Bezos’ letters make splendid material for a Business School course on Strategy and Communication. A caveat applies, however. Most of the strategies and practices advocated by Amazon’s founder have broad applicability, but a central mystery remains: Bezos himself, his combination of early life experience, intellect, emotional abilities and communication skills. Being Bezos isn’t teachable.
At some point I will post something other than links to this blog. But for now, this is it. Five more for you to enjoy this week:
- Standard Ebooks – There are lots of free and public domain ebooks about – try looking at Project Gutenberg for example. The problem is that they aren’t always of great quality – because they are often scanned in and OCRd, there are mistakes and janky formatting, amongst other issues. Standard Ebooks is taking these base metals and turning them into gold by checking them, cleaning them up and packaging them nicely – and they’re still free. What’s not to like?
- Strategic Reading – just in case five links a week aren’t enough for you, Stefan Czerniawski has started a new thing in the form of a link blog – lots of links to articles with a bit of commentary. Consumable on the website, via RSS or email and highly recommended.
- Amazon’s New Customer – I linked last week to rumours that Amazon might be interested in buying Slack. Not sure whether that was just a red herring or not, because it turned out that the big acquisition that Amazon made was Whole Foods, a chain of grocery stores in the US. This analysis by Ben Thompson of what is – on the face of it – an incomprehensible deal for an e-commerce company (clue: Amazon is not an e-commerce company) is excellent and very insightful when it comes to Amazon’s operating model and long term strategy.
- Background reading list for government policy people interested in digital – a useful collection of bits and pieces to read to get a good primer in what ‘digital’ means in the context of government services, curated by Paul Maltby. Am tempted to pull a list of my own together at some point.
- A great interview by John Markoff with various folk involved in the creation of the iPhone. Incidentally, Markoff’s book What the Doormouse Said would definitely be on any reading list I produce – it’s a fantastic and entertaining history of the birth of the personal computer.
An occasional effort to link to interesting things I have seen. Not convinced about the format yet – let me know what you think.
- The digital democracy report was published this morning by the Speaker’s commission on the topic.
- If you like listening to podcast interviews, you’ll love interviewed.io.
- Small Pieces, Loosely Joined is an interesting report from the Policy Exchange on digital in local government.
- What’s it like to be a manager at Google? Find out here.
- Why did Amazon’s Fire phone suck so badly? Some clues here.
To finish, a video. This talk from Simon Wardley on value chain mapping is insanely interesting:
As well as being the world’s biggest online retailer, Amazon is also one of the main providers of cloud based computing services. They offer a dizzying array of different services and platforms, enabling anyone with a credit card to get access to serious computing power.
One of their newer offerings is WorkSpaces. These provide access to a desktop computing experience via the cloud. What this means in practice is that you can use one device – whether a laptop, desktop, tablet or smartphone – to access another computer which is hosted on Amazon’s cloud, including an operating system, applications and storage.
Here’s a video that probably explains it a lot better than I can.
How I’m using WorkSpaces
I’m a Mac user, and sometimes, annoyingly, other people assume you are using a Windows PC. Recently as part of one of my volunteering roles, I was asked to complete some e-learning. Only, on visiting the required web page, I was informed that the e-learning would only work with Internet Explorer, which isn’t available for the Mac.
To get round this, I just needed to load up my Amazon WorkSpace client, and log in to my WorkSpace running Windows 7, which of course has Internet Explorer available. Job done.
Another area I am thinking of using WorkSpace is to keep some of my bits of work separate. I’ve more email accounts with different organisations I work with than I can count, with associated document stores and so on. One way around this might be to use my laptop just for my own personal stuff, and then have WorkSpaces for my other identities, meaning I don’t get things jumbled up but can always access what I need.
The obvious downside is that you can only access your workspaces when you have a decent internet connection. The other is that at the moment the only choice of operating system is Windows 7. It would be nice to have a Linux option, for instance.
I find this stuff so you don’t have to:
- Social media record keeping for government – is it necessary? | Digital democracy, news, thinking, tips & tricks
- Google Reader Died Because No One Would Run It
- 10 Visual Steps To Self-Publishing Your Book On Amazon – ReadWrite
- How To Self-Publish A Bestseller: Publishing 3.0
- The future of programming
- Libraries and makerspaces join up in DC, Chicago – Boing Boing
- Exhibit – Publishing Framework for Data-Rich Interactive Web Pages
- 4 Reasons Why You Should Host a Social Media Surgery in Your Community
- The paranoid #! Security Guide (linux)
- Why mobile web apps are slow | Sealed Abstract
Reading some of the coverage of Instagram’s change in their terms of service, you’d have thought a murder had been committed. Or maybe that the world was about to end.
A few years down what might once have been called the Web 2.0 road, well funded companies are finding that they have built their networks, grown their user bases, and now shareholders are looking for some return on their investment. We should not, therefore, be surprised that the rules are changing, that the digital ground we’ve been standing on is shifting beneath our feet.
Nothing at the end of the day is free. Somewhere down the line, somebody is paying – whether it is you with a subscription, a VC’s investment money or an advertiser taking advantage of your online data.
The cloud brings with it incredible advantages – access to your digital assets wherever you are, no matter what device you are using. The ability to share with others, to collaborate with them, to enable people to remix your work and share it on.
Thanks to the cloud – and whatever it was called before it was the cloud – we are all writers, photographers film makers, publishers, producers, networkers, community organisers. It gives us access to unimaginably large groups of people who will have an interest in what we are doing, and the tools to spark a conversation with all those people.
It also has its downsides though. As ever, there’s a tradeoff. Sometimes that tradeoff will be worthwhile. Lots of Instagram users obviously thought that it wasn’t – and that’s fine. Services and products will live and die as a result of how they manage their service, and balance the needs of the users and the needs of their balance sheet.
What’s important I think, to consider, is that part of the shift towards cloud, with all the advantages mentioned above, also is putting control over our cultural assets into the hands of corporations whose only mission is to generate a profit. Amazon is not your local library. Apple isn’t the British Museum.
There is nothing inherently wrong with this – I’m not making a political or economic point here. But if all your books aren’t in fact your own, and in fact are merely rented from Amazon on your Kindle; or those music tracks you thought were yours can be taken away from you without you being in control – then that’s a worrying thing and everyone need to approach this carefully.
Likewise with your social media content. If you don’t want your photos popping up in adverts for pile cream, then don’t put them on Instagram (or indeed probably anywhere on the internet).
So what to do? I think just be aware. When people say to you, “use this site, it’s free!”, remember that it isn’t. If you store content you created yourself online, make sure you have a copy of your own. If any of your content matters so much to you that you don’t want anyone re-using it in ways you can’t control, don’t put it on the internet.
In effect, don’t trust anyone, particularly tech startup companies, or indeed giant corporations. They won’t be around forever and they won’t always keep their word. Most of the time that’s fine, and the trade-off between control and convenience works out for everyone.
But we all have content, assets, that matter to us – and don’t entrust those to anyone you don’t know, no matter how slick their user interface.
I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.
- BDU: Big Data – E-learning about "big data" which people keep telling me is going to be important.
- WP2Cloud – Interesting one for WordPress dorks (like me). Stores all your WP site stuff in Amazon's cloud.
- Announcing Open Space South West #OpenSSW – Sounds like it will be a fun event – well done Carl Haggerty!
- Sir Bob Kerslake: why social media is a vital tool for the civil service – …and not just the civil service of course. Nice to see positive noises from the top
- Antibodies, Attack Dogs, and Success Cats: 3 New Product Lessons – Even innovating in innovation organisations isn't easy.
- Acting on the annual user survey | Stephen Hale – Great open discussion about website user happiness.
You can find all my bookmarks on Pinboard.
I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.
- cpsrenewal.ca by Nick Charney: Mapping Internal Policy to the Hype Cycle – "I've been thinking a lot this week about how organizations issue policies to govern the use of new and emerging technologies."
- The BBC Micro can still teach us a lot – "The BBC Micro taught a generation of teenagers the joys of programming. It's time to re-engineer such a revolution"
- Amazon v. Apple « LRB blog – "Readers might be revelling in the lower prices they find on Amazon, but if the books they’re buying are ever less worth reading, it doesn’t seem much of a bargain."
- What is Dart? – O’Reilly Radar – "Dart [is] an open-source project that aims to enable developers to build more complex, highly performant apps for the modern web."
- MIT App Inventor – "To use App Inventor, you do not need to be a professional developer. This is because instead of writing code, you visually design the way the app looks and use blocks to specify the app's behavior."
You can find all my bookmarks on Pinboard.
The Government Digital Service blog is essential reading. Two recent posts well worth a look:
The phrase “not a CMS” has become a bit of a joke around the GovUK office (to the point where more than a few people were humming Once In A Lifetime), but it’s a key part of our approach. The Single Domain will include several components that enable publishing on the web but they’re part of a much broader ecosystem of tools wired together using APIs and designed to be constantly iterated to focus on user need. As we began to unpack what that means it became clear that we were going to need custom software.
Dr. Vogels defined cloud computing as “a style of computing where massively scalable IT-related capabilities are provided ‘as a service’ across the Internet to multiple external customers”. Calling on his experience from across the globe he outlined how the flexibility and resilience offered by clouds has helped to transform some government instances via the idea of software as a service and the advent of reactive charging models. He gave the example of Recovery.gov in the US as just one of over 100 Government sites using cloud hosting.
Amazon have just relaunched the Kindle e-reading device in the UK, with a new model, which looks rather spiffy.
Mine is one of the old, white ones – but I still love it. The new one features a new layout which makes the device smaller overall but keeping the same sized screen. The Kindle now supports wifi, which is cool – mine can only use 3G networks.
In the end, however, it’s not hardware that matters, but the effectiveness of the overall system in which the device is embedded. That was the great lesson of the Apple iPod: although the hardware was lovely from the outset, it would never have had the impact it had without the link to iTunes software on the PC/Mac and thence to the iTunes store. Other companies had made nice MP3 players, but none had put together a seamless system for getting music from CDs or online retailers on to them. Apple did and the rest is history.
The evolution of the ebook business reveals the same kind of pattern. First up, in 2006, was Sony, with a beautifully crafted device that had one crippling drawback: the difficulty of getting stuff on to it. A year later, Amazon launched the first-generation Kindle, a device inferior to the Sony product in every respect save one: it had wireless connectivity to the Amazon online store, which meant that purchasing and downloading books on to the device was a breeze. After that, it was game over for Sony and, indeed, for all the other companies that had piled into the e-reader market.
There are a number of cool things about the Kindle, some of which are unique to it, some that aren’t. Here are my top three.
1. Instant books
As John points out in his article, the iTunes-like ability to buy books right away is remarkably powerful. It’s like the difference between ordering a CD online or downloading an MP3 – why wait a day for it to be delivered when you can have it now?
2. Social reading
One thing the Kindle allows you to do is to set bookmarks in your e-books, and also to annotate them with notes. In addition to this, you can also highlight passages to make sure you remember them.
A social layer has now been added to this, in that you can now see what other people who have that book on their Kindles have highlighted. It’s a bit like seeing how many other people have saved a web page in Delicious, and is very cool.
As well as the Kindle e-reader device, Amazon make applications available for other hardware to read books on, including Mac, Windows, Android and iPhone. This enables you to download books to other devices and keep reading even when you don’t have your Kindle on you.
Most obviously useful for phones, the really great thing with the Kindle is the way that when you open a book in one of the apps, it opens on the last page you read on your Kindle. Likewise, when you then open the book on your Kindle, it catches up to where you got up to on the other device.