Reading blogs is seriously bad for morale. As a blogger, I do it compulsively, instinctively, and, too often, with a complete suspension of disbelief.  “I read it on a blog” has become this century’s equivalent of “well, I read it in the newspaper”. Neither stand up completely to scrutiny, though nor do any other media outlets either. We may have to revert  to  “I met a man who knows about these things and he said..” And my finding from last week was that when you do meet a man who knows, it is really surprising how much there is to be learnt.

Last week there was an Open Day for IXXUS, an excellent UK integrator with a really good track record. They use MarkLogic, and in a very effective case study around the parliamentary publisher, Dods, Simon Thompson, who manages Dods, demonstrated how effectively you can reposition a media company like this once you have full control of all of its content, the ability to search unstructured data, and thus the ability to redefine services as solutions to user requirements. And if this was not a surprise as such, the neatness of the Dods solution was certainly impressive.

The day also brought in other elements. As an Alfesco user from time to time, I was quietly amazed to find that this UK-based operation, the second largest Open Source player in the world behind Red Hat, has now registered 3 million downloads and proudly boasts 19 quarters of consecutive revenue growth. If anyone doubts the importance of workflow then take a look at this, but the element that stuck out for me was Alfresco’s concern for content management in the context of social media. It is all at and well worth a look. It is also good to be reminded of the continually growing power of open source search, especially in vertical market contexts. On show here are Lucene/Solr. With customers like the Guardian, Cisco, Salesforce, Zappos, and publishers like Taylor and Francis, this presentation spoke volumes about how far open source search has travelled in the past few years, “They came for the cost, they stayed for the flexibility” quoth the man. And Lucene is now 10 years old.

So in a week that jolted from received impressions in so many different ways I was not entirely surprised to get a note from my friend, Ian Nairn, on Internet TV. Now I am not a regular watcher. Glued to the rugby matches I find, like the current candidate for Chairman of the BBC, Lord Patten, that it is fairly hard to watch most of the time. Yet Ian is a provider of good leads, so I followed this one to–the-internet-tv–channel–to-the-family-flat-screen.html and found plenty of nourishment. In schools one could readily imagine the television screen becoming an engine of integration, backed by Cloud-based storage. After all, we have had two generations of LMS and VLE, and while the technology is widely deployed in western schools it is neither simple to use for the demotivated (staff and students) and the service provision in schools is neither intuitive nor technician-free. In fact IT has created a new school power base and less than 10% of teachers are seen as natural users in the sense of creating, deploying and storing lessons online.

And one of the elements of this article which triggered my enthusiasm was its reference to Cambridge’s Global Grid for Learning (GGfL). Here is a context where a resource creating, permissions cleared global resource of actual and embryonic learning objects comes into its own. We know that Internet TV, strongly driven by Google, is happening and will change many relationships. I had not factored learning into this environment, but now that I have I certainly think it creates scenarios ready for dynamic change.

And do not even ask me what I was doing in the China Daily. But it produced this thought ( via the New York Times. There John Markoff has discovered e-discovery software for lawyers. No surprises fro those with their heads in this space, but a graphic example of how a $2.2 million dollar legal workflow process in 1978 can be done today for a fraction of the cost – $400,000 in fact. The fact that legal fees do not seem to decrease is a mystery that I may never crack, but here are witnesses to a truth that we must put into the centre of our considerations: the major professions are now rapidly automating, with an impact on society with which we have not yet come to terms. The article has some great examples of pattern recognition and linked me back to the IXXUS day, and to the man who said that 80% of corporate data is now email. Mike Lynch reckons that one lawyer will be able to do the work of 500… unless of course you met a man last week who said differently.

And sincere ones too. Reaching 80 is a real landmark, and not so many media tycoons still in harness make it. And Rupert Murdoch is still very much at work, currently organizing the purchase of Sky in the UK with the delicate manipulation of the regulator and the politicians of which he is past master. This is a Tribute Blog, not an Obituary. I come to praise him, not to bury him. It is all too easy for the literati to look down on him and refer to his dumbing down of media properties: I could equally argue that he took mediocrity and created, in his prime, products that were genuinely popular and that people wanted. Rather than throwing brickbats I would like to explore some things that still seem strange to me, in light of the fact that once the Sky deal is completed News International/News Corporation will emerge as one of the very largest media corporations on Earth, comparable in size to very different players like Bertelsmann and Thomson Reuters. So, if I found the great man at the front door this evening I would invite him in, pour him a celebratory cognac, and ask:

Three questions late at night are quite enough for a man of your age, so raise a glass again and lets share that really funny anecdote from last week. You know the one, Sir. About how the dreadful Brits wanted to stop you buying the rest, around 60%, of Sky that you did not own and the UK Business Secretary, an unfortunate called Cable (should have been called Satellite), had a foot in mouth moment with two winsome journelettes (as we would call them if hey worked for the Sun!) and boasted that he would thwart your wishes. At that moment you must have known you had them cold. One quick strategy twist and the Culture Secretary was announcing that he had decided to approve the deal, subject to your agreement to give up total ownership of Sky News. Sky News (where you will still have 39%) was not the jewel in the crown. Sky News has no chance of survival on its own, As a business sector, Sky News contributes nothing to Sky, except losses. So you now have the UK government giving you permission to proceed – subject only to you leaving the majority of the losses to the existing shareholders. Its a masterstroke, Sir. You have never been on better form.

Time to say goodbye now. As I show him to the door, my questions left hanging in the air, I reflect that I have only ever seen one media magnate close up, and his initials were also RM. Strangely, whatever may be said of Robert Maxwell, the thing he did get was the vital importance of the digital in the publishing worlds that he dominated. And he too was, in every way, an Enigma.

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