Hysteria of Hype

Somewhere around the web, there’s a cycle of hype which generally pins down where we are in terms of a hype cycle. I have not the time to go looking for it now but put simply, it has bunch of stages. I have decided it is too complicated for the tech sector.

Basically, the point at which you start seeing comments around X is the next big thing is the point at which something else is the next big thing. Sounds contradictory? Well yeah, it is.

Most people talking about the next big thing being X tend not to know a whole lot about X. Their primary objective is to make money off X. They do not really care what X achieves, so long as it makes them money.

Five years ago up to oh I don’t know, middle of 2014, early 2015 sometime, Big Data Is The Next Big Thing. Being blunt about it, there has been very little obvious Life Changing going on courtesy of Big Data and that is because by the time people started screaming about big data in the media and talking about how it was the future, it had ceased to be the future in the grand scheme of things. Artificial intelligence and machine learning, now they are the next big thing.

I have to declare an interest in machine learning and artificial intelligence – I wrote my masters dissertation on the subject of unsupervised machine learning and deep learning. However, I am still going to say that machine learning and artificial intelligence are a) a long way short of what we need them to be to be the next big thing b) were the next big thing at the time everyone was saying that big data is the next big thing.

It is particularly galling because of Alpha Go and the hysteria that engendered. Grown men talking about how this was the N.

Right now, artificial intelligence is still highly task limited. Sure it is fantastic that a machine can beat a human being at Go. In another respect, it isn’t even remotely special. AlphaGo was designed to do one thing, it was fed with data to do one thing. Go, and chess to some extent, are the same thing as brute forcing a password. Meanwhile, the processes designed to win games of Go and chess are not generally also able to learn to be fantastic bridge players, for example. Every single bit of progress has to be eked out, at high costs. Take machine translation. Sure, Google Translate is there, and maybe it opens a few doors, but it is still worse than a human translator. Take computer vision. It takes massive deep learning networks to even approximate human performance for identifying cats.

I’m not writing this to trash machine learning, artificial intelligence and the technologies underpinning both. I’m saying that when we have a discussion around AI and ML being the next big thing, or Big Data being the next thing, we are having the equivalent of looking at a 5 year old playing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and declaring he or she will be the next Yehudi Menuhin. It doesn’t work like that.

Hype is dangerous in the tech sector. It overpromises and then, screams blue murder when delivery does not happen. Artificial intelligence does not need this. It’s been there before with the AI winter and the serious cuts in research. Artificial intelligence doesn’t need to be picked on by the vultures looking for the next big thing because those vultures aren’t interested in artificial intelligence. They are only interested in the rentability of it. They will move on when artificial intelligence fails to deliver. They will find something else to hype out of all order. And in the meantime, things which need time to make progress – and artificial intelligence has made massive jumps in the last 5 or 6 years – will be hammered down for a while.

For the tl;dr version, once you start talking about something being the next big thing, it no longer is.

In search, Google’s localisation seems to be poor

Google are able to identify my location via useful clues like the GPS on my phone, and, I suppose, a reverse look up of the IP from which I connect to the internet sometimes. On my computer, Google knows exactly where I am, down to demonstrating my location when I open Google Maps, for example. There are additional clues: I’ve told it, in the past, that I am based in Ireland, and, mostly, when I run search, it is via Google.ie.

But it has become increasingly useless as far as finding outlets for online shopping. Today, I am looking for top spiral bound A4 notebooks – we’ll skip why exactly that is the case because it doesn’t matter. Google returns to me, as top search results, companies uniquely in America. This problem is not unique to top spiral bound A4 notebooks – I have had similar frustrating experiences with art supplies. There could be a thousand stationery shops in the UK, Ireland, and most of Europe, and Google still seems to think that someone based in Ireland is going to order off companies in the United States of America.

I appreciate some of this is based on search engine optimisation carried out by the companies concerned, but given that Google’s sponsored links are generally regionally appropriate, or at least more so than the first 2 or 3 of its search results, it would help if the organic search results were also regionally appropriate.

There is a wider issue with Google in my experience, however; while it provides services in a large number of languages, and provides online translation facilities, it seems to mainly operate on the assumption that most of its users are monolingual. I generally have an issue with Google News on that front, and have basically set up a feed from Twitter to pull news from a number of different source languages. For all the media organisations which Google News serves, it doesn’t seem to cope well with the idea that people might be more than monolingual.

Professor David Spiegelhalter at the RIA

Friday 7 November saw Professor David Spiegelhalter talking about risk at the Royal Irish Academy. If you’re not familiar with him, his site is here, he occasionally pops up on BBC Radio 4’s More or Less and other interesting places.

Risk is an interesting thing because humans are appallingly bad at assessing it. Ultimately, the core of Professor Spiegelhalter’s talk focused on calculating risk (yes, there is a micromort unit of measurement) and more specifically, communicating it in human friendly terms. This is not to suggest statisticians are not human; only that they have a language (we have a language) that isn’t always at one with general understanding.

This isn’t the only problem either – humans appear to be very good at not worrying about non-immediate risks as well. So this presents a number of challenges in terms of decision making behaviour on the part of people.

Talks like this can be massively entertaining if done well; less so if badly done. In one respect, one of the overwhelming contrasts of the evening was the absolute contrast between Professor Spiegelhalter’s talk and Patrick Honohan’s response which focused on difficulties in risk assessment in the financial sector. I took a slightly dim view of the response on the basis that every single banking ad makes it clear that the value of your home (or assets ) can go down as well as up and did so for most of the 2000s in this country, and therefore it isn’t so much a question as we didn’t understand the risk – many people just did not want to accept it. In certain respects, it has a lot in common with people who find it hard to live healthily now to for benefits sixty years down the line. If I had to choose who got their message across more effectively, by some distance it was Professor Spiegelhalter.

Talks of this nature interest me; particularly as they relate to numbers and numeracy, and in this case, on risk. People are never particularly good on probability and chance despite all that Monopoly board training each Christmas. Ultimately, the impression I got from the talk is that the debate has moved on somewhat from “what is the risk of [X bad or good thing] happening” to “how do we effectively communicate this risk”. It’s interesting – in a tangential way – that we are swimming in methods of communicating things these days between online streaming, social media feeds, many online publishing platforms and still, with science and numbers, we are only finding the corrective narrative for engagement in a hit or miss manner. Professor Spiegelhalter delivers his talk in an excellent manner. It is a pity that more people will not get to hear it.

on a related note, if you’re interested in talks of a science and mathsy flavour, the RIA and the Meteorological Society are prone to organise such things on the odd occasion. Check their websites for further information. 

Facebook and that study

Just briefly, given the general response to the Facebook empathy contagion article on PNAS a while back (an hour is a long time on the internet, let’s face it), the question I would have to ask is this: is everyone in Facebook so attached to what they can do with their dataset that they no longer remember to ask whether they should be doing that stuff with their dataset?

A while back, I met a guy doing a PhD in data visualisation or something related and he spoke at length about how amazing it was, what could be done with health data and how the data had to be freed up because it would benefit society so much. I’ve never really bought that idea because the first thing you have to ask is this: do individuals get messed up if we release a whole pile of health data, and if so, to what extent are you willing to have people messed up?

What I’m leading to here is the question of group think and yesmenery. Ultimately, there comes a point where people are so convinced that they should do what they want, that they are unwilling to listen to dissent. The outcry over Facebook’s study has been rather loud and yet, it doesn’t appear to have occurred to anyone who had anything to do with the study that people might find it a bit creepy, to say the least. It’s not even a question of “oh, you know, our terms and conditions” or “oh, you know, we checked with Cornell’s review board”, it’s just straight up “is it creepy that we’re trying to manipulate people’s feelings here? Without telling them?”

I mean, I can’t ever imagine a case in which the answer to that question is anything other than Yes, yes it is creepy and eugh. And yet, it doesn’t seem to have occurred to anyone connected with it that it was kind of creepy and gross.

Once we get past that, what’s being focussed on is the datascience aspect and I have a hard time swallowing that too. This was a psychological experiment, not a datascience on. I mean, if you did a similar study with 40 people, you wouldn’t call it a statistical experiment, would you? In many respects, the datascience aspect is pretty irrelevant; it’s a tool to analyse the data and not the core of the experiment in and of itself. A datascience experiment might involve identifying the differences in outcome between using a dataset with 10,000 records and a dataset with 10 million records for example. Or identifying the the scale of difference in processor speeds between running a data analysis on one machine versus another.

Anyway, the two main issues I want to take away from this is that a) it wasn’t really a datascience experiment and b) sometimes you need to find people who are willing to tell you that what you are doing is ick, and you need to listen to them.

Thing is – and this is where we run into fun – what have they done that they haven’t told us about?


Eben Upton at UCD

Eben Upton came to UCD to have a chat about the Raspberry Pi today. Actually, he was accompanied by Alan Lund from RS – whom I should mention spoke very eloquently about the challenges involved in the Raspberry Pi and why it was such a ground breaker for them.

I love the Raspberry Pi. I bought mine last November as a birthday present and one of the key attractions for me at the time was the arrival of Mathematica and Wolfram Alpha. I have a lot of time for Stephen Wolfram. But one of the key reasons that I love the Raspberry Pi is that I’m a child of the home computing era. I have been that trooper typing in the code from Atari XL Magazine to try and guide that frog across the road. I have a great respect for anyone else I ever meet who’s had a go at it. Bloody typos.

So I was never going to miss Eben’s talk today.

Eben’s point of view is fairly straightforward but it’s illustrative of other aspects of society which is that we tend not to notice problems coming down the line, not en masse anyway (cf property and stock bubbles the world over). Eben caught a decline in the numbers of students applying for computer science in Cambridge, and a corresponding decline in their experience. His hypothesis is – and I think it’s a reasonable one – that children from a certain era basically had locked down computers rather than the liberty of shoving a tape in the cassette deck and hoping that the thing would boot for a change so that we could attempt to play Flight SImulator again.

Children – to a great extent – had handheld consoles and PlayStations and the PC in the corner, to a greater extent, was probably Mum and Dad’s. So the landscape changed and became a little less free.

We’re screaming now about the lack of qualified technical people. Eben caught this vibe in 2006 and started looking at causes for it. That takes vision.

So, today, he spoke at UCD courtesy of the Mature Students Society and the School of Library and Information Science and he had a lot of interesting things to say.

He went into the history of the idea behind the Raspberry Pi in some detail in an utterly engaging manner, and talked about the difference between their original expectations around it – maybe build 1000 units and ship them out to schools and hope they fell into the right hands – and the reality which is well over two and a half million of them have been sold. Because rather than just being computers for kids. they have appealed to a far broader range of people. This was entirely unexpected.

I’m a bridge hopper on the geek front. I started programming when I was 12 or 13 – I thought it was fantastic what you could do with them, maybe wasn’t the 1% brilliant and sank rather than swam although I typed up some nice graphic thingies into the Atari and regularly beat my brother’s high score in Jet Boot Jack and Flight Apocolyse. And I liked maths a lot.

However, for various reasons, I wound up studying modern languages at university. I probably could have done computer science at the time but I didn’t, at the age of 17, operate in that zone. So I speak fluent French and German. And a smattering of Spanish. I’ve a degree in translation and a diploma in interpreting. And when I was 27. I got hired as a programmer.

Most of my working life, I have worked with IBM assembler. I have worked on Big Iron. I really want to say this because I sometimes find the technological world a bit divisive between us and non-us. I’m not a classical geek but I have done a lot of bare metal programming.

(so I told Eben that we had to get rid of this geek/non geek division).

Anyway, my experience with the Raspberry Pi is this. I bought one. Went into Maplins, bought one, instant gratificationn, the morning of my most recent birthday and then prepared to tell people. Interestingly, my mother’s response was highly positive. She’s not a technical person (although she will have a Raspberry Pi when I eventually sort out her entertainment centre, sometime after I get through the May exams) but she understood completely what Eben was trying to do. She had done it herself 30 years earlier when she went to my cousin and asked his advice about getting a computer for her two youngest children. Her only proviso is that when I make her entertainment centre work, it must be simple to operate.

I fully get that.

One of my friends who has typically fallen squarely into the Users category when it comes to computers is fascinated and wants, again, to look into the idea of an entertainment centre. This time though, she wants me to write the instructions and let her do it herself. She doesn’t at this point want to write code and isn’t really sure if there’s anything else she’d want to do.

I get that too. But more than that, I get the curiosity.

Curiosity matters a whole pile in this game and one of the factors which was most discussed today was the question of computers in education. The UK has just implemented a massive change to their computer science curriculum at EBac level which is Junior Cert level. It has gone from being a user centric process to a developer centric process. There are lots of doubts in terms of how it will be implemented and while this formed no part of Eben’s talk, I am aware that there are serious concerns about the structure put in place to support this. My main concern about this is that it is over ambition and misdirected. I got computers because they were a game, an exploration. When they become a duty, there is a very real risk that people lose a certain amount of interest. I’ve seen this over the year with mathematics and while it is important that people are mathematically literate, the simple truth is that mostly, they are not.

Eben gets this. and the Raspberry Pi Foundation get this so a lot of effort is going into professional development to support teachers and the recognition that there is a communications ask here.

The question and answer session afterwards was interesting; one of the key comments which was made related specifically to the failure of some people to bridge the divide on passing on programming skills. I think this is very important, and I also think that the idea of one true way needs to go. While maths skills are important, programming is very much a creative skill (and this is why I don’t particularly enjoy programming in Java – a lot of elements of creativity are taken out of it for me) and creativity is not a skill limited to people who self identify as geeks.

In the main, if you get a chance to hear Eben speak, I’d grab it. He is utterly engaging, he believes absolutely in what the Raspberry Pi Foundation are doing, and recognises the random steps that have changed things here and there for him – in particular relating to getting the Raspberry Pi manufactured in the UK.

He also mentioned one story which I thought was fantastic and it related to the person who invented the designs for one of the Lego based cases for the Raspberry Pi. She was 11 years old and she negotiated her royalty payment in Lego

I think that is absolutely fantastic and if that’s what it takes to get more kids looking at this, fantastic.

(the other story which I loved involved sending a teddy bear up to the edge of space. I would like to do the same with a Barbie doll – I feel it would be symbolic on a lot of levels plus an interesting technical challenge).

All in all, a fantastic couple of hours.


Wedding Magazines and other thoughts.

Here’s some random information which might be worth looking at in some more detail.

On Saturday, I counted – sad person that I am – the number of wedding magazines on sale in Easons in Heuston Station. I did this basically because Irish Rail hadn’t told me what platform my train was going from, I didn’t feel like getting some food, and I was hanging around. There was a large display of them just inside the door. So easy to count and so attractive to do so when there seemed to be rather a lot of them.

So I can tell you the answer that I came up with was 13. I suppose if I had been really good I might have taken a photograph of the display. I can tell you that there were two subspecialisation, mainly one on wedding flowers and one on wedding cakes. The rest were things like Bride, or Bridal Magazine. There was a surfeit of white. It was a bit overwhelming.

When I posted this to twitter, a couple of things happens. Someone knew there was a bridal show on at the RDS – news to me – and then this.

Damien Mulley told me there were approximately 21,000 weddings in the country each year.

Paul Savage told me that according to Facebook, 78,000 people were engaged.

Damien Mulley came back and noted that according to Facebook, 42,000 of those were female, aged 20 or older.

You can have a look at the conversation here.

The average circulation of the general Irish fashion mags like Image and Irish Tatler is around 25,000. I’m having serious problems getting any wider circulation figures and this distresses me – the JNRS is coming back at me with newspaper and newspaper related circulation figures. But no magazines.

I can pick up some of the advertising rate cards for the Ireland based magazines and I can tell you that for one of them, the bulk of their readership is in the 25-34 age bracket.

But actual circulation figures, the magazines in Ireland appear to be very coy about.

In one respect, it might be an interesting exercise to:

  1. figure out what the picture of bridal magazines in Ireland has been for the last 15 years or so. Have we always sold 13 different magazines? What is the market entry and exit rate for them
  2. Figure out how many of them are selling every month. The cover price rate is somewhere in the region of around 5E.
  3. Figure out some way of comparing their advertising rate cards which are not uniform across the different charges.
  4. Figure out how they compare to the other women’s interest segment magazines.

Why am I interested in this? Well deep down I am wondering whether Ireland can sustain that many bridal magazines when it’s already having trouble sustaining its broadsheet newspapers. I’m also interested in seeing whether weddingsonline.ie has had an impact on the market in any indirect or direct way.

And of course, part of me is wondering about market segmentation in the glossy magazine market. Ireland has a population of around 4.5 million. It’s not, by any stretch of the imagination a huge market. This is not just limited to the whole bridal magazine thing – we also produce a couple of other specialist interest magazines, the sales of which are also augmented by imports from the UK and in some cases, the US.

Finally – the comments from Paul and Damien when I discussed this on twitter the other day were interesting because it shows that some ballpark information regarding the possible target cohort of this particular market segment could be obtained from other, social, sources.

So basically, if any one has any idea how I might get granular circulation data to play with for all magazines on sale in the Irish market at the moment, I might be interested in setting some time to have a flute around it.

My way or the high way.


Alexandra Samuel wrote a piece on notetaking. It was quite breathtaking. It opened as follows:

I knew right away, when you walked in here with a paper notebook — a paper notebook! — I realized that this meeting was not going to be a good use of our time.

It caused what might best be described as a shitstorm, and seems to have topped out at 304 comments, the overwhelming majority of which were not in favour of the piece. She then wrote a piece about the reaction here where again, the majority of comments gently pointed out that a look in the mirror to remove the plank from her eye might be in order before criticising much of what was said to her.

I have a lot of problems with the piece, the key one being, anyone who meets other people with that sort of attitude; the attitude that her way with her digital gadgets and toys was better than anyone else’s way of organising aide memoires. The simple truth is, it probably isn’t. Certainly, it’s not straight forward that all the digital productive tools in the world make you more productive. What – in my experience – tends to make you more productive is not feeling you have to justify every single little way of doing things.

I own a laptop, a tablet and a smartphone. The laptop runs Windows, the rest is iOS. I also have a lot of notebooks not because they make me less productive but because they cause me to be more productive. Basic day to day list? It’s faster to write it down and tick it off. Mindmapping? Quicker to pull out software. Reflecting on life in general? I’ve kept a journal since I was 19 years old. There’s something inherently more valuable about it than files which go missing and get corrupt.

There is a common view that previous generations before us will have left more of a footprint via their books and their monuments than we will. We may generally produce a huge amount more information than the generations before us, but we do not do very much to retain it. Already, data saved in the 1950s and 1960s is getting harder and impossible to retrieve because we just don’t have the technology. Our technology cycles are changing and information is dying, in some respects, faster than it did 100 years ago.

Important things to me, my life, and my feelings, go in notebooks.

What worried me most about the whole piece was not so much the massively condescending piece as it was published originally although I really do have to say that it came across as childish and condescending, but the overwhelming lack of understanding why she might not be right. This came across in her replies to comments across the piece. For example, she really doesn’t get that a lot of companies for legal and regulatory reasons just are not allowed to use services like Evernote. It’s not a question of a manager being an old fogey that she can write to and point out the errors of their ways so that a bunch of people wind up with laptops and iPads.

As it happens, I don’t think that laptops and iPads enhance listening. My experience is that people who are typing are not processing information at all. I’m a very fast typist – I typically averaged 120wpm in English in my admin days. Alone of all my colleagues, I could type from live dictation. This means that as fast as you spoke, I typed. And as a special trick, I could type in English what you said to me in French.

For a good typist, the iPad keyboard is basically unworkable. Typing things puts a constraint on how you describe unstructured data. Most meetings consist of unstructured data; they consist of brainstorming, problem solving.

Being honest, were I to walk into a meeting with someone like Alexandra, weighed down by her laptop and her iPad, I’d wonder if she really had any interest in the meeting at all. Oh it’s not because I think she’ll be checking her email or her twitter or her Facebook while I’m describing whatever problem we are here to resolve. It’s because I know that people who are typing are not absorbing. This is why, perhaps, Alexandra needs the crutch of search and retrieval of her digital tools. People who remember more get more done.

I think Alexandra, in stating that you don’t have to remember things because it’s all in Evernote, has missed that minor detail.

I should note she has a book on Evernote as a tool available at the moment.


An open letter to Twitter


Thanks for the promoted tweet from eToro. I seem to see them regularly.

I understand that you have a business. From my point of view, promoted tweets are little more than ads, or marketing junk. I’d like to be able to switch off promoted tweets from eToro. I’m just not interested.

I get the need to monetise your product. Google manages to ship me reasonably relevant advertising in my Gmail. YOu get a lot more information out me so….why do I get ads for Apple Stock?

I read a piece Hilary Mason wrote the other day about interview questions for data science questions. She said she’d ask what, based on your knowledge of bit.ly’s data, you would do that they are not doing.

Well I don’t know for bit.ly to be honest. I don’t use the service quite enough to comment. However, where Twitter is concerned, I’d do a better job on contextualising the inline advertising. Take me. It’s clear from the accounts I follow, the links I follow, the posts I make, even my description that I have certain specialised interests….photography. Surf. Kitesurf. Computer related stuff. Travel.

Nowhere in my account is any evidence that I am interested in eToro’s services. But I wouldn’t object to more relevant tasting promoted tweets, so how about it? Are you working in that area at all?







How obsessed is Ireland about property?

Brian Lucey flagged this on his twitter feed this morning.

If you don’t want to click through, yesterday he posted the same post twice to his blog; the sole difference being that the two pieces had different titles, one property related, one more general. I’d almost say celebrity mag styled actually but I could be being unfair – the dentist rarely has the end of year edition of Hello or VIP given I have my annual check up in October.

Anyway. The money quote is this:

By a margin of almost 5-1 the property titled post got more hits

The title of Brian’s piece asked “Just how obsessed is Ireland about property?”  but aside from the quote above, he doesn’t actually draw a conclusion – I imagine he leaves it as an exercise to the reader but by implication, he seems to be suggesting that Ireland is obsessed about property by a margin of 5 to 1 over more generic subject blog posts.

I’m going to assume that Brian Lucey has his tongue stuck firmly in his cheek with this but I’m going to do a little spelling out here. You cannot draw any conclusions from the outcome of this experiment based on the information given by Brian in the relevant post.

Here’s why.

  1. We do not know what the sample size was. It is possible (unlikely but even so) that Brian got six hits on his blog total yesterday. The population of Ireland is circa 4.5 million, so it’s dangerous to do any extrapolating the view of the population at large without knowing how large the sample was.
  2. We do not know what the source of the hits were: 1) links from other websites 2) links from Brian’s own Twitter account 3) links from Facebook, Google Plus or any of the main discussion forums, or from his rss feed. This is troublesome because it means we cannot cater for possible bias. If, for example, the bulk of Brian’s hits came from his Twitter followers, it is not safe to assume that this is a random selection of Irish people as 1) people who follow Brian’s twitter feed are more likely to be interested in economic matters and potentially property matters as he speaks about property on the media quite often and a lot of his pieces for the Examiner are property based 2) and there’s a slight bias in social media users against the older population.

    In my view, people who follow Brian Lucey’s writings either on twitter or through the Irish Examiner are more likely to be predisposed to have an interest in Irish property than the population at large. Put simply, it is getting harder to get a random sample of the Irish population easily.  The same goes for people who read NamaWinelake by the way – it is a special interest site which draws people on account of that special interest. To get a random sample, it would be almost better to post the two links on a forum dedicated to – say – GAA supporters – as that would remove the confounding variable of an already existing interest.


Here’s a useful primer on why this matters. One of the more famous wrong headlines in history is the Chicago Tribune’s headline announcing Dewey’s victory in the 1948 US Presidential election, an underlying support of which were telephone polls. In 1948, access to a telephone was not uniform across the population, and favoured the more well off than the general population. As a result, if you do not have a valid sample, then your conclusions cannot be guaranteed to be valid. In fact, it’s getting harder to this in Ireland – someone I know noted once that 30 years ago if you took a random sample of mass goers in Ireland you were probably pretty close to a reasonable random sample of the wider population. But because the population of mass goers has changed vis-a-vis the wider population, this was no longer the case.

All I can conclude from Brian’s piece is this. Given a choice between two posts yesterday, five sixths of those reading his blog chose the one most likely to be about property. Given the lack of information about the population reading his blog and the population at large, the size of the sample size and the existing possibility of bias amongst people who read his blog, you cannot draw any conclusions about the wider population of Ireland.


I’m pretty sure Brian knows this by the way, but one of the things which tends to concern me about Ireland is the lack of attention to detail regarding figures, numbers and statistics and how they are interpreted. Statistics can be twisted because the vast majority of people are not aware of their limitations in this area.

Things I wish could be real in every company

I’m not sure how it happened but Google+ seems to be working for me in the way that I want a social network to work; in the way that I wanted twitter to work (but it doesn’t) and in a way that FaceBook has just never worked for me. In the main, it’s pushing higher quality content to me.

One of the things which caught my attention this morning was this from Sergey Brin. It’s not for the amazingness of a hangout between Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama although that in itself is a measure of how much the world of communications is changing.

The line which really got me was this:

Incredible. It was just a handful of months ago that +Vic Gundotra and I were at the office late one day talking about how to make communication on what was to become Google+ really dynamic. The discussion turned to the video conferencing technology that another team was building with a completely different product in mind.

“I bet you can just throw that into profiles with a couple of lines of javascript,” I said mostly sarcastically to goad him on. Sure enough about 15 minutes later we were participating in our first hangout thanks to some amazing engineering footwork and maybe a bit more than a couple of lines.

This is basically how video conferencing got into Google+. An off the cuff remark. It was in response to the dilemma of making Google+ more dynamic. I’m not sure what they were talking about there, but what interested me about this was the utter flexibility of the development model in Google that enabled them to do this; to take a piece of functionality that they were developing for one product and implementing it in another product without a convoluted mess of process to get permission to do this. In one way it is an example of that ultimate evil; project scope creep; in another, but more important way, it’s an example of recognising how to make a great product better without being hung up on bureaucratic process.

That takes vision.