Richard Giles: International Authority in Technology, the Internet, New Media, and Marketing
This week, Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P., DF/NPA,
CNP, has an exclusive interview with Richard Giles.
Richard is an internationally recognized
expert in technology, gadgets, the internet, new media, and marketing with more
than 15 years experience in the industry.
Richard works for Sun Microsystems in Australia, helping corporations in their use of technology in business. He is the host of The Gadget Show, and author
of several books including the Podcasting Pocket Guide from O’Reilly Media, Inc.,
as well as the upcoming Whole Internet Guide to Podcasts and Internet Audio,
and How to Use Flickr: The Digital Photography Revolution.
Q: Richard, your international audience and
reputation as the guru of community based technologies on the internet are
growing. Thank you for taking the time out of your very tight schedule to do
A: Thank you for the kind words; it’s my
pleasure to be involved.
Q: Can you detail your computing and internet
history since the late 1980s’? Moreover, can you share the most important
lessons from this journey?
A: I’ve loved technology since before I
owned a Commodore 64 in the early eighties. I hung out with other geeks and
played with bulletin board systems—the predecessor to residential Internet
accounts—dabbling with Microsoft software and playing computer games. We’d swap
software, which meant we didn’t have a manual that instructed us how to play a
game. I think that helped my ability to pick up technology very quickly. I
mean, who reads manuals these days anyway?
My career in technology started in England when I worked for a cellular network provider. It was the early nineties and
very bleeding edge; if you can call cell phones built the size of a briefcase,
bleeding. I was the first in the company to prove that people were committing
fraud by using other people’s cell numbers so they could receive free calls.
I returned to Australia soon after that and started a commerce degree at university. I didn’t tackle a
computer science degree because I was certain that everyone else would, and
there would be a glut of oversupply. Instead I chose an information technology
I discovered the Internet just before
Mosaic (the first graphical web browser) was released and started hand coding
web pages. Back then you could choose any background color, as long as it was
I approached a lecturer and expressed an
interest in studying TCP/IP, which is the technology that underpins the
Internet. He told me not to bother because the Internet was just a fad. Several
months later I was contracting to a number of organizations developing things
like web pages and completing reports on how news groups can be used to
facilitate science parks. Having entered university as a mature age student,
I’d already become cynical of lecturers’ knowledge, but that cemented my
Since the completion of my degree I’ve
worked with web developers, Internet service providers, and now Sun
Today, however, I believe that the Internet
is about people. Business would love dearly to co-opt the network, but the
control is firmly entrenched with massive communities (with mostly
non-commercial agendas), that companies only dabble in the real fun.
Q: You are a pioneer in blogging and
podcasting. The following questions delve into your expertise.
Can you define blogging and the value to businesses and IT communities? How
would one get into blogging?
A1) Blogging is all about authentic
conversations. Those two words almost completely encapsulate the idea. The
public is so used to corporate speak and messages washed by PR or marketing
that it’s so refreshing to hear someone speak like they are human. It’s not to
say that blogs are correct, but at least the voice of person who writes has the
opportunity to shine, and they can be as opinionated as they want. That
Journalism, in general, is traditionally one-way.
A major media company tells us what they want us to hear. Now the message might
be unbiased or biased, but there has been little opportunity for feedback.
Blogs, on the other hand, provide a mechanism for almost immediate feedback. If
you look around the blogoshere you’ll find people agreeing, disagreeing, or
starting their own conversation. It’s a wonderful community; like hundreds of
beer halls around the world.
So how does that work for a company or
community? Well, every company should foster conversations with their
customers, suppliers, or the public. It does at least two things. Firstly, it leverages
other people’s knowledge. Secondly, it lets your communities know you are
really listening to them.
To get started, first search for a few
topical blogs that you know you’ll find interesting. Use Google or Technorati.
Then start your own (Wordpress, Blogger, or Typepad have free or cheap
accounts). Just let the words spill out, start linking, conversing, and see
where it leads you. You’ll be surprised at the result.
Please extend this definition now into podcasting?
A2) Podcasting is interesting for a couple
of other reasons. In general the written word is great. Being a writer I
understand the power if affords. However, audio provides a forum for a lot
quicker freeform thinking. I often find that when I speak my brain’s
subconscious gets to vocalize along with my conscious. So a lot of useful
information can flood out. It’s also much easier listening to someone speak
than reading a transcript (it’s also a lot quicker to produce).
The other amazing artifact of the human
race is that we love to speak to each other. The preference is for
face-to-face, but via voice (like telephone) is next best. It just adds so much
weight to a relationship that you’ll never get via something like email. So
podcasting is actually an awesome way to network with people all over the
I’ve met some amazing people using Skype (a
voice over IP phone system), that live in all parts of the world. That’s all
been introduced through the podcasts I produce.
Where do you see this evolving in the short, medium, and long term; and can you
A3) I’ll try and rein-in my response,
because it’s something I’d need hours to chat about. There’s so much happening,
and the technology is really starting to spread its wings.
In the short term, blogs and podcasts offer
everyone an alternative to major media. That means you can participate or just
read/listen, but you get to hear alternative voices. Look at the blog posts
around 911 and Katrina and you’ll see humans talking. Instead of media just
looking for what sells on the evening news, there were real people talking
about real events. That’s a lot to do with citizen media -- a term bandied
In the medium term we’ll all be provided a mechanism
to filter more effectively what we read, hear and watch. Rather than it being
filtered by a large organization that filters based on what it thinks most
people want, you’ll be given the opportunity to filter it to suit you. Like
TiVo on steroids.
That might sound a little disconnected from
blogs and podcasts, but this is what the underlying technology will support.
Long term is much harder to predict. I
think shortly we’ll be provided with much more versatile networking, very
cheaply. The ability to communicate anywhere anytime is just evolving. Couple
this with online services that are getting much smarter (like Google knowing
what we want and where we want it), and we’ll see a communications revolution
that spreads beyond location and class.
What specific equipment and software would you recommend to get into
podcasting: both for the novice and then the more serious podcaster?
A4) A novice who wants to podcast should just
grab a microphone for their PC and start talking. Audioblog.com is a great
place to start.
If you’re a little more serious you can
still do it all on a budget. I use a free audio editing tool called Audacity
that allows me to add music, splice in different segments, and then cut the
quality down to something manageable. Then there is just hosting of the audio
file that needs considering. A lot of people use libsyn.com.
My Gadget Show podcast (http://www.thepodcastnetwork.com/gadget/)
is provided through The Podcast Network. They are a professional podcasting
organization that helps set up professional podcasters. They have quality
requirements, and they don’t just publish any type of show, but if you’ve got a
good idea you can always contact them to see if they’re interested in hosting a
How do you see your work evolving into the future?
A5) I’m planning on breaking into new
media. I think helping companies get and stay in touch with their communities
utilizing the Internet has a huge future. I think weblogs and podcasts only
scratch the surface. Wait until online media really takes off with online
gaming and video on demand. I think these offer amazing possibilities.
Q: Can you talk more about your books and
share some tips from each of them?
A: I have three books. The “Podcasting
Pocket Guide”, already published, contains some excerpts from “The Whole
Internet Guide to Podcasting and Internet Audio” and “Podcast Hacks”. The
actual Whole Internet Guide will be published in January, and contains the
history of podcasting, how to subscribe, and a selection of over 100 podcasts
that are available on the Internet.
It took a long time to write. For each show
I listened to several episodes, which could take about to three or four hours
each. I took some time off work to kick-start the writing, and only managed
about 3 pages a day. That’s slow going.
The fun part was communicating with the
individual podcasters themselves. There are some amazing voices with some real
talent, and they’re spending their spare time creating some interesting
Personally I believe that you can get some
great free insight and knowledge from podcasts. Certainly within the technology
industry I think if you listen to the right shows you can gain some competitive
advantage, because you can hear some of the world’s top thinkers talk about
The latest book is “How to Use Flickr: The
Digital Photography Revolution”. It’s due for publication in March 2006. It’s
an awesome application, with the core based around a community. It’s a great
example of building new tools online that help communities build and learn from
each other. If you haven’t looked at it, spend some time exploring some of the
photographs and groups. Some are really, really beautiful. A quick tip is to
check their interestingness feature.
Personally I think Flickr fills a gap.
Twenty years ago, you take 20 snapshots on a holiday and plug them into a photo
album. When you wanted to share them with friends or families you’d whip out
the tomb and pass it around over a cup of cocoa.
Today we take several hundred photographs,
copy them to our computers and if we’re smart print a few or back it up on a
DVD. Locked about in a hard drive or DVD isn’t that easy to share with the
family. Flickr provides an amazingly easy mechanism to share all your photographs
with friends and family, even if they’re dispersed around the world. That’s not
even touching on the group aspects of the application.
Q: Can you provide some predictions of
future trends, their implications and business opportunities?
Trend 1: Cheap communications
Implication: Cell phones are getting so cheap now that soon people in remote China will be able to connect. Some of these people don’t even have a TV, but soon
will be able to receive video via the cellular network; hopefully this won’t be
restricted by conglomerates wanting to charge high tariffs (see Trend 2 for the
Business Opportunity: Nokia and Motorola know. But we’ve only seen the start of true
widespread communications. If you can leverage a network, then there is a
rapidly growing market.
Trend 2: Open spectrums
Implication: Today governments approach spectrum like a scarce resource.
Computing technology can now filter noise like it does on a wired network. Even
if there is some interference, a receiver can filter it in hardware or
The repercussion of freeing spectrum is
that you don’t need to be rich to own a transmitter. Just like using a wifi
base station at home, freeing it up means that almost any device could become a
transmitter and receiver.
Nicolas Negroponte explained this best in a
Wired Magazine article (Issue 10.10) when he suggested it was like lily pads
and frogs. Instead of network traffic, like a voice call needing to communicate
with a major telecommunications companies’ receivers, the signal could bounce
from one small device to another. Imagine a voice call using whatever device
nearby to relay the call; say a cellphone, or wifi Internet connection.
Business Opportunity: This is similar to Trend 1, but obviously more concerning for
major telcos. However, it opens the door for consumer electronics to break the
Trend 3: Leveraging mob intelligence
Implication: Google does this now with its ranking. The more people that link
to a website, the higher it will result in a search. Not only that, if a more
authoritative source, such as one that’s already ranked high, links to a
result, its Google rank increases at a greater rate. They just leverage the
world’s intelligence to produce the best results.
This is just the beginning. We’ll see many
other examples of people leveraging large communities’ collective intelligence.
Business Opportunity: Start thinking of ways to capitalize on your communities, and
you’ll find new opportunities.
Trend 4: Online entertainment
Implication: Xbox Live is connecting people all around the world and throwing
them into multiplayer games. Now that the Xbox 360 has launched, we’ll see a
mass of games that immerse people into entertainment. Soon the boundary between
a TV show or movie and an online game will blur. Wait for the first cross media
game that lets players tell the story.
Business Opportunity: Beyond game companies, this offers new possibilities to
advertisers, and new media.
Q: For the future, which specific new
internet technologies do you find will have the greatest impact on history?
A: What an awesome question.
I think mobile technology has only just
started to show its potential. I call it mobile technology because I think in
several years we won’t distinguish between cell phones, personal digital
assistants, iPods, cameras, etc. The cost to produce them is spiraling
downwards, and I think when literally anyone can own one we’ll see a shift in
how communications affects society.
When anyone, anywhere can publish a
photograph, video, or commentary at close to no cost, we’ll see changes in
everything from media to politics. I think weblogs and podcasts demonstrate
that we’re its doorstep.
Q: From your perspective, what are key
areas to watch in Asia?
A: China, Korea, and India are
amazing to watch. Take Korea for instance. Any country that has several TV channels dedicated to
professional computer gaming is switched on. China and India on
the other hand will be able to harness communications to shrink the world’s
market. It doesn’t matter where you live or work now, just what you offer.
Q: Richard, knowing your busy schedule, we
really appreciate the time you have taken to share your expertise with our
A: No thank you. It’s always fun thinking
several years ahead, and I don’t often get to share my thoughts. I’m always happy
to share my time with others; just flick me a mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.