Web Presence - contents
Creating a business out of chaos
Lessons learned from the dotcom bubble - The entrepreneurial check list - Flexible business ideas - Don't read the last chapter first
This first part of the book contains some seemingly arcane financial considerations. Originally, I'd planned to end with this material, as it is a disconcerting way to start a book and might put readers off. However, it soon became clear that the strategies described in the later chapters only make sense if the fundaments of finance and investment are taken into consideration.
It is only to easy to get carried away with exciting technological solutions when working in a vacuum. Too often, great new ideas flourish in the conceptual and design stages only to founder disastrously when they meet the harsh realities of the competitive world.
It may be a new economy, it may be an unprecedented technological revolution, but, this does not change the reality that success and progress is about doing things more efficiently. Creating clever solutions and highly sophisticated systems is nothing more than a waste of time, money and human resources - if the end product doesn't produce value for money.
For this reason, it seems worth while to tackle the financial considerations first. Ultimately, these will provide the practical restraints that guide an e-business to profitability. Without these restraints, technology can easily lead a business into a quagmire of irreconcilable cash flow problems - from which there is no escape.
Beginning with a little background, the first chapter explains that the object of the book is to go through the various thought processes that might be involved in the creation of an e-business.
It is not about techniques, methods or procedures. It is about acquiring a mind set that can use abstract models to cope with the rapidly changing, competitive environment of the Internet. In a world where there is too much information to absorb, it is essential to build up a varied group of useful contacts to overcome the problem of unavoidable knowledge gaps.
Chapter two looks at the lessons that can be learned from the pioneers of the Information Age. As the Internet is evolving so fast, there is little to gain from studying the winners to try to emulate their successes. The situations they found themselves in were quite different from what we would now expect to encounter in the newly emerging future. Instead, we need to learn from the mistakes of the failures, to make sure we don't fall into similar traps.
The new economy is totally unpredictable. There may be a boom or a recession ahead and we need to be able to cope with any extreme that emerges. The only way to do this is have a clear grasp of the fundamentals of business economics. For this purpose, chapter three provides a basic grounding in the essentials of funding and finance. Whichever way the Information Age takes us, it must always be based upon the pragmatic realities of shrewd financial decision making.
How it began - The world of finance, funding and investment - The reality of the e-business world - A seemingly illogical sequence - Which contacts to choose? - Finding collaborators - A collaborative strategy - Discussion forums for strategic issues - The concept of the cafe - What's in it for the other collaborators? - The consultants' view point
At odds with the conventional world
Four important questions - Anyone can have a great idea - The business idea has to emerge later - Two different mind sets - A little bit of history - Calculating the value of a dot-com - The strategy of a venture capital company - The dilemma - Entrepreneurial businesses - Current price versus fundamental value - Fashion trends in Stock Market valuations - The pricking of the dotcom bubble - Funding problems after the dotcom bubble - The increasingly difficult problem
The harsh realities of funding and finance
Exasperation and despair - Looking from the financier's view point - Getting financing into perspective - Discounting through time - Discounting for risk - The fallacies of conventional funding requirements - Two kinds of player - Looking for a sensible way to invest - Calculating an investment decision - A more realistic strategy for e-business funding - Comparing the two ways of financing a start up - The efficient structuring of an e-business
Abstract conceptual models
This part of the book deals with the most hazardous area of the Information Age: the vast amount of changing technological knowledge and information. This causes knowledge gaps, which impair the ability to use logical reasoning. It leads to fashions and trends where the blind are leading the blind. The only way of coping with this difficulty is to work within abstract conceptual models that can override all the technicalities that cloud strategic decision making - making it possible to maintain a firm grip on the fundaments.
Chapter four looks at the way in which entrepreneurs explore opportunities. It explains why ideas are of much lesser importance than the means to implement them. It describes how business opportunities can emerge as a consequence of exploring the unknown.
In a world of too much knowledge and too much change, it is not what you know, but who you know that is important. Chapter four also looks at the conceptual models necessary to create a personal community of useful contacts and to form strategic associations with people who can take care of situations outside of your own areas of specialty knowledge.
To avoid the trap of getting bogged down with too much technological detail, Web presence is viewed in the light of a useful mental model of the Internet.
Chapter five visualises the Web as a system of interacting objects, where a Web site is seen as a tool that provides an efficient interface to the Internet. It deals with the difficulty of getting noticed on the Web, providing a conceptual framework that sees the environment of the Internet as a system of interacting portals and vortals. It stresses the need to be part of a system, describing the world of e-business as a self-organising environment that is driven by constant competitive pressures.
Chapter six gives an even more abstract view of the e-business environment. Instead of seeing e-businesses in terms of structured forms, fixed physical locations, managed organisation and definable assets, it sees them as more nebulous entities: as functions within a rapidly changing, universal dynamic system. From this perspective, it becomes apparent that the most likely route to creating successful e-businesses isn't through adapting new technology to established business practices, but, to use the communication environment to produce solutions that have no parallel in the everyday world.
Visualising activity within a space - a system space, or an information space - helps devise novel strategies of communication, organisation and control to provide low cost, highly flexible systems that can survive and prosper in highly competitive situations during volatile economic conditions.
Searching for an opportunity
A question of strategyIdeas and trust - Initial ideas - Trust - What are we looking for? - The self centred virtual community - Becoming a super individual - Creating relationships on the Internet - Establishing an identity on the Web - A mental model of the Internet - Virtual entities
More important than the business idea
A new place to explore - Starting to explore - Creating a source of wealth creation - A system of portals and vortals - The links are not in control - In the land of knowledge gaps - Emergent opportunities
Exploring the weird
Looking beyond what exists already - Visualising activity within a space - An individual within an information space - The virtual cafe - Web presence as a system - The magic of a virtual world - Modules can have a life of their own - A bottom up approach to design - Object oriented, e-business solutions using FSPs - Low cost flexibility
An auteur's thinking process
At this mid point in the book, I realised time was running short if I was to create a business before the book was published. Also, the readers of the chapters in the virtual cafe were getting impatient because I hadn't told them what kind of business I was going to set up.
The fact was, that at this stage of the book, I had no idea as to what the business was likely to be. All I had was a number of potentially useful contacts and a range of conceptual models that were waiting for the right opportunity to come along. Not surprisingly, it looked all the world like the previous chapters were nothing more than the fanciful speculations of an academic dreamer.
However, as has been pointed out in previous chapters, ideas and opportunities are of little value unless they can be acted upon. This needs an infra structure in place before not after the decision to create a business is made. Creating this infrastructure may take months, even years, but, once in place, opportunities can be seized upon and put into action immediately.
In almost all books dealing with the creation of a business, this period of building a suitable infrastructure is never fully covered. Probably, the reason for this is that it is a very nebulous area that is highly dependent upon the nature of the business and the personality of the auteur.
These next two chapters, seven and eight, are an attempt to throw some light on this enigmatic, infrastructure building process - which is so necessary before an auteur can be in a position to take positive action.
Be warned though, the thinking processes described are personal to the author and are specifically applicable to dealing with the highly volatile environment of e-business. Also, it must be taken into account that this is the rationalisation of a thinking process, which may be somewhat different from the actual thinking process itself. However, the reader may gain some little little insight into the mysterious circumstances from which many businesses emerge.
Boundaries of the solution space
Reverse engineering a thought process - An unplanned, emergent solution - A static, top down solution space - A dynamic, bottom up solution space - Services and consultancies - The technological food chain - Who hires the services?
The background to creating an e-business
The uncertainty of an entrepreneurial strategy - The business situation at the start of this chapter - Copying the master strategist - Many ways to use the cafe - Creating an adaptive cafe of contacts - Using several cafes for different purposes - Using a cafe to explore opportunities - What makes a conceptual component? - The subtlety of bottom up design - Why should people collaborate with a cafe owner?
An opportunity emerges
During the course of writing the last two chapters, an e-business opportunity did emerge. It was totally unexpected, arriving out of the blue from an area of activity that had never entered my mind before.
A post from one of the readers in the virtual cafe mentioned the anomaly that there were no Web sites providing a definitive reference to all the various treatments that were available for treating cancer. It wasn't the thought that this might be an opportunity to create such a site that interested me: it was the surprise that it hadn't been done already.
About a third of people in the developed world are afflicted with cancer at some time in their lives. It is the second most commonest cause of death. Wasn't it odd, with so much money poured into all kinds of different e-business ventures, that somebody hadn't come up with a site that could provide millions of anxious patients with the kind of information they so desperately need in order to alleviate their condition?
It is just such anomalies that are often the start of a successful business venture and I put my mind to discovering the reasons why such Web sites weren't in existence. I could then try to come up with a possible solution.
Realising that many people must have had the idea to help cancer patients find suitable treatments, it could be reliably assumed that a solution could not be found through any conventional approach. So, calling upon the strategy used by Sherlock Holmes, I looked for a solution in the realm of the unconventional.
Such an unconventional strategy I had in mind already, through my work in writing the book "Magical A-Life Avatars". In this work, I'd taken the view that the Internet was an environment best investigated from the client side. In essence, this means that instead of thinking about creating Web sites that broadcast out to audiences, you think in terms of people using a personal application to help them use the Internet for their own particular individual purposes.
In the context of cancer treatment, this would involve forgetting about any idea of creating a Web site to provide information, but, to create a situation where patients could be given the power to get the information they need for themselves. The next three chapters describes the essence of this approach.
When reading this part of the book, don't take too much notice of the mechanics of the solution. Just think about how the solution is simply the creation of an efficient means for people to make the right contacts via the Internet.
A formatted people space
Welcome to the world of the entrepreneur - Rags to riches - Scaling by duplication - The concept of space - A real life opportunity presents itself - The first clue - Creating a database of cancer treatment options - Similarity to the problems facing all e-businesses - Helping people to do it for themselves - Formatting a people space - Scaling up - The creation of such a scenario
A different way of looking at databases
Visualising a living database - Keeping up with trends and fashion - From the general to the particular - The ubiquity of empty formatted space - Growing into a space - Finding a way through thousands of spaces - Abstracting this model for other purposes - What happens at the meeting places? - Individual communication strategies - Using components to produce solutions - Critical mass - Competition for critical mass
The enigmatic world of bots and personal agents
A hybrid solution needed - Summarising the last two chapters - Visualising a people space - Focus of attention - The necessary paradigm shift - Structure of a meeting place - Meeting people on-line - Knowing who everyone else is - What is a bot or personal electronic agent? - The missing link
The creation of an e-business
This final part of the book describes the structuring of the e-business I finally decided upon. In keeping with the philosophy of the whole trilogy it has no specific plan, there is no managerial structure and requires very little start up capital. It is also designed to have a minimum of overheads and running costs.
Above all, the business was designed to be able to grow organically, from the bottom up. It consists of modular components and loosely associated collaborators to provide the maximum of flexibility and adaptability.
The choice of business was determined by a rule that came out of an analysis of the many dotcom failures: "If it is already being done in the non Internet world, then it is liable to fail". This meant looking for a business that not only isn't being done in the world of bricks and mortar but is not possible. In other words a business was selected that makes use of the unique characteristics of the Internet environment.
Despite all the many attempts to use the Internet to supply goods and information, in the vast majority of cases they have been failures. The businesses that have been most successful have been those based upon enabling more efficient person to person communication. It was this aspect of the Internet that is used as the core idea.
Another important criterion was that the business should not be reliant upon any particular business venture: it must be able to be applied over a range of different kinds of opportunity. Not only must it be applicable to a wide range of possibilities, it should be able to cover many different business situations simultaneously. In this way, risks and discontinuities can be accommodated.
Chapter 12 describes the essence of the software components that will be needed and how they fit together to empower people to make optimal use of the Internet.
Chapter 13 describes the esoteric concept of "stigmergy". Borrowed from the insect world, this concept forms the basic philosophy of the business. It is the subtle strategy used by ants to coordinate their activities with the utmost of efficiency. It is ideally suited to the environment of the Internet and can produce self-organising information structures that require little supervision or control.
Chapter 14 is the conclusion of the whole book. It provides a game theory strategy: a set of heuristic rules consisting of essential criteria that need to be applied when choosing a business opportunity. These criteria are used to select an actual business opportunity to pursue. It is a real life example, demonstrating a low cost business solution to a problem that is too costly to be solved using conventional methods and techniques.
Enhancing the human brain
An example emerges - Client side control versus server side control - Bot parties - How it started - The biological connection - Kurt Godel and John Holland - Representing emotions on a computer - Creating a clone - Creating a personality - Human and computer combinations - The problem of the final choice - A system of objects - Cafes, objects and parallel worlds - A self-organising system - An extension to the brain
Two ways of looking at a database - The Experian/Acorn model - Stigmergy - Decentralised control - Evaporation - Using a stigmergic environment for an e-business solution - A self regulating system - The commercial advantage
The Emergent business
The first rule - What makes for increased efficiency? - Creating a revenue stream - Personal assets and contacts - Advertising and marketing - Critical mass - Business strategy - Competition - Initiatives -nSwitching in an out of opportunities - Potential for growth - Funding - The full set of rules - The final choice of a business - Checking against the rules - Conclusion