Show me your books and I tell you who you are

I always love to look at people their bookcases when I visit them. It normally tells quite a lot about someone what books they have collected over the years (and read of course).
Therefore it is quite interesting to see how sites like LibraryThing try to connect people by collecting information about the books you have read and how you tag them. This information is than used to connect people, get recommendations based on others input and yours. And of course show of your library on you blog (you guessed right, look in the left lower corner Cool.
I wonder what yo can conclude by looking at the latest books I have read.

Long tail, small earnings?

Struggling producer? In a post from “The long tail” a small movie director has written an interesting e-mail to Chris Anderson.

But the reality at this time for me and my company is that I need to find multiple large national distributors if I hope to even come close to making a living at this game. And I need to produce fresh content on a reasonably frequent basis. In short, I am a much smaller and more struggling version of the giants that have preceded me.
Your Long Tail theory is a basic and profound truth that I happily embrace AS A CONSUMER. But as a producer and creator of Long Tail content it is basically spelling out my doom. Other than your book examples which are still basically about VERY LARGE entities and aggregators, I am finding very few self supporting examples of independent Long Tail producers.

The general idea of the e-mail is that the long tail with niche content is nice for the consumer but that it is hard for the producer. Fundamentally there are only a few customers in the long tail so it is hard to make money for producers. Since when you produce it takes almost the same amount of time and money to make a blockbuster than to make a niche product. It is a great niche product when you have three really dedicated fans but how much money will you make.
Most of the success stories in the long tail are from distributors for whom it does not matter what item they sell since their business model is based on the total amounts of all products sold together (in the end they are all bits on a platter). And fact is that due to small world effects it is the big “hub-distributors” that are getting bigger and bigger. This might mean that in the end we end up with only a few and powerful distributors since they are the only one with a large enough audience to make your niche product profitable. Somehow that has a familiar smell to it…

black swans

Black SwanBill sent me this article that describes how voters have a systematic bias regarding some economic effects. The article questions the fact that voters in general have a bias for anti-market, anti-foreign, anti-efficiency loss of work and a pessimistic outlook. This systematic bias of course would lead to bad decisions since the errors do not even out. The stupidity of the crowds.
Though I think part of the bias is not completely false due the following reasons:
Not all companies are rational too. Look at some of the big mergers in the world where the merger is probably more driven by the ego of the winning CEO than by economical motives. Most large mergers fail

  • Not all market are markets where demand and supply have a more or less balanced power. Once one side creates a invincible power and becomes a monopoly the market stops. Look at Microsoft or the cartel of energy companies in the Netherlands. Health is also an example where it is very hard to impossible to establish a fair market because it involves your health…
  • Markets are driven by the opportunity to get ahead, to gain more money than the guy next to you (or more women, more free time, whatever makes you tick). But the amount extra that you can gain is not linear connected to the increase of wealth it gives to society at large. Therefore a redistribution of wealth for the automated weaving factory to compensate Ludd for the loss of his job can be done at little cost to the economy.

But still, there certainly is a tendency to underestimate the power of the unexpected. I recently have read a book called the Black Swan. A black swan is something that can not be predicted (expect the unexpected). The analogy is based on the fact that before Australia was discovered everybody (except the Aboriginals) thought that all swans are white. But the discoverers found to their amazement that in Australia there is a swan like bird that is black. In general people are not prepared for completely unexpected things to happen.
It is a bit like being a turkey. Everyday you get a nice meal so after some time you expect the future to be like all the previous days, however conspiracy driven turkey you are. So Christmas really comes as a surprise.
Crowds are often are bad at taking these unexpected events into consideration. But these unexpected events often create big changes in society. Of all the technology that is of major importance 20 years from now we only see about 50%. The other 50% we can not take into account since it does not yet show on our radar screen.
For the design of iCrowds this has big implications. On the one hand it shows that there is a limit to the intelligence of crowds and on the other hand how information sharing across the network is important.
A community of turkeys may find out that some of their cousins are mysteriously disappearing and will expect the unexpected …

Are you linkedIn?

new improved semantic webI think we all know the sorry feeling that we lost track of people we knew and worked with in the past but lost sight of. In the past it a was always very hard to find them again. Since some time now there is a new social network called LinkedIn. The idea is that you can find people by name and that they themselves keep their profiles up date. Meaning you can find them on their current e-mail address.
By using it I already found some old friends from the places I worked, colleagues, customers and partners. It even integrates into outlook and recognizes people you may know from all the old e-mails you have sent (I have an archive of all my mails from 1997 and on)
This linking to each other creates an interesting web. You can normally see the acquaintances of other people and and have a look at their network. Potentially you can get an introduction for people you wish to contact. One of the other interesting features is that you can pose a question that others can try to answer.
It seems to be growing explosively, especially in the Netherlands…
I think one of the reasons it works is that the identity of the people involved is (on average) accurate. People are who they say they are. After all, the network is also meant for finding real people and real jobs. So there is no use in providing false identities. I am really curious in how this network is evolving. Another interesting aspect is that the network that people build based on their role is becoming more their own instead of their employers. This may create a feeling of independence (which is a good thing in my book). Potentially the added value for the users is much bigger than it is in networks like facebook since it keeps track of how your career evolves after graduation.
I sent them an e-mail to find out if it is possible to get (anonymously) their data on the linkages between people. This of course is a small world network but it is interesting to find out what kind of people are the connectors, what is the average separation, and so on. I have not yet received an answer…
You can find me on linkedIn .Laughing

The Times are changing

Isn’t it funny how more and more things are being paid for by advertising while at the same time we all get more and more irritated by advertising being everywhere.
The New York Times have stopped their paid subscription service in favor of free access. This is a subscription service that made them 10 million dollar a year. They now feel that they can make more money on advertising.
Somehow I sometimes get an uneasy feeling about all those things that are being paid by advertising money. Somehow I still think this business model has it’s limits. Let’s do a thought experiment:

Imagine that more and more companies are making money by mixing ads with the service they deliver to us. OK, let’s be really wild: imagine that all services are being paid for by advertising. Would that not be great: all services are free, all we have to do for it is accept some adds (and many we can block them?).

Problem is: who is going to pay for all these ads. The companies that make their money by selling ads together with their services will of course not be advertising, at least they will advertise less than they sell ads or they will lose money. So if everybody will give their services away for “adtention”, who will pay for the ads?
I can understand the business model of Google search. Since through the search I am implying what I am interested in I can imagine that an ad on that subject is worth money. But only if the one advertising his services is getting paid cash when he sells his product or service. When the advertiser is also getting paid by ads than it is starting to look like a pyramid scheme.
And we all know where these end….


First have a look at the video:

The way I see it the idea behind this video is that until now images have been used for a lot of bad reasons. Their message on their website is:

So ask yourself this. If you had the entire world’s attention for just a few minutes, what story would you tell? Perhaps you think the world looks at you, your country and your culture… and just doesn’t understand. Then do something about it. Make a film and upload it here You never know. It could end up bringing millions of people that bit closer together.

The least you can say is that they are used to influence a lot of people at the same time. As they say: “images of the many have been in the hands of the few”. How extraordinary it would be to look through the eyes of other people around the world. Not the people in control of the big cameras but ordinary people like you in me. And in a way we can if you look at the video somebody makes when he wants to make a statement. Not through his eyes but through his lens.Have a look at their website. Somehow I like the idea a lot. One last quote which struck a chord with me:

Movies can’t change the world. But the people who watch them can.

Virtual children

Children grow up sooo fast. My son said that he wanted a blog too so I made one for him. He made his first post (and he referred to his dad’s blog on it, nice 🙂 ). Than he asked that I made a link to his blog. I said to him that he should first write some posts.
His reactions than was that iCrowds deals with social networks so that linking to each other is something that should be done. Duh…
11 years …. here you can find him.
Willem, now you have a moral obligation to write, often.


The Athens AgoraSome books are very helpful in making you understand developments. This summer I have read a book called “The Cluetrain manifesto”. Central theme of the book (which by the way is written in 2000 but started as as website in 1999) is the statement that markets (and a lot of other things) are conversations. The way companies use corporate communications and PR to tell us how we should think about them simply does not work anymore.
It makes you think. When I go to the market each Saturday to get the ingredients for a nice dinner I am in constant conversation. I tell the girl that always helps me with the vegetables how they were last week and she tells me what kind of specials she has this week. Sometimes we discuss how the ingredients are best used for the recipe I will be making. I learn from her and sometimes I can tell her new things. Same with the small butcher that I go to. In essence this is a weekly conversation that accompanies the business we do together. The one greatly enhances the other.
In a way this is the natural way people started doing business. Democracy and debate became of age in the Agora of Athens that was established as a marketplace. It is only with the establishment of big companies that we lost the conversational way of doing business. And because of this greater distance we created corporate communication to tell people what we think they should think of our company. But we stopped listening and forgot about two way conversation.
Internet and especially the social networks it supports again creates the opportunity to be in conversation with the market. Not to tell people why your product is so great but to be in conversation about the features people want. People love to help companies to improve the products they like, all they ask is that they listen and take them seriously.
I think here is a message for a lot of companies. More and more it will be needed to open up the company and invite people from the outside to help. With the development of new products, with how the product can be implemented.
The market is a conversation and conversations go in two directions (at least the nice ones, don’t you think?).
One of the other great books I have read this summer is linked, a book about the theory of small world networks. Many know about the famous Milgram experiment where he showed that most people in the world are connected by not more than six handshakes. Linked shows that this is because society has a “small world” topology, meaning that we have many closely related groups that are coupled by “connectors”, people that have many long range connections. The funny thing is that this type of network is also fairly common in nature, e.g. the way neurons are connected in the brain and the way fireflies synchronizes their lights. He describes many forms of these networks and simulations he did with this topology. I think this work has a lot of design rules in it how to create successful social networks. Somehow I think for example that the dunbar number (which relates to groups size and dynamics) is related to this. I will get back to that some other time.