Wednesday, April 27, 2005

“My way, my way/ What I say goes, and I'm in control…” (Usher, “My Way”)

Admit it, we all want to be in control of something. Like so many famous singers have written songs about, we all want things “my way.” We want to do things or have things done the way we want them to be done. It’s just how things are, it seems. We don’t always get what we want though. Sometimes we have to make concessions and do what other people want, even if it’s just for a short while. Rules and norms have to be followed in order to prevent an individual from getting into trouble. After all, if we all did what we wanted and someone wanted to run up 3rd avenue naked, they’d get arrested. There are laws that govern what we can and cannot do. Despite this fact, there are some individuals and groups that feel they can do whatever they want, no matter what the consequences.

Take for example, the situation created by Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart is a famed superstore, selling everything from food to clothing to furniture to auto parts. Many claim that Wal-Mart is one of the greatest things to come along since slice bread, creating a convenient location that sells anything and everything a person could ever want and then some. Wal-Mart is also famed for having the lowest prices in the United States. We’ve all seen the commercials with the happy little smiley face whistling as he “rolls back” prices.

Have you ever stopped to think of how, exactly, Wal-Mart had such low, low prices?

I’ll tell you in one word…FEAR.

Wal-Mart is akin to the bully on the playground. The bully pushes around the smaller kids, taking from them their lunch money and their dignity. Of course, Wal-Mart is a whole lot bigger than a single kid and the world is a stage grander than that of the local playground. Wal-Mart is one of the largest companies in the world and, because of that fact, it can subjugate other smaller companies. As shown in the segment “Is Wal-Mart Good for America?,” Wal-Mart managed to depose the large company of Rubbermaid as one of the most important corporations in America by forcing the company to sell their items at a lower price. This was due to the fact the price of resin, an important material in rubber production, had gone up.

The same company has gone to China in order to provide the cheapest possible items to their buyers. Items are made there at a lower cost for lower wages, thus keeping prices lower for their customers. Their moving to China has also forced companies to outsource to the Asian continent in order to keep up with Wal-Mart and other larger companies. As a result of this, people in America are losing their jobs as companies move.

The way Wal-Mart conducts its business is in direct contrast to the mode of business shown in the film Revolution OS. It this work, the developers of the GNU-Linux computer system are shown opposing the large computer conglomerate of Microsoft. The GNU-Linux developers call all computer users to take part in the creation of software. They feel that, so long as someone has the knowledge to be able to use the system they should have free access to the available software. This is in direct opposition to the fact companies like Microsoft would like to restrict software access to just an elite few.

Curious? Want to learn a little bit more about the differences between these two companies? Migh I suggest taking a look at Jill's blog. She puts an amusing spin on the way Wal-Mart runs its business and throws in her own two cents on the topic. She, too, uses a lovely little song. For another look, take a gander at Christina's blog. She gives her opinion on the differences between the two companies from her own point of view.

"Baseball is an allegorical play about America, a poetic, complex, and subtle play of courage, fear, good luck, mistakes, patience about fate, and sober self-esteem." (Saul Steinberg)

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Wag Your Tails Everyone!

"Capitalism needs to function like a game of tug-of-war. Two opposing sides need to continually struggle for dominance, but at no time can either side be permitted to walk away with the rope." (Pete Holiday)

Tails aren’t just found on dogs and cats anymore. They’re no longer a defining feature of many members of the animal kingdom. Tails- especially long ones- have become a feature in the realm of statistics and the kingdom of business, as well.

The idea of the long tail (with lower case letters) is used to describe a type of statistical distribution. As show in this illustration, the idea of the long tail is often shown as a red and yellow chart. The yellow tail-like portion of the chart shows the event that occurs very rarely within a population. The thicker red portion of the chart shows the evens that occur more often within a population. The events that take place in the yellow portion of the chart are the events that can be considered uncommon or rare.

A distribution like this can be expected because there are certain events that are considered rarer than others. That is, many people use computers everyday while a small population of people uses typewriters instead of computers. The people who use typewriters instead of computers would constitute part of the population found in the long yellow tail of the chart.

Capitalizing the letters in the phrase the “long tail,” and it becomes a concept first coined by Chris Anderson in this article from Wired Magazine. Anderson used the Long Tail chart in a business sense as opposed to the traditional statistical sense the model was initially meant for. He showed that if one could collect and market items that are not in high demand nor are “blockbusters,” a lucrative business can be created. Though it would create large mega-stores that could provide competition for traditional stores, successful business ventures could be created.

An example of the aforementioned type of business venture can be seen in the popular internet store amazon.com. Amazon takes advantage of the Long Tail idea by selling goods that can be considered hard to find in regular stores. These items cannot be found in regular stores for a wide variety of reasons including the fact they are not selling well in the stores. By placing these items in a store like the on-line one created by Amazon, more people can find the rare goods they are searching for.

The Long Tail can provide these kinds of good because they are able to store more items. This is so because most on-line stores have large warehouses in which their goods are stored. This differs from the limited stockrooms and shelf space of a traditional store. This makes the Long Tail a threat to regular business in that they can store more items and proved a greater range of goods to the consumer.

The Communication technologies that can be used to access the information hidden in the “tail” portion of the graph include things like blogs and aggregators. Blogs can help direct others to locations where they can find sought after goods while aggregators can help accumulate lists of places in which these goods can be found.

Still chasing that Long Tail around? Looking for another view on it? Look no further than Joy's blog. She has some very...interesing...views on both The Long Tail and big business. For another view on this idea, take a look at Chris' Blog. He provides a funny little story about useful The Long Tail has been to his movie watching life.

"Watching a baseball game on television is like chasing the great white whale in a goldfish bowl. It trivializes everything: men two inches high, a ball the size of a bee. It is like looking at the heavens through a dime-store telescope." (Ward Just)

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Putting the "Folk" Back in "Folksonomy"

"The 'Net is a waste of time, and that's exactly what's right about it." (William Gibson)

Or is it?

William Gibson may be the father of modern cyberpunk, coiner of the words “matrix” and “internet” in the computer sense but his assessment of the internet is incorrect. There are many uses of the internet. One can find anything one wants if they have the patience to look for it. The internet is fair teeming with information of any sort. You can find movie mistakes at sites like moviemistakes.com and how to find that actor whose face you recognize but can’t place anywhere on a site like the IMDB.

Once you have this bevy of information, what in the world can you do with it? Where do you store all this information and how can you make it readily accessible you friends and others who may be looking for the same things you are?

Well, kids, welcome to the wide world of folksonomy…..data about data!

Actually, folksonomy can be defined as “a practice of collaborative categorization using feely chosen keywords” according to the Wikipedia. The word, itself, is a play on the words “folks” and “taxonomy.” “Folks” is used to indicate that this is something, not only created by people but done for the benefit of other people as well. The use of the word “taxonomy” is, generally, exclusively used in the field of science. It is the word used to indicate the way things are classified. In science, it is used to indicate the classification of different species from one another. Basically, it is a simple way of saying “classification.” In short, the word folksonomy can mean, “people’s classification management.”

Like William Gibson’s coining of the word, “internet” and “matrix,” the word folksonomy was can be attributed to Thomas Vander Wal. It is a phrase used to narrowly describe the idea of “tagging,” as one of the ways people in the word seek to place the world around them into set categories. This idea, without using the internet as part of its nature, has been around for many years in the fields of sociology and anthropology.

Folksonomies work best when many people “tag” the same piece of information. This is so because people use different keywords to reference the same piece of information. This is good for organizations because it helps to make the finding of information much easier. Using different keywords can help to yield many different kinds of information. This can be useful when trying to find some wanted bit of data or trying to access a lot of different data at once. It can also be useful in discovering how popular certain websites are. This is useful in organizations because the organization can model its own website after some of the popular ones according to folksonomies.

Maybe, I don’t have the right to argue with William Gibson’s opinion of the internet. He created the word, after all, but I think I will. The ‘net is not a waste of time and, even if it was, that’s not why we like it. The internet is the place where we can share information of every kind though the use of folksonomy.

Want to learn a little bit more about folksonomy or get another take on the topic? Look no further than Chris's blog. He is very knowledgeable about the topic and speaks in a more techincal tone that I do. He goes into far more detail about the topic of "data about data." Another blog to take a look at is Alexis' Blog for information about the benefits of folksonomies. She explains its benefits to both students and businesses alike.

"I believe in the Church of Baseball.....For instance, there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball. When I heard that, I gave Jesus a chance...." (Annie Savoy from Bull Durham)

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Qicker than a New York Minute!

We’re a “right away” kind of society. We belong to a society of instant meals and of rapid responses. We want our meals delivered in ‘under a half hour” otherwise we want our meal for free. Apparently, waiting is not something we’re very good at anymore. That’s the way it seems anyway. Maybe that’s why we’re all prefer e-mail over paper mail. Actually, maybe that’s why we like the overall world of internet communication. In a time where we want everything and, oh by the way, we want it NOW, the internet gives us what we ask for and then some.

Can you count the number of e-mails you open and send in a week? E-mails are like little on going conversations. They are a way to communicate with people we haven’t seen in years. E-mails from people we knew in high school or, maybe, from people we’ve only met on-line. According to Rick Levine, in the cluetrain manifesto, e-mailing is just another form of conversation. It is a form that is as fast as type-click-send. Next time that person goes on-line he or she has the next part of their conversation already waiting for them.

Sometimes, though, e-mail isn’t part of a conversation with an old friend. Instead, it’s the ever dreaded spam. You know the e-mail that offers you invaluable things like cut rate vicodin and lower mortgage rates. Stuff you really can’t live without, right? According to Levine, these are just one form of mailing lists. Mailing lists aren’t all that bad, though, as they include things like web zines and two-way mailing lists that allow for everyone to take part in an ever growing, ever expanding conversation.

Like mailing lists that don’t take up space in your mailbox, newsgroups are another form of on-line communication. Combined with their “little brother, the on-line board, newsgroups are another form of communication help to connect people around the world. There are newsgroups for just about anything these days, from people who like to knit to the New York Mets. They are places for people to share ideas, even if some of the ideas aren’t all that intelligent all the time. They are places to rant and rave, to rail against whatever aspect of your given hobby you don’t like. Me, personally, I enjoy a good rant about the New York Mets general manager but that’s just me. The problem with newsgroups is that you have to wade through many responses that may have nothing to do with your topic before finding that you want. One must be careful, too when consulting newsgroups for ideas. People present their own ideas, in their own ways, with their own words. Everyone had their own spin on the situation. For example, many think the New York Mets general manager is a wonderful person who’s done wonders for the team where as I feel he’s an on-screen hog who never lets poor Willie Randolph, the team’s manager, talk. Post my opinion on a message board and you’re liable to get a variety of responses. Some arguing against it, maybe one or two supporting it, and, of course, the few idiots who’ll tell you to “Go Cheer for the team in the Bronx” or that “You Suck.”

Chatting may be the primary purpose of the internet for some but chatting has a bad reputation. Like Levine says, most feel that all chats digress into a conversation about sex in about five minutes. That may be true in some cases but it all really depends on the people conversing in the room. Maybe, they just want to chat and to meet people who have different ideas than they do. It’s all about connecting really. We’re all connected through the internet and chatting is just a way to express that fact.

For a very interesting look at how your on-line name affect the kinds of spam you get, take a look at Jill's blog. She talks about how the "Dr" in her on-line name is the reason behind all the medical related spam she gets. Take a look at Lyndsay's post if you want something that read like it was straight out of the book. Her musings about her past are very much like how Levine begins his chapter.

"A good friend of mine used to say, "This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains." Think about that for a while." (Ebby Calvin LaLoosh from Bull Durham)

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Having a Longing Feeling?

We’re all familiar with the internet, aren’t we? I know that if I wasn’t it would be really hard for me to do this assignment. Since I, like millions- Maybe even billions of others. - are familiar with the internet, I don’t have to worry about being familiar with it. Like a good friend, the internet is always there. It provides an outlet for any feeling one might have at any given time. Disagree with a popular figure’s stance on something? Go post a rebuttal on a message board or on your very own website or blog. Have a spare minute or two? Hop on line to chat with friends- Some you’ve met in person and others who may live many miles from your own home- or play a game. Have homework? The odds are good you’ll find the answer to your homework questions on-line someplace.

Despite having all these uses, has anyone ever stopped to think what the World Wide Web is really for? Can one put into perspective the gigantic entity that is the internet into proper scope? Is that task even possible given the amount of information stored on the infamous “information superhighway?”

Ours is a managed world, according to David Weinberger, one of the authors of the cluetrain manifesto. Everything in our day to day lives must be managed in order for us to see it as good. Things that are not managed, like riots and cancer , are deemed as being bad things. Not that cancer is a really good thing to begin with but I’m digressing. Living in an ultra managed world provides us with a bevy of “good things.” By living in the managed world we avoid risks that could endanger our lives and make the world we live in a much smoother place.

Living in the ultra managed world does have some disadvantages, though. I agree with Weinberger when he claims that living in the ultra managed world creates the mandatory entity known as “professionalism” in the workplace. Though it does not create the strict Catholic school dress code some of us (myself included) grew up with, it does create a sort of standard that everyone must abide by. People are only allowed so much in the way of self-expression. That it, a person can say and do and act and dress as they please so long as they’re not offending anyone else in the process. Standards must be kept up in order to maintain the ultra managed world.

There are some who say that being a student is just like holding a job. Using that analogy, Marymount becomes my work place. Like any good workplace, Marymount has its code of professionalism. We’re free to do what we want when we want how we want so long as it is within the limits of reason. We shy away from topics that might offend others around us when we talk and we try to act like good little workers in class. We take notes on lectures, homework gets done, and the world is at peace.

Contrasting this, like the internet contrasts the workplace, is the world we create in our blogs. Here we can say what we want and fear no repercussions. At least, nothing as terrible as someone’s negative comments. Then again, does that matter because this person is most likely someone we’re never going to have to see again? It gives us a chance to make use of out professionally silenced voices and allows us to let our all important opinions be heard.

Maybe that’s the elusive purpose of the internet? To give voice to the millions that have been silenced by the workplace and the world of professionalism. It is the place where opinions can be stated and shared, traded like so many trading cards. It is true that the opinions some express may be wrong in some way, tainted and negative by their life’s experiences but they, too, are allowed to speak their virtual minds. After all, everyone has the right to free speech!

Want to hear more? Take a look at Jill's Blog . A girl with a job, she talks about how she can sympathize with the situations set forth in the section mentioned above. For a different opinion, take a look at what Alexis has to say. Her opinon is very different from that of our friend Jill.

""What you fail to understand in your joyless myopia, is that baseball is the key to life — the Rosetta Stone, if you will." (Arthur Dales)

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Are you riding the train?

“…buckle your seatbelt, Dorothy, 'cause Kansas is going bye-bye.”--- Cypher,
The Matrix

This is not business as usual. We are no longer living in the information age we once were. Televisions are no longer the last bastion of mass media. We now have a new glowing box that captures our attention, makes us take time out of our day to interact with it, and makes us slaves to its power. Yes, my friends, there is a new generation of couch potatoes out there, even if there aren’t any couches to be found. Welcome to the Real World…..the world of the internet.

Like Dorothy, Alice, Neo, and all those others who have traveled down the preverbal rabbit hole, we are now slipping down the rabbit hole of new business. As presented in the modern day version of Martin Luther’s 95 Thesis the cluetrain manifesto, we learn the ways that business is no longer the atypical system of business much of society has grown up with.

Maybe it’s a form of digression rather than progression or a strange amalgamation of both. In ancient times, back in the days of the Greek and Roman marketplaces, we were a highly interactive society. Locke, the author of the cluetrain manifesto, makes it a point to describe the nature of the ancient day marketplace. The marketplace was the hub of ancient society. It was the place people went to not only exchange goods and services but to exchange gossip as well. Take, for example, Socrates who presented his questions to Athens while in the marketplace. For him, it was the place to rouse the sleeping beast that was Athens, to be the preverbal “gadfly” on the horse. It was a place of teaching and of learning and of, basically, annoying the rest of the city.

From there, according to the cluetrain manifesto, the human race started to become passive. The gadfly failed to wake us up as we fell into a deeper slumber in front of the television. Like so many people in their own private, isolated cubicles we started to stare at the televisions, passively absorbing the information it presented. The business world- the corporate world- was telling us what to buy and how to think and we were powerless to do anything about it. Instead, we stared at the television and took in what was shown on the flickering screen.

That’s all changing now, Locke purposes in his work. Though we’re all isolated in our own homes or offices, we can now interact with the greatest number of people possible. This is all done via the false miracle of the internet. Instead of being told what to think and how to buy, we can start exploring for ourselves. Everything is “fair game,” so to speak, since we can search for it ourselves and create our own opinions. Not only can we create our own opinions but we can share them as well in chat rooms, IMs (be it AOL IM, Yahoo IM, or any other number of Instant Messaging services), and on message boards. The world, though we’re all in our own homes, extends far beyond the walls of the room we are sitting in and the keyboard and screen we are working in front of. We’re now part of the global marketplace, the collective consciousness of the internet.

“The unexamined life is not worth living.”- Socrates

I’m not the only one out there examining this aspect of life, exploring the change in the command and control model. Like a modern day philosopher, Jill muses on the nature of the cluetrain manifesto. The almost relaxed tone she uses in her post makes it more inviting to others. It is both an easy and enjoyable read. For a scathing review of the cluetrain manifest, take a look at Joy’s blog. She presents an interesting, counterview, of Locke’s book.

"I want you to get up out of you're seats! Go to the window! Open it up, Stick your head out and say.....Let's Go Mets!"---Getting Ready for Opening Day?

Monday, March 07, 2005

You're Out or Are You?

The “Command and Control” model is a business and management technique which allows the holding company to be free of the costs affiliated with “owning, maintaining and periodically retooling manufacturing facilities.” This model relies on outsourcing; that is a relinquishing of business to subcontractors, service providers, or task oriented vendors. There is a great deal of information to be found on the topic of outsourcing in this article about outsourcing.

This type of business management can be problem ridden. It escapes the traditional American business framework established by people like Henry Ford and his assembly line. Here, Ford had complete control over every aspect of production. When problems arose, Ford was able to act quickly so as not to have production interfered with. This is not true of outsourcing. Communication is difficult; one subcontractor many not have technological communication with the next. This allows for gaps in production. The reliance on foreign countries like China, Taiwan, and India, to produce our goods has lead to domestic unemployment which may be destructive to our home economy. In the same sense, if a foreign subcontractor is faced with natural disaster, political or economic upheaval, a direct effect will be evident on homeland economics.

In the article, “Unmade in America,” Barry Lynn discusses how American manufacturers Dell, Ford, Motorola, Intel, have embraced the “command and control” model, which relies on outsourcing. To see the effect of outsourcing, and read about its effect, this article is a good place to start. If America has outsourced one too many times, who is responsible? Who will deal with the problems? American businessmen, American consumers, or Washington itself.

If you're interested in more opinions on this topic, please, feel free to take a look at some of my classmates posts. First up we have Jill's wonderfully titled post. As always, she is ever insightful on every topic. For another look at this interesting topic, we have Chris' post . He's got a boat load of information on this subject and is very smart about it.

"Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball, the rules and realities of the game—and do it by watching first some high-school or small-town teams." (Jacques Barzun)