Friday, March 08, 2002

Been reading Jeneane's Allied blog, particularly this recent piece about IM, threads ML, etc.

I think it may be relevant here, because:
- it is another communications mechanism, which means it will inevitably be used for marketing at some point (Microsoft already advertise their own products in MSN Messenger, but I mean in a more invasive manner - messages from marketing wonks complete with pop-ups, bells, whistles: yikes!!)
- it has another voice, different from blog as blog is from email, as email is from phone, as phone is from snail-mail, as snail-mail is from face 2 face, etc

IM at work has been part of my experience of subverting the enterprise, not in a destructive way, but a means of having communications with distant parts of the company that are invisible (the communications not the distant parts) to the ever-vigilant security organs of larger corporates where I tend to be employed (they have the money, that's why).

Email is usually monitored and often recorded in these companies, and phone logs typically scrutinised with occasional recording of actual content, but so far I don't know of any IM logging, wiretapping, or eavesdropping. So it enables an intracorporate conversation that is more or less real-time and more or less secure from unwanted inspection. When you work, for example, as part of a sales force remote from the manufacture or R&D units, and your only other conduit for information is the marketing department and their (sometimes) dubious notions of how technical detail ought to be rendered intelligible to corporate purchasers, then this subterranean access can be invaluable.

IM also allows contact with other parties outside of the company in similarly covert manner; again, an often invaluable conduit for truth both inwards to, and outwards from, the company.

On the commercial side, the ongoing balkanisation of IM is stupid, petty, and self-defeating. "Standards" efforts notwithstanding (the IM players could have simply left their services interworking at the outset, as they already were), these same players are consciously and deliberately trying to isolate "their" users from other services' users. It never seems to occur to them that their users might not like the implication that the service provider owns them.

Metcalfe* could have told them that such self-imposed isolation costs them more than it ever earns, for example the Mobile SMS operators have gradually learned this lesson from the EU's politically imposed interworking of SMS across western Europe, and gradually they are beginning to have SMS interworking on a global scale to match the voice interworking of the landline telephony network that we have all come to take for granted.

*Metcalfes Law can be stated as: "The value of a network is proportional to the number of conections times the value per connection. Since the value per connection is also proportional to the number of connections, the total value is proportional to the number of connections, squared."

I have often asked my consulting clients in the IT&T industry to consider a simple thought experiment: Imagine the income and custom they would lose if they isolated their telephony network from the global PSTN. Although they will universally acknowledge the validity of this experiment, they are still slow to apply it to other internet or PSTN based services where they think they have some chance to "corner the market."

(PSTN=Public Switched Telephone Network, i.e. the global telephony network)

The SMS operators are, however, doomed. IM direct over IP to the mobile handset will wipe them out. Oh sure, the mobile operator will still be able to charge for the IP packets delivered to the handset, but they will rapidly lose the ability to differentiate high value from low value packets, and thus to charge accordingly. Shed no tears for them, but realise the inevitability of this process.

As for IM standards, they will either come through the tardy and tawdry efforts of the big commercial bozos, or people like Dave Weinberger will do what they've done with blogging and SOAP and simply do what the internet has always done: route around deliberate obstruction as if it were inadvertent failure, thus rendering it obsolete and irrelevant.

Either way, their marketing departments will not have the opportunity to drive the process into a commercial cul de sac lined with screaming monologues to buy Marek J's Fabulous Soap Products, but will simply have to watch as people use the new services in ever bigger numbers, and try hard to think of some means whereby they can *attract* these people rather than repulsing them (as I would hold they overwhelmingly now do).

The Reading Gonzo - Engaged party blog will be ready and waiting for them.

P.S. Metcalfe's Law also offers some areas of consideration for rebutting the very pertinent objections to GM that have been raised on this blog previously. While the number of connections may be small, the value per connection is also amenable to increase, and much marketing research shows that the majority of customer-supplier relationships increase in value and profitability the longer they last in time. A Gonzo Micro Market would seem to be naturally long lasting due to the personal interests of the members. This blog itself being a case in point. Look how long its been going. Look how many of us have persuaded each other to purchase things we might never otherwise have given consideration. Hell, I'm even thinking about reading Cixous!

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