Sunday, October 25, 2009

So it goes....

Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse Five" is probably the best anti-war novel I ever read. Paradoxically, it is not openly or verbally pacifistic. Rather, by showing the absurdity of human condition in the war time, it builds in readers the strongest aversion to the war and to the artificial and often pompous "war heroism" - we so frequently witness in books and in media.

"Slaughterhouse Five" is a surrealistic novel, sometimes skimming on the brink of science-fiction genre. The title refers to the real building of the Dresden Slaughterhouse where American's POWs were kept in the very end of the war when the famous Dresden bombing happened.

It's subtitle, "The Children's Crusade" refers to the scene in the beginning of the book, where former II WW soldiers were called babies by the wife of war hero. In some sense the purpose of the subtitle is to despise the typical, pompous, heroic stories of the wars...

The most of the narration is filled by the story of Billy Pilgrim, an American soldier, who is sent by Germans to Dresden, just before the bombing. Billy experiences a mental state called "unstickness of the time" - he visits his past, present and future out of sequence, sometimes in backward direction and often, repetitively. During his time travels, he claims to be kidnapped by aliens and kept as hostage and zoo exhibit on a planet called Tralfamadore. These parts of the plot seem to be quite strange, but when you immerse into the text deeply, they play some increadible role - far from typical sci-fi motives in other novels.
In fact they have some philosophical implications. The questions of free will and of time and its meaning - are central to them. I like the concept of time and past looming from them - the past exists, is unchangable and can be visited in a way similar to that of our visits of places.

The bombing of Dresden is described with scarce details. Aftermath of the bombing, with infamous "corpse mine", where one of characters dies from vomiting (caused by the stench), is probably the only more detailed part of the novel.

The book is deeply related to the other Kurt's novels, "Mother Night" - the main character of the later plays an important episode in the former.

Travelling in space and time with Billy we are faced with almost absolute absurdity of the war, the cold cruelty of men in the wartime, without calling these features by name.

What makes this book special is peculiar climate it creates. In this very ambient, absurd atmosphere lies the strongest denial of wars and any warlike "culture".

Once again I proved myself how great writer was Kurt Vonnegunt...
Last but not least, I read the audio version of the book. The narration of famous Ethan Hawke was one of the best I ever experienced.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Opening addres for "Web has a meaning" conference

This my speech I gave at the opening of "Web has a meaning" conference organized at MakoLab XX anniversary on September 28, 2009 in Artur Rubinstein Lodz Philharmonic Hall:

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to the “Web has a meaning” conference organized for the occasion of the 20th anniversary of MakoLab’s creation.

20lat_MakoLab (21 of 172)

Traditionally, on such days and on such occasions, the most important facts from the 20 years of our history should be noted. However, this evening I would not like to emphasize only the company’s history, or especially facts. History is not a consequence of events of a single flat thread seen like a film – it is rather a network of interwoven threads and planes. We live on many of such planes simultaneously.

For the last 20 years, the people related to MakoLab have lived on at least three historical levels important to us: on the level of the history of Poland and Europe, on the level of the history of a growing company and, what is so significant to understand the reason of this conference – on the level of the history of the WEB. On these three planes – on a junction of social, economical and technological influences – our company was born.

20lat_MakoLab (24 of 172)

The last twenty years is a period of Poland resurrecting and slowly liberating from the communist regime. The fact that we celebrate our anniversary precisely 20 years from that fateful year of 1989 has a particular meaning for us.

When in the summer of 1989, soon after the first free election in Poland, I for the first time went to West Berlin for the first computer for the then being created company – the Berlin Wall was yet there. After a few months of this critical year, on 9th November, the Berlin Wall symbolically collapsed. For us, the June elections opened a path to freedom, for the world – the collapse of the Berlin Wall was a symbolical date of the beginning of globalization and the birth of a new economy.

In everyday life of these years not always could we feel the winds of history – hard work and beginning a new life consumed our time completely. It wasn’t an easy period, the conditions of managing economical activity in the beginnings of our freedom were not what we expected. Today they are a bit better… A bit :-)

However, I would like to emphasize the other difficulty of the beginnings of the 3rd Polish Republic ("Rzeczpospolita") and of our company... For this purpose, I will use the famous sentence by Ryszard Kapuściński:

Although a system may cease
to exist in the legal sense or
as a structure of power,
its values (or anti-values),
its philosophy, its
teachings remain in us.
They rule our thinking, our conduct,
our attitude to others.

The situation is a demonic paradox:
we have toppled the system
but we still carry its genes

I cite this fragment not without a reason – every careful and thorough observer of the 20 years of Polish freedom may have probably noticed how many of the problems – both political and economical – sprung not from external conditions, but from our mentality, from unsuccessful overcoming of the demons from the past.

We also know it well that if we, as Łódź and Poland, achieve success today, even as humble as this one, that thanks to our hard work, the global financial crisis reached us with a delay and with less dangerous repercussions – that all of this is an effect of liberating ourselves from the remains of the old thinking, an effect of creativity and resourcefulness, the genes of which are completely different…

In everyday life I do not like lofty sentences, but on a day like this one I must share with you a reflection – I believe that one of the most important factors of success, both the success of Poland in Europe, of Łódź in Poland and of MakoLab in Łódź, Poland and Europe – is the obstinate yet humble ability to overcome our own limitations, our own minuteness, imperfections and disadvantages. All good and important events – and here I will mention only the two of them – our strong stock market debut in 2007 and handing the company’s management to Wojtek Zieliński in 2008 – are actually of this background. A closer look at the negative events, as they also did happen, reveals the ingredient of our minuteness, weakness and limitations – which could not always be defeated.

I have earlier said that we have lived on three surfaces: of the recovering freedom and of the growing company. The third surface is the Web and its history. I would obviously lie if I said that already in 1989 we had a vision of a company focused on the Web as we have it today. We were close to it, but we began to treat it seriously around 1995.

20lat_MakoLab (39 of 172)

It is the Web and an attempt to answer the questions about its meaning for modern business, along with our anniversary, that is the main reason for organizing the today’s conference. Therefore, allow me to say something about the history of the Web in this part of my speech.
A small explanation to begin with – the Web, meaning a global network of interconnected WWW servers - is not identical with the Internet. Its laws cannot be reduced to the laws of the Internet itself, although without the Internet, it could not exist. Both in the technical and philosophical respect, Web is a higher layer – a higher level of the network.

The Internet was created in late 1950s, first as a military project, and then, in 1970s, as an academic project. The Web was born in the year seminal for us as well – 1989. It was in March of this year that Tim Berners Lee writes his famous work – “Information Management: A proposal”, in which he presents the fundamental ideas of the Web: basic laws of technical protocols and document format and the most significant idea of the Web – the idea of hypertext, defined as a “set of information readable for a human, connected in a way not restricted by anything”..

In 1990 launches the server, which operates until today, the first Web browser “Enquire” is also created. A new era begins. Once again I emphasize that these are the same years in which we entered the difficult path toward freedom and the world, after the symbolical downfall of the Berlin Wall, began to learn globalization. The creation of the Web, known as well as the World Wide Web, had a revolutionary significance for both the Internet and the public space of the entire world. The numbers prove this: in 1989 the number of all computers in the Internet was 100 thousand, while in 1992 - already over a million. How is it possible?
What factor determined that it was WWW and not Gopher, FTP or e-mail that began the real explosion?

This factor is undoubtedly the fundamental SIMPLICITY of the WEB. WWW is based on essentially simple, natural and obvious principles.

These principles can be enumerated on a single breath – the principle of universal, public and unique address of each document in the network, the principle of hypertext – meaning the unlimited ability to link one document with the other, and the principle of transferring absolutely ANY data in a uniform and simple way. These three principles, creating the three fundamental protocols governing the Web (URL, HTML, HTTP) are so strikingly simple that to this day many people wonder how it is possible to create such richness on basis of a few simple standards.
However, it turns out that this simplicity – a kind of self-limitation of complicated technology to the simplest solutions – is exactly the factor that gave the Web such an incredible initial speed and literally unlimited growth. Not all of us know that HTML is a very primitive, willingly limited form of the then already existing SGML standard, and HTTP is almost a trivial toy in comparison to some already existing network protocols. I will not even mention the many drawbacks of the Web, which are best expressed by Tim Berners-Lee: “The Web will always be a little bit broken”. Yet in this limitation of power and the lack of perfection – lies strength. “The Principle of Least Power” is one of the most important axioms of the Web. I often repeat this rule, as a mantra, to all of our employees…

Let’s return to history: In 1994 the Netscape company is born and creates the first application known as a “killer application” – the Netscape web browser. In 1996 Netscape is followed by Microsoft with its Internet Explorer and the pretty inglorious history of browser wars begins. Fortunately, this does not disturb the emergence of the new economy around the Internet. In the same year, 1996, Amazon and eBay launch. In December 1998, Internet sale in the USA reaches heights unheard of in normal economy – the period from the Thanksgiving to Christmas of that year, due to the turnovers reaching 1,2 billion of US dollars would later be called “The Big Online Holiday Extravaganza”. Successes of the New Economy were so enthralling, that they blinded many – investors and businessmen alike. Unverified and incorrect plans eventually cause a typical and well-known global process known as the “bubble economy”. In 2000 and 2001 we observe a number of spectacular bankruptcies, stock market downfalls – which proved to many that it is not that easy. Looking for solid basis for Internet business will yet take a few years….
From the perspective of 20 years, this first period of the Web’s development, regardless of the multitude of solutions, is today called WEB 1.0 – the characteristic trait of this period is the centralized model of communication – the WEB servers the content of which was created by the creators and administrator – or webmaster – were used, typically in a passive way, by the users, or surfers.

In the beginning of the 21st century, there emerges a phenomenon subsequently called Web 2.0. It is worth mentioning here that Web 2.0 did not spring from any fundamental technological revolution. The technical basis of Web 2.0 is composed according to the same, simple rules I mentioned before. It was a social revolution or, if it may be said so, a mental revolution, and, what is most important – a cultural one. It progressed in four essentially independent ways:

  • Global searching of information – the icons of which were Yahoo and mostly Google.
  • Social cooperation in creation of information – the embodiment of which were blogs and the phenomenon known as the blogosphere
  • New rules of creating and sharing knowledge – embodied by Wikipedia
  • Usage of the Web for making and sustaining human relationships – with icons such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and in Poland – Nasza Klasa.
Web 2.0 redefined various areas of life – if we want to know what is going on – for instance in politics – we no more have to resort to official media or news corporations. We can hear what people are saying. In a really authentic, uncensored voice. Thousands of blogs and social websites bubble with opinions and information. It is true – they are not always reliable. But almost in every case – they are authentic. Spoken in a human, not pompous voice.

Web 2.0 revolutionized the concept of knowledge and authority. Until today there is a discussion if Wikipedia, which is the largest known emanation of encyclopedic knowledge is trustworthy. Most probably not in all of its articles. But its unique social method of discourse, closely reminiscent of dialogues, commentaries and reflections on legislative or religious laws known from many ancient cultures, and being the contrary to the idea of a single proper authority – together with its strictly protected principle of neutrality – caused the creation of a body of human knowledge without precedent in the entire history of human culture. The Wikipedia of today is more than 10 million articles in almost all significant languages of the world…
Web 2.0 has such a strong influence on society that a well-known and renowned advisory company Forrester, called the explosion of Web 2.0 social sites a groundswell – which disturbs as if “from the bottom” the basics of traditional business, marketing, market communication, teamwork…

More and more companies and institutions understand that they must resign from bombastic rhetoric and pompous language of traditional marketing – they must listen to the authentic dialogues taking place on blogs, social networking websites, link sharing portals, forums and other platforms of communication witch swarm the Web of today.

When we take a closer look at the Web of today, the phenomenon known as Web 2.0, it is impossible to overlook that this was the primary vision of the Web.

Tim Berners Lee wrote:

'The Web is rather a social than technical work. I designed it for the
social effect – in order to help people cooperate – and not as a technical toy'.

It is amazing that this social effect, the openness to society – was achieved only after more than 10 years of the Web’s existence… It is worth remembering. Revolutions do not happen instantly – also in this context Kapuściński’s sentence I cited before is extremely relevant:

“We have broken the system, but its genes are still within us …”

Today, in 2009, 20 years after its beginning, the Web is on a crossroads. It is unknown in which direction will its development follow. However, we know that Web 2.0 in its present shape, although it will continue defining the Web for the next few years – has tremendous limitations.
One may risk making a statement that the formula of Web 2.0 is slowly expiring – and it is difficult not to observe it. Let’s see – searching in Google and other popular search engines is still trivial and primitive – we look for pages using words, phrases and fragments of text – but not using terms and concepts. We have our accounts and our friends on e.g. Facebook or Nasza Klasa but we cannot transfer anything with all our friends to a different portal – without tedious entering of the same data. Our digital identity, our relations with people are taken over by companies – the operators of these pages – Facebook, Google, Nasza Klasa. But my digital identity and my relations with friends are MINE and I should be the one in control of them…

Wikipedia has over 10 million articles today, but we cannot easily extract structural data of, for instance, a simple table with numbers of citizens described in it – without tedious “copy/paste”…
I often give other trivial examples – let’s assume that in Excel we want to obtain a table with post addresses of a million companies that have Internet pages in Poland. We know these pages – every single one of them can be accessed - but unless we employ dozens of employees, this task is almost impossible…

Another example: let’s imagine asking Google such a question: give me addresses of all piano tuners no further than 5 kilometers away from the Łódź Philharmonic who work between 5 pm and 8 pm. No chances for a good answer. I emphasize the fact – this data is present on the Web, but we don’t have instruments and ideas for representing and obtaining it semantically.

Today we theoretically do know that these problems can be solved. We know that the solutions await in the new version of the Web, called by many Web 3.0, by others – the semantic web.
However, I’d like to call it differently. I’ve made my own term: “The Web full of meaning”.
I am aware that this sounds a bit like a fantasy – are we able to express meaning in computer technology, in files and databases? Meaning – that is a domain of the human mind and language? Doesn’t it sound like another prophecy of artificial intelligence? Doesn’t the term “ontology” widely used by the adepts of the “Semantic Web” lead us astray, toward some strange philosophy or bad metaphysics?

None of the above is the case. Meaning in the “Web full of meaning” is, for instance, such a method of recording a company’s address, that it may be found in an accurate way and regardless of the form of such input, regardless of language, style of writing or direction – from left to right, right to left or top to bottom.

Technology for recording objective meanings in the Web does exist. What is interesting, its foundations have been set by the already mentioned creator of the Internet, Tim Berners-Lee. As everything in the Web, the technology is remarkably simple. It is based on a certain method of recording the simplest logical sentences that describe the reality as we know it – indicative sentences, hence on using subject, predicate and object. With these elementary sentences the semantic web builds more complex meanings.

To those of you who are interested in the subject – I recommend visiting our website (There is a Semantic Web zone in Polish lanuage section).

What is interesting, in academic circles the semantic web has been discussed for several years now. Many projects, including first commercial ones, are already on the market. But, as before, the revolution takes place slowly. It is now clear that what we are dealing with again is not a technological barrier, but rather a social, or in fact, a mental one. If we could encourage all webmasters of the world to use at least a tiny bit of semantic technologies – Web 3.0 would explode in a way that Web 1.0 or, recently, Web 2.0 did. How do we do that? We all await that proper, accurate idea…

Maybe it emerges here – in Poland, maybe in Łódź…

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen, with this hope I will end my deliberations. I do not know if this will be us who prompt a breakthrough in the Web. However, I would like to assure, and I can do that with full certainty, that as when the Internet in Poland was starting to become significant, as today, when it is so important – MakoLab will always at least carefully observe its development and will at least be able to help its clients in explorations of the Internet’s new areas – areas of business, culture and technology.

We Web it for you … but first and foremost: We Web it with you !!!

20lat_MakoLab (35 of 172)

Thank you for your attention.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Web has a meaning. Influence of the Web on business

This post is the short summary of the conference "Web has a meaning" we had in Lodz a week ago. We organized it to celebrate MakoLab XX years of existence, XX years of the Web and XX years of Freedom of our Motherland.

The summary is:

The “Web has a meaning” conference took place on 28th September 2009 in Arthur Rubinstein Philharmonic Orchestra, Łódź to commemorate the 20th anniversary of MakoLab. The subject of the meeting, which gathered nearly 300 participants, was the analysis of the influence of the Web on the development of business. Lecturers from Poland, Austria and France delivered speeches in which they, looking from different points of view, answered the question of how the internet changes modern business.

In the introduction of the conference, Vice-marshal of the county of Łódź, Mr. Witold Stępień and vice-president of Łódź, Mr. Włodzimierz Tomaszewski presented short speeches relating to the 20th anniversary of MakoLab and the subject matter of the meeting.

The conference was opened by President of Board of MakoLab SA, Mr. Wojciech Zieliński, and lead by Mr. Jacek Grudzień – a well-known journalist from Łódź who popularizes the topic of innovative enterprises operating in the region of Łódź.

In the introductory lecture, Vice-president of Board of MakoLab S.A., Dr. Mirosław Sopek, briefly described the history of the Web and focused on the critical moment in its history which is characterized, according to the speaker, by the slow expiry of the formula of Web 2.0 and by the anticipation of a new revolution. According to Sopek, it will consist of introducing semantic solutions, leading to the creation of “a Web full of meaning”.

Jean Philippe Mathes, representing Renault Scope and RCI Banque, presented a lecture of a meaningful title – “Why we fight”. Using references to the famous “Cluetrain Manifest”, he described how difficult the process of introduction of Web solutions in a large corporation was. Relating to the financial web services of RCI Banque, he demonstrated the significance of e-commerce in the auto industry.

Rainer Gangl, representing Austrian agency Gangl Consulting, presented an interesting technological and business model of publishing of advertisements on the Web that still manages to compete with Google ads. He also emphasized the potential social systems such as Facebook provide to business.

Rafał Brzoska, founder and co-owner of, InPost and InPost Finanse demonstrated the meaning of the Web for the traditional business of parcel delivery. The speaker stated that the key to success lies on the junction of network communication and traditional business that cannot be replaced by the web. An interesting part of Brzoska’s speech was the reflection on the threats springing from the universality of network systems.

Sławomir Lachowski – creator of mBank and former president of BRE Bank presented a lecture which emphasized the significance of development of the IT sector and the laws of Moore, Metcalf and Glider associated with it, which are required for proper understanding of the processes taking place in modern business. According to the speaker, the Internet markets realize the ideal model of capitalism as seen by Adam Smith, in which exists complete and unrestricted access to information, variety of buyers and sellers, there are no barriers of entry and the costs of transfers decreased to zero.

After the plenary lectures, a discussion panel with the lecturers took place, during which the image of the Web in the coming decade was discussed. As a conclusion of the interesting talk, Mr. Mirosław Sopek, PhD said that, although the development of technology may be approximately predicted, forecasts regarding its business and social impact and applications are impossible to be conducted.

In the subsequent point of the conference, Mr. Andrzej Walczak, co-founder and co-owner of the Atlas group, initiated a new Internet Project called It will become a portal which, according to the initiator’s aim, will become a casual platform of Communication around places important for its users.

In the second part of the conference, President of Board of MakoLab S.A. Wojciech Zieliński and Michał Jaskólski, the leader of the jury, presented the results of the „Young Talent Contest”. „Visual Search” by Mr. Jacek Ciereszko won the competition, while „Funkee Search” by Mr. Michał Kujawski and Mr. Krzysztof Lewiński received a honorable distinction. The laureates of the contest were awarded with prizes.

The conference was ended by the performance of Affabre Concinui.
Here are some pictures from the conference:

Monday, October 05, 2009

Of Love and Death – The Dying Animal

Philip Roth is an American writer. Born in 1933, he is the author of many famous books. To name a few: “Goodbye, Columbus”, “American Pastoral”, “The Human Stain” and “The Plot Against America”.

The Dying Animal” explores those corners of human mind where the lust and sexual desires live.
The main character of the book is the aging man named Kepesh, an intellectual celebrity, amateur pianist and university scholar.
Divorced when was still quite young he kept his solitude as a virtue, a freedom and ... the ground for endless sexual adventures with his young female students. His life was well arranged,
promiscuous and easy-going until, at age 62, he meets Consuela, a beautiful offspring of Cuban emigrants. Initially his desire for her is almost only bodily, almost fleshly and full of fetish obsession about her breast. But as Consuela demonstrates her freedom – he almost falls in love with her. This love reveals itself in a strange way – in his morbid jealousy for her, for her friends, boyfriends and even brothers. I say “almost” because during the affair with Consuela he maintains the sexual relations with his previous lover. Reading the book it is very hard to judge if Kepesh was only an animal with sexual desire to Consuela, or if he truly loved her, but was intimidated by his senescence, generation gap etc...

There is also an interesting part about father-son relations. Kepesh – the bad father, who forsook his son when he broke his marriage, has, nevertheless, an important role in boy’s life.

The book ends in completely unanticipated and tragic way – shocking the readers at first. However, in the tragedy and uncertainty of the book climax lies its most important virtue – the reflection on, sometimes insecure and full of abeyance, yet true love and caring, the love that has a power to fight the death. That is my rendering of Kepesh final indecisiveness – contrary to many reviews I have read...

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Groundswell - ClueTrain Manifesto fulfillment?

Forrester Research analysts coined a new term to designate the coordinated effect Web 2.0's social media has on business - A Groundswell.

The book written by Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li offers very deep and substantial account, illustrated by many case studies, on the fundamental importance of social media for today's business.

I look at this book from two perspectives. The first one is purely analytical and concrete - here the book gives a lot of data, statistics, charts and illustrations. It is really as a kind of handbook on social media. It offers many interesting case studies, including social media adventures of companies like Lego, Dell, GM, Salesforce - to name a few...

The another perspective is rather reflective. Ten years ago, ClueTrain Manifesto almost predicted this swell called Social Media. Well, for ClueTrain authors the swell was already there.
In some sense, as with many far-reaching predictions - we wait much longer than initially anticipated. Today, it is Groundswell - the book, that fullfils, or , rather, describes the fulfillment of Cluetrain Manifesto.

I hope, the term, coined by Forrester analysts will survive as a very good label of the entire social media revolution and its meaning for business.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

The Lost Symbol - A mixed blessing

I must first say that I'm confused and torn apart any time when someone asks me about the latest Brown's novel - The Lost Symbol. Let me start with the following judgment - it is a very good page-turner (if you read it), or your ear-bender (if you listen to it). The narration is great. Even after many days after reading you still can recall the tension of the plot and the feeling of being there with the heroes - almost seeing with their eyes.
As I said before - Dan Brown is unquestionable great story teller and just for a mere pleasure of reading good story - this book is worth reading.

However, when it comes to the essence - it is just opposite - it is a very strange book.

First of all, the book uses the same pattern of elements we know from "Da Vinci Code" - you could almost map the characters from the two novels one-to-one. Even the secret device of "The Lost Symbol" is almost the same in its role as it was in "Da Vinci Code". No original ideas...

"The Lost Symbol" explores the mysteries and secretes of Masonic societies. On the surface, you feel the positive attitude of the author to Masons and their subculture. But when you think a bit of, somehow, unwanted effects - this attitude becomes less positive. The cornerstone of the plot - the imminent "nation-wide security threat" is the threat of publication of the movies recorded during Mason ceremonies, with several high-level US officials participating ...
Come on ! What author achieves for the people who do not know the truth about Masons - is that they continue thinking with prejudice and bias against them !!!

There is such a big amount of primitive naiveté, that I marvel at Dan Brown's talent to write something like that. For example, two of the most important heroes, just after the most traumatic events of their lives, just after killing of their son and nephew, in less than 1 hour start to philosophize and discuss abstract truths and ponder on religious matters. BTW, these discussion are worthless, bombastic and almost void of any value.

Another primitivism is demonstrated when it comes to the "scientific" reasearch done by the book heroine. I think Brown could invent something more intriguing than "soul weighing"....

So, I do not wonder when I see such reviews like that of William Sutcliffe's - where he writes: "(the book) is filled with cliché, bombast, undigested research and pseudo-intellectual codswallop".

There is only one moment in the plot which is quite natural and very moving, when the antagonist reveals his true identity. But even this very moving scene is later spoiled by the author, who do not build any interesting conclusion of this pivotal moment of the plot.

So what now ? Read it - and tell me what do you think....

PS. Solution of the riddle: it was from "The Lost Symbol" :-)