The new digital world order

Tariq Krim is interesting not just because he’s the guy who set up Netvibes, the fully-customisable content aggregator respected by geeks and loved by users, he’s also passionate about politics, which, as we’re frequently being told, isn’t that common with the under 35s.

Okay, so Tariq was 36 last weekend, but let’s not split hairs.

Earlier this year, Tariq was nominated a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum and invited to Davos to join discussions around the ‘2030 Initiative’ – the creation of an action plan for how to reach the vision of what the world could be like in 2030.

When we meet up at the Web 2.0 Expo Europe, Tariq tells me it was the discussion on hypercommunication at Davos that he found most fascinating. Sadly we didn’t have much time and I didn’t have a chance to press him on the exact meaning of this (but I’ll get back to you).

Strangely enough for a futurist, Tariq says he often finds himself looking to the US elections for inspiration.

“When I want to see the next shift in marketing I always look at the US election. Politics is always ten years in advance of everything else. Because, simply, you have to beat your opponent.”

So, what’s he been seeing in the current presidential election campaign?

“Barack Obama has built this social network and I’m interested in how he’ll use that after the election. If he gets in it’ll mark a major change in politics. Obama’s money comes from millions of small donations – he will have shown that these people can just as powerful as big corporations.”

For Tariq, the rise to power of Barack Obama, bourne in on the back of three million internet donations, couldn’t come at a more appropriate time.

“The world is going to go digital and all those who don’t play by the new rules are going to get destroyed. There’s going to be an adjustment and it’ll be painful. In 2000 people said this [the internet] is a joke – now it’s a reality check.”


Another way…

At the Web 2.0 Expo in Berlin, JP Rangaswami focuses on the history of workplace communication for his keynote, “Web 2.0 versus the Water Cooler”. In typical JP style, the area he covers is broad, comparative and entertaining – and includes everything from ancient manuscripts to train timetables to the Olympic games.

JP is a familiar face to this crowd, as well as a great speaker, and it seems everyone wants a piece of him after the talk. We’re due to meet right after he’s finished, but it’s 45 minutes before JP finally wends his way down to the community lounge for our interview. He’s still in reflective mode:

“In low attrition, low job-mobility environments, there was a genuine covenant. It made sense to have a consensual style of management. You learnt to take a bullet for the team. And your team would remember. Over time, everything evened out. It was thick ice that you skated over. Consensus was built over long-term relationships.”

This ‘covenant’ did not only affect teamwork, it also impacted on performance reviews and appraisals. “There was institutional memory”, as JP puts it. And this memory was responsible for deciding whether or not it the time was right for a pay rise, or if a minor misdemeanor might be overlooked.

“Nowadays you get moved around. How do you get that information to be valuable? How do you deal with this new world? The silo structures of the past didn’t allow us to access information. Maybe you need to have a wiki-like construct, where knowledge becomes a cloud asset?”

In 2001, JP Rangaswami was working as Chief Information Officer at Dresdner Kleinwort, the investment bank, when he decided there had to be a different way of doing things:

“I realised that email was appalling – there were so many ‘broken trust’ implications in it – bcc was evil: ‘I’m going to have a conversation with your boss watching’; cc was ‘cover your arse’ – so I started looking at the problems I had and ways to find solutions to them.”

“Also, I realised, this way of records being attached to messages was the wrong way round. We want messages to be attached to the records. Those were the sort of characteristics I began to look for.”

As Global CIO, JP was responsible for a communications network of 6,000 employees across 35 countries. The way he saw it, the problems at Dresdner Klienwort were caused by four key things:

1. Attrition (the high rate of staff turnover)
2. The high mobility of staff between roles within the firm
3. Cultural differences – the same word meaning different things
4. Linguistic differences – the meaning of words being lost in translation

So, JP started a blog internally, and started championing wikis as a way forward.

“If you capture things using social software…there is a record of how things happened. Now a newcomer has the chance to catch up and understand what’s taken place.”

As a long-time advocate of disruptive technologies, and with a 40 per cent cut to his budget to consider, JP also began to introduce open source products to the company. By 2003, 43 percent of Dresdner Kleinwort’s Unix users were on Linux.

In 2003, JP was named CIO of the Year by Waters Magazine and in 2004 he was named CIO Innovator of the Year by the European Technology Forum. In 2007, chose him as one of technology’s 50 most influential individuals, describing Dresdner Kleinwort as “an aggressive leading-edge adopter of innovative and disruptive technologies”.

Now, JP is a managing director at BT Design, heading up strategy and innovation. If his influence there is anywhere near as successful as his impact at Dresdner Kleinwort, we have some delightful surprises in store.


36 hours in Berlin

Sitting bleary-eyed in the Web 2.0 Expo Europe auditorium at the Berlin Congress Centre, listening to JP Rangaswami talk about how Web 2.0 is changing the way we communicate at work.

Yesterday, I got up at 3.10am to get a taxi to Luton Airport to then spend an hour tired and disorientated, standing in lines and being officiated with hundreds of other tired and disorientated adults and children. It was a real-life enactment of a Brueghel painting.

Once I got on the Easyjet flight to Berlin, things improved slightly, partly because of a particularly cheerful and polite air steward but mostly because I got some sleep.

When I actually arrived in Berlin, things improved tenfold, because this is a great city, everything is nicely designed, well-organised and people are helpful. True, there is graffiti everywhere but it is colourful and generally un-threatening.

Yesterday I interviewed Gina Poole from IBM and Stowe Boyd. Both great, very interesting people. One a maverick from the outside, the other a maverick from within.

Then went out for Chinese with Lloyd Davis, Ian Forrester and a few others, before heading off to the official Expo party at groovy Week-End, which was like a designer squat-party, on the 12th floor of a former East Berlin housing block. Great views over towards sprawling Alexanderplatz and the wide, ostentatious Karl Marx Alle.

Sadly I only got to spend about ten minutes with my hosts, developer Sean Treadway (SoundCloud) and his partner Dorit Weber. I was lucky enough to get to stay in their spacious apartment on the edge of Friedrichshain, a former working-class district of East Berlin, now being gentrified. The streets there have a nice energy about them with little bars humming techno, and some cool murals.

JP keeps referring to William Gibson’s quote about the future being here but not evenly distributed. How very true. We are living in information-rich times. In the past, says JP, nobody bothered to set early video cameras because it was such a hassle to set them, and certainly nobody bothered to tag their videos. Today, you get information about everything – the type of camera, the time, the place etc. And then, it’s not just the ability to post the video online and have a persistent record but you can share it with the community, so that record gets enriched.

Sharing a work conversation, for example, and moving it around becomes valuable today, JP is saying. Embedding that within your workflow becomes immensely valuable: “it’s a malleable object you can do beautiful things with – that’s the future and it’s today”.

I’m looking forward to speaking to JP later today, and also Tariq Krim. I’m sure both of them will come up with some insightful stuff about how Web 2.0 is influencing the way we do business.

Then at 2 ish it’s off back to Berlin airport. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to get a peek at the Brandenburg Gate before I go.