Sunday, January 20, 2008

Do! Part Two


Let's look at the various tweets as the Twitterverse multitasked between the AFC champsionship game and some discussions about the commercials that were aired.

First, Bill Palmer:

I wish IBM would stop making fun of new media. Not that it's offensive (kinda funny actually), but it makes IBM look so old and irrelevant.

Second, Pistachio:

Ouch. just put the smackdown on SL.

But if you leave the confines of Twitter, you find much stronger criticism of IBM's supposed attitude towards new media. Here are excerpts from a post at Blayne Sucks:

In a recent IBM commercial, the company implies that virtual worlds are a fad and, as a result, a waste of both time and money. For those who haven’t seen it, the commercial starts with an employee showing off his avatar to someone else, presumably a boss. The employee is all pumped about how he can conduct business in this virtual world and how he owns an island there. The boss asks if he can make money. The employee responds with something like, “Virtual money or real money?” This sets up the boss’s response that “The point of innovation is to make actual money.”

There are many reasons why this commercial is unintelligibly stupid....[T]he point of innovation is actually not to make money; it is to improve quality of life.

Frankly, as I noted several times (repeatedly), I don't believe that IBM was slamming new media or Second Life in particular, but was rather slamming the use of tech for tech's sake (rather than using tech to achieve a particular corporate purpose). Pa-sghetti (cited in the Blayne Sucks post above) makes a similar point:

A manager and an employee are sitting at a table while the employee is explaining his “avatar”. The employee gives the basic definition of an avatar and shows off his avatar on his own island. He then says those infamous words with a “c’mon dude” type of facial expression and tone, “It’s innovation”....

This commercial hit a nerve with me because 1) it’s creative and 2) it plays right to the heart of the matter for many of us who work in the corporate world....

The beauty of IBM’s avatar commercial is that it simply and realistically puts into play what can really happen when we as communicators think that just because we have the technology that management should just give us a green light. If anyone has been thinking that, I want to know what meds he or she is taking. If any communications plan or any communicator is not perceived to add value (and thus contribute to the making of real money for the business), management will see fit to show us the door.

While in Twitter, I proceeded to tell a story from my first job after graduation.

Back then, the company that I worked for was one of the leading software providers for the THEOS (formerly Oasis) operating system. The fact that most of you have probably not heard of the THEOS operating system should not in any way negative our achievement of dominating the market for general purpose THEOS software, including a spreadsheet, a word processor, a mail client, a PERT/CPM application, and also a printing service if I remember correctly (this was a quarter century ago, after all).

All of this was occurring in the 1983-1986 timeframe, during which the leading business program was Lotus 1-2-3. At the time, part of the success of Lotus was the fact that it was an integrated application. So "integrated" became the big buzzword at the time, and everybody wanted "integrated" applications. To put things in perspective, here's what Scott S. Lawton wrote about Lotus 1-2-3 several years after its release, by which time the original "integrated" hype had died down considerably:

Probably the most revolutionary feature of 1-2-3 was its tightly integrated graphics. A picture simply makes more sense than a table of numbers, dramatically increasing the usefulness of electronic spreadsheets. The success of this link encouraged software developers to try to integrate anything and everything....

The evidence suggests that 1-2-3's integrated data base played a negligable role in the product's initial success, and is rarely used even today. The reason seems obvious enough to me: integrating tables of numbers with their graphic equivalent is a "natural" merger; the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts. In contrast, the data base neither fits neatly in with the other two components, nor adds significant value. Haphazard integration is both useless and confusing whereas intelligent integration is a dream come true....

Lotus 1-2-3 started the mad rush towards integrated software. Now, years later, a cynic could view that obsession as a passing fad from a bygone era.

However, these words were written in 1987. The story was different circa 1984. At some place - possibly a trade show - a guy came up to me and asked whether our THEOS applications were "integrated." However, by the way he asked the question, it appeared to me that the guy didn't have a plan for how he was going to use the data from one application in another application. All he cared about was that he could check the "integrated" check box off on his software search checklist.

In my view, the IBM commercials (including the avatar/island commercial and the ideation commercial that aired during the AFC championship game) are merely pointing out that using tech for tech's sake is not necessarily going to yield good business results.

And, lest anyone have any doubts about IBM's views about the new technologies, Susan Reynolds noted the following:

@oemperor IBM has more SL islands than you can count See their fun take on [Peanuts'] Lucy's HELP desk

She then linked to a blog post of hers that pointed out all of the property that IBM has established in Second Life. See this map.

Obviously IBM thinks they're doing something there.

P.S. While I agree with the sentiment expressed in IBM's "Avatar Island" commercial, it's obvious that the message wasn't communicated effectively. Perhaps IBM should have been more blatant with the first character, emphasizing the "It's innovation" (and nothing else) line.

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