And what was set to happen…

…happened. Majors and studios have been fighting piracy with their lawyers instead of asking their engineers to build alternative – and legal – ways to distribute their content. Because of the consistent asymmetry between the needs and the offer (how many people illegally download American TV shows in Europe? How many would pay if they could?), the “customers” became “pirates”, and learned to download what they needed the illegal way.

Governments reacted, and you read here and there about how there will be some crackdowns on pirates, probably as soon as somebody comes up with a smart way to jail thousands of ten years old. What was the logical next step? Anonymous peer to peer! Here comes OneSwarm, “privacy preserving peer to peer”, not yet fully anonymizing users (the concept is friend to friend rather than peer to peer) but a step in the direction of totally anonymous downloads.

What will the majors do when privacy peer-to-peer happens? They will have lost the war, with no possible way to track down pirates. Fighting an agile community of hackers frontally is not a good idea. They will always beat large corporations and governments, slow to react with a hand tied in the back by the need to stay within legal boundaries of obsolete laws. The only way to adapt to this kind of change is to go the positive way. Give customers a quicker, sexier, cooler alternative. This is finally emerging – browsing music on your iPod touch at Starbucks beats piratebay – but it has to accelerate if the majors are to survive this war.

Best of Lift Asia

We just posted a short video capturing the atmosphere of Lift Asia. So far this was our best conference, an amazing location, 30 degrees, a nice beach to relax after the talks. At least 10 legendary presentations (most are now available online), amazing time spent together with some of my heroes, a unique adventure at the other end of the world. Every person who came from abroad has the impression of living 6 months of emotions in three days.

We will soon launch a third event somewhere around the Mediterranean Rim, so you will have an increasing number of opportunities to experience Lift every year. Each event has a different flavor, a unique color resulting of the local ambiance. In Korea it is super high technologies, wild karaoke sessions, a large diner for 400 persons on the beach, soju and lots of smiles. I think the video below captures that pretty well, except for the Karaoke part that I managed to censor 😀

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Crisis or transition?

“Ah la crise”, we hear so much about it. I get some questions about it during most interviews: “will you talk about the crisis at Lift09?” Not really, the conference is looking at society 2-3 years down the road, the crisis should be over by then right?

Well, that’s if it ever existed. Is this a crisis or a transition? The numbers that make the news (stocks, commercial balances, etc) are pretty bad, but do they really give us the whole picture?

Yes, the banks are under attack, and deservedly so. Their model is based on a world that does not exist anymore. Like the music industry before, banks have been refusing innovation, sitting on their assets without noticing that society was changing faster than ever. Customers have changed (billionaires now wear sneakers, use Skype and live on the road, while private banks still treat their clients as if they were retired oil moguls), employees have changed, needs have evolved (and customers didn’t wait for the banks to address them, see Loanland or Kiva). There is a price for arrogance (it cuts you from your clients), lack of agility (you can’t follow change), heritage (having an history can be bad for you. Ex: Nokia could never have invented the iPhone). A price to pay for all those things banks seem to have been specializing into recently.


Wired: Can innovation – and greentech? – save the world’s economy?

Then there is unfairness. Switzerland has been making billions off money subtracted from other countries tax authorities. Now the US (other countries will follow) are trying to put an end to that. How sustainable can a business model abusing other countries be in a global world? What leverage do the Swiss have, with their banks having offices all around the world, their existence depending on those same countries that now pressure them? I am not getting into the philosophical debate of whether tax escape is good or bad, I am just saying: how long can you disrespect other countries rules in a global world?

Allow for a short parenthesis here: most Swiss are very pragmatic and understand this is unfair. See for example this interview from yesterday’s night news, the question from the national television’s journalist is “you are subtracting billions from other countries who need them to face the crisis, this money is in your safes, do you think it is normal?”. So think twice before you generalize to “the Swiss”. And don’t believe they are the only ones doing this. Your bank has a branch in the Bahamas too, and it is not only for the nice beaches. Bank of America, Crédit Lyonnais, HSBC, Chase Manhattan, Banco de Santander, they are all attracted by the “country’s progressive legislation and regulatory structure”. And have offices in Jersey, Monaco, Singapore and other tax havens.

So those living their formerly-high-life along those lines are in trouble, and nobody should rejoice because their struggles will impact all of us.

But on the other side there are the smaller companies, the ones whose numbers don’t make the news, those who are based on more simple and human values. The “real economy”. This part of the world seems to be doing much better. This past week, I received at least 10 job openings from start ups or mid-sized companies, all saying they urgently need a developer, a business manager, or an executive. I have never seen the people around me (mostly entrepreneurs and independents) that busy! Lift will be full again (676 participants for 700 seats as I write this) but Tom Hume had to cancel because his company won a huge contractMatt O’Neil (who started his company at Lift06) is currently too busy to attend, Scott Smith is stuck with client work back in the US and asked us to transfer his ticket. It seems smaller companies, those who adapted quickly to the new world because they, in part, created it, those companies are striving, acquiring customers all around the world, working on new and exciting projects, proposing changes and progress to an otherwise struggling society. Bruno Giussani told me that this year’s TED was buzzing with more energy and projects than ever, I hear 3GSM was a total blast, and it is precisely the feeling I am getting from my immediate surroundings. Exciting times!

I understand we all have a partial view of the world, and that I am no exception. I also understand these are weak signals, not backed by scientific numbers, which might not weight much in the face of reimbursing thousands of billions of screw ups. But I am asking a question: is this really the sub primes, or are we facing a peak of inadequacy between large companies and the world they live in? Is this a crisis, or a transition to a new world?

Anybody who has been a teenager knows that transitions can be painful. But they normally take you to a next level, a much more interesting one. Wait and see 😉

Monetizing social media

“A lot of expectations are coming down in terms of monetizing social media” says Paul Verna, quoted by Daniel Lyons in his latest article debunking some of the myths around blogging. Most (99.99%) blogs don’t make money and at best create value in an indirect way (exposure, network, invitations).

I agree with the main point of the article: the business model for social media is yet to be found. It feels like 2002, when Google was still looking for a model while Overture was leading the way with a far from perfect offering. From the 2002 New York Times:

[…] while Google is the leader in searching Web pages, it is a tiny force in the rapidly growing market for selling advertising related to search. The dominant player there is Overture Services, which began life as GoTo.com, a search engine that let Web sites bid to be listed and ranked in searches. (Whoever pays most gets listed first, the runner-up is listed second, and so on.)

Users never warmed to GoTo, but advertisers, especially small ones, jumped on it. What better place to advertise your cozy inn than on a page where someone is searching for information about the Berkshires? So Overture regrouped, and it now offers to split revenue with sites that display its listings on their search results pages. Yahoo, MSN, America Online and all the other major sites — except Google — have agreed.

Link (thx Bruno)

There is money in social media because they are pretty good at captivating audiences, and there has always been money in attention. But nobody has found the perfect solution yet. Is there a new Google brewing somewhere, a new model that will storm the world of advertising?

Government, police and change

The French Government is launching cyberdouane, a new service of the national customs “to fight against internet trafficking (drugs, counterfeit products, tobacco, weapons and ammunition, artwork etc)”.

“Finally” I hear, “the government is responding to today’s threats”. Then the astute reader will stumble on the headcount of this new unit: eight analysts, and seven investigators. That’s a grand total of 15 people fighting against internet traffic in one of the most wired countries in the world. A bit surreal isn’t it?

It’s like for crime. How many resources are dedicated to financial crime (who is now costing billions to taxpayers all around the world) vs street crime? Why is it acceptable to have thousands of policemen running after illegal immigrants when they only cost a fraction of what a trader can lose in a couple of months?

Society is changing way too fast these days, and governments have a hard time adapting to the pace of innovation, not only the technological one.

Facebook at work

I was interviewed yesterday by the RSR about Swiss companies blocking access to Facebook. The national railway, the Swiss post, some major employers are blocking sites like Facebook or Youtube to “protect themselves against viruses” and “avoid high traffic websites”. Of course the real reason is the difficulty to cope with employees spending time at work obviously not working.

As usual, the solution to this issue is not technical, it is social. I forgot to make the point I wanted to make, which is that the only way to prevent facebook abuse is to give your employees a job they like! Sometimes fundamental and obvious truths are forgotten, buried under more spectacular measures. But this is really the only way to deal with that. How can you block Facebook on mobile phones anyway?

Actually (and the IMD professor who is also speaking in the interview makes the point) treating your employees like children is a step in the wrong direction. While I can understand the reactions Facebook generates inside some organizations, I am also amazed by the fact that they don’t seem to fully understand that such measures are basically destined to fail.

Beyond the web browser

Here is the opening speech I gave at Lift Asia with Jaewoong Lee to explain the theme of the conference, “beyond the web browser”

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Here is the plan of the speech, not exactly what came out but most of the points are here.

  • Web is a mature market
    • 1 billion users, your grandma’s on the web, web is like telephone!
    • Overload looming?
      • too much information
      • many things have been done
      • online = local
      • medium is not the message
      • back to resource based hierarchy
      • casual everything
    • Complicated
      • from one job to many
      • more competitive space
    • Less innovation happening inside the browser
  • New technologies
    • Geo localization
    • Sensors (weather, pollution, traffic)
    • RF  / permanent connectivity to the network
    • Identification technologies
    • Data input and output
    • New interfaces
    • Cloud computing
    • Green technologies/Power supplies
    • New business models
    • Virtual and online identities
    • Frontier between online and offline being blurred (amazon kindle, google gears)
  • There is a whole new ecosystem
    Expect many changes in the next five years
    These are the topics we think are important
  • Beyond the web browser
    • New ways to access the web
    • New visualizations
    • Incremental innovation will further embed the web in society
  • Virtual money
    • Currency gets digital
    • New business models & usages
    • Privacy and security concerns
  • Sustainable technologies
    • Need to redesign technologies
    • Global warming and end of petrol is a radical change
  • Networked city
    • 50% of population lives in cities
    • Main place of usage of technologies
    • New forces, bigger than nations sometimes
    • Big challenges and opportunities
    • Optimization of resources
    • Enhancing quality of life
    • Privacy and security
  • Aiming for better society
    • Technology can help by flattening society
    • And improve communication
  • Future of social worlds
    • Social network is like air
    • Not only on the web: mobile, gaming
    • New social dynamics and behaviors
  • Techno nomadic life
    • Private life invading work
    • Get closer to people far away, far from people close
    • New forms of collaboration
  • Robots to networked objects
    • Not science fiction anymore
    • ex: senior citizens will need robots in korea and japan
    • robots will be different than what we expected