It is not the Apple Tablet, it is the Store

The recent escalation of rumours surrounding the so-called Apple Tablet / Slate / Big iPhone / xxx (where xxx is a super cool Apple-ish name) seem to focus on the hardware. The gadgetry. The hardware specs.

I am a little over gadgetry. Every week there is a new phone, device or somesuch that junks the old technology. Surely this is neither ethical nor sustainable?

But that is not where the innovation, nor the future lies for Apple. Recent Apple acquisitions, investments and successes leads me to conclude that Apple and Google are about to square off. Not in search. Search is rather boring and a commodity.

In the forthcoming weeks, ignore the hardware. Hardware is dime-a-dozen, and many vendors are going to release slate like gadgetry in a similar form factor. Rather, watch what Apple does with their iTunes / App store. Presently this system provides music, tv, movies and with the advent of the iPhone – Apps.

The next department for the store are newspapers, magazines and books. Either sold as subscription, or with embedded advertising. Just wait.

The revenue model will appeal to the traditional mainstream media – so expect a continuing avalanche of obsequious and self-serving coverage. Not of the store – but rather the hardware. Embedded within these stories will be the expectation of a holy grail. The holy grail of the future of print media, without paper.

Somehow, I doubt it.

Working for the Underdog

Photo by TCM Hitchhiker/Jason Jerde
The following is the personal opinion of myself and is not a formal statement nor position of my employer

Firstly, think about newspapers. They existed from the 17th century until the first decade of the 21st century on advertising. Using the money received from advertising, they funded content created by journalists and writers. The content attracted attention (ie: eyeballs), which in turn attracted more advertisers. A virtuous circle.

Newspapers will not completely cease to exist; however both their business model and lack of environmental sustainability – and most importantly, lack of attention, will challenge long term strangle-hold of power.

Now, think about Google. Started in the first decade of the 21st century. Using money received from online advertising, they funded tools and applications created by software engineers. Online, the cost of creating content is near zero, so everyone had the chance to create and share. These tools attracted attention in helping people find/sift/manage this content. By providing these tools, Google attracts and holds attention, which in turn attracts more online advertisers. A virtuous circle.

Traditional journalism will continue to exist as open societies demand independent, knowledgeable voices. However, who will publish their stories, and under what business model; is one of many changes happening in today’s society.

As more attention-time is spent online, the first model is under distinct threat; as is any traditional attention-driven business model. The attention is increasingly heading online.

Google has no direct need to earn revenue from these tools and applications directly. Using the online community to adopt (via APIs, etc) these tools, modify and contribute – Google wins more attention via the network effect. We have seen Google promote browsers (Chrome) with advanced APIs (HTML5, SVG, Javascript) as a strategy to shift the platform off Win32/.NET, MacOS/iPhone and simple HTML4

It just happens that Google’s model of software development is orthogonal to Microsoft’s model of obtaining revenue. As an added benefit, the model has the potential to cripple their largest potential competitor, Microsoft.

The effects of new software model will not dramatically affect the majority of the traditional, saturated software marketplace. Microsoft will continue to maintain a revenue stream from traditional enterprise platforms (operating system, office, servers, databases, CRM/ERP etc), but these are not long term growth businesses. Growth will largely follow World GDP rather than accelerate, as you would expect on a new business model. Growth at World GDP is merely a baseline

This is why Microsoft must, and is breaking out of traditional software-licensing model into tools and technologies such as Bing, Azure etc. Using the cashflows of the current platforms to ensure a long-term and viable business. Structural and product changes are already underway as seen with Microsoft’s Online hosted applications, and industry acquisitions.

The next 5-10 years is going to be an interesting ride, and Google understands their competitive marketplace. And this time, Microsoft is the underdog. I like working for underdogs. It makes life interesting.

Notes, follow-up:

  • Henry Blodget “It’s Time For Microsoft To Face Reality About Search And The Internet”
    (Nick) Henry has an interesting perspective on how Microsoft is framing it’s approach to the internet wrong, strategically. Henry’s premise is that Microsoft should refocus as a pure enterprise software play, and give up on the consumer internet business. This is certainly an alternative not discussed above; but this does seem like a growth by marketshare strategy. When you are already a large player in a market, this does become difficult without causing more regulatory ire. Extending from technology mountain ranges, the new rivers of gold are too attractive to be forgotten. To succeed Microsoft has to exhibit and execute a major mental/strategic shift without abandoning the current revenue streams.
    I read Steven Hodson over at The Inquisitr has a similar perspective as mine above, although coming from a different angle. Don’t underestimate the attractiveness of rivers of gold.
  • Michael Goldhaber, “The Attention Society
    (Nick) In post-industrial societies the scarce resource is attention. Grabbing attention, such as the H1N1 Influenza Pandemic is at the time of writing, is valuable. In the above text, I make mention of the Attention Economy, or the mechanism of monetizing the attention of society. Once, as people sat down to television after work: content providers could sell this attention. (Advertising is primarily a mechanism for obtaining attention).

Social Media. The Opera is dying, All Hail the Circus

Photo by bootload/Peter Renshaw

The Opera. Stages filled with ladies singing in a gruff germanic or romantic language, and men prancing around in colourful soldierly uniform. Stories so simple yet obscured by language; thankfully the Playbill(tm) details the plot. Plots of love lost and family betrayal, have remained unchanged in some instances for centuries. The audience silent in the stalls, listens and applauds at the appropriate places. It is all scripted and follows a well worn path.

Strong scripts, strident soaring songs and standardised characters are repeated year after year to an audience that dresses up to show off their cultural status. Baby boomers, once the bastions of cultural iconoclasm, now flock to the safety of the opera. The safety of the known story provides succour in a troubling and confused world.

The Opera is an appropriate mirror of a slowly declining, old power structure: standardised stories with a strong cultural understanding of expectations. There are few surprises, and the actors faithfully represent the characters as written. To stray from the culture will result in review rebuke, and potentially financial ruin. The utterances are known, and everything fits into the story.

In the modern, hyperconnected world where everyone wants to write their own scripts; to merely ape an old opera is stale. It no longer resonates, nor does it excite. The worn path may provide temporary comfort: but does not provide long term sustenance.

At the opera, the generously-proportioned female singer has begun her last stanza.

The Circus. I remember the circus arriving in our small country town. I, and the hoard of kids and teachers tramped down to the town’s football oval to oggle. The animals we eyed were from a distant continent. Lions, Tigers, Bears and Elephants. It was like a zoo, but the animals were smellier and close. Eating and stomping close.

Traditional circuses such as these are now rare. Circuses with the animal menagerie are rarer, as they have been hounded out of our towns by animal liberationists. A tradition, as cultural as steeplechasing, has vanished into the mist. The animals are happier.

Modern circuses are about people. The animals have been sequestered and retired to zoos and forests. Circuses such as Quebec’s Circ du Soleil give a medieval commedia dell’arte a modern flavour wrapped in a bright coat of 21st century globalised commercialism. Completely comprised of people, franchised to a culturally flattened world; therefore standardised to highlight human performance. These circuses are for people, about people and make a point of breaking the third wall to stretch the entertainment.

In more traditional circuses, clowns would regularly break the third wall. Throw faux water, in the shape of confetti, into a faux surprised audience. The circus entertains, as the sad clown provides a reflection on our mixed up, complex lives.

This forest we are navigating through: Social Media, is like a circus. It is a human centric institution, wrapped in new technology zeal with a hoard of clowns, mummers, so-called ring leaders and high-wire acts all screaming for your attention, laughs and money. Difficult to ignore when they are in town; and they can be smelly at the approach. Bright Lights! Shows! High wire acts with stars having incongruous names. Social Media has it all.

A true circus extends out from the focus on the tent and the highwire of show night. The canvas riggers and animal trainers transform into the spruikers of side-show alley. Crafty games of shooting, prowess of strength and precision take a fool from their money. Fairy floss, candy apples and fortune tellers return a future of rotten teeth and rotted minds.

In a similar way, Social media has a plethora of spruikers. The games they advertise remove you are after your gold. Some of these games have a large pay off; sadly many don’t.

To really enjoy the circus, you must experience the whole show, not merely snack on the fairy floss and candy apples.

Social networking is more than the latest crazes of Twitter and Facebook. In fact, it predates blogs. And the WWW, even if you could hand-code HTML. Even before the internet escaped from the university cage and it’s trainers, there have existed “social medias”. Email, Bulletin board systems, Talk-back radio. Small newspapers and magazines; telegraph wirings and Morse code; pamphlet and book publishing. All add to the social discourse. In fact, since the democratisation of communication that began with the printing press: where thoughts in the form of words could be etched and produced enmasse; a social discourse has existed.

What is different is the connectivity we all enjoy. We all are a few steps away from the humanity that encompasses the planet. At once in one large, multi-cultural circus. No one mono-culture can exist. Generalizations break down as individuals assert their individual characteristics, subverting the propensity for traditional hierarchies to classify, box and bucket.

The impact of this individual yet share instant experience is being being felt now across businesses and governments. Unrelenting forces for change are singing strident tunes from the opera, whilst the circus clowns laugh in mock humour at the futility on the grave of the generously-proportioned female vocalist.

Reading: Shell Global Scenarios to 2025

Loaned to me from a strategic thinking friend, Shell Global Scenarios is a hefty, yet easy to read analysis of really big (mega-) trends over the 15 year time horizon.

There is lots to think about; their three forces (market incentives, community, coercion/regulation) and how there are “two wins, one loss” out of the choices.

In similar quadrants, there are three objectives of societies (efficiency, social cohesion, security). Again the same choice matrix appears to describe a society. From forces and objectives appear Open Door, Flags and Low-trust Globalisation groupings. All of this MBA-level pretty pictures and frameworks leads down interesting paths, and coming from Shell there is a consideration of energy needs; however this is not the primary focus.

On page 120 (section 6f) the power of “Netizens” is detailed. A case example of Chinese regulations changing based on internet-based activism. The recent anti-Japanese sentiment, a negative rather than positive outcome, sourced from netizens in China is shown.

Most telling is a quotation from Izumi Aizo of the Institute of Hypernetwork Society in Tokyo:

“Mobile technology is a source of fundamental change – meaning the capacity to be connected whenever and whereever. This enables people to act immediately, either politically or socially. It is still too early to indentity the full consequences of this phenomenon, but it can be a major source of changes in the relation of people to each other. It already has a major impact on Islamic counties like Iran, Afghanistan and others.”

The same pull-out details a summary of what we netizens are in the midst of right now, and I will paraphrase: the struggle for information power. The old institutions wish to put the internet genie back into its bottle, to regain the power. Filtering, File-sharing, patents and copyrights battles are proxies skirmishes in a much larger, cultural war.

A possible governing principle will be self-regulation, with bottom-up standard setting.

The Future

I first met Stephen Elop during Macromedia/Adobe integration talks and subsequently in Punta Mita, Mexico. He is one smart cookie for a Canadian.

Now here is at Microsoft leading the business software side. Watch this video to get a glimpse of the future of technology in our lives. The key theme I can see is the importance of a User Experience that scales across different devices.

The Long Tail Fail. It’s All Just Social?

Something about a Cat and TVs

In the Wall Street Journal today there is an article on recent consumer research which shows that the world is not changing it’s tail.

“The Long Tail” posits that all products are equal on the Internet. A statement with which I agree: at the beginning all ideas, products are equal.

The research, from Professior Anita Elberse, states that there are still “hits” on the internet that reflect human’s social behaviour. A statement I also heartily agree with as certain products are deemed “hits” whilst others are “misses” and many are ignored as they lie hidden in the wastes of electrons. If one person in our trusted social network states that “product/film/artist is way cool”, we will probably follow.

What is different about the internet is that these trends are sometimes surprising, amplified and quickened.

Human behaviour hasn’t evolved to adequately cope with the shortening communication gap.

The Role of New PR

Last week I presented at the Victorian Branch of the IABC (International Association of Business Communicators). Thanks to Dr Jennifer Frahm for inviting me, sight unseen, to speak. Onstage after Ross Monaghan from Deakin University and The Media Pod was a tough gig. Therefore, it was time to flip the controversial switch.

A premise that I articulated was that “online, people smell the fake” – and from questions and comments during Ross’ presentation, this is of major concern to PR professionals.

How do organisations communicate both internally and externally in a PR-spin weary world?

To respond to this, I described an emerging job role: “digital community specialist". Nothing new here; the idea stems from Laurel Papworth’s work over the last 15 years. What is new is that PR’s audience is quicklu shifting to online/digital mediums (ref: ACMA Report 2006/7). People online can and will invoke the nuclear option (ref: Mark Pesce) And this is a normal part of their lives. Online is as real as offline. (ref: danah boyd’s research)

Organisation can and must use social networks to engage stakeholders. Not using than use “fake names” or “brand names”, No astroturfing nor sockpuppeting. Just as people use online networks to connect with their friends, organisations can use social networks to make connections.

People connect with other people. One role of the new PR is to hire/foster real employees to act on behalf of the organisation online. Do not outsource this important role. My suggestion is to find a star in the internal sales team, customer service team. An individual who is already online out of hours, who also understands the foibles of your organisation.

Empower your new ambassadors with the freedom to connect, act honestly, and tell the truth. Provide tools to permit them to right the wrongs that all organisations do.

The role of the new PR is to manage the image these new digital diplomats. Be their internal champions and measure their work.

Release your best ambassadors into the digital world.