Tuesday, November 20, 2007

ink-impressed tek-biz bound-bulk-pulp review “The Limits of Privacy” by Amitai Etzioni


With this present post, I’ve now reduced the still-gotta-finish-this-book stack to an illustrated history of Peanuts (key take-away: this classic 50-year strip hit a new plateau when Snoopy, in the late 50s, started to stand on his hind legs, dance, verbalize, and serve as wild-card for any flight of Schulz’ imagination); a detailed history of Fairfax County, Virginia (key take-away: the site where my wife and I work out was, before the Civil War, a large day-laborer market for freed slaves and for slaveholders seeking to rent out their chattel); and Joseph Campbell’s “Myths to Live By” (key take-away: he was a devotee of Carl Jung, and he didn’t much care for hippies). No…I won’t blog further on those titles (or will I?).

Now to the reviewed book of the day. “The Limits of Privacy” came free from the author, a political science professor at George Washington University. I met Amitai Etzioni last summer at the birthday party for privacy advocate Marc Rotenberg (director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center) in Washington DC. It was a good discussion, over potluck, followed by a mutual exchange of business cards. A week or so later, Etzioni’s book arrived in the postal mail with a note: “Please accept this publication with compliments of: The Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies. If you wish to consult with Amitai Etzioni, he may be reached at (202) 994-8190.” I pass this along to you my readers in case you need such services. Sending me the book itself, transmitted from his gratisphere to mine, was the best service that Etzioni could have rendered.

“The Limits of Privacy” is a brilliant dissection of current legal, regulatory, policy, economic, and cultural issues surrounding the issue of privacy protection. It was published in 1999 but still feels fresh, thanks in large part to the solid analysis at its core, laying out a clear and practical set of principles for balancing privacy concerns against “common good” imperatives such as public safety and health. The book has been sitting on my dresser for several months now, inviting me to pick it up, glance this or that chapter again, and put it down for future browsing. That’s not a limitation of the tome—it’s a strength—always something there to tickle the cerebral cortex with new insights. I’m surprised it’s taken me this long to blog on it.

Though written for public policy wonks, it is very much a tek-biz book. First off, many of the current privacy controversies that Etzioni discusses revolve around applications of information technology: e.g., strong encryption, biometric identifiers, national ID cards, medical records disclosure procedures, web-based publication of convicted sex offender identities/addresses, etc. Second, he identifies large corporations—or as he calls them, “Big Bucks”—as the primary violators of privacy, and is less concerned about government agencies, which he refers to by the Orwellian “Big Brother.” Consequently, he’s far more concerned about overzealous big-biz interests trampling on people’s privacy—remember, this book was published two years before 9/11, during the first dotcom bubble…so keep that historical context in mind…though his concerns are still valid.

However, Etzioni is no privacy-absolutist libertarian or “cypherpunk” (yes, Kim Cameron, this is a real word/movement…or, at least, was back then in the late great 90s….see p. 97 of Etzioni’s book). In fact, Etzioni takes pains to distance himself from the privacy absolutist camp. He’s a different species entirely: a “communitarian,” who believes that the privacy zealots, though well-meaning, have gotten out of hand and need to be counterbalanced by a co-equal emphasis on compelling “common good” concerns that may, in specific circumstances, justify limits on privacy (hence the title of the book). Per pp 195-196:

  • Etzioni: “Contemporary champions of privacy often still employ arguments that treat privacy as either an unbounded or privileged good….The negative consequences, however, of treating privacy and other individual rights as sacrosanct have been largely ignored by those who draw on legal conceptions fashioned in earlier ages….[In] American society after 1960….[t]he realms of rights, private choice, self-interest, and entitlement were expanded and extended, but corollary social responsibilities and commitments to the common good were neglected, with negative consequences such as the deterioration of public safety and public health. The new sociohistorical context, as we see it, calls for greater dedication to the common good and less expansive privileging to the individual rights.”

Of course, everybody has a different reading on the “sociohistorical context,” and many might say it’s not a “new” context at all, but just the same old tug-of-war between true blue defenders of civil liberties and those who would attempt to limit those precious freedoms under the usual authoritarian pretexts such as the need for “law and order,” a “return to family values,” the “war on terror,” and so forth. Hence, the never-ending stalemate between “libertarians” and “communitarians” (or whatever labels you wish to assign to the polar camps in this culture war).

Lest you think that Etzioni is a far-right-wing absolutist, I urge you to read the book and see how well he balances and nuances his policy analysis and recommendations in his treatment of various privacy controversies. “The Limits of Privacy” offers a practical, sensible, context-sensitive mechanism for identifying necessary privacy limits, consisting of the following criteria (pp. 12-13):

  • FIRST CRITERION (applies only where a threat to society crosses a threshold identified in the criterion): ‘[T]ake steps to limit privacy only if [society] faces a well-documented and macroscopic threat to the common good, not merely a hypothetical danger.”
  • SECOND CRITERION (applies only if the threat specified by the first criterion is identified): “[C]ounter [that threat to society] without first resorting to measures that might restrict privacy.”
  • THIRD CRITERION (applies only if the non-privacy-diminishing measures specified by the second criterion cannot be identified): “Make [privacy-diminishing measures] as minimally intrusive as possible.”
  • FOURTH CRITERION (applies only if the privacy-diminishing measures specified by the third criterion are being evaluated for possible implementation): “[M]easures that treat undesirable side effects of needed privacy-diminishing measures are to be preferred over those that ignore these effects.”

More than just lay out these criteria, Etzioni demonstrates in privacy-relevant case after case how they can be used to clarify the pros and cons of various policy alternatives. Essentially, he’s doing an economics-like trade-off analysis of privacy vs. other important “goods,” implicitly recognizing (some of the forthcoming air quotes inserted by yours truly) that each privacy-protection measure may have a countervailing “opportunity cost” in forgone “common goods,” and may introduce “externalities” that nullify its advantages in whole or part. This approach reflects the fact that privacy protection is part of a never-ending balancing exercise that must consider larger cultural, economic, and geopolitical issues.

Nevertheless, I’m still a bit troubled by the slipperiness of Etzioni’s overarching “sociohistorical context” framework for identifying the proper balancing point for privacy rights. From what I can see, it could be used to justify a radical rewrite of privacy laws/regs toward either a fascistic or anarchistic extreme, on the grounds such a sudden, disruptive measure is necessary to rebalance the sociohistorical equation. Per the Conclusion on p. 215:

  • Etzioni: “Above all, a communitarian approach to privacy avoids the failings of static conceptions by taking into account sociohistorical changes. For example, it recognizes that [if] more privacy is granted from informal social controls in a given period, the more state controls will be necessary in following years to sustain the same level of social order.”

Etzioni follows this statement with an assurance that this approach is necessary for society to avoid either of the ideological extremes, where privacy is concerned. However, his closing statement (to the entire book) seems prone to misinterpretation, stressing as it does the need for “endeavors to ensure that society’s elementary needs for public health and public safety are not neglected.” Many dictators reinforce the legitimacy of their regimes by citing the need to defend the public’s safety and health (physical, economic, moral) from enemies, foreign and domestic—hence, the “law and order” and “spiritual cleansing” justifications for tyranny.

So, careful there, Amitai. Words are swords. Rhetorical edges can double back on those who wield them. Irony, red as passionate prose, sharp as stainless steel.


Monday, November 19, 2007

ink-impressed tek-biz bound-bulk-pulp review “Revolt in the Boardroom” by Alan Murray


Winnowing down the stack of recent tomes rendered to me by others via the gratispherical outreach arms of their respective career-o-spheres. Free is neat.

Murray’s “Revolt in the Boardroom” is more of a biz-biz than a tek-biz book (but that’s fine…I’m feeling reasonably bizzy at this particular moment). It is a well-researched and compelling discussion of the changing governance practices of corporations in the post-millennium, post-9/11, post-Enron, post-SarbOx era. Written by an assistant managing editor at the Wall Street Journal, the book focuses on the steady weakening of the CEO’s clout and strengthening of corporate boards of directors, who are now far less willing to kowtow (or so Murray argues) to arrogant, authoritarian, corrupt chief executives. The book primarily focuses on US-based corporations, though it hints at being generalizable to a global scale (implicitly, there’s this assumption that America sets the lead for the world at large…which is highly debatable).

This book was one of two that were given to me at SAS Institute’s recent Premier Business Leadership Series Conference (the other book was Davenport/Harris' “Competing on Analytics,” which I reviewed in this blog late last week), an event that was, of course, heavily focused on software for corporate performance management (CPM). To the extent that there’s any tek content in “Revolt in the Boardroom,” other than a detailed discussion of the recent C-suite travails of tek-vendor HP, it’s on page 27, wherein Murray refutes the late John Kenneth Galbraith’s contention (in 1971) that advanced technology is making the economy more supply-push by strengthening corporations’ ability to engineer demand for the output of their factories. Here’s Murray’s rebuttal to JKG, citing the role of information technology in making corporations more demand-pull:

  • Murray: “[I]n fact, a revolution in information technology helped to bring companies much closer to the marketplace, providing them faster access to information on what consumer were demanding, and giving them greater ability to adjust to those demands.”

In the broadest perspective, the book looks at the need for strong corporate governance, risk, and compliance (GRC) management—though it looks at it from a purely business-trends perspective. Murray's discussion pays no attention to how CPM software or other IT solutions can enable more effective GRC measurement and enforcement. That’s not a weakness of the book….just a matter of scoping…indeed, the very final paragraph practically screams for a GRC/CPM/analytics-focused sequel:

  • Murray: “Academics have tried to settle this debate, looking for evidence that ‘good corporate governance’—i.e., an effective check on a CEO’s power—leads to better performance for shareholders. So far, however, the evidence is mixed. In part, the problem is one of definitions. What is ‘good governance’? How do you measure ‘performance’? At the end of the day, the studies are inconclusive. The choice between the old regime and the emerging new one seems to be more a matter of faith and preference than reason or science.”
IMHO, Murray is throwing in the towel prematurely on this critical issue. He’s implying that the justification for good governance is purely intuitive and qualitative. In fact, it’s way too important to leave purely to the warm and squishies. I’d like to see a follow-on entitled “Complying on Analytics”? Davenport and Harris—opportunity for you!

Also, reading through this book, it’s not clear to me what emerging new “regime” Murray’s referring to. He doesn’t conclusively demonstrate any enduring restructuring of the institutional basis for governance of public corporations in the USA or anywhere else. All he points to are a “new CEO” (translation: fresh batch of new folks in those positions are who are slightly less arrogant, more collegial, and more broadly stakeholder-focused than the bunch they’re succeeding) and a “new power elite” (translation: greater, albeit still minuscule, representation of pension funds, shareholder advisory services, social activists, hedge funds, and nongovernmental organizations on corporate boards of directors).

But this “new order” is just a matter of the latest transient swing in the corporate culture, responding to recent events in the economic, regulatory, and political arenas. This so-called “democratization” of corporate governance (activist boards!) can easily swing back to a preference for autocratic leaders (visionary CEOs!) once we get some fresh, charismatic new movers and shakers in the C-suites of this world.

We compete on a global scale. Chinese regimes, for example, are not known for C-suite transparency.


Friday, November 16, 2007

ink-impressed tek-biz bound-bulk-pulp review “Competing on Analytics” by Thomas H. Davenport and Jeanne G. Harris


Winning is a “science” now, or so says the subtitle of this new book. Funny, I thought winning was an art—or, rather, a result to be sought through art, science, dumb luck, karma, magic, good genes, treachery, God’s grace, or what have you.

Regardless, winning is adaptive success, and adaptation through natural/competitive (and/or engineered) selection is what drives evolution, and there is some science (i.e., a systematic, fact-based, collaborative inquiry into basic principles, descriptive and predictive) behind our belief that evolution is how life in all its crazy heterogeneity continues to cultivate God’s green Earth, so I’ll grant them this word/concept in this context.

Actually, let me take this opportunity to spell out my core definition of “science,” and then map it into Davenport/Harris’ discussion of how analytics supports a science-like approach under which humans manage to tighten and hopefully brighten our stewardship over this planetary inheritance.

I actually addressed this matter indirectly on July 12 of this year, in this blog, under the seemingly endless (though only two month) “Ocean Semantic” thread. Buried in an extremely long shapeless run-on paragraph near the end of that thread, and couched in the context of a gratuitously erudite observation on Kant’s metaphysics, here’s how I defined “science”: a “process of progressive societal construction of an interlinking system of empirically verifiable statements through the building and testing of interpretive frameworks via controlled observation.”

The key concept here is “controlled observation,” and, in particular, the notion of appropriate controls on (empirical) observations. Pretty much everybody agrees that the key controls on scientific investigations--in order to “build and test interpretative frameworks,” i.e., construct and confirm hypotheses—should be some combination of analytical, logical, mathematical, statistical, experimental, demonstration/replication, independent verification, peer review, and other methods, procedures, checkpoints, and so forth. Some controls are more appropriate and feasible for some branches of scientific investigation than in others (e.g., you can do controlled, laboratory, experimental verification in organic chemistry more readily than in astrophysics). Such fact-based controls are designed to drive the decision to confirm or not confirm hypotheses, or disprove, qualify, or constrain established theorems.

Getting now to “Competing on Analytics: The New Science of Winning,” Davenport/Harris define their core concept, “analytics,” as referring to “extensive use of data, statistical and quantitative analysis, explanatory and predictive models, and fact-based management to drive decisions.” Clearly, what they’re describing is essentially an application of scientific practices to practical matters: solving business problems. That’s cool…science done in business suits is just as valid as in lab coats….and maybe more useful where it truly counts: creating sustainable value, generating wealth, and contributing to human happiness in some small way.

The book is an excellent discussion of how enterprises can compete through smart application of statistical analysis, predictive modeling, data/text mining, simulation, business intelligence (BI), corporate performance management (CPM), online analytical processing (OLAP), data warehousing, data cleansing, expert system, rules engine, interactive visualization, spreadsheets, and other applications and tools that once, in the prehistoric days before I entered the industry in the mid-80s, were often lumped under the heading of “decision support systems” (DSS). It’s no surprise that I received the book as a freebie for attending a recent conference sponsored by SAS Institute, which was not only a pioneering vendor in DSS starting in the mid-70s, but of course remains a powerhouse in BI, CPM, data mining, statistical analysis, predictive modeling, visualization, and many of the other DSS-ish technologies I just enumerated (thanks SAS!). The book is chock full of excellent case studies of companies in many industries that have differentiated themselves, notched impressive ROI, and competed effectively through DSS-ish analytics technologies—and also by cultivating analytics-driven cultures that are spearheaded by CEOs who got analytics religion.

Analytics, analysis, and analysts truly rule…that’s for sure…I’m an analyst, so of course this resonates…and this book is a very handy set of guidelines for organizations that want to leverage their BI and other analytics investments into sustainable competitive advantage. For purely personal reasons, one of the things I noticed while reading this book is that Davenport/Harris twice give kudos to Peter G.W. Keen, who in the mid-70s, as an academic, helped pioneer/popularize the concept of DSS. The reason I say “personal” is because Peter G.W. Keen, in the mid-80s, as president of the short-lived MCI-funded DC-based quasi-analyst-firm International Center for Information Technologies, hired James Kobielus as a research associate…an experience that lead to, among other things, my still-going stint as a contributing editor/pundit for Network World (though it actually wasn’t my first “analyst” job….that was actually an internship in the summer of 1979, between my junior and senior years in college, at an urban coalition, New Detroit Inc., as a policy analyst, trying to help that city, near which I grew up, recover and rebuild from its sad decline…but I digress). Closing the loop on Keen, when I first picked up Davenport/Harris’ book (but before opening the cover), I thought to myself: “hmmm…’Competing on Analytics’….somehow, it reminds of the title of Keen’s ‘Competing in Time’ book, which was published during my ICIT stint….hmmm….”

Anyway, one of many things I like about Davenport/Harris’ book is their nuanced discussion of the proper roles of analytics vs. intuition in business decisions, and of the roles of automated analytic tools vs. human analysts (on the latter….whew, I thought….at least they recognize an ongoing role for the likes of me and my kind….maybe we don’t have to surrender our wetware completely to the gratisphere just yet…John Henry was a model-hammerin’ man…..). My favorite excerpt (pp. 131-132): “A few years ago, we began hearing extravagant tales of software that would eliminate the need for human analysts….While data mining software is a wonderful thing, a smart human still needs to interpret the patterns that are identified, decide which patterns merit validation or subsequent confirmation, and translate new recommendations for action. Other smart humans need to actually take action.”

Another key take-away for me from this book is that professional analysts—i.e., predictive model builders, who power those analytical engines models with structured data, deep domain expertise, and statistical algorithms—can only accomplish so much if the organizations that employ them are captive to bad business models. From page 55: “[One of the things that has] kept [American and United Airlines] from succeeding with their analytical strategies….is that their analytics support an obsolete business model. They pioneered analytics for yield management, but other airlines with lower costs can still offer lower prices (on average, if not for a particular seat). They pioneered analytics for complex optimization of routes with many different airplane types, but competitors such as Southwest save both money and complexity by using only one type of plane. They pioneered loyalty programs and promotions based on data analysis, but their customer service is so indifferent that loyalty to these airlines is difficult for frequent flyers.”

In other words, to extend the airline metaphor, the human analysts are like the navigators in the cockpit. They are totally on top of every data point surfaced through radar, instrumentation, etc. But they are essentially captive to the decisions made by the genius sitting in the pilot’s seat.

Somehow, my mind goes back to the movie “Airplane,” when, after pilot Peter Graves was felled by food poisoning, flight attendant Julie Hagerty got on the intercom and asked the passengers: “Excuse me, there’s no cause for alarm, but does anybody back there know how to fly an airplane?”


Thursday, November 15, 2007

ink-impressed tek-biz bound-bulk-pulp review “Wikinomics” by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Wiliams


“Wiki” is a fun and funny-sounding new coinage (for one thing, it’s got “icky” inside; for another, it’s a Hawaiian-ish hula-skirted adaptation of the English “quick”; for a third, it suggests the classic Florida kitsch of mermaid water park “Wickee Wachee”; for a fourth, it conforms to the klassic borscht belt diktum that hard “k” sounds kill ‘em every time up in Poughkeepsie, Schenectady, and Skaneateles, and out in Kankakee, Kokomo, and Kalamazoo). As a prefix, “wiki” combines nicely with many older words (such as the “nomics” Greek-derived rump end of “economics,” which hasn’t recovered from the semantic abuse it has endured ever since it got lashed into the idiotic ideology-driven ersatz-scientific term “Reaganomics” more than a quarter-century ago).

Wiki rocks and rules these days. So I totally understand why Tapscott and Williams worked it into the title of their book (note that for the rest of this post, I’ll refer to Tapscott alone as the prime author, since he’s obviously driving the show on this). Though I prefer the term “mass collaboration” in their subtitle, because it more accurately describes the concept they put forth. And “mass collaboration” sounds less trendy (the term “wiki” feels so 2007, just like “groovy” is so very 1967, hence so very likely, in just a year or two, to be an embarrassing reminder of our cultural weakness (or is it a strength?), for gratuitous ad-hoc linguistic invention (a weakness I also share, as will be demonstrated once again in just a sec).

That said, “Wikinomics” is a highly readable and research-driven book, and I recommend it to anyone who wants a good overview of new frontiers in the virtualization of the world economy. In the book, Tapscott does a fine job both of laying out the core organizing principles of this new competitive environment (“openness, peering, sharing, and acting globally”) and explaining how these principles are expressed in several ongoing developments (wikis, blogosphere, social networking, open source software, online idea marketplaces, customer-driven product hacks, virtual scientific communities, externally extensible open platforms, collaborative B2B value chains, hypermatrixed enterprise teaming environments). Though I find some of Tapscott’s coinages awkward or semi-opaque (e.g., “ideagoras,” “prosumers, “new Alexandrians,” “platforms for participation”), he is at least trying to give us a new vocabulary that fits these emerging phenomena. Of course, “wiki” is opaque in its own way, and “blogosphere” still sounds strange, but they’ve achieved currency, so maybe it’s a matter of the poetics of the coinages somehow fitting the cultural moment.

Though I enjoyed “Wikinomics,” it leaves me slightly queasy, because it glosses over one of the most important issues in this new economic order: how difficult it’s becoming to make money in a world where everybody is giving everything away for free. For IT industry analysts/pundits/authors such as myself, this hits home in the most visceral way. Any of us who has a blog faces the same challenge every time we post: deciding which thoughts should be published for free to all comers, and which should be reserved for paying customers. Or, if we choose to publish everything we learn/think, we must decide how we can leverage our visibility, reputation, analytical chops, etc. into paying gigs (e.g., consulting, speaking, etc.). Or, if that paying gig (i.e., an actual job-job) is secure, we must decide how far to go with the blogging, podcasting, etc so as to complement and not compromise that kritical kash konnection (anybody who has premium licensed access to my Data Management module at Current Analysis will notice that I go very deep, and very prosaic, and quite prolific on all things BI, CPM, DW, DI, DQ, MDM, GRC, etc….and there’s only a tiny content overlap with what I put in this blog, or voice on the Dana Gardner et al podcasts….that’s by design….it’s the same guy doing it all, but presenting different sides of Jim Kobielus…the blog is my outlet for coloring outside the lines…and occasionally for personal junk like the poems….and gratuitous wordplay of my own devising). Triki-triki, dis nu wiki-wiki.

These general thoughts occurred to me while seeing Tapscott present on this topic in the keynote at the recent Business Objects conference in Orlando (in which I participated in my core job-job role as an analyst for Current Analysis). That was where I, like all other attendees, received our own komplimentary kopies of “Wikinomics” (and a great laptop-ready tote bag—thanks Business Objects!). Tapscott did a fine job discussing the topic, and illustrating it with engaging slides and videos, talking about the wonderful new economy that is fueled by everybody giving it all away for no charge. Of course, Tapscott mentioned the Radiohead Gambit (which I saw mentioned yet again in the Wall Street Journal this morning—that paper says that around 60 percent of downloaders of “In Rainbows” are paying squat—Messrs. Yorke et al. dispute that number, but don’t reveal the actual). And Tapscott trumpeted his own “Wikinomics” book as another example of this trend, in the literary sphere, stating that the book is a wiki-based online “peer production” work in progress, which anybody can edit through www.wikinomics.com).

All well and good, but I noticed a few things. For starters, the ink-impressed bound-bulk-pulp version of the work has a cover price (US $25.95, Canada $32.50); named co-authors (Tapscott and Williams), who I suspect are pocketing royalties; and a publisher (Portfolio/Penguin Group) that underwrote the project and, no doubt, is accruing a tidy profit from it. For another, Tapscott was standing there on stage speaking to the assembled at a conference sponsored by a major software company, and I suspect he wasn’t wagging his tongue for free. For a third, I have no doubt that Business Objects was also paying for the “free to attendee” books, which, like the tote bag and delicious food (thanks again, Business Objects!), contributed to a splendid time for all. Finally, cracking open the book, I can’t help but be impressed by Tapscott’s discussion of the ample speaking engagements, sponsored research projects, and high-visibility consulting gigs that keep him and his organization gainfully employed. Cool….he’s doing well…no problem with any of that.

But something he said from the stage at the Business Objects show gave me pause, and he went into greater detail on it at the start of his book. He mentioned, as a prime example of “wikinomics” invading the “old economy,” a Canadian gold-mining firm (Goldcorp) that, a few years back, decided to publish, for free through its website, all of the geologic data pertaining to its mine in northern Ontario. The reason Goldcorp (spurred by CEO Rob McEwen) took this radical move was that its own staff geologists had increasingly come up short in their attempts to find new gold deposits on the property. So, in March 2000, McEwen took the controversial move to launch the “Goldcorp Challenge,” under which the firm offered $575,000 in prize money to anybody anywhere who could, by examining the now-free, now-public geologic data, tell where the gold most likely lay on their property.

As Tapscott tells it, “News of the contest spread quickly around the Internet, as more than one thousand virtual prospectors from fifty countries got busy crunching data.” And he quickly cuts to the chase: “The contestants had identified 110 targets on the Red Lake property, 50 percent of which had not been previously identified by the company. Over 80 percent of the new targets yielded substantial quantities of gold. In fact, since the challenge was initiated an astounding eight million ounces of gold have been found. McEwen estimates the collaborative process shaved two to three years off their exploration time. Today Goldcorp is reaping the fruits of its open source approach to exploration. Not only did the contest yield copious quantities of gold, it catapulted his underperforming $100 million company into a $9 billion juggernaut while transforming a backward mining site in Northern Ontario into one of the most innovative and profitable properties in the industry. Needless to say McEwen is one happy camper. As are his shareholders. One hundred dollars invested in the company in 1993 is worth over $3,000 today.”

Cool—essentially and effectively, the contest is based on the premise of “you mine our data, so we can better mine our mine.” But, thumbing through that section of the book, I see no further mention of the prize money, or the criteria for awarding it, or the ultimate winner(s), or whether it was split among multiple contestants, or whether any of them was also awarded with these now-valuable shares of Goldcorp stock, or whether any of them were later hired by the firm to be full-time staff geologists. I have no doubt that Goldcorp made a handsome payout to the winner(s) of the contest, but it would have closed the loop—in Tapscott’s account—if the name(s) of these pivotal gold-data-miners were mentioned.

This thought, sitting there listening to Tapscott, lead to another. This Goldcorp Challenge strikes me as a clever approach for extracting free geologic consulting services from many people, with only one (or a few? how many?) of the consultants seeing a payday, based on results delivered (literal paydirt identified) rather than effort expended. OK—the unnamed (in Tapscott’s book, at least) contestants seemingly knew the rules of the game (literally), so it was all on the up and up (apparently). So how is that a problem?

What struck me was the ironic parallel with Tapscott’s “Wikinomics” book, and with the whole “wikinomics” economic environment that it describes. Flip the book open to page 4, and look at the facing “Subtitles” page, and here’s what you’ll see.

On page 4, “[W]ith ‘Wikinomics,” we’re making a modest attempt to reinvent the concept of a book. You’ll notice that the final chapter, The Wikinomics Playbook, has only fifteen words: ‘Join us in peer producing the definitive guide to twenty-first-century strategy on www.wikinomics.com.” It is our hope that this book will transcend its physical form to become a living, real-time, collaborative document, cocreated by leading thinkers.”

On the facing page, this: “Books have a title page. This is our subtitle page. In what we believe to be a first, we’re listing a few of our favorite suggestions for subtitles gleaned from a public online discussion held the week of June 2, 2006. We received more than one hundred great suggestions in the first forty-eight hours. To our collaborators—you know who you are—we extend our most sincere thanks.”

“You know who you are”?!?!?! Why not list the actual names (can’t be more than 100, after all) right here, in the printed book (it has 324 pages total)? More to the point, why not give a flat fee or cut of the royalties to whoever (if anybody) won that challenge (i.e., whoever suggested the final “How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything”)? And, while we’re on the topic, why not publish revised editions of the printed for-a-price book that incorporate revisions submitted by others through www.wikinomics.com, and cut those people in on a share of the royalties (while giving due credit)? Sharing that gold would be a nice gesture, wouldn’t it?

All of which brings me around to the core point of this post, which is the intensifying collision between this newfangled virtual “wikinomics” world where we give it all away for free, and the oldfangled real day-job world where we receive the legal tender necessary to pay the bills. Clearly, most profits from our participation in the blogosphere are non-monetary, so it falls squarely into the “I’m marketing the brand of me” realm of “wikinomics.” I’ve been toying with various terms to describe this new phenomenon that don’t tie it to blogs or wikis or any other particular new “Web 2.0” technology. Months ago, Dana laughed when I suggested “probonosphere,” but now that strikes me as sounding like an obscure primate species. “Freebysphere” is cute, but sounds like a hot new Christmas-gift toy that we’ll discard in early January.

Right now, I’m leaning in the direction of “gratisphere” (though the linguistic purists will be irked by my combining a Latin word, “gratis” (i.e., free) with a Greek word “sphere”). And, as its opposite, I’m thinking of committing even more heinous linguistic offense: “career-o-sphere” (where we earn our daily bread). In other words, more and more of us are contributing for free on the gratisphere, and attempting to leverage those efforts to cash in via the career-o-sphere. Certainly, I’m doing that, as are most self-respecting analysts, since we all realize we must regularly gave away free samples of our brain power (e.g., blogs, podcasts, being quoted by reporters, jotting off uncompensated articles for online pubs, accepting unpaid invitations to speak at industry conferences) in order to remind the world that we’re here and that we’ve “got the goods” (a prime/premium feed of which they can access through separate channels).

Increasingly, IT publishers/editors are leveraging the gratisphere to their economic advantage (hey! free content from a leading analyst), which is no surprise (but which complicates the analyst/author/writer’s career-o-sphere equation, especially if, like Jim Kobielus, you’ve been paid for most of your published works for most of your career). In the pundit’s life, one must constantly ponder whether each new freebie-article request is a smart promotional move, or whether it delivers you more deeply into the chump-o-sphere. It’s a tricky balance, but more of us are working it out. As Pete Townshend once memorably put it, “This is no social crisis—just another tricky day for you.”

Getting back to Tapscott’s book, check out the quote he excerpts on pages 206-207 from Om Malik (“a well-read blogger and founder of GigaOmniMedia") and then Tapscott’s own immediate, brief, defensive, and inadequate retort:

  • Malik: “I wondered out loud if this culture of participation was seemingly help[ing] build businesses on our collective backs. So if we tag, bookmark, or share, and help del.icio.us or Technorati or Yahoo become better commercial entities, aren’t we seemingly commoditizing our most valuable asset—time. We become the outsourced workforce, the collective, though it is still unclear what is the pay-off. While we may (or may not) gain something from the collective efforts, the odds are whatever ‘the collective efforts’ are, they are going to boost the economic value of those entities. Will we share in their upside? Not likely!”
  • Tapscott: “Calling it exploitation goes too far.”

Wait just a second. No…it’s not going too far…if people’s contributions are delivering real value that somebody/somewhere across the virtual value chain is cashing in on, then the issue of equitable reward distribution is a legitimate topic for discussion…and if some are profiting immensely from (named) others’ efforts without cutting those others a piece of the pie, how is that not, on some level, akin to “exploitation”? So, in terms of distributional equity, in the abstract, the career-o-sphere should, on some level, acknowledge and compensate the gratisphere for its contributions. But, of course, that’s a tricky-as-hell proposition to work out in the real world, given the complex shifting membrane between these cyber-celestial spheres.

Many of us “subsidize” our gratispherical activities from the money (salaries, savings, etc.), time (evenings, weekends, vacations, coffee breaks, leisure, etc.), and other resources (professional connections, deep domain expertise) we’ve accrued from our career-o-spherical. We’re exploiting ourselves.

Leave it at that.