Skating to where the puck will be

It was great to see the comments from people in Ottawa, Toronto and Waterloo discussing the strength of, and differences between each community. It’s a testament to the connection between the Ontario’s tech centers. What’s missing – beside Montreal – is this same discussion on core problems that affect all Canadian tech companies – like funding (tax treatment and education I’d say) and discussion of intercity methods of sharing knowledge and supporting innovation (camps and communication infastructure).

What’s happening is that the world (I’ve heard similar things from the London, Leeds, and Manchester) is beginning to recognize that if we are ever going to upset the dominance of Silicon Valley – an area that treats the world is as its innovation hinterland – we have to build on the strength and diversity of our regional communities – rather than surrendering the best to American investors
 
What I mean by regional is a strategy based on communities co-operating and upper levels of governments enhancing that co-operation with connectivity and funding.  Why for instance should Entrepreneurship 101 not be broadcast throughout Ontario using funding to enable web casting and a local partner to provide local instructional support and facilitate inter and intra community interaction? This builds local and regional community, entrepreneur’s knowledge while at the same time building a network of organizational relationships at the regional level. The same thing could be done with OCRI and Communitech programs – as well as DemoCamps and other industry events. The alternative is to spend $500.M of public money duplicating MaRS in Ottawa – an idea that lies at the heart of Innovation HUB proposal

We need to develop a sense of extended community that allows people and businesses to identify partners and opportunities outside their geographic area. This is important because economic benefit occurs is where problem knowledge, technology application and business insight intersect. At one time it could have been argued that this was the domain of cities – because of the density of interactions – however the emergence of community around blogs/forums/video has shown that technology can serve as an intermediary for connection instead of geography. At the same time the scale of competition has increased dramatically. Countries like China and India have massive population advantages that statistically increase the probability that it will be them, not us, who discover and exploit new opportunities. A single city is no longer big enough to form a global competitive advantage.

As I see it we these trends will guide many new business models.

– cheap and rich communication
– the adoption of networked business models  (outsourcing being but one example)
– a decrease of vertically integrated companies
– more innovation occurring at the intersection of fields of knowledge
– globalization (competition for customers & innovation) reaching into smaller and smaller market niche
– rising energy and carbon offset fees increasing the costs for physical travel and shipping  

They also provide a framework for regional economic development that can rival the world’s mega cities in terms of the diversity and connection – while being economically efficient, providing program excellence and diversity, and serving every company type – even if the threshold in a local are doesn’t warrant local provision of that service.

Of course the devils’ in the details, but the place to start is to explore how pervasive broadcast of local events through the broader region builds community and connections that wouldn’t occur otherwise.

Advertisements

Talk

While talking about the Social Media Press release yesterday I mused about the need for real-time communications to be included in the system.

Actually the call is for a much broader inclusion of person to person or person to group communication in Internet services – direct discussion between people using a site and between users and the posters of content. Talk.

One of the things all sites do is to attract people who share a common interest. From time immemorial this has formed the basis for personal discussion and connection. It is how we meet other people – through a shared activity.

The internet has introduced a new type of shared activity that mimics its predecessors –while removing the requirement for temporal or spatial connection. In doing so it has both enriched some aspects of our social lives while leaving others unsatisfied.

It is hard not to believe the rise of services like Twitter and newsfeeds on social networks from FaceBook to Linkedin, which send out a stream of deeply human but typically mundane activities, is not a reaction to an unmet desire to connect around the ordinary activities that consume most of our lives.

For myself I cannot stand in line at a store, or contemplate some types of purchase without engaging in discussion with those around me. And it’s not just me who relishes in chance encounters. On the radio this morning a store owner was recounting how his store grew out of his interest to share his knowledge with customers. One of the things he regretted with the Internet store that remains was his business was reduced to availability and price.

It doesn’t need to be like this – the ability to personally connect either with individual users or connect users with each other is both easy and cheap. More importantly it provides a means to develop the rich personal connection between people that real time voice allows.

One easy way to start is to consider adding conferencing as a regular activity related to your site.  Check out Iotum’s free conference service as an example of one service to speak to multiple site users simultaneously. Use it to educate, understand, or to explore a specific topics and tangents. It reintroduces the personal onto your site.

Want more continuous connection? Add click to call buttons – but if you’re a small organization consider integrating with find-me applications so you’re not tethered to a desk. This is a great way to add value – especially if the goods, service or cause the site is dedicated to are based on something unique where sharing insights and discussion enriches everyone.

In time I love to see infrastructure that would notify me that other users were on the same page I was – and if they were open to a spontaneous discussion. Of course in this scenario Web shopping can again become the shared activity around which people meet which it is for many in the physical world.

In the end adding voice to an Internet site re-introduces temporal connection to the relationships they build – making them more concrete and meaningful.

Success Disaster – shaping the next Internet

I’m not a network person in fact I can hardly get two devices to share files – yet I found this 18 month old talk by Van Jacobson incredibly compelling and though provoking.

What Mr. Jacobson does is make an arcane subject – Network Typology both easily understood and relevant.

What becomes clear is that network architecture is shaped by initial business or conceptual issues and then shapes the business opportunities that are built upon it.

From the circuit switched phone network – with an initial problem of how to describe a wiring path between two devices we get a network that is concerned with mapping paths without concern for the conversation (data), and a fetish for reliability of every component in the circuit (because any failure could break the connection) at the expense of call set-up time. 

The IP network takes an entirely different approach. It breaks up information into small packets and lets intelligent points decide each step to the destination. The result is a network that gains its reliability through system growth not device reliability. Embedded in that protocol are a series of choices however that are contributing to many of the problems we face today – from limitations for pervasive connection, net neutrality and authentication and spam.

The solutions to these problems have implications for everything from IP to social media and broadcast industries.  As network engineers start to tackle the cracks that are showing in the IP network they will make decisions that will impact business models far removed from the networks core.

This talk gives some interesting and easy to understand insights as to the problems and solutions that network designers face and for that it’s worth the hour and half. You may, like me, come away with the conclusion that these are more that technical issues – they will shape how the Internet changes as it moves into every corner of the earth and our lives.

Voice Mash-ups – Imagination is the biggest barrier

I’ve been watching the growth of Iotum’s Free Conference calling service because conferencing is the perfect voice service for social media. So it was that last Friday I sat in on Alec Saunders Voice Mash-up conference call (download podcast) to learn where he, and a number of voice evangelists (Thomas Howe, Jim Courtney, Andy Abramson)  think drives voice web integration.  

It was an interesting discussion that got me thinking more about voice as an interface, and mash-ups as a business model.

First voice as an interface is overlooked. The phone is ubiquitous. Everyone knows how to use them – and how to interact with automated voice applications. As well applications like speech recognition (ASR) and Text to Speech (TTS) are robust enough to make voice a reliable option for both control and data delivery for any application. Combine this with web development approaches, which have proven architectures to deliver a seamless user experience by coordinated multiple services and opportunity for new voice applications is apparent.

Still all development depends on having both users and a business case. By using data from multiple sources, delivering them through existing services and by focusing on a relatively small feature set mash-ups make it easy to solve issues that might be ignored with other paradigms.

In a business environment this means it’s possible to eliminate delays, increase efficiency and customer satisfaction by connecting people and information all without worrying about breaching the firewall. It’s meant delivery companies can confirm you’re home even before the truck rolls – saving you the inconvenience of a missed parcel and them the cost. It also means that subjects in a drug trial you can phone information in anytime making reporting both easier and cheaper.

These same approaches can be applied to social sites – linking users anonymously to explore common interests – such as on shopping, dating and fan sites. These services raise the forum (often associated with these sites) to a whole new level because voice adds emotional content that can be misconstrued otherwise.

In all these cases the number of users required to justify deployment are relatively small – because most of the cost of development is the professional services to understand and architect the services that need to be connected. And that gets to the core rub with voice mash-ups – they may provide a lot of business value but no-one is going to get rich developing them.

In large part that’s because mash-up are in my mind the component phase for a new type of voice development. Every technology moves through phases from componentization which flourishes during times of experimentation to vertical integration when costs, reliability or long term ownership issues override. Right now companies and sites need to understand the competitive advantages of using these services, and will not alter their processes much to implement them. That means a component and professional services business model. As soon as the value is proven – and the feature set across an industry understood look for vertically integrated products and services to emerge.

That said now is the ideal time to jump in and experiment because you’ll get a level of service and application exactly tailored to your needs. It’s only the ability to imagine how these services can affect your bottom line that stand between you and a new class of customer engagement tools.

If you’d like to see what people are doing with voice mash-ups drop by Ottawa’s next DemoCamp (http://www.barcamp.org/DemoCampOttawa7) as two of the demos are voice mash-ups, or drop me a line.

Washington Post – 10 Principles

Jeff Jarvis writes that the Washington Post, which recently posted its 10 Web Principles needs an 11’th – a commitment to collaborate with readers.

His argument seems to be that the paper is still casting its self in the center and hasn’t come completely to grips with its role as an institution shaping the relationship it and its journalists have with the community and their discussion of the news.

While it’s true that they haven’t defined that fully, principle 5 says

“We embrace chats, blogs and multimedia presentations as contributions to our journalism.”

While principle 7 says

“We recognize and support the central role of opinion, personality and reader-generated content on the Web.” 

That same principle goes on to instructing journalist to separate opinion from reporting.

To me these principles are a good start – because they commit the Post to an integrated Web and Print strategy – breaking stories in whatever medium is ready first (typically the Web) at a time when advertising revenue to cover this change not shifted as markedly as the papers reporting will.

While it would have been nice to see principles specifically related to user engagement – it is also no surprise that these are not listed – both because this could be the basis of a competitive strategy but more likely because they’re learning how this fits with their role as a news (not opinion) organization.

What’s interesting is the Post has developed an ad-hoc social network around the active commenting on their articles. This community could be the source for experts, opinion leaders and sources for Post reporting – if mapped and harnessed. It’s this type of engagement with a social network – that likely doesn’t define it’s self as a social network – that is likely at the core of Jeff’s post.

It’s a set of relationships with audience that no media has effectively defined – which explains why the is no 11th Principle – yet.

I’d expect the Post will be among the first to identify the issues and define the mechanism that move readers from commenting to contributing journalistically. I also hope they give some thought to how they can build the name recognition those commenting develop into an engaged social community that connects around news and story development.

A Day of Silence

Internet Radio goes silent today to protest large retroactive increases in royalty fees.

Sounds like a sleeper of an issue made worse by a campaign that doesn’t make sense!  It shouldn’t be. This is an important issue that at its heart looks like a battle royal over the business models and revenue that will effect the options of what you can hear and where you can hear it. Think of it a Root kit for internet content distribution. And just like that record company ‘innovation’ this isn’t what it seems and may crash the system.

In my mind it’s a strategy put forward by the record industry and swallowed whole by the copyright board that reaffirms the record industry as the primary controller of audio content and distribution. Like a root kit it hides something ugly – its anti-competitive heart in the dreary language of copyright and the motherhood of payments to cheated artists.

The past 10 years has seen dramatic changes in the music industry. And it’s not just distribution and formats – its production and promotion as well. Artists no longer need the record industry to make records or connect with their audience – they can do it directly. While low cost studios make production cheaper its Internet radio that makes building an audience possible. Don’t believe me – read the pages and pages of testimonials for small artists who depend on Internet radio for their livelihood.

What does that raft of new artist do to the record industry? First they are outside its revenue reach. Not only do these artists not pay for services they also fragment the audience so that those artist that do use them make less money for the industry. It’s competition of the most brutal kind – thousands of small artists with one thing in common – Internet radio as the means of promotion.

And here’s where there’s a stroke of genius. By playing the industries favorite card – the cheated artist they can use regulation to play one group of artist (theirs) against another (the independents). If they can eliminate the promotion channel of the latter they create a stranglehold on all artists and channels.

What would it take to do that? Increase royalty rates 300 – 1200%, well above terrestrial and satellite radio and the whole internet radio industry is hobbled. Make those fees retroactive – so business planning is not possible – and you bankrupt 90 of the online stations the first day the regulations come into effect. (For more see here)  Suddenly having a record deal becomes more important for every artist – which is great if you’re a record company.

Instead of a day of silence we need to use the  medium – while it still exists – to show the power of media to connect broadcast to internet based discussion and community building. From there we need to develop and coordinate a strategy that looks beyond the reversal of this regulation to a level playing field for businesses large and small. We need to lay the ground work for a new type of public policy discussion.

Want to get involved? The Save Internet Radio site is a great place to start – Click here to begin your action.  Don’t be silent – speak up.

The Future of Newspapers (and Radio & TV)

Jeff Jarvis asked what newspapers will look like in 2020. It’s an interesting question because 13 years is a huge timeframe – when you consider what the past 13 years have wrought. But here’s a stab.

First the underlying processes technologies that are in evidence now, or in accelerated adoption cycles, will be the same processes and technologies that papers and media will be wrestling with in 2020.

That seems like a relatively bold prediction. The reason is that the buildout for the telecommunications infrastructure to support high speed data has occurred and for business reasons it will not be supplanted in 13 years. Sure there will be tweaks and faster speeds but the underlying issues remain the same. Mobility will increase but again that doesn’t fundamentally alter anything it just makes what’s already happening on the web more available. Same goes for what ever nomenclature you want for user contributed content – it will increase in prevalence and types adding to the competition for attention that has affected media so much recently.

Short term all media will blur looking more like each other – but longer term this will not prove competitive (because it pits media against each other and not the real competition) – and each media will revert to its area of strength (intimacy & community for radio, information & analysis for newspapers, and entertainment for TV).

Regardless of medium, media will solicit and incorporate more user content – not just because it makes sense to interact with your audience when your competition is. They’ll also do this because it reduces costs, increases connection with the medium and provides new value for advertisers. The latter will occur because advertisers will recognize that only few people will contribute to multiple communities – and few products are sticky enough to be among those few. The centralization and advertiser friendliness media provides will be seen as welcome for initiating & hosting these discussions.

Demographic changes will also affect media. Internet use will rise to about 90% of the population – as older people decrease in number and usage patterns established by today’s teens become common in older demographics. This will make competition for attention more intense. The rate of user generated content will not grow at the same rate – in part because it is a function of education and that will not change dramatically – but also because it depends on audience attention and that will not grow dramatically either (more popular sites will get a lot of the new traffic). 

None of this actually answers Jeff question however – so here goes.

Thirteen years from now newspapers will still be published – much as they are today – though they will be thinner and likely free. Their purpose will be to provide to entertainment during commutes and provide a non-browser interface to promote the papers web site(s) and content expertise. There is a possibility that weekend feature issues like the NY Times magazine will make resurgence – as they provide an avenue for in-depth reporting and higher cost advertising (because of the staying power of the issues).

The biggest changes will be in business models and how content is delivered. First media will come to recognize that they are as much in the advertising assembly business as they are in the ad delivery and content businesses. What they’ll recognize is that there is a large margin delta between what advertisers pay for Google and what Google pays most sites. Most of this delta can be attributed to the value of owning the relationship with the advertiser. Media will live in this delta providing more value to partner sites and better targeting to advertisers wanting regional and niche sites.

The relationship media will develop with a multitude of regional or topical sites around advertising also speaks to a new model for content distribution and creation. Site owners and authors already understand audience, traffic, readerships etc, and have tools to measure them. Media will use its’ ability to link to sites across mediums (web and internet) as the first tool in its reemergence. Media can build smaller sites traffic – and in doing so establish beachheads against attention overload – buy providing more sites where their advertising and content appears.

The other area where business models will change is around content distribution – with media acting as clearing houses, filters and store for a federated network sites that share content community and overlapping audiences.

Of course I could be all wrong as well.