John McCann

Archive for April, 2006|Monthly archive page

Participating via delivery

In Culture & society on April 27, 2006 at 3:28 pm

On occasions, I lecture about how the nature of work has changed in my lifetime. The following is a Powerpoint slide that I have used to illustrate that, when I was a kid in the mid-1940s, a large number of workers would visit my home on a regular basis.

This slide lists the workers who participated in the economy by going door to door to deliver products, provide services or take orders. The pictures on the right were used to illustrate what part of my world looked like in those days.

  • Doctor: doctors made house-calls. I remember the day that I woke up with severe pain in my lower back and legs, and my parents thought I had polio. They called our family doctor and he showed up in the early afternoon. I was still in bed and had not moved, afraid that it would get worse if I rolled over or sat up. He examined me, grabbed me by the shoulder and rolled me from my side to my back. Amazingly, most of the pain went away. (He may have done more but I only remember his rolling me over). He said I had some kind of muscle spasm.
  • Milkman: every evening my mother would place empty milk bottles in a wire basket on our stoop and she would leave a note about what we needed. The next morning, the milkman would leave our order.
  • Ice truck: every few days, a large truck would come by our house with block ice in the back. We would buy a block and put it in our ice box. Kids would follow the truck, begging the driver to chip off a piece of ice for them.
  • Ice cream truck: every day during the hot part of the year a small truck would drive down our street with the driver ringing a bell. He would stop when anyone appeared and sell them ice cream.
  • Coal truck: most people heated with coal, as did my family. The truck would come to our house on a regular basis and dump a load of coal in our coal bin.
  • Farmer’s truck: a local farmer sold produce from his truck on a route that included our street.
  • Newspaper boy and mailman: the only ones still common today.
  • Grocery delivery: once a week my mother would order groceries from a small grocer in our neighborhood. Later in the day, a small, black panel truck would stop in the alley behind our house and bring the bags of groceries into our kitchen.
  • Door to door salesmen:
    • Insurance: my parents had three insurance policies (death, health, burial). Once a month, three different insurance salesmen would come to our door to collect the monthly payment for their policy.
    • Encyclopedia: once a year or so an encyclopedia salesmen would call upon us. My parents never bought anything.
    • Hoover: my parents bought a vacuum cleaner from a Hoover salesman; he would return occasionally to sell attachments or an upgrade.

Almost all of these jobs are gone now and people who had them had to find other ways to participate in the economy. They might come back someday if gas prices continue to spiral upwards. It could become cheaper for a few people to bring products to the consumer (as we do today with newspapers, mail and packages) rather than every person traveling to an array of stores.


Kevin Sites’ success

In Content business, Television, Video on April 26, 2006 at 1:33 pm

Clearly, the Internet is the current vehicle that is enabling people to participate via new approaches to content development and distribution. Pete Johnson's recent Media Mix column in USA Today contains two stories that provide some data about how an individual can succeed in such a new venture when done at a professional level with the support of a large organization, in this case Yahoo.

The column's first story is about Kevin Sites, a field reporter who first became famous while reporting from Iraq for NBC. He left that position and signed up with Yahoo to pioneer a new approach.

"Since September, Sites has been a "sojo" — solo journalist — reporting on trouble zones such as Somalia, Colombia, Lebanon and the Sudan for His site ( now draws more than 2 million hits a week."

We can put this 2 million hits a week into perspective with some data from the column's second story about Tim Russert's success as host of NBC's Meet the Press.

"Sunday, his program was expected to notch its fifth straight year as the most-watched public affairs program on television at 4 million viewers, compared with 3.1 million for CBS' Face The Nation, 2.6 million for ABC's This Week and 1.5 million for Fox News Sunday."

The Participation Age has reached the point where new Internet-based approaches can rival the traditional content on the traditional media. But it is important to note and remember that Sites' success is based upon being part of a large Internet organization. He is not a lone-wolf roaming the world with a camera and a notebook computer. Johnson provides some insight into how he works with Yahoo.

"Now on the road pretty much 24/7, Sites produces a story each day, illustrated with pictures and a short video using equipment that he carries with him. At the end of each week, the video expands into a longer piece with help from three Yahoo colleagues back in Los Angeles. By this fall, Sites hopes to have filed from more than 20 countries. … 'This is online journalism,' Sites says. 'My pieces are vetted. There are other people involved.'"

I find his pieces to be quite professional when I watch them on my computer. And I have read his blog on an irregular basis for the past several years. His work clearly illustrates how a traditional journalist can adapt and succeed in the Participation Age.

What is globalization?

In Globalization on April 25, 2006 at 1:11 pm

In 1998, I was teaching a course titled Technology, Globalization and Competition in the Global Executive MBA program at the Fuqua School of Business. This was a very innovative program that made extensive use of technology to develop a premiere MBA program. And my course was entirely new. I had never taught it, it had never been taught at Duke, and as far as I could tell it had never been taught anywhere.

I had been teaching courses about the technologies, which included sessions on how technology enabled new competitors to enter and succeed in an industry when existing firms were not able or willing to successfully innovate. But I had never studied globalization and had to quickly come up to speed on the relevant concepts and models. As I read through the literature, I saw that the term "globalization" was used in many different ways and meant different things to many people. My next step was to develop my own definition of globalization, based upon the most promising approaches uncovered in my reading.

In 1998 I wrote a short paper titled "Globalization: Real Time Relationships Among Dispersed Individuals and Organizations" and used it in the course. I just added this paper as a Page which can be accessed from the link "What is globalization?" at the top of the right hand column of this blog. Or you can get to it by clicking on this link.

Note: WordPress, the software and hosting service for this blog, provides two ways to add information to a blog:

  1. Posts: the time-oriented entries of which this entry is an example.
  2. Pages: the more static entries that appear under the Pages heading at the top of the right hand column of this page. As of now, this blog has three pages: About, Resume and What is globalization?

I will be using Pages for my longer essays.

Citizen news photographers in action

In Citizen Journalism on April 20, 2006 at 12:29 pm

In a comment on my post about citizen journalism, Ed Dombrofski points to a blog post about a "minor revolution in British journalism." Scaffolding fell at a construction site and before journalists and camera crews could arrive on the scene, the BBC had been e-mailed about 600 photographs by witnesses at the site.

This is truly amazing: hundreds of people participated in news gathering of a relatively minor event. With the wide spread adoption of camera phones and the coming addition of Wifi to digital cameras, such news gathering will become standard. This will accelerate the demise of the century old practice of news organizations publishing or broadcasting on a set schedule, e.g. morning newspaper and 6pm news broadcast. As news organizations continue to make this transition, there will be more and more opportunities for anyone to participate, through pictures, videos, sound and/or text, in the news process.

Are you a Big Time Content Worker?

In Content workers on April 19, 2006 at 12:01 pm

A Big Time Content Worker (BTCW) is someone who works (reads, watches, listens, creates, communicates, etc.) with content almost all of the work day.

  • If you work in a cubicle or an office or at a desk in an open work area, you are a BTCW.
  • If you travel most of the day to different locations where you primarily talk to people about their situations, you are a BTCW.
  • If your work day involves being in constant contact with customers, suppliers, partners, team members, bosses, etc., you are a BTCW.

During my academic career, I was a BTCW. I read academic literature and the major business publications, I wrote comments about what I had read, I prepared lectures and other classroom exercises, I wrote and graded exams, I prepared and conducted research projects, I wrote articles and books that described my research, I conducted classes, I consulted with managers, I made speeches, I talked with my colleagues, I participated in committees, I wrote committee reports, etc. My entire academic life was the life of a BTCW.

During my engineering career, I was a BTCW. I studied a problem, I devised a solution, I designed the mechanical devices needed for the solution, I tested it, I wrote a report about my solution and the test, I did a business analysis of the feasibility of my solution, I presented my results, I argued for the implementation of my solution, etc. I did all of this while working in an office, cubicle, laboratory, and production facility.

The more I think about white collar workers as Content Workers, I see that a large fraction of them are probably Big Time Content Workers.

Participation Age Perestroika

In Content workers, Early Predictions, Technology on April 18, 2006 at 4:16 pm

The Participation Age is a new age for the planet, in general, and the United States in particular. As is the case in any new age, we must have a restructuring of our economy so that we can move from old practices into new ones. Such a reconstruction has been called a perestroika in the context of the restructuring of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s.

In the 1990 book Bionomics, Michael Rothschild provides an analysis and forecast of the perestroika associated with the emergence of the Participation Age.

"Most technical advances lead to only minor improvement in products and slight changes in the organization of work. A modified condenser might boost the power of a steam locomotive, but it wouldn't radically affect the work of the train's crew or fundamentally alter the economic role of railroads. But, in rare cases, an especially potent new technology will trigger a restructuring that ripples throughout the entire economy — from the lowliest work cells to the largest organizations. Today, as the twentieth century draws to a close, we are in the midst of precisely this kind of massive structural transformation. Because we lack the benefit of hindsight, we cannot fully appreciate the magnitude of the economic restructuring we are now experiencing. But our descendants will almost certainly judge the 'computer-on-a-chip' to be the most economically significant technical achievement of the previous 500 years. The microprocessor will rank at the very pinnacle of human invention because — like the printing press — it slashed the cost of encoding, copying, and communicating information. And, by doing so, it has brought vast areas of previously unattainable knowledge within human grasp and has made possible a staggering array of new products. Today these products are profoundly altering the capabilities of millions of work cells in every niche of the global economy. … By delivering on the promise of computer technology, the microprocessor thrust the world's capitalist economies into a new economic era — the Information Age. Robert Noyce, co-inventor of the integrated circuit and a founder of Intel Corporation, wrote: 'Just as the Industrial Revolution enabled man to apply and control greater physical power than his own muscle could provide, so electronics has extended his intellectual power. … As millions of microprocessors flooded into the economy, it was as if the information-processing power of each work cell's nucleus was abruptly and immensely multiplied. With their newly acquired personal computers, front-line managers began exercising a level of control that was previously unimaginable. Production cells that had always depended upon instructions from remote headquarters cells suddenly were empowered with enough information-processing capacity to make fast, rational decisions on their own. In short, microprocessor technology radically boosted the productive potential of every work cell in the economy. In a turbulent decade, with little conscious awareness of the fundamental forces at play, and without any plan, the economy spontaneously restructured itself in what amounted to an unsung American perestroika."

The key phrase: "microprocessor technology radically boosted the productive potential of every work cell in the economy." Every work cell, be it a person, group, department, remote location or team, could now use this new productive potential to participate independently. This is the very nature of the Participation Age.

Citizen journalism articles

In Citizen Journalism on April 17, 2006 at 11:37 am

Steve Outing, a leading authority on citizen journalism, has a web page that points to several articles he has written about citizen journalism. I point to it here because citizen journalism provides an easy and well supported area for participation by anyone who has stories to tell.

Outing wrote these pieces when he was with the Poynter Institute, a school for journalists, future journalists, and teachers of journalists (according to its web page). He reports that he is now starting a new venture to support those who want to participate:

"I left to devote my full time to a citizen-media-based startup company, the Enthusiast Group, which applies the concept that people are perfectly capable of telling their own stories and sharing them with the world to adventure and participant sports. EG is building a network of Web sites, each covering a different sport; the debut site is about mountain biking."

We can follow his adventure via his blog.

Content tools

In Content workers, Technology on April 12, 2006 at 11:48 am

In an earlier post titled "You are in the Content Business," I concluded that all white collar workers are Content Workers (CWs). As Content Workers they locate, combine, create, refine, store, protect, communicate and display content. In this work, they use Content Tools (CTs) such as computers, networks, software, hard drives, DVDs, phones, mp3 players, video devices, cameras, camcorders, PDAs and other digital technologies.

When we look at the world in this way, we can see that the digital technology industry is all about conceiving, designing, manufacturing and marketing CTs. That's what the digital technology industry does, year in and year out. In the 60s, the industry focused on large computer systems for office automation. In the 70s, the focus shifted to the medium-sized, time-sharing systems for use in factories, process control, etc. The 80s was the decade of the personal computer and its empowerment of the individual through productivity software. The 90s brought us two new networks: 1) the Internet for connecting all of those computers into a global universe, along with email, instant messages and the World Wide Web, and 2) mobile phone networks. So far, the 00s is the gadget decade with digital devices that connect to these networks and enable mobile content creation and management.

The Participation Age is enabled by these digital technologies. Each new generation of CTs allows non-experts to participate in the content world in ways that were previously reserved for the highly trained professional.

I.M. Generation

In Culture & society on April 11, 2006 at 12:01 pm

An article in the New York Times tells us that the business world has been invaded by the I.M. generation and that it will never be the same again. Prior to their arrival, business correspondences were conducted via email and voice mail, which are now on the decline in more and more firms due to viruses and spam as well as overflowing voice mailboxes.

Now a generation of office workers who grew up with instant messaging has gained control. They have made I.M. the new black, the latest trend in information technology. Along the way, they have changed how the corporate world converses and have built a series of new communication applications.

"With I.M., I know that someone is available, so I can take rapid action to support more real-time operations," said Ashley Roach, a server product manager at Jabber Inc., which sells open-source instant messaging server software.

Instant messaging is becoming an important ingredient for corporations that want to respond rapidly to demands from inside and outside. They are using it to tie customers closer together and to enable workers to communicate across the globe.

I look at this as just one example of the changes that are coming as youth enter the job market and bring along their tech habits acquired in high school and college. They simply participate in life in ways that differ from their elders, and they will participate in the work world in similar ways.

Internet enters Lego Era

In Content workers on April 7, 2006 at 12:06 pm

An article in the New York Times titled "Software Out There" opens with the statement that the Internet has entered the Lego Era because of the nature of the tools now available to people building software that runs on the Internet. Here is the essence of the argument made in the article:

Indeed, blocks of interchangeable software components are proliferating on the Web and developers are joining them together to create a potentially infinite array of useful new programs. This new software represents a marked departure from the inflexible, at times unwieldy, programs of the past, which were designed to run on individual computers.

As a result, computer industry innovation is rapidly becoming decentralized. In the place of large, intricate and self-contained programs like Microsoft Word, written and maintained by armies of programmers, smaller companies, with just a handful of developers, are now producing pioneering software and Web-based services. These new services can be delivered directly to PC's or even to cellphones. Bigger companies are taking note.

Being in the Lego Era means that people can construct new applications by piecing together existing components and services, a process that is much quicker than writing all of those components and services from scratch. Ray Ozzie, Microsoft's Chief Technology Officer, is quoted in the article as saying that this is leading to a power shift.

"For years, vendors like Microsoft have put huge resources into tools to build composite applications," he said. "With mash-ups, the real power becomes the people who can weave the applications together."

My interpretation of this statement is that the Lego Era is part of the Participation Age: many people can now participate in the world of software development by simply mashing-up the work of others to create something new.