To Be Open or Not To Be Open? That is the Question!

I was very privileged last year to submit evidence to the House of Lord’s Communications Committee on their report “Broadband for All”.

Below is The Earl of Selbourne’s summary of what needs to be done from his speech on Monday evening when the report was debated in the Lords:

The Earl of Selborne: My Lords, I join others in thanking the chairman, my noble friend Lord Inglewood, for the way in which he chaired the committee and introduced the debate today. From the speeches that we have heard, it is clear without doubt that the future of our economy will depend to a large extent on our ability to connect to broadband throughout all communities and sections of the population. It is not just about wealth creation and social cohesion. The ability to participate in healthcare and whole tranches of public activity will depend on connectivity. The Government must have a policy, and the Government are right to have a policy, but perhaps, as we have said in our report, they have been preoccupied by one aspect, which is to try to be the leader in Europe on superfast broadband.

The first priority has to be to achieve connectivity. If you have excluded populations, you will have a social divide and a lack of social cohesion. The Government need not worry about speed. That will follow. There are not very often market failures when it comes to cities. I therefore agree with those who have said that to spend money on improving superfast provision in cities is not something that the Government need to worry about if the market can do it itself. But there will be market failure in remote areas, where the costs of pushing out the broadband structure are too great. There will be market failure where the incumbents have an advantage, which inhibits other incomers who can help to provide some of the very many solutions that will be required to get this connectivity to all parts of the population. That is something that we are failing to harness—the undoubted innovation and enthusiasm from local communities, small and start-up companies, all of which would have a contribution to make. We go into some detail in the report. It gets pretty dense, I admit, when we talk about things such as passive optical networks and physical infrastructure access. But this is the key to it.

At the moment, we have what my noble friend Lord Inglewood called “the only show in town” for many rural areas. Whether we like it or not, because it is in the very nature of broadband to have high fixed costs, low marginal costs and great economies of scale, inevitably the incumbents will have a strong advantage. I think that we should be proud of what BT has done. It has improved enormously, by technical innovations, the ability to provide broadband on the existing infrastructure. Of course, it is rolling out broadband at great speed. It says that it hopes to achieve 90% coverage by 2017, but that immediately begs the question as to whether in national terms that is a satisfactory objective. I would certainly say, particularly as I am from a rather remote corner of the rural community and likely to be one of the 10% left out, that it is not satisfactory. So let us see what we can do to achieve that connectivity well before 2017. I do not think that anyone has mentioned yet the 4G mobile broadband technology, which is very soon to be with us and will certainly provide greatly enhanced mobile internet access to areas within adequate connectivity.

There are many different contributions to be made. The case for government involvement and public funds to be deployed rests, as I say, on achieving this reduction of the digital divide. The long-term solution will, ultimately, be fibre to the premises and the home. As others have rightly said, the cost of rolling out fibre to the home is exorbitant. We have a temporary solution, and a good one—the BT solution of fibre to the cabinet. It achieves the objective of reducing dramatically the costs. Usually, you have copper or some other connection from that cabinet. But whether BT likes it or not—it is in something like denial over this—it has the disadvantage that it does not provide open access, as I would understand it. In other words, as a local access network provider, you cannot simply move in with a compatible bit of machinery, stick it in there and do what you are trying to achieve. It is not an open access hub, as we have tried to demonstrate. That is where you come back to the technology of the passive optical network, which is a bit of a fix, as those will know who have read the report with great care. It certainly does not achieve what some of those independent service providers would have hoped for.

I think that the Government should ask quite firmly that, for the next tranche of money, which we hear will come in 2015, there should be proper open access. It is not beyond the wit of man. Clearly, there is no great financial advantage to the incumbents to roll out proper open access, but that is what is needed. If it is what is required, that is what will happen. It must be future proofed. We know that the technology changes dramatically fast. We know that some of the existing solutions, including the cabinet, will not stand the test of time for very long, but the fibre-optic cable will. Ultimately, it will be able to handle this vast amount of information. Therefore, we must make sure that as we improve the broadband infrastructure, we have the ability to upgrade and upgrade. That is why I say that, frankly, the cabinets are not very easily upgraded. You have to go back to the exchanges and think again. That is why we should look on them only as a temporary expedient.

When public money is distributed to extend the commercial network, as is happening at the moment, the Government should insist on the long-term solution. We took evidence from a particularly impressive consultant, Mr Lorne Mitchell, who is setting up a community scheme in Goudhurst, Kent. I think he was the first to put it to me how important it was for local groups to be able to access the middle mile and to get the backhaul back into the infrastructure. He said that the key to the problem is the openness of the middle mile, which is the connection back to the internet. If this can be designed in a way that gives each community a chance to get to one of these community hubs, it would be a massive leap forward. That is precisely what the committee report has tried to promote. I think it makes a lot of sense. However, the government response simply quoted a report which said that it was unrealistically expensive to have hubs in every community, and so it would be if you were to launch it all overnight. However, ultimately, it would be no more expensive than the cabinets. It is the same technology but it is a question of making sure that when you roll out the hubs, you do what you are not doing at the moment with the cabinets, and that is making them available to all. To say that they will cost far in excess of the funds available to the Government at present, as the government response does, simply misses the point. If the Government can fund any hubs such as cabinets or exchanges, they should be accessible to the community and to other providers. This simply requires a change in specification, not a change in the scale of funding.

I hope the Minister will recognise that, however impressive BT’s record of rolling out broadband is—it has, indeed, been most impressive—the interests of the BT shareholder and of wider society, particularly the 10% in rural communities who will remain without adequate connectivity in 2017 if present policies are continued, are not always the same.

There is a much better and fairer way to make the UK’s telecoms infrastructure truly open and competitive – and also give much better value-for-money to the government’s interventions.  The Lords highlighted the way – but the vested interests put a cloud over the path.  Many assume because BT Openreach is called “open”, then it is open.  It is not.  Never has been.  Never will be.  Clever marketing.

open

In spite of many other schemes being “rolled-up” by the BDUK closed scheme where only BT can win, we are letting the Government and the English Counties inject the biggest single donation to BT’s balance sheet in a lifetime.  Definitely not the best way to invest government money.  Definitely not an open debate in the House of Commons on how to do it differently.  Only in the House of Lords.

I am really pleased to say that we were told this week that the Goudhurst Broadband scheme that I presented to the Communications Committee is still going strong – with great support from Kent County Council and our Local Parish Council.  You can find more at one of my other blogs: http://www.goudhurst.net  I also blog about the final 10% (last point above) at http://www.finalninth.com – so for those who wondered what I do outside writing Thursday Thoughts – then this is some of it!

Let’s hope the Lords’ Report continues to be read and championed and that Monday was not the end of the work of trying to develop a new set of really good ideas for next generation internet access distribution for the UK.

Extracted from: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201213/ldhansrd/text/130318-0002.htm#13031837000212 – Columns 472-475

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The Story of the Greatest Lumberjack in the Land

I had to introduce a workshop last week with a bunch of folk who were trying to take on the “big guys”.  I opened the workshop with a story which, for me,  gives great hope to the small guys who are toiling away to take on the big guys.

Some say the big guys have gotten the world into the mess that it is currently in.  So here’s a story to cheer those up who are ploughing their furrow as a “small guy”!

There is an old Celtic legend, a story of two lumberjacks. 

Both men were skilled woodsmen although the first, called Angus, was much bigger, welding a powerful axe.  He was so strong that he didn’t have to be as accurate for he still produced due to his sheer size.  He was known far and wide for his ability to produce great quantities of raw material. Many hired him just because he was bigger.  After all, his customers reasoned, everyone knows that bigger is always better!

angus

In spite of his size, the fame of the second woodsman’s (who was called Hamish) was spreading for his skill was in his accuracy.  There was very little waste in his efforts so his customers ended up with a better product for their money.  Soon the word spread that Hamish’s work was even better than his larger competitor, Angus.

Upon hearing this, Angus became concerned.  He wondered, “How could this be?  I am so much bigger that I MUST be better!”  He proposed that the two compete with a full day of chopping trees to see who was more productive.  The winner would be declared ”The Greatest Lumberjack in all the land.”  Hamish agreed and the date for the bout was set.

The townsfolk began talking.  They placed their bets.  Angus was the favorite to win with a 20 to 1 advantage.  After all, bigger is better!  The evening before the bout, both men sharpened their blades.  Hamish strategized to win the bout.  He knew he would never win because of his size. He needed a competitive advantage. Each man went to bed confident that he would be declared the winner.

Morning broke with the entire town showing up to cheer on the lumberjacks.  The competition started with a the judge’s shout, “GO!”   Angus, strong and broad, leaped into action.  He chopped vigorously and continuously, without stopping, knowing that every tree he felled brought him closer to his coveted title.

Hamish

Hamish, wasting no time, jumped into action as well, attacking his trees with every intention of winning the distinguished title.  But unlike his larger competitor, he stopped every forty five minutes to rest and sharpen his blade.

This worried the onlooking townspeople greatly.  They murmured among themselves.  Surely, he could never win if he didn’t work longer and harder than his competitor.  His friends pleaded with him to increase his speed, to work harder – but to no avail.  This pattern continued throughout the day when both men heard the judge yell “TIME!”, signaling the end of the match.

Angus stood, winded and exhausted, yet also proud by his pile of trees knowing he had given his best having chopped almost continuously since the start of the match.  Surely, he was the winner!  

Hamish also stood by his pile of trees – though, unlike his competitor, he was still fresh, ready to continue if necessary.  He also stood confident in knowing that he had also given of his best and that his tactics would pay off.

When all the trees were counted, it was announced that Hamish had, indeed, felled more trees than Angus and he was granted title of “The Greatest Lumberjack in all the Land!”.  He happily shook the judge’s hand and gripped his newly won axe made of the finest steel in the land.  Angus (and most of the townspeople) stood in stunned silence at the announcement – for he was far greater reputation, was far stronger and had a much heavier axe!

But Hamish was not that surprised by the result.  For he knew that, in order to win against his larger competitor, his instrument had to be continually sharpened.  His axe was smaller and therefore each swing must be more accurate in order to produce the better product.  By stopping the sharpen his instrument, he had proven, once and for all, that he was the better man for the job.  He also knew that, with regular rests, he would be able to endure his technique far longer.

Frame of story and pictures from: http://www.capstonemedia.com/sharpen-the-saw/

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2012: What Will You Remember?

As we leave 2012, there are many things we may remember which, for those that live in the UK, can  be summed up as a year of broken records:

  • The driest spring for 100 years followed by the wettest 9 months since records began
  • The summer Olympic and Paralympic games that smashed many World, Olympic  and Paralympic records
  • The Diamond Jubilee celebrations with cheery faces, street parties and that magnificent pageant on the Thames.  (Although the Queen did not break the record as the longest-serving British Monarch – she is in good health to take the record from Queen Victoria in three years time with 64 years on the throne).
  • The “broken record” of economic doom, debt mountains, fiscal cliffs, war, murder, hunger etc. etc.
  • …..and what should not be forgotten – our own personal records – whatever they might have been.

As we enter 2013, it is the time of year where we look back and look forward.  Remember and try to stretch our minds to a New Year.

If there is one thing that I will remember, above all else, it was the power of the “Games Makers”.

Spectators Queue At Greenwich Park For The Equestrian Events

Through economic gloom and despondency and the ever sharper and more graphic accounts of murder and mayhem around the world, the Games Makers surely showed us how to make a difference.  Whatever is going on in the world, each individual can volunteer to create their own, brighter future.  A powerful message for me from 2012 that I was not expecting to receive!

I hope all readers have an extraordinarily successful New Year and the best of luck with breaking your own records in 2013!

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Powerful Forces Are At Work!

My father used to have a phrase that he used from time to time when something inexplicable happened.  “Powerful Forces are at Work” he would say.  In the past week or so, I have had a very strong feeling that somehow the universe is reconfiguring itself and that powerful forces truly are at work.  This is a difficult feeling to articulate – but the it got me thinking about our personal turning-points, crossroads and moments of truth that make us change and grow as we go through lief .  Naturally, we can all share in global turning points like the economic crisis.  But the ones that are closer to home, the ones that are personal and sometimes painful; the ones that are more subjective .  These are a lot more powerful change agents than the blah-blah we get from the constant barrage from the media, news and modern-day consumerist group-think.  Indeed, the Transition Movement is a collection of such ideas – interestingly portrayed in the Wordle below:

transitions-wordle

 And so it was that we passed 12:12 on 12/12/12 today.  It marked another milestone for Susie and me – because we got engaged at 7:07 on 7/7/07 and our subsequent wedding was on 8/8/08.  Apparently there were more people married on 12/12/12 than at any other time in history!  These dates seem to hold a romantic charm.   We won’t have any more quite like that unless you plan to live until 01/01/2101.  Most of us will be long gone by then!

Transitions in time are made more meaningful when there are coincidences – in this case with a string of numbers lining-up.  We still have one more this month on 21/12/12 – which is, apparently, the end of a cycle in the Mayan long-count calendar.  Some predict disasters, others a transition of the human race to a new level of consciousness.  Yet others think it will pass without incident.

But what if this month truly was a major transition and a marked positive shift in human consciousness?  What would that shift feel like?  What would each of us be doing differently as a result of it?  How would our behaviours change towards our selves, each other and towards the environment?  What small changes could we individually make that would create a big difference in 2013?

In the run-up to New Year’s Resolution time, it is something to think about, anyway!  I would love to hear your ideas in the comments below.

Oh, and here is a Wordle of this article:

Wordle of Article

Make your own Wordle at: http://www.wordle.net

 

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Beehives and Business Colonies

I took part of the afternoon off yesterday to sort out a friend’s beehive.  He had started keeping bees earlier this year, having been given a new hive by his parents for his birthday.  After two inspections he called for help for me to take them away.  The bees had stung him so badly that he had dramatic side-effects.  Last weekend, I took a new hive over and yesterday I went to put the bees into my hive.  The bees were one of the most aggressive colonies I have ever opened – and it became clear that they were not the best colony for a beginner beekeeper to start with.

It got me thinking of a few visits that I have recently done to business incubators and business colonies around the country in the past few months.

The first was in London, near Kings Cross at the Centre for Creative Collaboration (C4CC).  My good friend, Brian Condon, has just started a new phase of development by taking on a full-time role running the place.  The C4CC is based near Kings Cross and funded by various parts of the University of London.  The way that the centre attracts projects and develops ideas is outstanding.  A particular success has been Pavegen – which creates paving slabs that generate electricity from footsteps.  They started with the founder and a desk in C4CC two years ago and have now moved out to a local office employing about 30 people.

The second example was in Edinburgh, where I was shown around a new venture called “The Tech Cube” .  The building used to be the home of the The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies until last year when the School moved to new purpose-built facility 7 miles to the south.  The vision for the Tech Cube was impressive – though the building was still under refurbishment.  What was interesting was the link between the Tech Cube and the University – with the idea of taking some of the young ideas that will be incubated on the top three floors of the Appleton Tower (part of the Informatics Department) about half a mile away and then to commercialise them further in the Cube.  Again – a strong link between University and the commercial sector seems to be the trend.

I was also lucky enough to be shown around O2’s new Business Academy in London – part of a network of accelerators owned by Telefonica under the brand name  “Wayra“.  19 start-ups in London (from a total of 171 worldwide) are each given about £40,000 as a loan by Telefonica to catapult them to the next level.  They each spend 9 months in the accelerator in a cube on the edge of the building bounded by corner-less walls of black that can be written on by passers by.

There is an interesting map emerging – which is summarised on the TechBritain website:

All this got me thinking what the similarities were between my apiary and the successful custodianship of these new businesses accelerators / incubators around the country:

  • Projects and/or businesses are bounded physically (like a hive is within an apiary)
  • Each project has a leader.  Some are more successful than others – depending on the leadership qualities of the boss (queen bee)
  • The organism depends on cross-fertilisation of ideas between the various colonies (a role performed by the drone in the bee world)
  • The workers of each project (hive) collect ideas (pollen and nectar) and enrich their organisation
  • Some incubators (like C4CC) have private rooms that projects can keep their Intellectual Property (honey stores) from the competition
  • Each building (apiary) needs a good leader (beekeeper) to ensure the right treatment is given to each project (hive) to ensure they flourish and survive
  • Each business (hive) has a different path, a different energy, a different future.  Predicting which ones will win and which ones will fail can be difficult!  Just as with bee hives.

Colonies of Artists are not a new thing (see previous post on the Cranbrook Colony.  However, with all the mergers, acquisitions, outsourcing, offshoring and MBA-ification of our business fabric, I somehow think that the only way we can get the UK back on its feet is to get back to the level of the hive and re-learn the art of business within a colony, or business apiary.

This is backed-up by thinking from the Futurist, Thomas Frey, in his analysis of the future of work and how business colonies will become a growing force in the future of how work works.

This weekend I will move the hive from my friend’s garden to my out-apiary where I will have to decide what to do with it in the spring.  Some colonies are just too angry for an amateur beekeeper to want to keep.  Below is a rather quaint scene from the French Alps of an apiary that has probably not changed for a hundred years or more:

However, on the up-side, they are often one the most profitable hives for producing excess honey.  After  this appalling year of honey production, I might well encourage them to flourish next year.  The again, it might be good to encourage them to swarm – so I lose the queen that produces such aggressive daughters.  As in beekeeping, so as in Wayra’s motto: “The rules are not yet written!”

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How Long Does it Take for Us to Forget?

This week’s cease-fire in Gaza probably passed most people by – except for quick glimpses of rockets being fired back-and-forth and the commentary from safe television studios by those who try to collapse a whole history lesson into a few minutes of short, sharp sentences.  I am sure we were all relieved that the war was halted by an equally abrupt ceasefire.

However, the news reminded me of a time when I was much smaller and of the 6 Day War of 1967 – and more particularly my father’s reaction to it.  He had strong opinions about this part of the world having been posted to Palestine at the end of the Second World War.  By luck, he was minutes away from the King David Hotel (1) when it blew up on 22 July 1946.

The bomb killed 91 and injured 46.  The Irgun planted a bomb in the basement of the main building of the hotel, under the wing which housed the Mandate Secretariat and a few offices of the British Military headquarters.  If my father had arrived a few minutes earlier, I would not have been born.  Nor would my brother nor sister.  A sobering thought (for my siblings and me, at least).

My father therefore had a very different perspective on the Arab-Israeli conflict – and would merely say “remember what happened to the Palestinians.”  This did not have anything like the meaning for me as it did for him.  And for my children, it is probably just  another history lesson in a country that they have not yet visited somewhere in the Middle East.  In reaching a bit deeper into the subject, I came across a quote (2) by David Ben-Gurion (the first Prime Minister of Israel):

“I don’t understand your optimism,” Ben-Gurion declared. “Why should the Arabs make peace? If I were an Arab leader I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural: we have taken their country. Sure, God promised it to us, but what does that matter to them? Our God is not theirs. We come from Israel, it’s true, but two thousand years ago, and what is that to them? There has been antisemitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They only see one thing: we have come here and stolen their country. Why should they accept that? They may perhaps forget in one or two generations’ time, but for the moment there is no chance. So, it’s simple: we have to stay strong and maintain a powerful army. Our whole policy is there. Otherwise the Arabs will wipe us out.”

What struck me by this quote was not so much that the Prime Minister of Israel was admitting to the fact that the Israelis had stolen “their” country from the Arabs, but more the idea that it takes one or two generations to accept; one or two generations to forgive; one or two generations to forget.

It reminded me of some research I did a few years ago on the famous Russian economist, Nikolai Kondratiev (3).  Kondratiev came up with the theory of the long-wave economic cycle which takes about 50-60 years from peak to peak.  Kontradiev’s views were so controversial in his country at the time that he was sent to the gulag and was executed in 1938 at the age of 46. It was Joseph Schumpeter who named the wave in Kondratiev’s name in 1939.  I remember reading about long wave economic cycles about 20 years ago and wondered what might cause  these types of patterns in history.  I can’t remember exactly where I heard the theory at the time – but I remember hearing the idea that the 50-60 year cycle is natural because “it takes two generations to forget”.  Given that a significant number of children are born to women between 25-30 (from(4) – see chart below), this is somehow quite an interesting idea.

If you take the theory and apply it to the cycle from the Wall Street Crash in 1929 (and the Great Depression of the 1930s) to the financial crisis of 2008 and our current post-crash turmoil, then 1929 to 2008 is about 80 years.  Some of you might point out that the time between is not 50 or 60 years, so the theory does not hold.  But perhaps this is due to the fact that we are now all living a bit longer?  In any case, the underlying pattern of loosening financial controls within the international financial system seems clear – as is the pattern of forgetting the lessons learnt from the previous generation’s Grandparents.  I’m not a qualified economist – but as an inquisitive observer, the theory somehow makes sense – even if it is not numerically accurate.

So we have wars, we have waves and we have history repeating itself and it got me thinking about the recent flooding that is currently taking place (again) across many parts of the UK.   Over 5 million people in England and Wales live and work in properties that are at risk of flooding from rivers or the sea. (5)  Yet there seems to be considerable political pressure on encouraging the building industry to “get building” so that we can kick-start the economy.  In Kent, where I live, many of the new houses have been built on the flood plains around Ashford – and there is the famous story of the Vodfaone Headquarters building in Newbury being built on the old racecourse that was well-known for flooding.

And so it was that I came across a story (6) about the tsunami that struck Japan last year.  Many people living by the sea lost their lives, but there was one village, apparently, in Aneyoshi that has a stone which reads:

High dwellings are the peace and harmony of our descendants.

Remember the calamity of the great tsunamis. 

Do not build any homes below this point.”  

Those who headed the warning (like the residents in Aneyoshi) were spared from the destruction of the recent tsunami. Other towns did not. Yuto Kimura, aged 12, from Aneyoshi said they studied about the markers in school, and when the tsunami came, his mother got him from school and the entire village climbed to higher ground.

And so it is.  Maybe we are all cursed with the fact that it takes two generations to forget.  But for the wise ones who read the markers that have been laid down from previous generations, it is worth teaching the next generation about the deeper lessons from history.  It is worth encouraging them to take less time to accept, less time to forgive and more time to forget the important things in life.

Then again, we are all creatures of habit, so I expect the addage that “it takes two generations to forget” will last for many more generations to come!

(1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_David_Hotel_bombing

(2) http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/David_Ben-Gurion

(3) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikolai_Kondratiev

(4) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2051374/Average-age-women-having-baby-climbs-29-start-family-later.html

(5) http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/homeandleisure/floods/default.aspx

(6) http://www.thestar.com/news/world/article/969855–japan-nuclear-plant-plugs-highly-radioactive-leak

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Colonies, Librarians, Bloggers and Tweeters

This evening I attended a fascinating talk given by our local history society on a local colony of artists who lived in Cranbrook, Kent, England in the 19th Century.  Their art can now fetch well over £100,000 a piece.  Below is one of the typical paintings – that could number an estimated 1,500 – though only 300 have been catalogued by the local historian giving the talk.

What was interesting is that so little is known about the colony locally – and that many paintings were bought by industrial entrepreneurs from the Midlands and North of England.  It is only because of the interest of a few local folk that some of the pieces have found their way back to the local museum and local collections.

The Naughty Boy by George Bernard O’Neill

The reason I was there was that local history society recently asked me to design a simple, low-cost website for them.  The chairman, secretary and other committee members are now adding content to the site – and it was from a discussion with the archivist did it suddenly hit me how differently people think about putting information onto the web.

The archivist is an ex-librarian.  For her, everything can be classified and should be put into order as part of a logical taxonomy.  Already the categories on the site are developing into several layers.  She reflected on the fact that, perhaps there were now too many layers for some categories.  It reminded me of my early days of (IDMS) database programming (before relational databases), when you had to put data into classes and categories.  I had a simple rule then that more than three layers was too many.  It still somehow holds true today.

On describing this blog (where the categories are simply a relational tag that you clump ideas together with), she became nervous.  The way that her librarian-mind worked was that each book, each chapter, each page, each idea had, somehow to be classified in a single tree.  The idea that each idea, or article could be classified by several different classes – and that you leave it up to the search engine to work out how to get you there was a difficult one for her to feel good about.

It was a similar lack of familiarity or unease that I have, perhaps, with those who Tweet.  Sure, I tweet a bit.  Occasionally.  Once every so often.  When I am feeling I have a gap, or when I have a slot at the conference when I want to broadcast something interesting.  But I am by no means a regular member of the Twitterati.  Tweeting somehow gets in the way of the flow of life.  You become an observer or a journalist rather than living in the moment.  I respect those who tweet regularly – but, for me, it is too high a frequency to engage in all the time.  I suppose others will leave an historically-interesting pheromone path of phrases and words for others to analyse in the future.  Like writing a daily journal.  But that life is not for me.  I prefer blogging one a week (or once every six weeks when I am busy – as has been the case recently).

And so it is was with the Victorian artists in the Cranbrook colony.  They left no diaries.  No documentation of their progress.  They lived and worked and played and painted in the moment – by all accounts to make a living first and then to enjoy life.  Some were richer than others – but all of them exhibited at the Royal Academy year-after-year and were successful in their own ways.  Yet now, 150 years on, we know very little about them.

At the end of the talk, someone reflected that the mid 19th century countryside existence in rural Kent perhaps harked-back to the pre-industrial, less smoky, less satanic mills existence of England that had been lost in the North to the industrial revolution – which is why so many of the paintings went North.  Who knows.  There are no tweets, no blogs, no journals or otherwise to confirm or deny such theories.

Just the paintings themselves – which hold a fascinating set of visual cascading stories, moral values and pure artistry that are contained in the outputs from this unique colony of artists that lived so close to where I now live.  Art for Art sake, Money for Godsake.  10cc (now on a brilliant tour of the UK) said it all.  It was the same then as it is now!

Funny about the word colony.  It is what they called the far-flung corners of the British Empire.  As well as being the collective noun for a load of bees!  There you go!  The bees don’t tweet either.  They buzz.  A bit less now we are going into winter.  Makes you think!

Picture from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cranbrook_Colony

 

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The Lords’ Verdict

For those who have followed this blog for a while, you will know I presented evidence at the House of Lords’ inquiry on the present UK’s government’s policy on Next Generation Broadband.  So it was at midnight on Tuesday, the Lords published their report which can be found <HERE> entitled “Broadband for all – an alternative vision”.

Lord Inglewood was interviewed in a video:

“Our communications network must be regarded as a strategic, national asset.  The Government’s strategy lacks just that – strategy.  

The complex issues involved were not thought through from first principle and it is far from clear that the Government’s policy will deliver the broadband infrastructure that we need – for profound social and economic reasons – for the decades to come.”

The report has had a mixed response.  Supporters of a truly open-access fit-for-purpose National internet Infrastructure applauded.

Other analysts were eless complimentary:

Matthew Howett, lead analyst of Ovum’s regulatory practice, said many aspects of the inquiry’s report are “simply odd”.

“With nearly 50 recommendations and no indication of costs or how they should be met, it’s likely to be dismissed as nothing more than a pipe dream,” he said.

Odd it was for me that so many Peers took the time out to learn about the industry and the pros and cons of various options for technology and business models.  It was a piece of work that involved many hours of  their time to see the problem from different perspectives.  It challenged the status-quo and came up with an alternative vision for what the UK’s national internet access infrastructure might look like.  It was bound to be unpopular in certain quarters as it threatened the status-quo.

Sure, the government and BT’s in-house analysts might dismiss the ideas as pipe-dreams, but one wonders where the whole BDUK process is heading.  It might be the Games in London – but this particular game will go one well into the Autumn after all the athletes have left London.

It is definitely time for the status-quo to be challenged.  BDUK is at best a strange construction and at worst a totally bonkers policy for a government set on Localism and Community Engagement.  The Lords’ report went to the heart of this matter and has suggested a framework for a truly revolutionary approach to fixing the monopoly of BT’s infrastructure – particularly in the middle-mile.

At times, I think of giving up banging this drum and doing something more conventional and toe-the-line.  Yet at one minute past midnight on Tuesday, I had a new surge of enthusiasm that the ideas that we have been working on for several years now are getting some traction and that a body of revered and highly intelligent Peers actually understood what many on the fringes of the industry have been saying for a while.

If only the Government could stand back and listen to some of the concerns about the current vision and understand that they have alternatives that are better, faster and cheaper that will help the UK’s international competitiveness, we  might actually come up with something that really does get the economy back on its feet in a fairer way, based on an infrastructure that no single part is too big to fail.  Surely there is a lesson here from the banking system that is staring us in the face?

Come on, Jeremy.  Put the bell head back on the stick, put the bell down and start listening again.  Unless, of course, you get reshuffled – in which case it is round-and-round we go!

Source of quote and more on this story at:

http://www.cbronline.com/news/lords-uk-broadband-strategy-heading-in-the-wrong-direction-010812 

http://www.totaltele.com/view.aspx?ID=475352&G=1&C=4&page=3

 

 

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How Do Good Ideas Spread?

At the recent evidence for the House of Lords Communications subcommittee, I drew attention to a great piece of thinking which was written-up in a book by Everett M Rogers in 1962 called “The Diffusion of Innovations”.  It has since sold more than 30,000 copies, is now in its fifth edition and has become a classic on how ideas spread.

Often, when we think about innovation, we think of words like “new”, “creative”, “first-mover” etc.  Diffusion is not really a word that instantly springs to mind.  Yet Everett’s research has proved to be a robust model which has stood the test of time across many innovation cycles.  Here is a great cartoon which outlines Everett’s five constituencies that need to be convinced about a new idea, product or service:

I particularly like the cartoon because it includes “THE CHASM” as the first gap across which all innovations much leap if they are to be successful and grow beyond the first 15-20% of any given market.  How many ideas or innovations fail at this hurdle!

What is even more interesting to note are the different dynamics as you move from up the curve after the chasm has been crossed.  To capture the “early majority”, then a “word of mouth” or “refer a friend” strategy is the main mechanism for growth.  There are many examples on the internet where this has been institutionalised.

Once the early majority has been convinced, the late majority tends to be more convinced by the opinion of a number of  individuals or other social groupings.  Once again, the internet has helped to accelerate this in recent years with social media platforms and other types of discussion fora – further driven by well-designed applications that allow people to group themselves together in areas of common interest like Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.

As the Internet has accelerated the diffusion of ideas around the world, distance has become less important than it was in the 1960s.  The fifth edition was updated in 2003 to address the spread of the Internet, and how it has transformed the way human beings communicate and adopt new ideas.  How much has changed, even since then!

I have found this a very useful model for all those struggling with marketing ideas, products and services in the age of the internet.  It is always worth remembering that the tactics used for getting over the chasm are probably not going to be much use when you have to convince the Laggards.  Perhaps the UK needs to understand the model better when looking at how we increase our usage for the internet as a whole – and particularly encourage the laggards to get online.  Hence my use of the model when talking to the Peers last month.

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Lorne at the Lords

I gave evidence at the House of Lords Select Committee on Communications on Tuesday – all about the future of UK Internet Access.

There is  a video of it here:

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