Whose Responsibility is Clarity?


Too often I believe that purveyors of information/knowledge tend to leave the burden of comprehension of what is being communicated solely to the recipient of that knowledge; all too often, they forget about their responsibility to most fundamentally communicate what they are saying clearly and in a manner that is adapted to the needs of their audience.

Think about this in the context of your day to day life. Imagine a time when someone has asked you a question about some aspect of your life, job, area of expertise, etc that you know backwards and forwards, up and down. For this topic you will be able to rattle off a detailed answer to the question, you will anticipate every single follow-up question that someone could ask of you, and most importantly if the explanation is not understood you will have 2 or 3 other ways of explaining the same thing in your back pocket just in case the 1st explanation was not clear.

Now imagine an alternative scenario. Think about a topic you have just recently become familiar with. You have obtained a surface level understanding of something and when questioned about it you stand, secretly hoping you can cover the surface level information and get the hell out of there. You end up speaking intelligently enough about this part of the question that the questioner pushes you further, expecting you to be able to go deeper. In a futile attempt you begin to go deeper, all the while knowing you are venturing into uncharted territory – wanting to help provide information but not wanting to offer false data. Suddenly your answers become confusing and obfuscated. Even as it is happening you know the latter half of this discussion is not as clear as it should be. As is often the case however, people don’t back out and offer to clear the topic up in their head and get back to the person, they merely continue on this zig-zag path towards the land of confusion. We’ve all been there on the sending and receiving side of things.

What is the end result? Well my suggestion is two sided when you are the sender and you recognize being in this position:

  1. Take the path less travelled get the details you need to be able to explain the topic fully and clearly.
  2. Take responsibility for the receiver leaving with an understanding of what you are saying!

When you are on the receiving end, the key is to recognize when the sender is weaving you into the land of confusion and since you now demand so much of yourself as a sender, demand no less when receiving information from someone else.

The TELUS Innovation Experience

Browsing around the TELUS website (as any normal person in the UK does on a Saturday morning) I came across the following:

Telus Innovation Experience - Share your thoughts

What struck me about this was the little button at the bottom: “Share your thoughts”. At first glance this seems like a fantastic idea – here is TELUS presenting their vision of the communications future and all the while asking those who choose to view this content for their thoughts on it. That was – of course – until I clicked on the link and was brought to the following:

TELUS Innovation Experience - Survey Page

As it turns out the link didn’t work anymore, and even if it did the objective of it was to have you fill out a survey. My excitement in seeing the “Share your thoughts” link had been driven by what I thought was going to be an open “comment” area where those who were interested in viewing TELUS’ perspective on the future could share their ideas, discuss and constructively criticize or praise the vision. Unfortunately this was not the case – but it does make me think what an interesting opportunity it would be for companies who do post content about their long-term vision on the web to open up the feedback mechanisms to allow for more free-form discussion about where they see a product, service or business going in the future.

Death of DRM?

It has taken a while but it seems that the days of Digital Rights Management (DRM) encumbered music may be coming to an end. Apple’s announcement at MacWorld that they are to remove DRM from the music sold on iTunes is good news for consumers and online music sales in general.

After hearing the news I got to thinking about an article and presentation from a few years ago – the links are below and most definitely worth the time to go through:

Tim O’Reilly: Piracy as Progressive Taxation
Lawrence Lessig: Free Culture

These two pieces relay in incredible simplicity why DRM is unnecessary, and the risk associated with the technology to infringe on our fair-use rights. It remains to be seen how the disappearance of DRM on music may influence corporate decisions on DRM for other types of media in the future but both Tim O’Reilly and Lawrence Lessig deserve significant credit for us at least arriving at the beginning of the end of DRM in music.

Filed under: Media | 1 Comment

Will Google change the mobile IM world?

There have been some 826AB56F-9C19-4848-8071-428EA77B64DC.jpg discussions going on in various places on the web about Google’s decision to remove native XMPP support from Android. The details of this are interesting in that it shows Google has fully thought through many of the implications about messaging on the Mobile network. Something which only RIM and possibly Apple have shown any degree of consideration for to date.

Why is this important?

SMS has swept through the mobile world, it has proven useful to mobile users and lucrative to service providers – but it still remains vastly inferior to its PC native big-brother: instant messaging. In virtually every way instant messaging is a better tool to accomplish the same task. For those of us using Blackberries, we already see SMS as being a historical artifact, only useful for communicating with those still using ‘legacy devices’. Make no mistake – like email was the killer app. for business users to start using mobile data, instant messaging is the killer app. for consumers. A strong statement, but I believe it is true with one caveat: other than, RIM no one has figured out how to do it reliably.

You only need to install an IM client on a Windows Mobile device, Palm, or Nokia phone to see the problem. It will only take one missed message, or the inability to send a message while in no-coverage, to give up on the service and realize the challenge of the task. We walk in and out of coverage all day long, we want to be able to send messages when there is no coverage, and we want to make sure that our messages are delivered in a timely and reliable fashion. This requires intelligence in the device, intelligence in the network and a protocol built to handle these challenges from the ground up.

From what I have read there are positive signs that Google is building out Android, and the appropriate server side components, to handle these exact problems. Ensuring that they have the fundamental building blocks to support broad adoption of their mobile instant messaging services. I believe Google is moving in the right direction here, and it makes me wonder about the other device manufacturers. Do they realize their limitations? Do they not see the opportunity for the service? And how will they adapt going forward?

In addition, I still find it remarkable that thus far neither RIM nor Apple have substantially marketed instant messaging as a selling point on their devices – I spoke about this previously, here. It appears that IM is more often treated as just another application, but for the prosumer and soon consumer market for these devices, I believe this technology will quickly become a core requirement of any new mobile phone coming onto the market.

£3.00 less?

Sometimes I feel like I am living in the bizarro world when I am dealingDC1FCC13-B898-412F-A4B5-BB8D0B9D8720.jpg with the mobile operators in the UK.

My first foray into this bizarro world was around two months ago when my wife’s mobile contract was up and she wanted a new phone. Off we went to the Vodafone store and somehow walked out with a new Blackberry 8110 and an £85.00 credit on our bill, all in exchange for merely renewing her 18 month contract. Coming from Canada, the world of over-priced cell phones and 3 year contracts, we would have been happy with just the free Blackberry, so to add onto that an additional £85.00 credit was flat out bizarre.

This surprising outcome was not an isolated incident – Yesterday, I contacted Vodafone to find out what it would cost to get a higher monthly data allowance on my Blackberry. From my experiences in Canada, my expectations were set that for one reason or another there would be nothing they could do for me – whether it was because I had the wrong phone, or it cost too much, or I needed to sign my life away to a 16 year contract or whatever else, something would make this relatively simple request turn into an impossibility. Imagine my surprise when the Vodafone rep. offered a package including 150 additional voice minutes, a near 100x increase in the amount of data (up to 500MB/mth), and all for the outrageous price of £3.00/mth less – yes LESS – than I was already paying. No new contract to sign, no new device to buy, just a change of service that takes place at midnight.

As a point of reference, this same request to the three Canadian operators would be met with the following options:

  • TELUS Mobility: $60.00/mth additional offers a change from 8MB/mth to 1GB/mth.
  • Rogers: $75.00/mth additional offers a change from 4MB/mth to 200MB/mth. (The limited-time 6GB plan is only available to non-Blackberry Enterprise users).
  • Bell: $60.00/mth additional offers a change from 8MB/mth to 1GB/mth.

No doubt the locals here in the UK have their fair share of complaints about the mobile operators, but it is all relative – and relative to the Canadian marketplace it is a breath of fresh air. My natural state, when it came to dealing with mobile phone companies, had always been one of skepticism and a general feeling that in one way or another they were out to either screw me around or present service plans that were simply not viable to anyone but the top 1% of users. These experiences will definitely ensure that when we do head back to Canada, our expectations of what we should get in return for what we pay, or the contracts we sign, will be much different than when we arrived here.

Puppet Wisdom!

Sometimes puppets know best..

Rogers: Counting their Way to Success with the iPhone

Rogers came out with their iPhone price plans last week and as you can see they are not starting off on the right foot. I don’t know who is coming up with their price plans for data usage but they clearly don’t get what this phone is all about.573450_65986609v2.jpg

The fact that they still need to explain the data capabilities in terms of “200,000 text e-mails, 3,100 web pages, or 1,360 photo attachments” shows just how much they missed the mark on this one. This type of metric has been floating around for awhile at mobile operators, somehow nearly becoming the standard method for describing data usage. Unfortunately this metric doesn’t really mean anything, in fact it means less than anything – I’d be more inclined to call it false advertising. Aside from the obvious differences in sizes of photos and web pages, this metric has its usefulness anchored in the idea that people are either counting this stuff or that they can correlate this info into a meaningful measure. Since clearly no one walks around counting websites they have visited this seems like more of an excuse to write down some big numbers.

Lessig on Free Culture and Digging for Mistakes

Lawrence Lessig most definitely has a way with words and an exceptional presentation style – I blogged previously about one of his videos in The Bazaar of Spectrum . The video below is a new version of an older speech Lessig did about Free Culture and the impact of copyright law on access (or lack thereof) to culture. The old version was fantastic, and this updated version is even better. As a teaser – stay tuned in the video for some great George W. Bush parody’s.

In addition to the great content around copyright law, another aspect which I found fascinating about this presentation was his analysis of what he considered to be the ‘mistakes’ of their effort in the Eldred v. Ashcroft case. Clearly, the identification of these mistakes was not something that came about easily for them and I believe that throughout our lives this process of ‘mistake identification’ is something that is continually short-changed. It is just way too easy to chalk up some failure to a cause beyond your control, rather than to dig deep into it and find any mistakes or changes in direction that could have been taken that would have led to a completely different outcome.

Filed under: Open Source | No Comments

RIM’s lost opportunity – Instant Messaging?

Years ago, RIM made a very important realization about data on mobile networks – it was dynamic. It came, went, ebbed and flowed with an individual’s movement in and out of tunnels, elevators, and underground parking garages. From this realization they developed devices and a network designed with this understanding at its core. This understanding led to what has been, without question, the most reliable and immediate mobile email delivery mechanism on the market by way of RIM’s often replicated but rarely duplicated ‘push’ service. The RIM push mechanism opened the door for new services to be provided reliably over a naturally unreliable link, however as time passed I believe this stroke of innovation may be slowly entering into the realm of a lost opportunity for RIM.

Instant messaging is an example of a service that suddenly became incredibly reliable on a wireless device because of RIM’s push service. Previously this had been an application so unreliable on a mobile that the typical user experience was to try it once, have a conversation with someone, realize you missed some critical piece of information due to message loss, and then proceed to discard the messaging application. RIM sorted this out, in fact RIM perfected it. You could now go in and out of coverage as frequently and as rapidly as you wanted and be sure that you’d never miss a beat. Conversing through this means suddenly became as reliable as SMS but also as convenient as we have all come to expect from instant messaging. User presence was managed properly, messages were queued, you could tell when messages had been delivered, and you could even know when those you were chatting to were typing – this was, and has remained, an experience unmatched on any other platform to date.

Seemingly the demand for instant messaging on a mobile device is something that has gone largely un-noticed (or perhaps ignored) by handset makers and mobile phone operators. However, as of the Apple WWDC event this may have changed, and with it so too has RIM’s position as the sole provider of such a powerful capability. While details remain scarce it seems as though the Apple push based notification system will maintain a persistent connection with the device and in turn allow for reliable distribution of things like instant messages. There has been no definitive announcement of messaging applications using this system for the iPhone yet, but with the SDK being readied to allow developers access to this service, and ongoing rumours of things like iChat, AIM, and Jabber support as part of the new iPhone OS, it is safe to say that the world of mobile instant messaging is quite likely about to change.

While RIM definitely pioneered the concepts to enable such services as instant messaging to a mobile device they surely never put much emphasis on this unique ability. Apple’s announcement got me thinking how much this could have been an enormous differentiator for the Blackberry. Instant messaging is now used widely in enterprises around the world and the seamless mobile experience offered by the Blackberry platform on Yahoo!, Google Talk and their own Blackberry Messaging had been unmatched. Perhaps a new competitor has now arrived, a new competitor that has realized the value of such functionality and will exploit it as a key product differentiator. Is this another case of being first to market not making any difference?

The Side Effect of Five 9’s (or almost Five 9’s)

A few days back I went and picked up the phone, a rather ordinary thing to do. However, for the first time in my life when I picked up the phone there was no dial tone. So weird was this that I spent the next hour running around looking for other phones to try since my immediate thinking was ‘it can’t possibly be the phone line, it must be the £10.00 phone’.

After trying three different phones and a fax machine I was finally convinced – the phone line was dead. In 29 years of my existence this was the first time this had ever happened. While it doesn’t quite measure up to the much sought after 99.999% uptime (otherwise known as “five 9’s”) it is relatively close when calculated over the duration of my life at 99.9976%.

It is interesting however, that because of the incredible reliability of the telephone systems and the precedent set by 29 years of uninterrupted service my negative reaction to the outage and expectation of the speed at which it should get resolved was greatly amplified. I had no immediate critical need for the phone at the time but it suddenly became very important that no matter what it be rectified as quickly as possible. You’d think that having had 29 problem-free years of service you’d be willing to throw them a little break here and there, apparently not!

What is up with Windows Mobile 5 Video?

So, Microsoft made an Operating System for this phone..

The standard Windows video recording software on the phone lets you take small videos by way of the camera on the back. By default it stores these videos in this format..

Unfortunately, this format cannot be viewed out of the box by this..

Having tried this..

and this..

it was moderately amusing to find out that the only software on my computer that could play the video with no problem at all was this..

Of all the digital video formats available, why in the world would Microsoft have ever released a mobile product that took videos which could not play on their own desktop operating system out of the box?

Oh – If only there was a format Microsoft had access to that worked on their desktop and could even be played by Windows Media Player by default …oh wait…