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January, 2009:

Do Animals Strike a Greater Chord? Why?

I am reading Bill Gates’ 2009 Annual Letter from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  Only a few pages into it, where Bill is discussing agriculture and negative impacts climate change can have on progress in that arena.  He makes a brief comment about animals:

It is interesting how often the impact of climate change is illustrated by talking about the problems the polar bears will face rather
than the much greater number of poor people who will die unless significant investments are made to help them.

For the most part, it seems a very true statement.  And it is not just regarding the climate change and not just polar bears either.  Very often the impact on animals is the point in these types of discussions or news coverage.  And it does seem that often the story about animals strikes a stronger chord in us (or it seems in my experience to be the case) than when we are talking about people.  Is it because many of us have animals as pets?  Is it because we feel that animals need us to care for them more and people “should” be able to help themselves?   Anyway, just one sentence that really struck me and thought I would see what others think.

(Yes I realize I am making a gross generalization, people do care about others too, it is just not the point in this case.)

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Faces in iPhoto ’09

Apple iLife banner

Image by troy mason via Flickr

Messing with Faces in iPhoto ’09 this evening after moving a lot of our photo collection from the laptops to a new iMac. After several cold attempts on moving the photo library over, deleting the database, launching iPhoto and trying again, the ‘Faces’ functionality did not seem to be working properly.  In fact, it seemed to not recognize one face.  This is a far cry from earlier reports I was reading on FriendFeed that the sofware was recognizing the faces of people’s feline companions!

Did a quick Google search regarding iPhoto face problems I was having and there isn’t much out there in the form of help save this one.  (Lots of reviews already)  I was also fortunate enough to find one post regarding the problem and  couple of posters were highly recommending for anyone having issues to watch the video tutorials on any of the new functionality to (and I’ll use their words) “avoid a lot of frustration.”  I wish I read that advice before embarking on my iPhoto journey (my fault).

The key assumption that you should not have is that iPhoto is going to automatically organize people into folders for you to then name.  That was my initial assumption simply because it processed the photos as such when initially launching the application.  It apparently did work like this for some but not for others.  Here’s the iLife video tutorial section over at Apple.  Head on over there for help.  Here is the tutorial specifically for organizing your photos using faces.  After two minutes of the video, I was fully operationally with several people in my photo collection, tagged, recognized and auto-recognizing on the rest of the photos.  So in my case, it didn’t happen magically but overall once I knew what I was doing, it seemed to be working quite well.

Obviously I need to use the software for some time to give a full verdict but overall, I am liking the software so far.

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The Cloud Marches On…

A consistent meme lately has been ‘cloud computing’ or more specifically, how much trust users can have putting their data in the cloud.  We’ve reached a point where most users, particularly the early adopters who pervasively use cloud-based services have to consider the how much data they trust being out there.  Let me preface this post in saying, that I am VERY BULLISH on cloud computing.  I think it is the way of the present and will continue to be a very strong wave of future innovation on the web.  In fact, I think there will be even more cloud services developed where data that is traditionally kept “close to home” will be moved into the cloud and shared storage services.  Mobile services, like the iPhone, will drive a lot of this movement as will the netbook. This is not new thinking on my part, just the side of the debate regarding cloud services that I end up on.

So, why a post today?  Ma.gnolia experienced a severe data corruption issue and outage.  As of 3:50 pm EST, news of when the service would be back up (with or without the user data) was still a question mark (see the site’s note below).  I do not keep my bookmarks there but I do keep them at De.lic.ious.   But this news is the fourth story as of late that struck a cord with me and I decided to list them out for those that may have missed them.

1.  Google Shuttered Google Notebook and others – not sure how many people kept notes up there and they have a month to move the data but moving your notes and note-taking process must be aggravating or at least an efficiency hit.

2   Steve Rubel’s post about the Bloodbath in the Clouds – I really enjoy reading Steve’s stuff.  Also very thought-provoking.  If you haven’t read his post, he recommends heading to high ground.  (I do not, I just recommend being aware and using caution).

3.  Flickr deleting a user’s account and all of their data due to ‘content violation’.  Not sure if the user violated the terms or not but it sure seems that one should be able to pull their content back before it is vaporized, particularly when they paid for the service and aren’t even using the free version.  Imagine a non-cloud example, imagine if a dry cleaner realized you brought in one shirt that didn’t belong to you so they decide to not only not clean all the clothes your brought in, but throw them all in the garbage.

4.  Ma.gnolia outage – severe data corruption and outage today, strong possibility of people’s bookmarks are gone.

So here are four stories that would cause many to run for the hills regarding using cloud services.  However, I continue to think seriously about moving even further into the cloud.  Time and continued innovation will only continue to improve the services available.  And unfortunately a lot of the value will be developed on the backs of some mistakes, it often does.  But rest assurred, it will be mistakes that we all learn from.  But even more so the value of cloud computing will continue to excel based on feedback from the users, users like you and me who use these services in the early days and act as lead users on what can make them more viable.  One thing is for sure, cloud or not, redundancy is the only sure fire way to protect yourself as cloud services continue to mature.  Stowe has some thoughts here as well.

My view is cloud services need to establish clear policies on how they handle the security of the data and policy issues.  It needs to be done in a consistent manner.  What would also really help if the consistency cross service lines and there was a greater level of consistency across the cloud as well.

I have more to say regarding the the types of trust we place in cloud computing but will leave that for a follow-on post.  Til then…


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Brand and Reputation

The two terms, brand and reputation are often used as synonyms.  At least, in my experience, I have heard them used interchangeably. Think about it.  Have you ever sat back to ponder the difference between the two terms?  If not, it is something to think about.  We no longer live in a world where it is only the brand and reputation of the company we work for.  Equally important is the brand and reputation we have as individuals, and this is heightened in the world of social media.

Back to the two terms.  Much of the reason the two terms are used interchangeably is due to the tight correlation that usually exists between an individual or firm’s reputation and its direct impact on their respective brand.  That does not, however, mean they are the same.  When I was working for Dow Jones, I would often talk to customers that wanted to ‘monitor’ the news, particularly themselves, the competition and the industry.  Often times, their goal was to monitor how they were being represented in the media and to have a holistic understanding on its impact to their reputation.

In this pursuit, a key search companies would do is their brand name and the brand name of their competitors.  Those with more established practices, would extend their lens to areas of focus where key reputation indicators such as child labor, financial indicators, supplier relationships and large customers.  This is just a couple of examples.

In any case, having clear definitions of brand and reputation are helpful when understanding how one represents themselves and how they are regarded.  A recent article, Don’t Confuse Reputation with Brand (PDF version) has pretty clean definitions between the two:

Brand is a “customercentric” concept that focuses on what a product, service or company has promised to its customers and what that commitment means to them.

Reputation is a “companycentric” concept that focuses on the credibility and respect that an organization has among a broad set of constituencies, including employees, investors, regulators, journalists and local communities – as well as customers.

It is pretty easy to find companies that have strong brands and solid reputations.  Not so obvious are those where the correlation between the two terms -1? (i.e. one is bad but the other good)

What are companies have a superior brand but a poor reputation?  Or the inverse (and my instincts say more likely), what companies have a great reputation but not a superior brand?

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Competition > Corporate Goveranance

A recent article, Does Corporate Governance Matter?, in MIT Sloan Management Review, discusses a recent study done by Holger M. Mueller and Xavier Giroud, two researchers at the Stern School of Business at NYU.  Interestingly, their findings on a fairly substantial sample size (over 10k in a 20 year period), show that competition is strong mitigator against inappropriate governing behavior than in non-competitive industries:

“A negative change in corporate governance [caused by the passage of anti-takeover law], has a negative effect in noncompetitive industries,” explains Mueller.  “But a change in corporate governance has no effect in competitive industries.”

Corporate governance, and Sarbanes in particular, is often a point of discussion.  For most practitioners, and honest ones at that, it is typically not spoken of too highly.  Too much process, too much red tape and too many hurdles put too many barriers and overhead in place for those honestly trying to run their businesses and at the same time adds a lot of inefficient costs too boot.  That is often the argument.

So this study brings up potentially a critical point:  Is competition the great equalizer?  I would premise that many of the people I read who are critical of the increasing governance measures would respond with a resounding YES.  To a degree, I would have to agree and it almost seems logical.  Companies that are in highly competitive environments simply do not have the luxury to manipulate the system or their organizations for inappropriate personal gain.  But how to answer the bigger question, how does one judge how competitive their market is?

I would love to see some of the empirical data used in this study and would be even more interested in seeing data on particular companies that have had exposed issues and been the poster children for the need of corporate governance.  In those cases, would we label those particular companies to be operating in non-competitive industries?

Enron, Tyco, Worldcom and Madoff are some immediate examples that come to mind.  Did they operate in non-competitive industries?

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