History in the Making

There are points in time that define society as we know it. The counterculture of the 1960s defined western culture in terms of individual achievement, respect for human rights, free speech. It pushed the bounds of visual culture and created whole new artforms in literature. A case in point is the ridiculous Howard the Duck cartoon character who was used by Steve Gerber to successfully lampoon 1970s America, post-Watergate and Vietnam through the counterculture mindset.

Some of the more surreal characters like Space Turnip and the giant bag of salt took their cue from 1960s psychedelic experiments. You can see more about Howard the Duck in this collection of the 1970s comics here in The Essential Howard the Duck.

History is a strange thing. The hippy San Francisco is now a sad psychedelic shopping mall of die dyed t-shirts and new age paraphernalia. The culture being blamed for everything from loosening modern moral values to the corrosive nature of materialism on society.

Having lived through and participated in the UK’s rave culture in the late 1980s and early 1990s as a clubber, DJ and promoter, I have seen a similar kind of thing develop, however property developers have done the rave generation a back-handed favour by redeveloping their icons like the Hacienda into a different format that could not get trapped into the tourist circuit. The cash-ins have largely been quite sublime, such as Warp’s very good collection of early house tracks 10+1 and 10+2. Matthew Collin’s book Altered State for me remains the best written book about this era.

Now the dot.com era is looking as if it may be starting to define itself in a similar way. Wired magazine, the Whole Earth Catalog of its day for the net generation has a ten-year netrospective (geddit) in its latest issue (Wired 13.08: 10 years that changed the world). Fortune has an interesting oral history Remembering Netscape: the birth of the net. The participants are rushing in to define their own place in history knowing that these articles will be the ones used by authors in the future when they write about how the internet changed the world. Again having played a role in that time, as a PR consultant working on a ‘new-chip to blue-chip’ client base as we called it at the time, I got an interesting overview of the sector and inside view of some of the major players. I am sure the future will be viewing this history through distorted vision based on the tinted recollections in these articles.

From White Heat to Flickering Flame

It had been too long since I read Peter Cochrane’s column on Silicon.com (which I noticed has changed descriptor from ‘column’ to ‘blog’ in line with the latest media fad).

In his July 14th posting he talked about the pace of innovation that has been running at break neck speed since before Harold Wilson’s ‘White Heat of Technology’ electoral campaign in the mid 1960s through to the internet age.

Whilst Cochrane disagrees with the evidence about this decline, he links to some interesting reading that supports the hypothesis here. Richard Holway (of the Holway Report fame in IT journalism circles) of Ovum talks here about how innovation is cooling the technology sector innovation and market value.

Jargon WatchCold tech – issues and technologies that ‘shrink the technology pie’ such as ‘free software’, the runaway nature of Moore’s Law creating computers more powerful than needed by busineses since software has failed to progress at the same rate and offshoring of jobs to developing economies. Credited to Pip Coburn of UBS based in the US by Richard Holway.

Beyond the Low Riders

The New York Times has an interesting article about how Sean Coombes is trying quite successfully to walk his urban fashion label out the cliche it had become. Though his business is worth some 400 million USD annually, Coombs has seen the writing on the wall of the scene and rather than cater for the limited market of Ali G impressionists is trying to move more upmarket. The urban fashion scene has become as tired as the sound of R&B and rap music, in the way that 80’s rock got into treading the same groove over and over again to make money.

In the US, labels like Ecko, Sean John and Phat Farm have been co-opted by preppie clientele. There is a certain irony in this as Phat Farm often aped preppie and collegiate looks for the hip-hop community. Now Phat Farm has been co-opted by desperate brands such as Motorola looking for a hook-up, Russell Simmons sold out leaving the company to an international conglomerate. Brands like Gap and Abercrombie and Finch have stolen much of the look and in Europe, genuine workwear brands like Carhartt and Dickies that were part of the real prison yard baggy look have combated the new pretenders by acknowledging their fashion customer base and participating in associated activities like music and extreme sports.

Coombs is using his womenswear range as a Trojan horse to get into the department stores that otherwise would not have carried his usual clothing range.

Reading the Tea Leaves

The Buttonwood column in The Economist has some interesting takes on the current interest in internet stocks again. The column puts forward data from both the bull and bear point of view regarding internet stocks: Interesting take-outs:

  • Forrester Research figures quoted:
  • That in the US people spend about 35% of their media time online but that this attracts on 6% of advertising spending
  • Internet advertising in the US was worth about 12 billion USD in 2004, it is likely to grow by 25% in 2005 and tail off to single digit growth by 2010

Research quoted from the bear side of thingsindicated that:

  • People are less likely to give out their details online. Of the 30% who used online banking, many were now using it less and 14% had stopped using it for paying bills (GartnerGroup)
  • 18% of Internet users had stopped shopping online due to the fear of internet fraud (Financial Insights)
  • Even online dating is down in the US (Jupiter Research)

Level 3 to Crooked E?

Totaltele.com had an interesting report from Dow Jones Newswire how Level3 the backbone network provider had been exhibiting Enronesque traits. Level 3’s capital-intensive business model is questioned (subscription required) by Helen Draper highlights how Level3 is having to invest huge amounts of money to make just a little money back, hurting its working capital.

This was one of the factors that encouraged all the creative accounting at Enron. This is particularly interesting as Level 3 was both a supplier of capacity to Enron Broadband Services and at the same time its CEO James Crowe was a vocal critic of the Enron Broadband Services business model according to journalists that I had spoken to.