Monthly Archives: June 2008

Futures perspectives

Over the last few weeks I’ve engaged in several futures activities, including seminars and web-based interactions. Each one was distinctive from one another in the approach taken and in the participants, this posting serves to to reflect and contemplate.

Held soon after the Australian Government’s Australia 2020, the ADC’s Future Summit 2008 was held in Melbourne, May 2008. Motivated by Australia 2020, the Future Summit participants generated ‘big ideas’ to shape the future. In other words, the approach taken was like: the best way to predict the future is to build it. Mainly from commerce/government and academia, the participants listened to a series of presentations and panel sessions, and engaged in workshops to discuss issues and generate ideas. The event was run well – thanks to a large contingent of management consultants. In my view, the 2008 Summit was the best from ADC to date. I will not go into the outcomes – there is a report due out soon.

Ross Watson gave an entertaining and insightful presentation on the next 50 years at a Law Institute of Victoria function. On this occasion Ross spoke about 10 overarching trends and sectoral implications including extinctions, innovations, insights and ideas. This approach essentially described what might happen – the idea being to apply this foresight to your own context, organisation or sector to ‘get to the future first’. The participants were very largely law professionals – they too realise things are changing, and they need to be better prepared.

Last week I attended a ‘conference and unconference’ on Web 2.0 Media hosted by Semantic Media. Held to share knowledge and to create new knowledge on trends and technologies for Web 2.0 and beyound, many enterpreneurs, media company reps and academics were there to learn practical tips and techniques to take away. The approach here was to burrow deeply into what is going on in the present, in effect empowering participants to create the future from their own actions.

Last week I watched a World Future Society three minute video on YouTube outlining the Top 10 Forecasts for 2008; and Vint Cerf being interviewed on Beet.tv about the future of the Internet. Both really useful short audio-visuals that stimulate the senses far more than just reading or writing about something. Both videos of course are so easily distributed and shared over the Internet, demonstrating again how brilliant the Internet is as a creative, learning tool.

I signed up to play the Future of Media Prediction markets today. I have not tried this approach before, but it looks like it should be fun. Potentially highly interactive and experiential, I’m looking forward to it.

Developed as a precusor to this year’s Future of Media Summit run by the Future Exploration Network – and Richard Watson gets another plug here! I’ll be on leave during the Summit – bugger. I do hope it goes well and I shall no doubt learn more following dissemination of the outcomes. Held simultaneously in Sydney adn the Silicon Valley, I know the approach taken here has been very creative, providing participants with a cognitive map to shape the future.

So, lots of things going on. Largely to shape the future through ideas, insights, practical tips and applied learning.

Structural change

There is at great summary of three US venture capital firms views on structural change in TechCrunch today.
 
Firstly there is another perspective the hype cycle (see attachment). It maps actual economic impacts against the hype cycle. The outlook for 2008 – 2011 is a slowing of impacts (surprise, surprise) followed by steep increases in 2012 and 2014 (‘the economic cycle concept’ or ‘we live in hope’). The dot com bust over 1999 – 2001 is shown.
 
To me the clear message is don’t believe the hype – but don’t take your eye off the drivers of change. And on that particular theme, after “years of hope and expectation” the mobile Web is within reach. No danger in agreeing with that.
 
What really stood out to me was the “continued personalisation of content, commerce and advertising”. In my view, you should add ‘communication’ to that – it’s that ‘mobile thing’ again. The impact of course is a major structural shift from mass media. And again, I think we should add ‘away from one-size-fits-all’ thinking (standardised services).
 
Risk factors noted were:
  • scaling
  • network neutrality
  • data ownership

Participatory culture

I say the best presentation at Melbourne’s PubCamp last night was from Stephen Collins on “Slouching towards intertwingularity”.

Stephen spoke about the great attraction and value from using social networking tools to connect to, and collaborate with “…a vastly greater number of people who think like me, do work like me, like the same things I like, than I ever could before.”

Even though some or many of these ties to people – spread over the world – may be weak ties, they are still accessible. These people help to you solve problems, innovate, inform or share knowledge about events and activities you either would not have heard about, or received via an institutional filter some time hence.

Social networking is the means to create or add value in the knowledge economy and to seek new opportunities.The culture is participatory, a culture where everything is ‘interwingled’. I feel this is something that Asian’s get immediately by the way…a sense of interconnectedness…which is why social networking is so popular in countries such as China and India.

In my six years of continuously scanning the horizon and thinking about the future, I’ve had some experience of ‘strategic conversations’ with like-minded people (particularly in Vision 20/20: Future Scenarios for the Communications Industry). That experience triggered my interest in knowledge sharing and knowledge creation. I know that other futures thinkers that have a similar passion about the value in networking with people (Ross Dawson, Richard Hames and Stephen Collins, to mention just three…there are many more). The rise of social networking – particularly in the last two years – has really lowered the barriers to experiencing strategic conversations.

An insight that we developed from Vision 20/20 was ‘networked regulation’. Interestingly, there are now signs of this perception taking hold…and again, it’s to do with the Internet. In his closing remarks at the OECD Ministerial in Seoul last week, Secretary-General Angel Gurria said, “We need to enhance support for informal networks that link authorities and stakeholders in a flexible manner that is responsive to the dynamism of the issues…A more decentralised, networked approach to policy formation for the Internet Economy that includes active participation of stakeholders needs to be the norm” (my italics). Indeed, the OECD Future of the Internet Economy project had a useful forum on…The Participative Web. Promising signs ahead.

Stephen’s presentation was a reminder to me is that I must participate…more actively! Let’s hope the message continues to sink in.

Media and Advertising Trends, United States

One of the most viewed postings on Media Post this week was this one on the shift in advertising from traditional to digital media. This posting provides an overview and I delve somewhat further into the reasons and implications.

Key points are that the low growth rate for the first quarter 2008 of 0.6% is only partly attributable to the cyclical economic downturn. Another contributing factor is the accelerating shift of advertising budgets from the ” expensive and highly inefficient” traditional media to the more cost-effective digital media.

There are some useful stats in the posting:

  • TV + 1.7%
  • Magazines +0.8%
  • Newspapers -5.2%
  • Radio -4.5%
  • Internet Display +8.5%

The outlook seems particularly bleak for newspapers and radio. The positive result for TV is largely due to subscription TV (+4.1%). Overall, advertising revenue growth rates are forecast to lie in the 0 – 3% range, down from the 3 – 5% level the industry is used to.

Why is the Internet more efficient? Let me ‘count the ways’ as it were:

  1. Search is the obvious starter here (and as noted in the Media Post article). On the horizon is sophisticated location-based marketing enabled by the geospatial web and the integration of GPS and mobile broadband and other forms of pervasive computing and advances in display technologies
  2. Even more important to grasp though is in understanding and using the huge scale and reach of the Internet
  3. Distribution costs are negligible
  4. Behavioural targeting/data mining/profiling: particularly the connections between people and their interests
  5. Participation – customers can do their own thing, whether that is branded TV or video, interacting with consumers via social networking or blogs or other Web 2.0 style interaction
  6. New applications are being developed for video search and interpretation
  7. Strategies and campaigns can be revised or amended speedily and at low cost

Not an exhaustive list I’m sure, but enough to start with.

Now to the implications. Traditional techniques, strategies and skills suited to mass marketing do not map neatly to the digital migration. So there is an adjustment period…but one that may be shorter-lived than some expect.

From what I can see, a similar trend is underway in Australia in the formation and implementation of digital media strategies by newspaper, radio and television operators – but it is not so noticeable as the US situation. However, the current economic downturn might accelerate the shift to the more cost-effective digital media.

Participatory cultures

I took particular interest in this link from the Creative Economy site today:

Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st Century
Henry Jenkins and others / New Media Literacies, MIT

The paper quite rightly challenges us to move on from the ‘digital divide’ focus on technological access to those of participation – the new literacies that involve social skills developed through collaboration and networking.

While the education sector is the main interest to the reports authors, I feel that organisations face similar literacy challenges in today’s networked and interdependent world. Organisations too ought be actively pursing learning and development programs that include: (extracts from the report’s Executive Summary) the ability to

- adopt alternative identities for the purpose of improvisation and discovery

- interpret and construct dynamic models of real-world processes

- to sample and remix media content

- multitask

- pool knowledge and compare notes with others toward a common goal

- follow the flow of information across multiple modalities

- networking

- negotiation

 

Top 100 Australian Web 2.0 Applications

Ross Dawson at Trends in Living Networks launched the Top 100 Australian Web 2.0 Applications list on 18 June 2008.

On scrolling through the list I was pleased to see that of the top four applications, I’ve been closely tracking two of them.  I actually use another three on the list. Other things that stood out:

  • internationalisation is evident in global take-up figures
  • social networking applications stand out
  • a large number do not bother with .au domain

I say well done to Ross and others involved. Australian innovators – and innovators everywhere – deserve attention like this.

Broadband pricing and useage caps

Susan Crawford’s posting on ‘Bit caps, consolidation, and Clearwire’ makes some interesting observations:

  • Koreans rate their (nearly 100 Mbps) broadband connections as being ‘ordinary’
  • Australians say having fixed caps and overage charges is misery
  • The Japanese have discarded metered access in their post unbundled/separated regime
  • In the US, carriers are looking at moving away from ‘all you can eat’ access pricing to metered access; but the Sprint/Clearwire natioanl wireless network proposal may provide an alternative

So there are quite distinct broadband pricing strategies and market structures in the above – some shaped by regulation and others not.

Meanwhile, the world watches US wireless policy closely (including operationalising the ‘open access’ specs for ‘C’ band spectrum).

From linear thought back to networked thought

I linked back to a February 08 posting by Scot Karp this morning and it really got me thinking. Scot’s message was that traditional media is linear – the content is pushed at you and your focus is on that - while web content is networked and interactive – content is dynamic and participatory and your focus is whatever you choose.

In my view, Scot’s observation is more powerful than he described. Content pushed at you is what happens in traditional education services, conferences and seminars. How many times have I been bored with listening to ‘experts on panels’! Sharing and creating knowledge is so much richer during creative conversations compared to lectures and reading books. As a strategist, I am continually frustrated with meetings and communication that are linear.

The internet is changing that paradigm. Spending time in the blogosphere is a delight – I can link to this or that depending on prompts that I experience, or the pattern-forming/ideas/imagining going on in my head.

Sure, I read books too – but i usually have three for four books going at a time. Generally I do not like to be limited by one storey or theme at a time.

Also, how long have books and newspapers been around? There is a comment from Cheryl on Scot’s posting, that “Before reading, people networked to obtain and validate information”.  I suspect that form of learding still applies largely for many people. So in that sense, networked thought is not evolutionary – it’s the way people are hard-wired to think.

Sure the printing press was revolutionary in terms of distributing information and empowering people. But the internet revolution offers more opportunities for creative thinking and sharing knowledge.

As I read Scot’s posting I recalled getting excited about Goofy2, a web service that makes it easy for users to share thoughts. I read about this on the China Web2.0 Review blog. Kashgar, one of G2′s co-founders, commented that:

“An idea on G2 is like a seed that sprouts, grows and finally flourishes into a tree, then a jungle. When an idea is posted, unlimited number of comments can be followed. When a discussion never ends and a large number of users can tag and save interesting stuff along the way. Magic happens, when people are talking freely and pick up goodies (saving and tagging) along the way, it creates some kind of mob-intelligence: People actually think together.”

I’m going like ‘yeah baby’! – and said as much in my comment to the China Web2.0 posting. Seems to me that G2 is tapping right into networked thought.

Mobile Internet Type II

Following on from my recent “Mobile Internet’ posting, a message (some would say ‘vision’) - that the future is mobile – is one that the wireless industry has been on about for about four or five years now. It’s only recently that there are signs in Australia of the promise coming to fruition. But there are two distinct offerings at play.

3G operators like ’3′ and Virgin offer mobile broadband dongles (modems) for as little as $20 month for 1GB (upload + download). Just plug the modem into your PC or laptop and away you go – just like fixed network broadband access. There is an article in today’s The Age about the high demand for this form of wireless broadband in preference to fixed-line broadband. What’s more, the networks seem to have plenty of capacity to make these offerings – acting to stimulate demand rather than building more capacity (as the fixed line networks must do) in response to demand.
 
Meanwhile, 3G operators continue to offer mobile phone plans including voice, video/TV and data services…oh, and the mobile Internet.
 
The distinction is that mobile phone plans are run over the GSM cellular ecosystem (i.e. integrating service access, addressing and billing systems). This operating systems enables carriers to charge for every transaction, differentiating based on what the traffic is. It’s that charging capacity that carriers want to take forward to the brave new world of 4G with the IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem) standard. That appears to be the issue of so much concern to Joi Ito.
 
Virgin’s advertising captures this interplay between the two offerings well in its blurb “The Internet should be free”. Get their mobile modem for no charge….as long as you purchase the bundling home or mobile phone package.
In summary, there are two ‘mobile Internet’ offerings available – one that may well have content and voice service provision tethered to the network and one that is just another broadband internet access service (but one that is mobile). The broadband internet accesss offer resembles a commoditised utility service. The mobile phone plan offering is consistent  with the more familiar telecommunications offering of any-to-any connectivity for voice, video, messaging and some data.

More on the cognitive surplus

Alfred Hermida found some very interesting information about the BBC’s blogs. Usage of the blogs, maintained by editors and management to explain their decisions and to interact with viewers, outstrips the use of the BBC’s corporate site and ‘have your say’ message boards. Users like the informality – the conversational tone resonates with users.

All very interesting…but the main message to me was that so many people are motivated to express themselves online, so willing to contribute their own perspectives and insights – in preference to just passively consuming the usual corporate blurb. The BBC’s blogs are entertaining as well, complete with embedded YouTube videos and links all over the place.

This is exactly what Clay Shirky was on about when he said “media targeted at you but that does not include you” is history.