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The Third Post-Steve Jobs Era

Thursday, January 15th, 2009 by David Goldes

The third post-Steve Jobs era arrived much sooner than anyone imagined.  Shortly after the markets closed in the U.S. on Wednesday, a news release arrived with a copy of Jobs’ e-mail to Apple employees in which he wrote that he “learned that my health-related issues are more complex than I originally thought.”  The company barely survived his first, and forced, exit  (1985-1997) but did run smoothly during his absence for cancer treatment  (the second era).

It was less than two weeks ago that Jobs sent out a similar note, in which he acknowledged his weight loss and attributed it to a “hormone imbalance” for which he was already in treatment.  He termed the remedy as being “relatively simple and straightforward” and promised to continue as CEO.

Jobs is a popular figure in the computer industry, not only as the cofounder of Apple but as the revanchist CEO who ousted the regime at Apple that had ousted him in 1985, and then returned in 1997 to turn around the company.

Because Jobs is deeply involved (some say too much) in every aspect of Apple’s operations and successfully revived the then-struggling computer maker in the late 1990s with such products as the iMac, his health is a matter of concern, not only to family and friends but to Apple employees and investors.  Since a bout with cancer, treated successfully with surgery a few years back, pundits have counted his every sneeze.  The disclosure immediately sparked new concerns about a recurrence of cancer and about how much information Apple was holding back.  The hormone imbalance disclosure was roundly criticized by medical and corporate-governance experts earlier in the month as having been much too general.

The news caused the company’s shares to drop ca. 8% in after-hours trading.  Analysts suggested the stock could drop further when markets reopen and it was down almost 3% as we went to press.

The company’s COO, Tim Cook, who filled in for Jobs in 2004 when he took a leave of absence to battle pancreatic cancer, will also assume the reins now.  Cook is known more for his operations prowess than design prowess but the company has a skilled team of designers in place, all schooled in the Steve Jobs school of design, so it is likely that innovations will continue to appear from Apple for the foreseeable future.´

We don’t know what’s wrong with Steve Jobs but one doesn’t take a six-month leave of absence if it isn’t serious.  Wednesday’s note also included a promise: “As CEO, I plan to remain involved in major strategic decisions while I am out” so, health permitting, he will still be able to act as a kind of editor-in-chief even if not involved in day-to-day operations.  Change in any organization is a fact of life: at some point, Apple will have a new CEO and the new person will be filling some very large shoes.  Jobs has imbued the company with a mission, a way of doing things, and a very clear sense of good design.  It is likely that all of these will continue as Jobs’ legacy, when and if he should no longer be CEO.

To see how this might work out, Apple has to look no further than Redmond, where Microsoft is getting along quite well on a day-to-day basis without Bill Gates.

David M. Goldes is the president of Basex.

IBM’s WorldJam

Tuesday, May 29th, 2001 by Jonathan Spira

Invited: 320,000 of your closest friends.

Over the past few weeks, I was one of the very few outsiders to be briefed on – and view in action – WorldJam, a 72-hour-long online community event hosted by IBM to which all of its 320,000 employees were invited.  Although I will be writing about this in greater depth in an upcoming research report, I wanted to share some initial observations and insights with you.

WorldJam is a set of tools and an environment that were integrated to support a 72-hour online community brainstorming session.  The goals were threefold:

1.)    To tackle ten “thorny” business problems
2.)    To report to colleagues on best practices
3.)    To “jam” with friends and colleagues

For the past nine months, IBM, under the direction of Mike Wing, IBM’s Director, Worldwide Intranet Strategy and Programs, has been planning and rehearsing this marathon community event. Wing’s Corporate Intranet Team worked in conjunction with several other areas of IBM, namely Corporate Marketing, IBM Research, and Strategic Web Application and Technology (SWAT).

There are several levels at which one can view WorldJam.  First, the technology itself.  Second, the issues which were at the heart of the WorldJam discussions.  Third, the collective knowledge and wisdom of the company which WorldJam brings together for 72 hours.  And fourth, as an extraordinary scientific experiment in online collaboration, and the ramifications which it raises.  Today I concentrate largely on the first.

At the core of WorldJam were ten asynchronous discussion databases, or forums, each led by a moderator/expert in the field, assisted by trained staffers.  Each forum had a topic and a question, e.g. “Supplying the Glue: More than 25% of IBMers are ‘mobile’ – telecommuting, working on customer premises, teaming with geographically dispersed colleagues.  What do you do to avoid ‘IBM’ = ‘I’m By Myself’?”.

The next logical issue to tackle was how people might participate in WorldJam.  By the end of WorldJam, over individual 50,000 employees had stopped by; it will take a while to study the statistics in greater detail, but, even in a group of 50,000 people, participation runs along the lines which one might expect.  Some IBMers would stop by and  mine a few nuggets.  Others came to impart and share their knowledge.  Others hunkered down and jammed, and still others formed breakout groups which launched real-time (synchronous) discussions relating to one of the ten topics.

The WorldJam project can be viewed in four phases:
- Preparatory/planning (9 months)
- Live (72 hours)
- Immediate Follow-up (several weeks)
- Long-term resource (infinite going forward)

WorldJam also offered diversions, including “branded” music, and games, which were two applets in the Thinking Tools section called “Words” (a kind of online refrigerator magnet game) and “Music” (a nod to WorldJam’s musical heritage?).

One of my favorites pieces of technology was the WorldJam Activity Map, which uses IBM Gryphon Server technology [which is based on Java Messaging service (JMS)].  IBM describes Gryphon as a publish/subscribe message broker system, the type which could be used for real-time online sports score distribution.  Here Gryphon tracked visitors on the WorldJam site.  The Activity Map also used a custom-statistics server and a JDBC Data Access API.  The statistics themselves were stored in DB2.  Activity Map created a geographic record (i.e., a real-time view of the world) of participants’ activities, and a forum-by-forum record (created by connecting to the Gryphon server and subscribing to the statistics channel) which fed real-time activity, then displayed a geographic record of participants’ activity and a forum-by-forum participant record.

Another personal favorite was a  tool developed for WorldJam, the “JamBroker,” which uses XML and XML Parser to create and match groups of people for a random jam.

The discussion forums used Lotus Notes and servlets, which integrated Notes content together with HTML all on one Web page.  The discussion functionality (comments, replies, voting, etc.) was all managed through Notes, which stored the information in a Notes database.  Servlets generated and managed the moderator’s comments which appeared on each of the ten forums.  Every discussion forum page contained an applet referred to as a “digital heartbeat,” which tracked user activity in real time.  This sent its information back to Gryphon.

Although time will tell how WorldJam and its wealth of intellectual activity and knowledge will be both viewed and utilized in future, the WorldJam team was already making notes for WorldJam’s progeny.  A few ideas I would add would be to add foreign language support (after all, it’s WORLDJam), and to consider having a specific opening and closing activity, both to warm participants up, and to give an appropriate ending to such a landmark event.

The scope and magnitude of a WorldJam-like event is an investment that very few companies could undertake.  Of those that are in fact able, none except for IBM has undertaken an online community/knowledge management event on this scale.  IBM effectively invited all of its 320,000+ employees to not only participate in pragmatic discussions with the possibility of immediate impact, but opened the door for all to partake in embarking upon significant cultural change, with all IBMers taking an active role in their own destinies.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

The Next Big Thing

Thursday, March 1st, 2001 by Jonathan Spira

It’s a bird.  It’s a plane.  It’s the latest and most amazing.

It is truly comforting to imagine that one’s work will last throughout the generations.  However, in a world where “The Next Big Thing” of one day is relegated to a cold, dank basement by the time the next “Next Big Thing” is announced the following week, it is hard to discern scientific advancement from a flight of fancy.

This is especially true for those who labor in the digital economy.  Here, the latest thing eclipses the newest almost instantaneously.

There are some industries where the phrase “tried and true” stands for something far more important than “new and improved.”  Take clocks, for instance.  Despite the proliferation of digital timepieces, there haven’t been major changes in clock technology for at least 300 years.  But the clock industry spawned other important businesses; one of the most famous makers of clocks was International Time Recording, one of three companies merged together in 1911 to form the Computing Tabulating Recording Company, which changed its name to International Business Machines in 1924.

Recently, Dean Kamen’s mysterious new invention – code-named “Ginger” and commonly known as “IT” – became the titleholder of “The Next Big Thing.”  Is it an antigravity machine? A new energy source?  An extraordinary amount of hyperbole?  The media made much ado about a device that has yet to be unveiled to the general public.

This imaginative exercise led me to wonder, What really might be The Next Big Thing, or “TNBT”?  So I conducted an unscientific survey of what others proclaim to be TNBT.  Witness:

PC Magazine [Feb. 6, 2001] proclaims the Samsung SPH-X2000, a palm-size cellular handset that lets users watch streaming video content, to be TNBT.  In December 2000, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette promises that “interactive clothing” will be TNBT.  At the International Housewares show, Digital Cookware’s programmable skillet – the pan’s removable control module regulates temperature, beeping when the preset temperature is reached or the food is overcooking – was proclaimed to be TNBT.   Mazda’s new deployment of “suicide doors” on its four-door RX-8 was hailed as TNBT at the Detroit Auto Show.  And British shoe designer Oliver Sweeny, who says “You’ve got to make it modern,” was also hailed as TNBT.

I have my own list of TSTBTNBTBNWs (Things Supposed to Be the Next Big Thing but Never Were): free Internet access;  push technology; Y2K; Priceline; artificial intelligence; advertising-supported content; and, according to the NASDAQ, anything Internet.

Clearly, there are some brilliant and innovative products coming down the pike.  With luck, none of these will be encumbered with the TNBT label, and they might even escape the flash-in-a-(digital)-pan syndrome.  One potential example is mobile access to the Internet, with voice navigation and speech-to-text input.  (Clearly, the concept of gluing a keyboard onto a phone is proving unsuccessful.)

There is a growing belief that the tech world will split into two camps: One believes that The Next Big Thing is PC-centric, one believes that it’s Net-centric.  Players on both sides have begun to emerge, proclaiming that theirs is TNBT.

But don’t worry about all that.  I can promise you this: The Next Big Thing is really just around the corner.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

Basex: The Early Adopter

Thursday, April 18th, 1996 by Jonathan Spira

Year: 1983
Type/Category: Communicating word processor
Product: Northern Telecom IRIS (intelligent remote input stand)
Description: An early attempt to combine word processing and communications, a beta version of IRIS arrived at The Basex Group for study. IRIS utilized an IBM electronic typewriter for input and output, and provided 48K of storage and an RS-232 communications port. The Basex Group used this for routine word processing and, due to the high quality output of the IBM model 50 electronic typewriter to which it was attached, found it preferable than the dot-matrix and daisy wheel printers of its day. But the IRIS was never brought to the marketplace. Its limited storage and proprietary closed architecture doomed it to The Basex Group technology museum.

Year: 1985
Type/Category: Printer/output device
Product: IBM QuietWriter
Description: A letter-high quality printer that made no clickety clack’ on printing? Thermal transfer technology was a significant alternative to the high-priced laser printer market.

Year: 1986
Type/Category: Relational data base management systems
Product: Logica RAPPORT
Description: Fourth-generation mainframe database management system ported to the PC. Using a beta copy, The Basex Group created our original Time and Expense Accounting System (TEAS). Logica spun off the DBMS system to those employees working with it (RAPPORT Corp.) and that company’s limited capitalization limited its chances to succeed in the market place against such up-an- comers as Oracle.

Year: 1986
Type/Category: PC-based voice mail
Product: Natural Micro Systems Watson
Description: The Basex Group started using PC-based voice mail in 1986. Watson’s optional VIS programming language allowed us to create an automated attendant with limited functionality. With a cost of $1,000 plus the PC, while Octal systems were selling for $60,000 plus, the advent of PC based voice mail foreshadowed what was to become the de facto standard by 1992.

Year: 1986
Type/Category: Online banking and commerce
Product: Citibank direct access
Description: First truly transaction based online banking system accessible for businesses. We could create payments and EFT’s online, while checking balances and account activity.

Year: 1986
Type/Category: Electronic mail
Product: AT&T Mail
Description: The Basex Group started on the “information superhighway” with its first E-mail address (!jspira)

Year: 1987
Type/Category: Online publishing
Product: Newsbriefs
Description: The AT&T consultant liaison program, though wary of violating the Modified Final Judgement of the AT& T Divestiture, began forwarding news abstracts about the technology industry on-line via AT&T Mail.

Year: 1990
Type/Category: PC-based fax
Product: Intel SatisFAXtion
Description: The Basex Group began using one of the first Intel SatisFAXion cards for incoming/outgoing fax traffic. Later, fax traffic was migrated to the network-based NetSatisFAXtion, and our original card is still in use in our fax server.

Year: 1991
Type/Category: Groupware
Product: WordPerfect Office
Description: Perhaps the first widely distributed Groupware product, office (not a software suite) provided group calendaring, e-mail, and scheduling.

Year: 1991
Type/Category: Intranet
Description: Although not called an Intranet at the time, The Basex Group created an on-line information resource and library that made internal and external documents accessible enterprise-wide.

Year: 1992
Type/Category: Computer Telephony Integration
Product: Mercury Mail
Description: Taking the concept of PC-based voice mail one step further, The Basex Group became a beta user of our client Mercom Systems’ Mercury Mail. The Basex Group consulting project included the participation in the design of the user interface (both telephone keypad and graphical user interface) and the specification of the feature set, allowing The Basex Group to create the ultimate voice mail system designed by the users themselves.

Jonathan B. Spira is the CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.  This article originally appeared in the Basex Online Journal of Industry and Commerce (BOJIC).

Lazerbook

Tuesday, April 2nd, 1996 by Jonathan Spira

The LazerBook is Basex’  foray into the future of book publishing and distribution and was conceptualized by Jonathan Spira.  It does, of course, not exist today, and probably will not be practical for some time.

However, in carefully analyzing the direction that the book publishing industry must take, it has become apparent to us that the prediction that “books will disappear” is ill-advised. Most notably, pundits have predicted that books, as we now know them, will be replaced by will be replaced by electronic tablets, perhaps similar to screens on a laptop computer.  Sony, in fact, tried this approach with its ill-fated Bookman product, introduced in 1991.   In our view, customers were predictably slow to turn to a pocket television-screen-sized device for their reading pleasure.

It is the last word, “pleasure,” that is perhaps most important to the concept of the LazerBook.  Books are enjoyable; they elicit a reaction, and the experience of reading a book is not limited to the words on a page.  There is a sensory experience also associated with reading a book.  Opening a musty, leather-bound tome gives rise to a heightened sense of adventure.  The binding itself adds to the reading event, as does the quality of the paper, the typeface used (and sometimes even specially designed for a particular work), and the ability to gauge the progress you are making, as the unread pages slowly diminish.

It is clear that the Bookman did little to emulate this experience.

What, then, would?  Let us first consider that there are three broad categories of books on the market today:  reference works (i.e., encyclopedias, travel books, collections of articles, cartoons, art books, etc.); works of non-fiction (such as biographies, business texts, and treatises on various maters); and fiction (which constitute our traditional body of literature).

Reference book publishers are in the knowledge business; they compile knowledge, such as in-depth information on travel, which can then be resold to someone who requires such information.  In the present distribution model, experts sell “information” to information warehousers (publishers), who create a medium for the information and resell it to information distributors (booksellers).  Booksellers sell it to the book buyer (information consumer).  Within the existing model of the World Wide Web, the expert can place his information online, available for direct purchase by the information consumer, thus bypassing publishers and booksellers.  The information, however, does not yet form a
traditional reference work; the output, perhaps printed on a regular paper stock, limits the overall reading experience.  In contrast to this model, LazerBook can compile a fully- customized and bound travel guide on demand.  Furthermore, the information consumer can purchase only the desired information.

Non-fiction works have a distribution model similar to reference works, with the exception that there is generally one author and it is a marketed item; unlike a reference work, which is a collection of information from different sources, a biography or treatise would usually be by one scholar who has in-depth knowledge of his subject.   LazerBook would produce the tome on demand and, after it was no longer wanted, recycle it.

The model varies slightly for works of fiction.  A reader might wish to have an anthology of works in a genre, a collection of short stories by one author, or some other combination.  Or the reader might desire a classic, bound novel.  In any of these instances, LazerBook delivers the desired work to the reader, day or night, even a “rare” book, perhaps out-of- print in an alternative distribution model.

The payment mechanism for LazerBook-produced products is likely to follow the e-cash scenario touted so highly today.  The reader inserts his electronic purse and makes the purchase.  It can be that simple.  Alternatively, if the reader is a member of the LazerBook- of-the-Month club, he might receive pricing and benefits similar to the off-line Book-of- the-Month Club that exists today.

Many futurists argue that the computer will enhance the book-creation process, because it will facilitate reader involvement in the creation of a story.  This, however, changes the book into more of an on-line game. I believe that the LazerBook, like the traditional book, will have its story determined by the author, with little reader interaction.

Jonathan B. Spira is the CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.


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