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The RoBlog
Monday, May 30, 2005
What happens when all IP is copyable?
What happens when the product of all intellectual property (IP) is trivially copyable? Not just for digital goods, but for physical ones?

This podcast (the first I've done while commuting, so it's rougher than usual, if that's possible) doesn't answer that question. It merely poses it.
Saturday, May 28, 2005
Climb on the Clue Train. A Retort...of Sorts.

I recently attended the Portland Podcast Meetup, where I met some very interesting people.

One of these people was Josh Bancroft who runs tinyscreenfuls.com. Josh was espousing something called The Cluetrain Manifesto. I'd heard of it before, but had never taken the time to delve in to it, so I figured now was as good a time as any.

I found the web site and read through the manifesto, and found I agreed with a good deal of it, but there was something about the tone that just didn't sit right with me. It's a manifesto, so it can't be faulted for using strong wording. Nonetheless, it put me in the mindset to write a response to it.

What follows is a point-by-point retort to the original Cluetrain Manifesto as found here. Since I agreed with the broad strokes of what the Manifesto was saying, it was difficult for me to find a counter argument in several cases. I'll leave you to find where those places are. I tried to answer each point in the tone it was written in, pretending I ran a very large company. Tongue, more or less, in cheek.

Don't take this too seriously, but hopefully it will be interesting.

Here we go:

Markets are conversations.
True enough.

Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.
Yes, this is true. However, companies cannot gear all (or even most) of our communications to each human. Technology does not yet enable us to make the salient points to a sub-section of the audience in a language that is easiest for that individual to understand.

Yes, companies can tailor a message to be sent to an individual at a time unique to that individual. Yes, they can include elements relevant to the individual at a fairly high level.

But they cannot talk to every individual in precisely the way they want to be talked to, and cannot say those things to them that would be of most interest to them. Companies' resources don't yet allow it.

Further, not everyone wants to wade through the entire conversation to get the bits important to them.

Companies used to talk to the entire group of interested individuals all at once, saying only those things that were easily consumed by the lowest common denominator (meaning they said the things that would impact the most people, even if a good deal of people weren't impacted heavily).

Then they talked to demographics. And psychographics. And survey sub-groups. And customer lifecycle cohorts. These groups had increasingly more in common that allowed companies to say increasingly more relevant things in ways that matter to that group.

Everybody is an individual. Companies want to talk to each person individually. They're getting there, and you can rest assured that those that remain ignorant or silent will be woken up soon, or not survive.

Technology is making these conversations efficient, and enabling new dynamics. Companies are heavily incentivized to get there. Change takes time.

Companies don't expect you to wait around, but probably most individuals are still trying to figure this out too.

Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.

Many human conversations sound like mating weasels being attacked by a blow torch.

Companies don't want to sound like that. Market participants don't want them to sound like that.

Humans can afford to sound like that. Companies can't...at least not yet.

Whether delivering information, opinions, perspectives, dissenting arguments or humorous asides, the human voice is typically open, natural, uncontrived.

It is as open, natural, and uncontrived as it is joyful, inspiring, and irritating depending on who is using it. Not all people are born public speakers, and marketing is public speaking.

The Internet is a quickly moving medium which often means that judgments are harsh and quick, and research and patience is shorter supply than when people talk face to face.

Companies have an incentive to tread carefully so that they are not dismissed by the accidental, unconsidered, natural slip of the tongue by a key player.

So they are finding the people who can best represent them in the ways that most of their customers or potential customers want to hear it.

Make no mistake, however. When they are finally talking to the market how it wants to be talked to, they will still be marketing. They are going to get very good at this very soon. At some point it won't feel co-opted, but it will still be the message they want you to hear.

People recognize each other as such from the sound of this voice.

Companies are not people, legal fiction aside. And while the market may want companies to be humanistic, to have a side that can be plugged in to, the market also doesn't want companies to be human in every aspect.

Individuals want even a company's best customer support organizations (and there is plenty of work for them to do in this arena) to react politely when they are yelled at them for a problem regardless of whose fault it was.

Individuals want to return goods for a refund even when it's obvious it was not the company's fault.

Individuals want companies to source American materials while at the same time being intolerant on price.

Companies can do these, and other things demanded of them. Just don't expect that they will always seem like mere humans.

The Internet is enabling conversations among human beings that were simply not possible in the era of mass media.

As it is among companies and individuals, and even, to some extent, between companies and workers. It is something companies are figuring out as are market participants. Companies just have a bit more skin in the game.

Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy.

Hyperlinks without consideration subvert trust.

In both internetworked markets and among intranetworked employees, people are speaking to each other in a powerful new way.

As are companies with their suppliers, partners, regulatory bodies, investors, employees, and existing and potential customers.

For a company, the nature of these conversations is about money, which is ultimately about survival.

These conversations are all over the place in terms of their risks and their rewards. Conversations with customers and potential customers would seem to have an inherent risk, with an uncertain reward. As these factors become well established, companies will change their behavior accordingly.

These networked conversations are enabling powerful new forms of social organization and knowledge exchange to emerge.

They are also enabling new forms of business process, organization, and networking. Members of the market that think that they are the only ones playing with the new toys have clearly spent too much time writing manifestos.

As a result, markets are getting smarter, more informed, more organized. Participation in a networked market changes people fundamentally.

The same holds for companies (which are, after all, only collections of individuals, frequently participating in other such markets). Companies are getting faster, smarter, and understanding individual members of a market much more thoroughly. The logical end point of this process may give individual market participants pause when well considered.

People in networked markets have figured out that they get far better information and support from one another than from vendors. So much for corporate rhetoric about adding value to commoditized products.

Yes, some companies do not provide very good support where they should. But adding value to a commodity is not just about support. It's as much about providing and supplying the context for the commodity as anything.

The fact that people CAN be better informed, doesn't mean they ARE. And being better informed does not always lead to better decision making. Not all decisions are rational, for good or ill. The goal of advertising is to lend credence to people's irrational feelings of affinity and trust.

It has been well known for quite some time, for example, that raising the price on a product for no good reason will attract certain buyers even when two products are shown to be equivalent in every meaningful way.

Look at bottled water; companies have been selling that for years at higher prices than the soda they use that water to make.

There are no secrets. The networked market knows more than companies do about their own products. And whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone.

Unfortunately it is increasingly difficult to tell fact from fiction in the networked world, and well-intentioned participants in the conversation from would-be saboteurs.

The information is out there, and there are some good hubs, but lay people, and many experts, are relatively unskilled at the tools (and effort) that separate assertions from reality.

What's happening to markets is also happening among employees. A metaphysical construct called "The Company" is the only thing standing between the two.

Where "Company" is interpreted to mean "arbiter of work-time resource allocation"; agreed.

Corporations do not speak in the same voice as these new networked conversations. To their intended online audiences, companies sound hollow, flat, literally inhuman.

True. And some companies can get away with speaking more humanly without practice, or be better at it, and other companies cannot or are not. However, most companies are in the process, or soon will be, of figuring it out.

In just a few more years, the current homogenized "voice" of business - the sound of mission statements and brochures - will seem as contrived and artificial as the language of the 18th century French court.

Perhaps. Language serves the purpose of its time.

Already, companies that speak in the language of the pitch, the dog-and-pony show, are no longer speaking to anyone.

No, these companies are speaking to each other, and that's important. Those that confuse their peer companies with their intended customer audience, however, may be in for some work.

It is the potential and existing customer that are the influencers of what organizations say and how they say it, but it is the customer's implicit needs at least as much as their explicit ones that drive the action of those who would attract them.

Individuals must ensure that their actions match their words, and that the words of the loudest individuals match those of the rest of the group. As organizations can increasingly tune their message to the recipient, they can discern between those individuals who are noisy, and those that are either representative of valuable customers, or those who create change amongst them.

Individuals should not expect that their one voice alone will make change (though it can now more than ever), and that loudness is all that is required.

Organizations will increasingly know who their customers are and accurately determine whether or not to listen to the noise-makers.

As companies can no longer be lazy about their communications, individuals cannot be lazy in their actions.

Companies that assume online markets are the same markets that used to watch their ads on television are kidding themselves.

Things have changed a lot since this was written in 1999.

In any case, companies are getting much better at determining what is the right use of which media, though there is plenty left to figure out.

Companies that don't realize their markets are now networked person-to-person, getting smarter as a result and deeply joined in conversation are missing their best opportunity.

Probably. And they are likely avoiding participation for fear of the unquantified risk.

Companies can now communicate with their markets directly. If they blow it, it could be their last chance.

Exactly why many companies choose to proceed carefully.

Companies need to realize their markets are often laughing. At them.

Market participants need to realize that, for a company, being laughed at by individuals who continue to buy your products is not such a bad thing.

Companies need to lighten up and take themselves less seriously. They need to get a sense of humor.

Fair enough. But individuals may do well to take themselves a bit more seriously and actively vote with their dollars.

Getting a sense of humor does not mean putting some jokes on the corporate web site. Rather, it requires big values, a little humility, straight talk, and a genuine point of view.

Just as it is difficult for the bloggosphere to have a single point of view, a multinational corporation may have a difficult time creating a single point of view that reflects its disparate operations, products, and employees.

Allowing individual employees to speak on its behalf will only make this more difficult.

A single point of view for many companies requires speaking in a way that represents the entire organization. This kind of point of view, especially for companies that are not the reflection of a single, visionary, individual.

This is the problem with all large groups where one person speaks for them. It is, therefore, unreasonable to require a single point of view for a large organization and expect it to sound like a human.

Of course it's only unreasonable for now, and certainly a single entity can have multiple points of view.

Companies attempting to "position" themselves need to take a position. Optimally, it should relate to something their market actually cares about.

The kind of "positioning" that is happening in this sense often has to do with issues not directly related to things the market will care about. Being a sole supplier, for example, is one way a company might position itself for success that has little to do with public statements the company might make for the benefit of the market.

Bombastic boasts - "We are positioned to become the preeminent provider of XYZ" - do not constitute a position.

Correct. Though statements such as "We are immune to advertising. Just forget it." are probably equivalently valuable.

Companies need to come down from their Ivory Towers and talk to the people with whom they hope to create relationships.

For those of companies where the "Ivory Tower" mentality still remains, it is likely that they are too big to get killed by mistaking PR for a consumer dialog a couple of times. Those that can get killed by that probably have many other problems as well.

Companies are still trying to figure out how best to deal with the flood of voices that they now have access to. They don't necessarily have the tools to handle it well. But once they figure it out, they won't have to be directly how good they're doing. They'll see it in the bottom line.

Public Relations does not relate to the public. Companies are deeply afraid of their markets.

People that write manifestos about companies would seem to be concerned about, or afraid of the direction they're heading. They might otherwise abandon such rhetoric and allow the companies to find out the hard way.

By speaking in language that is distant, uninviting, arrogant, they build walls to keep markets at bay.

Manifestos would not seem to be the best vehicle for tearing down walls. Vote with your dollars; companies know how to listen to them.

Most marketing programs are based on the fear that the market might see what's really going on inside the company.

Most marketing programs are based on the idea of making the company's excitement about its products or services known. At the very least, they are about getting the company's brand into the ever more crowded brain of an individual.

Elvis said it best: "We can't go on together with suspicious minds."

"It's a two-way street, it a two-way door..." - Ginuwine

Brand loyalty is the corporate version of going steady, but the breakup is inevitable - and coming fast. Because they are networked, smart markets are able to renegotiate relationships with blinding speed.

So long as there is a valid alternative supplier (one that is equivalent to less desirable choices in terms of product, deliverability, support, trust, and a dozen other ways). This is turns out to be fairly rare; especially for non-commodities.

Networked markets can change suppliers overnight. Networked knowledge workers can change employers over lunch. Your own "downsizing initiatives" taught us to ask the question: "Loyalty? What's that?"

Who constitutes "Your"? Who is "us"?

We are you. You are us. This is just as much a result of the internetworked world as anything else.

Networked markets can only switch suppliers is there is an equivalent supplier available. And the cost to switch is rarely zero.

Smart markets will find suppliers who speak their own language.

And smart suppliers will learn to speak the language of the market is that lends them an advantage.

Learning to speak with a human voice is not a parlor trick. It can't be "picked up" at some tony conference.

Not yet.

To speak with a human voice, companies must share the concerns of their communities.

No, to speak with a compassionate voice, companies must understand the concerns of their communities (or individuals). Humans infrequently share the concerns of other humans.

But first, they must belong to a community.

Belonging to a community is not a requirement for speaking like a "human", though it may be a requirement for speaking like that particular group of humans.

Companies must ask themselves where their corporate cultures end.

Manifesto writers must consider the tradeoff between brevity and clarity.

If their cultures end before the community begins, they will have no market.

Now who's speaking in confusing jargon?

Human communities are based on discourse - on human speech about human concerns.

In fact, many human communities are based on an active program of discourse repression, and what is a concern varies from human to human.

It does not follow that if an individual does not understand the point or meaning of discourse, that that discourse is either pointless or meaningless. Of course it is also true that people will not make the effort to understand you if there is no reason for so doing.

Companies can't (and typically don't) expect individuals to come to the message, but neither should an individual expect that every message will be made plain to them.

The community of discourse is the market.

While it may be true that markets are conversations, this does not mean that all conversations are part of a single market or that all markets are composed of a single conversation.

Companies communicate in many markets and in many ways. Each conversation needs to adapt and grow as is appropriate for the market.

Companies that do not belong to a community of discourse will die.

Agreed, insomuch as they would not be able to acquire resources, distribute products, or gain customers. However, to believe that there is a single community of discourse that a company participates in, or that it necessarily must participate in all of them, is folly.

Companies make a religion of security, but this is largely a red herring. Most are protecting less against competitors than against their own market and workforce.

What damage can the workforce do that does not involve a competitor? What competitors are there that are not in a company's own market?

By what means has this observation been made? What evidence comprises it?

Are readers supposed to take statements like this on trust? Where are the actions against ideals touted in this manifesto that a company can model its behavior on?

As with networked markets, people are also talking to each other directly inside the company - and not just about rules and regulations, boardroom directives, bottom lines.

As it ever was.

Such conversations are taking place today on corporate intranets. But only when the conditions are right.

Companies are increasingly trying to make those conditions right, and to find a balance between participating in these conversations and doing the work of the company.

Companies typically install intranets top-down to distribute HR policies and other corporate information that workers are doing their best to ignore.

Companies that install intranets top-down should be commended for making information generally more available. They should also be encouraged to take the next step with the infrastructure they have created.

Intranets naturally tend to route around boredom. The best are built bottom-up by engaged individuals cooperating to construct something far more valuable: an intranetworked corporate conversation.

It is not enough to merely allow these conversations to build. Companies must be able to assimilate this information and take action on it (non-trivial tasks, both) or little benefit will come of it.

Further, organic, bottom-up networks are inefficient and messy. This is not an excuse not to build them, but it is a reason why a company may proceed carefully with it's resources (which include an employee's time).

A healthy intranet organizes workers in many meanings of the word. Its effect is more radical than the agenda of any union.

The problems arise when these self-organized networks are not healthy.

While this scares companies witless, they also depend heavily on open intranets to generate and share critical knowledge. They need to resist the urge to "improve" or control these networked conversations.

What also scares companies witless is the possibility that, in addition to emails to family, instant messages to friends, and phone calls to potential new mates, that workers will spend more time "communicating" than actually doing work.

Even critical knowledge has an acceptable price.

When corporate intranets are not constrained by fear and legalistic rules, the type of conversation they encourage sounds remarkably like the conversation of the networked marketplace.

Confused, bitter and impatient? That DOES seem the same.

Org charts worked in an older economy where plans could be fully understood from atop steep management pyramids and detailed work orders could be handed down from on high.

Org charts are just a tool. Anyone who depends too much on a tool is likely to be one.

Today, the org chart is hyperlinked, not hierarchical. Respect for hands-on knowledge wins over respect for abstract authority.

Hands-on knowledge is not the same as complete knowledge of the situation. Workers at different levels of a hierarchy typically have different views of what's going on, and different takes on priorities. It is not true that a spectacular technician also makes a spectacular strategist. Listening should occur at all levels and in all directions, but hierarchies are not evil in and of themselves.

Command-and-control management styles both derive from and reinforce bureaucracy, power tripping and an overall culture of paranoia.

Hands-off management styles derive from utopian beliefs that everyone, if given the change, will make the best decisions on behalf of the company. In practice, this is not true. Surely there's a middle ground here.

Paranoia kills conversation. That's its point. But lack of open conversation kills companies.

Companies that are run by idiots will be undone by absolute transparency. Most people feel that they are idiots.

There are two conversations going on. One inside the company. One with the market.

There are a vast number of conversations going on. Between workers. Amongst markets. Through suppliers and subcontractors, to distributors, retailers, affiliates, partners, and even the competition. Not to mention the conversations going on between distinct factions of these audiences, that can be sliced a myriad of ways.

Companies must become conversant in all of these dialects to excel.

In most cases, neither conversation is going very well. Almost invariably, the cause of failure can be traced to obsolete notions of command and control.

Companies must strike the balance between no change and radical change. Both paths lead to premature death. Notions of command and control may be obsolete, but the alternatives are still unfolding, and adopting the wrong attitude can be devastating.

As policy, these notions are poisonous. As tools, they are broken. Command and control are met with hostility by intranetworked knowledge workers and generate distrust in internetworked markets.

Everything is met with hostility by intranetworked knowledge workers. Companies might as well stick with what they know.

These two conversations want to talk to each other. They are speaking the same language. They recognize each other's voices.

Some of them recognize some of the other voices. The rest they still think are idiots.

Smart companies will get out of the way and help the inevitable to happen sooner.

The only things that are inevitable are death and corporate taxes. All other futures can be guided, even if not controlled. Merely jumping out of the way and letting everyone talk to everyone is an interesting experiment. And when some company proves that it can be done well, others will follow, but jumping into action whenever someone posts a manifesto is not a good way to run a company.

If willingness to get out of the way is taken as a measure of IQ, then very few companies have yet wised up.

"Willingness to get out the way" is not a measure of corporate IQ; profits are. By this measure, many companies are wise indeed.

However subliminally at the moment, millions of people now online perceive companies as little more than quaint legal fictions that are actively preventing these conversations from intersecting.

The phrase "However subliminally..." sounds overly vague and convenient. What evidence is there of this, and what real meaning can you ascribe to this if it's true?

This is suicidal. Markets want to talk to companies.

And companies want to talk to markets. Companies, however, have a limited amount of resources to listen, so they try to make wise decisions about who they are listening to. Those who do a good job of this survive. Those who try to listen to everyone inevitably fail.

Sadly, the part of the company a networked market wants to talk to is usually hidden behind a smokescreen of hucksterism, of language that rings false - and often is.

Happily, where it makes sense, this is changing.

Markets do not want to talk to flacks and hucksters. They want to participate in the conversations going on behind the corporate firewall.

Of course they do. And they want each of their voices to be heard. They want each of their visions to be fulfilled, and each of their demands met. This may not be unreasonable in the long run, but companies with true vision may not feel the need to succumb to the average voice of a market. Visionary companies are such because they surpass the average in unexpected ways.

Finding which voices in a market are exceptional is non-trivial. Markets are not one voice, but many. Not one ear, but an ocean of them. Not of one mind, but individuals in the best and worst senses of the word.

Flacks and hucksters will be upgraded to better converse with the market as necessary, but not every worker wants to or is able to converse directly with the market. And certainly not every employee is appropriate for officially representing the company.

De-cloaking, getting personal: We are those markets. We want to talk to you.

As we do you. You are our reason d'etre.

We want access to your corporate information, to your plans and strategies, your best thinking, your genuine knowledge. We will not settle for the 4-color brochure, for web sites chock-a-block with eye candy but lacking any substance.

Though a company's strategies and best thinking might be of benefit for society and general, how can they trust you to do with it what's in our best interest?

We're also the workers who make your companies go. We want to talk to customers directly in our own voices, not in platitudes written into a script.

How does a company prevent a disgruntled shipping employee from blogging a negative image for a company? Workers need to be sure they've tried having a conversation internally before bringing it in to the market.

The market needs to understand that shit happens and occasionally the company and an employee are not able to see eye-to-eye. When fewer such exposures make massive headlines in the bloggosphere, more companies will allow the dialog. Conversely, when more companies allow this dialog, the market will get the idea that not every unhappy employee represents bad or unfair practices.

The question is which companies are going to take the first steps and get burned. Clearly, not all companies are suitable for this adventure.

As markets, as workers, both of us are sick to death of getting our information by remote control. Why do we need faceless annual reports and third-hand market research studies to introduce us to each other?

You don't, but just as you can't know everyone in a big city, nor is a one-to-one relationship between the market and workers possible for every member of both groups. Tools such as these help each group better understand the other in a short period of time. This should be the beginning, however, not the end of the relationship for interested members.

COMPANIES are run by people. People frequently make poor decisions. Companies have a stronger incentive than people to make better decisions.

Making demands is not opening a dialog. It is building a wall.

As markets, as workers, we wonder why you're not listening. You seem to be speaking a different language.

Where in the organization do people stop becoming "workers" and start becoming "you"?

The inflated self-important jargon you sling around - in the press, at your conferences - what's that got to do with us?

Sometimes a lot. Sometimes nothing. Different "human" conversations require different dialects. We try to speak the dialect that is appropriate for the conversation at hand. Sometimes we forget which dialect goes with which conversation. We have many different skills, and not all of us are able to speak the language of your market. If you want to talk more directly to us, you are going to have to be tolerant of these mistakes.

Maybe you're impressing your investors. Maybe you're impressing Wall Street. You're not impressing us.

Impressing investors is one of the conversations we are having. Impressing the market is another. In a truly internetworked world, you get to hear much more of all conversations. The challenge is taking the time to appreciate the context.

If you don't impress us, your investors are going to take a bath. Don't they understand this? If they did, they wouldn't let you talk that way.

They don't "let" us talk that way, they require us to. It is their money that we are managing, just as it is yours we are trying to convince you to spend. They have different needs than you do; want to hear us say particular things, as do you.

Your tired notions of "the market" make our eyes glaze over. We don't recognize ourselves in your projections-perhaps because we know we're already elsewhere.

We aren't describing you for you.

We like this new marketplace much better. In fact, we are creating it.

We are creating parts of it as well, but we're sneaky, so you might not recognize that it's us behind the curtains.

You're invited, but it's our world. Take your shoes off at the door. If you want to barter with us, get down off that camel!

We'd rather see you getting on your camel. If the new level of our eye-to-eye conversation unsettles us a bit, at least we can all travel a bit more efficiently.

We are immune to advertising. Just forget it.

In fact, you are not immune to advertising, you just have a different taste for it than you used to and than your parents did. And it shouldn't surprise you that a good deal of advertising actually works.

Despite all the press, you still watch TV commercials, and we can measure the impact. Despite all the press, you still listen to radio, and we can measure the impact. Despite all the doom-saying press at the turn of the millennium, you still click on banners, and we can not only measure that, but we can measure the impact of just SHOWING the banner regardless of whether or not you click on it. You even click on spam. What the hell are we supposed to do with that message?

Of course, when you speak, we listen. We try to make commercials more entertaining so that you'll watch them because they have more value to you that way. We roll our ads into content like video games because that's what you're doing these days. And we fund lots of your favorite activities on your block, in your city, and around the world because we go where you are and we want to not just participate in the things you do, but help make them available to you in the first place.

We admit it: we want you to like us. We'll figure out how to make this relationship work for both of us, but don't deny our effect on you. We're willing to give for what we get, and whether or not you want to admit it, you are too.

If you want us to talk to you, tell us something. Make it something interesting for a change.

We're finding that all we have to do to get you to talk is to ask. And when we do ask we get far more information than we're able to handle right now. Technology is great, but not all of the pieces are there yet.

We've got some ideas for you too: some new tools we need, some better service. Stuff we'd be willing to pay for. Got a minute?

Darned tootin'! But don't be surprised that if we discontinue the things you say you will pay for but aren't actually willing to when we make it. And expect that once we've done that a time or two and gotten burned at it, we'll approach with a bit more caution.

You're too busy "doing business" to answer our email? Oh gosh, sorry, gee, we'll come back later. Maybe.

Was your email in ALL CAPS? Were you coherent? Was it something that we could actually help you with? Were you telling us how our CEO should be fired because he drives an SUV?

We suck at email response. There, we admit it.

But part of what makes that hard is that so often we have no idea what it is you are saying, or, when we do, there's really nothing we can do about it. An email is not at all like a telephone conversation. When we send you a response, and you send us a response, we can't guarantee that the same person will respond next time. This means that each new person that touches it has to figure out what's going on, and misunderstandings of what has already transpired are very likely.

It's a problem we know about and are working on. Meanwhile, if you wouldn't mind formulating your email like you might any other conversation (with all the annoying nouns, verbs, and adjectives), we'd appreciate it.

You want us to pay? We want you to pay attention.

If you don't pay, we'll pay attention.

We want you to drop your trip, come out of your neurotic self-involvement, join the party.

We're all for partying. Just as soon as we finish this pile of work over here.

Don't worry, you can still make money. That is, as long as it's not the only thing on your mind.

What else should we be focusing on? If you believe that some of us are active, generous givers to their communities, ask yourself why that is. Sure, you like them better for it, but doesn't it smell like MARKETING to you? And even if it does, do you really care?

Have you noticed that, in itself, money is kind of one-dimensional and boring? What else can we talk about?

Companies are money making institutions. If you want good conversation, join a salon. Any other conversation you are going to have with a company is about money, whether you realize it or not.

Your product broke. Why? We'd like to ask the guy who made it. Your corporate strategy makes no sense. We'd like to have a chat with your CEO. What do you mean she's not in?

Will you be asking your questions individually? Should the CEO set aside 50 million 1 hour meetings? If you want to tell the CEO something, organize. Good companies will help.

We want you to take 50 million of us as seriously as you take one reporter from The Wall Street Journal.

Sure, when you have something specific to say.

Most companies have far fewer customers than one article in the WSJ will put them in touch with.

We know some people from your company. They're pretty cool online. Do you have any more like that you're hiding? Can they come out and play?

Sure. Just don't get pissed when they have to come in and do their homework.

When we have questions we turn to each other for answers. If you didn't have such a tight rein on "your people" maybe they'd be among the people we'd turn to.

Excellent. Glad to see you're organizing (can we help with that?). What can we do for you?

When we're not busy being your "target market," many of us are your people. We'd rather be talking to friends online than watching the clock. That would get your name around better than your entire million dollar web site. But you tell us speaking to the market is Marketing's job.

Will you forgive us if we have the occasional worker who is excellent at his job but may have impulse control issues when speaking on our behalf? If you don't believe he's "speaking on our behalf", and if we, in fact, deny that from the get go, will that matter if he pisses you off?

We'd like it if you got what's going on here. That'd be real nice. But it would be a big mistake to think we're holding our breath.

We'd like to get it too. We're making efforts, and we're studying. Those of us that have to move fast will, the rest of us will try to make sure we don't screw things up first.

We have better things to do than worry about whether you'll change in time to get our business. Business is only a part of our lives. It seems to be all of yours. Think about it: who needs whom?

Indeed. And if change is needed, we'll make it. If it's not, don't be surprised if we don't change. You are our primary interest, but sometimes we are still trying to figure things out, and sometimes we know more about you than you do.

We have real power and we know it. If you don't quite see the light, some other outfit will come along that's more attentive, more interesting, more fun to play with.

If being fun to play with is a path to success, you can bet business will be fun to play with.

Even at its worst, our newfound conversation is more interesting than most trade shows, more entertaining than any TV sitcom, and certainly more true-to-life than the corporate web sites we've been seeing.

Trade shows are mostly by us and for us, and, for the most part, we find them boring too.

As for the corporate web site, if you tell us what you want, we'll build it if we can. These things cost us money and we want to make sure we invest it where it will make you the happiest.

Our allegiance is to ourselves-our friends, our new allies and acquaintances, even our sparring partners. Companies that have no part in this world, also have no future.

We understand where your allegiance is. This is why we try to create content that you will tell your friends about. This is why we offer you incentives to talk about things that aren't inherently interesting on their own with your friends. This is why we create exclusivity by only allowing other people to join when they are invited by existing members.

You, as a gateway to your personal network of friends, acquaintances, and sparring partners, are one of our greatest assets. Expect to be treated as such.

Companies are spending billions of dollars on Y2K. Why can't they hear this market timebomb ticking? The stakes are even higher.

If you don't think companies are spending billions of dollars on this problem, you are not paying attention. This is practically the only problem companies have EVER paid attention to. But unlike Y2K, this is a conversation, and conversations are fluid, and evolving, and require investment in the right places over time.

We're both inside companies and outside them. The boundaries that separate our conversations look like the Berlin Wall today, but they're really just an annoyance. We know they're coming down. We're going to work from both sides to take them down.

Meanwhile, we will be tearing down the walls to getting to know you better and have one-to-one conversations. This will involve knowing your date of birth, your gender, and other information you are concerned about but give us anyway for the chance at a 10% off coupon.

We're removing the barriers to our information flow both internally and with our corporate partners. We're working hard to protect your anonymity, but don't get freaked that it's not just barriers to OUR information that are being torn down.

To traditional corporations, networked conversations may appear confused, may sound confusing. But we are organizing faster than they are. We have better tools, more new ideas, no rules to slow us down.

Welcome to OUR party. We expect that you'll form your own companies to meet your perceived needs. Those of us that are big or fast enough will adapt and assimilate.

We think that you'll discover that there are, in fact, some rules.

And if you bypass them? Well, we anticipate attending your seminar at the next trade show.

We are waking up and linking to each other. We are watching. But we are not waiting.

We don't think you are who you think you are.
Sunday, May 22, 2005
Personal Rapid Transit Revisited
Recently I received a comment on my post regarding Personal Rapid Transit, back in October.

The anonymous poster, who appears to have been from an organization called SoundPRT, which appears to be an advocacy group for bringing a PRT system to the Seattle area.

The commenter addressed some thoughts I had (all relatively minor) about the SkyWeb PRT system. The comments sparked a renewed interest in me and I spent a couple hours digging around to find out more about the broader range of PRT solutions and criticisms leveraged against it.

What follows is, in the tradition of the original article I posted, a mostly wandering discussion of random shiny things that caught my eye as I was cruising the various sites, as well as responses to the points the commenter made. Let's start with the latter.

Call and Response
In my original post, I had yammered on about how it would seem like making each vehicle stopped at a station wait for the first vehicle in the station queue to depart might be irritating. To address this, I proposed a Y-shaped section of track for each berth. To which the commenter said:

It is not anticipated that individual delays will be a problem. First, most stations will have multiple bays. Second, boarding is made as simple and fast as possible--payment and route selection occurs before boarding, and the design must make ADA/wheelchair access as easy as it is for the fully-able-bodied.

My response:
The waiting issue I mentioned was not necessarily a result of limited berths. Rather it was my thinking that people who are boarding in the first berth may take an inordinate amount of time boarding for reasons entirely unrelated to system design. People holding a vehicle so that another member of their party could board; because they have many things to load into the vehicle; or because they are taking a while to get situated. In a linear station design, all vehicles behind the one in question would be required to wait until that vehicle was completely boarded. This is more likely to be an irritation rather than a real inconvenience, but it's worth considering that the impact of such a scenario may be greater in systems where station access is non-sequential as people expect their travel experience to be unrelated to that of other people traveling simultaneously.

Likely, developing a solution for such an irritant is over-engineering. Most solutions would require slightly larger stations to accommodate and likely increase the boarding/deboarding process as an individual vehicle takes itself offline in a station, however having both the station offline from the main guideway, and each birth offline from the station guideway might be worth looking at in certain station configurations.

Although, having given it a bit more thought, I could envision an alternative to the Y approach I mentioned in the original article that would have less of an impact on vehicle "docking" times (though would probably have the same relative impact on station sizes). Consider a station guideway that departs from the main guideway. In the station, there would be a main guideway and individual berth guideways leading off of it. The berth guideways could intersect each other (with the outbound guideway intersecting the inbound guideway of the next berth) and the central system could manage vehicles through these intersections. This would mean that individual vehicles would not have to make sharp turns (as in the Y configuration), would not have to back up (again, as in the Y configuration), and each berth could have as long a deboarding/boarding time as needed without interrupting the flow of other vehicles through the station. An added benefit might be the ability to store two (or more) vehicles in each berthing track when demand is low, providing additional vehicle storage to the system.

Next, I wondered aloud about what happens when an individual PRT vehicle broke down on the guideway.

To which the commenter said:
This is pretty much spot-on. In addition, under the Skyweb system a breakdown is pushed to the repair center by the next vehicle. Generally, Skyweb is designed with few moving parts to break, as well as redundancy throughout, making the odds of unplanned stoppage literally astronomically low.

My response:
In the scenario where an individual vehicle becomes non-functional, it makes sense that another vehicle can come along and push the disabled vehicle. But in a system where guideway switching is dependent on the individual vehicle and is not a component of the guideway itself, how does one ensure that the vehicle can be pushed to a suitable destination if the switching mechanism is disabled? Also, what happens when a vehicle is disabled due to a problem directly relating to it's ability to move (e.g. one or more wheels jam)? In such a case, it would seem that PRT critics would have a valid point about debarking in emergencies. This problem would seem to be compounded if the traveler were disabled, insomuch as one could not simply deploy a cherry picker to recover the occupants.

I went on to puzzle on whether or not long lines might form behind a station, eventually backing up on to the main guideway.

To which the commenter said:
Actually, there are primarily three factors: the demand for each station in terms of arrivals AND departures, the number of berths per station, and the size of each "loop" or circuit of elevated track.
Demand: PRT spreads-out demand per station by having many small stations close together (ideally 1/2 mile apart).
Berths: Most stations will have 3 berths. In busy places (downtowns, stadiums, airports, intermodal transit stations) stations would be scaled-up by adding more berths (major station cost is the elevator and trip selection "ATM", marginal cost of each additional berth is relatively low).
Loop size: In the rare (see Demand) event of a station and its approach siding being full, a car can be "waved off" and directed to go around the local loop and re-approach. The ideal size of a loop is 1/2 mile on a side for a total of two miles; traveling this at 40 mph takes only 3 minutes.

My response:
The impact of the unidirectional nature of the guideway might be interesting to understand more. It would seem that, for some station-to-station trips, the trip length might be significantly longer than one might expect when the trip needs to be routed through a series of one way guidelines (I'm assuming here that there would typically only be one guideway per street (or equivalent) and that the illustrations showing stations as being single direction only are correct). I'm sure this is something that is minimized during initial planning stages, but this, among other things, makes me want to sit at a simulator with someone who knows all about this and see different scenarios play out.

Would this, then, mean that, in a scenario where an approaching vehicle has to be "waved off" that the trips might be significantly longer than traversing a 2 mile square? Also interesting to know is how likely it would be to achieve a regular 1/2 mile per side loop. What are the system performance impacts if the per-side lengths expand beyond that, and what is the likely upper-threshold over which performance becomes unacceptable (I'm guessing that this is heavily dependent on the particular installation. More reason to sit in from of a model simulator.

I pondered the question of whether PRT would eventually be outmoded by computer controlled cars.

To which the commenter said:
It depends what effect you think Time might have on PRT's effectiveness. Urban densification and suburban expansion are not a problem for PRT, as the system scales-up well.

My response:
Yeah, I must have been high or something when I wrote this. Even though I have visions of computer controlled cars dropping you off at work and then driving themselves home or some such, the only near-term way automated cars would compete with pretty much any transit system, would be for long-haul scenarios where individual cars could travel as fleets (though I'd be interested in hearing why I might have been more right than I expected ;).

I said I thought it'd be cool if you could access the Internet from your laptop while in the car.

To which the commenter said:

No reason a community couldn't specify this as an amenity.

My response:
Yep, again...high. Looks like some metropolitan wireless schemes may well fill in this need, though I'm not counting on them quite yet. And if they fail, perhaps the cellular network will soon be good enough to fit the bill. In any case, it'd be nice to have in the PRT vehicles, but certainly no point of emphasis for them.

At some point I used the phrase "Doesn't meet commuter throughput claims".

To which the commenter said:
How? Remember, station demand is distributed/spread-out. In addition, routing is spread-out too. The "mesh" configuration of the network means there is more than one way to get from A to B, especially if they are far apart. If one PRT track can handle 7200 vehicles per hour (30 mph, 22 ft headway), imagine what multiple parallel tracks can carry.

My response:
And again...high. I'm not even sure what I meant here (I didn't think anyone would be looking ;). I'm pretty sure I meant it would be a problem IF throughput claims couldn't be met, but your guess is as good as mine at this point.

No Call, Just Response
Now, more ramblings on PRT and the like in no particular order:

PRT as a Complementary Mode
Most places I visited seemed to indicate that PRT was not necessarily direct competition to light rail (et al). Rather it was a supplement. While I can see this for certain applications, like the one I mentioned in my original post about going from Vancouver to Portland, I do wonder what the designers see the specific limits of PRT as being, and where it makes sense to employ other modes of transportation. Specifically, I'd be interested in seeing some cost scenarios (or technical scenarios) where PRT would break down. I think this kind of information helps to provide much needed context to the discussions I see about PRT and other forms of transportation (such as the fascinating PRTDebate page).

A PRT Wiki
I ran across a fledgling wiki site for PRT that was useful as a jumping off point to other PRT info.

Problems of Placement
In terms of getting PRT guideway everywhere it would need to be, no doubt the challenges of getting the guideway approved in enough neighborhoods to grant the 1/2 mile-per-station distance is non-trivial. Much like other forms of public transportation, and, indeed, many other public works projects, people may be in favor of the idea while not wanting it to run by their homes. Unlike busses or light rail, however, PRT will have to fight this battle in many more neighborhoods if the penetration targets are to be achieved.

It seems likely that individual stations would have a relatively small footprint, however providing access to this station (stairs and elevators; the latter required for ADA compliance) might be non-trivial in all the locations where a station would be required.

It would be interesting if a PRT service could replace existing utility poles so that they served a dual purpose: carrying the existing utility infrastructure, as well as the PRT guideway. My guess is that this would help lessen certain arguments about invading infrastructure and would mean that no additional right of way need be granted. Even better, perhaps, if the utility lines could be tucked into the guideway in some way to lessen the negative impact of existing infrastructure. In fact, it appears that UniModal is proposing exactly that .

Stopping the Train (and the PRT)
Arguments about the stopping distance of a PRT seem a bit odd in certain respects, especially when compared to light rail. Assuming the worst case scenario of a vehicle collision with an unexpected, ungiving object, it would seem that a fair comparison would be to compare the effects of a PRT system versus a light rail system encountering the same object, and run the comparison at different passenger loading levels. At first blush, one would assume that in a properly functioning PRT system (and this may be where the failure lies), that the impact vehicle, and perhaps a vehicle or two behind it would be involved, accounting for injuries to 12-16 people (fully loaded). Under the same circumstances, one would think that a fully loaded light rail car (or coupled cars) would sustain injuries to on the order of 50 individuals in such a collision (100 if coupled) as later portions of the rail car cannot brake to avoid collisions with the earlier portion of the car.

Getting it On (and Off)
It seems that discussions of passenger load times are primarily oriented around total time to load N passengers. It would be more interesting to see what the average wait time of individual passengers would be given normal passenger arrival patterns. I would guess this would lean towards PRT. The inter-vehicle wait time should also be thrown into the mix (and, no doubt, there are studies of this). I presume that in an optimal PRT system, the inter-vehicle wait time would be substantially smaller than the inter-vehicle wait time in an optimal LRT system, adding further disparity to each mode's average passenger wait time. Again, I'd love to see some simulations of both modes to see how things work out.

The commenter mentioned a system by UniModal. Here are my comments about that:
The UniModal system seems like it's still in the initial stages of design (unlike some of the other PRT systems which seem well conceived at a fairly detailed level), an idea further reinforced by the large number of "coming soon" pages where vital information should be and a copyright date the belies the "soon" portion of that statement. And, c'mon, their Kiddie Train example is filled with holes and serves primarily as flame bait for proponents of alternate transportation modes.

As mentioned, it is not currently ADA compliant (both in the stairway access that is displayed in their pictures, and, presumably, in the nature of their two-seat cars where riders are seated one behind the other), the kludgy drop off and pick up system notwithstanding.

Similarly, in all of the images on their site (e.g.) the cars are shown waiting in queue for riders, but I imagine this would be problematic if an arriving rider ends up at the end of the queue. If there were not enough new passengers, all queued vehicles would have to be sent elsewhere. Other systems appear to have this handled a bit more elegantly by having stations with multiple berths allowing some cars to be stored while still providing room for arriving passengers to depart. There is, however, a strong attractiveness in the simplicity and small scale of the UniModal station design.

The UniModal model appears to be a two station approach with a disembarking station and a separate boarding station.

Feeding the Beast
I thought that the point the UniModal site made about feeder services not being accounted for in light rail travel was interesting. Probably only some of the trips on such systems could be added to the cost of light rail given that at least some of such ridership may start and end their trips on such a system. Nonetheless, to the extent that all such feeder traffic would be accounted for on a PRT system, it should be included as part of the comparative costs.

The End...Or IS it?
Anyway, that's enough rambling for now. Comments are welcome, but they may spin me into hours of research so use them wisely (that is, make sure you have plenty of popcorn to watch me spin).

Thanks mysterious commenter!
Wednesday, May 18, 2005
The RobCast: Thoughts of Future Trends 2
Ok, I start this entry, which is a continuation of "The RobCast: Thoughts on Future Trends" (go figure) stating that this is the second of two entries on this topic. I was wrong. I didn't get anywhere near the end, so this is the second in at least 3 entries discussing an article in The Futurist magazine entitled "Trends Shaping the Future: Technological, Workplace, Management, and Institutional Trends" by Marvin J. Cetron and Owen Davies.

Topics covered this time include:

The RobCast: Thoughts on Future Trends
This is the first in a multipart podcast. I'm reading an article about future trends in The Futurist magazine (May-June, 2005 edition), and found myself wanting to comment on it and so decided to capture my thoughts with my iPod.

The article is entitled "Trends Shaping the Future: Technological, Workplace, Management, and Institutional Trends" by Marvin J. Cetron and Owen Davies.

Topics I discuss in this installment include:

Wednesday, May 04, 2005
The RobCast Parade of Ideas: PodFilter
Finally a new podcast! This one recorded on my iPod, so quality is not spectacular, but hopefully the idea is interesting enough.

Basically it's a different approach to bringing efficiencies to podcasting than what Adam Curry and Ron Blum recently discussed in their "strategycast".

Check it out and let me know what you think.

(BTW, this recorded in .WAV format, and due to the low sampling rate, it's not very big, so I'm leaving it in that format rather than re-compressing it. Let me know if this doesn't work for you for some reason.)

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