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Back to Basics!

After a long break we are back! Back to business, and back to basics! We start today with the ambition to deliver visions of the present and of the future in a clean and simple manner. We also hope to provide you with a forum for your innovative ideas and bring you to our pages through interviews, profiles, and even short documentaries. Stay tunned!

May 22, 2012 Permalink

The Issue of Intellectual Property and The Free Culture

Motto: “From the earliest days at Apple, I realized that we thrived when we created intellectual property. If people copied or stole our software, we’d be out of business. If it weren’t protected, there’d be no incentive for us to make new software or product designs. If protection of intellectual property begins to disappear, creative companies will disappear or never get started. But there’s a simpler reason: It’s wrong to steal. It hurts other people. And it hurts your own character.” (Steve Jobs, as quoted in the biography by Walter Isaacson)
We are safe to assume that Bill Gates has the same philosophy when it comes to Intellectual Property for the simple fact that he made a fortune from IP. And many other Internet or media moguls do. The issue is not however as simple as Jobs described it for the simple fact that the Internet changed all the rules of the game when it comes to IP in some spaces.

Coca-Cola - original bottle patent

Coca-Cola - original bottle patent

Culture and Entertainment. In the cultural spaces, for example, the assumption from which most people start when they consume culture today is that culture should be free. Free open-air concerts, pirate websites and free content available on the Internet have created an idea in people’s minds that anything related to culture should be free. While in theory we can agree with this, there will always be the question of who’s paying the creators? Creating quality content takes time, talent, and dedication. The authors might have spent maybe years trying to create something valuable, but they are not able to cash. The solution is never free culture. It also can not come in the form of overpayment. How many of the movies you have seen lately were worth the price of admission? Regardless of the quality most of the DVDs cost almost the same. Let’s examine the case of the movies a little bit. I’ve just checked for some prices on the street and on-line and guess what I found? The last asian gore, a classic Dolph Lundgren feature, a simple chick flick and the last Tarantino costs the same. While this might be good news for somebody collecting movies in huge quantities regardless of the genre, in general it’s just a fact that helps the piracy even more, because some of the afore-mentioned movies might be of interest for purchasing just for the fans. Renting them on or offline is the usual solution, but it doesn’t solve the problem. The solution is deceptively simple: change the pricing and purchasing options. But how? Charging for quality is subjective (you never know how much somebody would pay for a certain movie) and also against the free culture mantra by all means, even tough it’s common practice (please check the pricing for the movies that won Oscars against those who haven’t, what do you notice?). This will remain an open problem, but purchasing options are definitely changing: from iTunes to Amazon and Hulu, entertainment and culture are available through all channels. We will not dive further into the pricing problem that is faced by the entertainment industry now. We will explore it with another occasion. One thing is clear: the desire for Free Culture and the mass adoption of piracy was not the public saying that they don’t want to pay for something, but rather the public saying that they are tired to eat crappy content and to search for years for certain albums or movies for the simple fact that the entertainment giant refuses to re-edit them. In certain countries where the payment was low and there was also a cultural gap (see former communist countries, for example) piracy flourished because publishing giants were ignorant when it came to their countries.
What happens to the software industry? Be warned that industry people and common people might understand different things through free software. As defined by Richard Stallman, Free Software is open software, software that comes with the code, but not really unpaid software. If you want you can have free software for which you pay. How does this sounds? Counterintuitive for sure. Free software is also software offered for free legally, software for which you don’t pay money. And of course, while we don’t like it, illegal software is also free, but nobody responds for it. Now here lies the true value: who responds for this software? Who responds if this software ruins my computer? If nobody does it, then you shouldn’t be using it because you don’t know if it’s safe to use it.
Intellectual Property at its strongest: Patents. Well this year was all about patents. Every major company had to fight at least a dozen process against patent trolls, but also against other major companies. It seems like nobody plays fair anymore. Without patents there will be no protection for new ideas, on one side, but also no source of income for inventors. And as we noticed already, it takes time and money to do something well. Patents are the real engine of the economy. They stimulate competition. Without them we will all be a bunch of copy/pasters, reduced to what the establishment already offers us, without any real capacity to bring disruptive ideas to the market. And yet even leading companies choose to eliminate it from their practices. We should all consider a patent as a recognition of his creator, an homage, as well as a guide to the invention.
Free Culture or Fear Culture? Free Culture is a recipient for disaster in any space. Can you image tourism thriving in a world of Free Culture? Not really. There is however a thriving fear culture that prospers in the shadow of Free Culture, a Fear Culture, a culture of people that are so scared by new ideas that they prefer to steal instead of experiment.

November 3, 2011 Permalink

Net Original Video Content – More Than A Trend

For many years it was enough for cable companies to redistribute the same content as the national TV networks and the same movies. That was until a company called HBO provided something different: original programs. By doing so they created series like Tales From The Crypt, Oz, The Sopranos, Sex and The City, Rome, Entourage or Boardwalk Empire and inspired a whole industry to follow their model. Even cable networks that were specialized in movies like TNT(now producers of Dallas) or AMC(Mad Men) joined the trend.
The Internet more or less seems to follow the same trend. Of course for big retailers like Amazon producing their own content is not a necessity, but for smaller brands every bit of original content posted on the Internet can mean new fans.
Let’s examine a little bit what are the options in the space of original video content for the Internet:

  • Webcasts – online transmissions of actual live events.
  • Webisodes – short episodes (usually few minutes) connected to TV series like Stargate, Lost, etc.
  • Short video clips – you all know what YouTube offers you. Also any respected singer, band, brand offers you a collection of its best videos. It is even recommended to put full HD tunes online.
  • Videoblogs -The video alternative to blogging.
  • Series – These are not yet on par with the TV ones, but they are definitely growing.
  • Animation – Here there is a lot of space for growth. Especially since short clips are always redistributed and almost always viral.
  • We already have more content online than we have on traditional TV. The beauty of it comes from the fact that it’s available to watch at any time (except for the webcasts, of course). Since we are witnessing a shift in advertising funds towards the Internet, we should be prepared for even more original content. In the next weeks we will present you several companies that are focused around building great Original Video Content for the Internet.

    October 25, 2011 Permalink

    One More Thing… A Biography

    OK folks! That’s the last one about Jobs. We had enough in the last months and weeks. We respect him, but it’s time to move on. He would have wanted this. Otherwise he wouldn’t have given us his famous Stanford speech.
    The reason we wrote this is to announce you that today is the official launch of Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs biography. Isaacson wrote several successful biographies like those of Einstein and Franklin when he was approached by Jobs in 2004. The difference this time was that he was able to meet his subject and talk to him for many years and at least 40 times.

    October 24, 2011 Permalink

    Answer Engines

    A.I. has been through different waves during the last decades, from the huge interest in games to expert systems and then to semantic web, but except for games where it is obvious how A.I. technologies are used, people do not really know what is it exactly that researchers in this field do. Are they creating Terminators or are they creating something really useful like a teaching assistant?

    Last days have been full of news about A.I.: from Siri to Knewton, A.I. was everywhere in the news (at least the news about Occupy Wall Street are not about A.I.). Most of the articles were about Siri, of course, and not without merits. It is probably the closest that we have come to realize the vision of personal digital assistants, a key part of the semantic web. It is debatable if Siri is an intelligent agent, but it is clear that it represents a new wave of digital assistant. By saying this we acknowledge that what Apple gave us is far superior to the Microsoft’s ’90s shy attempt at the idea. The Internet is full of clips with Siri and also one of the major news was that it was already ported to the older iPhones like iPhone4. Steve Wozniack, the Apple co-founder, also suggested that there is more to Siri and some features he tested are not yet in the final product. That only means we’ll see them in the future, maybe in the next iPhone. Woz also suggested that this is the future: answer engines, not search engines. It’s not a new ideea since Wolfram Alpha and Quora are working on it for years. It’s just that it’s the first time when an implementation almost gets it right. Kudos to Apple. Quora is not dead. Au contraire. If Apple buys them it might be the next big thing. The Wolfram Alpha as we all know was a fiasco, so it still premature to say if this is really the new trend. People want both: the short (answer engines) and the long answers (search engines), so probably these two are not different markets, but rather facets of the same market.
    Of course search engines are not dead. We hear that DuckDuckGo finally took off. They got funding and started hiring. We hope they don’t take the Cuil route to disaster and that in some day we might be able to really see their dream come true.
    And as if all these news were not enough, we also noticed that Knewton, a start-up focused on education is really attracting a lot of press and money. Their adaptive algorithms are old ideas, but the execution and reviews are stellar. We hope they will change something.
    So as we see everything is focused around A.I. these days. As long as researchers and founders are not building Terminators we are really excited.

    October 16, 2011 Permalink

    Elegy For The Founders

    The founders have died when their creations were rising… It’s not the first or the last phrase of a famous novel, even tough it could be because this is precisely what happened during the last days. So the founders of some companies died right when their creations were everywhere. Which founders? What battle?
    Let’s stop for a moment and analyze what happened during the last days. Please bear with me even tough it will be hard to recite the names and remember what they have done.
    Of course we have to start with Steve (died on the 5th of October). He was instrumental in bringing the digital electronics era to the post-PC age into the land of the greatest consumer electronics ever created. He was so good at what he did that a one year old now thinks that a magazine is just a broken iPad (if you don’t believe this please write magazine is broken iPad). Everybody heard about him and we don’t have to wonder why he was so important. He did not eradicated some maladies like his old frenemy Gates, but he created a world in which technology can be used by everbody. He also helped creating the digital music market which he controlled for the past years.
    Robert W. Galvin (died 11.10.2011) was the head of Motorola from 1959 t0 1988 and Chairman for another 2 years. Under his leadership Motorola developed into a global leader in the semiconductor business but also into the company who pioneered the mobile phones. Maybe he was not Jobs, but his influence is still felt around the world. How would you feel today without a mobile phone?

    Then there is Dennis Ritchie. R.I.P. Dennis (09.09.1941-12.10.2011). In case you wonder who this guy was it’s enough to pronounce 2 words: C and Unix. The programming language and the operating system. If I will also pronounce Space Travel, you will realise that this guy was also important into bringing games into the digital age. Suffice to say that the PC had not one but 2 killer apps: one was the spreadsheet and the other was the ability to play electronic games and you will clearly see that Ritchie was one of the two guys who hold the keys to the future of the digital age back in the ’70s. The fourth thing I will pronounce when it comes to Ritchie is The C Programming Language. Still the best introduction to programming, still the most imitated. If anything, he and Ken Thompson are responsible for bringing programming and the digital age to the masses. The other 2 important persons that finished this process were of course Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Without them the world would have been uglier. The fact that 2 of them died at a distance of only several days is one of the reason why I wrote this elegy in the first place.
    Three founders. Not necessarily of big companies but of a way of life. Three of the founders of our modern digital life. All connected by the passion for technology and death (within several days). And not only their death but also the death of a technology they helped destroyed: film. Yes. Old film camera are now retired. All the remaining producers of film camera (Arri, Panavision, Aaton) announced in the same time that they will let go of their old film camera business. Hollywood is entirely digital anyway. There is no need to go on. Now please go back and read the first phrase. Try to complete it…You will notice it’s very hard to do it for the simple fact there is no greater honor than to die when you have prevailed. So here’s to the crazy ones who believed in a better life: may you all rest in peace. You will be forever missed, even tough we as humans have short memory.

    October 16, 2011 Permalink

    Apple’s iPhone 4S or What Happens When The Rumors Are Not Confirmed

    While it’s clear that the market didn’t reacted very well to Tim Cook’s first presentation as CEO, the reason for this was not Tim Cook but rather the mysterious disappearance of iPhone 5 from today’s menu. This suggest that Apple’s strategy of controlling even the rumors might be falling apart. It seems that if the rumors are not true you will loose money in today’s market. But then again, sometimes even if the rumors are true you loose money. The 5% plunge that was felt by the Apple shares after the London and San Francisco shows raises the question if we should even listen to the rumors at all. Should we? While it’s true that all crises start with a rumor, today’s presentation didn’t really brought a lot of new things. Except Siri, which we knew it was coming, the rest of the new launches were rather evolutionary than revolutionary. If this will happen in the next launches as well, than Apple will really face a crisis.

    Apple Store in NYC

    Apple Store in NYC

    So let’s see what Cook and his team brought to the table. We still got some pretty interesting stuff:

      Of course the star was the iPhone 4S. It’s not 5, but it has Siri, a personal digital assistant that starts to look more and more like Star Trek and really does all the cool stuff you want (from finding restaurants to answer to questions about her). It also has a new 8 MP camera designed to fight with the point and shoot cameras and a dual-core A5 CPU, but also dual mode GSM/CDMA radio that will allow it to run on all networks. If that’s not enough, you will definitely like the new software features, like the one that allows you to track your children anywhere (“Find My Friends” – we’re not talking just about Big Brother anymore, but about Big Friend and Big Parent, also).
      New IPod Nano. Migh be the last generation, but who cares? They still look gorgeous.
      iOS 5 comes with new Touch interface and lots of cool features like deeper integration with all the big software players you like (even tough there is no news about Facebook between those …strange?!?), but also with iCards, Messages and more.

    We could go on mentioning the whole list of new features, but it doesn’t make any sense. It’s already clear that all you readers and shareholders care about is the new phone or the new tablet. They should have seen this coming. This time the question is: what will Tim Cook do?

    October 4, 2011 Permalink

    The Android Wars

    The image of Jeff Bezos presenting the new Kindle Fire didn’t really succeeded into erasing our memories of Steve Jobs launching the iPad, but the product itself is nothing short of extraordinary. Of course we hate the fact that it’s not present in Europe, but this doesn’t make it less important. Here is a company which presents its new product and justifies the deals signed with Fox and other companies for the 11000 movies and TV series. The millions of books available in their bookstore will also be easily accessed.
    From the conference it’s easy to understand why Amazon entered Android wars. For them it doesn’t matter that they will pay a tax to Microsoft, their whole business needs a product like this to deliver its movies, music, books, magazines, apps and games. Kindle Fire is a product for consumers, the missing link from Amazon’s ecosystem, and possibly at its 199$ price tag the winner of the Android wars.

    Samsung HQ

    Samsung HQ

    Samsung, who for the moment has the best Android phone and the best Android tablet, has agreed not only to pay Microsoft royalties, but also to launch Windows 7.5 & Windows 8 phones. They will also contribute to the next Android launch: Nexus Prime, sometimes in October. Since in several days we will see the iPhone 5, the Nexus Prime will appear as a reaction to this first major Apple launch since Steve Jobs left the CEO position. Currently Samsung does not have a reaction to Kindle Fire, so if this tablet finds its way into Europe, they are in danger of loosing the Android tablet wars. They are also likely in danger to loose their winning Android phones position because of the Google + Motorola Mobility deal.
    Why do we talk about Microsoft and Apple when we talk about Android? Not just because of the endless trials and patent infringements, but also because these companies tend to copy designs from one another. It makes sense, it’s easier to imitate the IPhone than to create something new. In some cases it’s hard to debate if something that feels as natural as multi-touch should be patented, but this is the way this war is played.

    September 30, 2011 Permalink

    The Social Summer

    Everything is Social. Eating, hiking, dating or traveling are social activities. So is sitting in front of the computer. At least in the last 10 years.
    We all know the players: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google +1, Instagram, Flickr, YouTube. Wait. You just said YouTube? Yes. That’s about the only option Google should look at if it wants to cannibalize Facebook’s market. Our opinion is that instead of building +1, Google should have just focused into transforming YouTube into the next big thing. Or maybe they will do it. In the end they always seem to have 2 competing products in the same markets (remember Android and Chromium?). The fact that +1 users don’t post that much anymore is an indication that an improved YouTube would have been really the wining card.

    Google executives: Schmidt, Brin, Page

    Google executives: Schmidt, Brin, Page

    This summer was really a Social Summer. In case you didn’t noticed, it started with Google’s unveiling of +1, and just ended with Twitter’s launch of its analytics platform. Of course they are not the only players. The number of social apps launched every month (even every week) would make a long list by itself. This is just the beginning. They all still need to monetize, and for the moment Facebook looks like the winner. They should have done it gradually, during the last 5-6 years. Now it might be just too late.
    Let’s just analyze what happens on different fronts in the Social Wars:

  • Users – Facebook is the clear winner in this category. Google can also draw millions of users. LinkedIn and Twitter both have more than 100 million users. It all goes down to profiles: how you design them, how you use that data, and what do you offer to your clients.
  • Analytics – Twitter finally decided to offer something in this direction too. Facebook already has Insights, and Google’s tools are almost legendary.
  • Games – What’s social without games? Zynga is the clear winner.
  • Location – Foursquare, Facebook Places and many others are in this game. It’s just that Places is not that cool anymore.
  • Pictures – Flickr’s time is long gone. Facebook is number one here, but young start-ups like Instagram will definitely occupy some serious market share. Google can buy any one of these newcomers.
  • Movie – YouTube is the winner. Everybody shares YouTube movies.
  • Smart lists – While Google’s +1 started this, what Facebook reveals is potentially dangerous. Since they infer data about you friends, colleagues, former colleagues, or persons living in different areas where you lived, they almost compile your entire biography. Should anyone break into your account it will not just steal your messages/mails, but will also have access to unprecedented information about your like all in one place. On reasons of privacy, this feature will probably encounter a major backslash from users around the world. That is if they are educated correctly in matters related to privacy.
  • Social search – Facebook started the trend. Google and others followed. This feature encounters a major backslash in Germany and some other countries.
  • Entertainment – It’s not just games. If Hollywood and major music labels decide to go with different social networks, the one who will sign the best deals will have a major advantage in the social wars. Think Hulu + YouTube, for example. Now isn’t that something you would like?
  • Looking at what happens now in the market, it’s clear that Facebook is the winner. However they are stepping the line in some regards (social search, smart lists, especially), and this might start a movement against them. Google other companies will only win from this if only they will not repeat the same mistakes.

    September 18, 2011 Permalink

    The Copy/Paste Culture, The 3 Ps, UFOs and The Future of Innovation

    I know the title it’s ironic, but that’s how it’s supposed to be. Were UFOs inserted just for laughs? Read on. There are 2 sides: the ones that will argue that the copy/paste culture we live in (and we’re not talking just about the copy/paste feature allowed by any modern operating system, but also about reverse engineering and other similar methods) is not bad and it essentially allows us to innovate more, while the others will simply say that if you copy everything you don’t have to think that much about new things but rather about new components and on long term the process of innovation will simply disappear. Basically both camps will say that the copy/paste culture is all about components. They agree on this. In the same it’s also about rejecting smaller scale innovation (why re-invent the wheel?). The truth is that if for several years we haven’t seen major breakthroughs (if you think 3D movies are innovation go back to the ’50s, or even further, to the ’30s), this doesn’t mean we won’t see new innovations in the future. Yes, the ocean and space dreams of the ’60s are gone, but only now the private entrepreneurs are starting to get into these realms. Yes, software is all about components, but it is about components that create value and about creating good software at a lower cost (outsourcing will never exist outside a copy/paste culture).



    What about the 3Ps? Patents, Passion and Power? Well apparently everybody wants to reuse old patents for power, not for new things while passionate inventors, developers and creators are left in the dust. Big companies need to defend their cause in expensive trials, not to launch new iPads and protect their talent. The 3rd P should have been Property, not Power (Money in reality, but then we would have had a longer and uglier title! And it’s not like you don’t know already that Money=Power!), but today is different. So let’s examine the 3Ps to see what they mean today:

  • Patents – Apple vs Google, Microsoft vs Google, Apple vs Samsung, and so on. We could go on forever. What happened to the Antitrust mantra: “Human knowledge belongs to the world”? They all want to win at Monopoly! That’s what happened.
  • Passion – There are still creative DIY geniuses out there. It’s just that some of them joined monopolists, while other refused to battle with them. The problem is not that there are no better products, but rather that marketing costs are so high in some cases that it’s impossible to fight with giants. Whatever happened to the passionate guys is hard to understand, but they are a still not an extinct species.
  • Power – GM, Samsung, IBM, and many others. They will not disappear tomorrow, but your small start-up might. Or it might end up swallowed by them. Everybody wants to be the cash king!
  • The 4th P would have been Productivity, but this is one of the main problems at the core of our debate: is Productivity a good or a bad thing for innovation? It’s clear that productive people have lots of ideas, but quality should always be important. I decided to leave it outside this discussion for the moment. Truth is Productivity is directly related to knowledge (the more you know, the more productive you are).
    In a normal world there should be a balance between C/P and the 3Ps, but in today’s world balance is still not possible. We should aim at it, but we don’t.
    I did not forgot the UFOs, but it’s not just my choice. If we want to get to the UFOs instead of the End of Innovation, we should clearly take some measures. Some simple ones like use C/P only when necessary, or try to think new stuff from time to time.

    September 14, 2011 Permalink

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