Clash of the Titans

Chris Anderson says “free is the future of business” and supports Stewart Brand’s famous declaration "information wants to be free". He also writes a book on it – Free: The future of radical price
·         Argument: A decade and a half into the great online experiment, the last debates over free versus pay online are ending. In 2007 The New York Times went free; this year, so will much of The Wall Street Journal… -

Nicholas Carr says "information wants to be free my ass" (check this and this on Nick’s blog Rough Type)
        ·         Argument: Gizmodo reports that monthly information subscriptions and fees can easily run to $500 or more nowadays. A lot of people today probably spend more on information than they spend on food.

Malcolm Gladwell supports Nick...says Chris Anderson is Wrong
·       Malcolm Gladwell to Chris Anderson: No “Free” Lunch -
·       Gladwell dismisses Anderson as a “technological utopian” -
Seth Godin says "Malcolm Gladwell is wrong" about Chris Anderson
       ·         Malcolm is wrong - 

Nick Carr says “Internet is bad for us” and “Google is making us stupid”. Writes a book on it - The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains
       ·         Argument - When the Net absorbs a medium, that medium is recreated in the Net's image. It injects the medium's content with hyperlinks, blinking ads, and other digital gewgaws, and it surrounds the content with the content of other media it has absorbed. A new e-mail message, for instance, may announce its arrival as we're glancing over the latest headlines at a newspaper's site. The result is to scatter our attention and diffuse our concentration

Clay Shirky says Nick is wrong

·        Abundance is good for us -
·        Problem is filter failure not info overload

    Tyler Cowen ( says what Nick calls “disjoint bits of distracting information” are actually “small cultural bits that are building blocks for seeing and understanding some larger trends and narratives. Our growing preference for small cultural bits enhances our understanding of the beauty of the broader human story, even though not every part of the outside world looks so pretty…

    ·       Argument - It’s no accident that most of the great scientific and technological innovation over the last millennium has taken place in crowded, distracting urban centers. The printed page itself encouraged those manifold connections, by allowing ideas to be stored and shared and circulated more efficiently. One can make the case that the Enlightenment depended more on the exchange of ideas than it did on solitary, deep-focus reading.

    4 online business ideas to die for !!

    The pace at which new online business models are being invented is mind-boggling. Around 6 months back, I stumbled upon a blog post by Doc Searls (co-author of Cluetrain Manifesto), in which he talks about a new trend called “Intention economy” and the next thing I get to know is someone has already launched a start-up (Readbeacon) based on the idea…such is the pace. While Doc Searls is leading an initiative called VRM (Vendor Relationship Management) at Harvard Law School to research and explore future possibilities of this emerging trend, the folks at RedBeacon are already experimenting with the idea in real life. Same is the case with many other ideas. For instance, semantic web is generally looked upon as an idea which is much ahead of its time (see this and this to know how people have played it down); but the truth is there are already over 2 dozen very successful start-ups that have made millions based on the idea.

    The answer lies in the Power Law :-)

    As a kid I was always too tall for my age and had difficulty explaining this monstrosity to people (as if I was responsible for it!!), that is, until the knowledge of Normal Distribution came to my rescue. Every tangible thing around us follows normal distribution, well almost everything…and if something doesn’t, there’s a theory that says, the distribution of those distributions will follow normal distribution. So, you see, Normal Distribution is like God’s law - you cannot defy it. Once, you get this point, it’s so easy to use it in arguments. For instance, if you are blessed with less than average height, you could say something like this – well you know what, there are way too many people with average height and there are quite a few monsters like yours truly… and since normal distribution cannot be defied, some people had to be short to prevent the world from God’s wrath, so here I’m.  If you are a stats genius, you’ll quickly see the fallacy in the logic, but I can tell you that it works most-of-the-time (because normal distribution prevents too many people from becoming stats geniusJ).

    Jokes apart, here’s the thing. We have been led to believe that Normal distribution is the best way to describe all sorts of common phenomenon that happens around us. It appeals to our common sense. Isn’t bell-curve the most intuitive thing in the world? Even a 10-year old can understand it. In fact, Mirowski says – “Linear thinking is engrained in our mentality. Scientific and mathematical models are based on the concepts of equilibrium and linearity. Economics, for instance, is almost theistic in its assumption that economic phenomena trend toward equilibrium.” We have been trained to look for averages and variances (the two criteria for describing any ND…What’s the average age of Indian cricket team?, average attendance record of students in a class, average height of Dutch people etc.) Imagine a world where averages didn’t have any meaning, where knowing variances did not add anything to your knowledge. That’s the world we are heading towards. More on this later!!

    When we view the world using Normal distributions lens, we run the risk of ignoring important future trends as unimportant outliers in the data set. These future trends will only appear outside of the Bell curve until it is too late to take any action. (Nassim Nicholas Taleb has written two books – Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan to discuss this very issue. His words seem almost prophetic in the backdrop of recent global economic meltdown, an extreme event). There’s a growing realization among statisticians and business strategists that ND doesn’t reflect the true nature of our new world. In fact, people who are still using normal distribution to explain contemporary business models are quickly losing ground. Check this blog post by John Hagel (the author of Net Worth, Net Gain and more recently The Power of Pull) for an in-depth analysis of Gaussian world (Normal Distribution) v/s Paretian World (Power Law) debate. John says – “We’re shifting from a Gaussian world to a Paretian world, with profound implications for business” and then goes on to explain how Guassian (ND) distribution fails to model the workings of post-modern world. It’s an extremely interesting read and I cannot recommend it any more strongly. John talks about two conditions under which a Gaussian system can morph into a Paretian system – when tension increases and cost of connections decreases.  The increasing usage of digital media and particularly social networks has brought down the barriers for meeting these two criteria. In fact, business models in digital media cannot be satisfactorily understood if one doesn’t understand the Power Law. If you had been using ND to assess the nature of digital world, you probably arrived at wrong conclusions. The virtual world is not governed by the “real-world” normal distribution (you see, we don’t call it virtual world for nothing!!). 

    Can social networks replace email?

    Here’s an updated and expanded version of my previous post for Joka Strategist.
    Can social networks replace email?
    There’s a lot of debate going on about how and when social networks will replace emails. On one hand, the proponents of the idea claim that we should look at teenagers (who are shunning emails in favour of social networks) to see what future has in store for us, whereas on the other hand,  the staunch supporters of email services refuse to believe that something as important as emails could be replaced with something else. Apparently, the odds seem to be in favour of social networks taking over a very large share of email services. However, the reasons put forward by many evangelists of the idea are diluted by subtle sales pitches and tend to miss the bigger picture. For instance, Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, says that what teenagers do today becomes norm for the rest of us tomorrow. This is not entirely true and Sheryl was severely criticized for making such a far-fetched contention based on unwarranted assumptions.

    Interestingly, a simple answer to the debate can be found in the history of social networks. Clay Shirky in his prophetic book "Here Comes Everybody" mentions that the origin of the entire social computing phenomenon can be traced back to the day when email services started including a seemingly insignificant feature called "Reply All". In fact, all social computing can be crudely viewed as a super "Reply All" feature on your email account. And since, email is the genesis of social computing, it's probably logical to expect that better and more evolved email services (social networks) will eventually replace traditional email services.