Phone Cameras + Social Are Expanding the Historical Record

"There's a plane in the Hudson. I'm on the ferry going to pick up the people. Crazy."

In a critique of the rise of Instagram (current photo sharing app du jour), Laurie Voss argues that the rise of cheap, low fidelity cameras on phones is undermining the data contained in them. And it’s not just that these pictures are lower quality now, it’s affecting their value for future generations:

With these rubbish phone cameras we take terrible photos of some of our most important moments and cherished memories. I am not complaining about composition and lighting here; I’m not a photographer. I am talking about the quantity of meaningful visual data contained in these files. Future historians will decry forever the appalling lack of visual fidelity in the historical record of the last decade.

I read that, and at first though, “Yeah, that could be an issue.” But then I realized that, well no, it’s actually the opposite. The rise of cheap phone cameras is actually increasing the historical record. This even has disruptive innovation undertones to it.


Picture = Moment + Equipment

[tweetmeme source=”bhc3″]

When thinking about recording data for history pictorially, I consider two elements:

  • Moment
  • Equipment

"The line at 9 am at the Pleasanton @sfbart stretches for blocks. Huge crowd downtown today for #sfgiants parade."

Now moments are always going to arise. They may be significant moments, such as Janis Krums’ iconic picture above after a US Airways plan crash landed on the Hudson. Recently, the San Francisco Giants were celebrated for their 2010 World Series title with a ticker tape parade in downtown San Francisco. When I arrived at the Dublin/Pleasanton BART the morning of the victory parade, I was shocked by the number of people waiting in line for get to SF.

Just as important as the moment is the equipment. I’m not talking about the quality of the photographic equipment. I’m saying, “do you have something to take the picture?”

Before I got a phone with a camera on it, I had no way of photographing any moments. I could tweet about them, email a description of them and tell people about them. But there was no visual record at all.

I wasn’t carrying a camera around with me. Just not something I wanted to deal with as I also carried my ‘dumb’ phone.  And wallet. And keys. Just too much to deal with.

But a camera included with my mobile phone? Oh yeah, that works. I’ll have that with me at all times.

Which is a much better fit with the notion of capturing moments. They are unpredictable, and do not schedule themselves to when you’re carrying a separate camera.

As for the “quantity of meaningful visual data” being reduced, I think of it mathematically:

The X/Y variable represents the decrease in data per picture. If Y is the “full” data from a high resolution photo, then X is the reduced data set. The loss of scene details, the inability to discern people’s expressions, etc. Yeah, that is a loss due to low quality cameras.

The B/A variable represents the increased number of pictures enabled by the proliferation of convenient low quality cameras. If A is the quantity of photos with high resolution cameras, B is the overall number of photos inclusive of the low quality cameras.

Multiply the ratios, and I believe the overall historical record has been improved by the advent of phone cameras. In other words, “> 1”.

Sharing Is Caring

Something the higher quality, standalone cameras have lacked is connectivity. They miss that aspect we have to share something in the moment. The fact that I can share a picture just as soon as a I take it is extra incentive to take the picture in the first place.

I share my kids’ pics with family via email, and other pics end up in my Twitter and Facebook streams. You know how painful it is to upload photos from the camera and share them? Very.

Standalone cameras are like computer hard drives, locking data off in some siloed storage device somewhere. Good luck to historians in extracting that photographic data.

Convenience Wins Out

This is the disruptive innovation of convenience. People are swapping the separate cameras for the all-in-one mobile devices. And like any good low-end innovation, the quality will increase. Meaning more pictures with better detail and fidelity.

I mean, imagine if there were a bunch of phone cameras at Gettysburg?

Only known photo of Abraham Lincoln (center, without hat) at Gettysburg

We’d have thousands of pics, and it’d be a Twitter Trending Topic. As for the lower data per picture, damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead. Phone cameras will enrich the historical record for future generations.

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When Should Management Push Enterprise 2.0 Adoption?

After the Boston edition of the Enterprise 2.0 Conference, IBM’s Rawn Shah wrote a great follow-up post outlining ten observations from the event. A couple points that I found myself agreeing with wholeheartedly were:

Adoption is about transforming human behaviors at work – More folks are starting to recognize that it is not trivial to bring communities and other social environments to life.

‘Let’s get beyond “adoption”’ – This was another sentiment I heard several times, but I attribute it to short-attention span. The general statement was ‘adoption’ was last-year’s thing, and we needed a new ‘thing’.

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The underlying philosophy of his post contrasts with that of Paula Thornton, who finds talk of driving adoption to be antithetical to the true nature of Enterprise 2.0. As she described in a post from several months ago:

If you have to “drive adoption” you’ve failed at 2.0 design and implementation. The fundamentals of 2.0 are based on design that is organic — meets the individual where they are and adapts based on feedback — it emerges. The ‘adoption’ comes from rigorous ‘adaptation’ — it continuously morphs based on involvement from the ‘masses’. If done right, you can’t keep them away…because you’ve brought the scratch for their itch.

While I empathize with her design-driven perspective, I personally find there to be more to people’s adoption patterns. Sometimes the superior design does not win. Existing network effects may prove a high barrier to adoption of something new. Embedded history makes the current approach valuable. And other reasons intrude.

In considering adoption, we have the push strategy (by management), and the pull strategy (viral, organically spreads). Both are viable approaches. The key factor is to determine when each needs to be employed.

A Decision Framework for Pushing Enterprise 2.0 Adoption

The graphic below outlines a basis for determining when Enterprise 2.0 adoption must be pushed, and when to let adoption be pulled:

The two key factors in the framework are user-centric and organization-centric.

The X-axis highlights a key reality. If a current approach/technology is working well enough for users, there is an inertia to making a switch of any kind. This principle is nicely captured in the “9x problem”, an explanation by Harvard professor John Gourville that was highlighted by Andrew McAfee. The 9x problem is this:

Users will overvalue existing products/solutions by 3 times, and undervalue the benefits of a new products/solutions by 3 times.

We’re for the most part risk-averse (e.g. technology adoption lifecycle is back-end loaded), and giving up existing ways presents a level of uncertainty. It’s the devil we know versus the devil we don’t. We place a value on the certainty of current methods, even if flawed.

The other part of the 9x equation is that users will place an uncertainty discount against new products/solutions enumerated benefits. Yes, it’s true. We don’t always buy everything we’re told.

The Y-axis speaks to the value of E2.0 to organizations. Certainly there will be use cases that can drive high value for the organization. And just as certainly, there will be those use cases that contribute little to organizational value.

Let’s run through the different approaches mapped on the graph, clockwise from top right.

Requires a Top-Down Push


  • Existing ways are ‘good enough’ for employees
  • Executives see great potential for value from adoption

What might this be? Imagine management has seen too many examples of people missing key information and connecting the dots well with others are working on. An enlightened C-level type knows there is an opportunity to pick it up a level.

So some sort of social software – e.g. wiki, collaboration groups, etc. – is selected to make this a reality. But guess what? People keep emailing to one another and saving docs to the LAN.

Why? Because those are the tools they know, there is no learning curve and everyone operates on a shared set of processes and assumptions. Things work “as is”.

This is where management needs to wield its power, and come up with ways to influence employees to alter their entrenched behaviors that work “good enough”.

Mix a Push-Pull Strategy


  • Existing ways are actually not “good enough”
  • There is high value in large-scale adoption

This is the home run of initiatives. Solves a “what’s in it for me” need of individuals, while also presenting a great chance to advance the value of the organization.

An innovation platform is a good example here. A place for individuals to express those ideas that fire them up or just plain solve annoyances. Which get lost in the email inbox.

But the opportunity for new ideas that deliver to the bottom line gets management’s attention.

Pull works here, as word spreads about the initiative. But management has an interest in making sure everyone is aware of the initiative, as soon as possible. Push tactics are good supplements.

Let It Grow Organically


  • Existing ways are actually not “good enough”
  • There is low value in large-scale adoption

This is a tough one. Clearly the “Enterprise 2.0 way” can solve a problem for employees, but its adoption cannot be seen to lead to high impact on company value. An example here? Hmm…tough one. Enterprise bookmarking might be one area. Solves the, “how do I find things?” conundrum, for me personally and for others. But hard to see just how it will increase firm value. At least on a standalone basis.

Best to let these initiatives grow of their own accord. Let their value emerge, often with stories.

Don’t Waste Your Time


  • Existing ways are ‘good enough’ for employees
  • There is low value in large-scale adoption

Suffice to say, this one should be killed before it ever starts.

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My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 120409

From the home office in the middle of the road by my smashed up SUV with a nine-iron imprint on my face…

#1: RT @parkerlsmith Foursquare: Democratizing the Loyalty Program > SMBs can use @fourquare as a loyalty program

#2: – We’re all selling now: the evolution of online reputations #socialmedia #e20 #reputation

#3: What can email interfaces learn from Twitter clients (e.g. Tweetdeck) to manage the overload?

#4: Collaboration Is Hot: Why Now? > Forrester survey shows idea mgt tools are a top 2 #e20 priority

#5: IT@Intel Blog: All I Want For Christmas is my #E20 > ideation was the one measurable ROI #innovation

#6: Fox: Cisco has a product ideas wiki for employees. Dedicated VC funding for ideas. Similar to what AT&T is doing w/ Spigit. #ois09

#7: Lasher: Innovation lever = do small thing w/ big result. Avoid going right for big bang. Otherwise corp antibodies kill you #ois09

#8: McKinney: 60% of ideas generated internally. Via HP Garage. Use employee crowdsourcing to filter and refine these. #ois09

#9: RT @AndreaMeyer: HP Labs saved $2 bln $ from its supply chain through internal innovations #ois09

#10: Just started a posterous account: Collect stuff I find along the way. FriendFeed meets Evernote meets blogging.

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 101609

From the home office in a balloon 7,000 feet above Colorado…

#1: Well, this was unexpected. The Spigit funding news has hit Techmeme #e20 #innovation

#2: LinkedIn: 50 million professionals worldwide “Last million took only 12 days” Wow. Tipping point?

#3: RT @mwalsh: Seth’s best post of the year – get over yourselves…you’re not that cool, interesting or smart.

#4: Is Social Media the New Cigarette? asks @billives Looking at social media addiction

#5: RT @nyike First Jive, now Spigit building #e20 and collaborative functionality on top of Sharepoint

#6: Within firms, collaboration technologies are dictated by most powerful person involved in the collab by @amcafee

#7: Just as interesting as this WSJ piece is, Why Email No Longer Rules… are the skeptical cmts left by readers #e20

#8: If companies like $GOOG and $MMM excel and incl employee 15-20% personal time for innovation, why haven’t others adopted same?

#9: Wind farm firm makes sure its wind mills are 30 miles away from nearest Starbucks. Why? Best way to avoid NIMBY’s

#10: When a company gets funding, all sorts of interesting “opportunities” emerge. Just got a solicitation for Spigit to sponsor a NASCAR driver.

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 071009

From the no-hitter home office at AT&T Park in San Francisco…

#1: If you tweet about a baseball no-hitter in progress, is that risking a jinx?

#2: It’s from 2008, but still a great read: Shirky’s Law and why (most) social software fails by @michael_nielsen

#3: Email: The First –and Largest– Social Network by @jowyang Hmmm….where does postal mail rank then?

#4: Reading: 15 ways to spark a fight in the E2.0 community by @gyehuda #7 is my favorite.

#5: Anyone remember Larry Ellison’s dream of the Net Computer back in 1996? Fast forward to 2009’s Google Chrome OS

#6: @SameerPatel @defrag Oh yes, happy to provide the State of California with Spigit. Better filtering, to avoid this:

#7: “What are the five things you value most in life?” asks @fhinnovation Me? Kids, wife, health, living in U.S., job

#8: My wife and I are now sharing our Google Calendars. Only way to stay on top of the kids’ schedules now that they’re both starting school.

#9: Are you following @badbanana ? Practically every tweet of his is a treasure of humor. Found out about him a few months ago thru @chrisbrogan

#1o: My 5 y.o. son yesterday: “Daddy, would you still love me if my name was different?” Me: “Depends on the name.”

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 062609

From the home office in Buenos Aires…

#1: Early criticism of veracity of MJ story was that it came from TMZ. Does TMZ misreport or lie? Or do people just not like what they cover?

#2: Reading – How to approach open innovation: With lessons from P&G by @lindegaard #innovation

#3: “As strongly as you & a few like-minded people feel the impacts of info overload, a lot more people just don’t care.”

#4: CLEAR, the service that used biometrics to fast-track you thru airport security, is no more Another biometrics firm dies

#5: Reading these Dachis posts today I get the sense the firm is consultancy, not technology @peterkim @armano @jevon

#6: RT @VMaryAbraham McAfee/Lockheed: Top-down mandate needs to be done carefully. Otherwise it can hamper e20 rollout. #e2conf {How?}

#7: Reading: The secret sauce to successful Enterprise 2.0 adoption by @oscarberg

#8: Self-spam? Colleague CC’d himself on an Outlook email. Outlook put his email into its spam folder.

#9: Blind? :-p RT @hottweeters @bhc3 Are your legs tired? Cuz you’ve been running through someone’s mind at

#10: My 5 y.o. son asks: Is there infinite of anything. My answer? No, everything is finite. Right?

FriendFeed adds file attachments. Next up, Google Wave?

FriendFeed just took a fairly significant step forward. And in doing so, I wonder if they have an ultimate destiny as some sort of business platform.

FriendFeed now supports file attachments. When you post a new entry directly to FriendFeed, there is now an option to Add: Files. Here’s a test post I did:

FriendFeed entry with file attachment

You can see the PDF attachment, along with the file size. From an extended conversation by the community with the FriendFeed team about this release, here are some other details:

  • Documents are virus-scanned
  • The amount you upload will be governed by undisclosed limits per file, and in aggregate over a rolling 24-hour period, but most people won’t hit the limits
  • Videos aren’t supported with this release
  • Audio files are limited to 3 per day

Last December, I wrote If You Had to Choose One Form of Digital Communication, What Would It Be? In that post, I assessed six different technologies: email, IM, SMS text, Twitter, social networks, FriendFeed. At that time, I picked Twitter, because I could send directed messages to people. I also added this:

A word about FriendFeed. If they ever decide to support direct messaging and something similar to the @reply tab of Twitter, then they would become my communication mode of choice. There is so much more that can be done there via different media types, along with Rooms and Lists.

Communication Mode Poll 121608

Poll from the December 2008 blog post

Meanwhile, in response to that post many said ’email’. Here are some who provided some explanation, on the blog and on FriendFeed:

For now, I had to choose e-mail, especially for exchange of attachments.

I hope and pray when FF becomes the one and all platform. It is so well thought out. But for now, I wouldn’t be able to function without email. That is my number one choice!

email – still the most versatile, and durable

Email. Free wins. Other things are free but not as full featured.

Email – for better or worse, literally everyone has an email account. Plus it’s essential in the workplace.

Since I wrote that post, FriendFeed has rolled out these three major advances:

  1. Direct messaging
  2. Real-time comments, added to the thread for an entry
  3. File attachments

You see those developments, and you start to realize that, “Hey! They’re building a communication and collaboration platform over there!” They’ve basically answered whatever shortfalls people expressed.

Now social networks are all fun and games, right? So what does this latest release say about FriendFeed’s direction? From their blog post:

We’ve certainly been using this feature internally and have found it extremely useful. We hope it’ll help make you and your collaborators even more productive, and a little more attached to FriendFeed.

FriendFeed is certainly touching on activities that define the work day. I mean, if you look at what Yammer or Socialcast does (e.g. microblogging, direct messages, file attachments, groups), you’ll see FriendFeed is overlapping much of that. FriendFeed, the business application? Certainly it has plenty of revenue opportunities there if the advertising model is not of interest. Well, maybe there are revenue opportunities in the small- to mid-sized business segment.

And a final point. Google Wave is an outstanding technology, with its real-time sharing and communication, server-based access and federated protocol. As I said in my post about Wave, it will be the young guns that incorporate it and advance it inside the enterprise. Since FriendFeed is pushing forward strongly on being a leading company in communication and collaboration, adoption of Google Wave seems like a natural. The federated protocol is a terrific opportunity to create collaborative ecosystems.

I’m sure the FriendFeed team is experimenting with Google Wave right now. We’ll see what they come up with.