The Pebble and the Avalanche

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Current Revolutions in Business and Technology

by Dr. Moshe Yudkowsky,

author of The Pebble and The Avalanche: How Taking Things Apart Creates Revolutions


Tue, 2006-Sep-05, 05:24

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Rethinking the Press Release

Companies go to great lengths to churn out press releases to generate interest in their products. At the same time reporters routinely ignore press releases; if they want to publish decent articles they have to write them up themselves. As an alternative to the current system, Tom Foremski proposes that companies disaggregate their press releases into useful components:

Deconstruct the press release into special sections and tag the information so that as a publisher, I can pre-assemble some of the news story and make the information useful.
He then goes on to suggest how to break apart the press release and — most importantly — that the separate pieces of information be "tagged" so that they will be easy to find and re-assemble.

I think this is a fascinating and useful idea, and is very similar to the current US Securities and Exchange Commission proposals to report financial information in a standard format. Even if editors were to ultimately find this system unusable for their own purposes, it's entirely possible that financial analysts could use press reports in standard format to automatically alert investors to important news stories.

Wed, 2006-Mar-08, 12:50

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Concepts: The Web Page and the Phone System

One of the most difficult tasks in the field of innovation is to break away from outmoded concepts and realize that your new technology or new idea no longer needs to imitate the past. This falls under the rubric of disaggregation of "concepts," which I cover in my book, and finding examples isn't very easy.

I've got an example of disaggregation of concepts that's easy for everyone to see — unfortunately, it's of a failure to disaggregate concepts. British Airways provides flight information on its web page, just like many other airlines. But they've failed to break with the past: the web page imitates a conversation with an agent — or, worse yet, it imitates an automated phone system. Most airlines put a little box on their front web page; you enter the flight number and they give you the flight information, and if you need more assistance, there's a button to push. BA first wants to know what country you're in; then comes the home page, but with no "flight information" box or button. Instead you must guess that you need "flight operations." It's a quest as you drill down through successive levels of web pages, and each page asks for some bit of information. "Arrivals or departures?" asks one web page, and then I must wait for the next page to enter the flight number. This bothered me — what could they have been thinking? — until I realized that they were using the web pages to imitate a conversation with an agent. Hunting for information, the slow back and forth question-and-answer format — it's a replica of a conversation, a perfect example of bad design. Oh, and the web page times out after a while; if you refresh the page, you might find yourself back at the original query page re-entering the information. That's another imitation of a conversation: a human agent or an automated system hangs up after a while. Why does their web page "hang up"? (Yes, I can think of technical reasons; but they pale besides the faux pas of forcing the customer to re-enter information.)

The next time you look at a web page and say, "Why did they do that!", the answer may very well be that the designers have failed to break with concepts from the past.