Cognitive Surplus visualised

People have always created things in their spare time – whether tinkering in their sheds, fixing cars, making quilts, painting, taking photos or other creative hobbies.  This is not new.  However, what is new is that the digital space is allowing millions of people to combine these efforts on mass scale, huge projects of potentially incredible benefit.  Clay Shirky recently introduced a term to describe this human contribution in non-work hours, “Cognitive Surplus”.

For years, we have consumed media – now we may find that digital media allows us to simultaneously consume and create.  Media as a collaborative service, rather than a product.  Passive and active consumption are options.  Think about the changes to sports viewing, to live TV, to debate, to conversation.  More than just doing something as inane as tweeting while a show is on, we’re talking about genuine co-creation – choose your own adventure – across all media, across any topic or issue.  Crowdsourced problem solving, beyond distributed computing, into distributed thinking. The opportunities are bloody exciting.

Safari's "Reader" poses problems for advertisers

Apple has just launched an updated version of the Safari web browser. One of the key features is an in-built “reader”, that identifies an article (of any type) and displays it in a floating screen, free from clutter, advertisements and other content.

Content looks lovely in the reader – almost as it does on a printed page. Clean, simple, scrollable.

Check out these comparisons below:

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This will pose a big problem for advertisers, as people have now been given a simple way of avoiding ads. It’s a big issue for publishers, who have created an overwhelming, many might say ludicrous amount of advertising inventory on their sites, with digital advertisements such as “Over The Pages” and “Page Takeovers”, many of which are site initiated – disturbing and annoying us in a vain attempt to “disrupt” our reading and make us pay attention to the product.

Simply, now as much as ever, compelling, permission based content and engagement is crucial. Marketeers and organisations have to earn their permission to speak, to engage and to encourage reaction. So many marketeers have avoided the elephant in the digital room – that so few people even look at their ads, let alone interact with them. Their default options of raising awareness via mass digital media broadcast are simply running out.

The Apple iPad – Initial Thoughts

Every so often, a technology comes along that redefines competition within markets:

  • Email redefined the way people communicate, and in doing so, undermined the letter delivery service forever.
  • Phones are in competition with coffee shops.
  • Skype is in competition with domestic airlines.

Now, with the iPad, Apple’s “magical and revolutionary product“, Apple is in competition with TV broadcasters, newsagents and printers as a source of media. Print media organisations aren’t dead – their distribution model is. TV stations aren’t dead – if they produce content – but they are if they simply broadcast it. The iPad represents an opportunity for people to access professional content from anywhere in the world from anywhere. Video, audio, photos, music, games and books.

Where individual songwriters can record and release a song for $1.99 through iTunes, where individual developers and content creators can release individual iPhone Apps for sale, now content creators can release books and other written content through a secure payment and distribution system. Apple’s new iBookStore will erode the print publishing distribution model in the same way digital recording from a laptop , iTunes and peer-to-peer file sharing has eroded the record company business model. It will open up opportunities for organisations and individuals to create and release content of all types.

In 2004, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said that you can listen to music in the background, while movies require that you actually watch them, and that the size of the iPod is not conducive to high quality viewing. With the iPad, Apple has created an almost perfect video (and gaming) device. I believe we will see further opportunities including:

  • Channel iPad: Live content streaming of TV shows, direct from producers – either bypassing or augmenting traditional TV viewing
  • Vote now: Realtime interaction with mass media events and live TV shows – eg: voting
  • Get used to seeing them on people’s laps at the footy / cricket: Sports teams providing rich in-game experiences and interaction via wireless networks in-stadium straight to iPad

Other random thoughts:
It will change the way in which we design websites, as fingers become the navigation tool rather than the mouse. This has happened on the iPhone, there’s no reason why we won’t see a similar shift with the iPad.

Video will be even more important in the communications mix – iPhone / iPad Apps will use more in-app video, and moreso considering YouTube is integrated into the device.

As people will now have a large keyboard on glass (silent typing versus a physical keyboard with buttons), we will see iPads:

  • Becoming more popular than laptops in Uni lecture theatres
  • Being used as a silent replacement for normal notepads in meetings, interviews and presentations
  • Being used as a big screen, synchronised (via Wi-Fi and 3G) version of our everyday notepad

We also see the iPad in the following roles:

  • Being used as a display / interactive device at retail – instantly synchronised, providing personalised product information for each customer.
  • Being used as the ultimate device for sales reps – giving them a big screen for videos, presentations, sales charts, images and the synchronisation and connectivity for productivity on the road.
  • The ultimate “Doctor’s friend”, in the form of a one size fits all repository for scans, images, medical history and in-patient records.
  • Apple’s massive repository of education content on iTunes U will find a logical home – the iPad is the ultimate education tool – relatively inexpensive and simple (restricted) enough that anyone can use it as a learning tool.
  • It will be a hit with the world’s ageing population. Larger screen means larger type which means less strain on eyes. A great platform to build solutions and content for the older generation.
  • The ultimate cookbook for home chefs.

NEW versus BETTER

What makes things popular? Often, new stuff is popular, just because it’s new. It’s there – and it wasn’t there before. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better.

This thought struck me as I was walking down the street on the weekend. I walked past a razor shop, and saw a whole heap of brand new electric razors. All the latest bells and whistles in razor technology. Genuine improvement, genuinely better than the electric razors of two years ago. Two doors up the road was JB Hi-Fi, all of the latest and greatest in music, games, movies and technology. New stuff. But very little of it was an improvement. Some of it was simply slightly different, but newly released.

So, how do punters differentiate between the mass of existing ideas and products – they have a generic choice:

  • Stuff that is better
  • Stuff that is new

Thriller should be in the top album charts – always. As should Saturday Night Fever. Along with AC/DC’s Back in Black, and Whitney Houston’s The Bodyguard soundtrack. They are some of the best albums of all time – timeless classics, incredible artistry, superb songwriting and incredible production. However, they are nudged out by the newly released such as the utterly appalling Susan Boyle. It’s the same with films; Star Wars should be showing in cinemas all over the world these holidays, in the top selling DVDs, but instead we get Chipmunks – The Squeakquel. Sales charts are dominated by the newest releases, not the best.

Broadly speaking, companies with a strong focus on technology, research and development are good at making things better. For example, electric razors, microwaves, DVD players, iPods, computer software all get better with every iteration. Computer games are the perfect example (in stark contrast to other creative entertainment) where sequels are consistently better than the previous product. They get better. People are used to the new being better, because these companies train their customers to recognise that new = better. They largely deliver on that promise.

Again, broadly speaking – movie sequels and follow up albums suck, but still find a level of popularity because they are new. Politicians struggle to convince voters that they have an ongoing bias for policy innovation – because they generally don’t do anything anything better, they do things that are new. When politicians do genuinely reform, where they do make things better – witness Australia over the past 15 years – it’s regarded as a rarity. The media’s love affair with many politicians is often based on them not being better, but being NEWsworthy. Restaurants don’t often do things better, they do things that are new. New dishes, new menus, new decor, new music. The ones that do it better outlast the ones that do new things.

Subjectivity does play a role here of course, so these organisations expend a massive amount of effort in convincing people that their new is better, even though it’s generally not. Politicians try and convince people that their new policy will lead them to a far better quality of life. The restaurants try and convince their diners that their new dishes are the best they’ve ever tasted. Movie distributors try to fill their trailers with quotes saying their show is “the funniest film ever”. Music companies rarely have releases that are better than things past, but they are just new, so they try in vain to prove that they are better: “Madonna’s best album yet”. They must convince people with all of their might that new = better.

So, why are things popular if they are only new – not better? why the hell do people fall for it? Because these organisations make these new products remarkable.

Three types of remarkable:

  • Remarkable: Different, incredible, reactionary, inspiring – genuine innovation
  • Re-Markable: Provides people with a new way of looking at / using an existing product
  • Remark-able: Worthy of remark and discussion due to an overwhelming story or point of interest

Some things have two of these qualities (Susan Boyle – fat competition winner that you talk about with your friends, singing old songs in a new way), some have all three (iPod – amazingly innovative means of listening to music in a new way that you want to tell your friends about).

If you can be remarkable, you can rise above the vast back catalogues of human creation, rise above the better, and simply become the new – therefore implying a sense of better. Not to say that’s better, it’s simply remarkable.

So which category do you or your organisation fall into? New or Better? Either? What steps can you take to be both?

Fear of failure, fear of apples

How sick are we of telling another website what our name and details are?

How sick are we of remembering our various passwords?

How sick are we of having to make decisions, and the risk that it might not be the right one? We are the options generation, the people that have grown up in such a period of change that we’re afraid of making commitments in case the commitment takes us down a path that is made redundant or is superseded, or just boring. HEY, there’s something new here or something better, why didn’t I recognise this earlier?!

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How many abandoned blogs MySpace pages and Twitter accounts are there in the world? How many ex’s? How many old toys? How many false starts? How many career changes? How many “we’re starting this project as a stop gap before the real project takes off once we get budget approval”?

I guess the key is learning how to make a single decision well, so that you may never have to make that decision again. You’ve decided and implemented correctly.

Seth Godin talks about the stress of choosing Apples. They’re just apples. They’ll be eaten in a minute. Why should it be so hard?

As always, he’s a top read: Seths Blog: Fear of apples.

Twit-hype – Half of Twitter have never Tweeted!

This from Marketing Charts: Half of Twitter Has Never Tweeted.

So… 60% of people on Twitter abandon it after the first month.

And now we find that half of the people on Twitter have never tweeted. Furthermore,

80% of users failed to provide a homepage URL
76% have not entered a bio in their profile (vs. 20% last year)
69% have not specified a location

And we know that Twitter is for old people – people under 24 are not on Twitter.

We have seen media events broken via Twitter – or is it that the media focussed on Twitter as an additional story hook? Is it that Twitter’s limited 140 character capacity is forcing participants to provide brief and rapid updates – rather than longer, less frequent updates? Which is better?

So – what’s the future of Twitter? Is it a tool for media people to keep in touch with each other? Is it for self-promoters? Or will it evolve to become something largely useful, rather than just a handful of interesting things between tweets about outrage / quality sandwiches / coffees / weather?

The holy trinity of 21st Century communications – marketing, technology and design

Watching this video of Coca-Cola’s new interactive vending machine, Anthony J Phillips, the Global Marketing Manager of Coca-Cola, talks about the “fantastic partnership between marketing, technology and design”. I think it’s a profound and important partnership that will dominate marcomms into the future. I’d add another element – human behaviour in the form of anthropology / behavioural economics.

How best will we marketers and communicators best be trained for this future – in order to best understand and communicate with people? Technology studies? Cultural anthropology? Town Planning? Data science? Architecture and Design? Typography? Behavioural Economics? Sociology? All of the above?

To me, old fashioned integrated Marketing and Public Relations & Communications just doesn’t cut the mustard anymore.

Seth Godin on: Luxury vs. premium

Seth Godin asks – what’s the difference between luxury vs premium? He argues in essence, Luxury is an extravagant price on a less than extravagant outcome. Premium is quality that attracts a higher price – with a discernable and compelling value proposition. He argues that some firms don’t know which they should be.

The full piece here: Seth’s Blog: Luxury vs. premium.

SmartCompany: Me on Twitter’s churn and burn

I’m is quoted in this Patrick Stafford piece in SmartCompany. It’s about Twitter’s appalling churn rate of over 60%.

Some of the reasons why Twitter’s retention rate is so bad:

  1. It’s limited – 140 characters. No video / audio / rich media / expression / detail / depth – yes you can link to those things, but that’s it.
  2. It’s neither a mass broadcast mechanism nor is it targetted. Fine if you want to get a message out to a number of followers in a single moment, but terrible if you are using it for reach or for a more personal or limited conversation.
  3. It’s very easy to set up, so there’s little in terms of “purchase investment”. You register, follow a few people and if you walk away / forget, it’s not like you’ve spent hours of your time – there’s little to “lose” by abandoning it.
  4. It’s a media phenomenon. The media are going nuts over it, when the punters are far less interested. It’s like Second Life – not a day would go by when the media wouldn’t write about Second Life – it drove a spike in interest, but didn’t drive long term usage.
  5. As written in a previous post, Twitter is for old people. Young people couldn’t care less and aren’t using it in any substantial numbers. Older people either don’t have the time, or the interest, so they join up, look around and leave after a while – they don’t keep the ball rolling.
  6. It’s not customisable. I might enjoy some tweets of some people (person focussed), or some tweets by all people (topic focussed), but definitely not all tweets by all people. It needs to be customisable. Right now, whether I like it or not, I have to read the tweets of all of the people I follow on Twitter. You could argue that there are multiple plugins and applications that allow for customisation of Twitter, but the basic beginner user isn’t interested enough (or capable enough) to then look for filters and plugins. So they get bored / frustrated and stop using it.

Read the full article here: Research casts doubt over whether Twitter fad will last – Business news, business advice and information for Australian SMEs | SmartCompany.

Happy 10th Birthday Cluetrain!

The Cluetrain Manifesto is a book that inspired many of us, giving us a framework that allowed our passion for the digital space to become a career. Cluetrain celebrated it’s 10th birthday on April 28th.

Cluetrain is a lot of things, but at its core, it is a book that describes 95 theses of communications and “new media”.

It all starts with the preamble:

A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter—and getting smarter faster than most companies.

Now that it is 10 years old, Keith McArthur has put the call out for influencers in the area to submit their take on the 95 thesis – ten years on. The project is called cluetrainplus10. Read some of the submissions, they’re great.