Thursday, April 3, 2008


Dear Umair,

Thank you for bringing to us a vision of a discontinuous future.

Yes, there is much debate about how valid your thoughts are, and if they are actually relevant. The good news, to me, is that there's a debate.
I enjoy all sides of a conversation, and I sense that you do too.

I flunked economics in high school(repeatedly), but you made economics very exciting(and relevant) for me. I think The Economics of New Media is gold, and the Strategy/Economics of Peer Production is like warm apple pie. I find nothing in them that's hard to understand, and your masterful approach at articulating the economics of new media makes you a fucking genius, in my eyes.

Before I ran into BubbleGen, I was at the Center for New Media, and at the Arts, Technology and Culture colloquium at Berkeley. We did a lot of work looking at how new forms of communication are reshaping our lives, and changing our culture of interaction. I spent all of 3 years working for some brilliant minds- folks who were exploring the depth and breadth of pervasive media.

As a media architect, I was lucky enough to have been able to touch upon a number of these projects, in many different roles. You know...a lot of the people I worked with, they were "out there" as well. They were doing things that took matters beyond the usual realm of conversation. One of the first things I worked on was the Oxygen Flute- an installation where we fitted plants with CO2 sensors, connected the sensors to a PC+ speakers, monitored the varying CO2 vs O2 levels in the room as people walked in 'n out, and played back a flute-ish musical note for each (+/-) variation in gaseous levels in the room.

It was "out there". But as I learned many projects later, Greg(my favorite boss of all-time BTW) was bridging a gap between environment and perception........using a medium that is new, reactive, accurate within reason, and ubiquitous. It was a state of mind that I had never imagined before, and while it was "out there" for me at one point of time, I was "in it" before I knew it. It's just how you choose to attune your mindset...your point of view.

I look at your work from a similar perspective. In talking so much about the edge, you have to be a little "out there", else you couldn't be saying what you're saying. Moreover, as I've whined on my blog(and yours) quite often- people are so used to talking about issues that are core, that they find it hard to grasp the concept of a decentralized, fragmented edge.

Now that you've just sounded the trumpet, it might be useful for you to drill very deep into the core, and work your way outwards to the edge. And yes, this would HAVE TO BE a collaborative effort within your blog community. No way you're going to pull this off on your own.

I have a little Chevron process [which probably needs to be modified...I flunked business classes too... ] that outlines different considerations for a company in business.

Recently, you've generated a fair bit of discussion on the issues of distribution and branding. And over the last year, I've seen BubbleGen touch upon each of the other points, in varying degrees.
If you were to talk about each of these issues, in the context of each industry that need re-shaping, then you're probably talking about a Haquepedia. If you're into that, then be my guest.

I'd say, aim small...miss small. Some of your readers just pointed out that one of the loveliest things about BubbleGen is that it raises questions, and if you're listening closely enough, you can contextualize the answers to your own industry/profession/game. Other readers have pointed out that it'd be nice if you could jump in from time to time in the comments(a little more often than you do), and help tweak 'em to suit the overall objective.
Haquespertise is the way to go. Critically analyze the reason for being, the constraints for growth, and charting a sustainable path to the future.

1) First, I would take an honest look at each of the above, and put them into the context of how the definitions of each have changed.

For example:
- Understanding oligarchic approaches vis-a-vis the above process, using case studies, drawing parallels, and what have you. Why is a company established in 1952 not the same as a company established in 2003?
- What were our big problems in 1952? In 1972? In 2002? And what do we expect our problems to be in 2020?
- Should marketing text books get thrown out the door? We learned of the 4 Ps, and now there are many more than 4. Isn't it dangerous to teach MBA students stuff that's at least irrelevant/incomplete by 3-5 years?

the list goes on.....

2) Next, I'd be thinking about re-shaping the above processes so they're more elastic than they currently are. One of the fundamental barriers to growth/evolution, is the unwillingness of the system to change. It's convenient for us to blame "the system" as being this high 'n mighty being that controls how we operate, but the reality is that it's our system, and we build it how we want to build it.
So instead of going for the Constitution+Amendment approach(please refer Article Eleventy Nine), I think we need to give some thought to Structure 2.0. How do you build a structure that's elastic enough to account for next-gen problems(visible and perceived) in the above 10-fold context?

3) This is the part that I'm fuzzy on. I think we all are. What is this discontinuous future that we're after? It can't be perfect, so what deficiencies can we expect then? What will be our inefficiencies? And unless we're going to build us a perfect world, who will suffer? Or at least, who's not going to win? What will change? What will remain incomplete, but be better than before?


That's my long answer to "what would help the most". If we're talking about big changes, then we need to be thorough in our goal-seek, candid in our introspection, realistic about the outcomes, agile in our approach, and incredibly collaborative in our method.

I don't think Web 2.0 means anything. It's just a step forward. There will be a Web 78.0, assuming the inconvenient truths don't hit us first. Yes, 2.0 is a giant leap for man-kind, but it's just a milestone, and I think we should be thinking strategy in terms of vision, not milestones.


Ethan Bauley said...

Another idea I have been considering is Umair "syndicating himself" by setting up some kind of Bubblegen franchise.

That would clearly be a "pedagogical" path but I think there's enough interest among entrepreneurs/etc to prop it up.

preetam said... to elaborate?

Irrespective of the method(syndication, wiki, etc.), I think the common thread will have to be UH himself. And I am led to believe he's a busy man.

So we have to work out something where he helps establish the context, some of us help in getting it online, and then as we add meat to the bones, and he can jump in at regular intervals to ensure calibration of process(as opposed to calibration of ideas....which should be very open to begin with).

Ethan Bauley said...

Like you're getting at, it's tough to really get concrete because Umair's probably "hella busy" as they say in SoCal ;-)

YCombinator for strategy consulting?

Something like that would take a lot from UH on how it would get structured, etc, so it's hard to get at.

It's hard to say, with guys like UH and John Hagel locked up in some cuckoo strategy braintrust (Deloitte, Havas, etc).

I know that JH and UH have some kind of hang, maybe they could collaborate somehow to manage this.

(just popping out some ideas, don't have much time to write at the moment, sorry ;-)

preetam said...

let's give this a few more days to settle in. either brilliance will emerge on bubblegen in the form of a comment, or we'll just have to build it up and facilitate brilliance.

we'll be in touch!

Ethan Bauley said...

Agreed, thanks for posting this.

You can pick me up over at si vous plait

Ethan Bauley said...

holy SHIT did you see Umair's post on HBS today?

the clarity with which he analyzes this shit is mind blowing

preetam said...

Yes, I just did. He's incisive, there's no doubt.

Rajan said...


There are so many interesting threads/ideas that have been floated in BGSL but many of them did not go anywhere :(. I guess Umaig can't be blamed as he has to manage his attention effeciently.

I was once a very heavy commenter but I don't comment often anymore at BGSL.

Simillar to this sounding out, some time ago umair wanted to start a wiki to mobilize some efforts towards the colloborative discussion that he mentioned again now but neither did that go anywhere.

While I would be happy to see a lot of the notions developed and challenged but having a dependency
on umair will not take it any where in IMHO.

We(as readers) should seperately create our own initiatives ( even outside the BGSL domain) to collectively learn and benefit.


preetam said...


I couldn't agree more- you are bang on.

Just looked at the Wiki link. Should we drag Ethan into a conversation on how we can build something out of the Wiki, as a complement to BubbleGen?
Something like picking the tomatoes from BubbleGen, and simmering the sauce on WetPaint??

rkhan said...

Metaphors aside: I would love to learn and contribute if I can to a wiki version of Bubblegen!

Rajan said...

Hi Preetam,

Yeah we should get Ethan into the loop. I have previously connected with Ethan over email so I will ping him over mail as well.


preetam said...

excellent. i believe one of my colleagues @ marcellus is quite enthusiastic about the idea too, so let's.

once we've had some sort of chit chat amongst ourselves, i can shoot umair an e-mail to get some feedback and then request him to direct his users to wetpaint.

Ethan Bauley said...

my ears are burning ;-)

the wetpaint thing looks good, nice work! i LOL'd when i saw "microchunking you softly"...

i like the idea of us creating some kind of "intermediary" that translates for noobs/old people.

but we can go in any direction...even more formal...

i'm happy to contribute...drop me a line over email


preetam said...

Well, I think for starters, this conversation needs to move out of my rant-house, into wetpaint.

Rajan, I just signed up. Riff, you should, too. Ethan, I'm assuming you already have?

The next thing to discuss, I suppose, would be the "what".
I propose we do some thinking on "what" this wiki should turn into(Rajan, I'm totally *assuming* you're OK w/ this, so let me know if not!!), and then go from there.


Rajan said...

I have created a discussion thread and responded there, so please all hop over there.