Why Data Stored as DNA Won’t Go Out of Style

Whether it’s a sixty year-old unemployment system written in Cobol or a data warehouse on its last legs, every enterprise grapples with legacy technology. What’s worse, every technology will eventually become legacy, regardless of how vibrant it looks today. But what if that wasn’t the case? What if there was a technology that would be viable as long as humans are around to use it? 

During a recent webinar on DNA computing, I described DNA-based data storage as future-proof. Some of the attendees pushed back on this idea and I wanted to explore it here. 

DNA data storage is based on two families of technologies and processes: DNA synthesis and DNA sequencing. Sequencing gets most of the attention in the press, typically around the falling prices to sequence a genome. On the other side of the DNA story, synthesis is the process of creating DNA either through a biological process or in a lab. In the context of DNA computing, DNA synthesis is used to write strands of synthetic DNA that represent your data. Those strands are sequenced to read the data, which is then converted back into its digital form. The figure below attempts to illustrate this. 

These two key technologies, sequencing and synthesis, will continue improving because they are essential to life sciences. The need for them to become faster and cheaper is constant. But whether synthetic or organic, they’re still just working with DNA. There’s little risk that we’ll create a DNA 2.0 that isn’t backwards compatible with current and future sequencing and synthesis technologies. After all, those are the technologies we’d use to create that new version.

As long as there are humans around to read it, DNA-based data storage is the only future-proof storage technology we’re likely to discover.* This, coupled with its incredible storage density of 200PB/gram and a half-life of 500 years, makes DNA storage one of the most compelling technologies in development. 

*This doesn’t mean that the data your storing as DNA can’t be damaged. High temperatures and ultraviolet light degrade DNA over time, so you’ll still need to take some precautions to ensure fidelity. 

Esports Changes the Influencer Game for Brands

The rise of esports signifies a major shift in how brands will connect with prospects and customers: from prerecorded, mastered content with large production efforts, to casual, ad hoc live streams from a bedroom repurposed as a studio. Some media brands, like ESPN and TBS, have already gotten on board. Others will follow quickly.

The Complexity of Esports Will Offer Massive Rewards

It is difficult to find analogies for esports in traditional sports. In traditional sports, like American football, everyone plays the same game and cheers for (or against) the same established teams. Esports is much more fluid, with new games and creators emerging on a monthly or weekly basis. What works for one audience may not work for another. Game-specific, customized efforts will be required to engage with different communities as brands enter the esports market.

If brands are successful at entering the esports market, they can tap into a rich demographic that they typically have a hard time reaching: Millennials and Generation Z. Three-quarters of esports viewers are between 10 and 35 years old, representing a massive amount of potential consumer spend.

Brands Must Cultivate a Range of Creators

While well-known esports personalities like Ninja get a good chunk of the headlines, I believe the trend towards sponsoring content creators won’t be towards the largest names. Instead, I believe brands will get much better return on investment by working with creators that are extremely focused on a specific region or game and drive higher audience engagement. The days of low-engagement campaigns using an Instagram influencer with 5 million followers is fading. The new model is becoming hyper-focused and hyper-engaged.

This means brands must work with multiple content creators that collectively align to the brand’s strategic objectives. This will have a corresponding increase in relationship management, from scouting creators to releasing them. Given the pressures of creating live-stream content, which is challenging to scale, high levels of creator churn should be expected.

Prepare for Massive Shifts in the Esports Market

Like any heavily hyped market segment, lots of money has been flowing into the esports space. From arenas to gambling to sponsorship, hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested various areas of esports. Right now, brands and investors are trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t. It’s prudent to recognize that lots of people are going to lose money in esports until the space becomes more mature. That said, the opportunities are too great to ignore. Brands need to embrace esports to avoid being left behind in this new and rapidly growing market.

Using Your Presentations to Build a Content Library

I happened across a tweet from Brianne Kimmel today where she offered a practical, if unpopular, view:

She is 100% correct. If all you’re doing is speaking at one or two conferences with that deck you worked your tail off to produce on time, you should have used that time for something more substantial.

The key is leverage.

You can take that one presentation and turn it into at least three 1000-word blog posts. You can create a webinar – perhaps even training material you can sell. Or a planning toolkit or reference architecture. Get invited onto a podcast and talk about what you talked about.

There is no reason you can’t dine out for a year on the content you create from one presentation. When I make a deck, it is usually the result of 2-3 published documents. I later use the deck to create a toolkit of board-ready slides and multiple webinars throughout the course of the year. Sometimes I’ll reuse that deck in subsequent years with minor, sometimes major, changes. And everything else I created based off of that deck gets updated too.

Brianne’s advice is spot-on: focus on compounding activities. Your conference presentations can be a great beginning – or result – of those efforts. The key is leverage.

Collegiate Esports Expands Rapidly & Changes Competitive Dynamics

The growth of the esports market, particularly in US colleges, has been astronomical. Multiple universities now offer formal esports programs. Some even have coaches and dedicated esports arenas. And yes, there’s an apparent governing body – the National Association of Collegiate Esports. Today, roughly 135 colleges have an esports program.

Esports doesn’t require the massive investment of other collegiate sports, allowing smaller schools to become competitive alongside larger, more prominent rivals. Schools creating an esports program can also pair it with online education programs, and this offers two key benefits. First, schools like SUNY Canton can use their esports program to give online attendees the experience of being involved in extracurricular activities. (Much of my undergrad and graduate work was online and I always missed that feeling of being involved in the school, so I think this excellent.) Linking esports and online attendance also allows schools to recruit from a much wider talent base.

It is too early to say if this rapid expansion is just a fad or if it has an enduring future. Over the short-run, it will change how smaller schools compete for students and tuition dollars against larger schools with better brand recognition.

Amazon DocumentDB vs. MongoDB – Simplicity vs. Complexity

Amazon Web Services is making a habit of disrupting smaller enterprise software vendors. At its re:Invent conference, AWS caused quite a bit of pearl-clutching in various open source communities for its managed Apache Kafka service. The company was accused of strip-mining open source while failing to contribute back to the communities it was appropriating software from.

Last week, AWS went further by announcing a new DBMS with a MongoDB-compatible API (based on the 3.6 version). MongoDB responded predictably, but the Amazon DocumentDB announcement didn’t trigger the same reaction from the OSS community. I imagine there’s far less sympathy for MongoDB after it relicensed as a proprietary product. There have been several takes about what AWS’ announcement means for open source software, but I believe those miss the point. The point isn’t about open source. The point is about delivering what customers value and what they don’t.

The majority simply don’t value open source. In certain cases, customers value their relationships with the vendor, but only when the vendor is an engineering partner instead of merely a rent-seeker. However, those instances are exceedingly rare. Customers don’t value operational opacity and complexity, especially for technologies with extremely limited skills available in the market.

Amazon Web Services hasn’t capitalized on open source software. It has capitalized on customer demand for removing complexity. Kafka and MongoDB won’t be the last OSS projects to get blindsided by the cloud providers. I can think of at least two other “open core” enterprise software companies with overly complex products that end users would love to have someone else manage.

An Unconventional Strategy for Career Reinvention

The beginning of the year often has people thinking about not just changing jobs, but making a more radical change to a new career. The challenge is how to successfully make that change. Jump too quickly or to the wrong thing and you may be unsatisfied. Or the number of choices or fear of change may keep you locked into your unsatisfying career. What’s needed is an intermediate step – kind of Minimum Viable Career Reinvention – to test the waters in a new professional domain.

This is what Herminia Ibarra offers in her excellent book, ‘Working Identity.

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Open Source Software from the Enterprise End User Perspective

When I’m talking with clients in my day job as an industry analyst about open source core products, price always comes up. The question is the same: “If this is open source, why’s it so expensive?” Every time. And it’s not a fair question. If companies are delivering value, they deserve to get paid for that. But the reason the question is asked is the fault of vendors selling products based on open source.

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