SNS in the News - March 11, 2004

Techies turn out for a sage of the e-mail age
By Marcus Gibson
Published: March 11 2004 18:41 | Last Updated: March 11 2004 18:41

Every Sunday evening, Mark Anderson sits down in a small office north of Seattle that looks out on the coast of Canada, four miles away, to write the next edition of a newsletter that has become required reading for know-it-all techies around the world.

His Strategic News Service, or SNS, launched in 1995, was probably the first subscription e-newsletter on the internet.

Today its mix of predictions, reports and sector overviews continues to intrigue regular readers, who include Michael Dell, founder of Dell Computers, and Craig Mundie, technology chief at Microsoft, as well as leading scientists and commentators.

Next week, some of his subscribers in the UK will have a chance to meet Mr Anderson when he visits London for a dinner at Home House, the entrepreneurs' club. Although they may have exchanged e-mails with him for years, it will be the first time many of them will have met him.

"This job was made for me," says 52-year-old Mr Anderson, who began writing SNS when he worked as a telecommunications consultant. "I needed 'smart' clients and I got fed up with copying and sending hundreds of pages of information in order to educate them about the world beyond their front doors." So he turned to e-mail.

In spite of its forward-looking content, however, his newsletter remains resolutely low-tech in appearance. It has no polished design, no colourful illustrations or graphics, just plain text in black-and-white, in a rather small typeface.

His subscribers, who he numbers "in the thousands", pay almost $500 (£280) a year for their weekly bulletins, enabling Mr Anderson to make a living from his e-publishing venture. His international outlook helps.

"He tries hard not to be US-centric - one of the few American commentators who appreciates there's a big world outside the lower 48 states," says Neil Gregory, director of business and enterprise at the London School of Economics and an SNS regular. "Many of the predictions put forward are provocative and spark strong debate."

Recently, readers received his Top 10 Predictions for 2004, which make stark reading, especially for western manufacturers.

"Those observers who think that China's domination of the global economy is still some comfortable decade or two away are in for a rough surprise," he wrote. "As China moves towards manufacturing the most advanced chips, leading the world in stem cell research, and exporting top-line value-added goods, that hoped-for buffer will turn into years - or months."

He is no Microsoft acolyte but remains an admirer of Bill Gates' strategic business skills. "We no longer live in a Microsoft World. This is probably hard for non-industry types to believe. Two years ago, it seemed as though MS were an inevitable juggernaut that would consume every technology market on the planet.

"Today, as a litany of successful new platforms arise, and as the definition of platforms changes, this seems much less of a threat."

His solution to web viruses is simple: no computers should be allowed to connect to the internet without up-to-date anti-virus software, and no internet service provider should provide an internet link until the computer is protected.

Next, 2004 will be the year that materials - "that dreary science" - will come of age. "And there's no obvious leader yet. It's an open game."

When talking about WiFi, Mr Anderson is a man possessed. "Don't underrate its power," he says. "It heralds universal remote working. It's all about portable computing, not mobile computing, but the cell phone operators don't understand the difference yet."

But SNS subscribers do not take such predictions lying down. His extremely well-informed readership floods his in-box with counter-arguments.

"If I'm wrong I find out about it in 18 seconds - via e-mail," says Mr Anderson.

Predictions "must live in the real world", he says, taking into account all of the relevant factors: geopolitics, personalities, basic trends and demographics.

It is this trait that appeals to SNS members such as Admiral Bill Owens, once vice-chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff. "I get other newsletters, including some very expensive ones from the investment bank community," he says. "But none are as good. It's not just about technology, but much else. It's built on a coalescence of thoughts."

What tips does Mr Anderson have for the humble personal computer user?

"Get a second screen," he insists. "For only $500 you can increase your productivity by 15 per cent - because we tend to do two things at once." However, he admits to struggling along with one screen himself - another might block out his cherished view of Canada.