As with art, determining the “big picture” strategy for any technology social enterprise requires rigorous methodology. The artist/strategist/entrepreneur needs to be creative using critical thinking to effectively leverage these tools. It's something that I've called the "product manager mindset":
Used to: identify technology maturity through the technology adoption cycle from visionary, early adopter, early majority, late majority and laggard with emphasis on the problem of crossing the chasm from early adopter to early majoirty
Focus period: Now to 10 years
Useful for: identifying the appropriate business model (customer-intimate, operationally efficient ) and market focus (horizontal, vertical)
Used to: market sizing for mature markets [technology analysts estimates for top down, number of potential customers/churn] and less mature markets [identifying potential customers with the problem and the scope of that problem]
Focus period: typically 1 to 5 years
Useful for: convincing investors, partners and staff of opportunity
Will social media replace television? Will e-books replace books? There has been a lot of talk about the impact of any new medium. “Replacement” seems to take some time and many contend that replacement doesn’t really happen. Yet we are seeing a significant reduction in newspaper subscriptions, book stores and network television ratings. My view is that the older medium becomes “obsolete” in the sense that the purpose changes. We see, for example, the transition of cable news from news to entertainment and opinion. We see “reality TV” in lieu of history on the History Channel. (Or, learning on the Learning Channel.)
It takes some time for any technology to be eradicated. People still ride horses. Some still have 8-tracks.
These thoughts were in the back of my mind this weekend when I saw an interesting tweet….
Ironically, I seem to be reading more and more about "Bring Your Own Device" (BYOD) and the "Consumerization of IT" (CoIT) on my tablet. The digerati seem to be divided over the impact of this. From "highly productive" to "a waste of time". From "hyperconnected" to "hyperdistracted". Possibly, some think, a nefarious plot to make us work 72 hours a week.
There has been a backlash extorting us to read books. ("Get a horse"). These pundits are too invested in the technology of the past (printing press, television, e-mail etc.) to understand the fundamental positive effects through "pattern recognition" innovations in high technology. This is something that the late Marshall McLuhan spoke about: "Faced with information overload, we have no alternative but pattern recognition." It's no wonder that many professionals are dismayed with the increasing rate of information overload in zetabytes. Not to mention the increase in statistics about information overload. These people do not have the tools at hand to deal with the data.
If you have to buy a book to tell you what Twitter is, you're really too far gone. You're a digital dinosaur.
How do I leverage these devices to manage information overload? Some of the tools, like Twitter, than many think are a waste of time are productivity enhancers. The tools that I use include:
Twitter as a means to filter out irrelevant content – you follow the right people who have already filtered material (and you follow people you disagree with and competitors)
RSS feed to strip off all the content noise on stories and blog posts to the get the essence of what is going on
Internal social collaboration tool that is far more productive than e-mail – consider the problem of a new team member who has no access to e-mail threads of that one important document that was attached somewhere a few months ago
Mind mapping software to enable visualizing ideas – visualizing is the critical ideation tool
Cloud-based word processing so that I can work on something whenever I get an idea
PDF reader and cloud-based file sharing
Marketing and CoIT
These tools also help in marketing. Many marketers see social media as another marketing channel. It isn't, it's an engagement channel. Sure, you can provide offers and sponsor tweets and get some uptake. But, people realize that you are not authentic, you're corporate.
I find that the vast majority of tweets from our competitors are about themselves. (Or, their yacht racing.) They rarely use social media to talk about technical or business issues that are of concern to customers. They operate "out of network." Our approach is a bit different:
It's always interesting to hear the perspective of RT (Russia Television). This odd story very much follows the RT narrative, in this case, about a giant financial services corruption conspiracy – including the media. Very much trying to "balance" the narrative coming from the Western media about rampant corruption and poor governance in Russia.
Now that Larry King is on RT, I wonder whether we'll see less or more hyperbole. Although, it just seems to be another broadcast voice trying to inflame viewers with conspiracy theories that border on fake news like The Onion.
Karen Hudes, a former lawyer at the World Bank, alleged money laundering and financial corruption at the Bank. She alleges that there was a cover-up at the Bank, the US Congress and to finance ministers across the world. She claims top to bottom corruption within the World Bank in addition to this giant banking system conspiracy. (Goldman-Sachs, Bank of America et al.) – Mind you, it’s a bit of stretch that it’s to the advantage of the World Bank and the financial sector to generate a currency war.
Could this be the plot of the next mega thriller? Does a lawyer have the background to understand the financial system – or does she see things that financial people do not? There might be something to this story, but I don't think that the RT coverage adds much to the credibility of the argument.
Broadcast Media – Sensationalize or Die?
Broadcast media has become obsolete in the sense described by Marshall McLuhan: the medium is no longer the lead, it's role has changed because of the rise of social media. Broadcast has gone from "figure" to "ground" – it's become background noise. This means that broadcast has adapted to survive and generate revenue. It's become a place of opinion and sensationalization to draw viewers away from the almost-instant global communications of the Internet.
It's as if TV is the last bastion of myth in the face of facts. It's become more about narratives and "truthiness."
Many of us are grappling with the effects of social media on governance and society. Some would like to think that technology does not make any fundamental change in human society. We are in a transitional phase where social media and mobility is empowering people to engage from LOL cats to the Arab Spring while also acting as an “echo chamber” for traditional media. We know that we are in a new phase because the new media is described as a modification of the current. Like “horseless carriages” or “moving pictures.” We see this in “data journalism.” And, we try to define concepts in wake of digital disruption. For example: is blogging journalism?
While we wonder whether blogging is journalism, we are rapidly finding that journalism is ceasing to be journalism. It’s the effect of the new medium.
It’s at these unfortunate times when we can observe this clash of the media titans. And, it’s no longer one cable news channel vs. another. Or, television vs newspapers. It’s social media contrasted with traditional media. I observed this disruption in the aftermath of the bombing at the Boston Marathon.
There are some lessons emerging that extend beyond media companies to enterprises and government:
Consumers are no longer passive consumers, they have become active content providers
Power is shifting from institutions and enterprises (whether governments, media outlets or large companies) to customers and citizens
Information and insight has become non-linear
Pattern recognition is replacing narrative where visualization, engagement, big data analytics are becoming critical
Many will continue to reject the latest medium as unworthy, vulgar or amateur – but this won’t change anything
The role of traditional media, governments, organizations and companies is changing
E-books as the vulgar fast-food of literature: wasted calories and low brain power
E-books as poor substitutes for the real thing: the visceral beauty and tactile feel
E-books, as part of a culture of turning humans into cyborgs
Not to mention the backlash against bloggers, the lament for “real journalism” and the dangers of technology determinism.
What is missing in this debate about the value of e-books? The defenders of the traditional “printed book” fail to realize that the printed book is technology. Mechanical and industrial age technology. The printing press also generated a technology backlash. And, a printing press bubble because most literate persons preferred the higher quality hand-produced book.
The introduction of ‘book technology’ may not have had the humorous impact described below.
Not to mention that the phonetic alphabet is technology as well.
Marshall McLuhan explained the impact of the printing press decades ago. He described why the role of the book has changed. In the following embedded video, look to
0:59: notions of “right and wrong” belonging to the literary man
2:48: books do not allow us to be “with it”
5:01: books are a “teaching machine”
5:45: books as linear, part of the assembly line
McLuhan also found this notion of technology turning us into robots as a “simple minded idea” as presented in another video at 3:01 that isn’t embeddable. McLuhan at 5:13 also points out that the book has ceased to be a package.
Is the gradual replacement of printed books with e-books a bad thing?
Have e-books killed the printed book star?
All vested interests object to technology change that upsets the status quo. Socrates was against the written word. I’m not suggesting that those against the e-book are rent-seekers trying to preserve the past. (Some in the traditional publishing business are rent-seeking). My sense is that many of those who decry these technology changes believe that technology such as e-book readers have less value. I believe that this is an elitist view
McLuhan addressed this notion of “value” of a new medium in a famous discussion with Norman Mailer in the video embedded below.
4:43: that books heralded in the fragmentation and specialization of the industrial age
6:45: most people live in a nostalgic rear-view mirror view of society
16:40: despite Mailer’s objection, McLuhan points out that we cannot pass a value judgement on this move to the electronic age
The printed book medium has not been a universally positive influence. Nationalism has seen the rise of conflict. Some, like John Ralston Saul , have shown that rationalism and the “dictatorship of reason” may not have been a good thing either.We have to recognize that we need to compare the benefits of technology, not assume that the incumbent technology has little or no negative consequences.
From mechanical to digital
Printed books waste resources and contribute to climate change. Trees are harvested to create paper. (As many Canadian know: we might have a lot of trees but pulp mills are not pleasant things). Books are transported. Fill warehouses, stores, libraries and homes (that require heating and cooling). Books that do not sell well get sold at lower prices – or get disposed into land fill.
Traditional printed books are not sustainable as teaching machines. These books cannot be easily transported to developing countries to build human capacity. We often talk about the “digital divide” as an inhibitor of development. Smartphones, tablets and e-book readers provide more knowledge than a truckload of books because they can contain truckloads of books. And, there has been innovation to increase storage, improve interactivity, extend battery power and provide solar energy.
And costs are dropping to make the technology more accessible.
Printed books operate in a linear fashion. Digital is non-linear. Narrative is being replaced by pattern recognition. This is enabled through digital technologies such as ebooks, social media, video on demand and apps. This doesn’t necessarily mean that digital eliminates critical thought. (Many critics who believe that Google is killing our capacity to think or our memory are using criteria from the industrial age. Trends like big data, visualization, data science and data journalism are providing the non-linear pattern recognition that we need in the post-industrial world.
We also need to recognize that our personal content delivery preferences are personal preferences
It is fascinating to me that so many younger people hold on to obsolete technology: books, records, fax machines. I remember those days well. The transition from records to CDs to MP3s. The transition from telex to fax to e-mail to social media. And, the value that these technologies provided. But, I was much older then and I’m much younger now.
Yes, McLuhan was right: those people who decry technology advancements that democratize knowledge are simply not with it
In homage to “Number 6”, here are six themes of modern technology resulting in 3 effects described in the programs:
Internet cookies and (1) Identity and (2) Role
All residents of “the village”, whether prisoners or not, wear a “penny farthing page” with their number. Their activities are tracked much like a cookie on a web site. Residents, like users for popular web sites, are assigned a number. Residents become their number. “Number 2” is the titular head of the village (while Number 6 tries to discover who Number 1 is). The person assigned to Number 2 changes from episode to episode akin to multiple people using the same log-in and computer, and hence, the same cookie.
The identity is all about “role”. Something McLuhan predicted: the transition from jobs to roles for electronic man. Our roles change faster than in the 1960s – and without the benefit of badges to tell us what role we should be playing.
Identity is always accompanied by violence, according to McLuhan. The number assigned to residents in The Prisoner defined the conflict in the narrative – from Number 2 (every Number 2) laughing evilly to Number 6’s wanting to be free. Identify violence has metastasized to social media flaming. This makes for good drama.
(3) The Privacy vs. (4) Security Calculus
Video surveillance is rampant in “the village.” Number 6 often asks for privacy. Other residents appear to revel in the security provided by this surveillance. Many viewers may wonder why prisoners rebelled in what seemed to be a wonderful seaside retirement home (in Pormeirion Wales).
(5) Humans vs. (6) Machine Conflict and predictive analytics
The advent of mainframe computers generated the popular cultural stereotype: the all-seeing, all knowing machine. The 1957 comedy Desk Set best presented this notion of man vs. the machine. (In this case, Katherine Hepburn vs. Spencer Tracy’s machine). This conflict is presented as predictive analytics are used to determine residents’ behaviour. After all, they have resident badges and track movement. They’ve collected more elements of behaviour than the last Obama campaign.
Of course, they couldn’t process all those data points in 1967 – but we can now on the Amazon cloud. (The computer, in pre-Deep Blue days, predicted the outcome of chess matches.)
Much like today, the village computer was not able to 100% predict resident behaviour. Number 6 understood that he was being analyzed, so he became unpredictable. The village computer seemed to have more trouble with the impact of social relationships in the same way that collaborative filtering can generate some very odd recommendations because the algorithm doesn’t understand the context.
The other machine problem is that the authorities were operating out of network – in the broadcast mode. They watched and they made announcements. They sent spies. But, they did not interact as peers with the residents. This is another problem experienced by governments and large business in the Internet age: you can’t always control the flow of information.
I wonder how senior media executives in the 21st Century seemingly ignore the more obvious lessons by the late Marshall McLuhan. McLuhan was often touted as the guru of media in the 1960s, so you would assume that executives at NBC might have clued on by now. Apparently not. In the social media advanced stage of the global village where time and place are becoming meaningless and information is speeding ever faster – NBC decided to re-introduce the latency of time and place in Olympic coverage. The twitter hash tag #NBCfail has become a mainstream media phenomena.
1. Television is Obsolete by McLuhan’s Definition
Obsolete does not mean that television is not used or has no value. It means that television is no longer leading change. TV has moved from figure to ground. Social media is now figure. This means that television has become content for social media. And, that television has changed in the wake of social media – in the same way that the telegraph led to the detective novel. (Telegraph brought people closer together and more involved, hence the need to make novels more involved.) Cable news and reality television seem to be phenomena for obsolescence: competing against the always-on social media with something more sensational.
Lesson: NBC Olympic coverage should have thought of social first, TV second.
2. Tribalization of Television
Television networks compete to gain advertising by delivering eye balls to advertisers. Analog and digital television operates in limited environments or “channels”. Digital media, outside of cable and satellite, operates with almost unlimited numbers of channels. This means that social media users can join “tribes” of people whose interests are on the “long tail” whether it’s water polo or modern pentathlon. (Or, in a country like the United States where there are many immigrants, following the sports start of the “old country”.) McLuhan saw electronic technology as enabling social “retribalization“.
Lesson: NBC should have enabled micro delivery on the internet – and monetized it rather than forcing users to have cable accounts.
Lesson: NBC should have focused on content delivery and left context to social media – let people find out more about what interests them by providing links on the NBC web site that hyperlinks to additional information.
4. Medium is the Message
NBC and the IOC are attempting to control information deployment. The IOC seems to be more concerned about official sponsorship revenue than anything else. Both are controlling ownership of Olympic content. The message is that people don’t matter – sponsors do. And, that repurposing, sampling, mashing up etc. is to be avoided.
Lesson: NBC should enable repurposing of data to create viral social media. Instead, content is tightly controlled – and the only thing that has gone viral is the poor quality and lateness of NBC coverage.
5. Violence and Identity
McLuhan saw sports as an expression of violence under controlled circumstance – with rules. He also saw violence as caused by identity: “When things come at you very fast, naturally you lose touch with yourself. Anybody moving into a new world loses identity…So loss of identity is something that happens in rapid change.” NBC seems to have adopted the notion that the Olympics are American-centric. The http://www.nbcolympics.com/ site (which is meager and burdened by advertising) highlights 5 videos. 4 videos are about American achievements and 1 videos how to get live (with a liberal definition of “live”) free (with a liberal definition of “free”).
Lesson: It is appropriate to highlight the achievements of athletes from your home country. NBC should provide more coverage of athletes from other countries. It might provide some empathy – or some context about how we’re more similar than different.
Di Maio has been critical of enthusiasm in light of poor open data business cases of high costs with unproven returns.
I have to report that Di Maio was proven right at the Open Government Data Conference. Enthusiasm was high and open data business cases were primarily anecdotal. (I’ve curated tweets below on these subjects.) My sense based on the conference is that most of the four issues, with the exception of proven return, were addressed effectively:
Digital divide continues to narrow, there are emerging techniques from reaching the poor (i.e. visualization on walls) through intermediaries and costs for civil society to reach the poor is going down
Information complexity is being sorted out thanks to semantic technology and better user interface design
Costs can be sustainable through automation, cloud computing and lessons learned in scaling up open data
Is there an evidence-based business case for open data?
I moderated an “unconference” discussion about the open data business case for financial data. My thinking was that it’s best to narrow down the domain in order to get more concrete ideas. Some progress was made. We identified areas for financial open data (budget, procurement, revenue, human resources, audit, aid, grants and performance).
We developed a framework to describe direct effects such as open procurement leading to increased competition and reduced costs and indirect effects such as increased trust through open budgets that leads to more investment to build more economic activity that generates tax revenue. There really wasn’t enough time to build out a full framework – but that’s what we need to do. Then we can validate this framework through real cases and provide effective business cases.
Why do we need a business case framework?
Technology disrupts how organizations operate. The business case for previous technology is often inadequate to effectively measure long term costs or returns that were not available in the previous technology. An open data business case will address potential new effects such as:
Return on the network effect where each new data set can add value to a previous data set
Return in taxes and economic development through the notion of government as platform – in a measurable way
Reduction in costs by eliminating IT functions that are no longer necessary in the age of open data
Return from better government decision-making through crowdsourcing
Return from better personal decision-making through open health, weather and financial data
In particular: we need to be able to prove these suppositions.
Open data enables citizens to determine whether governments are meeting objectives. For example, Alex Howard built a spreadsheet showing which US Federal Agencies are publishing open government plans meeting the requirements of the Office of Management and Budget. My use cases focused on compliance, fraud and performance audits by citizens and civil society.
Open Data and Civil Involvement
Elections provide sporadic and light democratic involvement. Open data enables more substantial involvement between elections. It enables a virtual agora of civic discourse. And, open data informs this discourse with evidence and facts. Rather than opinion. And punditry. If we were to consider McLuhan’s tetrad of media effects to analyze open government:
Enhances: Information access and insight – introduces data journalism
Obsolesces: Dogmatic approaches and partisanship - particularly as practiced in talk radio or television
Retrieves: Political agora, decisions made by the Iroquois, the New England direct democracy model etc.
Reverses: Information overload
Marshall McLuhan Tetrad: Retrieves and Reverses
McLuhan Tetrad: Wikipedia
Insight about the future effects of a medium are best discovered through the retrieval and reversing phenomena. (Enhances and obsolesces tends to be easy to understand but provides little insight into the ultimate effects of any medium).
Open data will increase data available to citizens. This could create information overload. Many observers, like Andrea di Maio suggest that the problem is not so much the volume as the usability of open data.The effect may mean that those citizens with interest or those with expertise may provide significant value to improving government programs. This might dis-intermediate traditional media and move from a broadcast model of political discourse to a 1-on-1 model.
Cognitive Surplus and Civil Duty
The fundamental difference between open government and traditional broadcast is that government operates in-network rather than out of network. It changes the social contract: transparency becomes a government mandate and citizen participation a civic duty. We can no longer complain about the lack of government effectiveness if we are part of the “network”.
It’s unclear whether tapping into the cognitive surplus of experts will be sufficient for citizen audit. Perhaps information accessibility through visualization while overcoming the digital divide will be necessary to fully tap the “wisdom of citizens.”
There are signs of the internet as virtual political agora. Participatory budgeting is a significant phenomena. In my view, open government will extend participatory budgeting to on-line collaboration. Outcomes from budgets will be analyzed by civil society to improve follow-on budgets. Therefore, citizen audit will become performance-centric. Value-based. And, a civic duty.