Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Back to the future: let's bring back the Truck Farms

The way the US economy is currently structured (ahem), the high (and increasing) cost of energy is going to make for a rocky ride. But in dislocation there's opportunity too. One of my favorite restructuring opportunities is underscored in this article.

I hope the increasing untenability (due to the cheap energy foundation) of the suburban lifestyle as well as industrial agriculture will combine to lead family farmers to start growing food (instead of industrial commodities) on what were once the nicely tended lawns of suburbia. Or at least those pie slices of suburbia located far away from mass transit lanes). I'm thinking a modified McMansion would make a suitable structure for staging the produced food and sheltering the supplies and equipment. Redirect the central air into a cold storage "great room". Thanks to the multiple levels of government involved, there are already good roads for bringing the food to market.

Also important: using digital mapping and routing to reduce the energy (and cost) needed to move the food from the myriad of producers to the urban consuming public. Yes, there's still a role for truck transport to play, but we will need to transition long hauls (decreasingly fresh foodstuffs) to rail in our emerging energy future.

Map communities and "openness"

For those of you who don't know, Google's MapMaker is a recently released OpenStreetMap-style "Wiki Map" for Google Maps that lets one edit "maps in the countries of Cyprus, Iceland, Pakistan, Vietnam and the Caribbean nations of: Antigua & Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Grenada, Jamaica, Netherlands Antilles, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Trinidad & Tobago"

I discovered MapMaker in a
James Fee RSS post last night. Fee's post included worthwhile and insightful links from the open source map content community, some more "maturely presented" than others (the latter link may not be suitable for corporate network browsing), but all reinforcing the point that the "open community" isn't particularly disposed to give away value to entities like Google or Microsoft or TomTom/TeleAtlas or Nokia/NAVTEQ without some form of "open goodness" given back in return. Of course, I'm not sure if this means "free" (as in beer) map content or not, but it certainly means a whole lot less encumbered with contractual verbotens than these entities are accustomed to insisting on.

It’s all fine and dandy to say that these OpenStreetMap folks have no business model in sight, but the fact remains that the “open” meme and the associated communities that rally behind that flag are very influential and have succeeded in the past in turning a significant volume of services, software and content into commodities (notably “digital” ones that are difficult-to-impossible to lock down behind a tollgate). The global economic/societal upside of this trend is that it allows new forms of businesses and applications to flourish on top of these more accessible and open (and yes, lower cost) commodity building blocks (many, many enterprises are taking advantage of the Linux stack for example), but the downside is that local business/corporate dislocations can and do occur. Some die. Some adapt (for example the IBM of today little resembles the IBM of 15 years ago).

I think it was the economist
Joseph Schumpeter who deemed this process "creative destruction", which I'd further note most often tends to be associated with the dynamics of capitalism...