home services portfolio clients about contact articles blog  

Value from Information

"When copies are super abundant, they become worthless. When copies are super abundant, stuff which can't be copied becomes scarce and valuable." Thus begins Kevin Kelly's latest post on The Technium. The business world in general, and the content businesses in particular, have been struggling with this basic reality. Media companies are built on being the sole distribution point for content, so if you want to read a book, watch a show, or listen to a song, you need to come to them. The internet's basic underlying structure turns this concept on its head - the content is abundant now, not scarce! While our work with researchers is somewhat different than creating music, the concepts of creating value are still true.

Kelly talks about eight ways you can deliver value built on top of content, and these two in particular demonstrate how Mains Associates delivers value to our clients. "Interpretation -- As the old joke goes: software, free. The manual, $10,000. But it's no joke. (...) I suspect a lot of genetic information will go this route. Right now getting your copy of your DNA is very expensive, but soon it won't be. In fact, soon pharmaceutical companies will PAY you to get your genes sequence. So the copy of your sequence will be free, but the interpretation of what it means, what you can do about it, and how to use it -- the manual for your genes so to speak -- will be expensive." and "Findability -- Where as the previous generative qualities reside within creative digital works, findability is an asset that occurs at a higher level in the aggregate of many works. (...) But no matter what its price, a work has no value unless it is seen; unfound masterpieces are worthless. When there are millions of books, millions of songs, millions of films, millions of applications, millions of everything requesting our attention -- and most of it free -- being found is valuable. "

Our stock in trade is really built on the two above concepts. We take complex information and make it comprehensible. This is built primarily on relating the information to you, and how you can benefit from this. The second point about "findability" (don't like that word) is often a result of our process. Most of the research topics we work with have hundreds or thousands of related papers, articles, etc., so our review process weeds out the least relevant, leaving links to the next level of detail, the most relevant.

While the world will always need people and organizations to create information in the first place, that information will quickly lose value unless they make that information useful to their audience and findable by their audience. So they question is: do you create information, or do you create value from information?

Communicating Science

Thanks to my feed reader, I scan many things every morning that I might otherwise miss. I caught this gem this morning that speaks directly to the position Mains Associates takes on communicating science. From the post,

"If the writer doesn't do a good job of explaining what the results mean and why they are important, they are likely to be missed. If you are giving a talk about your research, hopefully the audience can figure out for themselves why your information is relevant to their work, but you're doing everybody a favor if you help them."

I think if you're hoping for your audience (whether at a presentation or reading something you wrote) to figure out for themselves why you're relevant, you're playing a dangerous game of Russian Roulette. As information becomes easier and easier to find, the odds that something will pop right out at your audience are slim. It's our view that by focusing on the benefits of your research, you make it easy for people to understand how you're relevant to them while avoiding "spin". This is not an easy line to walk (trust us, we've been walking that line for 25 years!), but it is crucial that you do walk it. In addition to the Goglanglab's post commenting on the article, the original is here at Seed, which, if you have yet to check out, is well worth your time.

Mains Associates is moving!

Today is the big day; the movers are on their way and we are off to our new digs. We'll try to post a picture soon, as the view across the bay is fantastic. We think we've planned for everything, and all of our hosted sites should still be up an running during the move. Even if we did forget something, at worst everything will be up again by about Noon on Friday. Our phones will be off all day on Thursday, however our email will be functioning normally. We might not check either that frequently Thursday and Friday, so please be patient while we reconnect and we will get back to you. Thanks!

Extreme Environments

It is widely agreed that exploration drives innovation and builds prosperity. This is true whether the explorers are ancient or modern, human or robot. While we know that life gravitates toward habitats that are easy to live in, in order to make new discoveries, we need to explore new places, often extreme environments, on both the macro and micro scale. This requires that we find ways to adapt to and do work in extremes of temperature, pressure, isolation, gravity, miniaturization, and more. It is mainly entrepreneurs that create innovative solutions to these problems, and "spin-off" products and services that benefit society at-large. This is increasingly seen as the "American Way" to solve extreme environment challenges.

Mains Associates has been involved in exploration for over 25 years with an emphasis on space, and we've learned a lot about working in extreme environments. Space exploration requires development and application of a broad range of innovations in artificial life support, closed environment habitats, resource recycling, renewable solar energy use, and with proposed long-duration space missions, the ultimate need for sustainable systems. Increasingly global problems such as climate change, energy depletion, drought, disaster mitigation, etc. are being defined in similar terms.

We have been fascinated by space exploration and space research because of the innovations, technical and social, required to adapt to extreme environments. We are also convinced that international collaboration in space exploration over the years has significantly benefited both our country and the world. Exploring and learning to utilize space for all mankind is truly a noble and worthwhile pursuit. Working on global challenges probably brings out the best in us, and benefits all humankind because of the discoveries made in, and in order to adapt to, Extreme Environments.


This week, we brought "live" the Success Stories portion of the California Innovation Corridor Web site. The system that powers the database is all open-source - built on MySQL and PHP (using the Zend framework) - so we can take advantage of updates, patches, and upgrades without having to hire a huge development team. Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration... All of the Projects and Participants are profiled, and the Accomplishments section is growing day-by-day. Mains Associates and the system's beta users feel as though the system's real value is in understanding how these three elements relate to each other and in providing easy access to that related information. You can visit the system at InnovateCalifornia.net. Before you leave though, I would like to point out that this would not have been possible without the contributions of our friends at Wheeler Street Design. They toiled long and hard to customize a system to provide maximum transparency of WIRED information to site visitors - Thanks!

Web 2.0

I recently visited the expo area at the Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco to get some idea of what new collaboration tools are out there, play with them a bit, and also make some personal judgments on their likelihood of still being around for the next conference. Collaboration in all its forms was evident at this event, but a few stuck out. I won't review them extensively (Webware.com has done so already), but here are my thoughts.

Coghead: Just out of limited beta, this application allows users to author their own custom applications through a drag-and-drop web-based interface. The product is fairly intuitive and easy-to-use, and most importantly, does not require you to know any programming languages! For a small business that needs a custom app but doesn't have the money to pay a traditional developer, this may be the ticket. The main drawbacks are slow speed (it runs through Flash in your browser, and requires a good chunk of RAM) and limited ability to publish data to the Web right now. I am attempting to build a version of our HighLights Gateway™ using Coghead, and I'll let you know how that goes.

Octopz: I haven't played with this much yet, but it looks promising. It allows multiple people to review a document or screencap of a Web site online, draw or write notes or edits on the document, save and print it. Oh, and you can discuss the edits with other users in real time using either text, voice, or video chat options. This also requires a good chunk of RAM. Most of the other companies were focused on individual collaboration tools (think MySpace, de.lic.ious, etc.), but I could foresee business uses for these applications as functionality expands and individuals become used to using them.

Subscribe to our Science Intelligence Newsletter
MAINS ASSOCIATES is powered by Drupal 510.548.1262 | info@mainsgate.com