Uncertainty is the only certainty in technology today

Last week was spent at the IBM InterConnect and Green Data Center conferences in Las Vegas and San Diego respectively. At each of the conferences, there were a ton of great conversations around the CIO, cloud computing, social media, big data analytics and data centers. While more details will come out in future posts, a common theme became crystal clear. We are squarely in a period of extreme disruption and no amount of Dramamine will settle the tides. The needs of the many far outweigh the needs of one, two, or three.

The power of social media

Social media plays a central role to gather our collective thoughts and banter. The conversations that ensue will further the development of innovation through the development of new ideas and critiques. However, today, we are only scratching the surface with social. Many of the ‘conversations’ happening across social media are one-way conversations usually sharing information, but with little interaction. The vast majority of tweets coming from the conferences are either a promotion or sound bite overheard during a session or conversation. In addition, there is quite a bit of ‘noise’ that contributes to the confusion. If one were to try and follow the threads, it would appear an eclectic mix of varied thoughts taken from some complex juxtaposition. A better approach is needed to improve the level of two-way engagement.

Cloud, the great equalizer

Cloud is very similar to social in terms of missed opportunities. Cloud presents the single-largest opportunity for organizations today regardless of size. At the InterConnect conference, cloud was in the forefront of many discussions. The challenge many had was how to effectively embrace and leverage cloud. Those tie back to a gap between the freeway and the on-ramps. We do not need more freeways, we need more on-ramps. Yet we continue to build new freeways.

Is it possible that cloud has gotten too far ahead of itself? One of the many discussions was that of the speed of innovation versus adoption. Is it possible we have reached a point where we are actually innovating too quickly without fully considering the ramifications? There is more to be written on this issue alone.

Understanding the customer

Ironically, much of this may go back to understanding the customer. For the vendor or provider, it is understanding who is buying (or should buy) the solution and why. It is about shifting from a transactional sale to a consultative one. That is easier said than done, as context is required to do so.

Enterprises are not immune from the confusion. According to a recent IBM survey of CEOs, 31% doubt c-suite executives understand the changes from customer and the marketplace. That is a huge number when looking across the entire c-suite. If the same question were asked of the CIO specifically, the number would most likely increase. That is not a good position considering the emphasis tech plays in the customer relationship today.

Changes in paradigms

The chasm may simply tie back to a difference in understanding evolution. The customer base is moving very quickly. For the past decade, the number of digital natives in the workplace has only increased. And they are having a strong influence on other generations. They are more familiar with technology and comfortable with rapid adoption. Yet the solutions we deliver leave them wanting.

Understanding the root of discomfort

And so the problem comes full-circle. As with any problem, it is important to understand the root of the issue. When I discuss this in detail with IT leaders and staff members the root issue comes back to uncertainty. There is a level of uncertainty with the solution, nerves, job loss and a general path forward.

Forging a path ahead

Change is hard. Change is confusing. Change is stress and burnout. And at the edge it kills. Think that is being a bit dramatic? Just read my friend John Willis’ moving post about Karojisatsu.

But change is not something we should fear. At this point, we must stick together and drive hard toward the future. Our very future depends on the success of our ability to adapt and change.

For the foreseeable future, the tech industry will continue to present confusion and uncertainty. Our ability to adapt and accept uncertainty is directly related to our ultimate success.

How Couchsurfing became the Friendster of the sharing economy

Before there was Uber, Lyft, or Airbnb, there was Couchsurfing. For a certain sect of millennials — say, those entering college between 2005 and 2011 — Couchsurfing was transformative. Members all over the globe offered up their couches for free to these cash-strapped travelers.

It was the original sharing economy, except there was a lot more “sharing” in Couchsurfing’s version than there was “economy.” And that was the problem.

Without a way to properly support itself, the application staggered under the burden of its popularity. It nearly went out of business because of technical problems, and its community struggled to maintain its values with the flood of new users. Raising venture funding just exacerbated the problem, triggering power struggles between long time volunteers and new leadership.

Couchsurfing learned the hard way that “sharing” doesn’t scale easily. Can an organization founded on cooperation sustain itself in a capitalist world?

The collective of coders

Couchsurfing had conflict between for-profit and not for profit ambitions from its earliest days. Founded in 2004 as the brainchild of a man named Casey Fenton, it ran like a collective for almost ten years, with volunteers pitching in code and working as the ambassadors for each city. It made money here and there through donation requests but by and large it didn’t generate much cash. Fenton’s business partner, Daniel Hoffer, intended to change that from the moment he joined the company. It took a long time for that to happen.

Photo from a 2008 Couchsurfing camping trip in the south of France with 50+ local members

Photo from a 2008 Couchsurfing camping trip in the south of France with 50+ local members

The digital psyche was far different back then, so it’s shocking people took a chance on the service at all. Sharing economy companies had not yet emerged. Smartphones had not proliferated. Facebook was not a thing. When you were meeting strangers off the Internet, they really were strangers.

For many users, Couchsurfing gave them the opportunity to travel when they might not otherwise be able to afford to do so. Experiencing the world at an early age altered the course of some people’s lives. “I discovered that I had a passion for meeting people and traveling through Couchsurfing,” long-time user Jordan Urbanovich told me. He grew up in a cookie cutter American suburb, but after visiting Europe on people’s couches the hobby stuck. Seven years later he’s still using Couchsurfing — he skyped me from Nepal, where the power cut out a few times in his Internet cafe.

Couchsurfing was magical in the early days, but its honeymoon period didn’t last long. As the word started to spread among users and more and more people joined the application, its cooperative ethos backfired. Its collectively-coded website couldn’t handle heavy amounts of traffic. Bugs abounds and crashes were common.

[pullquote person=”” attribution=”” id=”905661″]The organization operated more like Wikipedia than the Encyclopedia. [/pullquote]

In one particularly bad server failure in 2006, key data and software were permanently deleted. Fenton announced he was shutting Couchsurfing down as a result. But the organization operated more like Wikipedia than the Encyclopedia – there were armies of people invested in it who had dedicated personal time to building it. They rallied together to keep it going.

From cool to creepy

The technical issues weren’t the only ones Couchsurfing faced as it scaled. Soon, more worrisome problems started to occur. Newcomers changed the energy.

“It became this weird playground for people who had social anxieties or were socially inept,” former Couchsurfing user Christa Gallo told me. “They’d show up and didn’t know how to hold a conversation.” Many of the newscomers used Couchsurfing meetups as social events, without actually hosting visitors or traveling themselves.

Christa Gallo (left) and a fellow member of the French Couchsurfing community rock company swag.

Christa Gallo (left) and a fellow member of the French Couchsurfing community rock company swag.

Gallo wasn’t the only one noticing the difference. Urbanovich also felt a change around 2011. “I was hosting in New Orleans and I got a lot of bullshit from new visitors — copy and pasted messages, people who had no desire to hang out with me and only wanted a free place to stay, or people just looking for festival accommodations.”

[pullquote person=”A Couchsurfing user” attribution=”A male Couchsurfer tells other men how to target women for sex on the site” id=”905662″]”The newer profiles are fresh to the whole thing so they haven’t developed a firm mindset on what the site is for.”[/pullquote]

The Couchsurfing community struggled to spread its ethics to newcomers. People started using the service like a dating application with predictably bad results. Rape and assault incidents garnered international attention and female couchsurfers began receiving tons of emails from other overly friendly users. Some men even published guides for how to turn couchsurfing into a “real sex pipeline.” This one has lovely little recommendations, like telling men to target newer female users because “they haven’t [yet] developed a firm mindset on what the site is for.”

One woman, writing for Narratively, detailed her chilling encounter with a host named “Raul,” who posed as a woman on the site to convince her to stay with him. By the time she realized he had lied, she was in his apartment, in a foreign country late at night, with many bags and nowhere to go.

Couchsurfing was experiencing what any company that is truly representative of a “sharing economy” would. When the pool of potential “sharers” is so diverse, unvetted, and uncontrolled, there will inevitably be some bad actors.

Meanwhile, things weren’t going well for the company financially. Couchsurfing’s request for a non-profit status was rejected because the IRS didn’t believe it was charitable in nature. It was saddled with the bills, and if it was going to survive, it needed a savior.

An illustrated history of Couchsurfing with an optimistic future. Drawn years before it received its venture funding

An illustrated history of Couchsurfing with an optimistic future. Drawn years before it received its venture funding

The saving grace

Enter Benchmark. In 2011, the venture capital firm, along with the Omidyar Network, gave $7.6 million in initial funding. A year later, both reupped in a $15 million Series B round along with some new investors, to turn the volunteer-run service into a sustainable enterprise with venture level returns.

Erik Blachford, who is currently Couchsurfing’s Executive Chairman, wasn’t advising the company at the time. But in retrospect, he thinks it was the right move. “At some point if you’re not in the situation to take donations the best path forward is to make a business out of it,” Blachford said to me.

In comparison, Airbnb — Couchsurfing’s far more successful rival in the sharing economy — was designed to make money from the get go. It didn’t go through years of trial and error with its business model, and its outsized profits and rapid growth reflect that. Despite being founded five years after Couchsurfing, it currently has a reported $13 billion valuation and had raised almost $1 billion in venture funding. It’s looking like it will be one of Silicon Valley’s biggest wins from the recent tech rebirth.

Airbnb’s success does not preclude Couchsurfing from thriving. Although they may compete in small ways, the two services are so different in experience — and cost — that they serve different markets. For all its achievements, Airbnb is ultimately a glorified hospitality service, not a cultural idea exchange. As Fred Wilson put it, it’s part of the “rental economy,” not the “sharing economy.”

As sharing grows, caring goes

Couchsurfing meetup in Amsterdam to celebrate Christmas, 2009

Couchsurfing meetup in Amsterdam to celebrate Christmas, 2009

Before and after its venture funding, Couchsurfing cycled through CEOs, acquiring and discarding them like ill-fitting t-shirts. Each one tried hammering the organization into some semblance of professionalism, efficiency, and money-making and each encountered intense push back from the community. Couchsurfing was founded on the ethos of cooperation, not capitalism, and its most involved users were intensely suspicious of the ulterior motives of the service’s overlords.

“Imagine if you’ve been contributing to Wikipedia for years and one day the founders say they are selling it for a large personal profit but you’re still free to use it. Yup, it’s like that,” one former Couchsurfing ambassador explained on Medium in 2013.

Users made meme videos poking fun at the corruption of the organization’s leaders and published cartoons to represent them. The community that had once volunteered hours to run Couchsurfing could not bring itself to trust leaders overseen by a venture capital firm.

Couchsurfing’s corporate team inflamed these problems with drastic product changes. It started making parts of its website public so Google could index them, but in doing so it published personal, sensitive member information, like phone numbers and names. It cut “city groups,” which were hubs of information for Couchsurfing communities, enraging volunteers who had dedicated time to maintaining those forums. Users fought back with online protests, but to no avail.

Couchsurfing also tamped down on free speech on the application. It deleted profiles of some long time city ambassadors who were critical of the company. Many Couchsurfing diehards started calling for defection, telling other users to join the alternative: An open source, non-profit site called BeWelcome. Long time Couchsurfers believed, perhaps rightly so, that the company had started to focus on growth at the expense of community and it was time to abandon ship.

BeWelcome delegate and author of a recent book on traveling cheaply, Anja Kühner, explained how it differs from Couchsurfing. “In terms of the amount of members, BeWelcome will maybe never reach the numbers of Couchsurfing,” Kühner told me. “But sheer quantity is not our goal. It is the quality of encounters that counts for us.”

A reset and changing of the guard

One long time Couchsurfing user said this comic is symbolic of Couchsurfing's leadership. "This company is like the villain in a slapstick cartoon, threatening the hero while holding the gun backwards."

One long time Couchsurfing user said this comic is symbolic of Couchsurfing’s leadership. “This company is like the villain in a slapstick cartoon, threatening the hero while holding the gun backwards.”

It came to a head in October 2013. The latest CEO, Tony Espinoza, stepped down after less than two years at the helm, citing a need for Couchsurfing to “crystalize and strengthen [its] core values.” Couchsurfing’s then-head of member experience, Jen Billock, replaced him. She wasted no time in wiping the slate clean.

She laid off 40 percent of the staff, a dramatic restructuring. She believes the layoffs were necessary, although hard, in order to build the foundation for the company’s future.

Couchsurfing entered a long period of hibernation. Although people could still use it and it continued to grow, the company ceased most publicity, media interviews and marketing. Billock buckled down with her remaining team, putting into place a more competitive, hard-working staff culture.

“The thing I like to play with as a leader is, ‘How can we have emotionally intelligent work place that is also a super high performance work place?’” Billock told me. “Let’s set an aggressive deadline and run towards it.”

Since the Couchsurfing application was first built in 2003 and had been amended and rejiggered over the years, the technology was a mess. It certainly wasn’t capable of adapting to the mobile era that dominates today. Eventually Billock resigned herself to the fact that the entire thing would need to be rebuilt … from scratch. The databases of customer information would need to be migrated, the design redone, and the backend code rewritten, in a more modern code language.

For the last year and a few months, that’s exactly what Couchsurfing’s staff did. Hustling away in their San Francisco office, as the likes of Airbnb and other “sharing economy” companies grew bigger and bigger and Couchsurfing’s name faded away. But not for good.

In November 2014, the company unveiled its big new relaunch and set its sights on the future. It will try to answer the question: Can the “sharing economy” survive when it focuses on the sharing and not the economy?

It’s not just a down-market Airbnb

A thank you card from some Couchsurfing vistors to their host

A thank you card from some Couchsurfing vistors to their host

Although its technical problems are behind it, Couchsurfing’s most difficult challenges are ahead. It’s been three years since it took venture funding, and before the decade is out it will need to start making money.

One problem: Couchsurfing’s free cost is, in essence, its core product. That’s what fosters connection between visitors and hosts, encouraging them to spend time together. If you were paying for the couch, well, then it would be just another place to sleep at night….like a down-market Airbnb.

“There’s lots of different services where you can find a place to stay,” investor Blachford told me. “What makes [Couchsurfing] special is you’re going to stay with someone. We want to be very careful to preserve that.”

Couchsurfing’s leaders are going to try to make money the freemium route, with features like profile verification and host-visitor gift exchanges.

That may wind up backfiring too though. The service attracts people with a certain mindset. Urbanovich, who has paid the verification donation in the past, told me if payment was required he wouldn’t bother verifying his profile. “Like anything in life it just builds resistance if someone’s telling you what to do,” Urbanovich said.

There’s a lot at stake, and not just for the company and its investors. There’s nothing else in the world quite like Couchsurfing. It opens up travel opportunities for those who might not otherwise be able to afford it and connects cultural strangers as a result. It’s the largest such network with the biggest brand awareness. For better or worse, Couchsurfing is the strangers-helping-strangers travel organization that stuck. It has survived in spite of itself.

Billock is optimistic. She said, “The market has evolved beautifully for Couchsurfing and now Couchsurfing is evolving to take its position.”

 

This post has been updated to reflect that it was Benchmark, not Greylock, that invested in Couchsurfing. It has also been updated to show that founder Casey Fenton’s business partner, Daniel Hoffer, had always had for-profit intentions for the company.

Secret tries to save itself by imitating Yik Yak

Secret’s “dramatic” app update (which I foreshadowed earlier this month) has arrived. The Verge has published an in-depth look at the confessional app’s attempt to relaunch itself after user downloads and app engagement plummeted.

Secret now looks and operates a whole lot more like its rising competitor Yik Yak. Images no longer dominate the feed. Instead, it’s primarily text-based, with the pictures appearing as thumbnails. It has turned away from the media emphasis of its nemesis Whisper and has abolished the website that curated the popular Secrets.

Power Secret users (if there are any left) will cheer about the new addition of one-to-one messaging. In the first version of Secret, users wanted a chatting tool so badly they turned en masse to alternative service Anonyfish, which was created to address the hole in the Secret product. But now when someone posts a Secret, others can directly chat them, keeping their anonymity.

The biggest change in Secret’s relaunch is that users’ feeds will be divided into “friends” and “nearby” instead of “friends” and “explore.” The nearby function shows posts from anyone within set locations, like cities or universities. “It’s more important what is said than who said it,” Secret CEO David Byttow told The Verge. “Our goal is to facilitate conversation — either in a physical location, or socially, with your friends.”

That’s a total ripoff of Yik Yak’s core function, but before you scoff at the move you should know Secret isn’t the only one doing so. Twitter previewed a nearly identical feature itself during its recent earnings call and is reportedly working with Foursquare to power it. Take a look at the three product comparisons: Yik Yak first, Twitter second, and Secret third. See some similarities?

Screenshots of Yik Yak's location based post tool

Screenshots of Yik Yak’s location-based post tool

Twitter's location curated timelines

Twitter’s location curated timelines

Screenshot of Secret's new feed, via The Verge

Screenshot of Secret’s new feed, via The Verge

Yik Yak clearly has these other social apps on the run, lest they get overtaken by a newcomer. Since Yik Yak’s appearance, it has skyrocketed through the app download charts, gone viral in college communities (much the way [company]Facebook[/company] did), and raised $62 million from WhatsApp backer Sequoia in late November. Its location-feed premise is by no means proven, but it has shown enough traction to worry far bigger companies.

When I wrote a feature on Yik Yak in October, I asked “Could Yik Yak be the real winner among anonymity apps?” It looks as if the answer may be yes.

The new LinkedIn homepage is all about the warm fuzzies

LinkedIn introduced small but significant changes to its homepage design Thursday, simplifying its newsfeed and highlighting some interaction features that will come to all users next year. The shifts in the design bring the connection element of the service front and center, encouraging users to build their relationships with each other over time.

The first most obvious change is the number of user views at the top of the page. It gives someone a snapshot of how many people saw the content they post. LinkedIn offered these features before, but they were buried in the righthand sidebar, out of eyesight. “We realized this was something we needed to bring front and center to the desktop,” LinkedIn VP Joff Redfern told me.

New LinkedIn homepage design

New LinkedIn homepage design

Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 2.00.10 PM

Old LinkedIn homepage design

 

LinkedIn is also doubling down on its content strategy, no doubt following behind competitors like Facebook. When there are compelling articles and posts to peruse on a social network feed, its users stick around longer. And the best way to motivate users to post is to highlight the feedback they receive when they do.

Keeping with that theme, the company has cleaned up its newsfeed. There’s less button clutter at the top, drawing users attention straight to the content.

The second change to LinkedIn’s homepage is the Keep in Touch system in the top right corner. You can quickly click through profile cards to see who has had big business changes recently, from adding new photos to switching jobs. It makes it easy for you to congratulate them or touch base in these moments, keeping the relationship strong. It’s based on LinkedIn’s Connected app, which was designed to help people stay in touch with professional contacts.

A wide range of users liked it, so LinkedIn decided to introduce it to a wider audience via the desktop app. “These two brand new modules are so important for keeping track of how you’re doing professionally that without them that stuff was harder,” Redfern said. “Now we’re giving the member that ability.”

Adam Bryant interviews Satya Nadella on his new role as Microsoft CEO

Adam Bryant interviews Satya Nadella, who says — and convincingly — that Microsoft needs to change, which in today’s business world means harnessing an entrepreneurial mindset in which change is always about ‘building a better culture’. Note however that this phrase is a code word for 1/ management’s role in setting strategy is legitimized by company performance, not ownership or longevity, and/or 2/ changing the conditions for employees to theoretically increase productivity, often by speeding up the assembly line. Nadella seems to be saying both.

Adam Bryant: Your company has acknowledged that it needs to create much more of a unified “one Microsoft” culture. How are you going to do that?
Satya Nadella: One thing we’ve talked a lot about, even in the first leadership meeting, was, what’s the purpose of our leadership team? The framework we came up with is the notion that our purpose is to bring clarity, alignment and intensity. What is it that we want to get done? Are we aligned in order to be able to get it done? And are we pursuing that with intensity? That’s really the job.
Culturally, I think we have operated as if we had the formula figured out, and it was all about optimizing, in its various constituent parts, the formula. Now it is about discovering the new formula. So the question is: How do we take the intellectual capital of 130,000 people and innovate where none of the category definitions of the past will matter? Any organizational structure you have today is irrelevant because no competition or innovation is going to respect those boundaries. Everything now is going to have to be much more compressed in terms of both cycle times and response times.
So how do you create that self-organizing capability to drive innovation and be focused? And the high-tech business is perhaps one of the toughest ones, because something can be a real failure until it’s not. It’s just an absolute dud until it’s a hit. So you have to be able to sense those early indicators of success, and the leadership has to really lean in and not let things die on the vine. When you have a $70 billion business, something that’s $1 million can feel irrelevant. But that $1 million business might be the most relevant thing we are doing.
To me, that is perhaps the big culture change — recognizing innovation and fostering its growth. It’s not going to come because of an org chart or the organizational boundaries. Most people have a very strong sense of organizational ownership, but I think what people have to own is an innovation agenda, and everything is shared in terms of the implementation.

First, Nadella explicitly starts by asking the purpose of management. And, true to the entrepreneurial mindset, the purpose of management is to clarify a strategy for the business, and to get everyone to align with it’s implications in their own area of responsibility. And he suggests that the company needs to up the intensity. Note: ultimately all cultural change comes down to people changing their behavior, and perhaps the values that underlie them. So, he is saying he wants people to up their personal intensity, and presumably, the ones that won’t will be ushered out.
This is the contemporary norm for established high tech business. Including the emphasis on innovation, and the implication that the role of management also includes acting as a funding source of innovative ideas to be tested within the company, in a marketplace of ideas.
Nadella’s recapitulation of the entrepreneurial baseline comes as no surprise: how else could he have gotten the job? And for a 39 year-old company that has only been run by two CEOs, one of which is the iconic Bill Gates, to try to become a mainstream entrepreneurial company instead of the original top-down, command and control machine that Microsoft was in the 90’s, well, maybe that’s a good start.
HIs statement about ‘a strong sense of organizational ownership’ is a reflection of the neofeudal management style of Microsoft’s first 30 years.
It may fall the the next CEO to make the more difficult adjustment, or Nadella a few years hence, if he survives. The next challenge is to move past the leadership-centric entrepreneurial model — flattened hierarchy with a small elite controlling strategy, an aligned workforce marching in step toward the official future, and where ‘strong culture’ is shorthand for lack of diversity, enforced consensus, and heteronomy  — and to transition to a much more agile, decentralized, and faster organization filled with highly autonomous workers: leanership.
The key to getting out to the edge of rapidly changing markets in a time of great uncertainty and change is not trying to build an organization where the elite makes the right bet and the rest carry the chips, but to allow many people to make their own bets, most of which may be in conflict. The only rational approach in a time of great uncertainty is to accept a higher degree of risk.
So when Nadella says clarity, alignment, and intensity I don’t expect to see the company becoming looser, more people-centric, more agile, or more innovative. On the contrary. At least not right away.
Once again, Nadella might have to start by breaking down the fiefdoms left over from the Gates/Ballmer neofeudalism that reigned for 30 some years, and this constitutional monarchy that he is proposing might turn out to be a necessary waypoint on the road to a more democratic and modern Microsoft. But it might be difficult to transition from being a Monarch to a Prime Minister.

The more things change, the more they stay the same

Harder to make connections across this past week since I was on a short vacation, and disconnected for the last half. But there is a strong thematic relationship between two larger posts. In one, What won’t happen in 2013, I make some anti-predictions, making the case that a lot of the context that frames social tools won’t budge this year:

At its most basic, the idea of social business is fairly obvious: the application of ideas that have animated social networks and social media technologies in the open (or ‘consumer’) web in the business context. So we see the activity streams concept lifted from Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr and screwed into today’s work media and task management tools. So, now, after a few years of social business, some conventions have arisen, like the social motif of the activity stream.
But the inherent openness of the social web has not happened in social business. And 2013 is not the year where we will see the idea of ‘open work’ catch on, where a new paradigm of cross-company work media supplants todays social collaboration technologies. Not this year.
2013 is not the year where the realities of today’s economy — growing numbers of freelancers, more short-term project-based cooperation — will become central to the tools we use to coordinate our efforts.
And lastly, 2013 will not be the year when the liberating and aspirational aspects of social business are so commonplace, and so deeply internalized in business culture that the term falls into disuse. No, 2013 is not that year.
2013 will be dominated by arguments about change, culture, and context: but that will have to wait for another post.

No real surprise that a second longish post was about change, building on an old post from Dave Gray, and suggesting that we’ve moved into a period where Change has changed:

As companies become more fast and loose, as more individuals gain the autonomy to try new things, to experiment with new ways to delight customers, or change production plans to increase quality, then there is a fracturing of the frame of reference. The individuals chose what is important, they decide what is the factor to improve. The context becomes more subjective, and less corporate.
Each individual trying a new way to do something is focused on that experiment, and they don’t necessarily perceive it as one more experiment in a portfolio.
When we think of the portfolio approach as a sort of marketplace of ideas, we tend to downplay the motivations and thinking of the individuals involved. But people don’t think of themselves in a depersonalized way: they are deeply invested in what they are doing. They don’t see it as some external change: they are changing themselves, how they do their job, how they think, and what they value.

I am at work on a long post relating to these ideas, coming soon.
And also touching on the topic of change, last week I discovered research that demonstrates that email spam has finally started to decrease (see Spam is in decline), apparently because legal ways to advertise have become cheaper and more effective. A watershed of a sort.
Similarly, an announcement from 37signals about a new version of one of that company’s products (see Basecamp Personal debuts with a pay-once fee model) is an indicator of a new trend in pay-once fee models, the beginning of a trend away from monthly fees, perhaps.
So, perhaps it’s true that change is a constant in the universe, but it’s also obvious that it is mercurial and constantly moving from place to place. My anti-predictions were based on the premise that some crucial areas in the enterprise are very slow to change, but ultimately, the independent decisions of millions of users and tens of thousands of entrepreneurs and app developers add up to a wave of huge force, crashing against the enterprise. Everything will change, inexorably, or erode.
 

Variable iTunes Pricing to Take Effect On April 7

itunes-logo

Way back in January, at Macworld 2009 (the last Apple Macworld, remember?), Apple (s aapl) announced a change in the pricing structure for iTunes songs.

The new model, which basically seems to have been a concession to music publishers in order to secure DRM-free tracks, prices individual songs at 69 cents, 99 cents, and $1.29. Currently, all iTunes tracks cost 99 cents. No specific implementation date was cited at the time, but a new report from the L.A. Times indicates that the changes will come April 7. Read More about Variable iTunes Pricing to Take Effect On April 7

Waiting for Leopard to change its spots/dots

Being a long-time Mac user (MS Word on a Mac Plus still beats anything today in terms of writing flow and productivity) and someone who usually dives in head-first on new technologies, I was faced with an agonizing decision on October 26: to install, or not to install Mac OS X 10.5 on my primary production system. As a registered Apple developer, I plunged head-first into the early Leopard releases on my secondary machines (or at least tried to – it didn’t work at all for quite some time on my PowerBook), griping all the way about how the Finder was still the same, clunky beast and how Apple should have done this-or-that differently. Unfortunately, the work that pays the bills picked up and I had to leave Leopard behind just before summer got underway, confident in the knowledge that there would be a polished, shiny new toy to play with in the fall.
Thankfully, Jobs did not disappoint and I joined in with the throng of other folks who increased Apple sales by a quarter of a million dollars in just two days. When the shipment came, I opened it up, removed the disk from the packaging and did something that even surprised myself – I put it back in the box, making a conscious decision to wait until Apple added a dot and released 10.5.1. I suspect that I’m not the only one who is holding off, and the reports I’ve been seeing seem to indicate that delay may have been prudent (at least in my case).
I rely heavily on my MacBook Pro Core2 Duo (4GB/160GB) for both work and personal computing. My work VM (Vista+Office 2007) has to be 100% functional and the various bits of software and hardware that support my personal mobility and productivity all need to function with a minimum of interruption. During the week leading up until the official release, I kept reading vendor reports that they had to wait to test their wares on the final release version and then kept seeing reports during the first week after from some of my favourite tools that they were just adding compatibility. Not to mention Brandon’s post.
As if third-party software qualms weren’t enough of an issue, along came the security reviews. I’m an IT security professional by trade and was looking forward to the promised enhancements that would really put OS X even further on the security map (and ahead of Vista, which did include many real security enhancements). Sadly, the independent analyses showed what I suspected: Apple rushed out this release. The fact that we’re now seeing evidence of 10.5.1 seeding (which I’m not at liberty to confirm or deny given the legal verbiage tossed at us Apple Developers) seems to prove that conclusion.
I tried convincing my wife and daughter to let me install it on their systems (we buy family packs of all Apple s/w) and they both asked me why they should upgrade. This was the first time I did not have an answer.
So, I will take the plunge this weekend and put it on a dev box (MB Pro Core Duo) to see just the state of this latest predatory cat for myself. I’ll be paying very close attention to how some of the open source security tools I use compile and work and also what needs to be done to make the firewall as secure as possible. Hopefully, my core apps will all work so I can feel a bit more confident about moving to 10.5.1 when it’s released in a few weeks.