Archive for September, 2010

Using TripAdvisor

September 30, 2010

There has been some coverage recently in the news of the accuracy or otherwise of the travel ratings site TripAdvisor, much of it started by aggrieved hoteliers concerned that they had been given unfairly negative reviews. is a useful discussion on the effect of  TripAdvisor on the market for hotel accommodation as a whole.  I’m interested that one of the commenters on the site suggested ignoring the outlyers where people had put up either very favourable of very critical reviews – I’d be almost more inclined to look at the outliers and ignore the ones in the middle.

The Higher Education Academy’s subject centre for business is planning to hold its conference in Bournemouth in spring 2011.  The hotel to be used for the conference has a fair number of TripAdvisor reviews  and I’m very pleased to see that the hotel’s general manager has taken the trouble to respond to many of them – especially those which had very specific criticisms.  While it’s not certain that I’ll attend this conference, I have done each year for the last few years, and if I do go to Bournemouth in the spring I’ll report back on whether this sort of feedback and transparency is proving useful.


Channel 4 on crowdsourcing

September 30, 2010

I haven’t (yet) watched the Channel 4 programme seven days but I have followed some of the coverage in the press and on the Internet – from the synopsis at it looks as though one distinctive aspect of this reality TV show is that its participants’ lives are being crowdsourced.  The programme has been billed as including new ways to combine TV with the Internet, and the a whole range of web 2 type tools is being used to invite viewers to offer guidance to the characters.  I just hope that the participants are robust and level-headed enough to know when to ignore some of the advice that they are given

BBC on crowdsourcing

September 30, 2010

The piece at uk/news/business-11437839 has a neat title which sums up one way in which crowdsourcing can be effective.  However I wonder if it takes a slightly over-optimistic view of what is feasible: a creative professional should have a trained eye for what’s going to look good, and part of the key to using ideas from the crowd effectively is surely to involve professionals in a way that means that they can build on amateurs’ ideas.

My Sony television…

September 27, 2010

… mentioned in the previous post is newer than the one shown in .  Still, the object wiki is a useful application of a wiki by the Science Museum, a good summary of the importance of Sony’s innovations, and a reminder of why products such as televisions are still sometimes referred to as ‘brown goods’ thirty years after putting them in wood veneer cases went out of fashion

It’s still working

September 27, 2010

Quite a few of my students will have heard me tell an anecdote about the first television that I bought, which was a small Sony Trinitron that caught my eye in the shop window of Dixons (as it then was).  It’s a useful story because I can hang on it points about brand values (I wanted a Sony television, not just any television), innovation (Sony’s Trinitron tube was a neat and practical development of the traditional colour television), the strategies followed by major Japanese companies, and even globalisation (as it happened mine was made in Japan, but many Sony televisions of the same period were made in South Wales).

If you heard that anecdote last year I’d have told you that this television had been up in the attic for a while and I wasn’t sure whether it still works.  In any case, my daughter and a friend plugged it in last week, and were delighted to find that it still works perfectly – though appalled to see that it’s only set up to receive four channels.

Belfast’s high-tech cluster

September 23, 2010

Enrepreneurs have always thrived in places where there is a cluster of businesses with similar interests, and clusters of high-technology businesses usually occur in places where the education systems and sources of funding exist to support new technology-based businesses.  Judging from , Belfast looks to be a place to watch

Can Nokia fight back?

September 17, 2010

Nokia has had a presence in London this week, launching a series of new smartphones.  The term ‘fightback’ has been used in some of the coverage in the light of Nokia’s changing fortunes, given that it doesn’t dominate the market for mobile phones to the extent that it once did.

The Reuters piece at links Nokia’s new products to current changes in Nokia’s senior management.

My reservations about Nokia’s prospects for success in the smartphone market are similar to those that I expressed last year in connection with Palm, that it’s a business so closely associated with one generation of devices that it’s having immense difficulty in adapting to a different generation: however here are a handful of factors that I think Nokia needs to consider if it’s to be successful.  There are clues to the first two of these in the photos that accompany the Reuters article.

  • The pull-out QWERTY keyboard which you can see in the first image is a really important feature.  Not everybody gets on with touch screens or with the tiny keys on a BlackBerry
  • Nokia’s strengths have always been in providing a wide range of phones – all may have used very similar internal electronics but Nokia has been able to convince its customers that a particular product works well as, for example, a business phone or as a sports phone.  This is something that Nokia needs to emphasise in the future, as they are doing now by launching a range of smartphones, with different characteristics, all at the same time.  By comparison Apple in the phone market is essentially a one-product player.  Of course there are variants for sale at any time, and inevitably there’s been considerable innovation over the years, but essentially the iPhone is a single distinctive product.  Apple’s brilliance is in creating something which starts out highly standardised, but can be customised by using products from other suppliers, whether they are apps, or skins to make the iPhone look different.
  • There’s still a market for simple phones that work well for voice calls and text messages and it isn’t just among the oldest and youngest members of the phone-buying public.  I’ve some evidence, albeit purely anecdotal, of smartphone users, including those with iPhones and users of Nokia’s own products, complaining that their devices don’t really work very well in pure phone mode, so some people will want a second device that’re really just for voice calls.  This is very different from the dilemma facing Tom Tom, where the device that’s a central product and that led to their succes is in danger of becoming obsolete rapidly.  So of course Nokia needs to adapt, but there’s also a core market that they shouldn’t neglect.  And there’s also a huge market in developing countries for simple, but web enabled, phones which is part of the reason why Sir Tim Berners-Lee was talking to Nokia at

A 21st century rite of passage…

September 17, 2010

… as a parent, being asked to remove the parental controls on the computer at home (incidentally my children are still at primary school, so I’m not removing the parental controls just yet)

Snippets from the BBC news site

September 10, 2010

At Rory Cellan-Jones has been experimenting with Google’s instant search and finding out what words it suggests when you put in one letter.  Personally my reaction is similar to ‘Joe’ in the 13th comment, that Google has been trying to finish words for me for a long time so this is nothing new. reports a tangible increase in the use of cards (credit and debit) for payment, but I was particularly struck by the reduction in the number of ATM machines.  And for technology history nerds, reminds us who Mercury Communnications were (full disclosure – I used to have a Mercury phone card)

How robust are American universities?

September 8, 2010

This week’s Economist includes a Schumpeter column at which raises interesting questions about the future of the most prestigious American universities, prompted by American think-tank reports from both sides of the political spectrum that cast doubts on the effectiveness of their existing model.

Many of the criticisms of established universities (lack of relevance, insufficient effort put into teaching) are familiar enough.  But the column is interesting for the parallel that it draws with the motor industry – once thought impregnable and closely entwined with the success of the USA as a nation – and for the observation that the major universities are doing well at present but that this may change over time.

In general, however, one interesting aspect of the higher education sector is that, despite considerable changes in the environment within which universities operate, and the technology available to them, the basic structure of the sector has remained remarkably static over the years, and most of the powerful and influential players have remained the same – in a significant number of cases for centuries.  Of course you may have noticed that, as an employee of an established university in London, I might have a vested interest in this continuing.