Media Influencer

helping people break out of pigeonholes since 2003

Quote to remember

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It’s not about the money, it’s about ALL the money.
- description of the entertainment business in Wired article Myka: One Set-Top Box to Rule Them All?

Facebook Anthem

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Came late to this party, just found it on Johnnie’s blog. Rather apt I thought:

Reminder link.

Quote to remember

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For 100 years companies have been pushing what they think people are interested in out through one way communications channels. But now that people are redefining the rules of engagement, companies have to rediscover how to interact with people. It’s about unlearning a lot of behaviors and reacquiring the voice that businesses used in the days before mass advertising and promotion in the conversations that occurred between the village storekeepers and the people in the community. It’s hard to do, but by listening to people (remember the earhorn?) and not being afraid to get involved in the conversation, companies can slowly find that voice.
- Marc Monseau in Hanging with Mommy Bloggers

What’s in a social network? A Facebook by any other name would be as useless… discuss

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A friend shared with me a link to this article about how pointless Facebook is.. and while we are at it the whole social networks malarky etc etc…despairing how some people around her are taking refuge, er, applauding wisdom contained within.

I am not an indiscriminate fan of social networks and some of Fabrizio’s gripes have a point especially the one about privacy… although he does come across as an old cranky, dare I say it, web-o-phobe. His objections against Facebook and social networks are not entirely unreasonable and from a personal perspective justified. I would just add that if others subscribe to them too enthusiastically, without further thought, I fear it says more about them, than the nature of social networking. So let’s have that further thought, shall we?

1. The whole thing of social networking is mere bullshit to me.

I would agree that Facebook is pretty pointless in terms of its applications and overall usefulness for a blogger geek like me is zero. However, that is a far cry from social networking being mere bullshit. It is a phenomenon that is worth noting and dismissing it will make you only more ignorant of what is truly happening.

Networking on Facebook, MySpace and other silos is like taking driving lessons. There is no recognisable direction. It seems kind of pointless unless you know that it is just learning and practising. Facebook and MySpace seems a lot like that to me. But once people work out how to drive, how to operate the machine and how to get from point A to point B, they will be able to decide what the B is and get around on their own. And that’s when the real fun starts.

2. It’s not the right way to communicate with my friends.

Again, half-right. Just because face to face is still hard to beat, doesn’t mean other ways of communicating are not useful or often better in some contexts, e.g. writing a book is a much better way of communicating one’s ideas, theory or sum of knowledge, then a series of chats in a bar… although it is usually a good start. I am a big advocate of online communications because it enables people to define their thoughts in ways they rarely get to do in an offline social context.

That said, Facebook is not an ideal place for that but it helps people to piece together a record of their life. Self-selected and therefore some might say ‘manipulated’ but as I am keen on people to learn about themselves and their identity, I see it as a feature not a bug. There is a post to be written about a stage when people discover that being themselves brings greater rewards than manipulation of their image, but that’s for another time.

Also, social networks are not pointless for communication with friends, if hardly of much use for early bloggers. It is great to find a long lost friend, knowing they exist is better than losing contact with them forever. And a phone is definitely not the best way of communicating either! Social networks enable one-to-many communication for individuals – unheard of before the age of the web unless you were a politician or an author or a celebrity – in short, had some sort of institutional backing whether politics or the media. I can communicate efficiently and persistently with people in my contact list and let them expand on that communication if they are interested.

The main issue I have about the statement that it’s not the right way to communicate with one’s friends is the subsequent presumption that a phone call or a chat in a bar are the right ways. Since that is the only ‘human’ ways people communicate?! What about the wonderful tradition of letter-writing? Is that not a worthwhile communication with a friend even thought it’s not in a bar or over the phone? This goes deeper to the nature and diversity of communication, which makes such utterances short-sighted or blinkered (check the appropriate box). Stinks of an old fart, if you pardon the pun.

There is no reason why we can’t develop ‘human’ dimension in our communications online equivalent to the meeting of minds we experience in human contact offline. Not much to do with social networks as such, see my point about ‘learning how to drive’ above. The way to get there is to differentiate carefully and correctly – and this is going to take some time methinks – between what bits can and should be automated, what bits can and shouldn’t be automated and which bits we have been forcing technology to handle inadequately. I think the serenity prayer sentiments apply just fine here too:

God grant me curiosity to use my brain where irreplaceable, the skill to design and develop technology to assist it and the wisdom to know the difference.

3. I don’t want others to know too many things about me.

I couldn’t agree more. Privacy is a fine thing and until we are the ones who determine what goes out and what stays in, it will be mostly a delusion. Our privacy is protected about the same way a pretty young girl is safe in hands of a pimp held in check by a few hastily drafted rules that are actually very hard to enforce. As long as he’s seen keeping his hands of her, he’s left alone. But she’s still at his mercy and there is not much she can do if he decides to sell her on. Substitute data and information about you and you’ve got the picture.

On the other hand we have the wonders of connectedness and sharing which are very fine things too. It’s what made the web what it is today (in a good way). So to hoard and isolate would be overshooting although the ability to do so should be part of the deal, if that’s what I chose. It is about the right balance and like in any balanced ‘relationship’ it takes two to tango. At the moment, my data is held ransom in an abusive relationship and the fact that I get ’something’ out of it, doesn’t justify the imbalance of power. I should be the one making a decision about – and bear the consequences of – what happens to my data and by extension to my privacy, not Facebook or any other silo or platform. The problem is we have no way of doing that. Yet.

Finally, as Alec is points out security is a policy and so is privacy – what is private to me, may not be to you and vice versa. So what sense can a uniform set of rules or system make in a decentralised environment where a) it is near impossible to enforce and b) the distributed and persistent nature of our communication makes privacy an awkward bolt-on when it should be integral to our behaviour. The more people learn what privacy means and understand its merits and the price of its abuse, the better ‘policies’ they can devise for themselves.

So back to my point about how social networks are the ‘learning wheels’ for our identity online. Social networking is not bullshit, just like driving in a parking lot of a driving school is not pointless. Just see it in the context of the web and the individual and the picture get more interesting, if also more tricky and longer term.

It is about ability to manage one’s own data and network. Even social networks built on closed platforms cannot diminish the first giddy experience of creating a profile that consists of more than a username and data serving the platform owner more than the user. It is the control, the flexibility, the fun and play, the ease of communication and technology that makes the whole experience dynamic and mildly addictive. At the moment, not much else matters to the users – that is why privacy and security is a nice to have, rather a must have. I believe that will change as people get accustomed to more control over their online environment.

I want to be there when they want something more – their own car and their own choice of the destination – to push the driving school metaphor to its limits. Cue VRM hoping to equip people with tools that enable them to take charge of their data, provide context for it, learn from them and pass the knowledge on as they see fit.

Web 3.0

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Read/Write Web held a contest for the best description of Web 3.0. The winner was Robert O’Brien:

Web 1.0: Centralized Them. Web 2.0: Distributed Us. Web 3.0: Decentralized Me,” he wrote. “[Web 3.0 is] about me when I don’t want to participate in the world. It’s about me when I want to have more control of my environment particularly who I let in. When my attention is stretched who/what do I pay attention to and who do I let pay attention to me. It is more effective communication for me!

Excellent! Sounds familiar.

via broadstuff

There’s something wrong in the trends business…

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A brilliant and taking-no-prisoners analysis of the trend peddling agencies by Piers Fawkes.

He talks about arrogance and control, the long time favourite pastime of the media and ‘creative’ business, death of creativity (ouch), lack of critical judgement and of organisational change. All heartening observations for a devout disruptor like me, all the more noteworthy as they come from an insider. Anyone working or dealing with agencies could identify those, but it takes some courage and time to spell them out. I share those views, of course, but they do not keep me awake at night in the slightest. My focus are companies and more importantly the people inside those companies.

One of the frustrations I have with the ‘creative’ industry is the appropriation of what’s freely available and accessible and passing it for their own expertise or judgement. And very badly at that. So bloggers become ‘influentials’ to be showered with press releases, gimmicks and offers of participation for trinkets. Teenagers are superficially described and pigeon-holed faster than you can say ‘demographic’. Or ‘youf culture’ if you are one of the new trendy agencies. Geeks get conveniently ignored, definitely to their benefit. Sayz Piers:

We’re in a digital world where conversations are free – but trends services aren’t willing to be honest about where they got their judgments from. Too many companies and their ad agencies are cut and pasting their unchecked judgments into their powerpoint documents to make significant strategic decisions.

Another of my gripes is the number of agency pitches and presentations to clients promising social media nirvana, without anyone in the room having actually seen a blog/feed reader/bookmarking tool/widget etc etc. Alright, it’s 2008 so by now they have probably seen them. And signed up for Facebook/MySpace/LinkedIn/SocNet-de-jour. Or went to a workshop, a training session or asked the in-house geek to show them – but hardly used them, let alone immersed themselves in the ‘userland’ on a daily basis. Why, of course? These are consumers, demographics, markets and ultimately trends to package and sell. So it’s work, not a way of life or, god forbid, fun! The upshot is that if you don’t know what you are talking about but have to sell it, this is what happens:

In Summary, the trends business is a walled business that uses smoke and mirrors to protect it. It preaches from on high what the trends are without much transparency about what their recommendations were based on. In an era of Google inspired freedom of information, these businesses surely can’t continue to hide data that is already in the public domain.

via Mark Earls

update: How clients like it…

The long tail of production

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This is very cool, especially being able to see how it was made:

Technology doesn’t create amazing things like this, people do. Technology helps people to do that and maximises the chances of new and better technology. And more amazing things being created.

What’s new is that the new camera/apps are steadily coming becoming like a word processor — both pros and amateurs use the same one. The great script is not due to a better word processor; it’s how the great write uses it. Likewise, a great film is not due to better gear. The same gear needed to make a good film is today generally available to amateurs — which was not so even a decade ago. Film making gear is approaching a convergence between professional and amateur, so that what counts in artistry and inventiveness.

The long tail of production is the effect of technology being widely available and, in case of videos, making the physical limitations of video production (expensive equipment, video editing suites, studios etc) slowly dissolve just like the physical limitations of music stores were bypassed by online distribution of music, books and films. On the production side, it means that more people can produce and the story is in watching what kind of things they will make.

Work – play, play – work, even for CEOs

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Tom Glocer is a CEO who’ll make it to the round. :)

Over the past several years, some in the British media have suggested that I should have better things to do than spend my time on Facebook or other social networking or web services. …I believe it is a very worthy investment of my “free” time to explore the latest interactions of media and technology, or indeed to write this blog when I feel I have something worthwhile to say.

Innovation is non-linear – perhaps that is why all that networked stuff works rather well. What doesn’t work is the traditional command and control but that’s another conversation. Lateral thinking is rewarded in this day and age (actually, I believe it always has been) and a good way to get cracking when thinking about new business models. So, Amazon’s ‘unique proposition’ is reader book reviews, although it makes money on selling books, eBay ’sells’ reputation, makes money on auctions, Google’s offering is reach, though it makes money on text ads. Behind every new-ish business model is lateral monetisation struggling to get out.

Growth requires innovation, and, unfortunately, innovation is not a linear process. When Columbus “discovered” the New World, he had actually set out to find a new route to India. The much admired Google similarly did not set out to invent the dominant ad monetization engine. Too much idle experimentation in the executive suite leads to a failure to execute on any plan; however, the total absence of imagination leads to plans that lead nowhere.

And now for the personal touch. Tom Glocer is spot on about the nature of expertise. Recently I noticed how people in business are starting to approach learning about social media second-hand, listening to the self-proclaimed experts* rather than jumping straight in themselves.

I believe that unless one interacts with and plays with the leading technology of the age, it is impossible to dream the big dreams, and difficult to create an environment in which creative individuals will feel at home. This does not mean that the ceo needs to program a third-party app on Facebook, but I believe it is ultimately more useful in understanding business concepts like viral marketing, crowd-sourcing or federated development to use a live example rather than wait for the Harvard Business Review article to appear in three years time.

We should all feel comfortable to follow our own paths. What counts is the results, not living-up to some outdated view of what “work” looks like in the 21st century.

Indeed. This is an area of exploration that no CEO or other executive should leave to others. If part of the job of a business leader is to see the big picture, well, there is no more distinct big picture out there than what is happening at the crossroads of the web, technology, media and human interactions within networks and outside traditional organisations and institutions.

*For the record, rather than consider myself an expert on social media or Web 2.0 or [fill in the web buzzword du jour], I’d prefer to be an ‘expert’ at shifting people’s mindset and helping them understand what is the web and what’s possible on the web.

Thin air PR

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Tom Foremski compares PR industry to Wily E Coyote running on thin air. True, there is much money sloshing around PR due to influx of advertising money and the ‘digital’ offering that most PR firms bolted onto their services. They obviously haven’t yet looked down…

PR today reminds me of the Roadrunner cartoons. The times when Wily E. Coyote is chasing the Road Runner and notices he is running on thin air, at which point he plummets thousands of feet to a distant canyon floor. That’s how I envisage the PR industry today–about to plummet from a great height.

Tom concludes that no change happened despite much blathering about transparency, ethics and new ways. My experience confirms that and I do not hold much hope of PR firms changing their ways without some serious pain in their business models.

Change in the PR industry will happen because the old ways won’t be as good, or as cost effective as using new media technologies to publish and engage customers. Traditional PR doesn’t provide the same bang for the buck.

It is when the PR industry feels the same pain that mainstream media is feeling right now, a kick in the pants to its core revenues, is when change will happen. But without pain, no change.

My prediction of PR business model demise is based on other reasons. Paying for PR is like sending a proxy to a party. Instead of going yourself you send someone all dressed up, well spoken and polished. It is fake but when everyone does it, it’s sort of accepted. But now when people start going to parties themselves, such proxies stand out. And not in a good way.

I keep running across Silicon Valley companies that have spent no money on PR or marketing. Zero dollars., for example, has managed to attract millions of users for its online apps on Faceback and MySpace for no dollars.

There are many smaller startups who have done the same: zero dollars spent on PR and marketing. They have gotten incredible results from the viral nature of their products, services, and their personal abilities to establish though leadership through blogging and other online engagements.

Theoretically, PR firms could have taught people within companies how to do that but they are not really best qualified to do that. It is like an old dance master, with a repertoire and polished routines trying to teach his own generation how to break-dance or do rap so they can hang out with the youth. Yes, it’s still dancing, just different era, different vibe. An excellent dance-master could manage such a feat but it is a rare individual who can do that successfully. Most will just look ridiculous – out of step and out of date.

But no pain, no change. And given that PR is awash with money right now, I don’t think we’ll be seeing any soon.

via Teblog

Bonus link: PR is a solo voice, a blog is a choir

Monotheism of Control

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John Perry Barlow in Death from above has made my day. How inspiring to read an article full of passion, understanding and urgency. And written in 1995! Very interesting to see which things had to give and which are still with us… It is a longish article, so here are the juiciest bits.

On American business culture:

Over the last 30 years, the American CEO Corps has included an astonishingly large percentage of men who piloted bombers during World War II. For some reason not so difficult to guess, dropping explosives on people from commanding heights served as a great place to develop a world view compatible with the management of a large post-war corporation.

Now, most of these jut-jawed former flyboys are out to pasture on various golf courses, but just as they left their legacy in the still thriving Cold War machinery of the National Security State, so their cultural perspective remains deeply, perhaps permanently, embedded in the corporate institutions they led for so long, whether in media or manufacturing. America remains a place where companies produce and consumers consume in an economic relationship which is still as asymmetrical as that of bomber to bombee. [emphasis mine]

On the new generation of internet users and what they want:

Bandwidth is one of those things like money, sex, and power. The more you’ve got, the shorter it feels. And there are now a critical number of Americans who know what bandwidth is and why is feels good.

Look at what’s happened on the World Wide Web, where traffic grew 1,713% in 1994. (Which, though down from the previous year’s 443,931%, is still pretty rapid growth.) These figures reflect a burgeoning generation of Web-sters under 25 who have already started to give up television in droves. Not even the instantaneous availability of every Brady Bunch episode is going to lure them back. They want to interact with other people, not “content,” and they are using computers to do it.

On media people and about their view of the internet’s supremacy:

They may know it in their minds, but can they have the religious conversion necessary to know it in their hearts.

And indeed we are talking about religion here. On one side you’ve got the monotheism of Control, the one-to-many system which has dominated the West at least since the Industrial Revolution, possibly since Gutenberg; possibly since Moses. And done a damned fine job of creating civilization, I might add. A necessary thing in its day.

Surging toward these battlements of God Above All are the galloping, barbarous hoards of pantheism, guerrillas all, from the Cypherpunks to Newt Gingrich. I sometimes wonder which of these I really want to win, but I’m pretty sure which one is going to. It’s B-52’s vs. punji sticks. It’s machine against nature. Sooner or later, nature takes the game.

Rock on!

Quote to remember

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Companies whose industries are getting restructured by technological and market forces in front of their eyes – as seems to be happening in just about every industry to a greater or lesser degree – must be flexible and adapt or else face extinction. This is very, very hard. Business models drastically change – as happened to us in IBM in the 1980s and is happening to music companies now. The culture, brand and values of companies get stretched to the limit in such times of crisis. Often, when stretched too far, they break.
- Irving Wladawsky-Berger, Welcome to Adam Smith’s World

Quote to remember

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[I]t wasn’t Google, but the tsunami of disintermediated content that blew up that business model [ed Times Select]. If you looking for the institution to blame it was the internet and it’s end-to-end design principles. Google had nothing to do with it. Well maybe it had a tiny bit to do with it; but it pains me how people are unable to distinguish the value of Google from the value of the content it is now the intermediary for. This is like confusing the card catalog for the library, or Sony for the Shastakovich.
- Ben Hyde in Do you feel lucky, Punk?

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