Democratizing biotech research

The convergence of software and hardware, and the growing ubiquitousness of the Internet of Things is affecting industry across the board, and biotech labs are no exception. For this Radar Podcast episode, I chatted with DJ Kleinbaum, co-founder of Emerald Therapeutics, about lab automation, the launch of Emerald Cloud Laboratory, and the problem of reproducibility.

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Bitcoin is a digital money ecosystem

Editor’s note: this is an excerpt from Chapter 1 of our recently released book Mastering Bitcoin, by Andreas Antonopoulos. You can read the full chapter here. Antonopoulos will be speaking at our upcoming event Bitcoin & the Blockchain, January 27, 2015, in San Francisco. Find out more about the event and reserve your spot here.

Bitcoin is a collection of concepts and technologies that form the basis of a digital money ecosystem. Units of currency called bitcoins are used to store and transmit value among participants in the bitcoin network. Bitcoin users communicate with each other using the bitcoin protocol, primarily via the Internet; although, other transport networks can also be used. The bitcoin protocol stack, available as open source software, can be run on a wide range of computing devices, including laptops and smartphones, making the technology easily accessible.

Users can transfer bitcoin over the network to do just about anything that can be done with conventional currencies, such as buy and sell goods, send money to people or organizations, or extend credit. Bitcoin technology includes features that are based on encryption and digital signatures to ensure the security of the bitcoin network. Bitcoins can be purchased, sold, and exchanged for other currencies at specialized currency exchanges. Bitcoin, in a sense, is the perfect form of money for the Internet because it is fast, secure, and borderless. (more…)

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Solid 2015: submit your proposal

Last May, we engaged in something of an experiment when Joi Ito and I presented Solid, our conference about the intersection between software and the physical world. We drew the program as widely as possible and invited demos from a broad group of large and small companies, academic researchers, and artists. The crowd that came — more than 1,400 people — was similarly broad: a new interdisciplinary community that’s equally comfortable in the real and virtual worlds started to, well, solidify.

I’m delighted to announce that Solid is returning. The next Solid will take place on June 23-25, 2015, at Fort Mason in San Francisco. It’ll be bigger, with more space and a program spread across three days instead of two, but we’re taking care to maintain and nourish the spirit of the original event. That begins with our call for proposals, which opens today. Some of our best presentations in May came from community members we hadn’t yet met who blew away our program committee with intriguing proposals. We’re committed to discovering new luminaries and giving them a chance to speak to the community. If you’re working on interesting things, I hope you’ll submit a proposal.

We’re expecting a full house at this year’s event, so we’ve opened up ticket reservations today as well — you can reserve your ticket here, and we’ll hold your spot for seven days once registration opens early next year.

It’d be an understatement to say that the hardware movement and the Internet of Things (IoT) are hot right now. According to Google, search interest in the IoT has more than doubled in the last 12 months. The race by software companies to reach into the physical world, and the parallel race by manufacturers to develop their software and intelligence offerings, is bringing about all sorts of exciting collisions.

GoogleTrendsScreenShotA screen shot of the Google Trends results looking at the interest in “Internet of Things” and “IoT” over time.

I’d like to hear from you about what’s going on in hardware right now: how to design great products, how to build them in socially responsible ways, how to program them so that they’re efficient and delightful. Solid will be rich with these kinds of stories, told by engineers, artists, scholars, and executives from giant enterprises and nascent start-ups.

That said, my greatest pleasure in programming the 2014 edition of Solid was in featuring presentations that framed our conversation in terms of art, craft, societal impact, theoretical depth, and long-term context. Thoughtful, fresh takes on the hardware movement and the Internet of Things are welcome.

If you’d like to speak at Solid 2015, please visit our call for proposals. If you’d like to attend Solid, you can reserve your ticket here. If you’re interested in sponsoring Solid, please contact Sharon Cordesse. We look forward to hearing from you!

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Firms’ Resource Deployment and Project Leadership in Open Source Software Development

International Journal of Innovation and Technology Management, Ahead of Print.

When using the open source software (OSS), development model firms face the challenge to balance the tension between the integration of knowledge from external individuals and the desire for control. In our investigation, we draw upon a data set consisting of 109 projects with 912 individual programmers and 110 involved firms and show how those different projects are governed in terms of project leadership. Our four hypotheses show that despite the wish for external knowledge from voluntary programmers firms are relying on own resources or those from other firms to control a project, that projects with low firm participation are mainly led by voluntary committers, and that projects with high firm participation are mainly led by paid leaders. This research extends the dominating literature by providing empirical evidence in that area and helps to deepen our understanding of firm participation in OSS projects as a form of open innovation activity.
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Great user experience + clear value proposition = value innovation

Editor’s note: this is an excerpt from our forthcoming book UX Strategy; it is part of a free curated collection of chapters from the O’Reilly Design library — download a free copy of the Experience Design ebook here.

Value! Value! Value!

The word seems to be used everywhere. It’s found in almost all traditional and contemporary business books since the 1970s. In Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices, Peter Drucker talks about how customer values shift over time. He gives an example of how a teenage girl will buy a shoe for its fashion, but when she becomes a working mother, she will probably buy a shoe for its comfort and price. In 1984, Michael Lanning first coined the term “value proposition” to explain how a firm proposes to deliver a valuable customer experience. That same year, Michael Porter defined the term “value chain” as the chain of activities that a firm in a specific industry performs in order to deliver a valuable product.

All these perspectives on value are important, but let’s fast-forward to 2004 when Robert S. Kaplan discussed how intangible assets like computer software were the ultimate source of “value creation.” He said, “Strategy is based on a differentiated customer value proposition. Satisfying customers is the source of sustainable value creation.”

There are a lot of things in that quote that align with what we just learned [earlier in the chapter] about business strategy — differentiation and satisfied customers. But there’s one thing that we didn’t discuss — the fact that we are designing digital products: software, apps, and other things that users find on the Internet and use every day. Often, the users of these digital products don’t have to pay for the privilege of using them. If a business model is supposed to help a company achieve sustainability, how can you do that when the online marketplace is overrun with free products? Well, we learned how many companies, like Waze, found a sustainable business model: sharing their crowdsourced data made them lucrative to other companies like Google. But in order to get the data, they had to provide value to their customer base for mass adoption, and that value was based entirely on innovation.

“Innovative” means doing something that is new, original, and important enough to shake up a market. As W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne describe in Blue Ocean Strategy, value innovation is “the simultaneous pursuit of differentiation and low cost, creating a leap in value for both buyers and the company.” This is accomplished by looking for ways that a company can reduce, raise, lower, and eliminate factors that determine the cost and quality of a product.

When we transpose this theory to the world of digital products, the value proposition manifests itself as a unique feature set. Features are product characteristics that deliver benefits to the user. In most cases, fewer features equals more value. Value can be created by consolidating features from relevant existing solutions (i.e. Meetup and Evite) and solving a problem for users in a more intuitive way (i.e. EventBrite). Value can be created by transcending the value propositions from existing platforms (i.e. Google Maps + crowdsourcing = Waze). Sometimes it’s consolidated from formerly disparate user experiences into one single solution (one-stop shop for a user task), i.e. sharing a video you made with your phone on YouTube, into one elegant simple solution (i.e. Vine and Instagram). We will deconstruct these complex techniques in Chapter 7: Storyboarding Value Innovation for Digital Products.

In a blue ocean, the opportunity is not constrained by traditional boundaries.But for now, let’s discuss the most important reason that we want to be unique and disruptive with both our products and our business models. There are bigger opportunities in unknown market spaces. We like to call these unknown market spaces “blue oceans.” This term comes from the book Blue Ocean Strategy that I mentioned earlier. The authors discuss their studies of 150 strategic moves spanning more than 100 years and 30 industries. They explain how the companies behind the Ford Model T, Cirque du Soleil, and the iPod chose unconventional strategies rather than fighting head-to-head with direct competitors in an existing industry. The sea of other competitors with similar products is known as a “red ocean.” Red oceans are full of sharks that compete for the same customer by offering lower prices and eventually turning a product into a commodity.

In the corporate world, the impulse to compete by destroying your rivals is rooted in military strategy. In war, the fight typically plays out over a specific terrain. The battle gets bloody when one side wants what the other side has — whether it be oil, land, shelf space, or eyeballs. In a blue ocean, the opportunity is not constrained by traditional boundaries. It’s about breaking a few rules that aren’t quite rules yet or even inventing your own game that creates an uncontested new marketplace and space for users to roam.

A perfect example of a company with a digital product that did this is Airbnb. Airbnb is a “community marketplace” for people to list, discover, and book sublets of practically anything from a tree house in Los Angeles to a castle in France. What’s amazing about this is that their value proposition has completely disrupted the travel industry. It’s affecting the profit margins of hotels so much that Airbnb was banned in New York City. Its value proposition is so compelling that once customers try it, it’s hard to go back to the old way of booking a place to stay or subletting a property.

For instance, I just came back from a weekend in San Francisco with my family. Instead of booking a hotel that would have cost us upwards of $1,200 (two rooms for two nights at a 3.5-star hotel), we used Airbnb and spent half of that. But for us, it wasn’t just about saving money; it was about being in a gorgeous and spacious two-bedroom home closer to the locals and their foodie restaurants. The 3% commission fee we paid to Airbnb was negligible. Interestingly, the corporate lawyer who owned this SF home was off in Paris with her family. She was also staying at an Airbnb, which could have been paid for using some of the revenue ($550+) from her transaction with us. Everybody won! Except, of course, the hotels that lost our business.

Airbnb achieves this value innovation by coupling a killer user experience design with a tantalizing value proposition. A value proposition is the reason why customers accept one solution over another. Sometimes the solution solves a problem we didn’t even know we had. Sometimes it creates an undeniable desire. A value proposition consists of a bundle of products and/or services (“features”) that cater to the requirements of a specific customer segment. Airbnb offers a value proposition to both sides of its two-sided market: the people who list their homes and those who book places to stay.

Value innovation is about changing the rules of the game.Airbnb chose not to focus on beating the existing competition (other subletting sites and hotels) at their game. Instead they made the competition irrelevant by creating a leap in value for all of their potential users. They did this by creating a marketplace that improves upon the weaknesses of all of their competition. Airbnb is more trustworthy than Craigslist. It has much more inventory than HomeAway and VRBO because listings are free. They provide value along the way — from the online experience (booking/subletting) to the real-world experience (showing up on vacation/getting paid for your sublet).

To create a blue ocean product, you need to change the way that people think about doing something. Value innovation is about changing the rules of the game.

Airbnb did this by enabling a free-market sub-economy in which quality and trust were given a high value that spanned the entire customer journey from the online experience to the real-world experience. And they catered to both of their customer groups (subletters and renters) with distinct feature sets that turned what was once a potentially creepy endeavor (short-term subletting) into something with incredible potential for everybody involved.

There are many other products causing widespread disruption to the status quo. Uber, which matches drivers with people who need rides, is threatening the taxi and limousine industries. Kickstarter is changing the way businesses are financed. Twitter is disrupting how we get news. And we can never forget how Craigslist broke the business models of local newspapers by providing a superior system for personal listings.

Jaime Levy, author of UX Strategy, can be reached through her Twitter handle, @JaimeRLevy.

Editor’s note: this is part of our ongoing exploration looking at experience design and the Internet of Things.

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We need open models, not just open data


Writing my post about AI and summoning the demon led me to re-read a number of articles on Cathy O’Neil’s excellent mathbabe blog. I highlighted a point Cathy has made consistently: if you’re not careful, modelling has a nasty way of enshrining prejudice with a veneer of “science” and “math.”

Cathy has consistently made another point that’s a corollary of her argument about enshrining prejudice. At O’Reilly, we talk a lot about open data. But it’s not just the data that has to be open: it’s also the models. (There are too many must-read articles on Cathy’s blog to link to; you’ll have to find the rest on your own.) Read more

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Artificial intelligence: summoning the demon


A few days ago, Elon Musk likened artificial intelligence (AI) to “summoning the demon.” As I’m sure you know, there are many stories in which someone summons a demon. As Musk said, they rarely turn out well.

There’s no question that Musk is an astute student of technology. But his reaction is misplaced. There are certainly reasons for concern, but they’re not Musk’s. Read more

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