Show me your poo and I will tell you who you are

Some uses of social technologies and big data are really surprising. When you collect lots of information about DNA and diseases it is logical that you can identify certain DNA sequences that pose an extra risk.
I came across the site that I was really flabbergasted about. Our bodies contain almost 2 kilos of bacteria, mainly in our guts. We live with these batteries in symbiosis, we would not survive without them. However, imbalances between these bacterias and their context (us..) can lead to severe problem for many people. Bowel problems are for many people a constant and nagging problem. Continue reading “Show me your poo and I will tell you who you are”

Onze size does not fit all

Technology means different things for different people. That means that we need a lot more user involvement in the development of technologies for elderly. However, most technologies are developed by people in a different age bracket than the elderly people they are meant for. In the video below you see an advertisement where a company tries to sell an advanced alarm button with video to their elderly customers. Look at 40″ how horribly ugly that alarm button is. Continue reading “Onze size does not fit all”

Care for a Game

Loneliness is one of the big issues in elderly care, partly due big societal changes. 50 years ago most people died less than 15 kilometer from the place that they were born. This meant that families for the most part lived close together and had frequent contact with each other. Nowadays families often live all over the country. Distance is a big hurdle for intimate contact. Also, the loss of the church as the place where generations meet every Sunday is an important factor. It is much harder to ignore loneliness when you physically meet every week. Continue reading “Care for a Game”

What are friends for

One of the interesting aspects of Google+ is the concept of Circles. The idea is that in real life you have different circles of friends to whom you communicate differently. There is no single you but there are several you’s that are a bit different depending on the context. Most people act a   different towards their boss, their old university friends and towards familiy.

There is however one aspect missing that I think will turn out to be crucial to it’s succes: uncertainty.

Friendship is by definition two sided. It does not have to be symmetrical (meaning you both feel the same towards eachother) but at least there is to be some level of reciprocity. Most group of friends consist of a small group of people that have a high level of reciprocity and close bonds in their relations to each other. Around that group there is a larger community where the level of reciprocity is not consistent for the whole core group. They are sort of in the group and out of the group at the same time, depending on who you ask.

This foggy definition of a circle of friends is something we as humans need since we deal badly with rejection. This lack of Transparancy makes it possible to create blurry edges for people to feel in while in fact they are only partly accepted. This blurry edge however does create a gradual path for people to move into the circle step by step. This is something we probably all recognise from our own experience, especially during school.

Because of this transparancy in Circles what you end up with is the relationships type in LinkedIn where everyone is a friend since it is too confronting to reject someone as a friend. And when everyone is you friend than no one is.

So unless Google is able to build in a combination of reciprocity and bit of vagueness in circles my prediction is that it will not succeed. If they (or Facebook) does succeed in modelling how friendships works in real life than that social network will win the battle. Because, aren’t we all looking for friends?


To the stars and back again

For a project in eHealth I have adopted the speech from Kennedy where he pledges to focus many efforts in order to put a man on the moon. Because, as he says, “not because it is easy, but because it is hard

Looking at this speech is still amazing after all those years. Not just because of the eloquence of Kennedy but because of the idealistic spirit of a society that sets a goal and is willing to make great sacrifices in order to achieve that goal. I think in our age and time we have lost some of that willingness to put society first and the individual second.

There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation many never come again. But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?
We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

And of course, as he promised, this was the result on July 1969.

Oh Notable Where Art Thou

A few weeks ago I read a book from Jaron Lanier: “You are not a Gadget“. I am a fan of Jaron Lanier, I think he is one of the few sillicon valley insiders that really tries to think hard about the effect technology has on our lives and societies.
There was one part of the book that really got me thinking and it was about the loss of the local notables.
If we look at the long tail from Chris Anderson we are now  seeing that the long tail does exist but also creates havoc in a lot of professions due to the price pressure of the (often quite capable) amateurs. This counts for filmmakers, photographers and many other professions where there are also a lot of amateurs craving for attention. There are of course some that are succeeding and even flourishing but as a profession they are hit hard
A second effect is that in some cases there are winners that really take it all. Examples like Google, Facebook, Amazon and (some) others. These have become highly profitable companies that have become un-beatable monopolies in markets they often created themselves (but we now can not do without..).
What we are now losing is the middle ground, the vanishing local notables. On the one hand we have highly profitable de-facto monopolies and at the other end of the scale we have hordes of amateurs whose business model consist of their 15 seconds of fame and a proverbial Apple. In the area in between in the past lots of people were able to get relatively rich on a local level. The doctor, the lawyer, the local care dealer, the supermarket owner. their numbers are going down due to the transfer of part of their business to the few (global) winners and part of their business to amateurs that work for an Apple.
With their disappearance we also see a disappearance of local culture since these often were the people and companies that supported local activities. We may gain some brilliant cultural  institutions like “The concertgebouw orkest” but we will lose many local orchestra’s, museums but also social activities that will not be sponsored anymore by the local notables.
In the digital realm this is probably an enhancement of our lives. After all, we only need one concertgebouworkest since we can listen to their breathtaking digital recordings for ever after. However, we also have a physical local presence that we should cherish.
What is the answer to this dilemma I do not know, neither does Jaron. But it is certainly something we will have to think about in the years ahead.

Free beer and Open Data

For many open source is a great example of innovation. Software like Linux, Apache, Joomla and OpenOffice have thriving communities that create great software. however, these products are not innovative. Linux is a clone from Unix that was developed in the 60’s, Apache is just another webserver, Joomla is one of the many content management systems and OpenOffice tries to mimic Word.
At the start of the open source movement the statement was that Open Source was to be free like in free speech, not as in free beer. In English the word free has two connotations: free as in gratis (no money) and free as in libre (free to go). Unfortunately open source has become free beer.
For an innovative product to be sustainable it needs a business model. Picture a young programmer that, in his time off from his day job, creates an innovative product that others start to use. After some time more and more demands will be made for new functionality and the solving of bugs. More and more of his free time will be spent on this product. He can not quit his day job because his innovative product does not bring in money in license fees since it is gratis. After some time he quits the project. Sourceforge, the place where many open source projects have a home, is filled with interesting but nonetheless failed projects like these. Sourceforge is the place where projects go to die ..
The main reason why a few examples like Joomla and Linux survive is because of many companies around it make money by delivering services. Because it is not innovative it is a product category that is understood by potential customers that are willing to pay for services implementing it. What we need is a business model for the software itself. What we need to do is to severe the connection between the openness of the software (to be able to inspect code is a good thing) and the business model behind it (being able to make a living creating great products).
We run the risk that the same thing now is happening in the open data movement. Pressure is set on several organizations to open up their data so app developers can build applications on top of it. We should realize that, once these organizations do not make money on that data, that the quality and access to that data will not be of strategic importance to them. We should as much as possible enforce the openness of the data to prevent a monopoly of information access. But the original creators of that data should be able to make a llving out of it.
Data should be free like in free speech, not as in free beer …

BSO and Mcluhan

Due to my renewed interest in “Pancakes” I was looking for some info in my archive (yes, the paper one…). In the past I have worked for a company called BSO, founded by Eckart Wintzen. During the years I worked there I was director of a consultancy cell (I’ll explain the term cell later on), technical manager, commercial manager and director in the electronic commerce service line before leaving the company in 1999.
Eckart was a remarkable person, sometimes a bit difficult but always inspiring and, well, very present. He developed the vision that people work best in small teams up to 50 people. And implemented this vision!
When he left in 1996 the company had more than 4000 employees but was divided in units not larger than 50 people, called a Cell (from the biological cell). When a group grew to big it was split up and half the management team and employees started a new cell in a different place. There Board was doing their best not to steer the cells directly but tried to convince. There was almost no middle management (and nobody listened to them anyway). In many ways it was a Pancake organization before the electronic means were there. This was possible because Eckart was one of the few CEO’s that did not like raw power for himself.
Anyway, while looking into my archive I found the letter below that was part of the yearly report of 1995 (the reports were always very special, this one was designed as a folding map were you put in several papers between tabs (some of you elderly people will remember them!). This letter describes (in Dutch) how the Internet is not so much about infrastructure and computers but about connecting people and was written by the director of the McLuhan program (BSO was a sponsor of this program). Quote:

Het beeld van een wereldomspannende netwerkomgeving is niet zozeer dat van een ‘snelweg’ als wel dat van een soort ‘wereldgeest’
The concept of a worldwide network is not as much about a ‘highway’ but more about some sort of world ‘conscience’.

Funny how many of these issues already came together in 1995..