Tag Archives: Andy Stanford-Clark

Centennial

On June 16 2011, IBM is 100 years old – a little older if you include the companies that existed before the Computing Tabulating Recording Corporation (that was later renamed to International Business Machines) merged in 1911.

That’s pretty good going, for a technology company.

If you’ve listened to me speak this year, you will have heard me mention various reflections on how IBM has endured as an organisation. In amongst all the celebrations, and excitement, I’ve been doing a lot of reflection this year. I’m an historian by education and interest, but also a technologist; and perhaps I might even dare to describe myself as a futurist. The IBM 100 celebration has really set me thinking.

Personal Beginnings

Hursley My first introduction to the place where I now work, our lab at Hursley, was when I set foot in Hursley House as a customer, which I think was sometime around about 1999. I was struck by the beautiful wood-panelled (or Wedgewood-decorated) surroundings, the sense of history (IBM has had a research and development lab here in the UK for over 50 years), and the excitement at being at the location of some of the biggest technical innovations of the century.

I grew up and went to school in Portsmouth in the 1980s. IBM at the time was huge. The IBM PC was becoming commonplace, although I was always more of an Acorn lad; many of my school friends had parents who worked at the IBM UK headquarters in North Harbour. I couldn’t fail to know what IBM did, and I grew up learning about computers, how they worked, and wanting to learn and do more with technology. I was a schoolboy nerd, sure – but I knew what IBM did and how important the company was to the technology industry.

The more I’ve been involved with “social” at IBM, the more I’ve come to realise an issue, which SVPs like John Iwata recognised several years ago. You don’t buy IBM-branded consumer software off the shelves now, and although we invented the personal computer, very few people realise that now – let alone care about the PC as a device, by comparison to mobile phones, tablets and game consoles (even if IBM chips do power all three of the current dominant home gaming platforms…). That’s one of the many reasons why IBM chose to trust its employees to tell the broader story of the company and its capabilities through social networking and online interaction, a situation that stretches back to 1997 when IBMers were first actively encouraged to be online and public, and that has continued as the social web has continued to develop.

IBM and history

As I look at the history of the organisation and the various world-changing innovations that we’ve catalogued and highlighted via the IBM 100 site, it makes me THINK.

Many youngsters don’t appreciate the invention of the floppy disk now. In fact, most of them will never have seen one. They are as bizarre an item today as the massive twin-tape-spinning machines I used to see on TV as a child, harking back to the 1960s and 1970s era IBM mainframes. Why should the floppy disk matter? Well, in a sense, not at all… they are a relic of a bygone technical age, before the Internet. But, of course, without the floppy disk, we wouldn’t have been able to build the amazing things we have now. Tablets, mobile phones, tiny portable wireless computers. Don’t forget where we’ve come from.

Talking of where we’ve come from, the BBC has posted a lovely video featuring my friend and mentor Dr Andy Stanford-Clark and the Hursley lab, talking about IBM’s centennial. If you listen at the start and end of the video, you’ll also hear the company anthem

Why does any of this matter? Does it, or should it, matter, that the company that I’m working for helped to put man on the moon using computing equipment less sophisticated than today’s smartphones? Or that we helped to unravel the human genome? Or that we’ve built a computer called Watson that can instantly understand highly nuanced and difficult questions? Some of these things have had clear commercial imperatives, others may have had less, but all have helped to increase the human race’s understanding of the world in which we exist, and have helped towards greater things. Big Data, mobile apps, event-driven business, and the Internet, have all built on top of these earlier advances.

I haven’t blogged for a while, because I’ve been travelling and speaking. A poor excuse, but it does at least enable me to comment that last month I toured the Nordics, and had an opportunity to see a working IBM punchcard sorting machine at our HQ in Helsinki, Finland, along with a variety of other cool things (well they were cool to me – just go with it…)

Numeric keypad Start | Stop IBM Series 82 Card Sorter  IBM Parts Catalogue  IBM Clock  System/360 and 370 Electromatic Typewriter Emergency Pull System Reset

Final thoughts

My final thought is, fundamentally, a mix of cautious optimism, and fear of a technology “generation gap”. I’ve grown up during an era straddling the pre- and post-Internet generations. I’m actually hugely grateful – it gives me perspective. I’m an enthusiastic adopter of many of the technologies that have arisen as a result of the interconnected world, and my day job is involved with enabling systems to work together, reliably. Important stuff, in my opinion.

The current/next generation is growing up in an immediately-connected world, and faced not with keyboards and mice or touchpads, but with magic pieces of glass, or indeed, gestures in the air. We’ve moved beyond the period where I hacked open my Acorn Electron and soldered in headphones and a switch to avoid bothering my parents, and indeed beyond the time where graphics and sound cards could be slotted in and out of a motherboard, to an age where everything you need is apparently contained within a magic sheet of glass which responds at a touch.

This is fantastic – glorious – magical? – Technology, as our friends at Apple like to say, just gets out of the way. But, as various commentators are observing, this progress comes at the price of the wider population understanding technology, or even having the inclination to dig beneath the surface and try to fathom how these super-duper, integrated chips and advanced operating systems, enable this advanced behaviour. I’m not saying that every child should be forced to understand programming, chip design, technology internals, etc. – but an awareness of what got us here, and how we can continue driving forward, and inquisitiveness, seems to me to be essential. That’s why I’m delighted by the emergence of Arduino and electronics prototyping; and by The National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park; and why I’m proud to be an IBMer, aware of our heritage, and still helping to build a Smarter Planet. It’s a responsibility to continue to understand, explain, educate, and help others to make sense of the capabilities we have developed.

Final, final thought: how can we all work together to change the world again, tomorrow?

Book recommendation: Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance, by Lou Gerstner.

Video recommendation: I’ve already blogged about IBM’s story of the first 100 years. Check out the videos 🙂

Journalism, attribution and Creative Commons

Attribution and Creative Commons

The Daily Mail posted a story on their website about my friend Andy Stanford-Clark, and used a crop from one of my photos to illustrate it. As it happens, I would have been perfectly happy for them to use it (and even to crop it) if they’d asked for permission. At the time I post this, they are not following the Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence and they are also not linking back to my Flickr page per the Flickr terms and conditions.

Thanks to Nick for bringing this to my attention, and for those who have told me that they’ve posted comments (currently not through moderation) or sent emails. We’ll see what happens.

I’ve posted about my approach to CC licensing images before. In this case, it’s arguably more of a concern as it’s a national newspaper displaying what would appear to be significant ignorance about the morality of using user-created content.

Beyond all of this… if you want to learn more about Andy’s tweeting house, he was featured on the BBC News yesterday – it’s a nice piece, check it out.

On being part of a tribal movement

Looking back over the past few years, I find that I’ve somehow become part of a tribe: eightbar.

What is eightbar, again?

We’re a group of techie/creative people working in and around IBM’s Hursley Park Lab in the UK. We have regular technical community meetings, well more like a cup of tea and a chat really, about all kinds of cool stuff. One of the things we talked about is that although there are lots of cool people and projects going on in Hursley, we never really let anyone know about them. So, we decided to try and record some of the stuff that goes on here in an unofficial blog, EightBar.

This hasn’t been part of “a grand plan”. All that happened was that before I was even “officially” a “Hursley person”, I got to know a bunch of people with whom I share attitudes and interests, and started to explore some new spaces with them – virtual worlds like Second Life, enterprise social computing, bleeding edge technologies, collaboration that extends outside of enterprise, geographic and social boundaries.

I am very fortunate to become good friends with some inspiring people such as Ian Hughes (epredator), Roo Reynolds, Rob Smart, Darren Shaw and Andy Stanford-Clark – among many, many others – and found myself being asked to talk about some of these new areas with IBM customers and other groups. Without even realising it, I started to be viewed as an authority on many of these topics. I’m immensely grateful that people like Ian and Roo recognised my passion to communicate and gave me these opportunities to break out of my day-to-day role.

Ian has a great presentation and a blog post on how all of this has come about, by the way.

I’ve been standing on the shoulders of giants for the past couple of years and I completely recognise that. It’s awesome that this little group, loose band, motley assortment, whatever we are – this body of interested techies and thinkers has been identified by top analyst James Governor as his Team of the Year.

This idea of grassroots movements at work is summed up in a great soundbite from the Don Tapscott interview with Net@Night this past week (listen out for this one, about 41 minutes into the discussion)

… social networks are the new operating systems of business…

He’s so very, very right. I owe my successes in the past 2-3 years to my social networks – and to eightbar.

(this is Captain Slow, signing off…)