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The ABCs of Tech Education

25 Jan

Last week, in the wake of Code Academy’s  – “Learn to code in 2012” campaign we asked:  What does digital literacy really mean today?  And what might a Digital Literacy Agenda for 2012 include?

Betsy, our friend at Google, replied directly arguing that “digital literacy” is too narrow a concept – we need to think more broadly about “digital citizenship,” she argues. “Understanding how to write code that builds an isolated piece of technology is like understanding how to read and write, or knowing the ins and outs of a particular subject like Biology. But understanding how the Internet works is like understanding the way society is governed.”  It’s about providing enough digital civic education so that students can recognize why Chinese censorship of the Net, SOPA/PIPA, or debates about wireless spectrum are connected to our fundamental values about speech and communication.

I’m agnostic about whether “digital literacy,” “digital civics,” or even basic “technology education,” is the right term. But, as I watch Mozilla, Code Academy, General Assembly, and many others dive into this topic, its clear there’s a need to continue untangling these concepts.

Last week Bloomberg and Fred Wilson announced the new Academy for Software Engineering, a tech-focused high school in New York. In doing so they intimated that one vision of the school is to develop a tech curriculum that can be exported to other schools in New York.  What might such a curriculum include?

In our view, basic tech education should center around three core concepts: Understanding, Creation, and Critique.

  • Understanding Understanding is about explaining the building blocks of technology as well as the larger ecosystem of institutions in which technologies operate. It’s about enabling students to understand the basic relationships between inventors, tech companies, publishers, regulators, or consumers and the centers of control therein. It’s also about teaching the fundamental “internet architecture” or “digital civics” topics of which Betsy speaks.
  • Creation Creation is about giving students the basic tools and grammar to create and “build stuff” using new technologies. It about raising a generation of “web makers” as Mozilla trumpets. It is also about teaching the fundamentals of publishing in the new media era and the flow of information on the web. Ultimately it’s about giving young people the ability to exploit all the structures and architecture, to have a voice. This is part of democratizing media and technology. Today, creation might be about providing basic coding, mobile app creation, or web design skills. But it’s surely an evolving standard.
  • Critique  – Critique is about enabling students to decipher and analyze both incoming information as well as the communications they create. If teaching coding is like teaching the basics of a new language (ie. basic grammar), teaching critique is like teaching literature. It’s about teaching students to analyze the reliability, perspective, and editorial control in the Wikipedia articles, digital videos, or other web communications they receive.  It’s about enabling students to understand the difference between platforms that are highly moderated or curated and those that are opens. It’s about understanding what’s at stake with anonymous vs. identifiable speech.

It’s clear that in some cases, teaching these fundamentals may require the creation of new high school classes -  i.e. coding class.  But in many cases, it’s more about extending our existing classes in literature, history, and science to cover the technology related stories and topics.

Digital and web literacy is a lot about opening up the black box that is our tech-enabled world so that more people can participate in this world and critique it. Coding alone is about being able to create and modify this box.  It’s clear that the Academy for Software Engineering will likely add a whole host of additional classes on entrepreneurship, design, finance and many other topics.  But if they can lead us and strike even the basics of digital literacy and technology education right, that will be a huge accomplishment.

The Social Enterprise and Identifying Talent

6 Jan

Last December we wrote about the Social Enterprise movement and the way these tools create opportunities for employees to participate in and influence the “corporate discussion”. (Think of Sharepoint, Jive, Yammer, Kaltura or Lithium – which just raised $53mil.) Indeed, if implemented correctly, social enterprise tools offer employees new ways to become deeply involved in sharing knowledge, collaborating, and influencing company direction.

Although the enterprise software community is focused on productivity and collaboration – less understood is the opportunity these tools may offer leaders in identifying talent and thought leadership in an organization. Over time, some employees will attract followers to the knowledge, information and ideas they share.  The results may be particularly interesting given the changing demographic and culture of new employees entering the workforce. If tracked correctly, this might be come a great means of identifying leadership from the bottom-up – and specifically a means that is very different from the traditional corporate review and hierarchy practices.

Employees who voice valuable information and ideas (either in text or video), share knowledge, and tend to collaborate will be valuable assets to any organization.

So… talent management, HR folks…  it’s time to join the discussion.

5 Tools for Startup Innovation

29 Dec

We recently wrote a short article for Inc. Magazine highlighting key tools for enabling continuous innovation in startups.

The topic is in many ways counterintuitive; many people assume that because startups are often new market entrants, innovation comes naturally. It’s “in the blood” so to speak.  The truth is that once initial products are developed, a vision is detailed, or funding is secured, much of the focus of startup leaders turns to execution…

In the post we provide a number of concrete tactics for maintaining continuous innovation- tools that we’ve used in Kaltura and have seen at work in other tech companies. We hope you enjoy.

Social Enterprises and the Freedom to Listen and Learn

12 Dec

Over the past few weeks we’ve seen increasing discussion about the coming “social enterprise.” At the root of this discussion are 2 major ideas:

Idea 1: The advent of cloud-based services like Yammer, Successfactors, Kaltura or Salesforce are shifting the buyers of enterprise software from IT to end users.

Idea 2:  The way we do business will soon undergo a rapid transformation as enterprises adopt social tools that allow collaboration between customers, employees, and partners.

I’m enthusiastic about these trends and excited for Kaltura to lead the cloud-video part of the social enterprise transformation. Yet, just as the consumer world struggles with norms around privacy and sharing, the enterprise software community must significantly revise its own practices here before the ‘social enterprise’ vision can truly be realized.

As we are implementing our MediaSpace product for many enterprises (which is essentially a “Corporate YouTube”), we are constantly asked by our enterprise customers to restrict user access to different content channels. I question this request because it hinders the ability of many users to participate in the corporate discussion. It takes away the “freedom to listen”, and the “freedom to learn.”

I’ll give you a personal example.

Once we implemented Sharepoint at Kaltura, I rapidly lost my ability to listen. Why? Because our IT department restricted my access to other departmental content.  The result is that I now know significantly less about what’s happening in other groups, and I have a more difficult time with cross-company collaboration.

Surprisingly, email is an inherently open platform in many ways. Any user can email any other user. And once received, any email can be forwarded to another user or group of users.  Authors hold the initial decision-making power.

Enterprise social platforms are different. Although many are inspired by the Facebook and Twitters of the world, these platforms are often implemented by central IT teams who immediately divide up the world by organizational units.  Permissions are determined centrally – not by individual users.  

The instinct to create walled gardens is natural. Enterprises are concerned about security at many levels; and as more information is traveling online, there’s increasing movement to secure this new information.

Still, to the future enterprise product developers out there… and to those who are implementing social enterprise platforms today –  I encourage you to think hard about the walled gardens you erect.  Preserve an inter-group read/write/share culture whenever possible.

A 3rd prong must be part of the social enterprise discussion – Idea 3: Social Enterprise is about the freedom to Listen; and when implementing social enterprise solutions, IT departments should be careful not to harm this freedom.

 

Selling Our Wireless Future

7 Nov

One of the reasons we started this blog is to discuss some of the important ideas coming out of academia with the broader tech community.  Too often these ideas get lost – somewhere between the tomes of journals that fill university libraries and the tech news that fills the blogosphere.

‘Activism’ by the entrepreneurial tech community is a funny thing. While we are often quick to mobilize around important world events like the Arab Spring, Wikileaks, or Occupy Wallstreet, when it comes to tech policy matters that might jeopardize the open web on which we depend, there is often silence. The reason for this is a conversation for another day (thought one will get some insight if you read the comments on Fred Wilson’s AVC). But we do see a quandary here – If entrepreneurs don’t act as stewards of the open web who will speak for us instead?

We leave you now with a cross/guest post from Professor Yochai Benkler, a mentor and teacher to both of us.  He explains why recent moves by the deficit supercommittee to sell unlicensed spectrum threaten the future of mobile technology in this country and the ability of entrepreneurs to innovate freely in the mobile space.  

——

As the deficit supercommittee searches every corner to make budgetary ends meet, one solution they are considering, “incentive auctions” of the TV bands, could threaten the future of wireless innovation. These auctions may lock in an outdated regulatory paradigm, strengthen the dominant mobile broadband carriers, and block the path for some of the most innovative wireless technologies that could improve mobile broadband speed and reduce its price over the next decade. In return, the revenue they will raise is a very modest 1.5 percent of the 1.6 trillion dollar package. The auctions would trade off a small short-term revenue gain for less growth and innovation over the coming decade.

The proposed spectrum auctions are being promoted under the false premise that boosting mobile broadband, smart grid communications, inventory management systems, mobile payments, and health monitoring requires auctioning exclusive pieces of licensed spectrum. In reality, these markets are fast developing through unlicensed wireless applications, like WiFi. When the iPhone crashed AT&T’s mobile broadband capacity, the company didn’t buy more spectrum on secondary markets; it used WiFi to carry much of the data. In the past year WiFi traffic on AT&T’s hotspots has tripled. Today, about half of iPhone and 90 percent of iPad page views are carried over WiFi. Indeed, almost two-thirds of all smartphone and tablet data traffic is carried over WiFi rather than over the carriers’ networks, whose hunger is driving the demand for auctioning TV bands. In Japan, a good place to see the near future of mobile broadband, the second largest mobile carrier contracted a California firm to roll out 100,000 hotspots as a core strategy for its next generation mobile broadband network.

But it’s not only mobile broadband. When you use your E-Z Pass at a toll booth or Speedpass at the gas station, you use unlicensed technology like WiFi, but in a different band. When Wal-Mart moved its field-defining inventory management system to the next generation, it used technology that uses spectrum on the same principle: unlicensed wireless. Almost the entire market for inventory management and access control is now driven by unlicensed wireless technologies. Almost seventy percent of U.S. Smart Grid communications market is served by firms that use WiFi and similar technologies, and by a one recent account, about eighty percent of the wireless market in the healthcare sector depends on an array of unlicensed strategies. These dynamic markets are telling us something new: The future of wireless will likely be mostly unlicensed, with an important, but residual role of auctioned, licensed services. And yet the drive to auctions simply ignores the evidence from actual markets in favor of an outmoded regulatory ideal that is the opposite of what cutting edge radio engineering and dynamic markets show.

Most of these applications were developed using junk bands, where regulators dumped industrial equipment and microwave ovens. They thrived even in these harsh conditions, but in an effort to open up new, less wasteland-like areas for these dynamic, innovative technologies, the last Republican and current Democratic FCC chairs presided over the bipartisan creation of TV White Spaces, a policy that permits device manufacturers to expand the capabilities of unlicensed devices by sharing the TV bands with broadcasters. The TV Band auctions being pushed through the supercommittee threaten to displace these white space devices. As we look at the enormous success of unlicensed wireless strategies across the most dynamic markets, we see that doing so is penny wise, pound foolish.

Not only will auctions burden development of unlicensed strategies, if the last major auction is any indication, they will allow AT&T and Verizon to foreclose competition in their markets. When AT&T argued in defense of its T-Mobile merger, it said that T-Mobile wasn’t much of a competitor “without the spectrum to deploy a 4G LTE network.” But the reason T-Mobile lacks that spectrum is that Verizon and AT&T already own 78 percent of the spectrum bands needed. The new auctions would extend Verizon and AT&T’s foreclosure to the TV Bands as well, constraining not only competitors like T-Mobile, but the whole field of unlicensed strategies as well.

As a revenue source, spectrum auctions are a particularly pernicious tax on wireless innovation. They pick the wrong technology for wireless infrastructure by regulatory fiat, and strengthen the market dominance of already-dominant players. The costs of this policy to innovation and growth greatly outweigh its revenue benefits, and the supercommittee simply does not have the time to learn enough to avoid doing more harm than good.

United States Frequency Allocations http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frequency_allocation

Is Ignorance Essential For Start-up Success?

4 Nov

Blissful Ignorance – the Start-up Paradox…

Within entrepreneurial communities, it’s often the prevailing wisdom that innovation comes from industry experts that jump outside of the mainstream, team with technologists, and return with a new company or product to disrupt their existing industry.

Is this correct?

It seems to us that when starting a new startup in a particular industry, ignorance about that industry provides an advantage and raises the likelihood of starting a successful company. Having deep knowledge and familiarity with an industry serves to de-motivate innovation.

Familiarity with an industry means that you know all path dependencies, existing technological challenges, structural constraints, competitors, and hurdles, all of which are a good reason NOT to start a new company.

Hence, knowledge, which is indeed power, might on some occasions be too much of a good thing: in a competitive and entrepreneurial environment it can act as a deterrent for innovation.

As Stephen Johnson has emphasized, a leap in the dark based on a hunch and intuition might prove a better strategy than risk aversion based on (what may seems to be) perfect knowledge.

Consider Zappos’ entry into the clothing business, IndieGoGo’s entry into online loans, Cyota’s entry into the Security and Anti-Fraud market, or even General Assembly’s entry into education. None of the founding teams of these companies came from the industries in which they currently operate. And few even launched their companies with a focus on these industries.

The impact of knowledge on deterring innovation is part of the reason why companies who are active in particular industries for a long time look outside to capture innovation.

Outside innovation can be achieved in different ways:

  1. acquisitions
  2. building a platform that supports external development of applications/ plugins  (consider the iPhone app store or Google Apps)
  3. releasing software under as an open source project to encourage external innovation (consider Google’s development of Android)

We’d be interested to get your feedback.

Who is more likely to start a successful startup?

1.       An industry veteran?

2.       Ignorant outsider?

Many Faces of Open (infographic)

31 Oct

At the Open Video Conference in NYC this fall we had a discussion about the dimensions of “openness.” This infographic provides a summary of that conversation. Thought it was a nice way to start off this blog.

I recommend you click on the image to enlarge it. Enjoy…

visualsforchange.com

 

The Future of “Open Source” Licenses

19 Oct

Over the past decade we’ve seen increasing adoption of open source technologies, both by software companies, as part of their platform development, as well as by businesses and consumers who purchase open source products. In addition, governments and educational institutions are increasingly promoting the adoption of OS technologies.

In recent years, particularly in the start-up sector, we’ve also seen companies use what we call “Commercial Open Source” licenses. These licenses restrict the use of the software and charge consumers, yet they provide open source code access and allow companies to create derivative work.

In the wake of this rapid evolution and promotion of open source technologies, there is rampant confusion about what constitutes an “open source” project or “open source” license.   The definition is important because each type has different implications about the promotion of innovation, freedom, distribution, and use of software.  Our goal here is to promote a discussion on this topic and suggest an initial hypothesis.

What is open source?

It is currently accepted that in order for software to be defined as “open source” or “free” software, its license should not only allow access to the source code but also permit distribution that is free, unrestricted, and allows creation of derivative work. In order to be considered “open source” there needs to be a guaranty that openness cannot be revoked.

It is interesting to consider different licensing schemes and confront them with this definition.

Pure Open (MIT) and the like GPL and the like “Commercial” Open Source
Source Code is made available
Derivative work creation permitted
Ownership of Derivative Work
Restrictions on redistribution of Derivative work
No restrictions on software use and distribution
Guaranteed public access to source code

The GPL license (which allows source code access, free usage, and creation of derivative work, but insists that any derivative work, when redistributed, is also released under the GPL terms) is actually restrictive, as it requires redistribution of derivative work under a specific license. From an innovation standpoint, this license protects early developers from being “exploited” by others who build on their work but do not redistribute. Yet, in restricting later stage developers and preventing them from using the business models and licensing schemes of their choice, it inhibits downstream innovation. (see also a license to kill innovation).

Licenses such as the Apache License and the MIT license truly meet the broadest open source definition: they guarantee openness, allow for source code access and creation of derivatives, and they do not include meaningful restrictions that might inhibit the motivation of downstream developers (except for requiring attribution for example, which is not a real restriction).

Commercial Open Source licenses restrict usage based on $$ but provide source code access and permit derivative work.  These licenses would not traditionally be considered “open source” because they restrict distribution, but they do an allow companies “to build on the shoulders of giants”, which is one of the original rationales of open source licensing.  That said, under Commercial Open Source licenses, once companies develop new innovations, they cannot sell or sublicense the technology outside of the predefined commercial terms (ie. # of users, servers, etc.)

Commercial Open Source is not a broadly recognized category; however, it is an extremely interesting one from an innovation standpoint. Downstream innovators are motivated to develop derivative work. They can own it, and they can redistribute it. Still, these licenses cannot really guarantee the openness of the source code or its availability to the public. Typically the source code access in this model is subject to confidentiality.

Further analysis is needed, but thus far our hypothesis is as follows:  if the key objective is to guarantee the openness and availability of the software to the public, open source licenses are the right choice. If the key objective is to promote innovation, promoting commercial open source licenses is an extremely valuable path.

Why Write

9 Oct

Open Technology is a blog started by Michal Tsur and Leah Belsky.  We are two people who’ve traveled a varied path between the worlds of tech entrepreneurship,  business strategy, and academia.  We came together at Kaltura – a New York tech startup launching the world’s first open source media platform.  We were also both fellows at the Yale Information Society Project – a research institute focused on the future of the web and to understanding the way new technologies can be a force for positive change in the world.

Over the past 3 years at Kaltura we’ve brought to market an amazing video platform that has transformed the use and vision for media within top broadcasters, educational institutions, and enterprises. We developed a unique open source business strategy, and also founded an open advocacy organization, the Open Video Alliance, with Mozilla, PCF, Google, and others.

Yet, as we’ve grown Kaltura, we’ve become increasingly aware of how limited the discourse is between the tech community and the more academic worlds from whence we came.

For us, this blog is an attempt to bridge that gap- to connect BIG ideas about innovation and open technologies to industry and to the practical lives of entrepreneurs trying to start and grow companies. Most of all though, it’s a place for us to think and learn, within a community, and to refine our ideas in this time of change.

We will focus on a few key themes:

  • Open source tech and open systems -  What is the future of open source technologies and the open web, particularly in an age when web services, tech-activism, and social networks are rapidly changing the way we use and interact with the Net?
  • Digital Education – The education system today is crashing. Students are shouldered in debt. And generations of workers and graduates lack the skills needed to succeed in a digital world, and in a world with more complex technologies and industries. What is the future of digital education and how do we use digital literacy to empower the next generation of entrepreneurs?
  • Startups, Innovation, and Entrepreneurial Communities - We’ve both studied innovation academically and had the privilege of working in growing entrepreneurial communities in New York.  We’d like to use this blog to share some of our insights and lessons learned.

We’ve also had the privilege of working with many amazing friends, entrepreneurs, co-founders, and thinkers over the years, so you will likely see a few guest posts from them as well.

Welcome.