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The diamond trade hasn’t exactly enjoyed a great reputation over the past years. Not least thanks to Hollywood movies like Blood Diamond, these gems are inextricably percieved as covered with the blood spilt in civil wars all over Africa.

But diamonds are also a key export of many poor African nations.

Despite some initial progress being achieved by the Kimberly Process certification scheme, diamonds’ persisting bloody reputation isn’t exactly undeserved. Many still find their way into the world market, dominated by De Beers, from appalling sources.

Groups like Amnesty International and One Sky have criticised the certification scheme as lacking impartial, obligatory monitoring. Global Witness, an NGO specialising on the link between natural resource exploitation and violence reported the scheme to be failing to address issues of non-compliance, smuggling, money laundering and human rights: “The clock is running out on Kimberley Process credibility.”

Other problems include that diamonds from conflict-ridden Zimbabwe are still considered legitimate under the Kimberly Process; and the mind boggles as to what real effects membership of countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo may have on the ground. Several civil wars currently rage within the Congo’s boundaries.

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Microsoft’s 1991 “Press Computer Dictionary” defined “Vaporware” as follows (taken from Bayus et al.):

“vaporware n.  (1) a product that the vendor keeps promising is about to arrive ‘really soon now’, but it goes so long past its shipment date that no one believes it will ever really ship […] (2) slang for announced software that may never materialize […]; (3) a term used sarcastically for promised software that misses the announced release date, usually by a considerable length of time”

Into management language “vaporware” could probably best be translated as “strategic product pre-announcement”. Especially in technological network markets, corporations with strong market power pre-announce upcoming products and promise a wide range of features so that customers refrain from adopting or even switching to an already existing alternative solution. The rationale behind those strategies is relatively simple and it transcends network markets, reaching into the realm of standardization with network effects in general: “the standard that is expected to become the standard will become the standard”, as Shapiro and Varian put it in their seminal book “Information Rules” (1999, p. 13).

For decades, Microsoft was the uncrowned king of vaporware. (Actually, already in 1985 Bill Gates received the “Golden Vaporware Award” by Infoworld’s editor Stewart Alsop.) The long pre-announced introduction of Windows 95 is legendary and has just recently been topped by Microsoft starting to announce new features of Windows 7 immediately after the release of its unloved Windows Vista.

Seen in this light, the recent reactions of Microsoft officials to Google’s pre-announcement of “Chrome OS” (see “Microsoft vs. Google: New Fronts in a Paradigmatic Battle“) do not lack unintentional humor. Microsoft’s Senior Vice President, Bill Veghte, bemoaned in an interview that “so far Google’s Chrome OS is nothing more than a blog post.” Even more revealing is yesterday’s remark of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, as reported by CNET:

“Gates said it was hard to really say much about Chrome OS, since Google has said so little about how it will actually work. ‘The more vague they are, the more interesting it is,’ he said.”

Both critiques resemble accusations Microsoft regularly had to deal with in the past. But maybe Microsoft is right and Google will be its successor to the throne of vaporware. We will see.

(leonhard)

When the chief of Microsoft Germany, Achim Berg, predicted in an interview in the “Berliner Zeitung” that “the free-of-cost-culture on the Internet draws to a close” last Saturday, this happened not only weeks after Microsoft had started its own, free-of-charge search engine “bing” but also only days before Google’s announcement of “Chrome OS”: A new open source operating system on top of a Linux kernel and delivered, of course, for free. On the Official Google Blog Chrome OS was announced as follows:

“[T]he operating systems that browsers run on were designed in an era where there was no web. So today, we’re announcing a new project […] — the Google Chrome Operating System. It’s our attempt to re-think what operating systems should be. Google Chrome OS is an open source, lightweight operating system that will initially be targeted at netbooks. Later this year we will open-source its code, and netbooks running Google Chrome OS will be available for consumers in the second half of 2010. Because we’re already talking to partners about the project, and we’ll soon be working with the open source community, we wanted to share our vision now so everyone understands what we are trying to achieve.”

Is this re-opening the operating system wars of the 1980s? Is this the beginning of serious open source competition for Microsoft’s proprietary business model? In other words, are we witnessing a paradigmatic battle of open versus proprietary innovation regimes with Google and Microsoft as its most prominent antipodes? I am not so sure. But maybe the Pirate Party’s sole member in the European Parliament, Christian Engström, was right in his interesting op-ed in the Financial Times yesterday:

“The world is at a crossroads. The internet and new information technologies are so powerful that no matter what we do, society will change. But the direction has not been decided.”

(leonhard)

Sounds ridiculous? Yet, it is becoming possible. The Programme for Endorsement of Forest Certification schemes (PEFC) announced last week that the Italian brewery Gino Perisutti now offers two types of beer that carry a PEFC logo. PEFC offers certification services to forest operations practicing responsible forest management in accordance with the PEFC principles and criteria of good forest management, as well as to producers using certified material in their final products. Its logo enables buyers and consumers to identify products coming from well-managed forests.

The two types of beer are brewed on the ingredients coming from PEFC-certified forests: spruce bark, mountain pine buds and Scotch pine needles from PEFC-certified forests in north-eastern Italy. In addition to the PEFC-certified ingredients and classical beer components, Gino Perisutti’s beer also contains fair-trade species.

Although it may sound funny, such events may be interpreted as evidence of the increasing scope of forest certification as a form of governance and of the growing market visibility of products that have been certified as meeting the standards of responsible management of natural resources. In turn, the growing visibility helps consumers identify and recognize more responsibly produced products and purchase them and thereby support systems of governance aiming at promoting the sustainable use of nature. No doubt, as consumers, stakeholders and researchers we should also be aware of what is behind the logo but even the very fact that such logos are becoming increasingly important in the market can become one of the crucial drops in the ocean of local and global politics of nature.

(olga)

Together with our recent guest blogger Sebastian Botzem from the Social Science Research Center in Berlin I prepared a piece for this year’s EGOS Colloquium, which is taking place in wonderful Barcelona. In the sub-theme titled “The social dynamics of standardization” we are presenting our paper “The Rule of Standards: Codifying Power in the Transnational Arena” (PDF), in which we try a relatively unorthodox comparison: We contrast the case of Microsoft Windows as a technological market standard with non-technological and negotiated accounting standards in the realm of the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB).

Not least to our own surprise, both examples of standardization show many similarities that allow drawing conclusions for transnational governance by standard setting in general. Among these are the following:

  • Due to coordination effects, in both cases an increase in the total number of adopters paves the way for – though not guaranteeing – one dominating standard.
  • While having been developed differently (market competition vs. political negotiation), in both cases growing standard diffusion reduced the need for participatory or inclusive modes of standard-setting (see the figure below).
  • Finally and again observable in both cases, growing adoption can trigger what we call the dialectics of power in standardization: The successful establishment of a standard redistributes benefits and power among affected actors and feeds back into the standard formation process.

Comparing Standardization Processes

But aside from these conclusions, the paper may also illustrate why gathering seemingly very different empirical fields under the common umbrella of “governance across borders” in this blog might make sense after all.

(leonhard)

The Book

Governance across borders: transnational fields and transversal themes. Leonhard Dobusch, Philip Mader and Sigrid Quack (eds.), 2013, epubli publishers.
July 2009
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