turn in the market.
It was a check. I won't say how much it was for. But it was the first check I had seen in over six months. There was the promise of more. There was the hope that my latest "big idea," "The World Of Always-On," might not just become a second book, but a living, breathing reality. I am finally being heard by people in a position to do something about what I say, who are writing checks big enough that they are guaranteed to listen.
And so we enter Stage Three. I cannot tell you where it leads. I cannot tell you where it will take this newsletter. I cannot guarantee this newsletter will even follow it. But finally, finally, I feel, I'm on my way.
I'm on my way.
I'm on my way to a Heav'nly Lan'-
Oh Lawd. It's a long, long way, but
You'll be there to take my han'."
I know that after singing this Porgy disappeared, his story told. I know that after writing this Gershwin died. Neither success nor life is guaranteed for any of us. But moving forward feels so good.
"It's enough to be on your way.
It's enough to cover ground
It's enough to be moving on."
Merry Christmas, friend.
I work as a business analyst with Progressive Strategies, a New York research firm that has the ear of the world's top technology companies.
My last book, "The Blankenhorn Effect" won the Computer/Internet category in the 2003 Independent Publisher (IPPY) awards .
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Takes on the News
Fear And Loathing In Geneva
The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) was everything Internet activists feared.
It was not about liberating technology to serve people. It was about controlling technology, and money-grubbing dictators. Their keynote was delivered by none other than Robert Mugabe perhaps the most evil dictator still at large. (Bin Laden controls no country.)
"Beneath the rhetoric of free press and transparency is the iniquity of hegemony," said Mugabe. "The quest for an information society should not be at the expense of building a sovereign national society." Translation: give me the Internet's money, and let me control what Zimbabweans can read or say on it.
Were the U.S. government's actions regarding this medium (the RIAA, ICANN, the Patriot Act) consistent with its claims of supporting "freedom and democracy," this movement of tinhorn tyranny could be easily beaten. Because we have no credibility, this movement is galloping ahead.
Eli Noam of Columbia had it right in his article, which drew the derisive title "Let Them Eat Megabits." Private investment and viable business models should drive the Internet's development in Africa, South Asia, and other developing areas. That means wireless investment and cellular-like pricing. Just as it is cruel to offer dessert to a child who has had no meal, it is foolish to build a market of DSL where no one can afford a dial tone.
Bandwidth means choices. The question is who will make them. Most leaders at the summit thought they should. They think they know best what their people want and need.
They're wrong. The market knows best. The people know best. When the Internet, or any medium, becomes a slave of the government, the government will use it to enslave the people. Absent full democracy, a truly free market is the best mechanism for making the choices that must be made. And no country, not even the U.S., has the market cornered on democracy. So let the market decide.
The Key Policy Ingredient For Always-On
Michael Murray wrote in last week with a comment and a question. "I agree that the 'always on' applications offer a huge potential," he said, especially in his field of inventory and production control. "Add in GPS and you get additional benefit, combined with a horrible risk." People and things could be tracked like dogs (and children).
Michael put his finger on a key ingredient for Always-On to succeed, that is a policy tilt in favor of privacy.
The information you create must belong to you. No one should be allowed to share it, take it, use it, or hold it against you without your specific permission (or a legal proceeding in which you have a right to defend yourself).
Getting that legal protection is necessary for consumers to trust Always-On applications.
So when the product leaves the store, your Always-On chip and the information it generates becomes your property. You can use it. The store can't. That's a function security "scanners" should move toward, either at check-outs or on pedestals. At check-out you're exchanging the property right from the store to the consumer. Do the same for the chip, its functioning, and the information ig generates.
But this leaves an interesting technical difficulty, one I want some one of you to solve. How would this be done? How can ownership of a chip (and the information it creates) be transferred? Solve that technical problem, and Always-On will be welcomed by consumers.
Every Car A Wi-Fi Transceiver
Back when the bust was new, and new ideas by themselves were thought to be the cure for it, a friend told me of a great story from Mexico. A company making Wi-Fi set-ups would load them onto a Mexican trucking fleet, mainly to allow tracking of the fleet by a central station. But in the process they would deliver Wi-Fi service throughout rural Mexico.
Of course, the distances don't work. When you map the trucks' location to the location of people, you get a lot of service in the boondocks, and little where the people are. That's part of the nature of long-distance hauling. People don't like to live near it.
But alert a-clue.com reader Ed Dodds has a variation on that he's now pushing. Make every car in the U.S. a Wi-Fi transceiver. Do that, and you have a mesh network that does map to the population, because everyone has a car. It's not perfect, because when you turn your car off, it's off, and (in theory) so is the transceiver.
So in order for Dodds' idea to work, you need an application so valuable that everyone will want it. Is it, perhaps, security, with LoJack as the "killer app?" Is it, perhaps, GPS, with mapping as the "killer app?" Is it, perhaps, entertainment, with satellite services (which use frequencies very close to current 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi) like Sirius and XM as the "killer app?"
The answer, of course, must be all of the above, and more. There's a Clue here for clever entrepreneurs. You need to develop a product, plus a network, plus a network of applications in order to tie all this together. Yes, reception will be spotty at first, but links between cellular and Wi-Fi are coming, and software-defined radios are here.
Put Wi-Fi into cars, and all roads become part of a mesh network. Create a method (and reason) to leave those transceivers on all the time, and the U.S. becomes a giant Wi-Fi mesh!
Now that's an Always-On platform you can fall in love with.
Clued-in is Apple OSX 10.3, dubbed Panther . Now if they could just get the pricing and marketing right. Otherwise it's an Ogden Nash OS -- "if called by a Panther, don't anther."
Clueless was using RFID to track participants at the recent U.N. Summit without their knowledge or informed consent .
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