Coherency in Contradiction is the main research project I’ve been working on as a Research Fellow at the Deloitte Center for the Edge as part of the 2013 Shift Index. It’s just been published at Deloitte University Press. The paper looks at a selection of seeming contradictions faced by people and organizations, and then re-frames them as mutual opportunities rather than mutually exclusive choices. The deeper agenda I have with this work is to push leaders to look past the binary, black & white world we are programmed to create and move to a more holistic, relativistic perspective. The second agenda is to educate people about complex adaptive systems in a way that’s meaningful to the average executive. These two agendas come together in one of the closing statements: “In a messy, complex world, it’s not just possible to walk within paradoxes—it’s necessary.”
This effort is not about yielding to the chaos and trusting that everything will work out. But in order to better anticipate and shape their direction, we should become more adept at understanding the rapidly changing ecosystems that increasingly drive markets. More systematic use of complexity modeling tools and scenario planning will help reveal patterns and identify where new opportunities are likely to emerge. Instead of trying to suppress randomness, we should cultivate environments that increase the potential for serendipity so that we can build new ecosystems and discover new ideas and practices. In certain cases, we may even be able to shape how broad arenas evolve, materially altering the probability of certain outcomes, rather than simply waiting to react to events as they occur. Shaping, however, is very different from controlling and requires a deep understanding of the forces that drive the evolution of complex systems.
Ultimately, a leading response to growing complexity might be to abandon certain management techniques of the past. Through embracing the flow within complexity, it is possible to develop simple rules for greater performance, innovation, and—importantly—adaption and alignment with the defining structures of nature.
Just an update on my recent work… My writings here have been sparse at best lately but it’s mainly because I’m doing so much research and consulting elsewhere. Some of it is now available online so here’s the overview:
My 6-month fellowship at the Deloitte Center for the Edge has been fantastic. It’s been a great opportunity to hone my research, dive into some meaty topics, and work to refine my communication skills so that I can make some pretty complex stuff meaningful to a broader audience. It’s also been a tremendous opportunity to work directly with John Hagel and John Seely Brown – two verifiable wizards, each in their own right.
The fellowship is wrapping up at the end of December so I’m starting to whip up my next gig. Give me a shout if you’ve got any interesting collaborations…
Gabe Newell, the co-founder and managing director at PC gaming powerhouse Valve Software, recently spoke with Kotaku about the shifting landscape of games distribution and his company’s move into the living room.
Ten years ago Valve established Steam as a primary distribution channel for its titles and add-on content. Just this month they’ve released Big Picture, establishing a foothold in the living room by essentially porting the Valve experience to the TV. With a new controller and interface, user’s can play games, stream content, and access Steam through Big Picture’s front-end.
Speaking to Kotaku, Newell suggested that Valve and other competitors will release custom branded hardware solutions for the living room within the next year. User’s would be able to buy an official Valve gaming console (likely to be a lightweight PC or Linux device) and plug it into their TV. While this may seem surprising to many who have suggested that console gaming is in decline, Newell let slip the compelling hook for game’s developers.
“Well certainly our hardware will be a very controlled environment… If you want more flexibility, you can always buy a more general purpose PC. For people who want a more turnkey solution, that’s what some people are really gonna want for their living room.”
As content has dematerialized and gotten loose and slippery, content houses have been trying to figure out how to put the genie back in the bottle and retain control over their IP. Hardware offers such a controlled environment and, thanks in large part to Apple, hardware manufacturing is easier than it’s ever been. It wouldn’t be too surprising if, a few years down the road, Valve decides to lock down distribution completely by shunting all its users onto a low-priced piece of branded hardware. Plug it into your TV, launch Steam, and pull content direct from the Valve server farm.
Now imagine if they release Half Life 3 and you can only buy it through their hardware…
Many mature software companies are now in the awkward position of trying to migrate their heavyweight legacy solutions from the desktop into the uncertain domain of the cloud. Fortune 500’s are slow to adapt, preferring to leverage their cash-cow back catalog for as long as possible while gently testing the waters with lightweight solutions more aligned with marketing than their core execution layer. The results often paint the erstwhile-giants as out-of-touch and late to the game, delivering simple offerings that fail to successfully integrate with the evolving needs of their user base. The solution is not an easy one, requiring much greater commitment and risk than most CFO’s can stomach. But the cloud is not going away and the alternative to full adoption is to be resigned to a narrowing niche.
Last week I attended and spoke at the Wednesday session of ARE2012, the SF Bay Area’s largest conference on augmented reality. This is the 3rd year of the conference and both the maturity of the industry and the cooling of the hype were evident. Attendance was lower than previous years, content was more focused on advertising & marketing examples, and there was a notable absence of platinum sponsors and top-tier enterprise attendees. On the surface this could be read as a general decline of the field but this is not the case.
A few things are happening to ferry augmented reality across the Trough of Disillusionment. This year there were more headset manufacturer’s than ever before. The need for AR to go hand’s-free is becoming more & more evident [my biases]. I saw a handful of new manufacturers I’d never even heard of before. And there they were with fully-functional hardware rendering annotations on transparent surfaces. In order for AR to move from content to utility it has to drive hardware development into HUD’s. Google see’s this as does any other enterprise player in the mobile game. Many of the forward-looking discussions effectively assume a head’s-up experience.
At the algorithmic level, things are moving quickly especially in the domain of edge detection, face tracking, and registration. I saw some really exceptional mapping that overlaid masks on people’s faces in realtime responding to movement & expressions without flickers or registration errors (except for the occasional super-cool New Aesthetic glitch when the map blurred off the user’s face if they moved too quickly). Machine vision is advancing at a strong pace and there was an ongoing thread throughout the conference about the challenges the broader industry faces in moving facial recognition technology into the mobile stack. It’s already there and works but the ethical and civil liberty issues are forcing a welcomes pause in consideration.
Qualcomm was the sole platinum sponsor, promoting its Vuforia AR platform. Sony had a booth showing some AR games (Pong!?) on their Playstation Vita device. But pretty much everyone in the enterprise tier stayed home, back in the labs and product meetings and design reviews, slowly & steadily moving AR into their respective feature stacks. Nokia is doing this, Google of course, Apple has been opening up the camera stream and patenting eyewear, HP is looking at using AR with Autonomy, even Pioneer has a Cyber Navi AR GPS solution. The same players that were underwriting AR conferences in exchange for marketing opportunities and the chance to poach young developers are now integrating the core AR stack into their platforms. This is both good & bad for the industry: good because it will drive standardization and put a lot of money behind innovation; bad because it will rock the world of the Metaio’s & Layar’s who have been tilling this field for years. Typically, as a young technology starts to gain traction and establish value, there follows a great period of consolidation as the big fish eat the little ones. Some succeed, many fall, and a new culture of creators emerges to develop for the winners.
So here we are. Augmented reality is flowing in three streams: Content and marketing grab eyeballs and easy money while conditioning the market to expect these experiences; developers extend the software stack towards real-time pixel-perfect recognition & mapping, enabling the solutions to actually, um, solve problems; and hardware manufacturers labor to bring AR into the many transparent surfaces through which we interact with the world, freeing our hands and augmenting our views with ubiquitous networked data. Across these domains sit content shops, emerging start-ups, the leading innovators ala Layar & Metaio, and the big fish enterprise companies that have had a piece of the tech game for years & years and aren’t going to miss out if AR goes supernova. The market is a bit shaky and very much uncertain for the SMB’s but it’s certainly maturing with the technology.
My sense is that everybody gets that AR is here to stay and has deep intrinsic value to the future of mobility and interface. How this will impact the many passionate folks curating & cultivating the field from the bottom-up remains to be seen.
[This paper was originally published for a government report on discontinuity & change management.]
We live in a time of large-scale, non-linear change driven by the twin engines of globalization and hyper-connectivity. Change is, of course, constant but we now have such extreme visibility into the farthest corners of the world that the amplitude of change appears much greater than ever before. Many of us are, for the first time, globally connected and wired to real-time data streams that carry information and emotion across the world instantaneously. When we look through this lens of hypermedia we are confronted by fast-moving, asymmetric complexity that seems to be slipping out of control. The landscape is moving more quickly than we are able to respond. This is deeply challenging to our sense of security.
As Americans, we face a highly multipolar world. We feel the decline of U.S. exceptionalism and the attendant existential crisis of this realization; the ongoing global financial malaise and the emerging debt crisis threatening to break apart the European Union; the rise of China as a dominant world power and the implicit criticism of democracy that comes from its economic success; and the evolution of Islam as an explicit criticism of western prosperity. We are realizing the massive power of finance & energy cartels while struggling with ultraviolent drug cartels. We feel the impacts of domestic unemployment amidst weekly reports of record corporate profits. Capital is moving away from mature western markets for the young labor pools of the developing world. Fund managers are betting more on decline than investing in growth. There is a growing sense that western governance is failing in its charter to effectively manage the prosperity & security of its citizenry, and that selfishness, partisanship, and corruption have undermined the political process.
In the United States there is arguably a crisis of confidence in governance. We face extreme partisanship among policy makers and their apparent inability to effectively govern on domestic issues. Congress has a 20% approval rating. 73% of Americans believe the country is moving in the wrong direction. On domestic issues, the popular narrative of U.S. governance is one of bickering, incompetence, and failure.
So if there is a crisis of confidence, is there an actual crisis in governance? Recently the debt Supercommittee failed to agree on a solution for the deficit. This past July, the largely-manufactured budgetary impasse shook confidence in U.S. governance contributing directly to the S&P downgrade of our hallowed AAA credit rating. To quote the S&P report, the downgrade “reflects our view that the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenges”. Even closer to home, the American Society of Civil Engineers recently reviewed U.S. infrastructure with a grade of “D” stating that it would take $2.2 trillion over the next 5 years to bring our roads, bridges, railways, water and energy systems, and waste treatment capacity up to 1st world standards. These are the fundamental needs required to keep a country functional & efficient.
Looking at recent statistics, the U.S. Commerce Department charts wages & salaries at only 44% of GDP – the lowest since 1929. Corporate profits, on the other hand, now contribute 10% of GDP – the highest on record since that auspicious year, 1929. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates unemployment at 9% though real measures of unemployment that include the under-employed and those who have given up looking for work are estimated closer to 16%. Among young adults age 16-24, 50% are without work – the highest number on record since 1948. The majority of unemployed no longer receive state benefits. Tens of thousands of service members are returning to joblessness & homelessness. The 2010 U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 46 million people are living in poverty – 15% of the nation. This number has been increasing annually for the past 3 years. These trends are undermining the legitimacy of the US government both at home and abroad, and contributing to the social unrest sensationally illustrated by the rise of both the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements.
Typically, when we observe these statistical trends in other countries we see a growing segment of the populace more exposed to gang indoctrination, co-option by religious fundamentalism, and coercion by home-brewed militias. This unfortunate reality is not lost on policy makers, as telegraphed most recently by Congressional attempts to reconfigure the legislative landscape of the Homeland as a domestic battleground.
While national statistics are indeed worrisome, the situation at the local & regional level is more varied and offers some hope. There is a shift towards state’s rights as illustrated by the more libertarian aspects of the Tea Party and the GOP narrative against so-called big government, but also in many state legislatures on both sides of the aisle. While often ideologically driven, this shift towards state governance is a response to the limitations of central management across such a large and complex territory as the United States. Perhaps more interestingly, we see a shift to municipal power as urban populations swell and major cities take ownership of their roles as economic engines. Mayors are gathering more influence over state and federal policy, and are making more lucrative partnerships with global allies.
Yet, there are huge budgetary challenges for both states and municipalities, with states often pushing their own budgetary problems down to the county & city level. There is even talk of an emerging municipal debt bubble as cities issue more bond debt to cover their existing debt costs. The U.S. just witnessed the largest municipal bankruptcy in history when Jefferson County, Alabama, failed to cover its sewage bonds. This is the downward cycle of U.S. infrastructure & budgetary mis-management laid bare.
The picture of local and regional governance is a patchwork of attempts (successes and failures) to address the many challenges confronting us locally and handed down from state and federal institutions. As higher-order governors lose legitimacy, states & regions will work to sidestep their authority and to innovate around budgetary shortfalls and non-local obstacles. Progressive states agitate for marijuana legalization and same-sex marriage, conservative states assail big government and immigration, southwestern border states are dealing with the spill-over from Mexico’s narcowar, and many regions across the country are absorbing diverse and extreme climate impacts potentially driving food production, water supplies, and population movements. So while large, productive cities are generally seeing more cohesion there is a significant risk of increased balkanization across regions and states.
U.S. governance is clearly challenged on many domestic fronts. In operational terms, we’re falling short. Governing institutions are too big and too slow to respond to such accelerated change. If we’re failing to manage the present, how can we prepare for the future? There is too much complexity to effectively predict change and yet there’s too much institutional friction to adequately invest in broad resilience. This combination poses tremendous risks to domestic security. The snapshot of social unrest in America arises from two primary drivers: the fear of U.S. decline and the sense that Democracy is no longer working (represented by the Tea Party and OWS movements, respectively). Both are rooted in a lack of jobs, diminishing access to prosperity, and growing insecurity in the face of poorly managed discontinuities. When government fails to meet it’s charter, it loses legitimacy. When conventional channels for change are closed, the gap widens between governors and the governed.
For better and for worse, a lot of innovation happens in the gaps. There is innovation in governance itself, as in the Gov 2.0 & OpenGov initiatives to standardize operational data across organizations, to publicize the data, and to invite the public to work with the data and develop 3rp party applications. Deputizing the crowd to help with governance can offer tremendous opportunities for innovation, as exemplified by tools such as Oakland Crimespotting and the Everyblock platform. The citizenry is becoming more digital and addressable with direct polling, crowdsourcing, and experiments in electronic voting. Transparency initiatives, such as the Sunlight Foundation, build web platforms to track and reveal the influence of money in politics. The growth in mobile/social/location platforms empowers tremendous opportunities in civic innovation, as does the emergence of embedded instrumentation in the built environment. Tech collectives and hacker spaces, experiments in local and digital currencies, slow food and Buy Local movements, increased community volunteerism and more public-private partnerships – all of these examples build local resilience and enable communities to take care of themselves.
Many of these efforts follow open source models that enable fast innovation and iteration across diverse non-local nodes, avoiding hierarchies and direct leadership in favor of feedback loops and emergent self-governance. These models gained popularity with the open source software movement but have since expanded to include innovation in open hardware and fabrication, science and robotics, economics (there is an estimated $10 trillion informal economy growing in the gaps globally), and political movements. Open source templates have enabled new models of power such as Occupy Wall Street and Anonymous, many aspects of the Iraqi insurgency, and the dangerous ecosystem of adaptation and innovation found in the IED marketplaces of Iraq and Afghanistan. The ability to maintain such open source models of organization has been radically empowered by mobile telephony, SMS, and social media. The ability to globally broadcast, communicate and collaborate has enabled a new breed of citizen reporting pushed out through platforms like You Tube and Twitter. Rapid SMS communication across mobile devices enables fast stigmergic coordination that can mobilize people en masses with a moment’s notice. The Green Revolution in Tehran, the Arab Spring, and the periodic support calls sent out by OWS groups are all examples of how borderless, frictionless hyper-connectivity empowers a patchwork of active tribes, locally and virtually.
Gaps in governance empower innovators and competitors alike. Actors exploit the gaps and seek to influence or undermine governance in order to open more gaps. Super-empowered individuals like Bill Gates and Eric Schmidt work to influence conventional channels of policy-making while restructuring the regulatory landscape to better enable their businesses. Activist billionaires like Warren Buffet, George Soros, and Sir Richard Branson use their weight and influence to change world affairs, as do libertarians like Peter Thiel and anarcho-capitalists like the Koch brothers. Some super-empowered actors are feral and may not appear to be powerful yet manage to inflict exceptional discontinuities on their targets. Arms dealer, Victor Bout, has been a significant driver of unrest in Africa. The head of the Sinaloan cartel, Joaquin Guzman, has helped deconstruct Mexican governance into a lawless war zone. Henry Okah, the leader of MEND in Nigeria, used a small group of lo-tech saboteurs to target critical pipeline infrastructure reducing crude output by 50% and costing western oil interests billions in production revenue. Cartels and criminal networks operate on international scales moving billions of dollars to influence authorities and outwit enforcers. Tech-enabled sociopolitical collectives like Anonymous and Wikileaks deputize themselves as moral enforcers, exposing secret agendas and arbitrating punishment. These actors walk the same stage as multinational corporations and NGO’s that have no built-in allegiance to the United States or, in some cases, to democracy itself. All of these actors exert their will on the world by building influence and exploiting the gaps. All of them are empowered by hyper-connectivity and cheap computation to coordinate, collaborate, and influence at all scales.
This is an age of hypermedia and hyper-politics. There are almost 3 billion internet users, globally. There are over 5 billion mobile subscribers – this is 77% percent of humanity. Last year, in 2010, over 6.9 trillion text messages were sent & received. Humanity has global, instantaneous communication; immediate amplification of emotion, ideology, witnessing, discovery, innovation, and iteration. We are sharing what works and what doesn’t in all domains and endeavors. Everyone is being lifted by this rising technological tide. Small-scale power is amplifying exponentially through ubiquitous computation and mobile communication. Power is re-distributing across the globalized, hyper-connected landscape in such a way that a small, minimally-funded group can generate exponential disruptions. In a mediated world, we see a new war of narratives competing for mindshare across hypermedia, cultivating borderless affinities and ideologies, and offering a global voice to disenfranchised and exploited groups. Top-down governance, unable to extend control so far over such large-scale discontinuities, is yielding space to flattened hierarchies and self-governance. All institutions are being forced to evolve and adapt to this new landscape, as all efforts to suppress it will inevitably fail and only drive more turbulence.
Complexity is an expression of information, and hypermedia is a complexity feedback loop of revealing, sharing, and iterating. Hypermedia, in all it’s varied forms, is injecting unprecedented amounts of information into our awareness. This widening perception of complexity drives behavioral uncertainty as people and institutions feel increasingly overwhelmed and lost in the noise. The world wide web has driven massive discontinuities into almost every business model, organization, and political objective. Mobile telephony coupled to social networks has given voice to the real-time status of the majority of people on the planet. In this maelstrom of asymmetrical disruption, chaos appears to be the new norm though this will likely reveal itself to be the turmoil attending a broad shift towards a new order of stability.
Complex systems across many scales have moved into a late conservation phase and are beginning to release their organizational capacity. Legacy institutions have grown far too optimized and narrow to absorb the turbulence unleashed by globalization, ubicomp, and mobile telephony. Systems have destabilized in order to make the phase change into whatever next basin of stability awaits. Governance is necessarily challenged and states will inevitably give some degree of power & influence as capital flows out of the West; as more empowered actors take the global stage; as non-local relationships shift affiliation and allegiance; as borders are antiquated by the internet and the cell phone; and as over-extended unions fracture and balkanize. Centralized control structures are not adequate to manage such large scales of nested and inter-dependent complex adaptive systems. But fortunately, the same drivers that have introduced so much discontinuity and have challenged governance as we know it are helping construct the new forms of distributed, participatory governance. Hyper-connectivity, hyper-visibility, and hyper-empowerment are driving a global peer review of legacy institutions in a patchwork attempt to define Civilization 2.0. The process is turbulent and the future is cloudy but we’ll likely land on solid ground eventually.
A couple breakouts from my Signals, Challenges, & Horizon’s for Hand’s Free AR slidedeck…
Technical – power, weight, capture, integration
Interface – eye-tracking, gestural, selection, execution, filtering input & display
Interaction – context awareness, algorithms, provisioning
Perception – occlusion, distraction, depth cues, eyestrain
Legal & Ethical
Dynamic user interface
Fully native augmented reality?
Here’s the slidedeck from my recent talk at Augmented Reality Event 2011. I hope to post a general overview of the event soon, including some of the key trends that stood out for me in the space.
I recently participated in the Future of Facebook project that Venessa Miemis & Alvis Brigis have launched as part of their efforts towards an Open Foresight platform. The full collection of out-takes from all forecasters is available on the Future of Facebook You Tube channel.
Below are some of the out-takes from my interview. These are general thoughts I have about what Facebook is, how it seems to be impacting our lives & institutions, and where it might be headed. I should note that these are broad observations and many caveats apply. Also: default YT framegrabs seem to seek out the worst possible pics of me. Enjoy.
Social media has rapidly become a defining paradigm for the 21st century. The meteoric rise of Facebook, Twitter, & YouTube has enabled people to connect, collaborate, & communicate globally with unprecedented ease. Local events quickly become international conversations, captured & shared across social media platforms. As the voice of the crowd grows louder all organizations are being drawn out of their curated marketing & PR departments and into broader social engagements in order to more fully participate in brand conversations, customer service issues, public relations management, and the authentic casualness inherent in real-world relationships. While business once had the luxury of broadcasting its finely-crafted messages out to passive markets, persuading customers through repetition and volume, the new social business relationship between customers & brands is defined by attention, engagement, & authenticity – and is often the result of peer relationships more than marketing & PR. Yet these same tools & workflows established by the dominant social platforms are making their way into the walls of the enterprise. User profiles, status updates, one-to-many messaging, and subscriber streams are becoming increasingly valuable as communication platforms within & across internal business units, functional groups, service structures, & knowledge centers. Through these tools the enterprise is developing more coherency within its own walls while it becomes more socialized out on the public playground.
With the rise of the social network, businesses are increasingly trying to determine if it’s worth investing in social media. But this choice has already been made for them: people are talking loudly across social networks about their brand experience, sharing solutions & disappointments, demanding customer service & satisfaction, and manipulating the narrative away from the company caretakers. Business can either choose to engage the crowd and work to manage these relationships, or they can ignore the crowd and watch their brands – and customers – get away from them.
Fortunately, to the advantage of businesses, the crowd is not dispersed but, instead, is aggregating into a handful of core attention markets. Facebook has over 600 million active users. For Q1 2011, Facebook accounts for 31% of display ads in the US, beating the combined ads of the other top ten sites. In April 2011, Facebook announced that over 2.5 million sites have integrated the Facebook “Like” button, and over 250 million people engage with Facebook on external sites every month. As of March 2011, Facebook is the 3rd largest web property in Europe, by unique visitors, and has the highest number of page views. As Facebook encloses more and more aspects of the internet – news, video, discussion, and users – it has become the primary entry point & virtual hangout for digital natives.
Similarly, Twitter is one of the top ten trafficked websites in the world with around 175 million accounts (although actual usage stats are probably somewhat lower). It has significantly displaced traditional journalism as the go-to source for breaking news and has become a sandbox for the viral spread of content & trends. Brands like Dell, Cisco, Comcast, Zappos, Southwest Airlines, and many others have migrated onto Twitter in order to quickly address customer service issues and manage fall-out from unintended problems. YouTube has seen user-generated videos skyrocket to global attention, with some garnering well over 100 million views. Even the President of the United States uses YouTube to reach the crowd. And LinkedIn is the industry standard for managing employee profiles and employer recruiting efforts, using its sophisticated analytics back-end to explore trends across business sectors and manage networking across its graph.
The lesson to business is that social media is is no longer a choice. It is a fundamental reality of the modern age. However, businesses are arguably far more empowered through social media than they realize. By stepping authentically into social networks, businesses humanize their brands and extend relationships out to customers, stakeholders, and the crowd. Metrics like Net Promoter show how likely a user would be to recommend a brand to a friend, and services like Klout attempt to measure the degree of influence a particular user has across their networks. By adopting analytic tools they can quickly get a snapshot of brand sentiment, trends, conversations & influencers, and can more easily track click-through rates, conversions, lead generation, and sales. With deeper analytics savvy market intelligence types can extract behavioral trends and reveal demographic & locative data about markets. Digital trails across desktops & mobile devices provide a way to track success from ad engagement all the way to point-of-sale and on through to customer satisfaction.
Enterprise-scale platforms like Salesforce & Jive offer entire Social CRM suites with built-in analytics and at-a-glance dashboards that enable real-time observation, response, & management across customer networks. Indeed, we are just moving into an early consolidation phase as these market leaders acquire analytics tools such as Radian6 & Proximal Labs, respectively. Enterprise stalwart IBM has released Lotus Connections, offering a Twitter-like service for internal business networks. Salesforce Chatter is a similar tool bringing together experts, stakeholders, and enterprise customers across a lightweight messaging platform. By building profiles of people & groups, connecting them, providing affordances to post, ask questions, identify, solutions, and connect with customers, the same design patterns popularized by Twitter, Facebook, & LinkedIn can help the enterprise become more efficient and overcome the all-too-common problems of internal balkanization between functional groups and the often-painful barriers to successful customer relationships.
There are clearly benefits to social CRM and there are certainly challenges. Business must work to understand the social landscape and then to articulate a core strategy for engagement. The companies most successful with social media establish direction from C-level executives, setting policy that defines the rules of social relationships but allows peripheral groups the flexibility to naturally & authentically engage with customers. The crowd is loud and not always right so attention must be paid to finding the balance between listening & reacting. Oftentimes customers just want to know that they have been heard (and there is a lot to listen to but, again, analytic tools offer ways to filter and prioritize the volume). Businesses must also consider which solutions are most appropriate for their budget & scale. Small business can have great success with free off-the-shelf web services. Larger businesses might be better off with enterprise-scale solutions that can integrate with existing ERP & BI platforms. And businesses of every size will need to cope with the tides of data and the emotions that so often attend their currents.
The accelerating pace of social media and the sea-change of smart mobile devices insures that everyone will be in an experimental mode for some time as individuals & organizations come to terms with how these tools are changing the foundations of our world. This exploratory period is marked by great movement and undercut with uncertainty, yet it is driven by the simple human need to connect & share. As the crowd gathers, becomes empowered, and is collected into data-driven platforms, businesses can grow to become more efficient and more humanized, reinforcing the social contracts that ultimately underlie all transactions. As we’ve seen again & again in current events across the world, social media appears destined to change all human systems.
So everybody knows the cloud is the future. All the titans of the information age are trying to convince us, day-in and day-out, that we should migrate our digital lives onto their servers and stride confidently into a bold new age of instant-everywhere access. Google, Amazon, Facebook, and many more among fleets of hardware SaaS mongers and thin-client mobile Co’s are working feverishly to sell everyone on the cloud service model. But should we really trust profit-driven companies to responsibly care for our data?
Today, a leak has exposed that Yahoo! plans to shut down del.icio.us because it has been identified as an “underperformer”. The Yahoo! property is one of exactly two Yahoo! properties that has any real broad value beyond ad-search monetization (the other being Flickr). It is widely used and relied upon by industry analysts, researchers, students, and scientists alike. I use it everyday. Yet, among Yahoo!’s many well-documented failures has been its inability to effectively grow and monetize its two most valuable properties – the two properties that do more to salvage the fading brand of Yahoo! than anything else it has done in the past 10 years.
But everybody knows the Yahoo! story by now. And shutting down del.icio.us is arguably a far bigger story because what it effectively says to everyone using a hosted data service is this: your data is only worth as much as our ability to monetize it. This, of course, makes sense to business. But the story that’s being sold to all of us on the user side, including the many businesses being pushed to move to the cloud and trust that Google, for example, will take care of all their enterprise data… The story we’re being sold is that we can trust the cloud and it’s masters to take care of us and to protect & preserve our information. Never mind the data breaches. Never mind the has-been web failures forever shelved and buried. Never mind the fact that your data is only valuable because hosting services can mine it and re-sell it and use it to find us anywhere. And never mind the simple, logical fact-of-business that if the service you have trusted to protect your digital life becomes a corporate under-performer, it may very well get shut down and locked away forever.
Yahoo! CEO Carol Bartz reportedly earned $47 million dollars last year. She is currently in the process of laying off 20% of the Yahoo! workforce. As is sadly the case for so many big, public tech companies in the valley, layoffs and consolidation are used to make up for the value-draining malaise of bad management and a failure to innovate. In the end, it’s the beleaguered workers, the overlooked users, and the many partners that have adopted the cloud story who bear the very real burden of corporate small-mindedness.
[As has been noted by others, data transport, shared standards, and simple mechanisms to extract and redeploy data will be critical requirements for secure cloud adoption and faith in the story. There is a path to export data from del.icio.us but much of the value built around that data by the service, such as tags & bundles, will not transfer.]
[I migrated my del.icio.us data following the Lifehacker script. Lost all taxonomic data (tags are gone) and crashed Firefox repeatedly after import trying to manage 1000+ bookmarks. Now I have a ton of bookmarks that will likely be lost because they are too hard to search through. So even though del.icio.us has a migration feature, it looses all the secondary structural data that I added as tags in order to be able to manage the volume. Harumph. ]
[UPDATE: Now Yahoo! may sell off del.icio.us. Wish they would have paid enough attention to the service to see its value before everyone started screaming about its retirement. Seems yet another indicator that Yahoo! just doesn't get it about 21st century information services...]
Tish Shute over at UgoTrade was kind enough to post a conversation we recently had about augmented reality, the Gartner Hype Cycle, and the O’Reilly Web 2.0 Points of Control map.
Chris Arkenberg: There will be much more of a blended reality experience in the living room for sure, and with interactive billboards. Digital mirrors are another area. So I mean if we kind of extend AR to include just blended reality in general, you know, this is moving into our culture through a number of different points. As you mentioned, it will be in the living room, it will be in our department stores where you can preview different outfits in their mirror. We’re already seeing these giant interactive digital billboards in Times Square and other areas.
It’s funny. I mean for me, the sort of blended reality aside, the augmented reality, to me, is actually a very simple proposition in some respects. When I look at this map, augmented reality is just an interface layer to this map in my mind, just as it’s an interface layer to the cloud and it’s an interface layer to the instrumented world. It’s a way to get information out of our devices and onto the world.
Gartner, one of the most trusted market analysis firms in the technology industry, just released it’s 2010 Hype Cycle Special Report. According to their research, augmented reality has entered the Peak of Inflated Expectations and will begin it’s slide down into the Trough of Disillusionment within the next year. To get a more visceral sense of what this means we can see that, again according to Gartner, public virtual worlds are just now at the bottom of the Trough looking for innovations and revenues to claw their way up onto the Slope of Enlightenment, having plummeted with the meteoric rise-and-fall of Second Life. The correlations between the VR curve & the AR curve are not lost on those of us who’ve been tracking both.
Looking at augmented reality it’s clear that much of the hype, especially here in the US, has been driven by the relentless need of marketers to grab eyes in a world of on-rushing novelty, coupled to the embryonic rush of a young developer community trying to prove it can be done. And to the credit of the developers they’ve indeed demonstrated the basic concept and shown that AR works and has a future but much implementation has entered the public marketplace as advertising gimmicks & hokey markups constrained by the limits of this nascent technology. While truly valuable & interesting work is happening in AR, particularly among university researchers, European factories, and the Dutch, the public mind only sees the gimmicks and the hype. As with virtual reality (now subtly re-branded as “virtual worlds” as if they’re embarrassed of those heady days of hope & hype), augmented reality cannot possibly live up to all the expectations set for it in time to meet the immediate gratification needs of the marketplace. Evangelists, pundits, marketers, and advertisers all feed the hype cycle while the developers & strategists keep their heads down toiling to plumb the foundations.
So if we accept that AR will necessarily pass through a PR & financial “Dark Night of the Soul” before reaching enlightenment, what then are the present challenges to the technology? Perhaps the largest barrier is the hardware. Using a cell phone to interrogate your surroundings is clearly of great value but it remains unclear which use cases benefit from rendering the results on the camera stream. Efforts like the Yelp Monocle are fun at first but the novelty quickly becomes overwhelmed by the challenges of the heavy-handed & occluding UI, the human interface (eg having to hold up your phone and “look” through it), and the need to have refined search, sort, and waypoint capabilities. Let’s not forget that the defining mythologies of AR – the sci-fi & cyberpunk visions of our expected futures – show augmented markups drawn heads-up on cool eyewear, in the near-term, and dance off of nanobots directly bonded to the optic stream in the far-term. Hyperbolic perhaps, but a fully-realized augmented reality must be a seamless, minimally intrusive and personally informative overlay on the world. AR will climb The Slope of Enlightenment with the help of a successful heads-up eyewear device capable of attracting significant market adoption. This is a challenge that cannot be met by the AR industry but depends on a Great White Hope like iShades or whatever offering the Jobs juggernaut may extrude in the next 3-5 years.
Hardware aside (there are challenges with cloud latency, GPS accuracy, and battery life, among others), the augmented reality stack has a ways to go before we can get to the type of standardization necessary to draw serious development. The current environment is as expected for such a young domain: balkanized platforms vying to become the first standard and fragmented developers playing with young SDK’s or just building their own kits. There’s a lot of sandboxing and minimal coordination & collaboration. This is one of the reasons public virtual worlds went into decline, in my opinion. When you’re dealing with reality – or it’s virtual approximation – walls tend to present a lot of general problems while offering only a few very select solutions. When architecting augmented reality platforms it should be paramount that the open internet is the core model. AR is simply a way to draw the net out on to the phenomenal world. As such it needs a common set of standards. For example the AR markup object is a fundamental component that will be used by all AR applications. How do you make it searchable, location-aware, federated, and share structured metadata? AR must work to enumerate the taxonomy of it’s architecture & experience models in order to begin working towards best practices & standards (some are already doing this such as the ARML standard proposed by Mobilizy). This is the only way that experience & interface will be broadly adopted and it’s the only way that a large enough development community will emerge to support the industry.
For augmented reality to make it through the Trough of Disillusionment it must formalize & standardize the core components for the visual, blended web. To this end companies like Layar and Metaio would be well-served by establishing strong partnerships and continue working with industry and civic bodies to understand exactly how AR can meet their needs. Likewise, working with the likes of IBM to build a visualization layer for the Smarter Planet. The marketing money will dry up so it’s imperative that the young platform companies collaborate to coordinate the standards under the hood, freeing them up to differentiate by the unique experiences & services they build on top. This may seem inevitable (or impossible, depending on your half-cup disposition) but look at virtual worlds – another technology that might be stronger if there were common standards & open movement across experiences. How Second Life, for example, has survived is by the soft & hard science work of unaffiliated university & corporate researchers trying to push the platform to be more than just a fancy chat experience. (Notably, the present heartbeat of Second Life does not appear to be the result of it’s management efforts.) AR would benefit by seeding this type of humanities and scientific work as much as possible, anchoring the technology in the very real needs of our world. To work on stuff that matters, to crib from Tim O’Reilly.
Gartner has generally been correct in it’s Hype Cycle prognostications. The timeframe is debatable, of course, but the report is instructional, provocative, and often impacts the degree of funding that moves into tech. Virtual worlds are a valuable model for augmented reality. The emergent AR players would do well to study both it’s decline into the Trough and it’s eventual, hopeful rise to enlightenment. The good news (and the freaky news) is that Gartner’s 2010 Hype Cycle indicates that human augmentation & brain computer interface are making headway up the Technology Trigger curve suggesting that both will show significant market presence within 5 years. So it’s likely that the dream of augmented reality will come to be, perhaps carried on the back of these even younger and more ambitious technologies.
For whatever failings or false starts the pundits may heap on augmented reality, it’s just too useful to be left behind. We want to see the world for what it is, rich with data & paths & affinities & memory. Those of us invested in its success would do well to work together to curate it’s passage through the Dark Night of the Hype Cycle.
[UPDATE: Marc Slocum over at O'Reilly RADAR (greatest horizon-scanning name evar!) elicited a very interesting comment from Layar CEO, Raimo van der Klein: "So we don't see AR as virtual Points of Interests around you. We see it as the most impactful mobile content out there." In some ways this challenges my assumption that AR is about visualizing the net & blending it with the hard world.]
Traditional software companies are beginning to extend their platform support to include web service layers that sit across their apps. While some try to port software features to a web front-end, others are looking more closely at the collaborative workflows across apps and across stakeholders. A good example of the latter is CS5 from Adobe Systems that includes workflow support services like CS Review and the CS Live service suite. These connected services address the real-world behaviors that grow around application suites.
A design shop has multiple users working in tandem, each with specific coordinated tasks necessary to producing the final outcome. The shop itself is in communication with the client and the publishing target (eg the printers, the web developers, etc) and may be working with other 3rd party contributors. All of these have differing levels of contribution, permissions, and interaction which can be effectively mediated by well-designed services.
The shift to these kind of services is inherently social. Effective service design addresses the collaborative workflows that emerge around the intersection of the tools and the business. This design process is not feature-driven as is typical of most software development. Instead, it’s human-driven with features addressing the real needs of the users, accreting around human behaviors derived from user research & ethnography, rather than from market analysis or engineering visions.
So, for businesses looking to extend their platforms to address the secondary workflows that emerge around them, they would be well-served to invest in solid user research & ethnography in order to understand how their tools are being used, what the stakeholder relationships are really like, and how businesses implement their own hacks to develop work-arounds & optimizations for the interoperabilty & social elements of their work. Every shop & every business ecosystem has challenges that are more often remedied by frustrated internal users rather than well-designed services. These ad hoc hacks are problems looking for solutions.
Businesses are ecosystems built around human engagement & productivity. Business ecosystems are platforms for innovation. How is your services model addressing the human ecosystem of productivity?
[Cross-posted from Boing Boing.]
Narrative media is undergoing a shift from the traditional model of single, linear story lines to much broader explorations of the story world. Narratives are developed within larger contexts where even tertiary characters can act as launch points for new stories that flesh out the fictional universe. These bleed into the physical world through alternate reality gaming and transmedia cross-platform experiences that directly engage the audience, drawing them into the story through real-world challenges. ARG’s may not be especially new but they’re being more commonly integrated into franchise productions through transmedia campaigns across web sites, mobile engagement, shorts, graphic novels, video games, music, and any other possible medium that can extend the story.
While much of this shift has been driven by the entertainment industry, typically around run-up advertising campaigns, transmedia experiences are perhaps most compelling as native expressions of a fully-articulated narrative universe. This is transmedia world building: creating a fictional universe so rich and complete that a multitude of interweaving stories can emerge from it, taking form through the social and technological spaces we share. The video game spin-off becomes an opportunity to extend the narrative and create a new experience. The web site becomes a breadcrumb in the story arc offering a phone number that conveys a meeting place. The graphic novel picks up the life of a tertiary character from the original story. The audience is asked to participate in the unfolding narrative.
The pieces here aren’t particularly new but they’re all starting to converge with the technologies that enable these experiences. Most importantly (and disruptively) they are converging in a way that radically empowers independent content creators at exactly the moment when they’ve been completely abandoned by the industry giants of yesteryear. The majors have ditched or shelved their independent film houses and now focus solely on tent-pole blockbusters. Premiers at Cannes, Sundance, and other indie fests are barely selling to the studios. Yet, independent creators can set up powerful home studios and score a RED camera or even a Canon 5D mk2 to shoot & produce exceptional, authentic work. And very soon the audience will control access to this massive Long Tail of content right from their living room (and from their mobiles, and laptops, and kiosks, and car stereos, etc…)
Indeed, the near-simultaneous announcement of both Google TV and the new iteration of Apple TV herald the final arrival of truly integrated internet TV. This is the enxt major wave of convergence. These devices will fully legitimize web video – the pre-eminent domain of independent film, tv, and short-format creators – and bring it directly into the living room for mass consumption. Viewers will be able to open chat streams, web browsers, interactive content, and feedback polling while watching content from YouTube, Hulu, Vimeo and anyone else uploading to the cloud. Content providers will grab analytics off the back-end, manage ad placement, and push interactive challenges directly to the viewers. Internet TV convergence will be radically disruptive.
The majors are fighting hard to control this space. They’ll continue to defend the old models & limp box office gimmicks like “3D” movies while new media innovators will be figuring out how to use Microsoft’s Kinect and augmented reality and geolocation to extend the reach & impact of their content. New models of crowdfunding & collaboration will bring the audience into the production, and creators will push out distribution through iTunes, Netflix, torrents, and the emerging array of independent web hosts. Whatever the role of Old Media may be in the future, independent creators will play a much larger role in the new media landscape.
[Cross-posted from a piece I wrote for Hukilau.]
While discussing the recent success of indie web video shop, Happy Little Guillotine Films, in securing a million dollar tie-in with 7-Eleven, Marc Huvstedt at TubeFilter notes the relative obscurity still visited upon the web series genre. Even Joss Whedon’s Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog scraped by on a $340,000 budget, he laments. Web TV, it seems, just can’t get enough investors exited about producing content.
But the problem isn’t a lack of compelling content. It’s that web video hasn’t been integrated into the primary consumption channel for serialized video entertainment. Viewership is scatterred, fleeting, and uncertain. IPTV is going to change this. Yesterday’s announcement of the new Google web TV device heralds the onrushing age of internet-enabled television currently being built out by Google, Sony, Samsung, Philips and many others ready to grab video from YouTube, Hulu, Google, (Hukilau!) etc… and bring it right to your living room. Imagine Dr. Horrible in HD on your widescreen LCD with live IM chat, twitter feed overlay, and mobile alerts for new episodes, fan contests, and transmedia spin-offs, back-ended with analytics, sentiment analysis, and ad-profiling, cut up with on-the-fly capture & remixing… You get the idea.
While traditional tv networks struggle to get into the social media persuasion game, internet producers were born & bread in leveraging social networks to grab eyes and build engaged fan bases. They’ll have a natural advantage in the set-top convergence.
Within 5 years many households will have upgraded to IPTV hardware and the browsing workflows will have been integrated. Viewers will more effectively search, filter, & share across the new media landscape, from traditional networks out into the long-tail of the web. Digital convergence in the wired living room will give web TV a huge lift in steady viewership and draw out increased investments in compelling, engaging, and ambitious stories from independent producers. IPTV invites the legions of independent talent to bring their stories & creations to the television audience. This will be incredibly disruptive.
[As an aside, keep an eye on Adobe's deal-making to get Flash as the standard interface layer for IPTV's.]
[Mike Elgin has a good post looking at some of the social opportunites with Smart Tv.]
[Engadget notes how the competition has reacted to the Google TV announcement.]
[Also from Engadget, a really good overview - Google TV: Everything you wanted to know...]
[Seriously. Keep an eye on Adobe partnerships with cable co's...]
While the chorus of hand-picked pre-release iPad reviewers has pretty roundly declared it just as magical as Steve Jobs told us it would be, and how the interface sweetly beckons the user into it’s experience before gently disappearing to reveal some new oddly-posthuman machine love affair, not a whole lot is being said about what this device means to content publishers. The naysayers deride, among oh so many niggling things, it’s flat file system, lack of HDMI output, no USB, no Flash support, and virtual uselessness as an authoring platform but, clearly, that’s not what it’s really meant for. As many have noted, the iPad is a device designed primarily for consumption.
More specifically (and more importantly to the publishing & distribution biz), the iPad is a shiny, friendly, closed & gated, DRM’d device for finding, purchasing, and consuming new media, all managed by the secure & reliable iTunes Store. The user gets what is arguably a faster, more intuitive, and compelling experience that will probably have them throwing gobs of money at the next generation of digital media. Publishers get a delivery target that is a de facto store with all the innate moral understanding about payment and value and theft that comes with that context. And consumers get the ability to search, find, purchase, and consume media in one single, engaging mobile device.
In the iPad frontier, it’s explicitly OK for publishers to charge users for content. They have a whole new platform in which to innovate experiences that upsell users from the last generation’s content. You loved The Beatles remasters? Well now you can get The Beatles remasters with HD multimedia interactive album copy & studio videos for only $22.95 an album!
It’s no wonder that Disney, ABC, the Wall Street Journal, Netflix, Conde Nast, Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster, Penguin, Marvel, and many, many others have rushed to the new platform to plant their flags and set up shop. Marvel basically set up it’s own comic store on the device, as Netflix has done with video. The Wall Street Journal has the perfect premium gateway for their subscription model. News & magazine publishers barely breathing after the beating they’ve taken since the web forced them to give away all their content for free must be droooooling over the opportunity to create the next generation of news experiences in a gated platform. Likewise for the book publishers finally reaching the new frontier of interactive digital content more compelling than paper books now lining so many remainder shelves like dusty word bricks. And arguably, the planet may be at least partially relieved of some of the paper and ink waste bloating landfills (we’ll overlook the as-of-yet unresolved energetic/carbon burden of dematerializing into electronic containers…).
While many of us have been beckoning the new era of open content, the major media publishers have been begging for the lockdown offered by the iPad. To them, the device promises both a new platform for innovating compelling content, extending their business opportunities into the future landscape at a time when they’ve been so stuck in the past, and it offers the security of a trusted gate for managing purchases and IP protection. It’s more of a nightmare for a lot of people but for the majors it has to be a dream come true. I can only assume that Steve et al worked closely with these interests to make sure they help build an impressive content catalog and a massive hype machine to drive as many new buyers to the iPad as they can. Apple knows that it sells a lot more product when it has the major distributors on it’s side and, at this point, the Old Media houses are pretty much powerless in Steve’s patented Reality Distortion Field.
Questions remain, of course. They’ve already sold over a million units in pre-sale but will the price point hold enough momentum to herald the new age of digital content consumption? Fanboys and early adopters are not enough to sustain a publishing revolution. Apple will probably drop the entry level price in another year or so after it’s stacked up a solid catalog of content. Will the content be good enough to merit the costs? The Wall Street Journal thinks people will pay $17 a month for their service. I wonder if more news sites will follow the lead of the Wall Street Journal and start locking down their web content..? And how long until all the content houses push back and want to extend distribution to the next gen of iPad competitors? Well, it hasn’t been much of a problem for iTunes & the iPod so far. That ecosystem, with plenty of would-be competitors, has kept music publishers pretty happy in a time of otherwise dismal CD returns. Will Apple’s DRM solution be enough to stem the blood loss from file sharing? Face it kids, piracy is a problem for the industry. And face it, industry: your recycled, top-40, tent pole, hedge fund, bloated, over-managed content production models are done. Get used to the long tail of compelling new media niche content that costs half as much as it used to.
Whatever you think about Apple, however much you hate them for being so good at manipulating the public narrative in their favor, however much you detest-and-secretly-admire their obsessive design principles, their ability to dismiss seemingly obvious functionality, their iron-fisted distribution mamagement, and their cavalier “we don’t really worry about the business side” attitude towards their shareholders… Whatever. Apple has lined up pretty much the entire content industry, pointed them at a new playground, and guaranteed them a financial return on their efforts. Will it be enough to save their business in the face of the democratized world of free user content? The industry will abide and do it’s best to make compelling new content that’s only available on this very compelling new device.
[For a much more user-centered take, see Cory Doctorow's impassioned piece, Why I Won't Buy an iPad and Think You Shouldn't Either. Also see Joel Johnson's similarly impassioned counterpoint.]
[Andrew Keen summed it up nicely in this tweet: "my prediction: iPad will formalize chasm between Apple's high-end paid content model & Google's low-end free model. Adieu to mass media."]
[Quinn Norton discusses the Elephant in the room: the iPad is simply too expensive for most people.]
[Investor Howard Lindzon shows off the NASDAQ app w/ StockTwits support. Lovely UI!]
[Round-up of media brands currently on the iPad.]
Adobe’s acquisition of Omniture has overshadowed another recent acquisition. In August of this year, Adobe quietly purchased Business Catalyst, a CRM & web hosting company. With this acquisition Adobe picked up a turn-key solution for clients to publish, host, and manage business web sites. This would suggest that Adobe is moving towards similar territory as Amazon’s EC2 and other business cloud hosts.
Enter Omniture. Putting an analytics infrastructure behind Flash properties is a no-brainer, though as James Governor notes, it’s unclear how Adobe analytics would be any better than Google. The staggering Omniture client list aside (Apple, IBM, MSFT, etc…), Adobe could bring it’s analytics suite to Business Catalyst clients thereby building an entire publishing, hosting, analytics, & CRM ecosystem. You buy the Creative Suite, publish through Business Catalyst, host on Adobe servers, and reap the user analytics from Omniture. And Adobe grabs a bit of cash at every step. (If you want to get really crazy, think about how LiveCycle & Flash might fit into this equation…)
Now, about Google Wave. Disclosure: I haven’t gotten an invite yet. But I’ve been doing my share of research since the announcement earlier this year. The press following their beta is mostly focusing on how competitive Wave is with email & IM, or how weak the typically-Google user experience is. Although Google has framed the whole offering as a new communications tool, I think this generalization is perhaps a deliberate obfuscation leading people to think it’s only about evolving email.
The most interesting thing to me about Wave is that it combines real-time collaboration with a context-aware architecture. The experience of the user is dependent on the context of their content, their role, and their transactions. I think most commentary has missed the point that Wave is the first real context-aware application framework. If we look at the term “communication” and consider it more as an event protocol, Wave allows all components of a contextual transaction to communicate with each other. In other words, this isn’t just real-time collaboration for users. It’s real-time collaboration for machines. My sense is that Wave is a proof of product, and that the core functionality will be a large part of the Chrome OS underlying all transactional processes. If this is the case, Chrome OS could be a truly revolutionary cloud-aware contextual operating system.
My two bits for a Sunday…
In my present tenure as a Visiting Researcher at the Institute for the Future I’ve been posting a lot of Signals pertinent to Brain-Computer Interface over at the Signtific open source research site. My Signals are listed under the tag “ProgrammableEverything”.
Check ‘em out if you’re interested in the fascinating & accelerating field of BCI. Also feel free to add your own Signals you see in the world or are engaging in your professional research.
The flurry of news surrounding the theft and publication of internal Twitter documents will inevitably engender even more goodwill for the world’s favorite social messaging platform. No betrayal of Twitter strategy short of implicating them in slapping babies with puppies can dent their supernova ascent into global stardom. Their current soap opera seems to bring them more sympathy than concern over their strategic objectives. In all likelihood, the player with the most to lose is Michael Arrington who’s managed to come off as a bit of a bully barely restrained by his own self-interest to secure future access to Twitter insiders.
The most interesting bits are related to features. The revelations concerning Hosebird, Tweet Rank, Google Syndication, and a “secret project with the X-Box” do more to allay concerns over Twitter’s monetization strategy than reveal any lack of ideas or sinister motivations. Their goal of 1 billion users is handily sugar-coated by the suggestion that they are building a global nervous system, drafting on the oft-quoted predictions of the emergent Global Brain. If anything, these leaks, like the way Apple deftly foreshadows it’s own “super secret” Skunkworks product releases, will add even more drool to the salivations of the user base, the dev ecology, and 3rd party interests eager to have more access to the Starchild. In fact, it seems that, if anything, Arrington is doing Twitter a huge favor.
Disclosures of ongoing talks with Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Amazon, et al, while not especially new or surprising, underwrite the seriousness of Twitter’s enterprise and reinforce the fact that aside from the wall of hype & buzz permeating the media Twitter is one of the Big Boys now. If not yet in valuation, then certainly in it’s seriousness and capacity. Remember when Google was just this new, simple searchbar competing with WebCrawler & HotBot & Lycos? Twitter’s ability to keep the likes of Diddy and Marissa Mayer at arm’s length underscore the strength of their organization and the confidence they have with their status and strategy.
Another tell lies in the notes about Twitter’s future with respect to possible acquisitions. A line within the context of the failed Facebook acquisition and attempts by other would-be suiters states “it can give us understanding of what we are worth”. This is like when you go on job interviews so your current boss will promote you. By courting acquisitions Twitter gets hard numbers to reinforce what their real value is in the competitive marketplace. The inevitable press surrounding these offers gives them huge leverage for partnerships, funding, free press, and growth. Conversely, they admit that they may not be able to meet the scaling requirements of their exponential growth. These two statements together defend Twitter’s authority and secure it’s need to stay firmly in the driver’s seat if they enter into any merger or acquisition with larger suitors.
Of course, search is the big deal here. Twitter must either fiercely defend its data and analytics against Google or cut a tight deal that serves their interests effectively without diluting their brand. As they admit, Google can do search much better but Twitter controls the stream. Clearly, Google is afraid of losing ad share to Twitter, yet is salivating at the chance to sink their searchy incisors into their data as deeply as possible. Indeed, “Twitter the product is a vehicle for Twitter Search” and “Twitter is an economy of information”.
Ironically or not, the release of these internal documents and the ensuing public discussion of their contents will empower the Twitter community even more to be the stewards of their pet. Recall that Twitter’s genesis was far simpler and less ambitious. As the user base swelled and began to co-opt it’s use pulling it far beyond a fun SMS “What Are You Doing” billboard, they had to quickly re-architect their infrastructure to support a global messaging system. Recent challenges brought by Twitter’s utility as a disaster reporting tool, an emergency service coordination network, and a significant threat to oppressive regimes further reinforce the sense that the service only partly belongs to its creators. These disclosures are not only harmless to Twitter’s goals, perhaps even furthering them, they are appropriate to the era of transparency and connectivity that it has helped create.
To invoke the Global Brain myself, Twitter will get it’s 1 billion users and more (unless they piss off Goldman Suchs), and the weight of these sources and the connections they are weaving will continue to re-engineer the collective experience of information and sharing that humanity is engaged in. In the sea change waves of the new Information Economy, amid all the challenges the democratized landscape of free services pose to existing monetization strategies, something new is emerging and it’s increasingly less and less concerned about funding and valuation and far more invested in utility and humanity.