Posts tagged ‘future’


Staying a step ahead: the economic benefit of gimmicks

05.06.2013


Wifi on the waterfront is now a normal part of Wellington life—but in 2009 some felt it was a gimmick.

When I proposed free wifi as a campaign policy in 2009, it was seen as gimmicky by some. I wasn’t a serious candidate, some thought. But those ideas that have demand, such as wifi, have a way of becoming mainstream. The gimmicky tag is lost.
   Just as it was lost with the microwave oven, the compact disc, or the cellular phone.
   Not that the wifi idea was anything that new. Nor was it that original. It was simply a logical thing to propose for anyone who had done a spot of travelling (perhaps I did more than my rivals that time?), and had seen the potential of having the internet on tap to those using mobile devices. (The irony of this is, of course, I was not a regular user of mobile devices, at least not till they got to the technology that I expected of them.) If by providing such infrastructure, others could benefit, then was there anything to lose?
   Former Wellington mayor Mark Blumsky had a target to make our city the first capital in the world to be half-wired, that is, to have half its population on the internet. In the 1990s, when people were still wondering what on earth the internet was, that seemed an unnecessary goal. But leadership demands that one stays ahead of the curve, otherwise what point is there? If people wanted leaders to be reactive, then they may as well vote same-again politicians.
   I’m still pushing for extending wifi, especially in the places where library funding cuts have hurt resources for Wellingtonians. During a recent visit to the Johnsonville library, where staff could not discuss the impact of the cuts, I at least solicited the librarians’ belief that their places of work were used by all sectors of the community. Every age, every culture. And this library was particularly buzzing, as a community library should be.
   It’s going to take rebuilding our business sector—which forms a good part of the only published mayoral campaign manifesto to date—to at least get our economy moving and our rates’ base less dependent on citizens. But on the library issues, extending wifi into certain suburbs can help, especially those hardest hit by the cuts. Provide an uncapped service for those accessing certain educational sites, for instance—it’s technically not that hard to distinguish those from merely social ones.
   We’ve seen how the waterfront system is used through the year, and how it helps people connect. But as with the original system, it sends a signal to others, including those wanting to invest in our city, that Wellington is open to high-value, high-tech businesses. Why should our suburbs not receive the same “open for business” invitation?
   Collaboration, after all, helps fuel the human mind, toward new ideas and innovations.
   On that note, too, other things can be open. The 2010 campaign saw my support for open source. It’s still there, since I work with both commercial and open-source platforms myself. I’ve seen first-hand, through a mash-up competition I helped on a few years back (I mentored one of the winners), how providing open data gets creative juices flowing.
   So why not, in line with all of the above, make our bus and train data open to the public? Presently, Metlink won’t be releasing its real-time information (RTI) to the public, but if it did, potentially, an innovative Wellington company can use these data for live maps, for instance. Find out more information than the RTI that’s being delivered at bus stops. It is called public transport, after all, so why not public data? The most obvious app is a live map of buses that works much like the computer graphics in an America’s Cup race—once gimmicky, now also mainstream. In fact, it’s demanded by broadcasters. The New Zealand innovation of high-resolution, three-dimensional TV weather maps is now de rigueur around the world, too.
   If I can think of something like that, imagine what our really creative, lateral thinkers can come up with.
   While some city data are open, we should continue this trend, especially when it comes to data that innovations can stem from. At the risk of sounding trite, ‘It’s limited only by your imagination.’
   And what if such technology became so highly demanded that another exporter, another high-growth firm, was created right here in Wellington?
   The potential economic impact of “gimmicks” is very serious indeed.

As always, feedback and dialogue are welcome, either via this blog, my campaign Facebook group, or my Facebook page.

PS.: Here’s a prime example from Bangor, Maine of how these data can help the public, which Hamish McConnochie shared with me.—JY

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Cringely gives Facebook till 2014 to peak—and he may be right

22.07.2011

Bob Cringely wrote (found via Stowe Boyd):

Facebook is a huge success. You can’t argue with 750 million users and growing. And I don’t see Google+ making a big dent in that. What I see instead is more properly the fading of the entire social media category, the victim of an ever-shortening event horizon.
   Each era of computing seems to run for about a decade of total dominance by a given platform. Mainframes (1960–1970), minicomputers (1970–1980), character-based PCs (1980–1990), graphical PCs (1990–2000), notebooks (2000–2010), smart phones and tablets (2010–2020?). We could look at this in different ways like how these devices are connected but I don’t think it would make a huge difference.
   Now look at the dominant players in each succession—IBM (1960–1985), DEC (1965–1980), Microsoft (1987–2003), Google (2000–2010), Facebook (2007–?). That’s 25 years, 15 years, 15 years, 10 years, and how long will Facebook reign supreme? Not 15 years and I don’t think even 10. I give Facebook seven years or until 2014 to peak.

   I’ve said it for a while based on the opaque corporate culture at the company and its apparent disregard for privacy (the opposite to what it was like in 2006). Arrogant cultures like that don’t last long. I’ve similarly said nothing is forever, with Altavista as my example.
   It’s likely that the social phenomenon passes, not because it is invalid, but because most occidentals will have found their tribe of 150 and interact with it. Or, an economic change or a collaboration tool brings people into connection with others that sees their daily routines change.
   Facebook is a social tool, one which surfaced as a recession loomed, and grew as people desperately tried to define their networks or retreated from hardships. Once either task is done, then it loses its appeal. It loses further appeal—hence the embrace of Google Plus by the Google Kool-Aid drinkers—when networks get to a certain size and undesirable elements kick in, either people you don’t like (or have come to dislike through contact) or the need for too much maintenance. (See email’s loss of utility through spam, Wikipedia’s loss of accuracy through power-hungry editors and incompetent additions, or Google Blog Search’s loss of decent results through splogs and its own Adsense programme.)
   Facebook’s culture will likely give it seven years as it will deem itself invincible and fail to adopt to shifting consumer needs.

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Posted in business, culture, internet, leadership, technology, USA | 1 Comment »


Giving our young people a fair go

26.02.2011

Earlier this month, I gave a workshop talk to the Leadership and Development Conference for the New Zealand Chinese Association in Auckland.
   I’ve just uploaded the speech notes, and as I did so, I wanted to append a few more thoughts.
   The topic was identity—not just branding, but personal identity.
   My self-critique ex post facto was that I spent insufficient time discussing my mayoral campaign, which, I am told, was the one area the audience wanted to hear more of. In the hour’s space, I spent more of it on the theories behind personal branding.
   It’s not hard to see why the young Chinese New Zealanders who attended this conference wanted to hear more about politics. First up, the title of the conference was a big clue. If you weren’t interested in leadership, you wouldn’t be there.
   Secondly, they’ll have grown up in a far more equal and fair society than I did. Which means they have more opportunities to seek the jobs they want. They won’t be limited by societal expectations and the false stereotypes will be waning.
   While there have been mayors of Chinese ethnicity in New Zealand for the last 40 years, it has only been in recent times that men like Meng Foon and Peter Chin have surfaced and brought a modern face to these positions.
   With the departure of Pansy Wong from Parliament, ‘Asians’ are underrepresented more than ever.
   God knows how many times I have heard the BS line of ‘But Chinese people aren’t interested in politics.’
   Funny, considering China has had politicians for most of the last five millennia and I come from a long line of them.
   And that’s the experience I should have shared more of with the Auckland audience. If we’re to be better represented, then we should be giving young people the courage to do what they want to do.
   If they’re interested in politics, then by all means, they should seize the day, and who gives a damn what their ethnicity is?
   The good news is that I didn’t experience much racism on the campaign trail. Our media were above board on this front, which shows some level of maturity has come into New Zealand society. Bias came in due to politicking in at least one case, but, generally, the fourth estate did well.
   I noticed a couple of instances where my lack of council experience became a talking-point. This is despite three of the last five mayors lacking council experience.
   Considering the structure of Wellington City Council needs fresh eyes to examine it, not being part of the furniture and having a healthy scepticism toward Humphrey Applebys might be a good thing.
   But they were valid concerns for some people, though to be dismissed by a few members of our media because of it means that fresh ideas won’t surface in our society, at least not till the idealism has gone out of them through groupthink and establishmentarianism.
   What would have been worth discussing with the audience was the idea that there will always be forces that try to include and exclude. I’m not pointing fingers because we all do it. The whole debating season I had with my five opponents was about oneupmanship.
   However, it would have been a great exercise to have looked at how they could overcome exclusion in their careers. And without changing their names.
   It would have tied neatly back into my criticism of the Uncle Tom behaviour.
   I apologize for furthering another stereotype: I realize Tom was a far more noble character in Uncle Tom’s Cabin than what people would believe today. I use the term only as a shortcut.
   The behaviour, I am sorry to say, has existed among our own race, too.
   I feel it’s still a concern when I see certain people who buy in to comfortable stereotypes, and use them to shoot down someone. Worse still, when they use them to shoot down someone of their own colour.
   It serves neither the majority nor the minority.
   And given that the overwhelming majority of New Zealanders gave me a fair go, you’d hope that we’d have seen an end to the Uncle Tom mentality.
   That would have been a great debate.
   Fortunately, there were equally members of the Kiwi Chinese community who were extremely encouraging toward my candidacy, because they had grown up with racism not unlike my own experience. They tried to redress the balance wherever possible, and I was extremely grateful for that.
   So many used their contacts to make life easier for my campaign—and it was through those and many other efforts that we punched well above our weight. Netting a third of the numbers of the victor on a tenth of the money is no mean feat.
   The good still outweighs the bad when it comes to race, and it can only get better for our young people. If all Kiwis get to do the things they are most passionate about, without prejudices about what they “should” be doing, they will ultimately benefit New Zealand.

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It’s time to consider open source

14.06.2010

Certain media are reporting the city’s [debt] in the $200 million–$300 million mark but our outside-council research reveals this is a very conservative estimate. It’s likely to be more.
   Regardless of whether it’s $200 million or half an (American) billion (scary just saying it), any deficit that’s nine digits long can’t be good for a relatively small city.
   One of my plans after I get into office will be to balance the budget, which is why I have been going on about growing jobs and businesses in such a big way. In a very shortcut way of explaining it: more new businesses, more ratepayers, fewer reasons to increase the rates. Which, I might add, this current administration has already locked in for us over the next few years, letting the next mayor get the blame.
   I object to any cuts in library services, even if there is a strong denial that that is happening. In a knowledge economy, we cannot afford to create a class system of the knowledge-rich and the knowledge-poor.
   On this note, recently I asked Don Christie of the New Zealand Open Source Society to examine an open-source strategy for Wellington City. For starters, we discussed how the library software is a proprietary system that costs this city a considerable amount—when there is a New Zealand-developed open-source program that many other cities have implemented.
   While it would be nice to keep believing we can afford expensive software to run city services, I don’t like debt, and I certainly don’t like owing people any money.
   And I’m not prepared to sell off our water to technocrats or any profitable part of the family jewels to see the hundred-million figure reduced.
   There are good examples of open source working for cities and creating significant savings. Zaragoza, Spain, has been moving to a complete open-source desktop. And it’s not the only one.
   Furthermore, open source will mean jobs in Wellington. This will mean new jobs. I have already gone on about the tech clusters being a vital part of this city’s economy. Open-source skills are in high demand, and if overseas trends are anything to go by, we can attract these skilled people to our city. Already Wellington is a centre of excellence in many IT-related fields. I’m talking about extending this and making a real claim to open-source. Let the world know that Wellington is the home of not just the most advanced software and visual effects’ companies, but logically extend that to open source as well.
   It’s projected that by 2020, 40 per cent of jobs in IT will be open-source-related, so if we don’t do it, another New Zealand city will. I’m not about to give up one of our most important advantages, one which has been emerging in the capital since the 1990s.
   Such moves can be done with the city and Wellington’s private enterprises working together—but this will need to come from the top, and be put in motion by a mayor who’s passionate about job creation. It’s one of the biggest challenges we face, and I seem to be a lone voice on focusing on this for our city.

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Posted in business, internet, leadership, media, New Zealand, politics, technology, Wellington | 9 Comments »


A new decade demands a new way—and a new mayor

06.05.2010

I had a very insightful meeting today with one of the country’s leading information strategists, which put things into perspective for me regarding the mayoral race.
   His thoughts (though not exactly his words): Wellington has almost always voted for the right person at the right time. We needed someone like Mark Blumsky to give events and retail a boost in the 1990s. Some will argue that we needed his successor, the incumbent, Kerry Prendergast, to continue some of those policies in the early 2000s. As Wellington’s state sector grew, it could be argued that we needed property development, something intimately associated with the current mayor.
   But with a shrinking state sector and economy, the next stage is not more and more buildings. Nor is it more politics as usual.
   The reality is that the power is shifting to us—we, the people.
   The next stage in this new decade is entrepreneurship and building world-class businesses. It is about making Wellington a cosmopolitan, international city that’s a world player. It’s also about using the technology we have for greater transparency, increasing citizen participation. We all want a say in our city and our country.
   Of course I agreed with his thoughts about what we need next, as they form the cornerstone of my campaign.
   I firmly believe that most of us actually want to be engaged in local politics and reject that we under-45s are apathetic. We’re more aware of what’s going on in our world that we want to play a part.
   Regardless of for whom people vote, I think it’s important we hear from the other 60-plus per cent of Wellingtonians who have traditionally stayed silent during the local body elections. With this growing awareness we now have of our world, I believe we will.

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Posted in business, media, New Zealand, politics, Wellington | 3 Comments »


Thoughts toward 2020

02.05.2010

This weekend was spent in recovery mode after getting some weird stomach bug before Anzac Day. Without getting too gross, let’s say it took a lot out of me. That’s right: I was energetically drained.
   But it’s not to say that the campaign has stopped or slowed. Things seem to be proceeding at a good pace—sometimes so well that I have to admit I have less time to blog.
   I met with both a Mr Andrew Jackson and a Mr Calhoun in the last two weeks, which I am sure our American readers will be getting a chuckle over. While the Andrew Jackson I met is British-born and not related to the American president of the $20 banknote, Brian Calhoun of Silverstripe is directly descended from the seventh vice-president.
   Both gentlemen shared the same visions as I did. Andrew, who was introduced to me via my fellow Medinge director Patrick Harris, looks at the Wellington region over the next 10–20 years in his job with the Ministry of Economic Development. While I stated that I did not believe in a super-city for Wellington in 2010—we are governable, after all—I had to admit that there would come a time where the capital would have to compete for resources from central government as a region. And that region might look very different in the 2020s with a second international airport and a light rail service. If elected mayor, it’s not going to be something that will be built between 2010 and 2013, but I’d sure need to be aware of long-term developments for the region. (It also highlights the need to grow jobs under the creative cluster plans, so we can begin talking options.)
   On that note, it would be prudent to recommence the regional mayoral meetings in a slimmer form. Right now, mayors from all over the Wellington region come with entourages, ensuring nothing gets done. Let’s take that back to meeting with mayors and regional MPs without all the red tape and get some high-level agreements made after October 2010.
   Meanwhile, Brian presides over one of the most successful software companies in the land—and I like Silverstripe’s current mantra, ‘Be more human’. It links to my own ideas that humans are in charge of technology and not vice versa. And Silverstripe, under his leadership, has done remarkably with annual growth rates of 63, 70 and 57 per cent.
   His belief is that Wellington businesses can grow if they have the right advice and adopt a leadership posture to what they do. It’s a good cultural argument: let the brand be well defined, and live the right attitude within the organization (these are not Brian’s words, but what I took from what he said). I remarked that that was largely how I got my own businesses to where they were.
   But here’s something significant: Brian, as I, believes that Wellington can be one of the world’s leading cities. We can lead in terms of web, tech and software development, for starters, being the sort of place that attracts both talent and envy. We’ve both been around the world, we’re aware of what ingredients need to be in place to make this happen, and we’re certain on the steps we need to take to make some of Wellington’s businesses world-class champions.
   I’d rather have free wifi in the central city and a vibrant creative cluster than another sculpture (as much as I like the ones we have) or another stadium suffering from a NZ$20 million cost overrun. And I know we can build these businesses from the ground-up and keep them Kiwi-owned—rather than asset-strip and have foreigners snatch them up, which still seems to dominate the thinking of central government.
   Speaking of which, I see that a bill amending the Local Government Act 2002 has been tabled. And that bill says that if a private corporation wants to control our water, it can do so for 35 years. That company set up to sell our water back to us no longer needs to be majority council-owned.
   This is madness. Not only have we owned our water from day one, it is anathema to my thinking that some foreign corporation raking in US$50 billion per annum could control it. These corporations exist, and you can bet they are eyeing New Zealand up lustfully in the hope that the law is changed.
   Better to have water stay in public hands and have all of us contribute to proper conservation programmes, I say. But, say the privateers, surely we can charge for water? ‘What? The poor can’t afford it? It’s not as though they need to wash every day, is it?’
   The ghosts of Slater Walker and their ilk still walk the hallways at some political parties’ HQs. And they still think they are in charge.

Incidentally, I seem to be getting decent (and by ‘decent’ I mean ‘fair and balanced’) air time on the radio airwaves. So far I’ve done Newstalk ZB a couple of times, as well as their competition over at Radio Live. Laura Daly at Access Radio did a wonderful interview with me earlier in April (I will be back on that station with my opponent Celia Wade-Brown in Espace Français on May 15 in my first political interview in French). Radio New Zealand National, meanwhile, interviewed me a few times during the whole Wellywood saga, but I am glad that I had a more personal one-on-one with Sonia Yee during her Asian Report last week. Here’s the link to the programme for those who might want a slightly less political broadcast (the MP3 is here).

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