Review of The Internet Weather, Balancing Continuous Change and Constant Truths by James W Moore    

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It's easy to lose count of the number of books analysing the Internet "phenomenon". Almost without exception they focus on the novelty, rapid change and unpredictability ushered in by the Internet age. James Moore chose the opposite approach, analysing those things that do not change regardless of advancing technology and changing business practice. Moore believes there are four verities, which will become ever more valuable - time, truth, privacy and trust.

Time is a strictly limited commodity, which nobody I know can ever get enough of. We have to use technology to make better use of the limited time available to us. Any company who can help us to do this, and who can make best use of their own time, stands to gain in the economy of the future.

Truth might be expected to be easy to come by in the "information age", but verifiable truth requires time and the involvement of rigorous processes (scientific or journalistic) to corroborate. As time becomes more valuable and information more commonplace, truth gets harder to find. In place of truth we have data, raw information without understanding, and from this we derive "factoids" - statements with a ring of truth that are based upon uncorroborated assumptions. We need to find new ways of looking at information and deriving truth more economically.

Privacy has become a hot topic since the birth of the Internet, it is something we have sacrificed wholesale to technology and now have to buy back piece-by-piece. Today only the rich and famous are prepared to pay regularly for more privacy, but Moore predicts a mass market in the near future for anonymity and privacy products.

Trust is the most elusive of the four verities, the only one that cannot be bought; even the phrase "trust me" tends to have the opposite effect to that intended. Trust can only be earned by investing time, speaking the truth, respecting privacy, and presenting a human face. For the new economy companies who desperately need to earn customer trust, there is no quick fix. Trust is hard to gain and easy to lose.

Moore goes on to employ another unchanging verity, the law of supply and demand, to posit scenarios in a world where time, truth, privacy and trust are becoming ever more valuable. He draws many conclusions, among them that companies should focus on time savings rather than more immediate cost savings; that focus on the four verities is more important than playing catch-up with shifting technical standards; that the nature of employment is shifting to favour a breed of branded super-freelancer; and that companies must rely on speed rather than wholesale privacy to protect competitive advantage. Moore concludes with a rule of thumb for assessing potential investments, weighing up any new product's effect upon the balance of the four verities to determine whether it is likely to turn out a winner or a loser.

I found the book a little annoying in the first few chapters because of its over-reliance on metaphors, some less enlightening than others. Moore kicks off with the concept that the "Internet Weather" is the atmosphere of events which we must learn to cope with, predict and use to our advantage, and to back this up he gets a meteorologist to introduce the book. This struck me as unnecessary to the point of being distracting, and other less loaded metaphors such as the Internet Atmosphere or the Internet Environment might have served equally well. But for a book with such a wealth of intelligently considered content and conclusions, this is a very small gripe.

© Dan Sumption, May 2002

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