Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Strike All You Like: The World Has Changed

Change Curve
I've never really understood strikes. And, given the timing of the current round in the UK, I suspect those who go on strike may not either. But I think this lot are a good sign.

It means the strikers and those who empathise (many private sector pensioners, for example) have moved on from the initial shock of discovering there is no money to fund generous pensions.

And they have moved through denial that this means their own pensions.

And they have reached the phase of fear and anger about the fact that the world isn't as the same as they thought it was when they decided to do whatever job it is they've decided not to do on Thursday.

Next stop: depression.

And then maybe acceptance and a measure of understanding. After all, it's a feature of our existence that we become complacent, vulnerable to change, and blame everyone else for any misfortune when change arrives. Our defences against disaster weaken over time.

And, finally, planning how to move forward into a very different future.

It's that fundamental.

Because we aren't talking about mistreatment of a colleague, or any other point of principle. The current round of strikes is all about venting collective anger, though not in the Greek style. Yet.

And anger on this scale means the whole world has changed, not just your own lot.

So, all power to the strikers, I say. In fact, let's all get out there on Thursday and have a bloody good shout. And, Hell, why not spend Friday drowning our sorrows?

On the weekend we can all indulge in a little critical thought.

And on Monday, we can plan how to move on.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Linked Data: An Energy Credit Rating?

I received a love letter from EON recently, telling me they love me so much they're going to increase my direct debit. That way, I will "build up a credit over summer" and enable EON to spread its bill over the year.

Sadly, this is a case of unrequited love. I do not want to leave any surplus cash with EON, especially when they haven't mentioned paying me any interest on the credit - or even putting the interest toward my bill.

But on the upside, EON's letter did prompt me to call @Oikonomics, who is fairly heavily involved in an alternative energy proposition, amongst many other things. We got talking about Green Deal and feed-in-tariffs and the challenges of comparing the official option for financing your personal alternative energy generating/saving with alternative means of financing. One idea is to enable you to generate an "Energy Credit Rating" to use as a base for comparing the overall benefit to an alternative energy option. It could combine your MPAN billing number, linked to some data from the Met Office about average sunlight/wind in your area, local energy prices for what you buy and what you generate, the Feed-in-Tariff scheme, and your own credit rating.

Linking some of this data may also help reduce the complexity/cost associated with making energy price changes.

Oh, and Bruce also told me Ovo credits your bill with the equivalent of 3% interest on any credit balance (see under "Earn from Energy").

Image from Energy Saving Trust.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Of Living The iLife, Dinosaurs and Data Portability

I'm not here to sound the death knell for Apple, but the announcement of the iCloud is a defining moment in the company's development. Will it remain a facilitator, or become an institution that exists only to ensure its own survival?

The 'cloud' or utility model for computing is not new. In fact, consumers have arguably held their data and basic applications 'in the cloud' ever since adopting public email services, blogging services and so on. What's new about the iCloud is the automated way in which all a consumer's content may be synchornised and otherwise 'managed' across all the consumer's (Apple) devices.

Seen from a hi-tech standpoint, Apple's move is typically bold and innovative. Yet the centralised omnipotence this may hand to Apple seems an attempt to reverse a 20 year trend toward enabling consumers to control their own data. In this sense, the iCloud appears to be the sort of product a major bank or telco 'dinosaur' would introduce in a last ditch effort to survive by locking-in its customers - and just imagine the complaints there'd be, given the switching challenges for consumers in those markets. So data portability is absolutely critical (along with personal data protection and security), if the iCloud is to be seen as a consumer 'enabler' rather than a predatory move by an aging institution.

But does the mainstream consider data portability to be important? I mean, I'd like to think that Apple's early, tech-savvy customer base would realise it's a bad idea to hold all your applications and data with a single provider, just as financially savvy folk realise the benefit of a fully-diversified investment portfolio. I have an iPhone and an iTunes account; but I also have a Toshiba laptop and a Dell PC. Those computers run Microsoft's Windows and Office package, and I have a Hotmail address; but I very deliberately browse with Firefox, blog via Blogger (Google), Tweet, hang out on Facebook and follow various blogs using Netvibes. And I use Spotify, not iTunes, as my main music service. In other words, I'm not going to let any one provider see, process, hold or control all my data - or even have a complete back-up or copy. That would feel closed and controlling, rather than enabling.

But, ironically, I suspect many people in the mainstream will see the need for software service diversity as a hassle or a problem to be solved by a single service provider, which is why Apple may quite genuinely see a market for the iCloud.

Does that make Apple a genuine facilitator or a dinosaur that's spotted a meal?

Image from eBandit.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Mydata And Consumer Empowerment

On Thursday, work began in earnest on the 'mydata' project featured in the government's "Consumer Empowerment" strategy (see Better Choices: Better Deals, on which I posted earlier).

As with the overall consumer empowerment policy, the primary goal of the ‘mydata’ project is “to put consumers in charge so that they are better able to get the best deals for themselves, individually and collectively.” Achieving that involves enabling consumers to access information about their purchases, analyse it according to their own preferences and use that information to make better purchasing decisions.

As a long-time critic of the European Commission approach to facilitating e-commerce, I'm overjoyed the government is convinced that new legislation is not the best way to achieve consumer empowerment. Instead, it's relying on "a wide range of new programmes that have been developed in partnership with businesses, consumer groups and regulators" against a background of normal regulatory enforcement.

The mydata development work is being fostered through a series of 'boards', chaired by Professor Nigel Shadbolt. There's a Strategy board made up of private sector retail businesses, consumer bodies and government representatives; four Sector boards comprising representatives of suppliers in the energy, financial services, telecoms and retail sectors; and an Interoperability board of private and public sector representatives. The focus of the Interoperability board is on maximising synergies among the sector groups' work; addressing barriers common to all groups; maintaining a balance amongst key issues of practical utility, privacy, security and data portability; and offering suggestions on where ideas and solutions in one sector might link up (or mashup) with others to better reflect consumers' day-to-day activities.

I know what you're thinking, but these boards are not designed to be exclusive talking shops or symbolic meetings of 'the great and the good'. The idea is to be as pragmatic as possible, using the boards to draw in as many interested parties, ideas and resources as possible to achieve rapid progress. It's a fascinating challenge, and I'm thrilled to be helping out on the interoperability front.

There'll be plenty of project communications, of course, which I'll be doing my best to retweet etc, and send to people I know who may be interested or able to help. I also plan to share material that I happen across outside the project. For starters, I've included below the links to Sir Tim Berners-Lee's TED talk on the semantic web (or Linked Data) and a few of the items he mentions. I'm very interested to receive any comments, referrals, ideas etc you may have.

Sir Tim cites some key examples of Linked Data and its uses. DBpedia is the fascinating "community effort to extract structured information from Wikipedia and to make this information available on the Web." And here is the TED talk by Hans Rosling to which he refers:

Image from 1Million1Shot.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

A Plan for Small Business Growth?

These lists are always much more interesting 6 months on. In this case, the bubble in online coupons is more obvious, as is the fact that the fashion market is getting the Web 2.0 treatment. Yet BankSimple still hasn't launched.

Online invoice discounting has been on my radar since early 2008. So it's heartening that The Receivables Exchange is highly rated in the US, and reassuring that MarketInvoice is gaining traction in the UK. Doubtless there'll be more on that front soon.

Partly for that reason, SecondMarket really caught my eye. It's a market for alternative investments, so incorporates a channel for equity in private companies (e.g. CrowdCube in the UK). But the emphasis on gathering "robust market data" signals a growth in the availability of richer information about private companies. Focus on this is timely, given the massive official paywall around corporate data. Recent commitments to 'Open Government' (follow the Open Knowledge Foundation) are promising. There's already a Government commitment to arm consumers with their own data. Perhaps enabling SMEs to use their own data for their own benefit could be added to The Plan for Growth?

Image from AppAssure.
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