My holiday reading, courtesy of Skip Pritchard who gave it to me, has been Michael Korda’s vast biography of T E Lawrence, and despite my familiarity with the story, I have found it an entrancing experience. Lawrence is almost impossible to reconstruct, since he shone a different light in the direction of every individual he met, and one is left feeling that nowhere does a real Lawrence exist. So very like the information game, then! Every observer sees a different fraction of play, and no one can predict the outcome. This comment is meant to mask my residual guilt at reading my book while my knee mended and not writing pages of forecasts and predictions for the amusement of readers, and to confirm my frailties as a prophet of anything.

Lawrence wrote “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom”, one of the world’s unread classics (and almost unreadable in parts: he lost the only copy of the full manuscript on Reading train station and had to recreate 200,000 words, during which he clearly became bored.) In 800 words I can communicate seven thoughts – not so much Pillars  as pillows, and not predictions but observations of this unknowable industry. Here goes:

1.  Some think its about content and others that it is about platforms and technology. For me it is still about communications, and the greatest challenge is still holding people’s attention, having gained their recognition. Even Facebook hits a plateau. The gods remain Reputation, Identity, and Attention.

2. You are either a communication company or you are not. News Corp is a format company. It does newspapers, film and television and has little corporate bandwidth for non-format communications. This cannot be changed by executive whim, and the collapse of Beyond Oblivion, its music initiative, before the holidays (, as well as the veil of silence around the performance of The Daily on the iPad, following on as they do the oblivion that was My Space, demonstrates all of this very well. Yet Mr Murdoch has signed on to Twitter. There is no evidence yet that the world can be saved with a single Tweet. There is no evidence yet that traditional media and information businesses can recreate themselves in new marketplaces without either starting afresh somewhere else  or by buying a new business and moving into it. Boinc.

3. Apple, according to MacRumors (, is about to enter the textbook market, maybe with Pearson and certainly via the iPad. This was apparently a dearly held dream of Steve Jobs, at least according to Walter Isaacson, who is shaping up to be not just the biographer but also the Delphic oracle. I have some doubts – not about the iPad as a display device, but about whether markets want textbooks re-invented. Learners would like learning re-invented, and made easier and more compelling. Textbooks are an extinct format. And learning should operate equally well on whatever platform you have available. What a waste of all this energy around eLearning if we abolish the old formats like textbooks and replace them with rigid device platforms. And yet I am sure that the analysts are right – there are only a few global growth markets and education is the largest.

4. Then I had a great comment from Brad Patterson at EduLang ( He points out that 500 million people are trying to learn English and only 50 million can afford textbooks, online or otherwise. So his business model for his interesting TOEFL and TOIEC Simulators is “pay what you can”, with half going to a reading charity. In many ways this is very neat – it reaches out to 450 million people with a trust relationship, and could be a really interesting business model to watch. Above all, how encouraging it is to see someone moving the goalposts – we did not score many goals in regular business model configurations so lets applaud the courage of someone doing something different.

5. Semantic Web technology and deployment in mass markets is getting closer and closer. I took part in the beta of Garlik ( some 3 years ago, partly because of an interest in technology around identity, and partly out of interest in technologies derived from the University of Southampton Computer Science department, and blessed by such eminences as Wendy Hall, Nigel Shadbolt – and Sir Tim Berners Lee himself. Two days before Christmas Garlik was sold to Experian, in a move that I think was as significant as Reuters buying ClearForest all those years ago. Garlik protects personal identity through web search, was founded by the men who built the UK online banks Egg and First Direct, and backed by Doughty Hanson. This is a straw in a wind which will go galeforce.

6. But if the Semantic Web is going to be so clever, and linked data will recreate so many service environments, where is it now? Well, look at the obvious places. In most of our economies building and construction is the largest sector in terms of activity and players, large and small, and has great companies serving it with supplier and materials information. Thus, in a US market replete with Reed Construction, Hanley Wood and McGraw-Hill. But what if a semantic web-based environment were able to search all online catalogues and directories to produce a sweeping coverage of suppliers and products that was at once more detailed and more comprehensive than any directory-style database, and could include more metadata from suppliers and users to create a continually developing industry specification site, deliverable and self-formatting to every platform and device? That is what interests me about MaterialSource, ( as well as its use of SPARQL, Semantic Web Pages for faceted and graph-based browsing, smartphone and tablet Apps using HTML5, ontologies etc, etc. If they do it, someone will have to buy them!

7. I keep on thinking about the neglect of audio, so I was delighted to see SoundCloud ( There has to be room for an audio portal, and a community for sharing sound and cross-referencing its sources and users. I anticipate that they know things about users that Beyond Oblivion didn’t.

Last words of a predictive nature before I get back to real work. A correspondent asks “what technology are you following in 2012!” Since I say every week that I am not following technologies but users, I take mild offense at this, but I do admit to a penchant for 3D printing. Now that really could have an impact. Especially in medical workflow. I have also been asked by a venture capitalist who should know better what is likely “to be certain” to succeed this year. He is a serious man so I owe him a serious answer: anything that saves more time and money than it costs. The prime example this year in the UK has been Shutl, a delivery logistics service that gets your online purchases to you physically (average delivery time in London was 90 minutes, with a cost of £5). Is that all the queries? I am beginning to feel like an Agony Aunt!



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