Softening the blow

So, I gather than many Chelsea supporters are less than thrilled that Rafa Benitez is their new coach.  From what I can gather, it’s the way his Liverpool team managed to deflect Jose Mourinho’s juggernaut of a side in the 2005 and 2007 Champions League semi-finals that especially rankles.  Mourinho’s evident bitterness probably doesn’t help, and many recall Benitez’ Liverpool playing rather conservatively too.

That last point may be true – but Benitez proved himself a master of maximising returns from his playing staff.  Both Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard enjoyed the form of their careers (and were both genuinely world class players) under Benitez.  And Benitez’ 2005 Champions League win still stands out as the least likely at least since the 1980s.  It’s easy to forget, but have a quick look through the teams that started that night in Istanbul:

AC Milan

GK 1 Brazil Dida
RB 2 Brazil Cafu
CB 31 Netherlands Jaap Stam
CB 13 Italy Alessandro Nesta
LB 3 Italy Paolo Maldini (c)
DM 21 Italy Andrea Pirlo
RM 8 Italy Gennaro Gattuso
LM 20 Netherlands Clarence Seedorf
AM 22 Brazil Kaká
CF 7 Ukraine Andriy Shevchenko
CF 11 Argentina Hernán Crespo

Liverpool FC

GK 1 Poland Jerzy Dudek
RB 3 Republic of Ireland Steve Finnan
CB 23 England Jamie Carragher
CB 4 Finland Sami Hyypiä
LB 21 Mali Djimi Traoré
DM 14 Spain Xabi Alonso
RM 10 Spain Luis García
CM 8 England Steven Gerrard (c)
LM 6 Norway John Arne Riise
SS 7 Australia Harry Kewell
CF 5 Czech Republic Milan Baroš

 

Aside from the ‘keeper (who himself won 90-odd caps for Brazil), the Milan side is a whos-who of the last decade, while only four or five of the Liverpool side were in Benitez’ long-term plans at all.  So, memories of Benitez are possibly coloured by the fact that the man is a pragmatist, and, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, he had much to be pragmatic about.  However, there are two other aspects of his Liverpool side that I admired.  Firstly, devotion to duty – modelled by Benitez himself.  His side would give everything on the pitch.  And secondly – discipline, tactically and emotionally.  Benitez’ players adopted a system almost robotically and played a very clean game.  In all but emotional discipline therefore, I’d characterise Benitez as a similar coach to Mourinho.  And Benitez’ pragmatism tends to express itself in the form of elaborate tactical plans in any given situation, so, for close observers, it’s compelling stuff.

Now, for all this, and just in case anyone has forgotten, Benitez is also more than capable of getting top players to express themselves.  Never have I seen Liverpool so badly humiliated as when they faced Benitez’ great Valencia in 2002:

Good luck, Rafa.

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I’m mobile

Dawn was a long way from cracking when I set off on Monday to make the 2,000 mile round trip to attend the Guardian Mobile Business Summit in London.   So, when Richard Holdsworth of Wapple put forward the notion that we should consider the user as mobile, rather than their device, I had to feel the man had a point.
As I wrote I’m increasingly interested in how content owners perceive the Web and mobile.  I’d hoped to hear more from media companies, although with hindsight, I was probably at the wrong place to hear a balanced perspective on old business models versus emerging ones.  We were firmly in the land of the new.   No matter: I did hear a number of interesting and new (to me) thoughts.  Those that especially stuck with me.  My interpretations:

Ilicco Elia refreshing regrets about mobile advertising: that it can appear a race to the bottom on a number of micro-measurements that speak to conversion rates and (presumably) awareness, but little engagement beyond that.  What new experiences was mobile enabling, beyond a quarter-page sized ad?   A good (perhaps rare?) counter-example might be something like Gameloft’s branded games.  There was little doubt in the Finch household, after all, that we would be seeing Ice Age 4 when it arrived in our local cinema.  Ilicco went on to indicate that mobile was supposed to promise many of the things the Web was to: more predictability, relevance, measurability, but that the corpus of work in the offline world is huge and does not yet exist in mobile (or Web).

I especially enjoyed Jan Chipchase’s ramble through users finding new use cases for functionality, and then his (unsettling?  dystopian?) imagining of a world where facial recognition is instant (although there seemed to be some question about how “real” Google’s Project Glass is), I do at least know that Steve Lau is real.   We all know (even if we don’t understand) that our cognitive processes are profoundly influenced by technology.  Jan put forward the notion that soon our social vocabulary, even our ego, will be influenced by such things as facial recognition, and that this is coming sooner than we might realise.  How do we deal with that?

William Perrin, founder of Talk About Local was amongst the bulls about augmented reality.  It was perhaps strange timing to be discussing Aurasma given that news broke later in the day of HP’s write down of Automony’s valuation. But I liked Talk About Local.  I’ve had reservations in the past about things like Faces of the Fallen, which serve partly to highlight the digital divide in the most grimly stark manner (after all, the civilian casualties of Operating Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom remain literally countless).  Such projects contribute to a sense that the Internet is only teaching us more about things we might otherwise know about.  Talk About Local seems somewhat more community-serving, however.

Of course, I was keen to see the level of interest in Firefox OS.  I think that the audience was entirely engaged and there seemed a palpable sense of disappointment that Andreas wasn’t talking about a UK launch.  Perhaps my bias is showing.

…or perhaps not.
Either way, there’s impatience and palpable desire for HTML5.  Speaking of which: there was an app for the event.  All in all, it was pretty useful, but not terribly stable on a Galaxy SII running ICS.  I saw nothing in the app that an HTML5 app couldn’t do today, probably with more stability on a wider variety of screen sizes…

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En route to Singapore

The Kota Laju on the Bosphorus, 2010.

Many of my friends and colleagues are in Singapore in readiness for MozCamp Asia, starting tomorrow.  According to marinetraffic.com, the magnificent Kota Laju makes it to Singapore tomorrow too.

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“A great time to be a Mozillian”

The estimable Glyn Moody wrote in very positive terms about the Mozilla Festival that took place in London last week.  As well as pointing out Firefox’s recent bouncebackability, he correctly points out that there’s much more to Mozilla than releasing Firefox.

Reading through Glyn’s list of projects he encountered at the festival (he lists 7, but I suspect he could have identified several more), you might conclude that Mozilla lacks a certain focus.  That is in fact far from the truth: I don’t believe that I’ve known Mozilla to be more focused in all my time with the project.  We have opportunities to influence the direction of the Internet, and keep the Web at its centre, but we simply need to make sure we pick the appropriate targets.  Let’s not deny it: the Web appears to be under constant threat, from the Balkanisation of the Internet to proprietary stacks, to clumsy legislative measures  (SOPA, ACTA), to Wired magazine’s ill-advised sensationalism.

The way I think of this is that Mozilla has to grow stakeholders in the open Web.  (What does that even mean?)  When we read about content owners going out of business, or doing things that seem irrational or short-sighted, the response shouldn’t be to shrug and assume that their business model is outdated.  Their business model may be outdated, but if the Web isn’t enabling a new one for them, then the Web is failing them.  Not every profit margin is a market failure: content has value, and simply because the marginal cost of production approaches zero, it doesn’t mean that content owners should be beholden to other interests to make money.

Similarly, if we read that a network operator has a stated opposition to net neutrality, our reaction shouldn’t be solely one of indignant repudiation, however cathartic that might be.  We should understand what would need to change for network operators to value the open Web as the driver of their business.

And if we think that the health of the Web is dependent upon a narrow coalition of powerful private economic interests, we should be concerned.   As a wise colleague of mine says, one should be wary of elites.

The disruptive power of the Internet has been fascinating to observe.  And long may it continue.  However, if disruption only serves to consolidate economic power with a few interests, something is wrong.  There should be (and I use the word advisedly) cannibalistic opportunities for the disruptees too.

These are things that we need to enable. This takes a focused strategy. And this is exciting work.

We’re already seeing the interest in the industry for Firefox OS, and amongst web developers for the new APIs being created to make Web development as rich as native development on mobile platforms.  That’s just a start.

But there is a downside , or if you prefer, a corollary to this, and one I want to explore: focused strategic execution is not necessarily conducive to community participation.  If Mozilla is working to (for example), release a smartphone with a network operator partner in (for example) Latin America, then how do you get excited as a contributor in (for example) Bulgaria?    How do we marry the commercial “heft” of a major partner with the broad spectrum of interests and abilities that the Mozilla community at scale represents?  I don’t have a good answer for that yet.

Glyn’s article was especially welcome as I regard him as both a friend of Mozilla (he keynoted at MozCamp 2009) and a truth teller.  The piece he published in August this year, about the importance of participatory structures in open source communities, should be provocative and somewhat uncomfortable reading for anyone at Mozilla.

And this is my paradox.  To be true to our mission, we have to think broadly.  And to be successful, we have to be strategic and focused.  And to be us, we have to be participatory.

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Proof of…something

While I have a certain queasiness about the rapaciousness with which football (soccer) has sucked the life money out of so many other sports (and especially rugby league), and how what used to be a guilty pleasure is now a somehow unavoidable topic of polite conversation, the sport still consumes my imagination.

I recall watching Zlatan Ibrahimovic in his first season at Ajax about 11 years ago.  He was gangly, a misfit, overconfident and yet completely out of tune with his team-mates.  He was comical.  And I was resentful of  the praise he garnered in the 2004 European championships, while the graceful Henrik Larsson seemed to be so undervalued by the Swedish public (even after that diving header against Bulgaria).  And so, like many English football fans, I’ve always had a resistance to the notion that Zlatan is truly a great.  He’s the classic flat-track bully, winning a sequence of domestic titles by crushing smaller opponents, but conspicously failing in the Champions League and in major international tournaments.

__________________________________

Last night, I finished work late, went to the supermarket, got home, made myself something to eat and sat down with my scrambled eggs and my jetlag late in the first half of England-Sweden.  England-Sweden – a fixture that has never set my pulse racing, and yet, is pregnant with memories.  The summer of 1992 was an poignant one for me, and I picture Graham Taylor’s England sliding out of control.  More importantly, I think of 2002, and watching a rather tedious game with the-then-future-Mrs Finch; and the rematch, 4 years later, which we missed as the by-then-Mrs Finch gave birth to our first daughter Emma; this past summer, being off work and with my family for what was one of the most enjoyable games of Euro 2012.  Alone with my memories, my eggs and my tabasco sauce, I drifted off.

I woke up late in the second half to the noise of a crowd going wild.  Well, going as wild as a Swedish crowd goes.  England’s 2-1 lead somehow pulled back to 3-2 to Sweden.  I saw a beaming Zlatan, fresh from completing a hat-trick.  Bleary-eyed, I focused on the remaining minutes of the game.  And then I saw this:

It’s like Zlatan scored that hat-trick just to wake me up to say, “you won’t want to miss this”.

There’s so much to love about this goal: the breadth of Zlatan’s imagination, his speed of thought, his sudden and total commitment to a wholly improbable outcome, and, yes, his ability to prove me wrong.

Still – he’s never done it in a big game, eh?

update: due to the parlous state of international copyright, these videos are being taken down.  In Sweden, you can see the goal on TV4’s website, once you’ve sat through a minute (literally a minute) of adverts for winter tyres, pasta sauce, digital cameras and various other things you might not actually need.

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On being disintermediated

So, I’m back.
Back for 6 weeks already, in fact – how time flies – having spent an incredible summer with the family.  I reflected on my own situation when I read this in the Guardian, Forget the balance, this is the merge, a slightly depressing article for a number of reasons: firstly its conclusions (there is no balance), but also its assumption that only mothers need to consider time with their children (to the Swedish resident, it’s clear that fathers and children need to prioritise time together just as much).  Equally, those without children need their balance just as much, in order to grow as people.

Anyway, having spent several weeks largely away from screens (email, IRC… especially email), I felt refreshed.  And I had to consider this when reading the miserable story of a wretch from Lancashire who was “trolling” the family of abducted, presumed murdered, schoolgirl April Jones.

How does someone sink so low?  Well, people have always told sick jokes.  Not everyone – certainly I’ve always been too squeamish – but many do.  I tend to smile wanly, perhaps groan, to show I’m not amused but nor have I taken offense.  After all, once chooses to take offense, doesn’t one?

No.  Not always.  Not entirely.  Not when your daughter is missing, presumed murdered.  You’d have to be absurdly tranquil not to take offense.

Those of us in the Internet industry talk of “disintermediation” as the malaise afflicting network operators, excluded from being able to offer differentiated value-add to their users.  But the Internet disintermediates people too.  One only has to read a comments thread on -and I’m going out on a limb here- just about any online forum to find deeply uncivil exchanges.  People seem to delight in attacking each other online, and in hurting each others’ feelings.  There is almost a sense of liberation for so-called trolls: this piece, “Meeting a troll…” is very instructive.  The false sense of anonymity the Internet conveys allows people with limited imagination and empathy do very unpleasant things.  I pity the person who behaved so vilely towards the family of April Jones: he isn’t a fully-formed person, or at least, is capable of behaving like he isn’t one.  I’m sure he’s no parent himself.  I’m equally sure he wouldn’t behave like that in the company of that poor family.

But then, this isn’t just an Internet phenomenon.  In the mid 1990s, the term “road-rage” was coined, describing how recklessly and aggressively people could behave in situations of stressful traffic.  I’ve been a passenger in cars where the driver has “retaliated” for a perceived slight.  I may even have quietly cursed under my breath at being cut up myself.  Where does this come from?  I’m sure studies have been done, but my jaded perspective identifies three causes: busier roads seems fairly obvious; a self-righteous egotism or sense of entitlement (think Gordon Gecko); and the simple fact of being in your own isolated environment.  Or, as Gary Numan put it:

Here in my car
I feel safest of all
I can lock all my doors
It’s the only way to live.

Now, the clever souls at Wieden+Kennedy think that Facebook  is like a chair.  And the rest of the Internet cannot wait to tell us what other things Facebook is like.

Well, let me make my contribution:

Those of us in the industry need to pay attention to the harmful effects, the lack of humanity, that existence behind a screen can give rise to.

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Parental Leave

In case you’re wondering where I am this summer – I am taking a couple of months to be a full-time parent, as is customary for both mother and father throughout the first 6 years of a child’s life in Sweden.  (i.e. we’re not expecting #3).  I’m very grateful to my employer and my colleagues for their flexibility in this.  Back in August.

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