bi-weekly column with timely,
relevant and possibly irreverent
insight into the BC technology
June 1st, 2007
Greenstone Venture Partners
Two Ideas Today
“Walked out this morning,
Don't believe what I saw.
A hundred billion bottles,
Washed up on the shore.
Seems I'm not alone at being alone…
A hundred billion castaways,
Looking for a home” – The Police, Message In A Bottle
few weeks ago, Judy Bishop wrote a piece in Business In
Vancouver about e-mail overload. If
you didn’t read it, the gist is that we are using e-mail
too much as a replacement for interpersonal
communication by phone or in person.
She specifically referred to e-mails that have emotion
attached to them (anger being the worst one, but cover
you’re a** blind copying of someone else’s communication
being another huge issue) that tend to be wasting a lot
of time as people can wrongly interpret meaning from
text. Judy talked about “e-mail
free” days that some corporations are instituting to try
and improve social interaction where we humans are good
(visual and audible cues to how a person really feels
are critical to communication (just ask a good poker
agree with Judy’s thesis that we are over-using the
technology beyond what it was intended to do, which is
asynchronously communicate. If you
think about it, it is a messaging service that lets you
send information for processing at some later date (5
minutes from now, to a year from now).
Its use as a real time communication system is
flawed on many levels, not the least of which is its
unreliability for arriving in real time.
E-mail’s real killer app in the corporate world
is task management. It allows you to
collect all of the things that people are asking of you,
organize, prioritize and respond in time.
If I need to communicate with you right now, I
can show up at your desk, call you,
start a video link or instant message/SMS you.
If I need to communicate with you right now, it
will be different than sending you something for review
or asking you for something that can wait.
Real time means let’s get to a solution right
now… this can’t wait. If it can
wait, send me an e-mail and I will get back to you…
major issues with e-mail that Judy cites are because it
is being used inappropriately as a real time
communication tool (I don’t mean inappropriate content
which is another problem) and not as a defined business
process. There is no need to immediately respond to an
e-mail in most cases. There is no
need to check your e-mail every five minutes either.
But e-mail free Fridays?
That’s a bit extreme…
and instant messaging are very different than e-mail.
They are short bursts of conversation mimicking
real conversation. You don’t sit
with someone and talk for 10 minutes and ask for them to
respond (well, some of you do, but you probably don’t
have many friends). So, on some
level, this real time technology is better than e-mail
for interpersonal communication. We
can attach emoticons and shorten words to near
hieroglyphics to actually engage in conversation.
If you are in a meeting and messaging on your
Blackberry to someone else, that is an attention
disorder problem facilitated by technology, not a
problem caused by the technology.
E-mail is so predominant because it worked well in the
hypergrowth phase of the
Internet. Quite simply, it worked,
where many other new technologies, especially real time
ones, were questionable. As
broadband penetration improves, so does the capability
for audio and video links in real time.
Nothing substitutes for a face to face meeting,
but high definition video that does not jitter and
freeze will be the next best thing to being there.
Of course we are still a few years from that
happening on everyone’s desktop.
E-mail is predominant because it worked in a slow
connection world. It started to get
mis-used as a real time
communication medium which has lead to the issues that
Judy speaks about. She failed to
mention carpal tunnel syndrome or Blackberry thumb which
will also gradually improve with audio/Webex
and video communication as we stop typing absolutely
E-mail will always be a fantastic task management system
if you use it as such. Over time, we
will see that it becomes used less as a synchronous
conversation medium which will ease some of the issues
we have today. There will be other
ways to talk more effectively over distance. Of course,
if you are still e-mailing the person in the next
cubicle something that can be said in person, then you
are clearly mis-using the
technology… you might want to show your face a little
more to your co-workers.
a completely different note this week…
you may know from reading in this space, I really enjoy
the stories of success in BC. I
enjoy bringing the trials, tribulations, key turning
points and rewards of entrepreneurial success to you.
Some of you suggest I should write a book.
If I did sit down and write one, it would be a
biography or a series of biographies on this topic.
Even though this would be an enjoyable
labour of love for me, I
doubt that a publisher would be interested in an
audience of about 15,000 in total, assuming all you
regular readers would pay!!!
of the most important stories in BC’s technology history
and one that I would definitely enjoy writing is the
story of MDA. Now BC’s largest
technology company, it was also the founding company
from which many, many local successes (and a few
failures) can trace their roots.
Just this week, an ex MDI friend of mine forwarded me a
link from their Google groups post that I want to share
“From: Chris Schofield
I'd like to take a little walk down memory lane - back
exactly 30 years to 1977. For those of us who are geeks,
the original Star Wars movie was being shown and the
first Apple II had gone on sale. So too had the
Commodor PET, with its 4k
memory and audio cassette storage, running Microsoft
Basic 1.0. The Internet as we know it did not exist.
Arpanet was around, but with less than 200 hosts and
X.25 was an emerging standard for packet data and UUCP,
or unix-to-unix-copy, had
not invented. There were a few early trials of packet
radio on Arpanet in the bay area.
At this time there was a group of people at Macdonald
Dettwiler and Associates,
working on a project for the RCMP to send data over
wireless modems and this resulted in a trial system for
police. A year later in 1978,
Mobile Data International was born. MDI grew
quickly after winning the Fedex
business and many of the people have since moved on to
form MDSI, Sierra Wireless, Webtech
Wireless to name a few.
Perhaps I'm just showing my age, but I personally find
the history of technology very interesting and I
recently started a pet project to record it. Last week I
was fortunate enough to spend a couple of hours with Dr
John Macdonald, who is a great leader in BC technology,
talking about the early days of MDA and spin-off
companies including MDI. A few weeks ago I interviewed
Victor Jones, who was one of the first presidents of
I will be sharing these fascinating stories and the
wisdom of the pioneering leaders through the medium of
podcasting. My first episode
of "BC Technology Review" has been posted at
with an RSS feed and it can also be found at
iTunes. Currently, I plan to
distribute a 30 minute podcast
each week as I explore the wireless and high tech
industry in BC.”
have listened to Chris’ first installment and it is like
sitting down over an ale with
John MacDonald. He is a good story
teller… but like any podcast,
it can be rambling if you are short on time!
There are some great bits in there about how the
company started and some of the little anecdotes about
commercializing technology that are still relevant
today. His second installment is
with Victor Jones, former CEO of MDI through its rapid
cool thing about what Chris is doing is that he wants to
chronicle all of the great stories of the first 30 years
of BC’s technology industry eventually.
Hopefully my exposure here helps a few of you
visit his site and his sponsors so that he can continue
this project. I will certainly be
What Do You Think? Talk Back To Brent Holliday
Something Ventured is a bi-weekly column designed
to supplement the T-Net British Columbia web site with
some timely, relevant and possibly irreverent insight
into the industry. I hope to share some of the
perspective and trends that I see in my role as a VC.
The column is always followed by feedback (if its
positive or constructive. I'll keep the flames to
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