Blockchain vs Bitcoin

The blockchain vs bitcoin. Bitcoin is a fascinating and profound innovation, however, I think that the underlying blockchain technology that powers bitcoin is actually more interesting, and wider reaching, than bitcoin itself.

Let me explain.

Blockchain vs bitcoin

What is the blockchain?

The blockchain is difficult to explain and it is quite often described using very extremely technical language which doesn’t really help it’s cause. I think this is because the blockchain is essentially a software algorithm that is the solution to a computer science problem about trust in communication (see below) and therefore people start explaining it in detailed software or mathematical terms. It was also created as part of a crypto-currency (e.g. bitcoin) and therefore needs lots of complicated descriptions!

Often the blockchain is mistaken, or confused, with bitcoin. The blockchain was created as part of bitcoin but it is also subtly separate.

This re/code article does a excellent job of explaining the concept & principles of the blockchain. An excerpt is below.

“Imagine that you’re walking down a crowded city street and a piano falls from the sky. As dozens of people turn to watch, the piano crashes down right in the middle of the street. Then, without a second to lose, every person who witnessed the event is strapped to a lie detector and recounts exactly what they saw. They all tell precisely the same story, down to the letter.

Is there any doubt that the piano fell from the sky?

This is the principle behind the blockchain.”

 

Wikipedia also a pretty good job in it’s article on the blockchain, Block chain (database), albeit using a little more technical language, plus gives a little more context about how the blockchain works. An excerpt from Wikipedia is below.

“The block chain consists of blocks that hold timestamped batches of recent valid transactions. Each block includes the hash of the prior block, linking the blocks together. The linked blocks form a chain, with each additional block reinforcing those before it, thus giving the database type its name. The original definition was written by Satoshi Nakamoto and found in the original source code of bitcoin.

 

So you might still ask the question… what is the blockchain? Hopefully the description below isn’t too technical.

  • The blockchain is a ledger of digital events.
  • The ledger is distributed across a group of participating nodes.
  • The ledger can only be updated when there a consensus of a majority of the participating nodes about an event.
  • Events are recorded into the digital ledger in batches (or blocks).
  • A block of the ledger is linked to the previous block by including a hashed reference to the previous blocks’ contents, thus creating a chain of linked blocks.
  • Trying to alter the events of a previous block would change the contents of each subsequent block (via it’s hashed reference) and mean the references become invalid.
  • Hence the name, the block chain, or blockchain.

In my language, Bitcoin is an implementation (or application) on top of the blockchain and uses the blockchain as the distributed storage mechanism for it’s events or transactions.

 

5 reasons the blockchain is more interesting than bitcoin

Now that I have described a little about what the blockchain is, let me explain why I think the blockchain is more interesting than bitcoin.

1. Byzantine Generals Problem

The blockchain is the first real solution to a communication theory or computer science problem called the Byzantine Generals Problem. You might hear this referenced as people talk about the blockchain.

From the research paper that explains the BGP

“This situation can be expressed abstractly in terms of a group of generals of the Byzantine army camped with their troops around an enemy city. Communicating only by messenger, the generals must agree upon a common battle plan. However, one or more of them may be traitors who will try to confuse the others. The problem is to find an algorithm to ensure that the loyal generals will reach agreement. It is shown that, using only oral messages, this problem is solvable if and only if more than two-thirds of the generals are loyal; so a single traitor can confound two loyal generals.”

The blockchain allows trust to be created between unknown parties over an inherently untrustworthy connection e.g. the Internet, in an automated or scalable way. The blockchain ledger can only be updated with an event if the majority of nodes agree that it can be verified as an event.

This is a profound innovation and means that the blockchain has a lot of uses beyond bitcoin.

If you’re interested in reading more about the Byzantine Generals Problem, it’s worth looking that the Two General’s Problem on Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Two_Generals%27_Problem

2. The Internet of Trust

The Internet is an inherently unreliable (and untrustworthy) communication mechanism.

The TCP/IP communication protocol, which is the protocol behind the Internet, is based on the assumption that packets of data will be lost in transmission due to network congestion, routing issues, traffic load balancing, and/or simply unpredictable network behaviour. The Internet (TCP/IP) overcomes these reliability issues by using an acknowledgement and retransmission of data sequence so that the packets can be received and then reconstructed in the right order.

The blockchain allows for trust to be included on top of the Internet by including a mechanism to agree communication amongst the majority of participating nodes, like in the Byzantine General’s Problem, and creates a distributed ledger. The ongoing hashed reference to the previous block in the chain means that tampering with previous events is improbably unrealistic. This facilitates trust and verification to be established in what are untrustworthy (or at best unknown) situations.

I like to think of the blockchain as the Internet of Trust and opine that we will look back in 10 years and muse about how we ever used to do digital commerce / transactions without a blockchain being in place. Similar to how people now find it difficult to imagine a world without the Internet.

 

3. Opening up secondary markets

The blockchain is capable of reducing friction in the transfer of digital property and also provides digital rights holders more control over how & where their digital rights are used. This will mean that secondary markets, that were previously too difficult to access, manage or control, could become viable as the blockchain becomes more prevalent.

I like seeing models that were part of our community and civilisation for many years, re-appear somehow by finding their digital equivalent. (It’s like seeing the world repeat itself but just in a more efficient way.)

Some examples of secondary markets that I think could be very likely:

  • Public libraries for digital books
  • Secondhand markets (e.g. flea markets) for digital books
  • Digital movie rentals or sharing
  • Secondhard music stores e.g. record stores.
  • I’m sure there are lots more!

 

4. Digital currency is just the start…

Finally, similar to how we understand the Internet (TCP/IP) facilitates reliable communication across unreliable networks, I think we will end up seeing the blockchain as establishing trust across untrustrworthy (or unknown) networks.

Therefore currency (or bitcoin) could be just the start. I think this is particularly interesting as the fluctuation and controversy of bitcoin mining, storage & markets is distracting from the underlying framework and protocol of the blockchain.

Just as the Internet (TCP/IP) protocol has allowed communication for applications such as email, web, Facebook, Netflix, Instagram, and the list goes on; we will probably think of the blockchain as providing trust for currency, contracts, identity, eCommerce, etc.

The next few years will be fascinating to watch for how new applications, or new blockchains, will appear.

 

5. Winner takes most?

The blockchain is a distributed, or a peer to peer system, which removes the need for an intermediary or central broker within a system. This will reduce the barriers to entry and as barriers to entry reduce or come out of systems, the network effects of those systems become much harder to create or maintain.

Fred Wilson talks about this in his post about Winner takes most.

What these changes might mean is still relatively unknown, particularly as any transition would take quite some time. However, similar to the way that efficiency in information distribution with the Internet has caused significant digital disruption, I think we could see a similar effect from the efficiency of the blockchain.

 

Summary

I hope I’ve given you food for thought as to why I think the blockchain is more interesting than bitcoin. I’m not saying that bitcoin isn’t interesting (because it is interesting) but my view is that the blockchain will likely have a wider, horizontal impact across many applications. Similar to how the Internet (TCP/IP) has evolved from email and web, I think we will see the blockchain evolve from bitcoin.

I’m sure there is a long way, plus a few twists, to go in developing this technology. I’m looking forward to seeing how the blockchain adapts and evolves.

Further reading

If you’re interested in reading more about the blockchain and bitcoin… here are some great references.

Digital friction is an important concept in a digital business because it is a key factor for goal completion. Your digital channel / service / product / ecosystem can be tuned by including or removing friction. (There are certain cases where friction is actually important.)

Being frictionless is about making interactions as simple and efficient as possible by removing impediments to goal completion. I think a great example of a (near) frictionless interaction is the payment method when using an Uber. This is often to most memorable part of the Uber experience – no physical money changes hands – which is a large deviation from a taxi where you are fumbling around for loose change and/or having to beak a note.

Another good (& enjoyable) frictionless example is Menulog, particularly when ordering pizza.

The payment mechanism in the Apple ecosystem is also excellent and very important as the Apple ecosystem also includes the “unbundling of content” concept. If it was difficult to buy a $2 app on the iTunes store, or a $0.69 music single on the iTunes store, well we probably know the answer.

 

Digital friction

Digital friction

Friction definition

Wikipedia defines friction as “the force resisting the relative motion of solid surfaces, fluid layers, and material elements sliding against each other”.

Digital friction

Digital friction is the force resisting the relative motion of an actor towards the completion of an interaction or transaction

I’d like to extend that definition to encompass digital. In my view, digital friction is the force resisting the relative motion of an actor towards the completion of an interaction or transaction. More simply, the resistance of a user to complete a goal.

Co-efficient of friction

Also from Wikipedia, “the co-efficient of friction, often symbolised by the Greek letter μ, is a dimensionless scalar value which describes the ratio of the force of friction between two bodies and the force pressing them together. The coefficient of friction depends on the materials used; for example, ice on steel has a low coefficient of friction, while rubber on pavement has a high coefficient of friction. Coefficients of friction range from near zero to greater than one.”

Again, I think there is an extension of the co-efficient of friction into a digital realm.

The co-efficient of digital friction is the ratio of the force of friction between an actor and their ability to achieve a goal with the level of intent that the actor has.

For example, a user that *really* wants to achieve a goal on a mobile device will persevere with using a substandard mobile site (or even use a desktop view in a mobile browser) to achieve their goal. Whereas a person who is marginal in their intent may simply give up. Similarly a person who desperately wants the latest Apple device will queue up outside the store rather than buy online and wait for it to be delivered.

The coefficient of friction also has a concept for bodies at rest and those in motion. The coefficient of static friction and the coefficient of kinetic friction, respectively. This is another good concept for digital and helps describe the friction of a user who is already in motion towards their goal versus those who haven’t started.

Types of digital friction

I would suggest that digital friction has the following components:

  • Experience friction – the force of (good or bad) user design and user experience.
  • Economic friction – the force of product pricing, payment methods, stored payment instructions, mobile wallets, transaction costs, interchange fees and shipping fees.
  • Channel friction – the force of channel choice and transitions between channels.
  • Behavioural friction – the force of user behaviour and user norms based on cultural, temporal and environmental impacts.
  • Trust friction – the force of trust between the two parties.

All of these components must be taken into consideration in a holistic view of digital friction. Having low experience friction but high economic friction, will mean that the overall digital friction is still high.

Examples

User Centred Design

I often hear about organisations spending lots of time on user centred design, which is great as it focuses on one of the types of digital friction, but not if the organisation focuses on experience to the detriment of the other types of friction. Having the most beautifully designed & efficient digital channel with a product whose price is too high, will still mean that it will have a high coefficient of friction.

Trust

Another example of digital friction is trust. Aiming to introduce new products when customers either don’t know or trust your organisation, will mean that you will need to either build trust first or use the other forms to counter the trust friction. You might need to use a lower introductory price, use a freemium model, include free shipping, offer free returns, or a guarantee.

Similarly using the SSL secure image is a way to reduce trust friction in a transaction. It makes people feel more trusting of your site.

SSL Certificate

 

Static vs kinetic coefficients

The coefficient for an actor who is part way through their interaction or transaction (kinetic) will likely be lower than an actor who hasn’t started (static).

An example of this is how organisations used to block mobile data / wifi in their stores but then learned that if a user was actually in their store, and wanted to research a product, the most likely place that they would purchase that item would be in their store. This is all about static vs kinetic friction as it is likely that the user could find a lower price elsewhere but the convenience and kinetic coefficient of friction will usually overcome this.

 

Determining friction

So the last element is how do you determine your coefficient of friction?

This is simple in theory but difficult in practice as it requires a feedback loop of testing and learning with a framework for the resulting data. It also requires you to change your different types of friction so you can determine their impact on interaction and transaction completion rates.

I’ll think about documenting frictions and their coefficients. Might be the topic of another blog post.

 

Create value for your customers first

In a digital business, switching costs are generally low (some might say frictionless) and the barriers to entry are also generally low. It really only takes a credit card and an Amazon account to bootstrap a new digital business that could, in theory, scale globally. This is changing the economics of the way that digital businesses compete.

So, what do you do? How do you create and maintain a competitive advantage that is difficult to replicate? What strategy options are there?

In my view, successful businesses, digital or not, start with a simple adage, “create value for your customers first”. You need to be constantly creating value for your customers or you will get dropped pretty quickly. If your customers don’t recognise or see the value of your product or service, then it will becomes a grudge purchase at best, or more likely, yesterday’s news / fad / product.

I really like Astro Teller’s view that if you create value for the world, then some of that value, at some point, will make it’s way back to you. This is kind of similar to a “grow the pie” economics strategy rather than “redistribution of wealth” economics strategy. Or similar to the way that negotiation theory would refer of Win-Win strategies.

The second trick is figuring out how to capture a some of the value that you create.

I think this is at the heart of the culture of a great digital business – thinking about “what value are we creating for our customers” first before thinking about “how are we capturing some of that value”. But you do need both components to be a successful digital business.

 

The economics of digital strategy

IMHO there are two fundamental components to a business strategy. A business strategy can be simplified down to one of these below, or sometimes both. (Plus, depending on the market, sometimes a strategy on how to divide the value created e.g. Does the buyer or seller capture the value created?)

Strategies that don’t refer to either of these aren’t really strategies. (They’re just tactics.)

  1. Increase a customer’s Willingness To Pay for your product or service, or
  2. Reduce the Opportunity Cost for that product or service.

 

Another way to describe this is as follows:

Value Created = Willingness To Pay – Opportunity Cost.

The economics of digital strategy, value created = willingness to pay - opportunity cost

Economics of digital strategy explained

Examples of some different digital strategies

  • Sharing economy. The sharing economy is an example of lowering Opportunity Cost through asset utilisation. Airbnb can bring on new rooms at a fraction of the Opportunity Cost that Hilton Hotels can.
  • On Demand. Increasing a customer’s Willingness To Pay through customisation and immediacy. The Iconic is an example of this.
  • Unbundling. Increasing a customer’s Willingness To Pay through choice plus reducing Opportunity Cost by decreasing the unit size. Apple iTunes Store is an example of this
  • Long tail. Access to new, previously unattainable markets, through lowering of Opportunity Cost.

 

Create feedback loops 

Another important component of the economics of digital strategy is to create feedback loops. A feedback loop is a way of monitoring the Value Created.
Customer feedback is an absolute gift. You can’t build a great digital product or service without getting customer feedback. We get lots of customer feedback all the time… the real question is what do we do with it?
  • Sales. Sales is a form of feedback. Are customers forking over money for your product? What price are you setting? What features drive that pricing?
  • Customer forums. What are users saying about your products? How are customers using your products? What do you do with that feedback?
  • Customer contact centres. What are the top 5 queries / calls about. Do you change your offerings based on these calls?
  • Social media. What are people saying on social media about your product? Do you change your product based on social listening?
  • Customer loyalty. How is your customer loyalty going? Are you retaining your customers? What are you doing to make your existing customers see the value in your products?
In a digital business, taking customer feedback and automating a feedback loop back into your product also makes it much more difficult to replicate or imitate. (There are lots of new technologies that allow you to create, and automate, feedback loops at scale with relatively minimal cost. e.g. product ratings, user ratings, product recommendations, next best conversation, personalisation, marketing automation).
Some great examples of feedback loops in digital businesses are…
  • Uber is a feedback loop. Users rate drivers. Drivers rate users.
  • Apple iTunes. Ratings and feedback on each app, song, movie, digital product.
  • Airbnb has a feedback loop about renters and owners.
  • eBay has a feedback loop about buyer and seller experience in a trust model.
  • Amazon has a recommendations feedback loop about what other people who are like you have purchased.
Finally, if you don’t act on the feedback then it’s actually worse than not getting it at all. I think it’s best summed up as it’s only a mistake if you do it twice.

Medium vs WordPress

What should I do about Medium vs WordPress?

keyboard-690066_1280

Medium vs WordPress

To Medium, or not to Medium?

I have been watching and looking at Medium for about a 18 months to see whether or not …

a) I should be using Medium instead of my WordPress blog,

b) cross-posting to both my WordPress blog & Medium, or

c) leaving Medium alone to fizzle away in the background.

This article has been in draft for about 12 months while I was procrastinating, redoing my WordPress stylesheets to recreate the simplicity of Medium, and watching how others were using Medium. I thought it was time to bite the bullet and convert this post from “draft” into “published”.

Medium is a beautiful writing environment

Medium allows you to focus on writing. And it does an awesome job of keeping you focused.

Medium is focused on keeping you focused.

Medium is a very effective platform for writing. It’s just so simple… it doesn’t have all the widgets, sidebars, plug-ins, or distractions of WordPress. People who have used WordPress will immediately notice the distraction free writing of Medium.

Considering that I fervently believe that you “write to think” this is a massive advantage of Medium over WordPress. It really is very simple to get “into the zone” and begin writing, editing, collaborating, and finishing.

Medium is beautiful reading environment

Medium has an incredibly beautiful interface — which prioritises quality over quantity of posts. It reminds me more of a magazine than a blogging platform. Everything ends up looking very polished and curated.

However, I also think that because of the very limited writing interface, everything ends up looking the same. The individuality of different people’s posts seem to get lost. Whilst reading it, I hate to say it, but I tend to vague out rather than get ensconced into the different posts / articles, and end up skimming rather than reading in detail.

“I can’t help but think it looks too much the same.”

I realise that you can use imagery in a really fantastic way, include background blocks to disrupt the flow, and differentiate in some other simple ways, but given that you can’t change the body font from Freight Text and heading font from JAF Bernino Sans, the environment ends up looking like a very beautiful, but very consistent, magazine layout.

Branding

Part of the brilliance of Medium is that it is a curated environment.

But this means that if branding is important to you, then you will need to achieve this in another platform. To use Medium instead of WordPress, I would have to ditch my domain name, and I’m really loathe to do this, so in some way or form, my view is that Medium cannot take over from my WordPress blog.

So is Medium the next WordPress?

When I first saw Medium, I really thought it was going to be the new WordPress, or at least, the next iteration / version of WordPress. It was such a fresh approach to writing, curating and collaborating content that I thought it would overtake WordPress.

But the more I use it, the more I think that Medium & WordPress need to co-exist. Medium is more like a high-end glossy magazine — say like The New Yorker — very high quality content that should be curated. You write specific content for it — article based content—that you would probably create from scratch for Medium. Maybe it would be a culmination of a few different posts from your blog into a single Medium article?

I’ll keep writing primarily for my www.stevenhallam.com blog and looking for featured content that I should cross-post or re-write for Medium. I’ll also keep watching how Medium evolves… it might adjust some of it’s characteristics so that eventually it could be the new WordPress.

Given how fast paced and diverse the SXSW Interactive conference is – it’s difficult (almost impossible) to write a retrospective blog – especially considering there are 3,000 submitted sessions and it’s only feasible to make it to about 20-30.

I thought it better to just include some snippets.

sxsw

 

The SXSW Interactive 2015 snippets

In no particular order…

This is the 22nd year for the SXSW Interactive conference. www.sxsw.com/interactive
The 2015 keynotes were from:Paola Antonelli MoMA

Meerkat is the breakout app of the conference. Broadcasting of video content.
The main takeaway from the conference for me was machine intelligence becomes a reality”.
Martine Rothblatt thinks we will all have mind-clones one day, when our identities transcend physical and digital, that will be able to make decisions for us.
Wolfram Alpha is coding new versions of itself using itself.
Jibo creator @cynthiabreazeal thinks that companionship doesn’t necessarily need to be with a human. For instance think of pets.
Stephen Wolfram @stephen_wolfram thinks that we will never be able to replace code with natural language as it isn’t precise enough for symbols / symbology.
Astro Teller @astroteller thinks that if you’re not making some mistakes, you’re not pushing hard enough.
Our cars sit idle 97% of the time. Uber is trying to improve the efficiency of car asset utilisation.
25% of American’s don’t have an internet connection.
McLaren F1 team are taking their High Performance Teams into other dimensions… health, pharmaceuticals, bobsledding, bike riding. Control systems with feedback loops.
Uber is starting to change city planning laws about parking requirements in San Francisco.
Hugh Herr @hughherr created a robotic fish that was based on flesh, that could swim, and lived for 48 hours.
Hugh Herr has created leg augmentations (BiOM) to replace the legs he lost in a mountain climbing accident.
Bill Gurley @bgurley thinks that we aren’t in a tech valuation bubble but a tech risk bubble.
Larry Lessig @lessig is trying to change the way US elections are run.
Biz Stone @biz “We built Twitter for fun”
Nilofer Merchant @nilofer Big changes start from small things.
David Thodey @dthodey from Telstra got a huge shoutout for his leadership in social media by Charlene Li @charleneli

Finally, Image Think @imagethink captured all of the Keynote and Featured Sessions using their Graphic Facilitation.

What an incredible conference. I’ll go into more detail on some of these sessions in future posts.

I had the immense fortune to be able to visit the MIT Media Lab this week. Quite honestly, it was the most interesting and inspirational thing I’ve have the privilege to do in a long, long time. I was in pretty much in geek heaven. It was awesome to be immersed in trends, topics, business models & innovations that are generally 3-5 years ahead of mass adoption. (Well mostly 3-5 years ahead.)

MIT Media Lab

MIT Media Lab history

The MIT Media is 30 years old and has been at the forefront of technology and human interactions for all this time. The Media Lab thinks that the future should be lived not imagined. It’s a really powerful way to conceptualise the future of technology. If you are interested in learning more about the background of the Media Lab, here’s a good link. http://www.media.mit.edu/about/mission-history

10 things

Obviously there is a lot happening at the MIT Media Lab that I can’t write an article about… but there are also quite a few things that are already in the public domain. Plus most of the things below are really my interpretation and thoughts after visiting rather than specifically about the MIT Media Lab.

Here are the 10 things that most resonated with me.

1. Simply wow. Firstly – there are a lot of very, very smart people at the MIT Media Lab – doing some absolutely amazing things.

2. Deploy (demo) or die. Similar to publish or perish but with a twist, the MIT Media Lab team like to think about demo or die. They would prefer to demonstrate or practice something rather than live in a world of theory. The impact of this is incredibly visible with ‘test and learn’ projects happening everywhere. I like to think of this as the MIT Media Lab version of “you write to think”.

3. Technology as an enabler of social wellbeing. Rather than creating barriers or distractions (for example zombies walking along texting), technology should enter a new era where socialisation and wellbeing are enabled and enhanced. This is quite a noble cause… and a trend that I will watch with a lot of great interest. An example of this on a very small scale is BITbyBIT or Behavioral Intervention Technology. Absolutely fascinating. http://bitxbit.media.mit.edu/

4. Engage rather than consume. Our interactions with different types of media will move from consumption to engagement. Consuming something seems so one dimensional whereas engagement can be more like an ecosystem. Accordingly, the business models around how we interact and engage with media, particularly advertising models, will need to adjust accordingly.

5. Pixel rather than screen. The content & context will become much more important than the screen size, especially as wearables & sensors become mainstream. The proliferation of devices that have small screens will require / demand new types of small screen content and features.

In my opinion, a similar trend occurred with smartphones with two main waves of innovation:
Wave 1 – Content / functionality was just shifted from large screen to small screen and didn’t take advantage of the new features / capabilities of the smartphone.
Wave 2 – Content / functionality specifically designed to take advantage of the smartphone form, factor, functions. e.g. geolocation.

6. Sensors will enable the merging physical & digital. The ways in which we interact with technology will become less about a screen and more tangible with the use of sensors, robotics, materials and Artificial Intelligence. The basis of interacting with machines has primarily been the GUI for the past 30 years – sensors will change this paradigm – and create specific, purpose built interfaces.

7. Structuring the unstructured. As the amount of data created increases exponentially, we will need to aid our human cognition of that data by overlaying structures we can easily understand. There will be new, yet undefined, structures that will have immense value and will generate new business models in their own right.

To explain this concept a little more… I think a good example of a structure that creates value is Amazon Recommendations – Customers who bought this item also bought. It creates a structure for us to understand the immense catalogue of Amazon products.

8. Trust is personal. Another structure that aids cognition, that in my view is changing, is brands. Trust is moving from organisations to people, or to a personal level of trust. Airbnb, Uber & eBay are all examples of personal-level trust. Trust is moving into media as well with content creation / curation, such as Mashable, Twitter & Google, changing the way we trust and respect media. Trust models are going to change significantly over the next 3-5 years.

9. Feedback for prediction. As data and analytics become more pervasive, building feedback loops into our communities and systems will become more important than ever. The decision making capabilities for predictive analytics will require more closed-loop systems to be put in place.

 10. The Principles. Self explanatory, and very simple, but very powerful. (From http://www.media.mit.edu/about/principles)

The Principles

The Internet of Things in Australia

The Internet of Things is everywhere. Literally… so what are some examples coming from the Land Down Under? What is happening with The Internet of Things in Australia?

IoT

I have been compiling a local version of the Deloitte Technology Trends report on Ambient Computing for 2015 and researching examples where Australian companies are adopting and developing IoT products or services.

There are some great examples of how Australian start-ups, organisations and companies are adopting the IoT. Here are a few examples that are worth taking a look at.

 

Ninja Blocks
ninjablocks.comninja-platform3
“Open-source home automation”Sensors that send information to the Ninja Cloud so that you can do “if that then this” type actions.Ninja Blocks have recently released the Ninja Sphere.
LIFX
au.lifx.colifx
“The light bulb re-invented” LIFX® is a wifi enabled, multi-color, energy efficient LED light bulb that you can control with your smartphone.
Observant
www.observant.netObservant
“Farm information and control at your fingertips”Observant provides a fully integrated farm information management platform.
Moore’s Cloud
moorescloud.com
“Holiday lights” This now seems to be discontinued but was a great, early example of cloud based automation for holiday lights.
City of Melbourne
www.melbourne.vic.gov.auCoM_logo
“Managing the city more effectively”The City of Melbourne is using sensor technology to support the collection of data to effectively manage the city.See http://melbourneurbanforestvisual.com.au/

 

DZhON
www.dzhon.comdZhON
 “Always ON”dZhON provides a comprehensive solution to mobilise field force organisations. The dZhON platform can handle asset management, digitised forms, task allocation, skills management, integration services and analytics.
Free Style Technology
www.freestyletechnology.com.aufreestyle-logo
“We take the promise of M2M – the ‘Internet of things’ – and make it a reality”The data you want, from any device (even ‘dumb’ devices thanks to our FME) delivered to you the way you want it.

Have you got other great examples? I’d be interested in finding out.

The death of the keyboard

The death of the keyboard has been predicted many times. I continually hear about how the keyboard is dead… each new advance in technology is heralded as the death of the keyboard.

Death of the keyboard

Death of the keyboard

But tell me how many people sit down to write a document or article at their touch phones or iPads? For instance, I’m not writing this article on my phone or tablet, yes that’s right, shock horror, I’m using a keyboard! (The irony of people predicting the death of a keyboard is that they normally write their predictions from the comfort of a keyboard.)

Don’t get me wrong, the touch screen is the biggest change to human / machine interactions since the mouse and windows in the 1970s / 1980s, and having a physical keyboard on a phone now seems odd. There are also a lot of new interaction methods that are absolutely awesome. Swype is absolutely amazing and one of the features of my Android phone that I like most… but I couldn’t imagine trying to write an article using Swype.

It depends on the context and content of what you are trying to do… and I think the keyboard will have a place in our technology footprint for many years to come. Maybe not forever but definitely still for quite some time.

Futurists continually over-hype how new technologies will change our lives. Some do but a lot don’t.

 

A few examples

  • Writing a tweet on your touch phone = yes
  • Bashing out a quick email on your touch tablet = yes
  • Writing a quick note or task on your phone = yes
  • Speaking a task to your phone during a meeting = no
  • Walking down the street with Google Glass = odd
  • Using Google Glass in a supply chain / warehouse = yes
  • Writing an article on a touch screen = no
  • Using a Segway for a tourist attraction = yes
  • Writing a document on your keyboard = yes

wordpress-589121_1280

WordPress has the ability to grow with your digital publishing requirements. It can be used anywhere from a small site that is hosted on the WordPress.com, to a self-hosted site on a pre-configured environment, all the way  to a multi-site, continuous integration website, like re/code.

My use of WordPress has similarly grown. I started with a hosted site on WordPress.com to see what all the fuss was about, then moved to a multi-tenanted self-hosted domain, to my own AWS site. Mainly so I could learn about about analytics, HTML5, bootstrap, AWS – all while I was creating content.

Deploying code to a WordPress site isn’t for everyone… there are lots of pre-configured templates and hosting options out there. However, if you are developing WordPress templates, then automating the deployment process saves you a lot of hassle.

  • It adds version control to your templates / projects
  • You can stop using FTP to deploy your files
  • Multiple people can be working on the same code base
  • You can deploy to different environments. e.g. test, integration, DR, production.
  • If you have a stateless WordPress architecture, then you can use the deployment process to auto-scale AWS.

I’ve setup a deployment process with Git, GitHub, Deploy and AWS EC2 although you could use other variants here such as BitBucket, BeanStalk, Jenkins, Rackspace, Digital Ocean, etc.

Nb: I haven’t figured out how to database deployments nor configuration files. That’s probably next.

What you need

Here is the basic architecture of what you need. You can use different variants of my configuration.

1. Local repository.

A local development environment to run WordPress plus edit the files.
I am working off a Mac so use MAMP to run a Mac version of a LAMP stack.

MAMP

2. Version control.

Even if you aren’t planning to automate the deployment of code to WordPress, having version control of your development environment is a very good idea. I’m using git. You can run this via the command line on a Mac but it’s almost simpler to run the GitHub Mac executable – which links to the next point.

git

3. Cloud code repository.

You need to push your version controlled changes to a cloud infrastructure, such as GitHub or BitBucket. I’ve used GitHub.

GitHub

4. Deployment agent. 

The final component is an agent to push changes from your cloud infrastructure to the different servers. This part can either be automated or manually triggered. I’ve used Deploy as it’s cloud based and free for my purposes but you can also use Jenkins or Beanstalk.

deploy

 

How you do it

My configuration is with MAMP, Git, GitHub, Deploy and AWS.

1. Setup your local development environment.

Funnily enough, when I was originally designing my first template theme, I was using a FTP client to download them off my AWS development server instance and then uploading them back onto the webserver. Pretty slow going…

It’s much easier to use a local development environment using MAMP or similar. This requires you to copy your code and your database into a local copy. However, it also means that you can download a dummy dataset into your database so you can test edge cases a little more easily.

2. Setup version control

I’m using github as a GUI version of git to maintain my git version control. So I’ve effectively combined this step and the next one. However, you can use git on it’s own to setup version control locally.

3. Initiate your cloud code repository

Setup either a bitbucket or a github account. Bitbucket allows you to have a few more private projects but I’m not really worried about my code being public so I’ve used github.

4. Commit your local version to the cloud code repository

When you create your github or bitbucket account, you can create a project from your local code instance. You will need to commit your changes and push to the cloud code repository.

4. Setup the deployment agent

There are a few options here. I’ve found the easiest to setup is deploy. However, if you have multiple projects then you will need to purchase a subscription. You could also use something like Beanstalk, or Elastic Beanstalk on AWS.

Create an account first and then create a project for deployment. You can link this directly to your github account to link the files.

You’ll need to give Deploy access via the SFTP key when connecting to an AWS EC2 instance. This is the most complicated element of this setup. You will need to copy the public key from DeployHQ into the .ssh/authorized_keys file.

You also need to give it the directory structure for your webserver. Normally this is under /var/www/html somewhere but different for each Apache installation.

You can then do a test to see that you Deploy can connect to both the GitHub repository and your deployment instance of WordPress.

You should do a first deployment to check that everything is working correctly.

5. Create deploy hooks to automate the deployments

Once you have tested that your deployment agent is working correctly with a manual deployment, you can then  automate this process via a Deploy Hook. This gives you a URL to copy into GitHub for you to trigger a deployment.

You can test that this works by committing changes into GitHub and it should automatically deploy to your nominated WordPress server.

Adobe Symposium 2014

I presented a keynote at the Adobe Symposium 2014 #AdobeSymp earlier this year on 22 July 2014 about how “Digital disruption can be a positive experience“. Below is a video extract of this presentation.

Adobe Symposium 2014

Adobe Symposium

 

Adobe Symposium 2014 Video

See below for a video extract of the presentation.

 

Slideshare

The SlideShare version of my presentation is below.