Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Don't just witness the network. Be part of it

This article is not necessarily intended for regular readers of this blog. You guys get it.

This is intended as a primer for those new to the network - those who still need convincing. Forward it to your boss or anyone else you think it might help.

It's aimed at those working in traditional media companies. But you are welcome to use it as you will. Crib bits, share bits. Attribute where it's fair.

And if you create something better as a result - great. Do us all a favour and share it!

A version you can download is available here.

There’s a powerful explosion looming. It could wipe out everything we know.

Some of us see it coming. If only we could warn someone.

Sound familiar?

Sometimes I feel a little like the Japanese fellow from Heroes. Only, not as cute, obviously.

Hiro can bend time and space. I can’t claim that.

But he’s seen the future, he’s seen a threat and he’s doing his best to warn those who can make a difference. But he’s speaking a language few of them understand.

Now that is familiar.

Today, I hope to teach a little Japanese, so to speak…

In Heroes there’s a moment of super-evolution kicking-in.

Perhaps art is imitating life? There’s little doubt in my mind that the changes in media and in business in general happening right now are not evolutionary – they are revolutionary.

But revolution is how evolution has always happened.

Need an image? Think of the fosbury flop. Once, every high jumper tried to leap a little higher over the bar by honing their scissor kick. And everyone knew what they were doing. They knew how to do a scissor kick. They just had to work a little better and harder to make incremental improvements.

That’s often what we demand of our business planning. It’s what ‘The City’ likes. It’s what The City ‘gets’. Incremental improvement. Get a little better, a little faster… a little higher.

But the breakthroughs – the great leaps forward – come when someone works out how to alter what they are doing. And the rest of us wonder what the hell that high jumper is up to as he turns his back to the high jump bar and starts to leap… backwards… and higher than ever before.

We’re witnessing a world in which self-forming, non-directed, communities of shared interest (and purpose) are winning. We are witnessing a world of edge-in rather than centre-out control. We are witnessing the death of mass media and the emergence of global niches.

We should be more than witnesses. Because all this adds up to the biggest change since the industrial revolution – and not only for media. It’s also the most radical of shake-ups for how services will be developed and served, how products are created, how value is built – how the business of business is done.

And in pure information-control terms, it’s the biggest shift in 500 years. Information – not money - is what makes this world go round.

But the good news is that you don’t have to be first to win. The good news is that it’s not the fittest that survive – but the most adaptable.

Provided we are willing to learn, to adapt, we can do more than survive. We can go from strength to strength.

What characterizes the new world we see emerging?

It is inhabited by what Alan Moore refers to as the We Species, what Stowe Boyd calls the Edglings. These people are nodes on the network. They are constantly connected to groups of their choosing and creation. They expect to co-create, rate, share, shape, design, engage - participate.

In this world there’s no need for mass media. Mass media is about the lowest common denominator – pleasing as many people as possible for as much of the time as possible.

But the possibilities are now much greater. Now there are tools available which allow anyone to please themselves – and their self-selecting groups of shared interest - all of the time.

Mass Media was always about offering you a load of content you didn’t want (literally in the case of magazines) stapled to content you did.

Where digital content applies, now the user can choose exactly the content they want, and only the content they want.

This disaggregation leads to one-to-one relationships between relevant content and relevant selling opportunity. Advertising is no longer about reaching the maximum number of any-old eyeballs. Now it is about reaching the optimum number of the exact right eyeballs. And if there’s no need for a mass audience for advertising eyeballs, what role is left for mass media?

Interruptive ads on TV aren’t working, we’ve stopped looking at the banner ads on websites and we tune away the moment an ad appears on radio - if we are still putting up with our listening choices being made centrally for us!

Now we are seeing that it’s more important to be famous for 15 people, than for 15 minutes.

This world is awash with content – slashing its value in and of itself. Its value does not reside in broadcasting it to the masses – its value is revealed only by the long tail.

Quality rules are changed. Relevance trumps ‘quality’ if that quality is judged by someone essentially irrelevant to you.

What does the We Species want? To engage with self-forming communities of (global) niche shared interest (purpose).

It wants Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Bebo, Twitter, txt… social networks are the fastest growing business opportunities on the planet.

Most of the world’s top 15 sites are engaged networks of sharing. None are broadcast, centre-out models. And it’s been this way for more than the last five minutes…

We Species is a communal, social, animal. We Species is a participator.

We always have been. Now we have the tools to roll back the oddity of the last 50-or-so years of being ‘entertained’ in silence – of being broadcast at.

Audiences (that which we were) consume content.

Communities (that which was formerly known as the audience) co-create, comment on, rate, review, engineer, design, market, share, buy, sell, create value (YouTube, Blogs, eBay, MyNuMo)… are in charge.

How do we engage with this networked world, with the communities we wish to be part of rather than the audiences we want to broadcast to? How do we find our place?

Perhaps the new role for media is to be the creators/facilitators of platforms for self-forming communities of shared interest.

Focused on their interests, we should provide tools to allow co-creation and aggregation of content, products and services.

We see communities working together to create content right now. And we’re seeing the emergence of communities creating services and products, too.

And I believe (see Why Media is the New Business Ecology, below) this puts media in the very best position of all business types as the 21st century finds second gear.

In the networked world community – not OUR content – is king.

The network creates, responds, controls… creates value.

There are new rules:

1. Serve the community first

2. Niche global NOT mass.

3. Two-way flows – NOT broadcast

4. Networks NOT Silos

5. Power of the node over power vested in hierarchies

6. Adhoc, self-forming communities over directed teams.

7. Persistent conversation trumps ‘capturing’ ID.

8. Real-time, niche-community-focused, user-generated information over News

9. We should all act as shared contributors to and users of common pool resources.

10. We should learn to cherish Group Forming Network Theory (Reed’s law).

Great things happen when you engage with the network. Value emerges in rarely-predicted ways…

Blogs are a great example.

Some regard them as the best illustration of all of this giant leap we are undertaking.

They represent the greatest shift in the control of information since Gutenburg rocked up with his movable type.

Until that point information was centralised and restricted. The Church published The Book. You were lucky if you could even read it, let alone own a copy.

With the arrival of the printing press books could be produced cheaply and distribution became much less controlled – much less centralised.

The result was an explosion in new thinking generated by new routes for the exchange of information. Mash-ups for the masses.

Now blogs have arrived, lowering the technical barrier so that anyone can publish their thoughts, their views, their ‘information’, on the internet.

Doc Searls says: “I can’t think of anything that demonstrates the sovereign nature of the self better than a blog.”

And if blogs were just like books – this would be a radical transformation in information control and in self expression, too.

But they are more than this – much more.

Blogs offer two-way flows of information between the author and the readers who respond.

They create trust through recommendation and reputation.

They enable decentralised, self-forming communities of interest.

They have zero hierarchy or silo restrictions.

Bloggers share connections with one another. They come together through the interest they share. They form networks – communities with a common purpose. They introduce each other to things they didn’t know they needed to know – and to people they didn’t know they needed to know – and all the things that these new participants in their community of interest know.

The mash-ups and mergers of ideas that result create new emerging value.

They are much, much, more than electronic never-ending books.

And they work to create real value. Conferences get organised, products and services get invented and marketed, new ideas emerge. Job offers happen.

Opening up your network – which successful blog networks do – will help you understand and it will help you win.

Goldcorp in Canada shared its mining data with the internet – and turned itself from a $100m company to a $10bn one. Nokia’s ‘connecting people’ mantra transformed it from a cellphone maker to a major media powerhouse. Facebook students bagged themselves £144 a year in profit just by joining a group to protest against proposed overdraft charges. Regarding itself as a series of widgets anyone could distribute made youtube the phenomenon of web2.0.

How do you personally get to grips with this world?

The best way of learning usually involves a bit of doing. I’m going to advocate the same.

Mostly because, as Alan Moore is fond of saying,: “That which we create, we embrace.”

So, be a node. Don’t just witness the network in action. Be part of it. Leave an impression on it. Add a little of yourself. Participate.

If you’re doing nothing on the network right now, start. Just touch the network maybe three times a week: write a post on a forum, add a comment on a blog. Write a blog post yourself? Rate someone’s review. Play with facebook. Suck it and see!

And please don’t say you don’t have time. Getting a fundamental understanding of how the network functions is critical for you to take your value-sharing place on it. It’s critical for your future and for your own and your network’s productivity.

Stowe Boyd asks us to think of attention (ie demand on our time) as being more about flow than focus.

  • Don't listen to industrial era or information era (the last stage of industrial-ism) nonsense about personal productivity...
  • The network is mostly connections. The connections matter, give it value, not the nodes.
  • Time is a shared space -- your time is truly not your own
  • Productivity is second to Connection: network productivity trumps personal productivity.

This belief in the power of the network and his willingness to subsume personal focus to it is based on the simple notion that:

I am made greater by the sum of my connections. So are my connections.

At a corporate level, it’s my belief that we need to activate the network internally: Allow adhoc, non-directed, self-forming communities of shared interest.

I believe we have to figure out the tools to bring people of shared interest/passions together within business organisations to create ideas they will embrace. These will result in teams of people that no one has directed to get together – working on projects that no ‘boss’ has ordered the construction of. These will be a better fit with the needs of the residents of the networked world.

We must learn to make our internal silo walls permeable – and those around the organisation itself.

If Nokia is comfortable inviting emap, Disney, Yahoo et al to talk mobile advertising with it – why isn’t your organisation opening its doors?

Shared ideas create emerging value for all those taking part. This is the lesson of the network.

Jouko Ahvenainen of Xtract says: “Today’s great phenomena are born in networks where shared passion creates action.”

We see examples again and again: it’s even transforming politics right now with Barack Obama’s facebook groups, youtube channels and blogs threatening to trump all the cash old-style politicians are throwing at the American presidential race.

Centralised control, centralised power, is being disintermediated where ever the network touches it. A new ecology dawns.

There’s a powerful explosion looming.

You can be part of it – or you can be blown away by it.

Investigate further:


  1. Thank you for the kind mention of MyNuMo.

    William Volk
    CEO, MyNuMo

  2. in the marketplace of ideas, this reads a little bit like a wide-eyed guy with a can of special brew. It's a little difficult to find an opening to debate. I don't dispute that new services will move more to being collaborative endeavours, and that building a tool on the internet in isolation is even now a waste of time, but I don't agree mass media is either dead or will ever die. Mass media serves a powerful purpose and though it might not be everyone's taste, it will remain a lot of people's taste. People will still want to watch big movies, with big budgets. The long tail will not necessarily destroy the large head. They'll just even out a bit. Time and again we see a disproportionately high ratio of consumers to producers, and I think that will persist.

  3. Hi Gusto.

    Your argument makes common sense.
    But the power that remains for mass media - I think - is as a force for the community of purpose it serves and in which its community takes part. And I've said before (there's a white paper about it on this blog) that the end game is one in which 'media' is in the driving seat. It's just not 'mass media' of the kind we have been used to.

    Communities of purpose break down into smaller niches than traditional broad mass media serves (everyone in Xtown is not the same, so it's evening paper must serve a low common denominator, for example).

    Global Niche Mass Media offers a way media can get viable scale.(ie the community of Honda Fireblade owners is worth persuing globally, where it may not be in the UK alone).

    New advertising and co-created product and service models will create value far greater than simple interruptive advertising ever did.

    I don't believe the new media will be of the mass broadcast style we are used to. Now have tools to deliver relevance where once quality seemed all important.
    The result is one amateur video (the battle of kruger park) on youtube being viewed more than an entire BBC wildlife series.

    Take news as a mass broadcast concept: A Last FM approach to news takes us to interesting places. Imagine a world without the 6pm and 10pm news?
    I can.

    Please continue the debate! Best dc

  4. Blimey Dave, where to start?

    Not everyone in Xtown is the same but thousands of those individuals want to know similar things. The good evening newspaper knows what those things are (local politics, social issues, events, products and services, weekend telly) and brings them together.

    A knowledgeable and skilled editor will create a newspaper that plays a role in its community and provides a voice for its readers through a letters page and online debate. The number of individuals who interact is still depressingly low compared with those who simply consume.

    I love BIKE magazine and read all of it. I love The Word magazine and read all of it. I like National Geographic and Fortune magazines and read most of them, but I'm comfortable with the idea of paying a small amount of money for content I won't consume.

    Sometimes I'm persuaded to read articles I wouldn't expect to find interesting and a new world is opened up to me (every issue in the case of The Word magazine).

    I respect and trust these publications in a relationship that has grown over months and years.

    Where will I find a similar satisfaction in the networked world? Many of the really loud voices online have extreme views or pursue crusades. Some are simply horrid.

    It's been said that in the vast lake of networked information, the good stuff rises to the top, but I'm not seeing that.

    And too much of the intelligent debate seems to be navel-gazing (I'm referring to the subject of debate, not the individuals debating). Lots is written about the network, blogs and 'niche community focus'. The debate is about the debate, the opinion is all about the sharing of opinions.

    As a traditional editor in traditional media, I know a community that wants to grow its knowledge and share its ideas about making money in the European company car fleet industry.

    At the moment I use contacts to get information. I use other contacts to check that information and try my best to ensure it's true. Then I check with contacts who will respond positively to this information and ensure their views are represented; then I do the same for individuals who will respond negatively.

    At the end of what I hope will be a well-balanced article, I will invite readers to contribute their reactions via email, on message boards and at real, live in-the-flesh conferences. These views, in turn, generate a fresh set of ideas for articles.

    This all feels pretty 'networked' to me, and seems to work fairly well. The good bit is that all this activity makes lots of money. And I believe it helps lots of other organisations in the network make lots of money too. The brilliant bit is that I get paid lots of money to keep the brand active in the network.

    So I visit sites like this for clues about how I might better help this community in the future.

    I get very excited about the revolution and slightly depressed by the death knell sounding for a role I have always been proud to perform to the best of my ability.

    So which are the commercially successful networks? I've created a Fleet News group on Facebook! Well, it's a start...

  5. Great thinking and comments.
    One easy answer I do have is to your final point Martyn; successful networks? adsense, linux, ibm, myspace (now making more money than it cost) and watch out for facebook post Nov 6. Communities Dominate Brands, Wikinomics et al list many more. Successful networks creating real value are emerging everywhere. I reference some in my other papers.

  6. Thanks David

    I hope you didn't think I was suggesting there are no commercially successful networks. I just need a bit of help finding and understanding them.

    And I'm not obsessed about making money, either. I just need a bit to keep the old Triumph and Jaguar filled up (not to mention the wife and kids' bellies).


The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?