Interesting development from Wolfram

We all know Wolfram for their Mathematica and Wolfram Alpha products, so the arrival of Computational Document Format (CDF) shouldn’t come as much of a surprise:

The idea is to provide a knowledge container that’s as easy to author as documents, but with the interactivity of apps—for CDFs to make live interactivity as everyday a way to communicate as spreadsheets made charts.For too long, authors have had to aggressively compress their ideas to fit down the narrow communication pipe of static documents, only for readers at the other end to try to uncompress, reconstruct, and guess at the original landscape of information. Static documents are like a very lossy format, fuzzifying clear and fuzzy thinking alike, disguising problems, and often resulting in overwhelming communication failures: undeployed R&D, misunderstood risks, and wrong management decisions, not to mention limiting the flow of information intrinsic to education.Static documents take their share of the blame in making us “information rich, but understanding poor”, to repurpose the common saying.With CDFs we’re broadening this communication pipe with computation-powered interactivity, expanding the document medium’s richness a good deal. Actually we’re also improving what I call the “density of information” too: the ability to pack understandable information into a small space—particularly important on small screen devices like smartphones.

via Wolfram Blog : Launching the Computable Document Format CDF: Don’t Compress the Idea, Expand the Medium.
What’s interesting here is the attempt to add learning and knowledge traits to an actual knowledge container.  One initial downside of this new format is that it requires yet another browser plug-in (and a large one at that). Anyway, this is certainly worth keeping an eye on.

Gamifying everything

Interesting notes related to a book that was recently published, and is probably worth adding to my list of books to read:

The only difference between the current fad for ludology — the study of games — and any other time in the history of the internet is that now that marketers and entrepreneurs know that humans have a weakness for game mechanics, and that we can be trained to do almost anything as long as it involves a reward, however ephemeral, they are actively pursuing gamification as the latest and most sophisticated strategy for selling us stuff and/or capturing our free time.

via Has the “Gamification” of Reality Already Begun? – Technology Review.

Hello, is this thing on?

It’s hard hard for me to imagine that, despite all the writing (and tweeting) that I’ve done over the past year, I haven’t updated this blog in nearly a year!  I guess there are many reasons, but instead of dwelling on them, I figured the time was right to get back in the swing of things.  First, a quick housekeeping notice, I’ve moved off of my own instance of wordpress and onto  There may be some broken links or missing pages, but I’ll try to get those back up asap.

The last time I posted here I linked to a great photo collage on India, so why not kickstart this weblog with another inspirational link about the subcontinent?

The video below is an animation that was done by Arjun Rihan as his graduate school thesis at the University of Southern California.  I first met Arjun several years ago, as he was contemplating a career change (he was at Oracle at the time, if I remember correctly).  He followed his passion, and as the clip below demonstrates, became a creator, and a first rate story teller.  Arjun recently put Topi up on YouTube, and you can read about the process to the final product on his weblog.  He now works at Pixar:

Rethinking target markets

Image representing GigaOm as depicted in Crunc...
Image via CrunchBase

Mike Speiser, Managing Director at Sutter Hill Ventures, has an interesting post on GigaOm today.  An excerpt:

Self-Service Nation: Why Targeting Small Business Is Good Business

While the 80-20 rule can be very powerful, the reality is that many of the costs associated with building, supporting, distributing and selling technology products have dropped dramatically in the past decade. Yet many enterprise technology executives are operating as though the cost of distribution hasn’t changed since the early 1990s. In the coming years, I expect startups to increasingly target the massively underserved small- and medium-sized business (SMB) segment by taking advantage of the arbitrage between actual and assumed costs of sales. Self-service sales models will be a key element of these startups that will forever change the face of the enterprise technology business.

As he further explains in his post, there is a significant nascent market at the small business level that has, up until now, been left for Microsoft to dominate. Smart SaaS players, as well as others that do not have legacy enterprise software DNA, are best positioned to successfully target this market in coming years. I think companies like 37Signals are already flourishing here, and serve as a great source of ideas and experience for anyone looking to tap into a greatly underserved market.

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How Microsoft extends the R&D model in India

Microsoft India Development Center, Hyderabad,...
Image by Marc_Smith via Flickr

Navi Radjou has an interesting post on how Microsoft approaches it’s global R&D over at the Harvard Business blog, excerpt:

Microsoft Reinvents Its Global R&D Model – Navi Radjou –

What impressed me most about TEM is its staff members’ multidisciplinary backgrounds. In addition to computer scientists and engineers, TEM also includes experts in the areas of ethnography, sociology, political science, and development economics, all of which help Microsoft understand the social context of technology in emerging markets like India. For instance, we met with Aishwarya Ratan, an associate researcher trained as a development economist, who is exploring the delivery of financial services to poor and low-literate clients using mobile technologies. Another researcher, Nimmi Rangaswamy, who has a background in social anthropology, is conducting ethnographic research in urban slums to identify the socio-economic needs of micro-entrepreneurs there — many of which can be addressed with technology.

By leveraging its multidisciplinary talent, TEM has developed some amazing solutions designed for emerging and underserved markets, both in rural and urban environments. For example, it has developed the MultiPoint mouse, which allows a single computer to be shared by multiple children in developing nations. My personal favourite is Digital Green (which I nicknamed “American Idol for Farmers”), a Web 2.0 initiative which tapes progressive farmers to disseminate their best practices across agricultural communities. Digital Green just won the 2008 Stockholm Challenge Award in the Culture category.

Undoubtedly Microsoft is pioneering the R&D 2.0 model that I discussed in my last post — an organizational model that relies on anthropologists and development economists to first decipher the socio-cultural needs of users in emerging markets like India and then use these deep insights to develop appropriate technology solutions. And it’s telling that Microsoft picked India as the epicentre of its global R&D transformation.

I don’t think Microsoft is alone in taking this approach in India or elsewhere, but it is notable that Microsoft recognizes that technological advancement alone will not lead to greater success in the future – particularly in emerging markets.

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East Gallatin River at Cherry FAS, near Bozema...
Image via Wikipedia

I can’t believe it’s May ’09 already.  You’ve probably noticed that this weblog has been pretty silent over the last three months.  This has to do with several significant changes for us.  Those of you who follow my twitter feed know that I’ve actually been very busy during that period.  The short story, we’ve moved to the San Francisco Bay Area after I accepted a great position with RightNow Technologies.  So, now I’ll explain a little bit more as to what the change means and why I’m excited to be in the valley and at RightNow.

From a work perspective, the last four years or so were some of the most interesting, and challenging, in my career.  I was fortunate to have learned so much from the bright people at Serviceware and Knova.  After four years, however, it was time to move on.  My original plan was to go independent and explore the next phase of emerging technologies, with a particular emphasis on understanding the impact of social media on large organizations.  Late last year, however, I found myself speaking with an ex-Knova colleague about these ideas and he recommended that I speak to the team at RightNow.  I did, and over the ensuing months became convinced that the RightNow platform, management and culture were a great fit for the next stage of my career.  So, I accepted the position of Customer Experience Strategist at RightNow.

The company also asked that I consider a move to Silicon Valley, the center of the action.  An interesting side note, for those of you who may not follow RightNow, is that the company is actually based in Bozeman, MT (picture of the Bozeman area above).  While I wasn’t exactly interested in making a move to Montana,  the fact that the company had a powerbase outside of the valley bubble was intriguing.  To me this was an interesting combination, and one that felt right.

What does this mean for this blog?  Well, I’ll be back writing about the things that interest me.  I’ll also spend more time working through ideas and thoughts on how the next phase of technology will impact companies and their customers.  Over the next few days, however, look for several book reviews.

Now that I’m based in the valley, I hope to be involved in many more industry events and I will be writing about those experiences as well.  I hope this blog will continue to serve as a journal through this next phase of my career.

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links for 2009-04-28