Weeknotes #219

This week I did:

Uncertainty to certainty

It’s been a really productive week at work. My focus has been on trying to encourage discussions and force decisions to make uncertain things certain. It’s meant asking some awkward questions like, “if you had to choose between those two things you said were both priorities, which would you pick?”, but feels like it’s drawing out some principles which we’re using to create models and frameworks that guide decisions. And so we’re getting close to the point of defining the scope of work for the developers to get on with. It makes me think about Basecamp’s hill chart concept as one that visualises how uncertain or certain a particular thing is. I keep looking for other metaphors and ways of communicating how much more thinking needs to be done to get a thing to the point of definition where it can be communicated clearly in writing or images or maps and so is ready to roll down the other side of the hill.

Swam in sea

I went to the beach and swam in the sea. In October. In the rain. It felt amazing. It didn’t feel cold at all. If I lived closer to the sea I’d do it every day. It’s probably one of my highlights of the year.

Back to studying

Term started this week so I’ve been reading for the ‘Innovation Policy and Management’ and ‘Business Research Methods’ modules. Both look like really interesting topics and although the lectures got off to a bumpy start (part of me thinks a major university really should have figured out online education by now and another part of me thinks that it shows just how out of their depth universities are) I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve also started thinking about my dissertation which will probably be about understanding the innovation models used in the charity sector.

Micro business models

I’ve been thinking about micro-business models; very small, easily testable implementations of what could be a full scale business model. Making them really small makes them easier to understand and articulate and the two I’ve done this week are around creating shortcuts for people that they pay a small amount for to have access to something they can leverage for large benefit to themselves. The micro-business model I’m thinking of includes: Idea, Premise, Hook, Production, Distribution.

The first one is: Create Twitter lists → Sell lists on Gumroad → Get people instantly connected to over a hundred experts in a particular field or topic. In this model the payment is one-off but value is ongoing if the customer subscribes to the list and uses it proactively.

The second is: Pay £5 a month (unless than paying £2 a week to do the lottery) to join a distribution list (SMS or Whatsapp) → Every day I’ll listen to the radio for ‘the phrase that pays’ and I’ll send it to you → You enter your phone number on the radio station website to enter the competition → If the radio station calls you, you say the phrase and win a large amount of money. In this model the payment is regular and there are two value points, one where I’m making it easier and cheaper for the customer to enter the competition (that entry costs 25p a day whereas if you enter by texting the radio station it will cost £2 every time you enter), and then there is the possible value of winning £50,000.

The third I’ve been thinking about but haven’t done yet is (because it isn’t very micro, it wuld be a lot of work): Read, interpret and review academic papers on topics such as innovation → Write educative articles that encapsulate the concepts and connections in the paper (something papers don’t do very well themselves, they generally only reference other articles to prove their own points) → Create summary Twitter threads for each article with a link → Use OnlyTweets to collect subscription payments for access to the threads.

Clearly, the thing missing from all of these examples is any kind of growth/marketing model, but I’ll think about that later.


And I read:

Reflections on a systemically-informed service to disrupt criminal exploitation

This is amazing. “The Children’s Society’s work to develop a systemically-informed service to disrupt child criminal exploitation” includes inspiring statements like, “develop hypotheses and a portfolio of experiments to try and change ‘the system’ at the point of arrest” and “The words complicated and complex are often used interchangeably. But systems theorists will tell you they have very different meanings, with huge implications for how you interact with these systems”, and “The words complicated and complex are often used interchangeably. But systems theorists will tell you they have very different meanings, with huge implications for how you interact with these systems”. I’m a big believer in the idea that the only way to make a change in anything is to go deep to understand the systems and structures and go wide to understand the cultural and social impacts. I think The Children’s Society approach to systems-informed thinking places them at the leading edge of positive change in society.

The hinge of history

I’ve been reading about the idea of the Hinge of History, that now is the most influential period of time ever and will have a profound effect on the future of the human race.

Whether now is the exact moment of the hinge of history seems unimportant (well, perhaps not unimportant but unknowable). What is important is our increasing understanding of tipping points, scalability, network effects, exponential growth, and how natural and social systems can experience massive effects from small causes (which differs from our old conception of cause and effect where the effect was within the same order of magnitude as the cause).

The key role of the charity digital lead

I read The Catalysts article looking “at the growing number of charities employing dedicated digital leads – and whether this trend is key to strengthening the sector’s digital capabilities.” It’s interesting to me for two reasons; one it seems based in research not opinion, and two, it explicitly challenges the narrative around ‘digital should be in every part of the charity’, which of course it should, but the challenge is in how to get there. This article calls out the need for people with a digital mindset and and a digital focus in their work. The other narrative I often hear around digital is that the word shouldn’t be used in job titles. That might be appropriate for digitally mature organisations (if there is such a thing) but I think using the ‘D’ word as much as possible is part of bringing about change in organisations to challenge old thinking and ways of doing.


Thought about:

Jumping ahead

Once you have a certain amount of context, some solutions to problems become obvious even if you haven’t yet worked through the logical steps to arrive at that solution. Is it ok to jump ahead or should you trust more in the discipline of the process to prove step-by-step that its the right solution?

Serendipity engine

I’ve been trying out a few different tools for bringing new things into my awareness, what someone I can’t remember called a ‘serendipity engine’. The idea is around get a focused but diverse range of content to keep a steady flow of ideas developing. I use Twitter to follow interesting people, Email newsletters to get medium-form content on subjects I’m interested in, PMAlerts to find things on Twitter (and a few other places) that are outside my usual sphere, and Tentacle to get alerted when certain blogs publish new posts. The problem is that as the number of inputs increases the engine gets clogged and reduces serendipity because I have to make choices about which to read based on previous performance, which is not the way to allow for serendipity.

The axioms of charity x the axioms of digital = ?

What are the axioms (self-evident truths and generally accepted statements) of charity (the concept, the sector and the type of organisation)? The “Definitions and Axioms Relative to Charity, Charitable Institutions, and the Poor’s Laws” from the eighteenth century is interesting but not really what I’m looking for, so here are some ideas of my own: Charities are connected to a single (although sometime quite broad) cause only. Charities select an insurmountable challenge to ensure their continued existence. Charities organise people around the mission.

And what are the axioms of digital? Maybe: Digital technology relies on the internet. Digital mindset utilises the knowledge and thinking about how the internet works. Not sure, needs more work.

I wonder what you’d get if you built up from merging those two sets of axioms so that ‘charity’ and ‘digital’ are so deeply intertwined that we get the first truly digitally-native charity.

Digital charity showcase

I’ve been thinking about whether a showcase website of digital projects, products and services from charities might be useful, is there a problem to solve there, is it something worth spending time on. I started playing with some charity data and API’s from the Charity Commission and CharityBase and I’ve been wondering if I could make my Digital Tools list more charity focused, perhaps almost as some kind of guide. I’m not sure if or how these things are connected but I’ll keep some notes about them in my workspace and see if anything develops in the future.


Some people tweeted:

Ethical design

Tamara tweeted, “Ethical design inspires trust and can be the difference between someone engaging with your mission and forgetting you all together. It involves:

  • Informed consent
  • Voluntary participation
  • Confidentiality
  • Safety
  • Accessibility”

This feels like a really important point. My thinking about ethics is that we can’t adopt fixed positions but we can negotiate and make choices about what is important to us, and it’s that questioning to reach what we think is the right decision that makes something like website design ethical or not. To say, our website is ethical because we did x, y, z, but have not questioned and discussed whether the ethical choices made by someone else and copied as some kind of ‘best practice’, are really right for the audience of the website, isn’t ethical to me. Ethics requires questioning things like ‘how much should we design the UI to direct users to take actions and how much should we give free choice?’.

Why bad news works in fundraising

Jeff Brooks tweeted, “Why bad news works in fundraising“, with a link to his article in which he says, “People are more responsive to problems and enemies than to happy, fully resolved situations. They grasp what you’re saying more easily and quickly. The impression is deeper. The motivation to respond is stronger.” It makes a certain amount intuitive sense, especially given the context of a charity which people are aware of when approached for fundraising. I think I remember seeing examples of charity TV adverts that do have a happy ending, and I wonder if any supporter experience teams design things like email stewardship around taking a supporter on an emotional journey. If supporters only every get bad news from charity, how does that affect their relationship with the charity and their propensity to give?

30 Twitter threads in 30 days

Mario tweeted, “30 Twitter threads in 30 days“. I like these kinds experiments in building an audience. Mario grew his follower count but 2,500, which based on his current count looks like a 50% increase. I wonder how much the number of followers you have on Twitter and how ‘in-common’ they are affects the success of (in fact I’m pretty much sure it does). Mario also mentions in his thread how important things like the topic of the thread are and using quotes. Twitter is an interesting place for audience building but only in conjunction with being known elsewhere, I don’t think it works on it’s own. Of course audience building only works if you have something to build an audience for.

Simple digital business models: pipelines using platforms

Pipeline business models create value in a linear way, usually through a one-way value-adding production process such as turning wood into furniture or grapes into wine. Platform business models generate value in a networked way, often by connecting buyers and sellers, producers and consumers

But pipelines and platforms aren’t mutually exclusive, they interact in all kinds of different ways to form our ever-changing economic ecosystem.

A simple pipeline business model like this requires production, promotion and sales. That’s the same whether you are making furniture or icons. Pipeline businesses are quicker and easier now than they were 10, 20, 50 years because platforms exist. Without the platform business models of Twitter, Gumroad, and lots and lots of others, those pipeline businesses would never be able to get started because of the high level level of investment. Platform business models drastically reduce the investment required to start a business using a pipeline model.

The production of digital goods

Digital goods are different from physical goods. They have completely different economics. There is always a production cost to physical goods (the drive of manufacturing over the last few decades has been based on the idea of ‘economy of scale’, of minimising the marginal costs through higher quantities) whereas digital goods, because they are replicable, have near zero marginal costs. Once you’ve paid to create it once, producing the second, third, etc., costs almost nothing. And as every version is sold at the same price, the return on investment from digital goods increases the more that sell, whereas it stays (roughly) the same for physical goods.

Digital goods suffer from a knowledge problem. You don’t know how valuable they are until after you’ve paid for them. You can’t inspect them before purchase in the way you can with a piece of furniture. The knowledge problem is overcome by extending it beyond the goods themselves to the person or brand selling them and their reputation.

Using the Internet for promotion

The myth of being able to reach anyone on the internet is questionable, but the power of platforms like Twitter to reach more and (probably more importantly) different people is undeniable. But it requires different thinking from the traditional approach of ‘putting an ad in a magazine’. The ideas of using networks, building an audience of interested people, openness and transparency and ‘sharing the journey’ to create connection, and many other approaches align to and utilise the nature of the platforms. On platforms reputation is currency, because reputation follows the rules of platforms.

Sales

Selling costs. Processing an order for a digital good and a payment has per-transaction costs that (as yet, until someone comes up with a new financial system) conform to pipeline rules. But anyone selling still needs a means for taking their customer’s money. Sales platforms like Gumroad provide the functionality for making the sale and taking the payment (through other platforms). They enable the pipeline businesses. Without the platforms all those pipelines would have no means of making a sale or fulfilling an order.

There are so many different ways developing digital business models, from combinations of pipeline and platforms, all enabled by the infrastructure of the internet. I think there may be some other commonality but I don’t know what it is yet.

In defence of Digital; why it is and should be ‘a thing’

Every so often the ‘what is digital?’ question comes up on Twitter in one form or another. It always gets lots of reaction, mostly from people who work in the digital industry so the term carries all kinds of meanings, experiences and contexts, but the reaction often seems to be cynical and sceptical about the term. So here are my thoughts in defence of ‘digital’. 

Digital is just another fad

Phrases get used without any agreement about what they mean, and then the argument becomes about the definition rather than the thing itself. ‘Agile’, ‘Innovation’, and of course ‘Digital’ are all terms that suffer from a lack-of-definition problem. Of course, depending on your point of view, a lack of definition can also be a good thing because it creates space for discussion and different meanings in different contexts. ‘Digital’ in its all-encompassing meaning, is not a fad. It is here to stay, as a part of life and business for certain, and as a phrase that describes lots of different things in lots of different contexts.

Digital is about new technology but it’s more than just ICT. I heard a definition once that said IT is the internal technology function for a business and Digital is the external facing technology that is used by an organisation’s customers to interact with them. There are a couple of interesting points there; the internal/external view of who the technology is being provided for and how they will use it, and that interaction is a key point for digital technologies. Working in an organisation you wouldn’t be surprised to use one system to access documents and a different system to submit your expenses, but if you were a customer using an app you’d expect to be able to manage your profile, process payments, and do whatever the app is designed do all within the same product. The expectations of internal and external are different. Digital technologies provide a fast and convenient interface between the organisation and the customer that isn’t constrained by the characteristics of physical interactions such as location and time availability.

Digital is just a channel. If your organisation markets itself using print, TV, and Google Adwords then seeing digital as just another marketing channel makes sense. Until you expand your view. As TV advertising became a mature industry people began to appreciate how it could influence the behaviour of the masses to propagate the idea of a dominant identity and that everyone should be trying to achieve that ideal through consumerism. As digital marketing is maturing it’s important that we understand how the speed and scale of misinformation campaigns, deep fakes, etc., can influence political outcomes. Digital isn’t just a channel, in the neutral ‘same as any other channel’ sense because of its power to influence so many people in such subtle ways so quickly. 

Digital is a behaviour. Just like the ‘mobile isn’t a device, it’s a behaviour’ mantra when smartphones were the new big thing, ‘digital’ is even more so a behaviour. Digital behaviours occur in how we socialise, shop, bank, entertain ourselves, etc., etc. They are so ingrained in the goings-on of so many people that it’s easy to forget that this behaviour is significantly different from non-digital behaviour. Payment is a good example. If you pay with cash, that’s the end of your involvement in that transaction. If you pay with a credit card, the merchant device checks your card has the contactless chip, takes your card identity token, sends it and the payment amount to the acquirer service, who contact your bank to check the card is allowed to be used, tells you the payment is taken, then overnight the transaction is submitted to a bank to bank transfer, along with fraud checks and recording information against your credit history, etc., etc. The data generated at every step is part of your digital identity and you don’t even see it or know how it is used.

Part of the realisation that digital is a behaviour also needs to permeate organisational thinking in how it invests in knowledge assets and when it expects return on those investments. It requires a shift away from the physical asset investment mindset that sees a large up-front investment produce diminishing returns over time to an intellectual asset investment mindset that sees an ongoing investment produce increasing returns over a longer time period. 

Digital isn’t just a fad, and it isn’t going away any time soon.

Digital is part of every thing an organisation does and so it shouldn’t be in job titles.

The argument that team names and job titles shouldn’t include the word ‘digital’ often comes from those who have been working digitally for some time and so recognise that for their context it doesn’t make sense. Marketing teams shouldn’t be called Digital Marketing because digital is just another channel. Product Managers shouldn’t be called Digital Product Managers because the digital interface is just one part of what they do. 

Sometimes, using the word helps others understand the difference. Digital marketing works differently to traditional print advertising. Products that are accessed over the internet require different delivery mechanisms, pricing models, etc., from a physical product. If the skills and knowledge required to make digital successful in an organisation are downplayed by not being mentioned (and team names and job titles are a really blatant place to do this) it could have the effect of slowing digital adoption rather than making it part of business as usual. Digital requires a different way of thinking so if it is consumed into business as usual the difference can be lost. Visibility is a big thing in organisations. If something is important enough it’ll be made visible. And conversely, things that aren’t made visible are considered not important. 

Digital is a part of everyone’s job, but if part of the job is make the organisation more digital then explicitly and visibility help.

Digital transformation is just another IT project 

If you’ve been involved in an organisation that has undertaken a Digital Transformation project then you’re probably as jaded about it as everyone else. 

Digital isn’t the problem. Transformation isn’t the problem. The problem is organisations convincing themselves that it’s an eighteen month project that can be updated to complete when everyone has a laptop, the marketing team have hired someone with AdsWords experience, and the IT team has rolled out Office 365. 

The reality, which doesn’t look so good in presentations to the board, is that the digital transformation of any organisation is going to take decades. Every business in your supply chain is going through a digital transformation, every industry and every market is going through a digital transformation, society is going through a digital transformation, every aspect of life is going through digital transformation. No surprise then that organisations that think it’s a quick project become very disappointed and don’t see the expected short term returns. 

Digital transformation will require no less than an entirely new worldview. This new worldview will involve understanding how the internet has changed everything about our world, from how networks create exponential growth and unpredictable effects, to how we no longer think of human beings as separate biological individuals, to how software is becoming the dominant species on the planet and increasingly more complex than the human brain can grasp. 

And digital transformation will require no less than entirely new business models to be built on top of this new worldview. These new business models will involve speed and scale our current businesses can’t even imagine, will utilise automation to the extent where entire industries are made up of software-as-a-business organisations providing services for other businesses that are just software, and, to ensure we aren’t painting a too utopian picture of the future, will drive further inequalities in society as although the entire human race experiences improved quality of life from the digital transformation of business and the world, the gap between the rich and the poor will get wider.

Digital transformation is essential for every organisation to survive in the 21st century. There are no other options. 

Week notes #199

This week I did some stuff…

Online mentoring

I’ve been working how we can use Microsoft Teams to facilitate online mentoring. Fundamentally, Teams is built as an enterprise collaboration platform with certain assumptions built-in, things such as everyone in the organisation knowing who each other is, which don’t always meet the needs of mentoring where safeguarding and privacy is really important. Our challenge is that Teams is the tool we have, and we won’t let not having the right tool stop us from enabling mentors to support young people, so we have to find ways to make it work. 

One of the things I like about my role is that I get to do a lot of zooming-in and zooming-out, so I move my thinking from almost philosophical ponderings about the value young people get from one-to-one mentoring to the technical details of how Teams handles permissions for certain types of users, and the organisational stance on safeguarding and the volunteers experience of using Teams in between. I think finding the best solution to a problem comes from being able to hold all those different and sometimes conflicting perspectives and figuring out which parts trade-off against which other parts. 

Teachers using Teams

Microsoft wants to get Teams into 27,000 schools across the UK. Lots of people don’t like MS Teams, and it certainly has its product peculiarities, especially if you are used to ‘one-product-one-function’ approach like using Slack for messaging, but Teams is a far more complex product, and I wonder if the hate comes from not taking the time to learn how it works and how to use it. I’m sure this is something all those teachers will go through as more schools introduce Teams.

If the schools had good IT people to teach the teachers, or if Microsoft provided really good onboarding, then Teams would make a huge impact on digitising schools, but I worry that it’ll come up against the same old problem of expecting the tech to solve/change everything and not do enough for the people using the tech. When Teams is used as part of an ecosystem with other MS products it could take a huge chunk of what schools do onto the internet. Teams and Sharepoint could be a far more effective intranet than lots of companies have. Timetables could be managed in Shifts. All school work could be done within documents in Teams, allowing teachers to provide fast feedback and students to iterate on their work. Lessons delivered via video could be recorded so that students can watch them again later if they missed anything or was absent. Chat between students and teachers would be secure and monitored for safeguarding issues. There are so many benefits schools could get from Teams and I can see a future of education where location is irrelevant and rather than attending a school because they live near it, students will attend ‘the school’ because it will be the one and only online education platform.

Anyway, back to real life. We’re using Sharepoint to build a content repository for teachers working with young people outside of mainstream education. Sharepoint can be used to produce some quite interesting public facing websites, but the question of whether Teams is the right frontend is an interesting one. On one hand, if teachers are using Teams in their school then they will be familiar with how it works and can switch accounts to access our content easily. One the other hand, it doesn’t look like a marketable product and something that will encourage adoption, especially if teachers have had a bad experience with their Teams. So, as with so many product decisions, deciding what to make trade-offs between is part of the challenge.

Cookies

I’ve become a bit obsessed with cookies (the website tracking files, not the confectionery) and how websites handle them. GDPR and the ICO say users should be given the choice about whether to accept non-essential cookies (those used for analytics, advertising, etc.) but the vast majority of websites don’t do this. I think it’s an interesting moral choice; should you respect your visitors enough to not track them without their permission, or as you own the website should you be able to implement things that work for your business objectives? 

It makes me think back to my old ‘hierarchy of compliance’ that says comply with laws first, e.g. GDPR, then industry specific regulations e.g. PCI-DSS, then your organisation’s policies, e.g. security, then your organisation’s procedures and practices. Should morals be first and above laws, or does it belong alongside every layer?

Browsers don’t differentiate between essential and non-essential cookies. If you block them all, some stuff on the site won’t work, and then you have to allow all cookies again. Browser controls are too blunt a tool. When Chrome shows that cookies are blocked on a page it uses a red square with an X in it, the universal sign for something bad or wrong. Interesting, but not surprising that Chrome tries to signal to us that blocking cookies is bad given Google advertising business model. 

But the Cookiepocalypse is coming. Before too long cookies won’t be a means of tracking users on a website. Some browsers block third-party cookies by default already. And Google looks like it’ll follow suit in time, but probably not before they’ve introduced a means to track users without cookies and so lock-in websites to using Google Analytics.

There’s so much to those little cookies, if I get time I’d like to write up all the stuff I’ve learned.

User Guides

I wrote some more for my Whiteboard product user guide, and tested how formatting in Google Docs renders as an ePub file. I’m keen to make my little shop of user guides the next project I put my time into after I’ve finished this term for my masters.

I’ve also started thinking about how this might evolve into online courses for using products more effectively, and how a course could be delivered by email, perhaps with a button in the email that triggers the next part of the course so that learners can control their own pace.

And studied some stuff…

Reinforcing business design decisions

An effective business model is made up of “business design choices that reinforce one another” (Osterwalder, 2005). This week’s lecture was about business models. Something that lots of people talk about and very few can explain. I like Osterwalder’s definition. It helps us understand that a business model isn’t a finished, discrete thing that exists ‘over there’, but actually is made up of lots of choices that in order to be successful need to reinforce each other. Lots of organisations, that probably don’t do enough business model thinking, seem to make choices that have them competing internally or one department requiring a level of support from another department that they don’t have the skills or people to do. A business with a good business model makes choices that makes the parts work together.

There are no rational agents

I listened to the recording of last week’s lecture about the nature of digital goods. It was about the nature of different types of goods and how defining them along the lines of excludability and rivalrousness leads to four types of goods: Private, which are things that a person can own and so prevent another from using and can only be used by one person at a time, e.g. a car, Public, such as street lighting which anyone can use and using it doesn’t stop anyone else from using it, Common-pool resources, which anyone can use but if they are that prevents anyone else from using them, and Club goods, like television which requires particular access and you watching a show doesn’t prevent anyone else from also watching it. It’s a bit of a revelation to me to think about the model for providing a product or service being driven at the micro level from the nature of the goods themselves and not from the marco level of whether the government or the commercial sector should provide it. Internet access (see Cassie’s tweet below) is an interesting example of this. Currently my access to the internet is somewhere between a private good and a club good, because I can prevent anyone else from using it, and has some technical limitations on how many people can all use it at the same time. To shift internet access to being a public good would require tackling the technical limitations that then mean everyone could access the internet and no one accessing it prevents anyone else from accessing.

As lectures this term have been digital, starting as video meetings with the lecturer presenting the slides and moving to recorded lectures for pre-watching and then group exercises and discussions over video calls, it has made me consider the format of lectures as a means of providing information. I got a lot more out of listening to the recording of the lecture and listening live, perhaps because the lecturer was more focused. Lectures often seem to have tensions between providing information because it’s part of the curriculum, providing some context and real-life examples to aid with learning, but not biasing the content. I have to sometimes remind myself not to get lost in exploring ideas.

The economics says that Public Goods shouldn’t work because a rational agent should free ride as they get all the benefits without any of the costs, but people aren’t rational agents they are social creatures which is why we have Public Goods paid for indirectly through taxes.

Bigger and better

Worked on my analysis of Shopify’s business model, digital product offering and pricing strategy. Shopify announced its partnership with Facebook and their stock price jumped up. I saw a tweet that said investing in Shopify after their IPO would have given you better returns than investing when they were at Series A funding, which is usually not the way those things work, and perhaps shows . Anyway, it’s been interesting to work on something that feels so ‘now’ but still uses economic thinking from the seventies.

And thought about a few things…

The business of charity 

Over the years there have been a few occurrences of business people thinking they can apply business thinking and techniques to make charities work more efficiently. It never works because charities are obviously different to businesses in lots of ways. Having been thinking about the nature of economic goods I wondered whether part of the reason for this misunderstanding is that the nature of the services charities provide are excludable and rival, like many commercial services. Being excludable means the services provided by a charity aren’t available equally to everyone, and being rivalrous means that if the service is already being used by someone it can’t be used by anyone else.

In contrast, a service that is non-excludable and non-rivalrous (the classic examples are lighthouses and streetlights) can be used openly by anyone regardless of whether anyone else is also using it. So I started thinking about how charity services could be public goods. The closest example I could think of was Citizens Advice, whose services are available to anyone via their website. They came from, and still have a rivalrous & excludable aspect in the face-to-face advice sessions that they provide, and I’m not suggesting that any charity should get rid of the face-to-face work they do if its meeting a need, but most service delivery charities haven’t figured how to make the shift, and arguably because most charities tackle issues that affect a small segment of society, but it’s interesting to think about the thinking of how they would scale services as public goods if they need to.

New news

I’ve got into email newsletters lately. Email, and so email newsletters seem to be making a come back. The idea that web messaging was going to kill email didn’t happen, instead email evolved, and I think for the better. I’ve mentioned before the trend of emails becoming more like an editable document that passes between people, so that’s one trend of improvement. The other trend is in improving how people use email, something hey.com is working on solving. And then the third trend is in the quality of content that utilises email’s unique features. Emails aren’t limited in size like a tweet, and can either contain all the content for the reader or links to more content. They can be read at a time that suits you and are easier to find later if you want to go back to something interesting.

Email newsletters are also a great means of building an audience as even if you took a no-tracking approach you’d still know how many people are sign-up to receive your newsletter. If email could solve the problem of being able to select which content you want to read before you get it (usually informational products problem) then I would definitely rather have the ‘our content/thoughts/opinions sent to me’ approach rather than ‘we put our content on our website and expect you to find it if you search hard enough. Also, an idea for a product, imagine getting search results by email rather than websites. Describe in greater detail what you are actually looking for and get a high-quality curated list of links emailed to you for you to read at any time. That’s pretty much how I search for things, it’s just that I do the work of copy-and-pasting into my notes.

And some people tweeted…

Internet for everyone 

Cassie Robinson tweeted, “Digital infrastructure should be considered a vital 21st century public good “We need to build a digital landscape that provides world-class connection to all, is sustainable, privacy-enhancing, rights-preserving, innovative & democratic by design.” Having studied public, private & club goods, and common-pool resources, it makes sense to me that access to the internet should be a public good (in the economic sense) that is available to everyone. If Raymond Coase was right when he wrote The Lighthouse Economics then existing purely for the good of society is enough of a justification for making a good public, and it would be hard to argue that internet access isn’t good for everyone. 

Limiting meetings in progress 

Woody Zull tweeted “Heuristic: If you spend “too much time in meetings”, it is likely that you have too much work in process. Limit WIP for a week and see how it affects your meeting time. Adjust accordingly.” ~@duarte_vasco

One of the replies to the tweet was about how many problems vanish when work in progress is reduced. I think this is because it reduces complexity across the whole system of work rather than just allowing individuals to focus more.

Fluid office 

The Verge tweetedMicrosoft’s new Fluid Office document is Google Docs on steroids”. Microsoft is getting into blocks in a similar way to tools like Notion, where a document (if there will even be such a discrete object in the future of work tools) is made up of lots of blocks from different sources that pull content and functionality into the ‘document’ you are working on. 

I think it’s another step in the journey of information moving from being centralied to be decentralised and distributed in an internet-y way, and the next step will be in how content is made discoverable to pull into a document, so the author doesn’t have to write original content that becomes locked into the document if someone else has already written it or the data is already available. Rather than having to go and find last year’s sales data and create a chart to then create an image to be embedded in the document, you would import the live data into the document and the chart would be up-to-date in real time.