On the Real Time Web
This post is triggered by Fridays posting on RWW by Bernarnd Lunn 'Sorry Google, You Missed the Real-Time Web!'. In it Lunn rightly describes how keeping track of things that are happening right now is a new area of innovation, where big incumbents like Google don't have much to bring to the table. (Consistent with innovation theory, of course).
As an example he holds up the US Air emergency landing on the river Hudson this week, and I think the terrorist attacks on Mumbai would be another recent one. Information about both events was available earlier on Twitter, Flickr, Qik etc, than in main stream media, as well as quicker than Google could index. Lunn also holds the Dutch/Belgian tool Storytlr up as an example of a tool that shows us the 'real time web'. I think that reasoning is flawed, and that Storytlr is a very interesting tool, just not for showing us the 'real time web' (as witnessed by the amount of effort it took to get the result below).
Example of combining microblogging, photo and video streams into Storytlr
The reasoning is flawed I think because of the fact that we only conclude 'Twitter was faster' with hindsight, and that the actual number of people alerted to something happening on the Hudson through their Twitter or other accounts was small in those 7 minutes where main stream media were not yet broadcasting their news alert. I am much more interested in those first 7 minutes while we're in them.
What is the 'real time web'?
Real time is when you get your data stream through the web the instant the data is generated. Examples would be microblogging tools like Jaiku and Twitter, photo upload sites (Flickr, 23, Twitpic), live video (Qik, Seesmic), but also things like SMS (Treasuremytext.com). Another example would be the number of mobile phones and their speed of movement on highways, such as TomTom uses to show you traffic congestion in their route navigation software.
When is 'real time' useful?
I see three general areas where real time is useful.
Faster as it gets closer, as it has bigger consequences
I want my information faster the closer it is to me. Both geographically and socially.
If something happened to my wife I want to know this instant, wherever she is, wherever I am. If something is happening in my street or even in my house I want to know this instant. If something is happening in the place I will be at in 5 minutes, I want to know this instant.
So, anything happening to people close to me, regardless their location or anything serious happening in their location, is important to me. Anything happening in my direct physical environment, or in my near future physical environment, is important to me.
I want my information also faster as it has bigger consequences for me. Consequences for my life in general, or in my professional fields of expertise. If some tipping point is reached (like the Saudi Ghawar oil field peaking, as it is the singular signal oil production in general is peaking. The Saudi are the only flexibility in oil supply we have, all others are producing at peak capacity), I want to know fast. Because it's a tell tale sign for different scenarios becoming important. If you need to switch to plan B, or C, you want to know fast when the time to switch has come.
Early Warning, Weak Signals, and Predictability
As I said above, the number of people that were aware of US Air having crashed in the Hudson during those first few minutes was limited. Only after the fact did more people conclude it was an early warning. Not that those first Twitter messages and photos were not important, because they were. It's just that probably not all people for whom it would have been important were privy to those first messages. If you knew what to look for you could set alerts on real time information streams. But of course most of the interesting things are rather unpredictable, and not just the Black Swans. Being unpredictable is what makes them newsworthy and interesting almost by definition. At the same time, the really important bits might go unnoticed. Weak signals are very important in complex situations, but are by definition hard to lift from the noise.
So what would you look for in real time streams? The number of times a location is being mentioned, perhaps in combination with other key words? You will detect the Black Swans and other 'big' events, but you will overlook the Weak Signals that may signal an important trend or a tipping point in developments. How will you go about setting up your Early Warnings?
Tracking the Real Time Web?
What does it take to track the Real Time Web, both for detecting the eye-catching unpredictable around locations and people important to you personally, as well as the tell-tale weak signals that will have consequences on your life and work?
Are there reasonable ways to e.g. determine what a tipping point would look like? Are there detectable characteristics for weak signals that will be important to you? How do you weed out false positives (i.e. getting an alert for heightened activity mentioning your town, to only have it turn out to be about a rock concert taking place?)
Is there a way of filtering for a Black Swan, when you know that these are events with very low probability at any given time, though bound to happen at some point? Is there a way to create your filter or antenna against reasonable effort/cost in such a situation?
Open Government Data, Exciting New Project
Last June I wrote about open data, after attending a session by Keith Andrews at PolitCamp Graz. I continued the discussion on that topic with others, which now has turned into a new and exciting project.
Wouldn't it be great if we, as citizens, could have access to already public data and information in a way that we can choose? So that we can build applications on top of that data that are useful to us and others? It's what Hans Rosling has been pleading for passionately at TED conferences (video 1, video 2), and what he turned into practice at Gapminder. It is also the rationale behind the British government project Show Us a Better Way, where ideas are collected around putting government data to good use. After all, we paid for the collection of that data through taxes, and they are public already, so why not try to find additional worthwile uses ourselves, and get more results from our taxes?
It would be great wouldn't it? That's why the Ministry for Interior Affairs here in the Netherlands asked me and James Burke (Lifesized) to work on some appealing examples of reusing government data and opening up that data for the wider public (with APIs and some simple tools) in the coming months. At the same time we will create a map of possible government datasources to open up, and the people involved with maintaining those data sources, as well as collect ideas, examples, wishes, and needs from citizens around open government data. We will also create some practical advice for civil servants on how to go about opening up government data sources they maintain. This is all part of a wider programme around 'Open Government' aiming at more transparancy.
What would you like to have available in terms of government data, to reuse in your own mash-ups? What kind of applications would you like to see, that uses or needs government data as a source, if it were available in the right format? What kind of ideas do you have about finding additional uses for government data? What examples do you know of that you think are valuable, fun or exiciting? I would love to hear from you on those questions. Because that would allow us to make clear to the government that there is a need for opening up government data in this way.
I am looking forward to hear your tips, ideas, and remarks on this project!
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Announcing Medinge Brands With a Conscience Awards 2009
Earlier this month saw the announcement of this years Brands With a Conscience Awards (BWAC) by the Medinge group of which I am a member. The Medinge Group is an international think-tank on branding and business. In the Group’s opinion, these diverse organizations show that it is possible for brands to succeed as they contribute to the betterment of society by sustainable, socially responsible and humanistic behaviour.
The international collective of brand practitioners meets annually in August at a secluded location outside Stockholm, Sweden, and collaborate on the list, judging nominees on principles of humanity and ethics, rather than financial worth. The Brands with a Conscience list is shaped around criteria including evidence of the human implications of the brand and considering whether the brand takes risks in line with its beliefs. Evaluations are made based on reputation, self-representation, history, direct experience, contacts with individuals within the organizations, media and analysts and an assessment of the expressed values of sustainability.
Two years ago the group added a unique category commendation, the Colin Morley Award, recognizing exceptional achievement by an NGO. Mr Morley, a member of the Medinge Group, died in the London Underground bombings on July 7, 2005. The award commemorates his visionary work in humanistic branding.
For 2009, the group has singled out the following organizations as Brands with a Conscience:
Chhatra Sagar—an eco-resort in Rajasthan (India)
Ekomarine—environmentally responsible paint (Sweden)
Kiva—microfinance lending (USA)
One Water—enlightened bottled water (UK)
Ragbag—Fair-Traded fashion accessories from recyclable materials (the Netherlands)
TOMS shoes—developing nations’ shoe distribution (USA)
2009 Colin Morley Award
The third Colin Morley Award for a non-governmental organization is given to the American actor and philanthropist Paul Newman in posthumous recognition for an exemplary life of truth-telling and generosity.
Early next month, on February 5th, the BWAC Awards will be given to the mentioned organisations, at a private ceremony at the Management Institute of Paris.
This years list of nominees was excellent, with nominations that represented a wider spectrum of geographic origin as well as a wider range of products and services. This made choosing and voting a bigger, but more worthwile, task than before.
As I was last year, I am very pleased to spread the word on the brands we have selected this year. Ever since I joined the Medinge initiative, now 6 years ago, I have enjoyed the discussion and energy in this world wide group of people. It thoroughly changed my outlook on the role of branding, from a mere marketing perspective, to how a brand can be the focal point of energy for everything I think is crucial in true collaboration within organisations, and stakeholder networks. For me knowledge and change management and branding overlap greatly. Acknowledging those organisations for whom their brand is the expression of how they see themselves as part of society, where the bottom-line is not the only and unique yard stick to measure success, seems therefore a logical extension of my vision on knowledge work, innovation and learning in a globally networked world.
Members of the Medinge Group at last years Paris meeting
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