Writing by James

Articles and opinions on technology, social media and innovation

Still - The Money Trap


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Central Desktop: The Hidden Cost of Free

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Yes, it has been a more than brief hiatus from writing, on this site or elsewhere. I’ve finally broken my silence with a quick 1000 words over at Central Desktop, looking at the hidden costs that lurk under the friendly face of free software. Here’s the obligatory quote:

If you were reading this in 1985, “free” software wouldn’t even exist. At best, you would be able to find some shareware on the front of a computer magazine that might be useful if you could load it off the 3.5″ floppy disk. Everything was just a little more amateur back then, especially when things were free.

Today, we are faced with a massively different situation. Free no longer means poor, lacking, or amateur; instead, it has become the norm for many businesses around the world, delivering quality products that support hundreds of thousands – sometimes millions – of users. The freemium model, whereby software is available for free, but additional support and functionality is available for a fee, has become a de facto business model for start-ups around the world. But despite the more professional approach, the profusion of software comes with both benefits and risks.

You can read the full article over at Central Desktop.

Feature image by marsmet42 on Flickr


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Central Desktop: Software Subscription Models – Pros and Cons

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It’s been a few months since I last wrote at Central Desktop, so it’s nice to get something published there again. This time around we’re looking at the pros and cons of subscription software (or SaaS, if you prefer it).

Subscription software has been around a long time, much longer than the hoo-ha about Adobe Creative Cloud earlier this year. When Adobe changed their business model, it was treated like the death of a family pet in some quarters. However, the real question isn’t why Adobe changed, but why we were surprised.

The move to software subscription models is tied inextricably to the changing culture of business and the ever-moving world of technology that surrounds it. It is inevitable.

Shortly, we’ll look at the pros and cons of subscription software, but first a brief history lesson.

Read the full article for a history lessons and to find out what iTunes and Nike have to do with the rise of SaaS over at Central Desktop.


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Forbes EMCVoice: What Is The New Sharing Economy?

Forbes & EMC - Version 2Earlier this week my second guest post for Forbes EMCVoice was published. Stepping away from Big Data – the subject of my previous article – I instead took a look at the emerging business model that is the Sharing Economy. Rather than being a new hippy movement that wants to radicalise the economic norm, this is a social movement that disrupts current thinking and has led to a burst of activity in the start-up scene. So much so that it is now have a lasting effect on corporate America. In a time of economic stagnation, the sharing economy is finding value in the excess and the redundant. If you haven’t heard about it, read on. The question isn’t whether this is a fad, it’s not; it’s simply a question of how will it affect your business and what you will do about it.

Here’s a short excerpt:

The start of June saw the influential LeWeb conference make its way back to London. The subject this time around: the new sharing economy. Never shy of investigating emerging trends within the technology sector, the forum’s excursion into what seems to be a more philosophical realm could be viewed as a departure from the norm, but is it? The truth is that the ideas behind the sharing economy have their roots deeply entrenched in technological soil.

‘The Sharing Economy’ — you would be excused if you thought it sounded like the spiritual home of new age digital hippies, or maybe a step up from a barter system — might sound a million miles from traditional capitalist thinking. But in truth it’s a movement born and sustained by three things: the advance of technology, the ongoing economic pressures that face businesses, and the human imperative for simplicity.

Read the full article over at Forbes.


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Forbes EMCVoice: Who Should Be Driving Big Data?

Forbes & EMC - Version 2Tuesday saw my first article published on Forbes, covering the subject of Big Data for EMC. Big Data initiatives are often thought of as technology projects, but that misconception is one of the big reasons why these projects fail to deliver the big results that are expected. This article looks at how you can avoid falling into that trap.

Every day the number of ways in which we can collect data grows, from personal data collected by exercise gadgets such as Fitbit Flex and Nike FuelBand, to the social interactions that we engage in online through Facebook, Google and Twitter.This is on top of the transactional data that organizations have been collecting in back-end finance systems. It’s a mass of data that offers a mass of possibilities. These big data sets can give companies the ability to understand their customers, their environment and themselves in greater depth than ever before, and that understanding can generate real competitive advantage.

But before we all reach for this great panacea, a reality check. As Ben Elowitz pointed out in his AllThingsD article, “Big Data is Booming, but Big Results are lacking.” That’s not entirely true, but it’s a valid point, as getting the best out of Big Data requires an organization that has thought through the issues and put the right structure in place to execute.

Read the full article over at Forbes.


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Central Desktop: Cloud App Usage in the Workplace

Skynet - Central DesktopRogue cloud apps – it all sounds a little ominous, as if Skynet will be raising its ugly self-aware artificially-intelligent head sometime soon. Of course, it’s nothing of the sort; it’s just a bunch of employees trying to bring the some of the benefits of consumer life into the workplace, and why shouldn’t they?

In my latest article for Central Desktop, I look at how you can make cloud applications work for you, rather than giving you a headache, and make a plea for IT departments to drop the “command and control” attitude and start collaborating.

Here’s the obligatory extract:

Cloud busting. No, not the fabulous Kate Bush song, but rather what most IT departments would like to be doing. Personal clouds and cloud apps are subjects of growing concern to corporate business, something highlighted in Forbes columnist Joe McKendricks’ article “Corporate Crackdown on Rogue Clouds Has Begun, Survey Suggests” – based on the PMG “Cloud Sprawl 2013′” survey. The trouble is, as always, that numbers only tell one side of the story, and articles wrapped in jargon and littered with percentages aren’t always helpful.

The questions we should be asking ourselves are: what is this really telling us and what should we be doing about it?

Read the full article over at Central Desktop.


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Book Review: I Have a Strategy (No, You Don’t) by Howell J. Malham Jr.

I Have a Strategy - Book CoverStrategy…

It’s a word that is so overused in the business world that it has almost lost its meaning. Everyone has a strategy… for everything. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear of the existence of a ‘Visiting the Bathroom strategy’ or  a ‘Having my lunch strategy’, such is its ubiquity. Look at my personal portfolio, even I’m at it! A digital technology strategist of all things!

It’s time to reclaim the word, to give it some real meaning, to rescue it from the mire into which it has descended. If not for its own sake, then certainly for mine; I’ll never be taken seriously otherwise.

Luckily, that’s exactly what Howard J. Malham Jr. – or simply Malham from this point on – is aiming to do in his book: I Have a Strategy (No, You Don’t) – The Illustrated Guide To Strategy. It sounds like a lofty subject and you might expect a rather dry examination of the subject, given the length of the title, but it’s anything but that. Short, simple, fun (yes, fun) and easily digested, Malham’s book is surprisingly effective.

Malham – just who is he?

Howard J. Malham Jr. is a Co-founder and Director of Insight Labs, a Chicago-based consultancy that works on some of the world’s (read United States) biggest challenges and issues, from the state of schooling to the future of healthcare. It’s this experience, born out of trying to make sense of seemingly impenetrable challenges, that is distilled down into the book.

So this tells me what a strategy is? Right?

Absolutely.

For Malham, a strategy is simple defined as:

A planned, doable sequence of actions designed to achieve a distinct, measurable goal.

That’s it. Simple and easy.

Malham’s book comes to life through a few carefully selected examples and the ongoing commentary from Gary and Larry – two cartoon characters that explore the serious page content a little less seriously. They’re not always funny, but it’s a nice change of pace and certainly isn’t an unwelcome addition, keeping the writing light and away from the self-satisfied navel-gazing that some ‘business’ books descend into.

The examples he uses are, by and large, good ones, including Boeing versus Airbus, and even US foreign policy. If I had one criticism, there are some smaller examples, such as REDF and AGC (academy for Global Citizenship), that although being worthy, are not recognisable. It’s a small criticism, but some readers might want to see Malham’s obviously incisive mind to throw light on some more well-known brands (Nike versus Reebok, Apple versus the computer industry, Apple versus the music industry… you get the idea).

Within each example, the elements of the strategy are broken down, supporting his initial definition:

  • Purpose
  • Plan
  • Series of actions
  • Measureable goal

It’s clear and precise, which is exactly…

Why you should read it

Malham applies a light touch to the misconceptions around strategy. In a world full of weighty tomes on all matter of subjects, it’s a pleasure to pick up something that is as simple and concise as ‘I have a Strategy’. And the best thing about it is, because of its brevity, you really remember what you have read. It makes the book actionable.

And isn’t that the point?

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If you’re interested in finding out more about the book you can visit http://ihaveastrategy.com/, or alternatively you can follow Malham on Twitter or find out more about his work at Insight Labs.

Have you read the book? What did you think? Have you changed your behaviour or your approach to business strategy as a result? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Disclaimer: This is an independent review based on a copy of the book supplied to me. I have no business relationship with Howell J. Malham Jr., InsightLabs, or Wiley (the publishers). I have not received any monetary incentives or payments, but they did let me keep the book, which was nice. I don’t need to write this bit, but I think it’s always good to be completely transparent.


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4 reasons why the death of Google Reader just doesn’t matter

Google ReaderA few weeks back, Google announced that its Reader product was to be shut down; the reaction was instant and vitriolic, as we would expect from the internet community. Now, with hindsight, the reaction all seems a little silly.

How The Shutdown Of Google Reader Threatens The Internet‘ – Forbes, 14th March 2013

Like a Dagger to Bloggers’ Hearts, Google Just Killed Google Reader‘ – The Atlantic Wire, 13th March 2013

Headlines such as these remind us of the value of objectivity and reason – being reactionary, a trait that seems to manifest itself across the journalistic world, might drive page views (or newspaper sales), but it doesn’t necessarily help or inform anyone.

Here are four reasons why we should not get our proverbial knickers in a twist over the death of Google Reader.

1. There are plenty of alternatives

Reader is your favourite RSS aggregator, that’s fine. You’ve got a Google account and it all fits nicely together, that’s fine too. But if an RSS aggregator is that important to the way you work, there are many other alternatives: Mashable listed five in its article ‘RIP Google Reader’, including Feedly and Newsblur.

For those that make the move – not that you have any choice in the matter after the 1st July 2013 – it’s possible to export your feeds using Google Takeaway or through generating an OPML file. The OPML file is a standard format and is accepted by other RSS readers; here’s an example from Netvibes. For other services it’s even easier to transfer your data; adding your Google account to Feedly or Flipboard will automatically synchronise all your feeds from one service to the other.

2. Things have moved on

Flipboard - CoverMore importantly, although there are straight ‘apples for  apples’ alternatives for Reader, there are a slew of new applications and services for interacting with RSS.

The most visible of these is Flipboard, a self-styled ‘Social Magazine’, which is created from a number of RSS feeds pulled together and displayed in a magazine format. It’s the format that really makes the difference here, moving away from text to a visually-rich experience with hi-definition imagery and print styling. It’s engaging and hooks into existing paradigms – books, magazines – to create a more compelling interface for news and information.

Even Google has got in on the act with Google Currents, a mobile-only application that works in a similar fashion to Flipboard. Summly – now purchased by Marissa Meyer’s Yahoo – is another strong product in the same space.

I’ve not included Twitter lists in this list, even though Mashable marked it as a candidate replacement application. For me they’re different: one is real-time, miss it and it’s gone, whilst RSS aggregators are archives, building slowly over time.

3. It’s not the death of RSS

Maybe I should have put this first, rather than third, as it seems as if the internet is equating the death of Reader with the death of RSS. But of course, it isn’t the death of RSS. All the products listed above use RSS to gather information – it’s just the way they display the information that changes from product to product.

For those of you worried that Google is in charge of everything related to the internet, from standards to connectivity and anything else you want to mention, they’re not. RSS will continue to live, and it will continue to be a brilliantly simple way of sharing data automatically between services, from Twitter feeds to blog posts.

4. For Google, it’s not a core product

Last of all, from Google’s perspective, Reader just isn’t a core product. When Larry Page took over the reins he was clear in his intention to strip away anything that was deemed non-critical. Some may argue that he hasn’t held to this completely – what with the driverless cars and Google Glasses still on the agenda – but there’s no doubt he has performed some spring cleaning.

The fact is that Google Reader does not add anything to search. It doesn’t provide contextual information like Google+, it just exists on the periphery. It’s user base may be loyal, but that’s no reason for a business to continue with a product.

All Things D technology reporter, Liz Gannes, also added that the issues around Reader’s shutdown may be linked to privacy and compliance, but this is unconfirmed by Google.

Google Reader – it doesn’t really matter after all

Google Reader may have been held dear by it’s power users, but I suspect – personally – that your average internet user will not mourn (or even be aware of) its passing. The internet is not static, it’s not the same even from hour to hour, and the way we interact with information will – and must – change with it.

For those that do want to stay with the “Reader experience”, they can still have it, but I will happily move on to something more visual, more interactive, and more engaging.