Bricklin on Technology

People occasionally ask me about the ROI (return on investment) of Twitter. I see what I’m doing on Twitter (especially DennisKennedy.Microblog) as a series of experiments. I also look at Twitter as another channel for some of my writing and an experimental channel for certain types of information.
To make a long story short, I find it difficult to quantify the ROI of Twitter, mainly because I’m not especially looking at my efforts there in terms of something to quantify.
But let me share a story about an interesting ROI for Twitter for me that illustrates how Twitter can open doors in unexpected ways.
A while back, I was excited to find a blog post linking to Dan Bricklin’s original business school paper about VisiCalc. As many of you know well, Bricklin was a co-creator of the original spreadsheet and a software pioneer in many ways.
I posted the following to Twitter: “Here’s a piece of computing history – Dan Bricklin’s 1978 business school paper on the VisiCalc spreadsheet program – http://bit.ly/Bx3Jd”
Shortly thereafter, probably based on my Twitter post (or at least close enough in time that I’ll assume it was to fit my story), I got an email from Eric Holmgren at Bricklin’s publisher asking if I would like to get a review copy of Bricklin’s book, Bricklin on Technology.
Would I ever.
The book arrived and it was my favorite read of the summer. I cannot recommend it highly enough to anyone interested in both the history of technology and the thought process and observations of one of the undisputed computer technology pioneers.
Yet it’s not just the content of the book, which I’ll talk about in a minute, that fascinates me. The book as a package brilliantly makes the case for the value of a book collection of previously-published blog posts, essays and transcripts thoughtfully arranged and updated. I actually read a good number of the posts feature in the book when they came out, but to have them in one place, in a context and sequence made them feel like new discoveries to me.
“Curation” is a popular buzzword these days, but I get a sense of the value of collection and curation from the way this book is arranged.
However, I’m not recommending the book for its arrangement. It’s simply a great collection of essays, many of them grappling with issues that have been with us throughout the Internet era, and looking at them in their original contexts in the past, as they now exist, and how they might persist into the future.
Yes, you get the story of VisiCalc and the spreadsheet, the first “killer app” that launched the widespread use of PC and some great information and insights about the history of PCs from someone who really was there. That’s great, but even more interesting to me is the breadth, depth and scope of Bricklin’s explorations. When I read the book, I found that I dog-eared a lot of pages that I return to as I write this post.
Consider some of the chapter titles:
What Will People Pay For? (His seminal, thought-provoking essay from 2000 is the springboard to this discussion and his observations about mobile phones and human feeling changed my way of thinking about them)
The Recording Industry and Copying (“Continuing to do things as they have been done for previous decades is not always a good answer in light of technological changes.”)
Leveraging the Crowd (“what drives individuals in their own quest for personal benefit or altruism to the task of helping the whole group”}
Cooperation (singing my song here – after alll I co-authored a book on collaboration and collaboration tools – a fascinating discussion in this chapter about the way the U.S. Navy used chat rooms to collaborate)
Blogging and Podcasting: Observations Through Their Development (on a personal note, I was struck by how many of the earliest “important” blog posts I remember, as I remember Bricklin’s early podcasts. A quote: “When people figure out the uses of technology, it often does not followthe ‘common wisdom’ of the current dominant players. THe old guard’s skepticism doesn’t always hold things back.”)
Tools: My Philosophy About What We Should Be Developing (I wish all software developers read this one. The idea that stuck with me – “the strange goal of computers as natural assistants.”
Hands On: Tablet and Gestural Computing (Now I truly regret moving away from my Tablet PC after it wore out. See my article on Tablet PCs at http://blog.technolawyer.com/2005/04/lets_celebrate_.html, especially point #10 in the article. Bricklin makes a compelling case for a tablet/gestural approach -
The Long Term. (“some principles that could be applied to making software that fits with the long-term needs of society.”}
The PC: Historical Information about an Important Tool. (If you like tech and its history, this is a must-read.You get a feel for the excitement of the early days.}
The Wiki: An Interview with its Inventor (Why do people sometimes think a wiki is the solution for, well, everything? You’ll see why here.The story of Ward Cunningham, the wiki, and creating cooperatively.)
VisiCalc (a great insider’s story of the first killer app)
Summing it All Up. (I was struck with the way Bricklin hit on all of my favorite “big themes,” which is probably why I like the book.)
Bricklin closes with these two sentences that really do seem to sum it all up: “In the world we have been building, all can participate, not just a special few, That is how we are molding technology into a force with which we all can be creative and connect with what is really meaningful to us.”
That’s enough for now. I want you to go out and read Bricklin on Technology.
For me, the book has reshaped my thinking and focus and the ideas have begun to filter into my writing and podcasts.
You might also enjoy Scott Hanselman’s recent podcast with Dan Bricklin and Bricklin’s blog (one of the earliest of all blogs).
I thank Dan Bricklin’s publisher for spotting me and offering me a review copy. I thank Dan for writing the book. Maybe it will help me convince a publisher of the viability of a book called “Kennedy on Legal Technology.” ;-)
What’s the ROI on Twitter? It’s still an experiment for me, but I think the ROI on that tweet was pretty darned good.
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (http://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]
Follow my microblog on Twitter – @dkennedyblog; Follow me – @denniskennedy

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Comments

  1. says

    It drives me crazy when people ask about the ROI of social media. That’s like asking the ROI of going to the barber shop and spending 20 minutes chatting with the person sitting at the next chair – there is no ROI, but there is the inherent value of human contact.
    If I talk with the person in the barber shop for 20 minutes, our discussion may highlight our common interests. We become friends, go for coffee from time to time, and eventually come to trust one another. He and I never do business directly, but one day he’s talking with one of his other friends who mentions they need help with a legal matter. It’s up my alley, so he refers the person to me.
    Why? Because he knows me, likes me, trusts me – we’ve established a bond over time.
    The referral generates a healthy legal fee for my firm, and the person tells my barber-shop friend what a nice person and good lawyer I am. My friend’s credibility with his friend goes up because the referral was a good one, and my credibility with my new friend continues to rise because I took care of his referral.
    What was the ROI of my interaction with a stranger at a barber shop? $0 short-term. But things like that happen all the time.
    What’s Twitter? It’s the same thing, only in 140 characters.