Friday, December 10, 2004

Nano and Commerce: Part 2

Picking up where we left off in this thread: Thanks for the reporting lesson, Alan. I've been doing this professionally since my late teens, but refresher courses in journalism and clarity are always welcome. Remember, though, that this is a blog and it's the nature of blogs to draw attention to other people's reporting as a basis for your own comments.

I'd like to think that my blog serves as a catalyst for readers to go out and seek their own information, chuckle a little, call me all sorts of names and hopefully take a look at some of the traditional journalism work I'm doing. The nature of a blog is that it is not necessarily very thoughtful (although it can be), but a reflection of my thinking of the moment and the general themes in the news of the day -- it's an outline of a rough draft of the first rough draft of history.

I think they should be seen in the context of who's doing the writing, and why. What I say about nanotech, for example, might contribute a tiny drop into overall public perception, but what, say Steve Jurvetson or Josh Wolfe say on their blogs can make real money change real hands. Blogs are a challenge for the reader, as well as the writer. Who's writing this? What do they know? What's the agenda? Where do they get their information?

The same principle can and should be applied to research reports written by Lux or for anybody else. Check your source, and then take into consideration what interests the source has in the outcome.

But, just for clarity's sake, again, let me repeat my original point. It's not that I do not believe that the nanomaterials commodities business like that described by Keith Blakely (a nanomaterials businessman) and Alan Shalleck (who runs a competing news and commentary site, but charges a premium price) will eventually turn into a lucrative business for a few players.

However, the issue for me always comes back to whether the materials business in which the hard-working Blakely (for whom I have much respect) toils is really all there is to this new "nanotechnology industry." My feeling is that it is not. Blakely's business supplies the raw materials on which the first phase of a nanotech industry will someday be based. The broader story still needs to be told, and told in an understandable way, to those outside this closed group of nanomaterials insiders if this new way of doing business is going to gain mainstream acceptance and truly support itself.

I'm in New York now, preparing to talk tomorrow to a group of glaucoma specialists about nanotechnology. These researchers are the best in their field, so there is nothing new that I can tell them about the latest in glaucoma research. What I will do, though, is give them an overview of where nanotechnology is right now in a range of areas. But they should remember that I'm only showing them what groups of scientists are doing with these basic materials, properties or processes. What they need to do is filter this information, and any piece of information they read about nanotechnology, through their own priorities and goals. So, they won't see too many ophthalmological examples here. It's their job to come up with those.

The doctors in my family always asked me to explain the medical applications to nanotechnology. What I should do is turn the question back on them. "You're the expert. Tell me what you can do with this new set of tools. The folks tinkering in the labs don't necessarily know."

So, I have no doubt that Keith Blakely and NanoDynamics, along with the other makers of nanosize Tinker Toys, will perfect the process and deliver quality building blocks. But the "story" of nanotechnology does not end there. That's only the beginning. Organic light emitting diodes (OLEDS) for flat-panel displays, lighter stronger materials for the military (I'm doing separate research now on those applications) are all still only the beginnings of what will eventually become not a single nanotech industry, but embedded within all industries.

To paraphrase a point I made in a white paper I wrote for NanoMarkets earlier this year, to think of nanotech within the framework of existing applications is to severely limit the possibilities of this technology.

I have not, as Alan suggests, jumped "from booster to blaster in response to one research report." My position on nanotech has remained the same since I began covering this beat. I cannot wait for the true age of nanotech to begin. What we're doing now is discovering new kinds of raw materials and seeing how they work. We're witnessing the launch of raw materials companies and incorporation of crude nanomaterials into a few existing products. But we should not mistake these important preliminary steps for an actual leap into the new era.

Before that can begin, the nanobusiness, nanoscience and nanomedia communities are going to have to let the rest of the world in on our vision of a better world -- and better profits -- through nanotechnology. To do that, you cannot disingenuously (through design or self-deception) declare that the revolution has already begun. That will take you only so far -- will be self-sustaining for only so long -- before we're forced to show the rest of the world the man behind the curtain, and teach them how to operate the buttons and levers that control the Great and Powerful Nano. If we fail to open the curtain ourselves, it will be opened for us amid cries of "humbug" and swinging Luddite hammers.

Tell the truth, don't believe your own hype and keep ever-broader segments of the public informed. I'm doing my best on this end.

NanoBot Backgrounder
NanoCommerce: Take it Literally


AShalleck said...

Well said, Howard...Blogs are blogs but they are more than drafts.

You are a respected analyst of the nanoworld...your blog carries more weight than others...I take what you say very seriously and think about it and research your conclusions. I thank you for your contributions every day. Your perspective is true so when you sway I feel have the right to bring you back as you do me. We need your truth and directness. That Keith felt it necessary to write his piece says a great deal.

I'm of the same mind that the first stage of the value chain is not the final chapter of nanofuture. On that we agree. But every stage has its professionals and although one can argue strategy, one shouldn't take those professionals and impune their professionalism...that was my entire point.

As for excitement, as a former product man, I get turned on by frontier breaking products, not by stock market action. I believe in creating sustaining product or service value...not in stock market value ... do the first and the latter follows and has sustaining value. That's what I look for and I see developing across the world. The hell with the Wall Street bubble makers. They bet on other people's talents and ideas with ... in my view of a growing and evolving industry ... really false critera...who cares what a small new nanocompany is doing quarter to quarter and trading their stock on the basis of a contract or two. Look at the underlying value and bet medium to long term on that companies outlook and sustainability. That builds the industry...which is my primary concern these days.

I don't compete with you or those who really charge a premium price for their analyses..$4 - 5,000 per tome for information they can get from me for $100 a year. I'm amazed at what people will pay for color printed pages filled with nice but not critical information. I'll stop here...

So, have a great talk in front of your Doctors today...make em laugh and inspire them with the vision...tell them about the new materials for their specialty that will come within 3 years and point them to the companies who are doing the work...but most of all...give them a sense that this is a real industry in germinal stages and inspire them to get on board.

Have a terrific rainy day in NY.

Keith Blakely said...

Howard - Let me add one more point (and then get back to making high quality, reliable nanomaterials in commercial volumes!). You are absolutely correct when you say that the nanomaterials industry is not all there is to nanotechnology. As you know, but others may not, we have organized NanoDynamics to not only produce the tinker toy building blocks, but to manufacture components and devices from our own starting materials as a way to capture additional value and, as importantly, demonstrate the power of nanotechnology.

If you are just a materials supplier, you are several processing steps away from the end user and have a difficult time influencing materials selection and integration into final products. By being able to produce components and devices, you can selectively create compelling products that demonstrate how important those tinker toys are in the final performance and competitive position of an end product. You also control the timing of introducing products to the marketplace that use these new and novel materials. That has been our strategy from day one (again, a lesson learned from the advanced ceramics industry) and, so far, it appears to be working well. Our first product, the Revolution-50(tm) portable solid oxide fuel cell was introduced in early November at the San Antonio conference to tremendous response. By incorporating nanomaterials into the fuel cell design, the Rev-50 offers higher performance, lighter weight, smaller volume than competing systems, AND runs off a conventional cylinder of propane. That is the kind of tangible evidence of what nanomaterials can do that will cause others to consider using them for their own products.

Howard Lovy said...

The nanobusiness community might be shocked and surprised to learn that I might have opened some doors for them by opening some eyes to nano during my talk to glaucoma specialists tonight. More later.