Hyperlinked Organization Title

For those who need to understand how the Web is changing how businesses work

Meta Data
Vol/Issue: v98 #1 (Jan 4, 1998)  
Author/Editor: David Weinberger  
Central Meme: Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy  
Favorite Beatle: John. Duh.  
Current Personal Crisis: Not man enough to drink Starbuck's coffee. 
Home page: http://www.hyperorg.com  
Contact information: Click here


When everything is on the Web ...

Before long, your refrigerator will be on the Web. And your toaster oven. And VCR. And home audio system. And maybe your pacemaker, too.

I recently attended a technical briefing at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), a playpen for gifted dreamers. My favorite presentation came from Mark Weiser, their chief scientist. Says Weiser, some time in the not-too-Jetsons future, every device will have its own IP address. (This depends on a new IP standard that will expand the current standard from 32 to 128-bit addresses -- similar to the telephone company realizing they need to add 5-digit area codes in order to have enough phone numbers for everyone.)

This is a world in which every electrically-powered object has information built into it that can be retrieved by curious (or incredibly bored) people or by computing systems.

Serious work is going on in this area. Digital Equipment and SAP have a demo of a Coke machine in Germany that can let you know, over the Web, when it's low on, say, Mountain Dew. Ok, so this is maybe the poster child for Information I Don't Care About, but the vending machine company does care about it since they won't have machines sitting half empty and won't waste time visiting machines that are still full. (You download a Lotus ScreenCam replay of this fascinating demo by clicking here. It is truly for the Bored and Restless.) And emWare is in the business of producing emMicro, a tiny Web server to be embedded in ordinary appliances. Agranat is in the same competitive space.

Let's look at this at home first and then consider the impact on business.

If you're on vacation and get neurotically worried that you left your gas oven on, you'll be able to get on the Web from your ski chalet and ask your oven. It'll be able to respond with a simple Web message. And if you really did leave it on, you'll be able to send it a message over the Web telling it to shut itself off. Or, you want to let it preheat so you'll be all ready to cook when you get home? Just go to your oven's Web page and set the temperature and time.

There are two large-ish implications of this.

First, what's the hardest appliance to set in your house? For us, it's our thermostat. Not only are the timer controls as complex as a VCRs, but it all has to be done in a space half the size of an index card. But, when my thermostat's on the Web, not only will I be able to set it while I'm away, but -- even more important -- presumably the Web interface will be easier than the itsy bitsy fat fingered interface on the thermostat itself. Imagine being able to read the instructions in your Web browser, type in the numbers you want, maybe twist a graphic dial, and actually set your thermostat the way you want.

Web pages -- enhanced with Java -- will become our general purpose interface to our environment.

Second, the Web has this tendency to transform relationships. When we have a Web based interface to our home, we'll get summary statements about it, flagging problems, connecting us to the nearest low-cost supplier when we need a new hot water heater or a flashing disco bulb for the rec room. But no one wants to read summary lists. A house is a very personal thing. So, maybe, we'll get health reports -- how's your house doing? Is it healthy? Comfortable? Infected with termites? Suspicious lumps in the pipes? First signs of male pattern roof baldness? We construe so much of our body in mechanical, plumbing and house-like terms, now maybe it'll flip and our houses will feel more like extensions of our body -- or our family's body -- than ever before.

What does this mean for business?

First, it will mean that we can automate some processes that technology couldn't reach before ... for example, if we're vending machine suppliers, we'll be in hog heaven.

Second, if all appliances have Web servers built in as a matter of course, then the amount of information accessible to a business will be beyond overwhelming. We will need some very powerful filters.

Third, and the least tangible, is that the entire enterprise will have a virtual dimension hovering over it. The Web space already is functioning as a parallel universe, to some extent, in hyperlinked organizations: it is a constantly available meeting space with its own set of rules and expectations. Now this virtual space will include not just humans but also the devices that fill up our physical space, from doors to coffee machines to industrial equipment.

This type of change will bring about major changes in our metaphors. Since understanding is fundamentally metaphorical -- we assimilate the new to the familiar -- a change in metaphors in business means a change in our fundamental way of understanding how our business works.

There is a fourth implication as well, having to do with the huge temptation for invading the privacy of workers as we can monitor every device they touch (from telephone to hand drier). But surely corporations wouldn't stoop so low.




Meaningless Blather

The Xerox PARCians (see above) were gracious and quite provocative, as is appropriate. But one fellow -- I'll keep him nameless -- who spoke from the marketing side was telling us about the need to handle unfathomable amounts of data. While explaining a petabyte -- well over one million gigabytes -- he said, with a wink and a nod, "That's how much information it'd take to capture every piece of data about your entire life."

Now, I understand explaining things in terms of stacking Ritz crackers and having them reach to Neptune, and I sort of get it when someone talks about placing rabbits end to end (except for how you keep them still long enough). I even get the notion of giving every man, woman and child 1,000 Mallomars, which, by the way, when laid end to end equal the standard unit of all US measurement, the length of a football field.

But I don't get this petabytes example.

Let's assume that for this type of example to work, it's got to be accurate within an order of magnitude (or "the thickness of a 12-year-old's pony tail if her hair were made out of #10 Rigatoni"). In fact, let's accept it if it's within two, no three, orders of magnitude. So, we'll let our marketing guy be right if a human's life experience can be expressed in anything between a gigabyte and an exabyte. That's more leeway than in all of Bill Clinton combined.

But I don't get this petabyte example.

What does it mean to record my entire life experience? Let's keep it simple. As I watch my computer monitor, for example, do we have to record every glowing phosphor? There are 307,200 pixels in a standard VGA screen; if I switch to a higher resolution monitor, do I have more "bits" to record? If I'm listening to music as I type this, do we have to record every note? Every curve in the sound waves? If I switch from Bob Dylan singing alone to the London Strings version of "Mr. Tambourine Man," do I have more bits to record? How about if the music speeds up? And suppose I'm not really paying attention to it? As I concentrate on writing this, do we have to record my peripheral vision? There's three orders of magnitude of difference right there.

By the way, is this petabyte of data compressed? Will we accept a lossy compression standard for life recordings?

No, this example is meaningless blather. And underneath it is the important mistake of thinking that human experience comes in bits. Not only is human life a continuous event, you can't translate it into bits even if you want to. Computers may be like brains, but brains aren't like computers. (And human experience isn't like a brain. So there.) It all comes down to the total mystery of attention. Without attention there is no experience, and we don't understand attention even a little bit.

But, interestingly, if you laid all human experience end to end it would be exactly the length of a football field...

  dividing line


Gray Matter

Fruit of the Loom Looms Large with Extranet

If you want to see how a company can combine ingenuity and daring to grab some serious market share, look at Fruit of the Loom. Fruit (which has the enviable domain name of fruit.com) has not been noted as a technology leader, so their remarkable foray into the world of Web commerce is all the more remarkable.

JOHO spoke with Eric Johnson, Fruit's Director of Systems Development out of Bowling Green, Kentucky.

A big chunk of Fruit's revenues comes from distributors -- called "screen printers" -- who print things on their undergarments. Fruit had been behind Hanes in this area of business and was determined to change that situation.

So, Fruit started building Web sites for their distributors who sell to the screen printers. These sites let the distributors feature products from any manufacturers they like, including Fruit's competitors. The distributors have total control over the content of their sites.

The screen printers -- Fruit's customers' customers -- get the benefits of extranet partnerships: At any time, they can just hop on the Web and see what's available, check prices, and order. Gone are the multiple phone calls to shop around.

So why does Fruit make it easier for screen printers to order from competitors? Fruit makes the software available for free, and asks only one concession: If a screen printer orders from a competitor and the competitor is out of stock, Fruit must be shown as the leading alternative source of supply. That simple rule has resulted in Fruit becoming the leading supplier to the screen printing industry.

An unexpected consequence is that Fruit is now in the software business. And, of course, customer loyalty has gone up since Fruit is perceived as providing an infrastructure that's very helpful to the customers of their customers.

The fact that it's also increased revenues and marketshare doesn't hurt either.

  dividing line


Middle World Resources

A BiWeekly Compendium of Resources
Walking the Walk  

National Semiconductor was one of the first companies to embrace the Internet -- functioning as an extranet -- as a business tool. Its Web site allows engineers to get specifications for thousands of chips. As a result, the company has seen the amount of information they distribute go up by orders of magnitude from the days when you had to beg for paper to find the chip you needed.

But National Semiconductor has discovered other benefits as well.

The Internet is a two-way medium. On the basis of feedback from its customers, National Semiconductor grew a $4M business in temperature sensor units to $100M.

And the company has 8,000 sales engineers and distributors around the world connected via an extranet that gives them 7x24 access to information about product availability and pricing -- and even their commission.
Information published in InternetWeek Oct. 6, 1997

Cool Tool
For the Hyperlinked Organization

Eventually, we won't be able to tell where the Web begins and where our computer ends. And that's as it should be. Distance is abolished -- becomes irrelevant -- in hyperlinked organizations. Until then, we still need special tools for talking to our Web sites.

FTP tools are a dime a dozen and they all do basically the same thing: they let you manipulate files on your Web site. Some also let you move entire folder structures around and are smart enough to restart a broken connection where you left off. But basically, they're all the same.

Nevertheless I've recently switched to Internet Neighborhood from KnoWare, Inc. It makes your Web site look like yet another drive. In fact, your Web site shows up in your Windows Explorer right past your CD drive. You can drag and drop to your heart's content - abolishing distance with every mouse movement. At $26.50, it's a steal. (And if you just download it, use it and never pay for it, it's literally a steal.)


CIO Web Business presents some findings from an IDC study:

The number of "devices" accessing the Web will grow from 32M in 1996 to 300M by early 2002. (The "early" makes the whole statistic work, don't you think?)

The number of Web users will grow from 28M in 1996 to 175M by 2002. (This means lots of "devices" will be accessing the Web without users, as per JOHO's lead story this issue.)

Web-based commerce will grow from $2.6B in 1996 to more than $220B during 2001. (But conceivably this could be higher if David Yockelson of the Meta Group, interviewed in the previous issue, is right.)


Where Do You Want to Go Today? (Some Restrictions Apply)

Mark Dionne writes:

On Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, I was tracking down a bug, and ended up deep in the MSDN documentation for the GlobalFree API call. I discovered two places where the documentation flatly contradicted itself, and since it was a slow day, I decided it would be amusing to try to report the problem to Microsoft. (As a manager of software development, I have several times asked people working for me to report bugs to Microsoft. None have ever been successful.)

So I went to their web site, and under Customer Support there was one deal where you could submit up to two reports "for free." I filled out a pretty detailed form about who I was and hit the Submit button. I immediately got back a screen:

Error 17

When I hit the OK button, I got a screen that said: Microsoft is closed for a holiday on the day after Thanksgiving. Please submit your report on Monday through Friday between 9 and 5.

Isn't it nice that Microsoft gives their computers the day off!

Not that this is very relevant, but I've always wondered why TV programs show reruns on holidays, as if the characters have the day off. Perhaps the fictitious characters are unionized.


Email, Notifications and Obscene Gestures

As always, JOHO readers are never afraid to wade in to discuss the weighty and substantial matters raised in this venerable journal, and are equally unafraid of controversy.

This time, it's JOHO's use of fixed-width tables that has set off an intellectual firestorm.

Chris Locke, editor of the even-more-venerable EGR, writes:

try using a percentage instead of a fixed width (i.e., width="90%") in the above code. then I won't have to scroll horizontally in my window-size-of-preference (even though I'm running at 1024x768 rez). try it, it's a good trick.

And the always festive (and -- need I add? -- venerable) Ellen Peebles contributes:

I love JOHO -- I really enjoyed the stuff on electronic communities & e-commerce vs. EDI. But I have a complaint (suggestion?) about the format: part of it is too wide. I couldn't read the Microsoft Murders Netscape article because I had to scroll over to finish each line and I gave up due to finite patience. Parts of the Journal reformat to fit my screen when I resize the window -- which is great. I wish the whole thing would do that!

See, Chris, how a little honey attracts flies but vinegar is really just decomposing wine? So, I'm changing to proportionally sized tables rather than fixed width ones but not because of Chris.

Trevor Sharpe weighs in on an equally weighty controversy:

If you're going to use an under construction gif, might as well have the cadillac (my Christmas present to you - sorry, you get to be Christian this year.)

My suggestion for the ORG chart would be to represent it like real life - put a bunch of big fat blocks on top (representing oppressive fat-cat management) and one or two 3x3 pixel blocks representing those doing the work... now that would be reality. And you could animate it with the construction guy inside the big blocks on top, piling shit on top of the the little blocks.. yea, that's the ticket.

Anyone else sense the world of pain in Trev's remarks, or is it just me?

The venerable Priscilla Emery (it almost even rhymes) writes:

I am somewhat ambivalent about the animation discussion. I find through general experience that if it moves, it's probably an ad. This causes an automatic subconscious reaction to ignore it. Now this is not good for my own economic survival, since my husband sells ads for Washington Post.com, but it's a holdover from print media reaction so I find it hard to overcome.

Therefore, if your readers hadn't discussed animation on your site, I never would have noticed it to begin with. So much for getting people's attention.

Good point. I'm going to convert all of JOHO to animations so people maybe will pay attention to some of the freaking content!

Steve Maegdlin is also deep into these matters:

Personally, I like the construction guy and the "hyper" org chart. My question is - Are you Color Blind? Content is great, but those primary colors? If your wife is really mad at you, does she pick out a black and a green sock and send you to a client?

Then Steve, in an impressive overestimating of the size of the JOHO readership, writes:

Rumor has it that you are going to be the Keynote speaker at a very exciting conference coming up at the end of January? I would think that your JOHO readers and fans would like to come to hear you speak. Besides, I know you're not above some shameless promotion. Happy Holidays.

Now let me get this straight. I'm doing a presentation at a conference (ok, it's the Optika user conference -- might as well get Steve's plug in for God's sake) -- for which I'm being paid a fixed fee. Steve's company, on the other hand, profits by attracting more people to the conference. So my advertising his conference in my newsletter constitutes self-promotion?

Man, I've been getting this whole marketing thing backwards! Thanks, Steve!

And while I'm doing self-promotion by plugging other people's products, here's a comment from Henry Lewkowicz in regard to our previous discussion of the importance of metadata which said you can navigate metadata by browsing through categories, through full text searching, and through hyperlinks:

Organizations need access to all of these data types: 1, 2 and 3 simultaneously. A product combining structured and unstructured information, type 1 and 2, has the advantage of significantly shortening the effort of getting the "right / desired" information. (Example of such a product is ConText from Oracle.)

Henry then goes on to describe his company's technology -- MODEL Indexer -- which integrates metadata with document contents. I'm sure Henry would be happy to talk with you about this.

Continuing this amazing streak of attempts to exploit your time and my good goddamn nature comes a message from Bob Morris at the University of Massachusetts:

Does your readership---or that of anyone you write for---represent potential customers for our Java professional development course?

In a word, I doubt it.

But Bob's a good guy and an outstanding teacher, so if you want to learn Java in the Boston area, give him a Web jingle.

Steve Maegdlin has some commercial-free comments on last issue's contention that once Word can seamlessly input and output Web pages (in the form of XML), browsers will seem like wimpy read-only viewers.

Boo Microsoft. With the incredible penetration of Web browsers (i.e. people who can't figure out MS Word, but can still surf the web), do you really think that Word will take over the universe? It's a bit thick (like 40MB), and has lots of DLLs that can conflict with lots of other stuff. It has more cool stuff like annotations, but at the same time takes training and maintenance and all that bad stuff. I think that only about 10% of the people out there use all the features of Word -- and even if I don't use the features, I get all the baggage.

Browsers are used for a fundamentally different reason than a word processing package. I say, add some extra features to the browser to give it cool things like annotations and the like and leave Word at home. Maybe MS will come up with a Word Lite? I think it will supplant some, but Word domination? Thoughts, comments. Just trying to keep some content related dialogue going here for the benefit of the world and JOHO readers.

Content related dialogue? C'mon, Steve, get with the program! Please come back once you've phrased your comments in the form of an animated GIF.

Yes, Word is big and fat and more than you need to browse the Web. On the other hand, it's on just about everyone's desktop already so they won't have to go out and add the DLLs et. al. in order to surf the Web. But I agree that we may well see a Word Lite that's designed and positioned as a Web browser except it also has the editing functionality equivalent to Word Pad -- which is, after all, a type of "Word Lite" that already comes -- for free -- with Windows 95.

Imagine that Microsoft lets Word Pad browse the Web and lets it create and edit Web pages. Wouldn't that just destroy the "mere" browsers out there?

And best of all, how would the Justice Department figure out how to sue Microsoft over that one?

Although I usually strip any random complimentary remarks from messages before I run them, I couldn't figure out how to do it in this case without messing up the joke. So, here, is a message from the venerable Larry Bohn which he probably meant sarcastically anyway:

I listened with relish to your spot on NPR -- describing how Bill Clinton is a Webby guy is brilliant political insight -- even Paula Jones knows that his hyperlink is loosely joined!

I would ask that your next interview be done in the New Yorker by Tina Brown. When she asks you to describe the net, just kill her. Millions will celebrate.

Please forward further contributions to the JOHO New Years Assassination List directly to Larry. Thank you.

Here's a press release spotted and forwarded by Henry Lewkowicz.

80-20 Software, a Melbourne-based software developer, has announced an aggressively priced and powerful document management system (DMS) based on Microsoft Exchange and Fulcrum Technology's advanced indexing software...

Darren Adams, Asia Pacific Sales Director for Fulcrum said, 'We're delighted that an Australian company, working closely with ourselves and Microsoft, has developed the document management system everyone has been looking for.

This came out just a little bit before Fulcrum was acquired by PC DOCS ... the other document management system everyone has been looking for.


Gerry Murray, venerable IDC analyst, writes:

By the way, I linked over to EGR [Chris Locke's newsletter -- Ed.] and thought that Giancarlo Livraghi's stuff on stupidity was absolutely brilliant. (The first piece and the pre Y2K diversion in the second anyway.) Speaking of Y2K diversions--it is a very interesting issue from a stupidity perspective. Was it just stupid not to think ahead or was there a conspiracy among COBOL programmers that guaranteed them employment no matter how far they fell behind the app development curve. Hmmm, one man's stupidity is another man's career employment strategy.

I was so inspired by this article that I think I'm going to quit my job and launch an anti-stupidity software company, the business would be modeled on the anti-virus folks, as stupidity may be the most virulent virus of all. Despite the fact that I have a terminal case of it myself, I know a big market opp when I see one. Interested? The fatal flaw is the fact that stupid people don't know they're stupid and therefore they wouldn't buy the product. So instead we'll have to call it knowledge management.

Back when I worked for Open Text and back when Open Text was a search engine company, an investor suggested the company could clean up by making software that would search code for "19" and replace it with "20." Apparently he assumed that the Year 2000 Problem was that "19" was programmed in on purpose (a type of willful stupidity) instead of the code just forgetting that the odometer was going to reset to zero when it goes past 1999 (plain old stupidity).

On a more serious note, Chris Venerable Locke has found a newsletter from David Skyrme Associates that focuses on Knowledge Management. It looks interesting, although the first back issue into which I dipped cites a book (Debra Mae Amidon's "Innovation Strategy for the Knowledge Economy: The Ken Awakening ") that compares KM to Monet's water lily paintings.

"In his final years Claude Monet advanced well beyond the boundaries of what anyone would have thought possible. His gardens at Giverney are breathtaking and his masterpieces now featured in L'Orangerie are a spectacle of courage. They represent the same kind of bold vision we must establish to capitalize on the unleashed opportunities present in an interdependent global economy."

To my mind, this means that the author is just a tad too enthusiastic about KM.


Bogus Contest: Fearless Predictions

I hate year end predictions, and I think I finally know why. Predictions are too close to guesses. They've got no teeth. That's why the Gartner Group doesn't say things like "Windows 98 will succeed (0.5)." A 0.5 would mean that it's as likely to happen as not happen. And that, to me, is what a prediction feels like.

So, this week's bogus contest is to come up with predictions with teeth -- predictions we're willing to stand behind. Of course, there is the Law of Inverse Proportional Commitment expressed by this chart.

To acknowledge this inevitable law of the universe, this week's challenge is to come up with three predictions for every topic, one that is certain, one that is likely, and one that would be startling (and thus requires some guts).








Microsoft and the Dept. of Justice continue to battle


The Dept. of Justice claims victory


Janet Reno keeps her last name when she marries Steve Ballmer


AOL slowdowns continue


AOL blackouts keep millions offline


Angry calls to AOL support center crash US telephone system


Spam picks up its pace


Spam constitutes over 50% of all messages


Someone actually makes $100,000 at home by responding to a spam message


Congress votes on censorship law for the Web


Censorship law is narrowly defeated


Stolen Steve Ballmer/Janet Reno honeymoon video becomes most downloaded file on the Web



Editorial Lint

The following information was found trapped at the top of my washing machine when I ran some issues of the JOHO through it.

The JOHO is a free, independent newsletter written and produced by David Weinberger. He denies responsibility for any errors or problems. If you write him with corrections or criticisms, it will probably turn out to have been your fault.

Subscription information, or requests to be removed from the JOHO mailing list, should be sent to [email protected].

Dr. Weinberger is represented by a fiercely aggressive legal team who responds to any provocation with massive litigatory procedures. This notice constitutes fair warning.

Any email sent to the JOHO may be published in the JOHO and snarkily commented on unless the email explicitly states that it's not for publication.

Note to distributors: If you are interested in reselling the popular Hyperlinked Organization brand line of memorabilia, please contact our manager of JOHO Channels, Divad Regrebniew. (The JOHO corn dog attack vehicle with lifelike action figures is no longer available, and will return once we fix the eject button and pending the outcome of the lawsuit.)

The Journal of the Hyperlinked Organization is a publication of Evident Marketing, Inc.

"The Hyperlinked Organization" is trademarked by Open Text Corp. JOHO gratefully acknowledges Open Text's kind permission to use this felicitous phrase.

"JOHO," "Internetcetera," "One-Question Interview" and "Buzz Soup" are trademarks of Evident Marketing, Inc.