Interviews by Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P., DF/NPA, CNP
Richard Giles: International Authority in Technology, the Internet, New Media, and Marketing
This week, Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P., DFNPA, CNP, has an exclusive interview with Richard Giles.
Richard is an internationally recognized expert in technology, gadgets, the internet, new media, and marketing with more than 15 years experience in the industry.
Richard works for Sun Microsystems in Australia, helping corporations in their use of technology in business. He is the host of The Gadget Show, and author of several books including the Podcasting Pocket Guide from O’Reilly Media, Inc., as well as the upcoming Whole Internet Guide to Podcasts and Internet Audio, and How to Use Flickr: The Digital Photography Revolution.
Q: Richard, your international audience and reputation as the guru of community based technologies on the internet are growing. Thank you for taking the time out of your very tight schedule to do this interview.
A: Thank you for the kind words; it’s my pleasure to be involved.
Q: Can you detail your computing and internet history since the late 1980s’? Moreover, can you share the most important lessons from this journey?
A: I’ve loved technology since before I owned a Commodore 64 in the early eighties. I hung out with other geeks and played with bulletin board systems—the predecessor to residential Internet accounts—dabbling with Microsoft software and playing computer games. We’d swap software, which meant we didn’t have a manual that instructed us how to play a game. I think that helped my ability to pick up technology very quickly. I mean, who reads manuals these days anyway?
My career in technology started in England when I worked for a cellular network provider. It was the early nineties and very bleeding edge; if you can call cell phones built the size of a briefcase, bleeding. I was the first in the company to prove that people were committing fraud by using other people’s cell numbers so they could receive free calls.
I returned to Australia soon after that and started a commerce degree at university. I didn’t tackle a computer science degree because I was certain that everyone else would, and there would be a glut of oversupply. Instead I chose an information technology minor.
I discovered the Internet just before Mosaic (the first graphical web browser) was released and started hand coding web pages. Back then you could choose any background color, as long as it was grey.
I approached a lecturer and expressed an interest in studying TCP/IP, which is the technology that underpins the Internet. He told me not to bother because the Internet was just a fad. Several months later I was contracting to a number of organizations developing things like web pages and completing reports on how news groups can be used to facilitate science parks. Having entered university as a mature age student, I’d already become cynical of lecturers’ knowledge, but that cemented my opinion.
Since the completion of my degree I’ve worked with web developers, Internet service providers, and now Sun Microsystems.
Today, however, I believe that the Internet is about people. Business would love dearly to co-opt the network, but the control is firmly entrenched with massive communities (with mostly non-commercial agendas), that companies only dabble in the real fun.
Q: You are a pioneer in blogging and podcasting. The following questions delve into your expertise.
Q1) Can you define blogging and the value to businesses and IT communities? How would one get into blogging?
A1) Blogging is all about authentic conversations. Those two words almost completely encapsulate the idea. The public is so used to corporate speak and messages washed by PR or marketing that it’s so refreshing to hear someone speak like they are human. It’s not to say that blogs are correct, but at least the voice of person who writes has the opportunity to shine, and they can be as opinionated as they want. That provides authenticity.
Journalism, in general, is traditionally one-way. A major media company tells us what they want us to hear. Now the message might be unbiased or biased, but there has been little opportunity for feedback. Blogs, on the other hand, provide a mechanism for almost immediate feedback. If you look around the blogoshere you’ll find people agreeing, disagreeing, or starting their own conversation. It’s a wonderful community; like hundreds of beer halls around the world.
So how does that work for a company or community? Well, every company should foster conversations with their customers, suppliers, or the public. It does at least two things. Firstly, it leverages other people’s knowledge. Secondly, it lets your communities know you are really listening to them.
To get started, first search for a few topical blogs that you know you’ll find interesting. Use Google or Technorati. Then start your own (Wordpress, Blogger, or Typepad have free or cheap accounts). Just let the words spill out, start linking, conversing, and see where it leads you. You’ll be surprised at the result.
Q2) Please extend this definition now into podcasting?
A2) Podcasting is interesting for a couple of other reasons. In general the written word is great. Being a writer I understand the power if affords. However, audio provides a forum for a lot quicker freeform thinking. I often find that when I speak my brain’s subconscious gets to vocalize along with my conscious. So a lot of useful information can flood out. It’s also much easier listening to someone speak than reading a transcript (it’s also a lot quicker to produce).
The other amazing artifact of the human race is that we love to speak to each other. The preference is for face-to-face, but via voice (like telephone) is next best. It just adds so much weight to a relationship that you’ll never get via something like email. So podcasting is actually an awesome way to network with people all over the planet.
I’ve met some amazing people using Skype (a voice over IP phone system), that live in all parts of the world. That’s all been introduced through the podcasts I produce.
Q3) Where do you see this evolving in the short, medium, and long term; and can you provide examples?
A3) I’ll try and rein-in my response, because it’s something I’d need hours to chat about. There’s so much happening, and the technology is really starting to spread its wings.
In the short term, blogs and podcasts offer everyone an alternative to major media. That means you can participate or just read/listen, but you get to hear alternative voices. Look at the blog posts around 911 and Katrina and you’ll see humans talking. Instead of media just looking for what sells on the evening news, there were real people talking about real events. That’s a lot to do with citizen media -- a term bandied about recently.
In the medium term we’ll all be provided a mechanism to filter more effectively what we read, hear and watch. Rather than it being filtered by a large organization that filters based on what it thinks most people want, you’ll be given the opportunity to filter it to suit you. Like TiVo on steroids.
That might sound a little disconnected from blogs and podcasts, but this is what the underlying technology will support.
Long term is much harder to predict. I think shortly we’ll be provided with much more versatile networking, very cheaply. The ability to communicate anywhere anytime is just evolving. Couple this with online services that are getting much smarter (like Google knowing what we want and where we want it), and we’ll see a communications revolution that spreads beyond location and class.
Q4) What specific equipment and software would you recommend to get into podcasting: both for the novice and then the more serious podcaster?
A novice who wants to podcast should just grab a microphone for their PC and start talking. Audioblog.com is a great place to start.
If you’re a little more serious you can still do it all on a budget. I use a free audio editing tool called Audacity that allows me to add music, splice in different segments, and then cut the quality down to something manageable. Then there is just hosting of the audio file that needs considering. A lot of people use libsyn.com.
My Gadget Show podcast (http://www.thepodcastnetwork.com/gadget/) is provided through The Podcast Network. They are a professional podcasting organization that helps set up professional podcasters. They have quality requirements, and they don’t just publish any type of show, but if you’ve got a good idea you can always contact them to see if they’re interested in hosting a show (http://www.thepodcastnetwork.com/).
Q5) How do you see your work evolving into the future?
A5) I’m planning on breaking into new media. I think helping companies get and stay in touch with their communities utilizing the Internet has a huge future. I think weblogs and podcasts only scratch the surface. Wait until online media really takes off with online gaming and video on demand. I think these offer amazing possibilities.
Q: Can you talk more about your books and share some tips from each of them?
A: I have three books. The “Podcasting Pocket Guide”, already published, contains some excerpts from “The Whole Internet Guide to Podcasting and Internet Audio” and “Podcast Hacks”. The actual Whole Internet Guide will be published in January, and contains the history of podcasting, how to subscribe, and a selection of over 100 podcasts that are available on the Internet.
It took a long time to write. For each show I listened to several episodes, which could take about to three or four hours each. I took some time off work to kick-start the writing, and only managed about 3 pages a day. That’s slow going.
The fun part was communicating with the individual podcasters themselves. There are some amazing voices with some real talent, and they’re spending their spare time creating some interesting content.
Personally I believe that you can get some great free insight and knowledge from podcasts. Certainly within the technology industry I think if you listen to the right shows you can gain some competitive advantage, because you can hear some of the world’s top thinkers talk about specific topics.
The latest book is “How to Use Flickr: The Digital Photography Revolution”. It’s due for publication in March 2006. It’s an awesome application, with the core based around a community. It’s a great example of building new tools online that help communities build and learn from each other. If you haven’t looked at it, spend some time exploring some of the photographs and groups. Some are really, really beautiful. A quick tip is to check their interestingness feature.
Personally I think Flickr fills a gap. Twenty years ago, you take 20 snapshots on a holiday and plug them into a photo album. When you wanted to share them with friends or families you’d whip out the tomb and pass it around over a cup of cocoa.
Today we take several hundred photographs, copy them to our computers and if we’re smart print a few or back it up on a DVD. Locked about in a hard drive or DVD isn’t that easy to share with the family. Flickr provides an amazingly easy mechanism to share all your photographs with friends and family, even if they’re dispersed around the world. That’s not even touching on the group aspects of the application.
Q: Can you provide some predictions of future trends, their implications and business opportunities?
Trend 1: Cheap communications
Implication: Cell phones are getting so cheap now that soon people in remote China will be able to connect. Some of these people don’t even have a TV, but soon will be able to receive video via the cellular network; hopefully this won’t be restricted by conglomerates wanting to charge high tariffs (see Trend 2 for the antidote).
Business Opportunity: Nokia and Motorola know. But we’ve only seen the start of true widespread communications. If you can leverage a network, then there is a rapidly growing market.
Trend 2: Open spectrums
Implication: Today governments approach spectrum like a scarce resource. Computing technology can now filter noise like it does on a wired network. Even if there is some interference, a receiver can filter it in hardware or software.
The repercussion of freeing spectrum is that you don’t need to be rich to own a transmitter. Just like using a wifi base station at home, freeing it up means that almost any device could become a transmitter and receiver.
Nicolas Negroponte explained this best in a Wired Magazine article (Issue 10.10) when he suggested it was like lily pads and frogs. Instead of network traffic, like a voice call needing to communicate with a major telecommunications companies’ receivers, the signal could bounce from one small device to another. Imagine a voice call using whatever device nearby to relay the call; say a cellphone, or wifi Internet connection.
Business Opportunity: This is similar to Trend 1, but obviously more concerning for major telcos. However, it opens the door for consumer electronics to break the mold.
Trend 3: Leveraging mob intelligence
Implication: Google does this now with its ranking. The more people that link to a website, the higher it will result in a search. Not only that, if a more authoritative source, such as one that’s already ranked high, links to a result, its Google rank increases at a greater rate. They just leverage the world’s intelligence to produce the best results.
This is just the beginning. We’ll see many other examples of people leveraging large communities’ collective intelligence.
Business Opportunity: Start thinking of ways to capitalize on your communities, and you’ll find new opportunities.
Trend 4: Online entertainment
Implication: Xbox Live is connecting people all around the world and throwing them into multiplayer games. Now that the Xbox 360 has launched, we’ll see a mass of games that immerse people into entertainment. Soon the boundary between a TV show or movie and an online game will blur. Wait for the first cross media game that lets players tell the story.
Business Opportunity: Beyond game companies, this offers new possibilities to advertisers, and new media.
Q: For the future, which specific new internet technologies do you find will have the greatest impact on history?
A: What an awesome question.
I think mobile technology has only just started to show its potential. I call it mobile technology because I think in several years we won’t distinguish between cell phones, personal digital assistants, iPods, cameras, etc. The cost to produce them is spiraling downwards, and I think when literally anyone can own one we’ll see a shift in how communications affects society.
When anyone, anywhere can publish a photograph, video, or commentary at close to no cost, we’ll see changes in everything from media to politics. I think weblogs and podcasts demonstrate that we’re its doorstep.
Q: From your perspective, what are key areas to watch in Asia?
A: China, Korea, and India are amazing to watch. Take Korea for instance. Any country that has several TV channels dedicated to professional computer gaming is switched on. China and India on the other hand will be able to harness communications to shrink the world’s market. It doesn’t matter where you live or work now, just what you offer.
Q: Richard, knowing your busy schedule, we really appreciate the time you have taken to share your expertise with our audience.
A: No thank you. It’s always fun thinking several years ahead, and I don’t often get to share my thoughts. I’m always happy to share my time with others; just flick me a mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.