Mainstream media merges with social media, including the rise of news aggregation

Alex Iskold and Richard McManus have a great piece on Read/ Write Web titled “Mainstream Media Usage of Web 2.0 Services is Increasing”. The article details how many major media organizations are regularly including “Digg this”, “Tag on del.icio.us,” and other “web 2.0” features that we’ve grown used to seeing on blogs. Alex says:

It appears that we are nearing a tipping point for the mass adoption of prominent web 2.0 services, like digg and del.icio.us. Endorsement by mainstream media opens these services up to millions of people who otherwise would either not know about them, or not take them seriously. So these are not just links, these are literally endorsements – or recognition of additional value for mainstream media.

Alex’s piece includes the following chart which shows web 2.0 functionality on major media sites.

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As it happens, Future Exploration Network did a similar research exercise as part of a recent strategy project we did for a global news organization regarding the future of one of their online news sites. While we came up with some similar results to Alex, we also focused on personalization and aggregation functionality. At the moment the only major news sites that offer the ability for users to select their own news feeds from any media source are USA Today and Fox News. I haven’t yet had a chance to see the personalization features of MyTimes – the New York Times personalized news site, which is still under Beta. However I presume that it will offer this capability as well. Until very recently this open third-party aggregation functionality was only possibly from pure online properties, notably Yahoo! News, Netvibes, and of course any of a host of browser-based RSS aggregators. Big media content providers wanted to be just that – content providers. Now they are beginning to realize that providing quality content IN ADDITION to allowing readers to aggregate the best of the web creates a far stickier relationship. They can have the best of both worlds.

All of this reflects what I’ve written before about the symbiosis of mainstream media and social media – each learns from the other, integrates their best features, and feed off each other, until the boundaries between them are blurred beyond recognition.

Value Networks Masterclass in New Zealand with Verna Allee

Business and society are founded on networks – networks of communication, people, organizations, infrastructure, trade, and far more. This has always been true, but in our hyper-connected world the fundamental networked nature of our world is coming to the fore. In my book Living Networks I described how these networks are now coming to life. We’ve seen the rising prominence of network partly in how “social networks” has become one of the hottest phrases on the planet, describing the extraordinary phenomena of MySpace, YouTube, Second Life, Wikipedia, and a host of other new tools. Organizational network analysis (ONA) has been adopted as a powerful management tool by many leading organizations. Influence networks are now one of the hottest themes in PR and marketing. Open innovation, the most talked-about development in corporate innovation, is fundamentally based on tapping external networks. Yet one of the most powerful applications of network approaches works at the very highest level – that of the how value flows through these networks.

The concepts of Value Networks were first thoroughly developed by Verna Allee in her book the Future of Knowledge (2003), in which she described how she had been mapping the flows of tangible and intangible value in industry networks. Examples included Cisco’s extended network, value flows in the pharmaceutical industry and an engineering firm, among others. Over the last few years the field has grown rapidly, with now a real critical mass of tools and real-life examples. Organizations such as Cisco, Boeing, SAP, and others are ardent proponents and users of value networks approaches. The Value Networks Cluster brings together practitioners around the world, having run events around the US and Europe, and runs a very active and interesting Value Networks discussion group. Verna, working with Oliver Schwabe and others, has released a suite of Creative Commons-licensed open resources, tools, and applications for value networks analysis. The rapidly broadening understanding of the central role of networks in business, together with the development and maturation of practical tools and methodologies, means value networks approaches are likely to become very prominent in business over the next few years.

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[This diagram was taken from a excellent introductory article by Verna Allee on Understanding Value Networks].

I’ve known Verna since 1997, when she had just published her seminal book The Knowledge Evolution. Over the years we’ve shared many ideas and much thinking on the role of networks, and continuously sought opportunities to work together. Verna goes to New Zealand regularly in her role as Visiting Professor at University of Waikato, and has also been doing work for organizations including the independent government research organization AgResearch. AgResearch have been so enthused by the value networks work that they’ve been doing with Verna that they are keen to share these approaches with the broader community in New Zealand. Verna and I have planned similar workshops together before, so Verna kindly asked me to co-facilitate a workshop with her. Our Value Networks Masterclass will be held this 1-2 March in Hamilton, New Zealand. Full details including the agenda are on the event website. The idea is to make this as practical as possible, moving from the foundational concepts of value networks, through case studies of applying value networks methodologies, to specific tools and methodologies. It will be great to work with Verna on this – please do pass on word if there are people in New Zealand who may be interested!

Professional networks and marketing without advertising

One of my deepest interests is professional networks – how groups of independent professionals coalesce to serve clients. I’ve written about professional networks in both of my books, and this will be a central theme of one of my future books. Future Exploration Network is my own implementation of a professional network, in which we bring together global best-of-breed consultants and thinkers as required for specific client projects around the world.

One of the more interesting and successful professional networks I’ve seen is Connect Marketing in Australia, led by the energetic Carolyn Stafford. This started from a series of networking breakfasts for marketing professionals. It has now grown to a national network of professionals, with Connect providing clients with introductions to appropriate professionals, a series of packaged offerings, and the ability to create ad-hoc teams for specific projects. While Connect focuses on the small to medium size sector, it also does work for some top global brands.

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Carolyn, as part of her own very successful promotion efforts, has written a book, Small Business, Big Brand, that provides 33 marketing tips for business, together with a wealth of case studies. There is also a mini version of the book with just 5 tips, which Carolyn has kindly allowed me to put on my blog – you can download it for free here. You can also purchase the physical book here. The downloadable mini version includes a case study on Future Exploration Network on how we promoted the Future of Media Summit 2006, titled “Stop wasting your money on ADVERTISING”.

This section of the ebook, including the Future Exploration Network case study, is below.

Read more

Will micropayments transform publishing and the internet?

Micropayments on the internet have been a major topic of discussion since the mid-1990s. The internet supposedly creates a “liquid economy” in which products and services can flow easily around the planet. Yet a foundation for any business is the ability to get paid. Most transactions are done through credit cards, with Paypal a rising alternative, yet these systems are either not appropriate for very small payments, due to high transaction fees, or are not widespread enough. As such, it is almost impossible to charge for anything worth less than a few dollars. That’s fine for relatively expensive items such as books, but makes everyday content such as news, analysis, and humour very hard to charge for.

Bill Gates said today at the World Economic Forum at Davos that Microsoft is launching a points-based micropayments system. As Robert McLaws and Dean Collins have pointed out, similar systems have already been implemented by Microsoft for Xbox Live to enable simple online transactions. Not for the first time, a concept tested in the gaming community is now reaching the broader community. Mary Jo Foley harks back to Passport, Microsoft’s aborted attempted in 2001 to create a “digital wallet” amid a suite of online services. Today, as then, Microsoft’s power cuts two ways: many get exposed to Microsoft’s offerings and view them as credible, yet there is strong reticence at Microsoft’s power. The more limited scope of the current offering, where consumers buy a portfolio of points for $10 or $20, then spend them online, will make this a far more palatable offering.

As Donna Bogatin and a number of others have noted, a good micropayment system could disrupt Google’s Adwords program. Publisher may be able to make better money by charging tiny amounts to visitors to read their wares, than they can by putting up advertisements. There are two big uncertainties here. One is whether people will be prepared to pay even small amounts for content, now that an everything-is-free mentality has built up. Even if that turns out to be possible, Microsoft’s challenge is to become the de facto standard for online micropayments. In this domain more than most, network effects reign – online one micropayments systems is going to win. I believe that in the long run a micropayments system will be central to the internet. But I’m not convinced that either of the two conditions will be met for a good while. It is an idea whose time is coming, but may not yet be quite here. Publishing will definitely be transformed when micropayments are part of the general infrastructure, by creating a better business model to encourage high-quality, targetted content. Let’s see how this one pans out.

The magic of data visualization for everyone

Every day I am amazed afresh by the transformative power of the Web. Today I have discovered Many Eyes, a site hosted by IBM’s AlphaWorks. It combines open participation with a wonderful set of visualization tools. As such anyone can upload data sets, and then create sophisticated visual representations of those data sets, including scatterplots, tree maps, histograms, bubble diagrams, network maps and far more. Anyone can then either reuse the data sets, create new visualizations, add comments, or blog about the visualizations. To try it out I created in around one minute a bubble diagram representation of the frequency of words in the English language (See below for the non-interactive diagram – I won’t link directly, as I think generating the diagram is rather resource-intensive – have a look at the visualization gallery that includes it). In the first edition of my book Developing Knowledge-Based Client Relationships, which was published in 2000, I wrote about both data visualization and concept visualization (which uses visual representations to convey concepts rather than information). Both of these will be fundamental in a world in which we are swamped with information. While I haven’t spent as much time on visualization over the last years, I am shifting back towards this space, not least in facilatating clients in easily understanding and responding to strategic issues.

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In Tim O’Reilly’s very interesting post about the site, he asked Martin Wattenberg and Fernanda Viegas, the people who conceived Many Eyes, about their inspiration. Fernanda calls it ‘“social data analysis,” in which “playful, social exploration of data leads to serious analysis”. Martin says that their goal is to “democratize” visualization. These are seriously valuable tools being provided for free to the community at large, where one person can use the tools for their own purposes, then have their ideas be taken up and developed further by others. I’ve long used AlphaWorks as one of the best and earliest examples of open innovation. It’s great to see them both offering this kind of value to the community, and have this fully integrated into their business models. Note that another social data visualization site, Swivel, launched before Many Eyes – it doesn’t appear to have as rich visual functionality, as Brian Dennis notes, but has far more data sets uploaded for people to play with.

IBM and social networking in the enterprise

IBM has just launched Lotus Connections, a suite of collaboration software, with functionality including staff profiles, communities, project spaces, social bookmarking, and blogging. This is a major release, but has long been on the cards. Back in November 2005 I discussed how Lotus executives were seeing the future in terms of social software. At the time blogs, photo sharing, social bookmarks and similar tools for consumers were rapidly emerging. These clearly had massive applicability to large corporations, where the tools and approaches of knowledge management had never fulfilled on their promise. Since then IBM has continued to roll out social software applications inside its own 300,000-strong organization and to select clients. There is no question that IBM sees social software as a key enabler of productivity in large organizations, and will continue to focus on development of the platforms.

There has been an interesting range of responses to the announcement. Steve Borsch says that it “legitimizes the entire category.” It certainly helps to have this major announcement, though the reality is that IBM and Microsoft have been active in this space in various ways for some time. There are a number of smaller companies providing social software for the enterprise, including SocialText, Blogtronix, iUpload, and Traction. All of them are finding that corporations are rapidly becoming receptive to these approaches. No doubt this trend will accelerate, bringing in another wave of corporations after the early adopters.

More intriguingly, the conclusion that Larry Dignan of ZDNet draws from IBM entering the market is that “the social networking run is over, kaput, done, finished.” I can only presume Larry is not familiar with what has been done over the last ten years in enabling collaboration inside the enterprise, what has and hasn’t worked, and how this release relates to previous enterprise collaboration software. This release is by no means a massive change in direction for the industry – much of IBM’s release today has been foreshadowed in enterprise software developments over the last few years. Larry no doubt thinks organizations would perform better if they communicated solely with email.

“Social networks” basically means people are connected and communicate. If you don’t have social networks, you don’t have an organization. We now have better software tools than in the past to enable people to communicate and be productive – it’s that simple. Not liking SecondLife or other applications that are tagged “social networkng” has no bearing on the value of the latest releases that support enterprise collaboration.

On a related note, I’ve just discovered that Ask.com uses what I’ve written on my blog when asked “what is enterprise 2.0?” I’m still planning to do a more lengthy post on enterprise 2.0, what it means, and why it’s important sometime soon.

Interview on mobile social networking

Social networking has being the hot, hot trend over the last few years. Over the next few years mobile social networking will in turn become massive. There have been a number of interesting initiatives I’ve referrred to over the last years in this blog and my books, including Dodgeball and its acquisition by Google, the location-based Meetro, and Japan’s Imahima. Now that a large proportion of people in developed countries have rich media capabilities and location capabilities on their phones and handheld devices, the stage is set for mobile social networking to soar. Proximity dating (in which you are linked with compatible people who are currently in the immediate vicinity) is something I first wrote about in 2002. A potential killer app is the ability to see on a map your friends’ location and to arrange meetings. Of course, existing social networking platforms will go mobile, as in the recently announced deal between MySpace and Cingular to offer MySpace on mobile phones. There are many more dimensions to how mobile social networking will become pervasive – this is a field that will explode in the next years.

I was recently interviewed on mobile social networking for the Mobile Media Show and spoke about these and related issues – the podcast is available from here. To quote from the Mobile Media Show introduction:

My guest on the show is Ross Dawson, a consultant and commentator on the global network economy.

He recently made comment on the suitability of mobile phones for social networking and how Australia is lagging behind this trend due to high data charges imposed by the telcos, arguing it has been limiting the capacity for experimentation.

Ross discusses proximity dating, mobile as a tool for social networking and how developments like video glasses will change the way content is consumed on portable devices.

I start this interview by asking Ross to fill us in on the history of mobile content in the USA and how their unlimited data deals have made them leap frog other countries to now be a leader.

Robots, Akihabara, and a baby…

Last week, wandering around Tokyo, I decided to check out what sort of consumer robots were available. I ended up initially finding the Kondo Robo-Spot in Akihabara, where Kondo, a manufacturer of radio controllers and kit robots, has a demonstration facility. The video below shows the robot kicking a ball into a goal, doing pushups and cartwheels, bowing, and waving his arms in celebration – a pretty impressive display. It also shows the reaction of my five-month old daughter Leda to the robot.

The Kondo robots are available only in kit form, seIling for a little less than $1,000, and taking five or so hours to assemble. It turns out that there is a large market of robot “otaku” in Japan, who prefer to assemble robots than buy them complete, with a magazine dedicated to kit robots. The Kondo robot and its brethren are humanoid, and are able to walk and perform basic functions by virtue of compressed air-powered “muscles”, directed by people through wireless controllers. While the controllers can be programmed to make the robots perform complex movements, such as cartwheels, the robots are not autonomous, so are more mechanical wonders than self-directing robots.

There is no question that Japan’s future (and past) is deeply enmeshed with robots. It is the only country where there is serious experimentation with what robots can do. I have written before about cuddly seal robots for therapy, lifelike doppelganger robots, household robots, and other explorations of the boundaries of robotics in Japan. The human race is on the verge of creating robots that become part of our everyday lives, yet we are still far from discovering precisely what roles robots will play in our future. I think it will be fun having robots around to help us.

Techmeme and finding the most interesting conversations

I have always said – particularly to those who don’t understand blogging – that blogs are not necessarily important individually, but in aggregate they are massively powerful. The “blogosphere” pulls together what millions of talented people around the world are discovering and thinking. Collectively, blogs enable us to collaborate to filter and uncover the most worthwhile news. As I wrote in my second book Living Networks, we are currently all participating in the birth of a global brain, and the world of blogs allows makes visible our collective stream of consciousness.

In that vein, Techmeme is one of the top three sites I refer to – often several times a day – to discover what is the most interesting technology news of the moment. It is an automated site that tracks a continually evolving list of the top few thousand blogs. It uses a complex algorithm to pull out both the most discussed news items or blog posts at that time, and the current conversations between top bloggers that these have sparked. Because of its exclusive scope, you can be sure that the comments are interesting and relevant. More importantly, the site uncovers conversations, discussions, points of difference, disagreements, creating a view on the news that is far more than the sum of its parts. Techmeme’s sister sites – memeorandum for politics, WeSmirch for celebrity gossip, and Ballbug for baseball – fulfil the same role for other topics. Memeorandum in particular provides fascinating insights into the American political debate, and how topics are viewed by partisans of both left and right.

Danny Sullivan of SearchEngineLand has just interviewed Techmeme founder Gabe Rivera, providing some fascinating insights into Techmeme. I was very surprised to discover that Techmeme has only around 30,000 daily unique visitors, a tiny amount compared to sites like Digg.com, with around 1.5 million per day. Apparently Techmeme is still a tool used by the cognoscenti, including many journalists who use it to discover news stories. However in my mind Techmeme and its sister sites rank alongside Technorati as the most valuable tools to uncover the power of the blogosphere. Joshua Jaffe of The Deal says he’s convinced that Techmeme will be acquired by Google for a stupendous sum. I certainly have no doubt that Techmeme or similar tools for tracking insightful online conversations will soon come to the fore.

The days of mass media are over

Are mass media dinosaurs, or rock-solid incumbents that will still rule the roost for decades to come? I was asked to write the “Yes” case to a debate featured in the December issue of Marketing magazine on “Are the days of mass media over?” Below is my case – remember that as a debater you have to take an extreme view! Unfortunately I can’t republish the “No” case, written by John Sintras, COO of Starcom Worldwide, however you can probably imagine what a large media buyer would say on the topic…

Are the days of mass media over? YES!

The days of mass media are numbered. We are rapidly shifting into a world of highly targetted media, distributed over a multiplicity of new channels. The bastions of mass media as we know them – free-to-air television, AM and FM radio, and newspapers – will still exist, but not in the forms we currently know them. In order to adapt to the winds of change, they will have to shift so they are no longer true “mass” media.

The first nail in the coffin of mass media as we know it is the proliferation of new distribution channels. In particular Internet Protocol, or IP, provides an almost infinitely flexible platform for distribution of content in any form. As consumers get wide bandwidth Internet access both to their computers, TV, and game consoles in their homes, and to their mobile devices wherever they choose to roam, they will be able to tap into any content they wish.

Legislation in almost every country in the world currently provides strict limitations on how TV and radio electromagnetic spectrum can be used. That archaic legislation can be transcended simply by distributing content over IP, a domain which legislation will never be able to fully control. We can already access news, radio, video, or anything else we want, from anywhere on the planet.

Telecoms firms are eager to provide great media content to their mobile phone customers. While the screens of mobiles are too small for viewing most video, these will be swiftly supplanted by new technologies. Video glasses provide quality video viewing anywhere, anytime, even while you’re walking or doing other activities. I virtually never watch TV, but I frequently watch programs on my video glasses. E-paper allows us to unfold or unroll large screens that can be kept in our pockets. We can read news or watch entertainment as and when we please.

The real death-knell for mass media as we know it is advertisers’ desire for targetted advertising with measurable outcomes. Broadcast is an extremely apposite moniker – it throws its net widely, and catches many unappetising and worthless fish for every one that is potentially of value. Moreover, you have no idea what you have caught or even whether you have caught anything. For advertisers, this is extremely wasteful. New media distribution technologies allow advertisements to be shown only to those who are likely to be interested, and then allows immediate interaction. A conversation and a relationship is created. Mass media affords no true relationship with the audience. The rapidly eroding value of sending undifferentiated message to millions means that mass media will rapidly fragment, and the majority of content will be distributed through direct, immediate, targetted, interactive channels.