Label Cloud

donderdag 27 maart 2008

Cluetrain Manifesto

The Cluetrain Manifesto started out as the website Four men (Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, David Weinberger), who only knew each other in the third degree, ended up having a conversation one day in 1999 about why the media coverage was all wrong about the internet and why business in general didn't get what it is all about. At one point one of them quoted an acquaintance from a big company that was in trouble: "The cluetrain stopped here four times a day for ten years and no one ever took delivery." The website went live in March 1999 and started a discussion about the relation between business and its customers via the internet.

The manifesto consists of 95 theses put forward as a call to action for all businesses to become a part of the networked world. The similarity with Martin Luther's 95 Theses on the Power of Indulgences is obvious. In 1517 Luther nailed his manifesto to the door of the Church of Wittenberg in reaction against what he perceived to be wrong with the Catholic Church at the time, unwillingly starting the protestant revolt. In the same spirit, the authors wanted to express their thoughts on what was/is wrong with business-as-usual.

The essential idea behind the website, and later the book (online and in print), is that markets are conversations. Back in the day when the 'market' was actually a physical place where you went to, people were discussing wares and news. The items for sale were a product of someone's labor and/or craftsmanship. This all changed with the advent of the Industrial Revolution. Labor became compartmentalized and a new elite came to the forefront. Mass production gave rise to mass markets and eventually to mass marketing. Companies evolved into monolithic entities defending their secrets like a fort. The result of all of this, is that 'business' became psychologically separated from 'people'. Markets are divided into demographic targets on which common denominator advertising is unleashed. This has worked well in an environment where the media outlets can be controlled, i.e. newspapers, magazines, TV ads. And then came the internet. People are getting more and more connected over the boundaries of the physical world. If a marketing campaign tells you that the product in question is the best thing that has happened to mankind since the invention of speech, you will go on the internet to find out how much of the marketing BS is really true. The point that the authors are trying to make, is that businesses should talk to people again, admit that they make mistakes sometimes and then fix'em. If you let your employees get connected, amongst themselves and with the rest of the world, their overall knowledge will increase and thus that of the company itself. The internet is not TV with a pay button. Be honest. Break down the walls of Fort Business.

The message that Cluetrain brings, sounds very appealing. They have a valid point. A lot of companies still use websites that look very good, but hide what you're actually looking for. If the answer to a question cannot be found in a FAQ, try to find another way of contacting anyone (although admittedly, American websites are usually more filled up with flashy BS than European ones). When the company itself fails to deliver information you will go online and find it for yourself. The big divide here is a question of philosophy, which we can also find in the open source vs. proprietary software discussions. The first group basically believes in the power of people and propagates a positive view of humankind, while the latter sees customers as a necessary evil, made up mostly of thieves and freeriders. The record industry is losing money because of illegal downloads, but at the same time myspace is creating new celebrities. A company that has understood the power of a community is Ninja Tune Records. They have an active forum, filled with music lovers and avid followers of the label. People cry that downloading is killing music. It's not. It's killing record companies. Just like new energy sources have killed the coal industry in Belgium. Life changes. If you want to stay with the program, do what successful companies have done. Change your business model and use what the world offers you.

Since the publication of the manifesto a lot has changed, and other things have remained the same. Online advertising still looks very much like typical mass media advertising. It's a bit different with games, since it is good place for product placement. On the other hand, within some businesses, the problem of connecting people within a company has been alleviated somewhat through a proper ICT alignment and the use of knowledge management systems like really useful intranets and groupware. Still, a great deal of work needs to be done and, more importantly, mentalities have to change. No doubt this will happen over time. Today, technology changes very fast and the way we are living with it. This however is only physical. Mentally, people change a lot slower. The internet as we know it, only exists for about 15 years. Historically speaking it's still a baby. We are experiencing a revolution. Not of the kill-the-king-long-live-the-new-leader variety, but a revolution nonetheless: the fourth information revolution (not to be mistaken with the concept that states we're evolving from industrial to more service jobs). The first one was the invention of speech, the second writing and the third book printing. During the previous one, the European continent (with the invention of the mechanical press by Gutenberg during the 15th century; the Chinese were well before us) was characterized not only by a more rapid way of dispersing ideas, but also by better roads and safer means, thus quicker, of travel. The same thing has been happening since the fifties of the previous century: holidays for the working class, affordable cars, TV, telephones, computer science, the internet and cheap airplane tickets. And the end is not near for some time to come. Conversely, all of this is mainly true for the Western world. The poorer countries (as well as digital illiterates in general) will need to find a way to bridge the digital divide. Non-democratic countries have been able to censor and monitor the digital world. Utopia is not around the corner. But, then again, it never was.

Essentially, the manifesto has a positive view on the world and how it's changing. The object was to get people to think about our changing world. As I said, mentalities need to change and that takes time, but also awareness. Right now, most people who are working are 'digital immigrants'. We have learned how to work with computers at a later age, while 'digital natives' are growing up with it. There is no telling how they will affect the rules of business.

maandag 17 maart 2008

Iraq: the War Card

Just in case someone was wondering how many times Bush lied to get his country into the Iraq war: these guys counted. FYI: 935 times.

European history exhibit

This week-end my girlfriend and I finally got around to seeing It's our history!, an exhibit aimed at promoting European culture and identity being held at Tour & Taxis Brussels until the 12th of May. We were able to walk through at our own time without being bothered by too many people crowding us. I think that had a lot to do with the fact that in the rooms opposite the Star Wars exhibition can be found. Who needs Europe when you got Yoda, right? That'll be for the next time.

The exhibit starts with a very dark room where the only thing there is to see is the picture above. Actually it's a movie (scale 1:1) representing the EU. Every person on it is from one of the 27 countries. We are told that each has his/her own special story to tell. So we waited for them to say something. Which they didn't. And we stood there like idiots trying to find something else in the room. A bit disapointed we trudged on. But also a bit relieved because if we had to wait there to listen to 27 stories ... Anyway, point taken (diversity of Europe and all). Spread over the exhibition, there were separate videos telling the story of each individual, including a couple that escaped the DDR by digging a tunnel under the Wall, a member of Solidarność, the French and English diggers who shook hands on completion of the tunnel under the Channel, and others.

After that a few pieces of art are on display (couple of paintings, statues and conceptual totalitarian boots), emphasizing that 50 years of piece on the European mainland is/has been the exception on the rule. Or maybe the expo started with this part. Can't remember. Anyway, next up is the year 0, i.e. 1945. The war was over. A large part of the countries involved were mostly destroyed by the ravages of fighting, which meant Europe was in a bad shape. It also meant a clean slate. In a spark of genius the losing parties were involved in the rebuilding of the continent, instead of trying to punish them as hard as possible. This revolutionary act has changed the course of our political history for the best. That and the insight that intertwining our economies, coupled with a high standard of living, is the best way to avoid a new war. In a large part of course we owe our economical resurrection to the generosity of the Americans, through the Marshall Plan. We can argue that it was in the best interest of the US as well to create a stable economy in Europe, since we have close business relations; and in the long run they didn't give anything for free. Nevertheless they could have done nothing, which they didn't.

The great people that were at the basis and have helped shape the EU as we know it now are presented: Spaak, Monnet, Schuman, Churchill, Adenauer, De Gaule, Beyen, Bech, De Gasperi. But also those who weren't a part of the European political elite but had an influence nonetheless: Truman, Marshall, Stalin, Keynes, Beveridge. A part of the room is dedicated to each person. To add to the general atmosphere, subtle lighting is used. Unfortunately some parts were so subtle that it was rather difficult to see certain items. The centrepiece is a large video in black and white telling the story of the beginning of it all: the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), accompanied by a facsimile of the very first steel bar that was melded under the auspices of this new organization.

The following few rooms are dedicated to the general history of Europe since 1945. An overview is given of the changing living conditions following the support provided by the Marshall Plan. You are guided through the 50ies up until the 80ies in typical living rooms so to speak of that era, with examples of items used in the different eras. I think that the exhibit will be themed slightly different according to the country it will be in. Since we're in Belgium there are Belgian magazines for instance and a separate piece dedicated to the World Fair of 1958 (Expo '58) couldn't be left out.

The story of Europe is more than just the emergence of the consumption society of course. Up until the 80ies several dictatorships have ruled certain parts: Franco in Spain (1939-1975), Salazar in Portugal (1932-1968) and "The Regime of the Colonels" in Greece led by Georgios Papadopoulos (1967-1974). Each is being presented in a concise manner, but it's easy to fill in the blanks of how 'fun' it must have been during these rules. Even the countries that were democratically organized still had a historical debt to their colonies. During the 1960ies all of them started to demand (and eventually got) their independence. The transition from colony to independent state was always difficult and resulted in the large scale and unorganized moves of the former oppressor. For Belgium, the planes of Sabena (our former national air carrier) were mostly used. A replica is on display. Inside you can listen to the stories of several refugees in different languages.

The basis of the EU is to be found in the treaties, governing bodies and policies. A replica of a table were discussions are being held display a number of touch screens. Here you can read (in a bird's eye view) what the economic and political union is about. Every screen highlights a different aspect: the 'Temple' model (Commission, Parliament, Council, treaties and organizations), the policies (transportation, employment, agriculture, environment...) and law. A general overview is given together with a timeline. On the timeline clickable dots provide extra information on the different steps leading to the present day working.

By this time we have arrived in the 90ies. This means the disappearance of the Iron Curtain and the subsequent reunification of the European continent, including the enlarging of the Union. A brief history lesson about Eastern Europe follows, including the way of living under Soviet rule and the uprisings in that 50 year period (the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, Prague Spring in 1968, destruction of the Berlin Wall in 1989).

We're nearing the end of the exhibit. Several containers talk about the role of the EU in the globalized world. Each one has a different theme, from production, over illegal immigrants to lifelong learning. At the back of the container there is a lifesized video of two workers having a conversation explaining more or less each theme in a down to earth manner (alternately in Dutch and French). The last thing you get to see is a huge video wall with images of your past. There is computer screen in which you give in your birth date, followed by a period of time in your life, i.e. your twenties, thirties, youth, etc., and a specification in sports, music and culture. On the screen images and music is then projected. Really fun. We stood there for ten minutes or so trying out different eras. Until we finally realized we're not 10 years old anymore and we had better stop playing.

Conclusion - We have spent a nice few hours. The brochure said you need about an hour and a half to get through. It took us about three, although we didn't read or listened to everything. I must admit though that we didn't learn a whole lot more about the EU than we already knew. To us it felt it bit like preaching to the choir, since we're pretty much convinced the European project is a necessary evolution. There is still work to be done sure (eg. agricultural policy and its relation with Africa, the perverse effects of Dublin II), but it cannot be denied that for the most people the EU provides us with a stable economy and political situation. Some claim that life has gotten more expensive because of the Union. Prices have indeed gone up, but blaming it only on the EU betrays a weak understanding of the globalized economic flows. We mustn't forget that Europe is still a big player in the world, despite her small size (the entire EU is smaller than China). In order to remain a power to be reckoned with we need to evolve in the direction of more integration. I think the Belgian motto is applicable here: In unity lies strength. That's why I don't understand the people in my country who want Flemish independence. The 21st century will be the era of the supranational state IMHO, so why do they revert to a 19th century concept like the nation-state? They probably think the internets is TV with a pay button, we should all crochet our clothes once more and send those damn foreigners back where they came from. Getting a bit off topic there. Point is, I hope that at some point the different countries will cease to exist politically (not culturally).

As for the exhibit: a lot of people don't know about the EU, where it came from, or what it is doing now. Unfortunately, people who are not really interested in all of this probably won't spend €10 to get educated. This expo is an ideal school visit led by the history teacher. Get 'em while their young I say and when their minds are still open. And if the school isn't visiting, parents, I urge you to do it yourselves. Whether you like it or not, the EU is there and it has an influence on your lives. So you might as well know what it's about.

P.S. 1: Here are some more pictures.

P.S.2: In the near future Euranet, a radio and internet service, will see the light. "A major aim is to inform young citizens about the European Union."

Google Sky

As we all know Google is taking over the world, ... or is at least very competitive and innovative in the digital realm. You have probably already seen Google Maps and Earth. There exists now the inverse: a view of space called Google Sky, where you can look at the sun and the planets surrounding us in a normal viewing mode, or in infrared and microwave; AND in historical maps. There are limits to how far you can zoom in over larger distances, but still : very cool.

dinsdag 11 maart 2008

Pest (1)

The city of Pest has taken on a series of changes during the 19th century. In 1838 a flood destroyed most of the rural dwellings, the Chain Bridge, the Danube's first permanent crossing was built during 1838-49, and the city's development was boosted by the unification in 1873 and the 1000 year anniversary of the Magyar conquest in 1896. At the same time it was also a period of political unrest, which culminated in the failed revolution of 1848. "After the civil war of fighting for independence ended in defeat for the Hungarians, Habsburg repression was epitomized by the newly built Citadella on top of Gellért Hill, built to frighten the citizens with its cannons and large garrison of soldiers overlooking the entire city. Following the agreement of Compromise of 1867 which made an allowance for a Dual Monarchy, familiarly known to its subjects as the K&K (based on German for "Emperor and King"), the twin cities underwent rapid growth and expansion, and finally formally merged. Pest was extensively remodeled in the image of Vienna, acquiring the main artery: Nagykörút (Great Boulevard) and Andrássy Avenue which led out to Heroes' Square and a great park with fountains and lakes."

Around the Parliament - The National Assembly is housed in the magnificent Parliament building (third largest in the world), which was constructed between 1885 and 1896 (opened during the festivities of the millénaire. A competition was issued, which was won by the architect Imre Steindl. The plans for second and third place were realized as well and can be found facing the Parliament: one serves today as the Ethnographical Museum, the other as the Ministry of Agriculture. While the latter buildings are in a typical Austrian Baroque style, architecturally sound but nothing like you've never seen before, the Parliament is something different. Very spiky and white. In my opinion one of the must-sees in (Buda)Pest. Especially for members of the European Union, since we get a free tour. The outside is in sharp contrast with what you find on the inside. The interior is a bit more bombastic, with (almost) an overload of gold coating and statues. To me Hungarians have a tendency to put statues all over the place. You'll be hardpressed to find a building without tons of them all over. During the tour you get the see the main entry hall, the Holy Crown of St. István (together with the royal orb and sceptre and the Conference Hall. The Holy Crown, surrounded by statues of former kings and leaders, was sent by Pope Sylvester II to St. István, who was crowned with it on Christmas day 1000. Another theory states that it was created under the reign of Béla III. Whatever it may be, since it has become a symbol of Hungary, and as such it has made its way into the national coat-of-arms (including the lobsided crucifix). More impressive was the Conference Hall. We got the see the Old Upper House Hall, which is a mirror image of the Deputy Council Chamber. As good as the entire room is gold plaited. On the wall behind the speakers you can see the coat of arms of the different former regions of the empire, flanked by paintings depicting historical events. Apparently the representatives used to like a good Cuban cigar back in the days. Smoking, however was forbidden inside the hall. Just outside you can find a designated spot where everyone could leave their cigar, to be picked up later after the discussions were finished. If a speaker had made a particularly good point, it was possible that his cigar was gone, as a sign of respect. I'm not really sure what that's supposed to mean. If someone would nick my cigar I wouldn't really like it.

On a side note, right outside the building you can see the national flag with a hole cut out in the middle. This represents the freedom of the Hungarian people. It is a replica of the one used in the 1956 uprising against the communists. During soviet rule there was a commie symbol in the middle, which the insurgents had cut out. If you walk past it and keep to your left, you can get to St. Stephen's Basilica by crossing Liberty Square. As in so many places in Budapest the square is surrounded by exquisite Habsburg buildings, but what struck me the most was the excellent contradiction that it offered. An obelisk on the northern end commemorates the Red Army soldiers who died during the siege of Budapest in 1944-45. On the eastern side, a statue honors the US general H. Bandholtz, who foiled the looting of the National Museum. Communists and capitalists face to face so to speak.

Commemoration of the victims of the Arrow Cross - If you walk to the back of the Parliament, you will find a walking aisle next to the Danube, where you can go for a stroll. At some point you will see an artist's rendering of the holocaust. The local fascists, the Arrow Cross Party had shot a number of Jews and other dissidents on the banks of the Danube, when they were in power (1944-45), and dumped their bodies into the stream. To remember these atrocities an artist constructed a statue consisting of a series of metal shoes. In in it's own, yet small way, it is a powerful image. Which made the attitude of this Asian family completely incomprehensible to me. The mother thought it was a good idea to pose for the camera with a big smile next to these shoes that represent bloody murder. Now, I know that Asians have a compulsive need to stand and smile in pictures. Fair enough. But then, the husband wanted to test the solidity of the metal by kicking one of the shoes. How disrespectful can you get? To me, that's almost the same as striding into a mosque with dirty combat boots or sacrificing a chicken in a buddhist temple. Well, maybe not, but you know what I mean. Let's just suppose that they didn't know what it was for.

St. Stephen's Basillica (Szent István-bazilika) - Dedicated to King István, the first Hungarian christian king, this church was designed in a neo-classical style, based on a Greek cross floor plan, and built during the second half of the 19th century. The massive main door is decorated with the heads of the 12 apostles. On the inside there are several excellent paintings and a very beautifully lighted statue of István. The most impressive sight however is the dome with its exquisite mosaics and other decorations. I'm not really sure how it happened, but we totally forgot to climb the tower to take in the 360° panorama of the city. We did see the Holy Right Hand. Stephen died in 1038 and was canonized in 1083. Apparently his hand was found intact a good time after his burial. This was seen as a holy portent. So, they kept it and put on display. The hand has travelled all over Hungary before arriving in Buda in 1771. Being so holy and all, the reliquary needs to be maintained. If you want to see it in decent lighting you need to throw in some coins.

maandag 3 maart 2008

Hip Hop Collabos

Remember the great collabos from back in the days?

Stop The Violence Movement: Self-Destruction

Crooklyn Dodgers

Return of the Crooklyn Dodgers

Panther Soundtrack: Freedom

Panther Soundtrack: Tha points