The Dog told me

I wrote this a few weeks ago before a trip to New York. While getting in and out of cabs or walking down the street, I lost or was relieved of my EVDO card, plunging me back into the darkness that preceded it.
Written by Steve Gillmor, Contributor on

I wrote this a few weeks ago before a trip to New York. While getting in and out of cabs or walking down the street, I lost or was relieved of my EVDO card, plunging me back into the darkness that preceded it. I sent this post, along with several additional paragraphs designed to trigger a sense of urgency, to Seth Goldstein, my cofounder of AttentionTrust and CEO of Root Vaults, and Dan Farber, my editor at ZDNet and Gillmor Gang cohort.

Dan responded with a detailed dissection of the piece, generally asking for more detail and supporting facts. Seth wanted less, more simplicity, to get to the underlying fundamentals. They both, of course, are right. Nonetheless, having replaced my EVDO card and waited long enough to provide some of both requests (some Gillmor Gangs and Gillmor Dailys that cover the intervening weeks and a boiled-down abstract for use in my session on Gestures at Etech) this now reads well enough for me to ship it with a few edits:

First, Office is dead. The chorus of "Gillmor is nuts" from Scoble, O'Kelly, Carr et al in no way refutes the facts. I may be nuts, but then so is Bill Gates, who as Scoble pointed out so presciently produced his 2010 future scenario keynote entirely without PowerPoint. Who needs a presentation program when they can demonstrate what they're talking about with live objects? As Lotus ScreenCam pioneered many years ago, just record the instructions to the screen and audio drivers rather than the bitmaps.

The only problem with the 2010 scenario was that it demoed what is already in play. Portability of data? Gmail. Constant access to data? EVDO. Abstraction of the OS? Ditto. And the actual firmware? Video headsets cost 2X the video iPod today; why does Bill think the Table will ever see Amazon or iKea.live when you can virtualize it with translucent specs that autoswitch to "live" based on a voice or other gesture.

EVDO obviates the rich client. Note I use EVDO as a placeholder for persistent connectivity services. Alchemy-like intelligent caches are all that is necessary for 95% of all behavior on the network. Ajax was initially held back not be its viability but its disruptive impact on Office. Google and Yahoo have no such issues. As Jon Udell notes, our conversation with Brendan Eich on a recent Gillmor Gang shows the roadmap for Firefox virtualization of calendaring presages Google's entry in the field, the last critical milestone for Office replacement as a core productivity suite. (In the meantime, I'm enjoying SpongeCell, thank you very much. Amazing how quickly Steve Sinofsky posted the Windows Live screenshots, isn't it...)

Much is made of the entrenched position of Office in the enterprise. Certainly IT wants to maintain control, as does middle management. Microsoft's move with Office 12 into workflow and potentially RSS will validate some upgrades, but just as Office 97 was driven from the home over the objections of IT, so will GOffice bust through corporate silos as IT attempts to wall cross-domain communications off. Whoever offers users more dynamic, relevant information flow will win. This is the Attention model, and rich has nothing to do with it.

Who is ahead in Attention? Here's my ranking of the players on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the most evolved:

  • Google 9
  • Yahoo 8
  • MS Live/MSN 8
  • Skype/eBay 7
  • IAC 7
  • Apple 6

There are certainly others (Amazon, Walmart, Comcast) but I'm more interested in the transformation to a Gesture model than relative investment in a post-Office environment. Google ranks high because of all their so-called "beta" marketingware, which derives in aggregate a much more sophisticated attention sample than either their "richness" or revenue suggests. Gtalk is bridgeware across the hardware platform divide--I use it (at least the IM part) across Mac and Tablet seamlessly. Adsense may only be 20% of Google's current revenue, but it is an enormously potent attention farm as compared to the relatively coarse Adwords model.

Speaking of keywords, splogs have lobotomized keyword feeds without an apparent replacement. As Doc Searls points out on a Gillmor Daily recorded at MacWorld, he no longer tracks blogs or even people, but rather themes, issues, ideas. I've noticed posts on the Gillmor Gang forming around subjects (DRM, Attention, Identity) rather than companies (GYM) or even guests (Brendan Eich, Kim Cameron). Faced with qualityglut, we're searching (pardon the expression) for levers to intermediate the attention stream.

Speaking of levers, let's look at those same clouds ranked according to Gestures:

  • IAC 9
  • Skype/eBay 8
  • Apple 8
  • Yahoo 7
  • Google 7
  • MS 6

IAC and Apple rank highest because of Bloglines and iTunes, Bloglines because its sample of opt-in gestures (subscriptions) model the blogosphere and iTunes for its albeit skewed modeling of the podosphere. Skype combines its presence and IM signalling data with eBay's transactional cloud, although the two are not yet intermingled or available via API. Google's Web Clips feature of the Desktop suffers from its Windows only heritage, but its discovery engine would be highly leveraged if it were made transparent to gestures.

How important these rankings are depends on whether lower ranked players such as the GYM crowd can improve their responsiveness to users, and whether there is a meaningful advantage to be derived from first mover or leadership in the Gesture space. There is much talk in the blogosphere and particularly the VC segment about the supposed commoditization of aggregators, triggered mostly by consolidation (Newsgator/FeedDemon/NetNewsWire) and Microsoft's entry with Vista at the platform level. Certainly Vista would appear to improve Microsoft's chances of closing in GestureRank, though the extent that Office diehards slow down RSS penetration may retard that move.

More damaging is Microsoft's refusal to allow continued support for Windows Media Player on the Mac, ostensibly as a punishment for Jobs' alleged hardware/software lock-in. To the extent that Firefox provides cross-platform attention farming, neither of these walled gardens are particularly effective ineither squashing or enhancing user control of their metadata. This is significant because the yearning for gestures is driven by the freedom of user control that is growing to outweigh the relatively small delta between reach and rich and OS or application best of breed characteristics. Simply, lock-in is based on lack of transparency, mobility, property, and economy, the four foundational principles of the AttentionTrust.

Or even simpler, trust. Trust beats search, hands down. How do we establish trust? By showing our true nature. How can we trust those who don't trust themselves to be transparent? Why is Scoble so refreshing a wind across the Pacific Northwest? Because we sense we know him, warts and all, avid enthusiast, father, defender of the undefendable, remaker of the undefendable into something he (and therfore we) can trust. By balancing on this high wire, sometimes elegantly, other times clumsily, but always honestly, Robert sets a bar for the rest of us, including himself, a little higher each time he returns to the fundamental note.

Examine the Scoble model and I suggest he has created two channels of output: a traditional role as content creator, marketer, public. relations, evangelist, and a new powerful role, gesturer, which establishes and then lends authority to his other role. Some of his most powerful gestures--expressing his desire and respect for competitors such as Google and Apple--potentially could damage his traditional source of compensation. But in truth he is wrapping himself in the community of the user-in-charge, thereby indemnifying himself from most insults except the occasional bonehead move. Even then he establishes a wellspring of goodwill and trust that carries him over those oh-too-human foibles.

Examine the spread of the Attention Economy thread and you'll find its potency increased virtually without identifiable support. Like RSS there was no authority figure behind it. No standards body, no bigco endorsement, no apparent connection between utility and monetization. Seth Goldstein and John Battelle aptly illustrate the academic and commercial history from Goldlhaber to Google's database of intentions, yet nobody spent a nickel's worth of time on it until, well, until I started being unable to see the world through anything other than attention-colored glasses.

The ugly truth of the 60's we all refused to accept was that smoking pot did lead to the harder stuff--getting high and not smoking pot. Does anybody still think the reason the Beatles got famous was because Brian Epstein put them in suits? The technology revolution is about the power of the infinite, the capacity of each of us to imagine, and if we can imagine, then learn how to build it. The attention revolution is not about what we do, it's about what we aspire to do. If I can get this much done today, how can I do more tomorrow? If this is true, then what else is true?

Finally, to gestures. If attention is true, then what now? If Office is dead, then what replaces it? The inforouter. How does that work? Poorly, at first. Poorly in the sense that the river of news is poor. Poor in the sense that when everyone can have an executive information system for the price of a connection, then how do we make paradise function more efficiently? Poor like the lowest paid millionaire at Google. Poor in the sense that every client is a rich client. Not poor, just uneducated.

How do we teach the inforouter? By inverting the pyramid. Ask not what the Net can do for you; ask what you can do for the Net. I gesture, therefore I am. Blogging is not a gesture. What the blog is about is. What the feeling of the post is. The humor, the benign neglect, the faux disrespect, so many inversions of the outgoing search model. Can you imagine the granularity of the gesture field? No more lowest common denominator required. Gesture directly to those who are listening to you. If you have money, that's good. If you have predictive insight about those with money, that's even better. If you have complete and utter affinity for something, that may turn out to be just as good or better.

The outgoing search model. Did you squirm at that one? A gesture. Not a fact, an assertion. Familiar too--Office is dead is another one. Still not convinced about Office. OK, explain why I'm wrong. Office is strong in the enterprise. OK, what percentage of time do you use Word, Excel, and PowerPoint? Outlook? The browser? For many, it goes like this:

  • Email 40%
  • Browser 30%
  • Word, Excel, PowerPoint 30%

I'm being generous, but let's say that's the enterprise breakdown. Enter RSS:

  • Email/IM 40%
  • RSS/Browser 40%
  • Word, Excel, PowerPoint 20%

This posits you staying with Outlook, replacing some PowerPoint work with a blog/RSS feed, and moving some document creation from Word to blog posts. Now the pressure begins, as RSS pushes some mainstream media (Times, Journal, tech news) toward linking of specific interest articles by thought leaders aka the blogosphere. Something has to give, and it's called Outlook. Gmail enters the game:

  • Email/IM/Skype 30%
  • RSS/Browser 50%
  • Word, Excel, PowerPoint 20%

Gmail absorbs some IM traffic due to its conversation threading, which also manages workflow in a rudimentary but more elastic way, particularly across multiple enterpises and virtual teams. RSS volume increases to breaking point, taking too much time for comprehensive results and forcing triage across multiple machines. This is where we are now. Attention services emerge to reduce RSS time to accomodate enterprise IT backlash.

Enter gestures:

  • EVDO 20%
  • Inforouter 60%
  • Gesture production 20%

OK take a deep breath and relax. EVDO eliminates offline usage for all but airplanes, and Skype economics mitigate a percentage of that silo. Attention tuning will reduce RSS overload but not noise to signal, forcing seller's market for gestures as gesture-aware routers and clouds take over RSS market. Here is where Google must rapidly integrate attention services across Desktop, Reader, Gmail, Gtalk, and GCal, and then bite the transparency bullet hard. In effect, the inforouter absorbs email, presence, and audio/video services, breaking the portal model by inverting search from user-triggered to information communication requests. Gesture interpolation and synthesis replaces virtually all Office document production as information publishers line up for permission to push content and track attention to validate gesture rankings.

I know this ends abruptly, but then so did the SuperBowl on that nifty wide receiver pass play. 

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