Living in the future: new media, new consumers, new desires

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The old media model of the twentieth century was monolithic and based on a broadcast model. Large scale media players distributed a fixed series of products to a passive audience.

In the twenty-first century we are seeing the beginnings of a new media model. The passive broadcast audience is fragmenting into niches. Now audiences are not passive. They have been trained to engage with their media by years of playing online games. And they also expect to be able to engage with other people as part of their consumption of media. Thus the audience is no longer merely an audience, instead they are participants. And those participants are hyperconnected with each other.

This evolution is causing shifts in the business models of organisations that deliver media content. The power relationship between the creators and distributors of media and their erstwhile audience is shifting.

The introduction of new devices is also driving this trend. Social computing is truly here now that we have devices like the iPad or Android tablets. These devices encourage collaborative behaviour and sharing of the media participation experience.

Participants (or consumers) in this new media landscape are also on the move. No more are we tethered to a television or desktop computer. Our computers are in our mobile devices like cell phones, laptops and tablet computers. Our consumption while on the move is only limited by battery life (especially if using Apple devices).

A defining feature of the media that will be successful in this new milieu is device neutrality. Successful media products will not need to be played on a particular machine or device, nor will we be forced to consume it on only one device.

This means that licensing and related legal constructs will need to evolve too. Consumers want to buy the rights to content only once but to be able to consume it on our various devices at will. Consumers also want ways to give our right to the content to another person to play on their devices.

Consumer demands for this kind of flexibility are growing and will continue to increase. The media industry needs to face up to these kinds of demands and find ways to accommodate these consumer desires. Locking down access is not the answer. Loading increasingly onerous legal obligations upon consumers and enforcing them vigourously (for example by way of Digital Rights Management) is no way to address the evolving consumer demands.

It is time for the new media creators and distributors to find new ways to price-in flexibility and ease of use. The realities of a global market for digital media must be acknowledged.

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Serious games for business and education #GlobalSCRM

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I’ve never been a big online game player (the third world bandwidth here in Australia has been enough to discourage many like me). But, having observed the development of online games and the gamer communities since the early days of the internet, I can see clearly that this is a significant phenomenon. One need only to look at the size of the global games market. Here I am drawing a distinction between online games and online gaming (the latter is the online equivalent of going to the casino).

The session that I attended recently on The Future of Games: enterprises, education, social + more really got me thinking about how we can use games and games-like technology for better results in the workplace and education.

I learned new words like ‘gamification‘ and discovered that the power harnessed by computer games can also be channeled to achieve better health results or to drive changes in consumer and employee behaviour.

As a non-gamer I had never really stopped to think about this before. Although Chris Penn often writes about what he learns about business, the world and human behaviour from World of Warcraft (aka WoW) I had not generalised this thinking to the broader category of games and beyond to business and government applications.

But the mechanic of games touches on important human urges and needs in ways that other kinds of technology interactions do not. The popularity of games is not surprising when you consider, and not just hard core gamers, but games played by ordinary people (such as Farmville). One of the drivers of Facebook’s popularity has been the number of games available through its interface. My partner often plays chess on Facebook, while many other friends play word games and sudoku on a daily basis.

Consider also the millions of people – young and old – who play games on various devices everyday. No longer is the player tied to a PC or television, now the devices for playing games have gone mobile with access via mobile phones and portable games devices.

Thus with sites like Facebook we are seeing a broad majority of people being trained to use online games and to collaborate together using online tools. This new tendency has hardly been touched on in the workplace.

For many years we have struggled to get messages across at work or for public service – about important things like safety, diversity, legal compliance, health – with limited success. Admittedly our training methods were relatively primitive. Although there is a large body of work around adult education and online learning it has been a challenge to adopt these on a grand scale for workplace education. But games offer us a new channel to get these messages out more effectively.

The other part of the equation is that our customers have also been educated to use games and associated technology. This opens up new possibilities for our customer relationships. This is not to say that every brand needs to go out and develop a game (although that is probably what we can expect to see next from voracious marketers). Instead brands and products that need to drive behavioural change can leverage the repetitive nature of game play to build up that change over time. For instance, products like medications that require high levels of compliance and regularity of schedule to work properly could be tied to a game mechanic to assist consumers in achieving the full benefits of the treatment regime.

Games are not only a serious business for pleasure. They also offer significant promise for reshaping business and consumer interactions. Watch this space to grow over the next few years and expect to see various experiments of varying success as we evolve new ways of using games in mainstream business and marketing.

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The Future of Games – Global Social CRM #GlobalSCRM

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Yesterday I attended a fascinating session hosted by the Bay Area Executives Meetup on the topic of the The Future of Games: enterprises, education, social + more.

The session was conducted via CISCO Public TelePresence Suites, WebEx, Livestream, Twitter – with attendees from all around the world (Santa Clara, CA, San Francisco, Singapore, Sydney, Tokyo). The panelists all have experience in social gaming in general and social gaming for education. Some of the questions we considered were:

  • How do we use the energy of gaming to support organizational activities and broader missions?
  • What are the other possible futures for gaming?

I suspect that many of the ideas covered during this session are going to ferment in my brain and lead to a number of follow up blog posts.  Kudos to Tatyana Kanzaveli for coordinating the session.

The panelists were:

  • Lyle Fong – CEO & Co-Founder – Lithium Technologies
  • Dr. Keith Devlin – Co-founder and Executive Director of the university’s H-STAR institute, a co-founder of the StanfordMedia X research network, and a Senior Researcher at CSLI.
  • Douglas Goldstein – a eFuturist and CEO of iConecto, Inc.
  • Mathias Crawford – Research Manager at the Institute for the Future

The session was moderated most excellently by Terri Griffith, Professor of Management, Leavey School of Business, Santa Clara University.

Attendees
Emmy Gengler
Patrick Searle
Carlos Miranda Levy
Carl Hewitt
Terry Mandel
Terri Ducay
Doug McDavid
Daniel Holden
IdaRose Sylvester
Matt Perez
Sanjeev Sisodiya
Patrick Nicolas
Robin Stavisky
Yuko Ihara
Haixia Yu
Kate Carruthers
Jay T Dautcher
Anca Mosoiu
Max Skibinsky
Keith Devlin
Lyle Fong
Terri Griffith
Tatyana Kanzaveli
Ian McGee
Jared Waxman
Kristi Miller
Tim Stephenson

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Privacy! Who the hell ever had privacy?

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One question that I am often asked when speaking to groups about the digital revolution is “what about privacy?” This is usually in relation to social media and social networking.  Privacy comes from the Latin word privatus:

In Roman law, the Latin adjective privatus makes a legal distinction between that which is “private” and that which is publicus, “public” in the sense of pertaining to the Roman people (populus Romanus).
Source: Wikipedia

This question fascinates me.  Privacy is such a recent invention and many people seem to be unaware of this. Also there is an important distinction to be made between privacy and confidentiality.  Since time immemorial societies have acknowledged that some kinds of information are confidential.  A good historical example of this is the Catholic Church keeping the revelations made during their rite of confession confidential.

However, until very recent times – during the late twentieth century – privacy was an aberration.  Anchorites had privacy, but most people lived cheek by jowl with others for their entire lives.  This is important because privacy is predicated on separation. It is predicated on a physical separation between people – it is enabled by the spaces in between individuals.  If there are no spaces between individuals then privacy is very hard to achieve (or even to conceive).

In the past even the most wealthy and most exalted personages did not experience privacy.  Kings and queens lived surrounded day and night by their courtiers.  In the days before genetic testing even queens gave birth in front of their court to ensure veracity.

Historically nobles were attended, bathed and dressed by their servants.  The servants lived together in crowded quarters.  Secrets were very hard to keep in such a world.

For the poor, there was no separation even between people and their livestock.  And, if there was no separate room for the livestock, nor was there a separate room for any of the people.  Entire families were conceived, born, lived and died within shared physical spaces.

Even in cities people lived  a village-like existence (London is a good example).  Without transport to move easily from place to place people stayed within the confines of their local village.  Neither rich nor poor city dwellers experienced privacy.

Nor did the generations of the early twentieth century experience privacy.  During the first half of the century poverty meant that most people could not afford the luxury of privacy.  And during that same period the wealthy still lived with domestic staffs who cared for their needs (and continued to ensure little privacy).

Privacy for most of us only became possible with the advent of the post World War II economic and population boom.  The growth of tract housing in suburbs meant that nuclear families could live in large houses with separate rooms for most family members.  Thus it was in this period that people could assume that they had a right to privacy.

Thus a brief flowering of privacy in the latter part of the twentieth century allowed many people to assume that this was how things had always been.  It also allowed many to assume that this would continue.  However, with the advent of the hyperconnected world of the early twenty-first century we are seeing digital villages remove the spaces between individuals once again.

Perhaps the only thing that enabled privacy to blossom was the increased physical space between people and lack of communications technology during the late twentieth century? And perhaps it is now time to farewell privacy once more?

Some resources for thinking about privacy follow:

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Social media: blurring the boundaries

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In the past we used to be able to separate the public from the private and business from the personal quite easily. But this was an aberration.

Privacy was a tiny blip in the long history of human existence. Going back only as far as our great grandparent’s generation privacy was relatively rare. And in the generations before that privacy was considered almost absurd, even for the very rich.

Most people lived in small cramped houses and shared their space with many others. In those days even conjugal relations were not private for most people.

Most people lived in villages too, where just about everyone knew each other’s business. But for a very short period, during the mid to late twentieth century, privacy was possible in the western world due to a new standard of housing.

It was the post World War 2 housing – where each nuclear family had its own house – that made privacy possible. Finally Mum and Dad had personal space and sometimes even the kids had their own rooms. For a brief period in the twentieth century privacy became the norm.

But with the Digital Revolution in the early twenty first century we have made a return to the village. And this time the village is virtual.

This digital village means that the boundaries between public and private, business and personal are becoming increasingly blurred. I’ve taken to drawing them as a Venn diagram.

As we adopt the various social computing platforms in our personal lives – such as Facebook, Digg, Slideshare, YouTube, or Twitter – we blur the boundaries between public and private by our own making. Then, as companies and other organisations adopt the same technologies for business purposes and ask us to drive them, we begin the blur the boundaries between business and personal.

As a result we are turning into:

“ambient broadcasters who disclose a great deal of personal information in order to stay connected and take advantage of social, economic, and political opportunities.”

Source: www.webpronews.com/topnews/2010/07/09/millennials-won%E2%80%99t-quit-facebook-and-twitter” Mike Sachoff webpronews.com

And, by means of this broadcasting of our information, we are paying the social media platform providers through our data. These providers are not making their platforms available to us for free. They are doing it because our data is the goldmine of the twenty first century. We are paying them by giving away data about our lives, which are increasingly exposed online in the virtual village.
web 2.0This view of data as critical to the new internet (often called Web 2.0) was explained by Tim O’Reilly back in 2005 and is summarised nicely in this diagram by Ajit Jaokar.

And this new interactive and easier to use web is compelling to many of us. It enables us to do many things including:

  • Build friendships
  • Find and form communities
  • Seek or share help and expertise
  • Build reputations
  • Find out who is trustworthy and reputable
  • Do business and make money
  • Find jobs
  • Have fun

But let’s put all of this aside for a moment to consider human nature. And to start let’s consider an old saying:

“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. ”
Source: Ecclesiastes 1:9-14

Thus one thing we need to keep in mind about this digital village we’re living in now is that no human behaviour happens online that does not already happen offline. What is different, however, is the the amplification effects of the web and the way that the medium facilitates amplified responses.

We’ve all seen the poor secretary somewhere who writes an email only have it go global almost overnight and then lose their job. That’s the amplification effect of the web. In the past that conversation might have got out to a small group of people via word of mouth. But now it truly can go global in a matter of hours.

And, while this digital village gives rise to an enormous number of benefits and opportunities, it also gives rise to some risks.

The three key risks I see are:

  • Reputation. The amplification effects of the web mean that news moves fast and bad news moves faster.  Thus while it has become easier and faster to build a reputation online, it is also easier for unflattering images and commentary to proliferate.After all how many times have you gone out with friends only to find the pictures are already up on Facebook or Flickr by the time you arrive home? Here is a great example of this phenomenon (no it’s not me in that picture 😉 ).
  • Job. The blurring between business and personal currently gives rise to a number of conflicts in the workplace.  Some employers frown upon online participation by their staff, others demand it of unwilling staff.In any case, we are still working out the boundaries for social media and social networking in business and the workplace. And, until we settle on the new norms, there are going to be some casualties.  I know several people who have lost jobs due to their online activity.
  • Personal safety. This risk is especially linked to the ease with which disputes can be amplified in the absence of physical interaction.There is much more effort involved to escalate a dispute if you have to walk over to someone’s house, knock on their door, ask their parents or partner if they are home, and then have a fight. But if there has been insults flung back and forth in the equivalent of a digital village square then physical action can seem to be a logical next step.An example of this is the tragic case of teens who escalated an argument online (effectively in public in the digital village). The result was one was killed due to a perceived loss of face.

This leads into the question of how we can mitigate these risks.

  • Use commonsense – if you wouldn’t disclose offline why do it online?
  • Trust your gut – if you are not comfortable doing something why do it?
  • Ask your friends
  • It’s just like the ‘real world’ so look for patterns
  • Be conscious of the power of amplification online and use that power wisely

The main thing is to:

Accept the changed landscape and plan accordingly

The human race has survived the advent of many revolutionary technologies – including the printing press, the telegraph, telephone, radio and television. Each was predicted to cause disaster to our kind and, miraculously, we appear to have survived. But, rather than the doom predicted, each of these technologies has opened up remarkable vistas of opportunity, wealth and social good for humankind.

I predict that we will adapt to the digital revolution and be as unable to imagine life without it as we can imagine life without the telephone.


Note: This post is based on a presentation at Social Media Women on 13 July 2010. The slides are up on Slideshare.

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Annalie Killian … a woman Catalysing Magic

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Here is another post in my series on inspiring women.

This time it is my friend Annalie Killian, who is also known as Catalyst for Magic (yes that is really the job title on her business card) or as @MaverickWoman on Twitter.

I’ve known Annalie for many years and have always been inspired and energised by her. Over the years she has evolved as an organisational change agent (catalyst) and intrapreneur. Yet several constants have remained with Annalie over the years, for example, her:

  • passion for change,
  • generosity of spirit,
  • extreme curiosity, and
  • deep joie de vivre.

Here is a bit of insight into the life journey of this woman who has challenged stereotypes and travelled far. In her own words:

How/Why I’m doing what I’m doing now?

Let me start with what I am doing now, then I’ll try and cover the how and why.

Since 2000, when I moved to Australia from South Africa, I have worked as “Catalyst for Magic” at AMP, a large iconic Australian Financial Services brand. My role is Director of Innovation, Collaboration and Communication, and I see it as championing the spirit of “ubuntu” – a Zulu word referring to our inter-connected Humanness” – in all its rich and imaginative and complex essence- and directing that magic towards meaningful and purposeful work and business outcomes. Call it culture, call it engagement, call it creative collaboration, collective intelligence– it’s all of that, and it’s what sets one company apart from the next.

Why I am doing what I’m doing now?

My best friend, who unfortunately died of cancer at age 33, sent me a card after a particularly trying incident working for an extreme bully, GM of Human Resources at the time at the Bayside Aluminium Smelter in South Africa. She said: “You will outlive him…you are a survivor- it’s inevitable”. At the time, I didn’t appreciate it as much as I do now….and I think the essence of what she was referring to is my resilience, resourcefulness and extreme adaptability.

So why do I do what I do? Maybe it was inevitable…I thrive in it! As a corporate maverick, I dodge, weave, swim upstream and take a lot of set-backs but keep on purpose when it comes to innovation and bringing others along. And yes, it is unsettling for some who want to cling to the status quo or the past.

How do I do it?

If “life is what happens when you are making other plans”, then I guess I don’t make too many plans but rather find ways to apply my strengths to opportunities I spot and shape my work that way. I have an insatiable curiosity and am highly attuned to faint signals that others often don’t notice. Believe it or not, these skills were forged in childhood by personal circumstances and it taught me to pick up on almost imperceptible signals and anticipate scenarios- giving me the best ability to cope and navigate through challenges. And I am

Who would have thought that this was preparing me to become a change agent, working in innovation in a large corporation, nurturing the adoption of ideas and collaboration among many to anticipate disruption, embrace change and overcome threats?

My proudest breakthroughs include facilitating the first democratic elections in South Africa in the Zululand region to a peaceful outcome in 1994, establishing the first Community Foundation in Africa and building that into a powerful transformational agency, and establishing + producing the AMPLIFY Innovation & Thought Leadership Festival since 2005. The latter two were the result of spotting signals early and converging many ideas into a powerful vision.

What is the best piece of advice you have ignored to get where you are?

Sticking to the straight and narrow road! I have always meandered down ally-ways and side-streets, and these have yielded the richest discoveries and sometimes set me on a totally different trajectory.

How many times did you nearly give up when things went wrong & what kept you going at those times?

Know that cartoon about the frog trying to strangle the Pelican that’s eating him? That’s me. I can be almost compulsive-obsessive when I want something. I NEVER give up. I just find a different way. And, I have learnt patience…I can bide my time. This is the hardest of course, but I have been rewarded more times than not by letting go of something and then revisiting it at a later time when circumstances caught up. Ideas can be way ahead of their time and one must be willing to cultivate the eco-system to prepare it for an idea. (This feels counter-intuitive because we know how slow organisations can be to change- but there’s no point forcing something so hard that it forces YOU out!)

Are you actually happy?

Yes! Unequivocally yes! I don’t have a perfect life, or actually perfect anything…but it’s sort of all working and there is harmony most of the time. I still have lots of ambition that I hope to realize and it would be great to really push my talents to see where the limits are. There are a few big dreams still looking for a physical manifestation- I’d like to play in a larger international arena and I would also like to help my 2 daughters achieve their dreams. One wants to be a musician and learn Mandarin so she can sing in China, and the other one wants to be a fashion stylist/ editor. I’d like to study Alternate Health like massage therapies as a hobby. (I love spoiling people!)

What do you wish you hadn’t sacrificed to be such a success?

It’s a flattering question, though I don’t think of success as a destination, more as a work-in-progress.

I have not been balanced at all times…favouring the mind and not honouring the body equally. I don’t sleep much…there’s so much living to be done! But no, I have never regretted not sleeping more!

I think my daughters have missed not coming home to cookies and milk served by me, but I don’t do guilt. I know they have gained in many other ways through the way I parent them, like a belief that being deeply immersed in doing something you love and becoming good at it is one of the most pleasurable things in life, and that all mastery requires effort. It’s very funny when I hear them sharing these thoughts with their teenage friends!

What mistakes did you make and what did you learn from them?

I make mistakes all the time…it comes with taking risk and learning. But it’s crucial to be very observant and spot a mistake quickly, then fix it immediately. It helps to have low ego and attachment to a process so you can amend it without feeling like it’s a loss of face!

Outside of a criminal offence, there are few mistakes one cannot overcome professionally or personally. But some mistakes can shadow you throughout your life. One of those is choosing a partner that is not right for you- and being tied to a bad scenario for a lifetime until your children are adults. That’s about the only warning I can give! And…mistakes should not be wasted, they are vessels of personal growth.

What would be the point of a mistake-free life? Can’t think of anything more boring!

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OMG the Onion is right about social networking – IMHO it changes nothing yet it changes everything

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This post was inspired by a humorous post on The Onion, titled:

“New Social Networking Site Changing The Way Oh, Christ, Forget It: Let Someone Else Report On This Bullshit”

It was shared by my friend Mark Pesce via Twitter this morning and gave me a chuckle while I was on the train. But then it reminded me of the well known Christian/Jewish scripture:

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Ecclesiastes 1:9

Which is the ancient wisdom that explains why 1980s fashion is trendy again. However, it also gives us an insight into humans. While we change the tools – from stone axes through to guns and computers – it is hard to change the fundamental architecture of humans and their behaviours.

We’ve all seen the breathless announcement of yet another innovative/ groundbreaking /game-changing/ revolutionary /cool /[insert appropriate PR buzzword] social networking application. But what does it change really? Certainly not the people who use it.

However, what it does change is the affordances available to the person. For instance Twitter enables almost instantaneous broadcast communication around the world (of course that is when the API is not down). Thus a cranky comment, that would once have traveled all the way across the office without that technology, can now annoy someone in London quite easily.

Thus it never fails to amuse and annoy me in equal parts when people act just like people do everywhere on social networks and it is reported as if this is some special property of social networks. 

Those people who are ill informed idiots were like that before they ever defaced a Facebook memorial or something similar. These behaviours do not arise ex nihilo in a person just because they signed up to a social network. But the social network context might help to amplify that behaviour.

The case is well argued by Tom Stewart in his post Don’t blame social media for bad behaviour.

The technology creates new affordances for people. It amplifies any behaviours and actions far beyond what used to be possible. Thus my comment that “it changes nothing, yet it changes everything”. We as a society will have to find new ways of dealing with this amplification of normal human behaviour and actions. I suspect it’s the beginning of a long journey.

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The digital revolution is not going away

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The following post is from a talk I gave at the Gov 2.0 lunch on Monday 31 May 2010 at Parliament House in Canberra.

The internet is a strange beast; it is everywhere and nowhere all at once. Unlike traditional media – with its registered offices, chief editors, and boards of directors etc. – the internet is amorphous yet powerful – and it is still only a teenager. And it is changing the face of human communication in ways we are only just beginning to understand.

As a business person and former public servant I can see the organisational challenges thrown up by the digital revolution. As marketer I adore the power of the digital revolution for marketing and communications. As a technologist I find the democratisation of technology world-changing. And as a citizen I wonder how this will all affect my world.

The digital revolution is manifesting changes in social behaviour and consumer expectations and this has implications for service delivery and communications in both business and government.

Let us firstly consider how the rate of technology change is increasing and how adoption is becoming faster. We can see that the rate of change is increasing in these examples [1]:

  • Radio took 38 years to reach 50 million users
  • Television took 13 years to reach 50 million users
  • The Internet took 4 years to reach 50 million users
  • The iPod took 3 years to reach 50 million users
  • And the iPod reached 1B application downloads in 9 months .

Now let us consider Facebook [2] , which is probably the most mainstream of the social networks in the western world. If Facebook was a country it would be the fourth largest in the world:

  • Facebook currently has more than 400 million users
  • About 50% of those users login each day
  • The average user has about 130 friends
  • There are approximately 500 billion minutes of time per month spent on Facebook
  • More than 70% users are located outside the United States
  • More than100 million users are currently accessing Facebook via mobile devices
  • The fastest growing segment on Facebook is women 55-65 years of age

Don’t forget China has Qzone (from Tencent Inc.) which is growing at a similar rate to Facebook on their first quarter report [3]:

  • Active Instant Messaging (“IM”) user accounts increased 8.7% QoQ to 568.6 million
  • Peak simultaneous online user accounts for IM services increased 13.2% QoQ to 105.3 million
  • Active user accounts of Qzone increased 10.4% QoQ to 428.0 million
  • Peak simultaneous online user accounts of QQ Game portal (for mini casual games only) increased 9.7% QoQ to 6.8 million
  • IVAS paying subscriptions increased 16.1% QoQ to 59.9 million
  • MVAS paying subscriptions increased 14.8% QoQ to 23.3 million”

The behavioural changes that sites like Facebook and Qzone are creating in ordinary people are vast. Everyday large numbers of non-technically skilled people are actively engaging in the online social communication and sharing of images, links, and videos with friends, groups, and events. They are engaging with software and becoming skilled at use largely without the support of technical support. They are using technology to mediate their social communications in a way that was not possible only a few years ago. The technology has become democratised and the barriers to participation lowered drastically.

Now let us consider Twitter [4]. While it is much smaller than Facebook, Twitter does have a very different focus and its use case is very different. While Facebook is about who you already know, Twitter is about who or what you don’t know yet.

Some basic facts about Twitter [5] include:

  • Twitter has more than 75 million users
  • It distributes more than 50 million tweets per day
  • And there are between 10-15 million active users

Increasingly Twitter is the home of breaking news – some good examples of this from 2009 are the place crash in the Hudson River in New York, the Chinese earthquake, and the Iranian revolution. Journalists are now lurking there instead of the pub to get tips. All around the world Twitter is becoming entwined with mainstream news providers, with tweets showing on screen during telecasts (for example, the Q and A program Australia’s ABC).

And some more interesting facts that demonstrate how intertwined social media platforms and technology are becoming into our everyday lives include:

  • YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world
  • Wikipedia inadvertently crushed earlier competitors and now has more than 13 million articles with 78% of those non-English languages
  • 80% of companies in the United States use LinkedIn to find staff

Another feature of social technology is that it is not tied to the computer; it is becoming mobile. For example, Generation Y and Z do not use email except to talk to old people like us (as my university students told me so kindly) or to institutions like school or university. Their preferred medium is text messaging via mobile or instant messaging via data networks.

What we are seeing is a shift in behaviours – it is not that certain behaviours are ceasing. Instead they are moving into a social networking context. For example, social network traffic now exceeds traffic to adult sites[6]; it also exceeds email traffic . Not because either adult content or email are disappearing, but because these activities are moving location into a social networking context.

Additionally, we are now seeing the emergence of physical location based social networks. Grindr, Gowalla and Foursquare are some new entrants. Also sites like Facebook are working on adding location based functionality to their offering. This is bringing physical presence into the social network experience enabling serendipitous meetings in real life. Thus physical presence is now becoming part of our digital matrix. And this leads to the new digital divide. As I’ve said for a while: “The willingness and desire to be hyperconnected via technology will become the new generation gap.”

This is a social media ecosystem that is interlinked and hyperconnected in ways that old media did not enable. The desire to connect was always there in humans but the technology did not support the desire. Now people can be connected constantly and ambiently – and this continuous electronic presence is a new stage in human relations.

For each of us there is a myriad of data points about us out there on the internet. It’s like an impressionist painting, one dot tells nothing but many dots create an artwork, or in the case of our data many data points tell the story of our lives.

As with many other innovations the social web is here and now we’re trying to work out how to (a) Use it; (b) Regulate it; and (c) Police it.

We’ve made good progress on how to use the social web from a personal perspective. But business and government are just starting to understand how it might be possible to use it. However, regulation and policing of the new social web is under fierce debate around the world. For example the various internet censorship moves in Australia, France, China, and North Korea. Also, as Danah Boyd commented[7], Facebook is a utility and that those tend to get regulated.

Some of the key issues that need to be debated and resolved include:

  • Ownership of personal data
  • Privacy
  • Security
  • Transparency
  • Law – copyright, intellectual property, defamation

These are all important from a personal, business and government perspective. Without clarity on these issues we face continued debate and uncertainty and this is never a good thing for business or government.

Another key thing is infrastructure – that is why Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN) is a brilliant thing. For those who can’t see why we need one it is worth remembering that nobody could see the purpose in having a fax machine before it was in use, and in the early days of computing some people saw the need for only a few computers in the world. If we build it, then the business and commercial opportunities will come. And not to build it means that Australia will become the digital poor relation in Asia.

The internet is now the largest word of mouth transmission mechanism humanity has ever seen. It amplifies communication in ways we are only just beginning to understand. And its immediacy and reach have irrevocably changed the communications landscape. Some of the changes in consumption patterns that arise from the digital revolution are about realtime expectations.

Changes in consumption patterns mean that we no longer consume media when publishers want us to. We do it when we want, on whatever device we choose, and on our own terms.

Let’s also look at some simple everyday behaviour. Who reaches first for the hard copy phone book to find a business anymore? Hardly anyone uses their old fashioned paper phone directory anymore.

Where are all of your personal contacts stored now? For many of us contacts are stored in our mobile phones or in our email accounts. But also many people are finding that their personal contacts are in their preferred social networks, and for many sites like LinkedIn or Plaxo store business contacts.

Social networking is crashing the degrees of separation between individuals. Even between the governed and their governors the degrees of separation are being crunched. People are having conversations with the Prime Minister, Opposition Leader, State Premiers, and their local councillors via social networks such as Twitter. This unprecedented access to people in authority is changing the demands on the organisations that support them. Previously letters went to a Minister and into the carefully crafted ministerial system. Responses were considered and carefully crafted according to predetermined service level agreements. Now the potential response needs to be turned around within minutes. This is a seismic shift in communications and in the demands upon organisations.

Expectations of response times are dropping. Have you ever had a phone call or text message asking why you’ve not responded to an email that just arrived? That expectation is now on steroids due to the growth in realtime web. Delayed gratification is becoming a thing of the past.

We are moving into an expectation of realtime responses from service providers. This is evident in TV shows – now we no longer wait until a show arrives for showing in Australia, we just download it and watch it whenever we want. Anyone who has teenagers has seen their internet download limit chewed up via this kind of immediate consumption behaviour.

The technology (including mobile) is shifting the notion of what form an acceptable communication takes. Now people receive confirmation of bill payments made or alerts about bills due for payment via text message to their mobile phones. Businesses are now embracing these new channels, with banks and airlines sending information via SMS as well as email. They are also building iPhone applications in their droves – for example most Australian banks have either launched or are building an iPhone banking application.

The modern Australian user is increasingly consuming media on a mobile device. The shift will continue as lower cost devices become available. Apple changed the game entirely with their iPhone and now the rest of the pack is playing catch up. There are also new entrants to the mobile game like Google.

The social web is not going away. It is going mobile. It is going realtime. We need to find ways to engage and deliver services using the social web that work for our constituents.

NOTES

[1] Source of these statistics is http://www.youtube.com/user/Socialnomics09 video dated 30 July 2009

[2] Source of the Facebook data is http://www.facebook.com/press/info.php?statistics at 30 May 2010

[3] Source Tencent Inc. 2010 First Quarter Results http://www.tencent.com/en-us/content/at/2010/attachments/20100512.pdf at 30 May 2010

[4] Tweet statistics are from http://blog.twitter.com/2010/02/measuring-tweets.html at 30 May 2010

[5] Twitter user numbers are from http://themetricsystem.rjmetrics.com/2010/01/26/new-data-on-twitters-users-and-engagement/#more-1430 at 30 May 2010

[6] Source Hitwise http://weblogs.hitwise.com/robin-goad/2009/01/social_networks_overtake_adult_websites.html and http://weblogs.hitwise.com/to-go-ap/2008/05/social_networks_the_new_email.html at 30 May 2010

[7] Danah Boyd, http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/2010/05/15/facebook-is-a-utility-utilities-get-regulated.html at 30 May 2010

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Ownership, new ideas and openness

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We see much discussion of the openness and collaborative nature of the web 2.0 world. However, many of the challenges facing us as a result of this new world relate to ownership of virtual goods.

There are longstanding conventions that enable us to sort out who owns property in the real world and some of the traditional principles of property rights include:

  1. control of the use of the property
  2. the right to any benefit from the property
  3. a right to transfer or sell the property
  4. a right to exclude others from the property.

[Source: Wikipedia]

But as we move further into the digital revolution then issues of ownership regarding digital assets and virtual goods comes to the fore.

However, some of the traditions of the web – such as openness – seem to be at odds with this notion of ownership. Also legal definitions might not be keeping up with the developments of these new digital and virtual goods. For example, what are the rules around a virtual good that I give away? What jurisdiction does it live in? How does title to the virtual good transfer?

These are all the questions facing the modern music industry with the shift to digital music. Locking down access does not seem to be working. Perhaps it is time to think about this from a fresh angle?

Other related issues are copyright and defamation. The old rules often seem very clunky and difficult to apply in this new digital world.

Some interesting questions for us to sort out. It will be interesting to see how this unfolds.

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Libraries for the future

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I spent most of my youth and childhood hanging about in public libraries and reading their books. In fact I blame libraries for most of my quirks these days, since it was there that I was exposed to dangerous ideas from philosophers, historians and fiction authors. The local, school and state libraries provided a welcome haven away from my rowdy siblings at home and the somewhat unpleasant school bullies of my youth.

Last week I was lucky enough to join a distinguished panel at the State Library of NSW to discuss the future of libraries. The event was the Futures Forum 2010 (PDF of media release available here).

The panel and assembled librarians were considering the possible futures for libraries in NSW – looking at these via the The bookends scenarios : the future of the Public Library Network in NSW in 2030 (PDF copy of the scenarios available here).

The booksellers on our panel were very worried about the impact of e-books and readers such as Kindle or iPad on their existing business of selling physical books.

This concern is no surprise with the rapid shift of consumption towards virtual rather than physical media for both books and audio. It seems very clunky to buy a CD for music now when I can just download the music I want to my mobile phone. It’s not hard to imagine the same scenario for books once equivalent reading devices are more widely available.

Another feature of the shift to virtual goods instead of books is the growth of recommendation engines and the ability to share our enthusiasms widely and immediately via social networks.

Thus if I love a new book, article or song it is easy to share it was all my contacts via Facebook or Twitter with a click or two. And interested parties can acquire it almost immediately based upon my recommendation. Thus the role of the mediators (like booksellers) is being replaced by the broader community of my social connections.

The growing hyper-connectedness facilitated by the internet and our connected devices make sharing of media a communal thing. In the same way that we pass physical books and CDs around amongst our circles we are sharing our passion and interests for virtual media.

Libraries are either going to adapt or go the way of the dinosaur. Judging by the level of thinking, debate and discussion I saw last week, my money is on adaptation.

Of the future scenarios considered, the one I see as most probable is that libraries become shared community spaces providing a hub for local activities and collaboration.

Have you been to your local library lately? Why not get along and check it out?

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