Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Thomas Edison Effect

For anyone who has watched the development of computing, it is evident that the experience of vision and invention constantly must remind us of Thomas Edison, and his winning attitude that with every failed design the working light bulb came closer, which eventually proved to be correct.

In my own modest way I was able to see some of my visions realized when I was leading the design strategic IT systems for a shipping company, and even later I found out that some other designs of mine which were prototyped in the late 80's ended up being implemented nearly thirteen years after my departure from the scene.

Since the end of 2000 it seems I've been practicing bad timing, or so it seems for I got into the Internet game just when it was ending, working for what then seemed to be a promising ISP, Verio, just having been acquired by NTT of Japan, to form NTT/Verio. The most I got out of that was that they paid for a year of Japanese studies at the Japan institute in Manhattan, for the rest, I got to watch from the inside the collapse of the boom, which was then happening all around us and to us, and projects were going nowhere. In 2001 I got involved in the launch of a managed security service, with Riptech, later to be acquired by Symantec, to form Symantec Managed Security. The events of 9/11 squashed the fun. By late summer I had built up an interesting order book, but after 9/11 the market disappeared for about two years, and NTT/Verio was going through spasmodic RIFs every three months or so for all the time I spent with them, and by March 2002 my turn had come.

Regardless of all the frustrations, it was a fruitful period of exploring a lot of ideas which had been on my mind for a long time. It was during this time that my thinking about serious on-line collaboration began to take form, along with the fact that personal computers were such an obvious security disaster, that it should be possible to actually organize greater security on-line than a "personal computer," which from a security standpoint is leakier than a sieve. One of the first companies that I found really inspiring in that regard was, which is still in operation today. The magic of their infrastructure, which is pretty flexible, is that they have a built in, fully automated deployment of PKI, guaranteeing the integrity of communications within the domain. On the other hand the fallacy then is that in their standard consumer offering they provide access just based on username and password, which is inadequate identification for any type of secure transactions, but the potential exists to integrate secure identification, which today is available in many flavors.

At a later time, I began this blog simply to vent some of my ideas which I had not been able to realize, and that in turn led to a number of exchanges which some day may become fruitful.

Fundamentally I think that the whole thing about web 2.0 now makes it even more critically important to develop serious solutions for on-line personal workspace, which should be designed to provide better security than the physical world does, your PC in particular. The on-line world cannot offer us serious solutions as long as it exposes us to needless security risks, such as the avalanche of identity theft which is now going on. For the time being web2.0 is mostly driven by the ad-supported business paradigm, which seems to have become gospel, because of the evident success of Google, to such a degree that even Microsoft in its desperation is now working hard to compete with Google. Competition is good, if nothing else as a gauge to measure one's own progress, but any time businesses become obsessed with their competitors it usually spells trouble, for it indicates that they are in doubt about their own identity or mission. The effort is all about getting better returns from advertising, and the user experience is only the means to that end, which does not bode well for the user experience in the long term.

What is needed as a vision is an understanding that security, privacy are an asset, not a liability, and that the mission of online services should be to solve a customers problems, without giving them additional liabilities they did not have before. Consumer resistance to on-line payments is substantial as a result, because many consumers walk away when they feel their security and privacy is being threatened by the all around negligence of the on-line culture of the moment. In our future therefore the real solutions that will arise, which will form durable on-line businesses will need to be worth paying for. The ad-supported model leads companies to chase fads, and to permanently sacrifice the customers security and privacy, for ease of use, convenience, not to mention data mining, which remains an invasion of privacy no matter how you slice it. And just because the world seems to be in denial about it, does not mean the customer has lost their senses, and is not aware of it. There just don't seem to be many alternatives right now, although solutions like Safe-Mail play into this sentiment.

I believe that a fundamental analytical insight is that communication is not complete without a financial transaction capability, which is what remains one of the weak links on-line, and getting weaker by the minute with every theft of credit card numbers that are stolen. It seems to be a miracle that there are any left that have not been stolen. The mission is an integrated work environment which makes my on-line life a viable solution to the practical restrictions of the physical world, but as long as it increases my risk, with new and unacceptable exposures, it condemns itself to being a faddish and unstable business.

For any naive reader who thinks I'm too pessimistic about the current situation, think again, just now in the June 2008 issue of PC World, a columnist seriously recommends doing your on-line banking on a cell phone, since as of yet they have fewer security problems, and in another column I'm reading, the author suggest not entrusting ones medical data to either Google or Microsoft, unless and until there are laws to protect us. So, on the whole companies are their own worst enemies by taking the user for granted.

Copyright © 2008 Rogier F. van Vlissingen. All rights reserved.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Driving Out Fear

As I have argued for some time now in this blog, the digital divide is not there, it's here. To think that the failure of the digital revolution is in the fact that people in Zimbabwe don't know how to use a computer, or God forbid, don't have access to the Internet is silly.

The failure of the digital revolution lies in the fact that it's just another toy with which we've amused ourselves, which creates more problems than solutions, and which allows us to get side -tracked by problems that are never the real problem. Mainly we get totally obsessed about tools. Companies would be more profitable if the programmers only knew their jobs, and programmers would design better programs if they only had better tools, and after all the finger pointing is over then we outsource the whole shebang to India. And while sometimes they can do it either cheaper or better, more often than not the problems now surface some place else, so then we can bring the whole operation back inside, because new management issues simply make it too expensive to outsource and do it cheaper. Or we try to solve it with a new class of "legitimate" indentured servants with H1B visas.

In the '80's when I at times played an active role in corporate IT development, and became de facto the chief architect of strategic systems for my company, which was an international shipping company, my heros were EWD, WED, and WW, or in full, Edsger W. Dijkstra, W. Edwards Deming, and Walter Wriston.

EWD surely was one of the fathers of structured programming, and of the opinion that programming was a matter of applied mathematics, and that sloppy thinking was the main problem. Undoubtedly, he made a huge and very valuable contribution to the field. He was revered by his students at UT.

I used some amount of structured methodology to good effect.

WED for me hit the nail on the head with a lot of his writing and the methods he thought, and somehow I knew that the essence of it all was his insight that the first obstacle was to "Drive out fear!" And it is also the final obstacle, for fear causes us to design failure in, for failure subconsciously equals job security, since most people view themselves as problem fixers, "fixers," and thus dependent on an unending supply of problems.

Finally for me came Walter Wriston, and his seminal insights in the meaning of information in society and in business, starting from the powerful conclusion that Citibank was in the information business, not the money business. An obituary by Steve Forbes is telling. His writing on The Twilight of Sovereignty was remarkable, given the year, 1992, and it had been prefigured by an essay in Foreign Affairs years before. His insights were equally valuable as applied to management, for he saw that people building positions based on hogging information (always based on fear!), were their own worst enemies in the information economy. Which was not to say they'd stop doing it. Thirty years after Wriston put an internal revolution in motion, Citibank was still teaching clueless exectutives not to do so, but unable to give them reason to stop doing it, as the short term success of information hoggers was as clear as the certainty of their long term failure.

In my own work, I had found that I could sometimes successfully bring to bear the insights and methods of consent management, developed in Holland by Dr. Gerard Endenburg, see and

For some time I did some management consulting based on Endenburg's methodology, even though I did not like his name for it. His method is definitely part of the new economy solutions bin. But for me it came up short, as it still only addresses the problem of fear circumstantially, by changing conditions, not the cause.

And of course the cause is in the one place where we never want to look in this society: inside. Thus the issue can only be addressed from the top. Only if we do that is there any hope at all to change the games of hide and seek, which perennially surface in software engineering in massive project failures, which probably happen in 2/3rds of the large software projects. So even with the newest technologies, the only hope is in truly addressing fear in the organization, and that means leading by example, from the top down, and allowing solutions to surface. And you cannot do that without also changing the form in which the organization operates, but with todays communications tools there are no limits in what you can do. But without addressing the causes, better tools, or better working conditions, outsourcing or no, we'll just be moving the problem around, and doing nothing else but the proverbial rearranging of the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Copyright © 2008 Rogier F. van Vlissingen. All rights reserved.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Should you wait for Web 3.0?

The whole ad-supported mania is starting to leave a bad taste in people's mouths, and it is resulting in a wave of fads and fallacies, which may be appealing temporarily, but have little long term value in term of providing users what they truly need, because the quick hits always play into whims and wishes, not fundamental or well-understood needs. Plus security and privacy suffer, and people are getting fed up with that also. As always convenience wins out over security, which is still an after thought in most designs. Increasingly services are forgetting to provide convenient ways to interface with them for travellers or others who may either temporarily or permanently have to cope with bandwidth limitations. And social networks become clubs for the bandwidth rich. All those pictures aren't really that relevant!

Time for a change.

Copyright © 2008 Rogier F. van Vlissingen. All rights reserved.