Sunday 22 April 2012

Amazon, Google, Facebook et al – the latter-day pied pipers of Hamelin

The earliest mention of the story seems to have been on a stained glass window placed in the Church of Hamelin c. 1300. The window was described in several accounts between the 14th century and the 17th century ... This window is generally considered to have been created in memory of a tragic historical event for the town. Also, Hamelin town records start with this event. The earliest written record is from the town chronicles in an entry from 1384 which states: "It is 100 years since our children left". (Wikipedia)

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The children
In December 2011, Facebook had 845 million monthly active users, of which 483 million were daily active users. That's a lot of children.

While children follow the music, grown-ups follow the money.

As Martin Sorrell says, influencing social networks is an extremely powerful way of building brands and trust in brands. That's why the hidden persuaders pay for Facebook, Google and other platforms. That's why the people who think they are the users don't pay. We're not the users, we people who do scores of Google searches every day and who meticulously update our Facebook pages and who tweet our every passing thought. Users pay. We're the product.

Mr Zuckerberg doesn't work hard every day developing Facebook because he loves organising parties. And Mr Schmidt doesn't spend a fortune every day improving search algorithms, giving away Google AdWords coupons and suggesting the optimal route between A and B on Google Maps because he hates people to get lost. Only a child would believe that.

Mr Sorrell (WPP) gives money to Messrs Zuckerberg (Facebook) and Schmidt (Google). And Messrs Zuckerberg and Schmidt give us to Mr Sorrell. Willing buyer, willing seller, we're neither – in this exchange we're the product.

The burgomasters
Meanwhile in the Whitehall district of Hamelin, a confused burgomaster is trying to think how to kickstart the economy. If only my townspeople would maintain a personal data store ... I could launch a midata initiative ... hey wait a minute, 30 million of them already have Facebook pages and a growing number have Google+ accounts ... maiden's prayer ... answer ...

Meanwhile in the Whitehall district of Hamelin, another confused burgomaster is trying to think how to modernise public administration. If only my townspeople had electronic identities ... I could launch an Identity Assurance service (IdA) ... public services could become digital by default ... the Government Digital Service (GDS) ... hey wait a minute ...

Meanwhile in the Whitehall district of Hamelin, all the confused burgomasters are justifiably sorry for themselvesAs if we haven't got enough problems ... kickstarting the economy ... communicating with the townspeople ... the bloody townspeople – excuse my French – and their damned residents' associations ... always moaning ... the Public Administration Select Committee ... the Public Accounts Committee ... the Home Affairs Committee ... it's never-ending ... and the wretched impertinent National Audit Office ... ILA ... CSA ... Tax credits ... NPfIT ... FiReControl ... ID cards ... Libra ... NOMS ... Aspire ... IABS ... UC ... RTI ...

... which brings us to ...

The rats
Infested with management consultants with scaly tails and bloated bewhiskered contractors, the Hamelin government IT systems are "unacceptable", says the Schweinhund Chris Chant – pardon my Switzerdeutsch – and it's about time the burgomasters who aren't up to the job got out.

So who will rid us of the rats?

The piper(s)
Tim Berners-Lee?
... individual users were not yet being allowed to exploit all the information relating to them to make their lives easier. Armed with the information that social networks and other web giants hold about us, he said, computers will be able to "help me run my life, to guess what I need next, to guess what I should read in the morning, because it will know not only what's happening out there but also what I've read already, and also what my mood is, and who I'm meeting later on".
Maybe not.

Martha Lane Fox?
Asked by a local authority official whether older channels needed to be "shut off" for savings to be realised, she replied: "Yes, absolutely. That's fundamental to digital by default.

"It's not an option to keep sending people paper when they are perfectly able to use a digital service. It's not an option to keep a call centre going when you see volume go dramatically down. So of course, you have to turn channels off."
Maybe not.

Werner Vogels? (Who? You know. Werner. Werner Vogels. The Chief Technology Officer of Amazon Web Services, AWS. That's who.)
"We are trying to break through the traditional model of enterprise software development," Vogels said, reiterating the AWS mantra for those who have not heard it before. "Core to the old style of doing business was that enterprises were being held hostage with very long-term contracts because that was the only way that you were able to drive your costs down. What is important is that you should keep your providers on their toes every day.

"If we are not delivering the right quality of services, you should be able to walk away. You, the consumer of these services, should be in full control. That is core to our philosophy. And with that also comes the belief that if you help us gain economies of scale, and if we together operate to get increased efficiencies out of our platform, you should benefit from that."

This is why, Vogels said, AWS has cut its prices 19 times on various services – it now offers more than 30 services, ranging from compute and storage clouds to various database, load balancing, and application frame work services. The most recent price cuts, announced in early March, have resulted in some S3 customers seeing their bills drop by 40 per cent and some EC2 users seeing a 32 per cent drop.

"Why would we do this?" asked Vogels rhetorically. "Because we believe that we should help you be more successful. If you are more successful, in the long run, we will have benefit from that as well. This is a pure win-win situation for all of us."
Now you're talking my language, said each burgomaster, assuming that the other burgomasters knew what the Double Dutch Mr Vogels was talking about. A 32% cut for the EC2s? Sounds good. And the S3s are doing even better, with 40%! Maybe Chris Chant was right. Maybe we should modernise ourselves ... and get rid of those rats once and for all.

And it's not just AWS. There are more pipers where they came from. Google cloud services. Microsoft Windows Azure. IBM SmartCloud. Apple iCloud. To name but a few.

Music to my ears, said each burgomaster, as though they'd never heard of predatory pricing and antitrust, and they all went off for a free lunch.

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In some accounts it is hard to tell the burgomasters from the children. Or the rats from the pipers, come to that. Harder still when you see how many burgomasters were recruited by rats after their early and well-funded retirement, or joined pipers.

The earliest mention of the story seems to have been in a doodle on the home page of Google c. 2028. The doodle was described in several tweets between the 21st century and the 24th century ... This doodle is generally considered to have been created in memory of a tragic historical event for the town when all central and local government records went up in a puff of smoke or, more poetically, a "cloud".

Also, the Whitehall town log now starts with this event. The earliest text record is from the town Facebook page in an entry from 2112 which states simply:


Updated: 3.3.14
NHS England patient data 'uploaded to Google servers', Tory MP says

A prominent Tory MP on the powerful health select committee has questioned how the entire NHS hospital patient database for England was handed over to management consultants who uploaded it to Google servers based outside the UK ...

The patient information had been obtained by PA Consulting, which claimed to have secured the "entire start-to-finish HES dataset across all three areas of collection – inpatient, outpatient and A&E".
Update 2.6.14

A rueful article by Hugh Muir in the Guardian, Internet giants wooed us, but the honeymoon is over, nails the point, "we have been seduced. We have been lured by soft music and friendly adverts into a relationship that is anything but equal, and threatens to turn abusive".

Updated 26.8.14
We wanted the web for free – but the price is deep surveillance
Advertising has become the online business model but by its very nature it involves corporations spying on users to produce more targeted results

Updated 27.8.14
Data guardian Sir Nigel Shadbolt on privacy versus freedom
... today we’re paying more attention to the big corporates and internet giants that sit on huge deposits of our data and stare back at us from the other side of the screen. Google, for example, has become a monopoly more powerful than many states.

Updated 26.4.15
Amazon Web Services is showing traditional IT players how they need to change

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is clearly doing something right. The e-commerce giant has split out AWS revenues for the first time in its latest financial results, revealing a $5bn business growing at nearly 50% year on year.

AWS has shown the big, traditional IT players the way to do public cloud - defining the market for infrastructure (IaaS) and platform as a service (PaaS) along the way, forcing the likes of IBM, HP, Oracle and Microsoft to respond. Amazon is by far and away the dominant public cloud player ...
Always worth reading, that is from Bryan Glick's latest editorial in Computer Weekly magazine. He's right about that. The Pied Piper is surging.

Mr Glick adds:
Amazon has achieved $5bn of cloud revenue at a time when there are still widespread fears about cloud - related particularly to security and data protection - that prevent many large organisations, especially in heavily regulated sectors like financial services, from moving to public cloud. But those fears will be overcome; the sceptics will be convinced; the laggards will be forced to catch up. A tipping point is approaching.
Is that right?

Are the sceptics laggards? Or are they the responsible custodians of our "security and data protection"? Ours and our children's.

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