Saturday, August 23, 2008

Good idea, poor execution

Obama's idea to text supporters his VP pick was a good idea, but in execution, it got scooped by the MSM.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Breathless Android coverage; phone is simply a feature

Rumors are "confirmed" that the HTC Dream, running Google's Android OS, will be sold by T-Mobile starting on my birthday (Oct 13). That's some clever niche marketing, T-Mobile. Anyway, here's what really struck me about this post: the feature list. Check out the order.
What does my 200 bucks get me?
- Touch Screen
- Full Qwerty keyboard
- 3G/ WiFi
- Full HTML internet capabilities
- Easy access to all Google applications (Gmail, Gtalk, search)
- Maps
- Street view
- You Tube
- Phone
- IM/Text
- Email
- Camera 3.0mp
- Video (playback only, no recording)
- Music player & 1GB memory card pre-loaded
- Applications, all available in Google marketplace (icon on the homescreen)
Yes, the function phone is stuck somewhere in the middle of the list. Just another feature, not nearly as important or exciting as the others. And yes, that does indicate where mobile devices are heading.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The nexus-state

David Ronfeldt and Danielle Varda write in the summer 2008 issue of RAND Review that they expect a new sort of state to emerge:
From this, we predict the emergence of the “nexus-state” — something quite different from the traditional nation-state or recent notions of an approaching market-state or network-state. The nexus-state will integrate multiple modes of governance. It will be stronger than the nation-state but also more embedded and circumscribed. It will revolve around a new kind of administration in which officials remain concerned about what is happening in their offices but become increasingly oriented by the new sensory and sectoral networks into which they are plugged.
This notion fascinates me. It's different from the network state discussed by Castells. To me, in fact, it sounds familiar:
Government and business will benefit from [pervasive information and surveillance] technology, for good and ill. Less noticed, but we think equally likely and significant, is that these tools will help spur the rise of a new social sector — distinct from the established public and private sectors — by providing networked nongovernmental and nonprofit organizations with tools not only for checking on the behavior of governments and corporations, but also for collaborating with them. We can already find evidence of these transformations in health care, integrated social services, and environmental and consumer protection.
Sure, but we are also seeing this work happening to some extent with Google, which has become very active in public policy, energy, and telecommunications. Google is a corporation, of course, but it is also functioning to some extent as an NGO and is subsidizing nonprofit projects such as Android with its earnings from its core business (and yes, those nonprofit projects are strategically key to its core business).

Check out this short and interesting article, and the rest of the issue while you're at it.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Coworking and business

NotAnMBA has a roundup of businesses and business models built around coworking.

Reading :: Discourse, Technology and Change

Discourse, Technology and Change
By Brenton Faber

I've been meaning to read this book ever since it came out, but UT's library doesn't have it. So I finally bit the bullet and ordered it via interlibrary loan. I'm glad I did. Brent is a great guy and a sharp researcher, and in this book he brings rhetorical and discourse analysis together with Latourean and Foucauldian theory to provide a strong account of technological change. The book is really quite well researched, and every chapter provides a model of how to conduct and theorize research (with one exception, about which more in a minute).

The book revolves around a case of technological change, described in Chapter 2: a small college campus, dealing with a faltering IT department, decides to outsource IT. The energetic new (corporate) director of IT recommends a unified email system, so after a search, the university partners with "a multinational computer firm" to implement a new software system pseudonomously called "WorkWare." The system includes web-based email but also a calendar and other components. But the IT director quickly realizes that he has no real leverage as he attempts to get people to migrate to WorkWare. Meanwhile, WorkWare turns out to be a beta product with some bugs that discourage migration.

Brent examines this case in a variety of ways. He examines the different emails sent out by the IT director, "Martin," and Martin's assistants. He interviews Martin after the project ends in disaster. And he looks at other documents to contextualize the case. He does all this by drawing heavily on theories involving technological change, particularly Latour's notion of assemblages and Foucault's archaeology of knowledge.

The discourse analysis in particular is interesting, since Brent ties a close reading of the email -- examining given-new structure, clausal dynamics, sentence-clause ratios -- into a sophisticated rhetorical analysis. In doing so, Brent shows us how the sorts of things discourse analysts do -- what many rhetoricians regard simple word-counting -- can result in deep insights that complement rhetorical analysis.

Those insights lead Brent to an interesting and valuable conclusion about change studies. He argues that "with the postmodern fragmentation of narratives, traditions and foundational beliefs, we do not have a systematic way of examining, critiquing, or resisting non-narrative forms/events of change" (p.154). The loss of narratives, he says, results in the loss of the classical understanding of change (p.158). Indeed, "in technocratic networks, change is not a temporal space or a moment of opportunity within the continuity of narrative and it is not tied to notions of continuity, fortune, or nature. Instead, change has become a technology and a tool, a means for achieving human agency" (p.158). Brent concludes that studies of change must examine how agency is achieved (p.159).

So this book is full of interesting insights in terms of change as well as research methodology. My only problem with it is in Chapter 5, in which Brent attempts to draw a connection between Martin's evangelical beliefs and his attempt to get people to "convert" to the new system. Brent seems to be fascinated by the fact that Martin is a real live evangelical who prays and reads the Left Behind series, and he zeroes in on the term "convert," arguing that Martin subconsciously understands his project in the same terms as Christian evangelism. He substantiates this account by pointing to similarities that Brent perceives between the two domains. However, he does not confirm this connection through triangulation:
  • He doesn't perform a member check (floating the interpretation and getting Martin's feedback)
  • He doesn't turn up any artifactual evidence (e.g., showing a document trail in which the project and evangelism are explicitly compared)
  • He doesn't turn up evidence of this relationship in his interviews with Martin. In fact, Martin gives a crisp and perfectly sensible explanation of why he used "convert" in the emails, and that explanation does not point to evangelism; rather, it seems to be more or less how the IT industry uses the term.
Instead of triangulation, Brent relies entirely on internal consistencies that he perceives between the Christian evangelical literature and Martin's emails, not external confirmation of their tie-in. Brent even argues that Martin may not be aware of such consistencies -- such "references do not need to be intentional or even conscious" (p.121), so perhaps he didn't think it would be worthwhile to perform member checks. But that's not a good move, because without triangulation, it's easy to overdetermine the data. In other words, we are left asking: is the connection between the email project and evangelism in Martin's mind -- or Brent's?

Brent seems to sense that his analysis is vulnerable on this point, and he hedges a bit (p.123), but essentially decides that it's too good a story not to use ("much of Martin's rhetorical project at Northeastern can be better understood when articulated through this evangelical framework," p.124), so he drops the hedge later and simply asserts the connection as fact ("Martin used intertextual references to ideological discourses (evangelical Christianity)," p.125; see also p.126). I don't really understand how Brent moves from his initial hedge to his later certainty; I have a hard time believing that Martin thinks of evangelism every time he buys converted rice, gets his catalytic converter serviced, converts Fahrenheit to Centigrade, buys an AC-to-DC converter, or sees a conversion kit for a Honda, any more than Brent thinks of Foucault whenever his power goes out.

In any case, this is a weak spot in an otherwise strong book. Brent is producing some of the best work to come out of professional communication. If you get a chance, check it out.

Android SDK is out; Android phone gets FCC approval; is all forgiven?

Google has gone through a rough patch with Android. Developers have been angry that the SDK has not been updated in a while. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal and others have speculated that Android phones will not come out in the fourth quarter as promised.

Now we hear two big pieces of news on consecutive days. First, we hear that the FCC has approved HTC's new Android device, code named "Dream." Then Google announces the latest SDK is available to all.

Will developers, who were excited about the platform but discouraged by the SDK delays and the threat of late hardware, forgive everything? And is the Dream still going to be launched on my birthday?