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Supernova Interview: Beth Noveck, Deputy CTO, USA

Today at the Personal Democracy Forum event, US CIO Vivek Kundra announced the first “IT Dashboard” for manipulating data about how US taxpayer’s dollars are spent. (Good coverage at the NY Observer.)  After Kundra and new media director of the White House Macon Phillips left the PDF stage, Beth Noveck, Deputy US CTO for the Open Government initiative spoke with PDF co-founder Andrew Rasiej about her project. Noveck, the author of Wiki Government, has the rare opportunity of proposing a major change in public policy in a book and implementing it just months later. Using wiki-like collaborative tools like Mixed Ink and Idea Scale, her office is putting “we the people” into the drivers seat to answer questions like  “How can we strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness by making government more transparent, participatory, and collaborative?”

In this video interview, I ask Beth about these initiatives and about her vision for future “We.gov” initiatives.

We hope Beth will engage with the Supernova Hub audience, and that in turn our audience will join in her open process.

Comments Off | Howard Greenstein | June 30th, 2009 | Highlights, Networks for Change, Video

Supernova Interview with Chris Sacca, Lowercase Capital

I got a few minutes with Chris Sacca after his talk (with Wyclef Jean - note video may not safe for work due to language) at the 140 Characters Conference in New York last week.

Chris is both an early and late stage investor, and has invested in Photobucket and Twitter among many others. He also headed special initiatives at Google and advised the Obama campaign. (There’s more of a profile about Chris at Crunchbase.)

In this discussion he talks about several of his investments, including Twitter, phone service company Twillio, stealth-mode company Small Batch and more. He notes that all of these are enabled by the ability to host the sites in the cloud, and scale without needing to own their own infrastructure.

We hope to hear more from Chris at the Supernova conference this winter.

Comments Off | Howard Greenstein | June 30th, 2009 | Changing Networks, Video

Changing Leaders for Changing Networks

The US Senate has finally confirmed Julius Genachowski as Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, and Larry Strickling as head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) of the Department of Commerce.  Five months after President Obama’s inauguration, the United States finally has its two leading officials on communications policy.  And not a moment too soon.

I’ve had the good fortune to know Julius and Larry for nearly fifteen years, since my days at the FCC during the Clinton Administration.  I worked with both of them on the Obama campaign’s technology advisory group, and on the Transition Team prior to Inauguration. They are both extremely capable, dedicated, and thoughtful.  And they both have experience working in government, at startups, and in large companies, which will serve them well in their new jobs.  (Julius has actually spoken twice before at Supernova – once as an executive at Barry Diller’s IAC/Interactive Corp., and once as a key advisor to the Obama campaign.)

The FCC and NTIA have critically important roles to play in the next few years. The reason is that networks are changing.

First, broadband connectivity and the applications it enables aren’t luxuries any more.  When every independent band has a MySpace page and the President makes electronic health records a centerpiece of his health care reform initiative, it means the line between “using the Internet” and “living life” has collapsed.  The FCC oversees the vast subsidy system for “universal service,” but those mechanisms were developed decades ago to fund telephone connections by shifting money between monopoly phone companies.  In the 1990s, NTIA under Larry Irving pioneered the notion of a “digital divide” in Internet access, by that initiative fell by the wayside under the Bush Administration.  And finally, as the Net becomes a critical resource for democratic discourse and economic activity, the potential for network operators to act as gatekeepers over content and applications becomes a serious concern.  It’s time to refocus on what all these concepts mean in an interconnected broadband world.

Second, today’s Net is not the dotcom Web of 1999. The real-time Internet is changing expectations and business models.  We’ve just scratched the surface of what Google, Twitter, the iPhone, and Facebook will enable, because all of them are ecosystems rather than merely endpoints.  And services like Microsoft’s TellMe, BT’s Ribbit and Google Voice only hint at how communications will soon be transformed. Wireless data and online video are exploding: The executive director of the Mozilla Foundation estimates 90% of Internet traffic will be video in 2013; AT&T Wireless estimates mobile data usage in 2018 will be up to 600 times greater than it is today; and YouTube says wireless video uploading is up 400% just in the week since the launch of the iPhone 3GS.  The list goes on.

In recent years, the FCC and NTIA haven’t adapted with the world around them.  The FCC still has a Wireline Bureau, a Wireless Bureau, and a Media Bureau… but no Internet Bureau.  So how will it evaluate concerns about AT&T barring tethering and media streaming on the iPhone?  The old categories no longer work.  Similarly, while the website I built at the FCC in 1996 was pretty innovative at the time, it’s grossly inadequate today, despite the best efforts of a hard-working staff. The Bush Administration largely ignored technology and telecommunications.  It just didn’t see them as important, and agencies like the FCC and NTIA suffered as a result.

With the arrival of the Obama Administration, there’s an opportunity for the FCC and NTIA to emerge from their slumber.  Most immediately, in the economic stimulus package earlier this year, Congress directed NTIA to oversee a multi-billion dollar broadband grant program, and the FCC to develop a National Broadband Plan.  (Disclosure: I’m doing work for NTIA as an expert advisor on the grant program.) Work on both fronts is well underway.  Finally, though, these efforts will have leaders empowered to make strategic decisions.

Entrepreneurs and technologists like to dismiss government as byzantine and irrelevant, but in this case, doing so would be a mistake.  Julius and Larry understand how revolutionary the Net can be.  Yet they will need a great deal of help from those outside government to succeed.

Given my experience straddling the worlds of technology and policy, Supernova has always been a translation point between Washington DC and the tech community.  We’ll have several key figures from the Obama Administration at the conference in December.  If you care about the future of the Internet, you need to pay attention to the tech policy initiatives coming out of the FCC, NTIA, and other agencies.  The US government finally appreciates the potential of networks for change.

Comments Off | Kevin Werbach | June 26th, 2009 | Highlights, Networks for Change

Enterprise 2.0 Wrapup

The Enterprise 2.0 conference has wrapped, and the consensus seems to be that 2009 is the transitional year for the movement of “Web 2.0″ concepts into the enterprise.

Paul Greenberg writes:

“Enterprise 2.0 so far has been an eyeopener because its telling me and around 1200-1300 others that there is not only a lot of cool and collaborative things going on but E2.0 is moving into mainstream thinking and soon into mainstream operations, systems, and best of all strategy…if you are a business person and you want to understand what you have to do in the next year to 2 years — this is it.”

Oliver Marks chimes in as well:

“Enterprise 2.0 was not well understood as a concept this time last year in most circles; twelve months on and many enterprise vendors have absorbed the core concepts, if not always the actual experiential benefits, into their offerings…While it’s great that there is now widespread understanding of the concepts of Enterprise 2.0, I find it is still an uphill battle to get people to understand the experiential side. There are plenty of people and companies who talk around the concepts without actually using them.”

And Alexander Wolfe from InformationWeek brings it home:

“I’m encouraged that the dirty little secret of Web 2.0 and social media technologies is finally being openly addressed by early adopters and vendors alike. At the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston, there’s been frank discussion this week of the question average users have been whispering (so that their bosses don’t hear them): Namely, what can this stuff do for me that’s actually useful?

In truth, though, the answers to that question are not yet completely apparent. Here’s the deal. At last year’s conference, most denizens of the Web 2.0/Enterprise 2.0 community were consumed with evangelism issues. There was a need to raise the profile of wikis, collaborative tools, social-messaging platforms – all the stuff that early adopters were already down with, but average corporate users, not so much.

This year, we’ve passed through the familiarity hurdle. We’ve all been wiki’ed up and Twitterized. The problem is, those who don’t have an innate feel for the technology, or whose jobs don’t make amorphous, asynchronous communications networks useful, have been left out of the cold”

There’s a lot more coverage of the conference here.  But the question that I’d like to raise is — for your organization or agency, is this “2.0″ stuff evolving to be tools that are used in the “real” world?  Or is it still only the bailiwick of the early adopters?

1 Comment | Supernova Staff | June 26th, 2009 | Strategic Change

Take Supernova Video Interviews With You

Just a quick update to let you know that the Supernovahub Video interviews with Kevin Werbach, David Weinberger, John Borthwick and JP Rangaswami are now available as a podcast on iTunes. You can subscribe to the Supernova channel on iTunes or if you use a different podcatcher, get the episodes directly from the Supernovahub RSS feed on Blip.Tv.

More interviews are coming soon, so subscribe today.

Comments Off | Howard Greenstein | June 25th, 2009 | News

Supernova Interview: JP Rangaswami

JP Rangaswami is the Managing Director of BT Design, a unit of British Telecom. He’s also much more than that. A long time blogger and Web 2.0 technology advocate, he was named as one of the top “Agenda Setters” by Silicon.com, above Ray Kurzweil, Craig Mundie of Microsoft,  and Howard Stringer of Sony.

At the 140 Characters Conference in New York last week, I spoke with JP about how Business and Strategy are changing due to ubiquitous networks and new ways to access data. He noted that “Things that were previously synchronous, like voice communications, can now be asynchronous, and things that were previously asynchronous [like knowing people status, location or current work] can be synchronous.” There’s much more in the video.

JP Rangaswami is one of the many voices participating in the conversation here at Supernova Hub and at Supernova2009.

Comments Off | Howard Greenstein | June 23rd, 2009 | Changing Networks, Strategic Change, Video

Google Grabs One Million Phone Numbers

googlevoice_logo1According to NetworkWorld and ReadWriteWeb, Google has reserved one million phone numbers via Level 3.  NetworkWorld’s John Fontana writes:

Google last month reserved 1 million phone numbers with Level 3, signaling that it may finally be ready to roll out its long-anticipated Google Voice service.

The free service, announced in March, lets users unify their phone numbers, allowing them to have a single number through Google Voice that rings a call through to all their phones.

Sources could not say when the 1 million numbers may be assigned. Level 3 has been supplying Google with phone numbers since the introduction of Google Voice, so the 1 million numbers are an indication Google is close to adding a significant amount of users.”

The question: How will a broader rollout of Google Voice affect/integrate/expand the Android mobile user base?

Comments Off | Supernova Staff | June 23rd, 2009 | Changing Networks, Highlights

Smartphones Changing the Network

iphoneThe big news today was the official release of the iPhone 3Gs, which plugged a number of the significant technical holes in the iPhone platform (cut-and-paste, camera quality, video, etc.) that had been the weak spots in the platform since its launch.  (N.b. I received mine via UPS this morning, and was able to navigate the upgrade process without any significant hitches.)  While most of the features are incremental upgrades, both the camera improvements (including video) and the speed improvements are definitely noticeable.

picture-14Although the iPhone seems to get a disproportionate share of the media attention, the market is definitely not a one-horse race.  Palm has sold over 100,000 of its new Palm Pre devices, which became available on June 6 of this year.  The Pre is a gorgeous, capable device that has the one thing the iPhone doesn’t — a slide-out, physical keyboard.  Engadget says “Yes, this is epic stuff. The Pre (and its accompanying operating system) could likely decide the fate of the company largely credited with ushering in the age of the do-everything phone. Since Palm’s announcement at CES this year, news surrounding the Pre has been a veritable whirlwind of activity: rumors, half-truths, hate, love, fear-mongering, fanboyism, rampant gadget-lust… and even a little late night celebrity for the pint-sized phone. Finally the time has come to put rubber to road and get into the guts of this thing once and for all. Can the Pre and webOS live up to the hype — the kind of hype we haven’t seen since the launch of the original iPhone — or do they snap under the pressure?”  Indeed, the Pre may be the make-or-break moment for Palm, which ruled the roost in the Personal Digital Assistant market for so long, but has seen its fortunes decline as the smartphone platform absorbed all the primary capabilities of what had previously been a standalone device.

picture-15Not to be outdone, BlackBerry maker Research in Motion (RIM) announced earnings on Thursday, noting that it moved 7.8 million new BlackBerry devices, signed 3.8 million new subscriber accounts and raked in $3.42 billion in revenue for their first quarter.  (Note that this means RIM moved twice as many BlackBerries as Apple did iPhones during the quarter.)  Geek.com says: “[Research firm NPD] said that smartphone category grew its share of the overall mobile phone market six percent annually, having jumped from 17 percent in the first quarter of 2008 to nearly one quarter (23 percent) of the entire mobile phone market. According to Rubin, this serves as clear indication of the rising popularity of the smartphone category that, by many analysts’ estimates, is already reshuffling the entire market. ‘Even in the challenging economy, consumers are migrating toward web-capable handsets and their supporting data plans to access more information and entertainment on the go,’ Rubin noted.”

picture-16Handset giant Nokia is in the game as well, not surprisingly.  Their Nokia N97 entrant also shipped this month, and carries forward touches like a high-end camera that earlier models such as the N95 sported.  Gartner reports that Nokia shipped 60.9 million smartphones in 2008, and carried a global 43.7% market share…more than twice as much as nearest-competitor RIM.

So what does this mean?  It means that the network is changing, dramatically.  Nearly one quarter of the new mobile devices coming on line are smartphones, with a huge year-over-year jump in the rate of change.  Capabilities in the areas of performance and storage seem to be doubling yearly.  Integration with social networks, content sharing sites, chat and other social features are being built right into the platform.  And, perhaps most importantly, the explosion in application development for the devices (led by the 50,000+ apps in the Apple iTunes App Store) indicate both developer embrace and customer uptake of the mobile device as a powerful – and perhaps soon-to-be primary – means of connecting with the network.

1 Comment | Supernova Staff | June 19th, 2009 | Changing Networks

Supernova Interview: John Borthwick of Betaworks

John Borthwick is Founder and CEO of Betaworks, which builds, buys and invests in early stage companies relating to the real-time web. In this interview, captured after he spoke at Jeff Pulver’s 140 Characters Conference in New York, John discusses his views of the direction the real time web is going. As Betaworks’ portfolio includes Twitter, Bit.ly, StockTwits, TipJoy, and more, John is in a somewhat unique position to predict how many of us will interact with the real time stream.

Borthwick has been in the internet space for a very long time, having sold his 1994 company WP Studios to AOL’s Digital Cities back in 1997. His rise to Senior Vice President of Alliances and Technology Strategy for Time Warner Inc. was aidede by his keen insight into trends and his ability to be a little ahead of the market.

We hope to hear more of John’s insights at Supernova 2009.

UPDATE: John has been scheduled to speak at the Tech Crunch Real Time Stream Crunchup. After interviewing him, I can see why he’s in demand to talk about the real-time web.

Comments Off | Howard Greenstein | June 19th, 2009 | Changing Networks, Video

Supernova Interview: David Weinberger on The Cluetrain Manifesto 10th Anniversary Edition

The great thing about being a consultant is wearing lots of hats.  I’m working with the Supernova team again this year, and David Weinberger recently engaged me to help him research his upcoming business book on how networks are changing the nature of expertise.  Dovetails nicely with Supernova’s 2009 topic “Change Networks” doesn’t it?  I decided to interview David about the launch of the Tenth Anniversary Edition of the Cluetrain Manifesto, the book he co-authored with Rick Levine, Chris Locke and Doc Searls.

Iz: We’re coming around to the 10th anniversary of the publishing of the Cluetrain Manifesto.  Does it seem like it’s been that long already?

DW: Of course not.  Nothing does.  When I estimate how long ago something was I now routinely double it.  That gets it about right.

Iz: Do you still fraternize with your co-authors?

DW: Pretty much the way that I did before. The only time the four of us were ever in the same room was actually twice – at the beginning of the summer when we wrote the book and at the end of the summer when we wrote the book.  We stay in contact.  I see Doc all the time because we live in the same place, but I don’t get out to Boulder very much.

Iz: Do you feel like the original publication of the book specifically has changed your life?

DW: Sure.  The book did pretty well, and it raised my visibility on the web and somewhat off the web.

Iz: Let’s talk for a minute about the 95 Theses.  Over the course of the past 10 years, Have you seen companies “get it” who hadn’t gotten it before?  Do you think you can take any credit for that?

DW: I don’t take credit for anything.  There’s been a baseline movement that’s somewhat invisible to us because we forget how bad it was.  Most companies now understand that we do not look to them to be the best source of information about their products.  In the pre-web days often they were the only source of information and so they would select unique information in order to control their market and it’s very hard to give that up.  Except for very specific sources of information that we can sue them for if they get wrong; we do look for that sort of factual information.  That aside, we don’t look to them, and I think most companies have learned that.  Email has had an effect on the social network of companies, it has helped bring down the hierarchies.  The fact that nobody talks about memos anymore.  That memos are an endangered species we take for granted, but that is also part of the baseline of companies moving forward.

Iz: Any of the 95 Theses that you feel have been disproven?

DW: Sure.  Number 74.

Iz: “We are immune to advertising, just forget it”.

DW: Yeah, there you go.  About two days after that went up I slapped my head and said “Wow, that’s really wrong, how’d we ever let that one through?”  And Doc had the same reaction.  No, we’re not immune to advertising.  Advertising at the very least affects the lizard portion of our brains.  And positioning, that we never lose.  It’s just flat-out wrong.  We do however now have a tool that helps you undo some of the effects of advertising.  We can fact check advertisers. If they say their washing machines are reliable we can actually find out very quickly if their claims are true or not.  We aren’t immune, but we have “medicine” now to help us undo some of the damage.

Iz: Do some people view the Cluetrain Manifesto as anti-corporate? If so, do you take issue with that?

DW: That’s certainly the tone of the Cluetrain Manifesto from 10 years ago, angry outrage, and overstatement.  The word Manifesto was carefully chosen.  It does have an anti-status-quo property which is partially rhetoric but partially a genuine expression of how it felt to be on the web ten years ago when it wasn’t quite taken for granted.  I think it’s fair to say it’s anti- some of the expected structures of corporate life.  It’s certainly pro-customer, and in so far as business had structured itself basically to be at war with its customers, if we’re in a position where we have to take sides, then Cluetrain takes sides with the customers.  Marketing traditionally in fact has seen itself as being at war with customers.  The language of marketing has been the language of war.  Targeted marketing, campaigns and strategies.  Trying to get markets to do things they may not want to do.  That’s the least sympathetic way of looking at marketing, but it’s not an entirely untrue way.

Iz: If you were really anti-company, why would you bother to do them the favor of giving them tips?  Was this book meant to make them get a clue, wake up and change their ways so they could be more successful?

DW: Of course we want business to succeed.  All of the authors are in business; three of us have worked in marketing.  We want businesses to succeed, but not at the cost of what we’re building on the web.  If a marketing team saw that they could increase market share by hiring people to pose as real customers and write fake reviews, we would say don’t do it.  There’s a more important value here than your company increasing its market share.  The value of what we’re building together on the web is greater than the value of what your company would achieve by corroding what we’re building.  We want businesses to succeed.  We like the modern economy.  I can only speak for myself, but I want wealth to increase globally.  It’s hard to imagine not wanting that.  And open markets are almost always the best way of doing that.

Iz: Is anything else from the original book out of date?

DW: One thing is the tone.  Ten years ago it was more of a statement to be on the web.  Now it’s normal.  You’re not rebelling against the man, you’re on the web.  I also think Cluetrain was more of both cyber-utopian and techno-determinist track than the facts support.  It was as if we were saying the Internet is destined to succeed by its very nature.  And have all these salubrious effects.  I’m still a Utopian, I still think the net overall is powerful force for good – but I’m not longer, and haven’t been for awhile, nearly as confident that the web’s destined to succeed.  I’m more optimistic now that the political climate has changed.  The threat to the Internet is far greater than I believed ten years ago.  We need to be vigilant of our Internet.  Another thing is that I think there’s some credibility to the notion that left on our own we will cluster with people who are like us and maybe even harden our views, rather than having the opposite effect.  And I very much want the opposite effect.  I used to think of that as not worth considering. Where I come out on this is it’s a hugely complex question, and the Internet probably does both things – hardens our positions and opens us up.  We will always have to work hard at keeping ourselves open to different voices.  I think back in Cluetrain days I thought the Internet would have this effect automatically.

Iz: Does the 10th anniversary edition have some of these thoughts in it?  Is it changed at all, is it updated?

DW: It’s a reprint of the original text with a new chapter from each of the authors and contributions by people who have been affected.  My chapter is about a defense of cyberutopianism, so that idea is in the new version.

Iz: Have you ever had a laughable moment when someone’s come up to you and told you about the impact the book has had on them, and it’s not what you expected?

DW: I have had episodes where someone has come up, very nice and friendly, and it turns out what they have taken away from it is that the web is about conversations, which is great, and they are very excited about their ability to manipulate conversations.  Which is not exactly what the book is about!  I mean, they got the first half.  But then they applied their old marketing instincts to it.

Iz: Tell us about the new books you’re working on.

DW: I’ve been working on two books as well as a bunch of other things.  One is sort of a history of information. Now that we’re coming out of the Information Age and entering some other age, like the Age of the Network or something, it’s a good time to look back at the Information Age and ask: How did it happen that we redefined most disciplines and how we think about ourselves and our world, what the world is made of and what the mind is?  I’ve been working on that for a couple of years, but that’s been interrupted by a different book, which is about expertise in the age of abundance, the age of the net, and that’s more of a business book.  Expertise itself is taking on the properties of the network.  We used to think of an expert as one individual who has a very definite idea, tells us what to do, knows what the truth is.  Networks are contentious.  They endlessly dispute, and come up with new links, and enlarge.  My hypothesis is that’s what happening to expertise as well, and that’s what this book explores.

David Weinberger is a speaker at Supernova 2009.

2 Comments | Supernova Staff | June 18th, 2009 | Networks for Change, The Changing World