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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Is Twitter another AOL?

If you remember the early days of the Internet, the hot place then was AOL. You could dial up into a world of content and services, all within the AOL walls.
And then there was the internet itself.

Now you can plug into an infinite stream of tweets through Twitter, and there are thousands of developers who built great tools and services around the core Twitter system. And then there is the rest of the world, with open source and open standards like OpenID, OpenStatus (OStatus), etc...
Twitter is a great public infrastructure today, and they provide huge value, but there is one flaw in this system: it is owned by one corporation controlled by just a few people and these people are on a deadline to sell Twitter to the highest bidder, so that they can return the money they invested, plus profit, to their limited partners. And it could be an IPO, which means that the control is transferred to another few people seating on the board of directors, whose fiduciary duty is to maximize the return for stockholders. Or it could be sold to a large corporation controlled by another set of few people on the board of directors, with a different agenda but a similar duty to maximize returns.
The users in this picture are just fuel into the system, they are not even customers at this point, not the best position to be in.
And similarly, all the developers who built services on top of this infrastructure are dependent on a system that they do not control. Not a good position to be in either.

So while AOL was great for a while and Twitter is great for now, I think that the real future is with a distributed network of Open Status enabled services like You can get the same functionality of publishing notices and following as many people as you like, and letting other services access your info to provide you additional value, but in a much more transparent, sustainable way.

The question is how long will it take to switch from one architecture to the next?
I am there already (, and you should too.


Google Apps is the next Google

I went to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory yesterday, and I was amazed to see on the doors of the buildings announcement presenting Google Apps. Google is now handling the email system for all these scientists, and not just the email, but also of course calendar, docs, etc...
If you had any doubt about cloud computing being the next generation architecture, here is a proof that it is real. I cannot imagine the security concerns that had to be resolved before Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory would actually commit to shift their internal system to Google Apps. But if they were confident that it is ok to do it, and get something better than what they had before in the process, there is no doubt that every business should at least take a serious look at the option.
From my side, I have been using Google Apps since the very beginning, it is a great service and it keeps improving, with new features coming out of Google labs on a regular basis. In addition to the basic services that you can expect from such a platform, Google Sites is a great way to get people into "wiki style" collaboration. Google Sites reduces greatly the barrier to entry for collaboration tools, with a simple interface to co-edit documents. A small change in the way you work but a huge impact on team productivity.
If you haven't done so yet, make sure to take a look at Google Apps!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Social Enterprise Summit and World Forum: why you should attend

Post originally published here.

After my earlier post about the Social Enterprise Summit and World Forum coming up April 28-30 2010, I have had an opportunity to talk to Bill Strathmann, who is the CEO of Network for Good, and also Vice Chair at the Social Enterprise Alliance. Here are my impressions on the summit after that discussion:

1. The Social Enterprise Alliance has a very narrow definition of what a Social Entreprise is. They define it on their website as "an organization or venture that achieves its primary social or environmental mission using business methods". So we are looking at businesses with a very specific focus on resolving social issues, and located somewhere in the middle of the "do-good" spectrum between corporations involved in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) on one side, and non-profits on the other. BUT don't feel excluded, please keep reading...

2. Despite this narrow definition, I believe that the summit should be of interest to a wide audience:
- because, on the down side, the reality is that the problems that we face today around the world are too big to be fixed by just relying on Social Enterprises to do the right thing while everybody else keeps doing business as usual
- and because on the up side, the ideas that are coming out of Social Enterprises, and the best practices that can be identified from the existing implementations, can be very useful to corporations trying to get into creative capitalism, and to non-profit trying to evolve towards a more sustainable model of doing business than relying on grants.
So really everybody should come to engage.

The summit is set to deliver a lot of great content to enable real change, because beyond the various tracks offering knowledge sharing and discussions on best practices for social entrepreneurs or would-be social entrepreneurs, it is opening the doors to a larger discussion. The title of this summit is "New Approach, New Economy" and it is bringing up important questions, and prospective from key stakeholders:
- the first plenary session takes a look at what governments are trying to do to help social enterprises, with representatives from Canada, UK and US governments.
- the second plenary session gets into "how to think different", with a look at system thinking
- and the summit offers opportunities for side discussions through the "Dine around" program and through tours of local social enterprises, great opportunities to mix and brainstorm on the next best thing.

With this great content and these key stakholders, and in order to get the perfect mix, who should come?:
- corporations currently involved in CSR and interested in creative capitalism should send people at this conference, so that they can identify opportunities to serve markets that they have ignored so far. The creation of Grameen-Danone Foods is a great example of what can be done by corporations when they open their mind to such new opportunities.
- non-profits should come to learn how it is possible to introduce new revenue streams into their programs so that the people they help can be engaged better and longer, and so that they can become more sustainable by relying less on grants and more on a solid business model. According to Bill Strathmann the message from the Social Enterprise Alliance to Foundations is that they should consider spending more grant money on financing the creation and/or growth of social enterprises rather than on financing spending programs that require new grants year after year. And I agree that they should.
- and of course all entrepreneurs should be involved, because business is social and entrepreneurs achievements emerge from the ecosystem that they were able to build around themselves.

Ultimately the success (from my prospective) of the social enterprise movement will be when we can get rid of the word "social enterprise" because we will have learn to do business the right way, maximizing the returns for all the stakeholders rather than maximizing the returns for the stockholders. This is the culture that Entrepreneur Commons (my own social enterprise dedicated to helping you the entrepreneur) is nurturing, and I look forward to attending this summit, to learn more what can be done and how.