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Jason Gorman writes an excellent post which sums up so much about what we know about software development but aren’t always able to acknowledge. I don’t necessarily agree with the “Government shouldn’t be the customer” part – I see no problem with the government being the customer: it only becomes a problem if they have the wrong attitudes and ideology. This is vitally important in the public services.

The rest of it is pretty much on the money in my view.

This is a video you may have seen:

It shows a toddler sitting up holding a magazine. She tries to swipe it – she tries to expand it – she bangs it to try to make it play. Nothing happens. And in frustration she throws it away. To a toddler a magazine is a tablet that’s broken.

This is – it is said – how this generation is growing up. It will have a totally different set of norms and behaviours.

I have just stepped away from a somewhat heated online debate about this. Below is verbatim what I said:

I have to say I don’t agree. How do we know that the toddler thinks the magazine is a broken tablet? They might just toss it aside they way they would with anything they don’t (yet) understand. Lego, say. Humans assess such things the way they assess anything else: through their individual world view, which changes over time. The same toddler probably won’t see the risk associated with grabbing a knife from the kitchen table or crawling over the top of a flight of stairs. Those ‘norms and behaviours’ aren’t fixed.

By extension, that doesn’t mean they won’t discover magazines later in life and really like and value them. By extension further (which is what the underlying message behind this clip is) it doesn’t mean that the same toddler/pre-school/teenager won’t grow up and value traditional media – radio, television, books and so on. People’s attitudes change. Television audiences are going up not declining. Radio has been written of for 40 years but is still as strong as ever.

The trap many fall into (and Marketing people especially) is that they think they can examine the habits and behaviours of a specific range of people and extrapolate the results to predict the future. This is nonsense. The world doesn’t work like that.

It’s possibly also worth pointing out that Marie Claire isn’t aimed at toddlers.

In recent weeks the newspaper media sections have all carried articles proclaiming that “television is back”. These have been prompted by a report from OFCOM, the UK communications regulator on The Communications Market. The report states that audience figures for television are strong and that it has a dominant position in the UK’s media landscape.

You could conclude that far from being “back”, it seems it never went away.

The report also talks about the phenomenon of “meshing” – watching television whilst talking about it on Facebook. This is also on the rise and I wrote about it previously here; It is an interesting example of how ‘new’ media is attracting people to (rather than away from) ‘old’ media. In doing so, ‘old’ media is strengthening, not declining.

Who’d have thought it, eh?

The chart below is the one people should study and inwardly digest. From this you get a feel for just how strong television is and for what most of the public always knew: On demand services and the internet feature in their lives but television is still the primary media. The alternatives don’t represent a replacement to or a migration from it. Note that television viewing is going up..

Figures

Radio – a medium people have been writing off for 40 years – is also strong and its reach stays pretty much the same year-on-year.

There has long been an unstated, received wisdom in media circles that traditional television and radio are on their way out at the hands of the Internet and the on demand services that have stemmed from it. Few people state this belief openly; it is a subtlety conveyed ambient thing. A drip feeding.

And it is of course nonsense. There is not the tiniest fragment of evidence for television and radio’s demise.

So what are we to make of all this? Well, I’ve written previously on these pages about the inability of the technology industry (or part of the technology industry at any rate) to come to terms with the notion of more than one way of doing something. It is at its most comfortable with wholesale replacement. New versions. Clear demarcation between old and new. This is perpetuated by various ‘experts’, ‘visionaries’ and assorted ‘blue sky thinkers’ – most of whom have no idea about what is really going on.

The public clearly think otherwise and people on the bus home would give you greater insight. It is a pity they are not consulted more often.

In England, a new national curriculum is apparently being introduced for secondary schools. Two of the things in it are the 12-times table and fractions. But why are we still teaching either? The reason decimal was invented (by a Dutchman which is where “going Dutch” comes from) is to get rid of the mind-wrenching nonsense of trying to work out what 1/3 of 7/8s is. As for the 12-times table, I don’t see why you need it when you have the metric decimal system – based on 10.

A far more productive and useful skill to be taught would be estimation.

I don’t say this specifically because estimation is such an issue for IT projects. I say it because it is so useful generally. I am in the process of having my garden landscaped, and it occurred to me that I have no idea how long my garden actually is. And furthermore I wouldn’t have a clue at estimating it. I would have to measure it myself or go back to the requisite paperwork.

Having said that, if I underestimate the bark chips I will need, that would simply be viewed as an inconvenience. Not a catastophe in the way that unexpected events on IT projects tend to be interpreted.

The other day I was talking to one of my fellow BAs that I hadn’t seen for a while. After some general conversation about our projects and business processes, he bemoaned that “it is not for IT to tell the business how to do their jobs”.

I have heard people use this phrase before but I don’t find it any less alarming. To explain to people in ‘the business’ (a phrase I hate, by the way) not only how they should do their jobs, but to train and educate them, is EXACTLY what IT should be doing.

If we can’t do this, it is often for two reasons. Either we can’t because of time constraints and priorities, or we can’t because we lack knowledge to do so. Either are appalling: It is like phoning up Panasonic for product advice and be told “we don’t understand our products. We let the customers work out for themselves how best to use them, and we ask them if we have queries”.

Bizarre.

To give the person in question the benefit of the doubt, perhaps what he meant was that ‘the business’ should be free to innovate and change and it isn’t for others to impose rules, structure and explanation that might undermine the innovation. This sounds convincing at first, except that in the modern era, technology is in itself the innovator. Innovation isn’t brought about by the traditional ‘business’ making ‘requests’. It is about technology taking the lead. Nobody ‘requested’ the Internet after all, and it wasn’t on someone’s business requirements list.

In my view, this conversation is indicative of how IT is increasingly seen as a detached and remote ‘supplier’ of services and solutions – often only reluctantly engaged as a last resort or late in the day. This is a terrible situation and certainly not one that motivated me to enter the profession.

It’s hardly a Damascene moment, but it occurred to me the other day how rarely these days you see people reading printed newspapers.

There is nothing good about this.  Like HMV disappearing, it isn’t just a matter of people getting content from somewhere else.  It isn’t like buying your salad online rather than in a shop.

The issue is that it represents a loss of revenue – or perhaps a transfer of revenue – away from ‘makers’ and towards ‘distributors’.  For the newspapers, struggling to maintain quality journalism and reporting – together with all the infrastructure that involves – people not buying a newspaper is money going out of the industry.  It’s not like buying your salad from somewhere else.  That money might end up in a different part of the salad industry, but it at least stays somewhere in that industry.

As a senior figure from, I think, the New York Times said not too long ago – “Google may do a good job of aggregating content, but we’re the ones that have a bureau in Iraq, not Google”.

Or something like that anyway.

It seems to me something very radical might have to happen to newspapers.   Perhaps a public wi-fi that can be only be used to access Newspaper web sites?

Get me Mr Murdoch on the phone, will you? *

 

* This isn’t just a flippant comment – The Cloud Public Wifi is already part of his empire….

There are various reports in the press that HMV are having poor pre-Christmas sales, and this perhaps means that my prediction of them not being with us for much longer will come true.

I for one will feel sad about this: I’ve spent a fair chunk of my life in various branches of HMV and a good proportion of my CD and DVD collection is from there. I still think the shared experience of a physical shop is important. Their demise is therefore significant.

It is fashionable nowadays to not be emotional about such things. One must write it off as an agnostic “one of those things”; others lapse into phrases and clichés such as “flawed business models” as if they have any idea of what is really going on.

Bizarrely, I found myself saying all of this at a work event recently where I ended up sitting next to someone who turned to be a board member of my company. After all, what better way to break the ice than to talk about the future of digital media?

It is worth reminding ourselves that the drift away from CD – a key element of HMV’s woes – is in no way similar to what caused people to adopt it in the first place. People switched to CD originally from other formats (vinyl, cassette) because of ease of use. Not, as many ‘experts’ had predicted, because of durability and sound quality. In any event, claims of durability and sound quality turned to be highly contentious and still are.

By contrast, people switched away from CD – generally to MP3 – because they realised they could download them for free. Once word got round that this was possible, why buy a CD when you can get it for nothing from some eastern European web site? So the motivation for MP3 in no way mirrored a technical choice or decision making process in the way that the past – Vinyl versus CD, VHS versus DVD, Blu-Ray versus HD-DVD or even more dramatically, analogue versus digital, did.

Obviously not all MP3 downloads are illegal, but I would still say that for people to claim MP3 has revolutionised music is rather like saying shoplifting has revolutionised high street fashion retail, or train fare evasion has made the country more mobile. The genie is now well and truly out of the bottle. And not necessarily entirely for the good.

Quite where that leaves people trying to make it all pay, and more serious still, for those creators trying to do something new whilst paying the bills and putting food on the table?

I haven’t the faintest idea.

But we were out of time. And coffee.

I have always objected to this phrase as it is generally used in a rather disparaging and pompous way. The message tends to be “old crap from a bygone age that we have to reluctantly tolerate until such time as we can get rid of it”. Some people don’t seem to realise that “Legacy” simply means “successful live application”. Therefore it represents the technology that is running the business.

In my experience people are far too quick to jump to the conclusion that they are costly or difficult to maintain. This opinion is often formed on hearsay and lack of knowledge (and, more alarmingly, an unwillingness to acquire that knowledge or approach people that have it).  I have to add that even if a legacy application is “difficult and costly to maintain” the reasons for this need examination.  And it shouldn’t mean that the whole underlying basis for the application’s existence is flawed.  But that is another subject entirely…

I really detest this. The fact we are conditioned into referring to our users and colleagues as “The business” is bad enough, but to then be told that IT “face off” of to them as if there is some kind battle or spectator sport about to be undertaken, is absurd.

IT is a function like any other. It is no different to Sales, Marketing, Accounts or anything else. We should be getting closer to others and removing barriers, not treating our working relationships as some kind of pointless competition.

Have a think, and i’ll meet you back here in a week or so’s time…