Tapping the Zeitgeist: Powerful tools for spotting online trends

One of the most fabulous aspects of the online world is that trends are visible as never before. Since people’s interests are visible in what they search for and where they go, the zeitgeist becomes visible. Here is a brief review of some of the tools that give us insights into up-to-the-minute views on what we are collectively thinking and following.

Google Trends

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Google’s original Google Zeitgeist was replaced in May by the current Google Trends, which allows you to compare searches made on terms, correlates these with news and events, and enables you to drill down to activities in regions, cities and specific languages. The Hot Trends feature shows the hottest searches (as in most increased relative to usual levels) of the day.

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Sneak preview: Future Files: A History of the Next 50 Years by Richard Watson

Do you want to have your brain vigorously shaken? Those in search of serious provocation on what the future holds need look no further than Future Files: A History of the Next 50 Years, by the inimitable Richard Watson, Chief Futurist at Future Exploration Network. The book is not out until next week, so you’re privileged to get a sneak preview at the book website. Don’t miss the free download of Chapter 1 of the book.

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The heart of the book is 11 chapters, each exploring the future of a key aspect of our lives and future.

1 Society and Culture: why we’ll take longer baths in the future

2 Government and Politics: us and them

3 Science and Technology: the rise of the machines

4 Media and Entertainment: have it your way

5 Money and Financial Services: everyone is a bank

6 Automotive and Transport: the end of the road as we know it

7 Food and Drink: faster and slower

8 Retail and Shopping: what we’ll buy when we’ve got it already

9 Healthcare and Medicine: older and wiser

10 Travel and Tourism: ‘Sorry, this country is full.’

11 Work and Business: the new right-brain economy

Each chapter is filled with startling facts from the present, from which Richard derives staggering insights about the future. As with much of Richard’s work, it shouldn’t all be taken overly seriously, but being prepared to make a few supersonic flights of logic is what helps take us into new ways of thinking about the future, and responding to it more effectively.

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Who is capturing the new industry of online classifieds? Analysis and global comparisons

In the Future of Media Report 2007 we published some original research on the ownership of online classifieds in the US, UK, and Australia. One of the biggest industry fractures in the shift to digital media has been the emergence of online classifieds. Classifieds used to be the sole domain of print media. As classifieds have shifted to a medium that is superior in accessibility, searchability, and cost, new entrants have taken part of the pie. It has been possible for incumbent media to leverage their power and position to be successful in online classifieds, but in many cases other players have taken the opportunity and seized prominent positions.

As such we looked at the jobs and real estate online classifieds markets across the three countries, dividing the owners of properties into five groups: Traditional Media, Large New Media (e.g. Yahoo, eBay, Google), Small New Media, Industry (e.g. recruitment or real estate firms), and Other. We used traffic to the sites as a proxy for their prominence. We would also have liked to have compared online classifieds with print classifieds, but it is difficult without financial data. Perhaps a project for our 2008 Report… The analysis is below – click on the charts for full details in the Report.

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Global and regional business models for blogging: Allure licenses Gawker titles

An article in today’s Australian title Network expects blogging to pay off notes that Allure Media, an Australian blogging network, will next week launch its fourth title, the gaming blog Kotaku. After the initial story being posted by Phil Sim in February, Allure launched Australian versions of the Gawker Media sites Gizmodo and Defamer, with Lifehacker being launched last week. All four blog titles are licensed from Gawker, meaning that blog content is reused or created under the supervision of local editors, and any visitors from Australia to the main Gawker Media sites are redirected to the local sites.

This model provides additional monetization by Gawker of their properties, traffic from the outset for the Australian blogs, and hopefully then scalability of advertising sales to encompass purely local initiatives. I’ve written before about the challenges of creating blog discussions in smaller English-speaking (or Spanish or Chinese-speaking) countries, when conversations usually get drawn back to the dominant country’s population. In addition, it is harder to monetize content in smaller economies. Allure’s approach, depending on the licensing terms with Gawker, can provide a balance between avoiding having to create all the content required, while making that content relevant to a local audience. The remaining issue is whether sufficient advertising can be sold, particularly to Australian corporates and media buyers which in the main still haven’t got their heads around blogging. Certainly the model can be applied in other media markets in adapting local content for media globalization.

Allure is owned 92.5% by web investment firm Netus, which is in turn primarily funded by News Corporation. Netus’s Craig Blair is quoted in the article:

“Our main focus right now is turning Allure Media into the premier blog publishing business in Australia, and that’s by generating interesting content and proving we can monetise (it) through (media) agencies,” MrBlair said.

“For advertisers, this is a really good way of getting niche audiences. We’ll expect a business like Allure Media to break even within 12 months.”

It will be very interesting to see to what degree this enables the development of an advertising-supported blog sector in Australia, by making it perceived as a mainstream media outlet for the first time.

The measure of success: whether you can create meaningful and useful participation for customers

A recent article in Smartcompany magazine titled Sites for more eyes examines how companies can build online communities for their customers. It offers 10 tips on building communities, drawing on an interview with me for two of the tips:

Tip #3 – Create champions for your product

Find the people who are the champions of your community and get them on board. Contact them individually, have lunch with them and persuade them to make a contribution by writing a blog or participating in your forums.

If you can make opinion leaders in your area passionate advocates for your product, they can be very powerful in attracting eyeballs to your site.

Web 2.0 innovator and Future Exploration Network chairman Ross Dawson says you may only identify your champions through the participation opportunities provided by your site, but once identified it is important to make a connection with them.

“Not only will they bring other people in their orbit to your website, they will bring useful or thought-provoking opinions, which are a vital resources, so champions can be very important,” Dawson says.

Tip #7 – Let your customers interact – with your business, and each other

Forums are a crucial way of fostering a community around your brand. Ideally, your website should become a place where people who are connected by a common interest in what you do come to talk and socialise. This, more than anything else, will create content and keep people coming back to your website.

“Interaction is the main drawcard for any website; in effect, it is the payoff you offer visitors for coming to your website,” says Ross Dawson, chairman of Future Exploration Network.

Dawson says you can also give people a stake in your product by giving them the opportunity to participate in the way your business works: a competition to name or choose a colour or style for a product can give people a reason to come to your website, and tell their friends.

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The role of specialist social networks for professionals: opening out communities of practice

It’s one thing to discuss whether Facebook is a useful professional social networking tool. The answer is: it is if you want it to be. It’s another issue to uncover which are the most relevant social networks for your professional life, and to use these effectively. The most important connections for most professionals (who are deep knowledge specialists in their domain of expertise) are their peers. As such, it often makes sense to belong to specialist social networks.

This relates strongly to the well-established field of Communities of Practice. Many organizations have established communities of experts in specific domains who share insights into what they’re learning, answer questions, and build knowledge collectively. Less often communities of practice span organizational boundaries, for example with clients or suppliers. Certainly there is almost always some kind of boundary on who can participate. Now that, over the last seven years or so, we have worked out the fundamentals of effective online social networking platforms, these are ripe to be applied to specialist domains. This enables an opening out of what were formerly closed communities, to provide useful platforms for experts to share not just knowledge, but also social connections. It is important to recognize that the current crop of social networking tools are now highly evolved applications that go substantially beyond the tools that have previously been available. Since being a professional of any kind requires keeping on top of massive amounts of information and new developments, effective social networks are invaluable in keeping on top of that.

The New York Times Wall Street Journal has a good article titled Social Networking Goes Professional, which outlines some of the current crop of specialist professional social networks, and their business models. The ones they mention, plus a couple of others I’m familiar with, are:

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Audio stream of radio interview on Facebook, networks, connectivity, and media

I’ve just found out that there’s online audio available of the interview I did last week on the radio station 3AW about Facebook in the enterprise. It was one of the interviews I did last week that I enjoyed the most, as we covered a lot of territory in our discussion.

In the conversation with Ernie Sigley, we discussed the use of Facebook by employees, networks in organizations, the impact of technology on productivity, participation in media, the use of Internet by older people, where I was born, the role of connecting globally for the economy, and more in a seven minute segment.

Click here to access the radio interview.

Eight steps to thriving on information overload

Many of my keynote speeches focus on the future of business and where technology is going. One of the most common responses, and one I’ve heard many times after my speeches over the last few weeks, is to be staggered by the implications of where this is all going, followed by the question, “So how do I keep on top of everything that’s happening?” In a world in which the pace of developments and amount of information available in any given domain is soaring out of sight, it’s a very valid question.

I intend to spend more of my time answering this question in a practical fashion, as this has become an absolutely vital issue in a world of information run amok. For now, I thought I’d post an article I originally published 10 years ago in the October 1997 issue of Company Director magazine. Everything I wrote is still completely valid. However now we have access to many technological tools, which if used well, can assist us in coping with information overload. More on that later, along with some of the tools and approaches I find effective. The original article is here:

Information Overload – Problem or Opportunity?

“We have for the first time an economy based on a key resource [information] that is not only renewable, but self-generating. Running out of it is not a problem, but drowning in it is.” John Naisbitt, author of Megatrends.

Information overload is a fact of life for company directors, senior managers, and all professionals. Information is coming in from all sides in the form of reports, memos, newspapers, journals, and letters, and now the advent of e-mail and Internet has turned the torrent into a flood.

How can directors cope with the onslaught? Or rather, since we are businesspeople, it seems the question should be how can we turn the reality of the new business environment into an opportunity and a competitive advantage?

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Professional services network offsite: Tapping the Power of Collaboration

This morning I gave an extended keynote session at the annual offsite of a very interesting global professional services network, which brought together the leaders of the member firms. International networks in accounting, law, consulting, and other professional services have flourished over the last years as small to mid-sized firms have sought the benefits of belonging to a network. Brand, access to resources, providing a more comprehensive offering, and being able to offer integrated services to clients that are active overseas all make it an attractive proposition.

Yet the reality is that the degree of collaboration within most of these networks is, to put it kindly, far less than it could be. There is often little awareness of the distinctive capabilities of other firms in the network, let alone the inclination to bring them business or to integrate their services into what they offer their clients.

As such, my keynote address was on the Power of Collaboration, covering among other issues the Seven MegaTrends of Professional Services, knowledge-based relationships, organizational networks, trust-building, and core strategy issues for professional services firms.

I have long said that networks of professional firms have the potential to challenge and rival the major professional firms. We’ve seen many examples emerge, and clients are increasingly happy to deal with networked firms. I’ve experienced this directly with Future Exploration Network, where we’ve run significant consulting projects drawing on a global network of resources, and been chosen in preference to big-name consulting firms. For any professional services network, there is absolutely extraordinary potential in being more collaborative. Yet there is also the reality of significant cultural and behavioral change being required from member firms for this to happen.

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Keynote speech on Creating the Future of Business

Yesterday I gave a keynote on Creating the Future of Business at the Q400 Business Summit in Brisbane, which was themed Future Shocks. The feedback was fantastic; I’m hoping to be able to post a video of my presentation soon.

One of the key themes of my presentation was the Open Economy, in which everything is laid out open, across business processes, visibility, transparency, borders, industry boundaries and more. One of the stories I used was that of Goldcorp, which I told briefly in my book Living Networks, in the context of business applications of open source models:

Open source thinking can be applied to completely different domains in business. Rob McEwen, chairman and CEO of Canadian gold miner Goldcorp, believed his company’s 55,000 acre stake had massive potential, but didn’t know how to access it. When attending an information technology seminar at MIT, McEwen drew inspiration from the session on open source software. He did what was previously unthinkable in the mining community—exposing all of their geological data online, and announcing a competition for the best analysis of where they should mine next. All four mines the company has drilled on the winners’ advice have hit high-grade ore.

Since then, the story has appeared in many different contexts, including being used as the opening example in Don Tapscott’s excellent book Wikinomics, and in Procter & Gamble’s internal communications promoting their open innovation initiatives. It remains a good inspiration for open business initiatives. It is told in more detail by Fast Company magazine.

Some of the other topics I covered in the speech were the acceleration of the global economy, how it is now impossible for businesses to hide, non-zero sum thinking, the role of competent jerks in organizational networks, and the characteristics of high-performers.