Thursday, December 31, 2009

2020 vision

I know. I'm meant to review the last decade or predict what'll happen in the next year around this time.

Thing is, I'm not going to follow the rules, because for the years following 2009 it simply wouldn't be appropriate to follow rules which may have applied up to this point.

We're in for a big change: Where the noughties were a decade of discovery, the teens will be a decade of realisation. And not discovery of new tech. The future isn't digital; it is self-organised.

The noughties were when we discovered our self-organising power - little by little. And new models started to emerge.

But we are embarking on 10 years in which people all over the globe will realise the self-organising power now at their fingertips - and start turning that realisation into the world they want; niche by niche.

Which means everything you know is up for grabs. Everything.

Everything that is organised or mediated can and will be disrupted by this.

That's pretty much every aspect of society, then. (image courtesy Life Archive on google)

As the realisation dawns, you can be certain no one will be talking about 'social media' anymore. They will just get on with using the best ever set of tools and platforms to communicate: With each other, find each other, form groups, act.

They won't wait to be directed. They will simply come together and debug their world. Niche by niche. The edge in action.

Which is bad news for those who would organise and those who would mediate.

It's not just traditional media, advertising, marketing etc that's going to be replaced. Even the 'new media' stuff that relies on central organisation is threatened. Traditional search (for example) is already being replaced for many by collaborative filtering.

Ubiquitous, always-on computing will arrive as the enabler. Digital social tools which allow us to express meta data beyond silos (including language) will emerge to enable all of us to find all of us when we need each other most. Those tools and platforms which fulfil those roles most successfully will be those with the best chance of commercial success.

And by 2020 we will have the tech and the will to make communities of purpose the primary form of organisation: adhoc self-forming groups brought together to collaborate - driven by common purpose.

The self-organised future will begin taking shape, new structures for education, law, government - all the aparatus of the state - will emerge. And as they do the state itself, as a formalised centrally-controlled collective based on geography, will submerge.

This new form of organisation will over-ride more traditional methods primarily because it provides a more effective tool for the allocation of increasingly scarce resources. But also because people like doing stuff together. It's a better fit with the reality of our social selves.

Lowest common denominator models will disappear wherever communities of purpose can self-organise (which is pretty much everywhere and anytime).

One example? Mass party politics will decline. New democracy will formulate in open systems - with collaboration delivering a better fit, niche by niche,

In repeatedly failing to understand the cross-border collaboration of 'their' people, our national leaders remind us of the failure of lowest common denominator politics and broad and assumed national interests.

The issue of global warming may prove a key catalyst. We gave our leaders the chance to sort things out with their big, broad, one-size fits all policies (they found that none did).

In a decade of realisation we move beyond being passive consumers in all aspects of our lives - government policy included.

We won't sit back and wait for the centre's solution. Instead we quietly and determinedly get on with wikifixing our world - collaborating across borders, ignoring the fictional silos the nation state has imagined and attempted to impose.

The impact of the edge on the centre has the potential to be cataclysmic. If change from without happens faster than change from within, something will tear. Fundamental organisational change is hard to imagine as a gentle process.

Judging when to cede control will be a key skill for leaders of all organisations in the coming years. Protecting the vulnerable, another.

My daughter has just finished her first term of traditional schooling. I have to wonder if she will complete her education (what a curious pre-network phrase...) within a similar lowest-common-denominator structure. And if she doesn't - then how does the morph from old to new happen? With a meeting of a parents collective and nods of assent - or with teachers manning the barricades?

There is much to consider; much I (and we) could strive to predict.

Instead, in the words of BBC Childrens TV long gone (and with more than a nod to Clay Shirky's Gin-swilling tales of newly industrial London), Why Don't You Just Switch Off Your Television Set and Go and Do Something Less Boring Instead? Start inventing the self-organised future - niche by niche - with someone you care about, today.

By 2020 a person's worth will be valued by what they share, not what they keep. That may be the most significant shift of all.

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Lighting fires with Santa Claus

For many years now (10 or so) I've been going out rattling tins with Santa and St Neots Roundtable for 5-7 nights each December.
This year was my last, officially, thanks to increasing commitments elsewhere.
Although a chore in terms of finding the time required, it's always fun to see the kids' reactions (and we do raise a chunk of change for good causes).

What I really liked about the run we did in the snow on Sunday (and no, that isn't me in the picture), was how in some communities, the arrival of Santa and his sleigh became the content.

He brought people out of their houses, where they came together to interact - to be together.

No Santa, no conversation. No conversation, no community.

Reminded me of a chapter Alan Moore is writing for his new book No Straight Lines (which I have had a preview of) in which Alan recalls the impact of the Queen's Silver Jubilee (in 1977) in creating a surge in community.

It was self-organised street parties that brought people together to speak. But it was the Queen's Silver Jubilee that excited people enough to self-organise.
Alan bemoans how, after a while, the sense of community the day created just faded away.

A big idea across the nation all in one go. Or a small one, travelling through communities street by street. They bring people together.

And when people come together they act.

All groups are ultimately adhoc, self-organising around what matters to its members right now. The real-time web is revealing this more clearly by the day.

Sometimes what matters to the group comes from outside. Like Santa. Like The Queen's Silver Jubilee. But the brightest, warmest glow comes not from the spark - but from the fire it ignites.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

The threat of SEO to the real-time web

Oliver Cromwell, by Samuel Cooper (died 1672)....Image via Wikipedia
The brochure, the news report, the press release, the 'professional' communication. They all have something in common - they lack a human voice.

I have often railed against this particular form of insanity (ie when we wish to communicate with humans, so many orgs choose to do so by massaging out the humanity from their messages).

On the Internet this form of received professional speak got replaced (for a large chunk of folks, you know the ones, the 'internet marketers') by a new form of stilted inhuman syntax - writing for seo.

'Don't repeat key words more than 'x' times, do place your keywords in order 'y', don't, do, don't, do.

Don't be flawed, don't be natural. Don't write like you think, don't write like you feel. Don't be human.

And then the real-time web: Lower effort to post. Lower effort to connect. Lower barriers to revealing ourselves. Lower barriers to less guarded spontaneity. Oliver Cromwell would approve.(pictured)

As one of the founders put it: "the trouble with Twitter is that with it you run the risk of revealing the real you."

That risk is the risk you have to take if you care to connect with other humans.

It is a risk that seo drives out.

Now that google is prioritising the real time web in its returns it was inevitable that the SEO pros would wade in.

'Order your 140chars thusly', they will ordain. And I will studiously ignore them.

I am part of a real time web - a very human part. Part of the real time web (as it emerges as the eighth mass media) is its ability for us to become not only the connections, but also the way in which the connections are formed.

Focusing on seo in tweets interrupts that.

It'll fool the automota. But if you aren't worth connecting with no amount of pro-seo styled tweeting will mask this to the humans behind the accounts.

In the old world of site-as-destination there was value in 'driving traffic'. In the new world of user-as-destination the only value is in creating real, enduring human connection.

Only humans, expressing themselves through authentic human voice, can do this.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

The role of the 21st century organisation

The role of the 21st century organisation will be to become a platform:
A platform to enable people to find each other, talk together, act together and change the world together, niche by niche.

Now, you could argue that we have this in the form of the internet. It's one hugely effective collaboration engine (and a complex adaptive system too, which is all good for marrying up with the very fitness landscape that demands our niche by niche approach).

But for all the connecting, group forming brilliance of the internet, we still need firestarters. We still need people (those 'human resources' who make up orgs) to start the flames - to light the way and draw the rest of us together.

And if you aren't in the business of starting fires, then pretty soon you aren't going to be a 21st century organisation.

Repeat, niche by niche, matching products, services and behaviours to the fitness landscape - making the most efficient use of available resources, ending waste.

Nothing gets to be produced without 'the markets' (that's us folks) consent.

Changing the world niche by niche.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Who did you help get value from the web today?

I get a lot of value from the internet. And I'm on the board of trustees of a national UK charity which thinks it would be fairer if everyone could understand and share in that same bounty.

Understand, share in - and contribute to.

Here's one way that those who have learned to love the web can spread their joy - and one way I hope you'll participate with and be inspired by: The BT Internet Ranger of the Year Award.

Here's the official Citizen's Online blurb: "We are looking for young people, up to the age of 16, who have (helped) other people get online. If you know a young person who has done this, you can either nominate them or encourage them to nominate themselves. We are looking to have BT Internet Ranger award winners in each of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Each winner will receive an HP laptop plus £250 worth of IT vouchers, together with a certificate. A best of the national winners will receive an additional £250 worth of IT vouchers.

BT Internet Ranger Schools Award
This year, for the first time, a separate award will be made to a school or a group of schools who encourage young people, up to the age of 16, to use their skills to help other people learn about computers and how to surf the internet.  This is a "forward looking" award scheme to promote future activity rather than the more traditional "backward looking" recognition for work which has already been carried out. The winning school or group of schools will receive £5,000.

Deadline for applications: Friday 15th January 2010
Apply online:

Citizens Online is a national charity which believes participation in the digital world is a basic human right.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Merry Christmas from Seth and the 69

Seth Godin has a new book coming out in January. In the meantime he's called in a few favours and delivered us a Christmas gift - 70 big brains contributing a page each.
Download, share, enjoy, retweet etc etc

What Matters Now
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Twitter makes it easier to be human

Twitter has announced it is trialling a new business tool. It should mean an end to faceless accounts such as @brandX.

Instead the same account can share multiple users. Multiple human users.
And when a different human being 'takes the helm' you'll know so, and what they tweet will be individually ascribed against that particular human.

So where @btcare currently has to update their profile to tell you which human you are connecting with, now the metadata with each tweet reflect its use by each individual human.

Now, not every business is going to go for this. Can't imagine the multiple heavy users at Zappos or Dell turning in their IDs, for example.

But a lot will. And what I think is truly wonderful here is that with this tool Twitter says loudly and unequivically that Twitter is a human, person-to-person environment where broadcasting your brand = fail.

It's a breadcrumb trail for those orgs who would otherwise default to voice-of-the-brand blandness.

They are led by the nose toward finding out what Twitter is all about. And in doing so they just may discover the principles of this human way, this better way of being part of the lives of their communities of users.
"It's up to business to accomodate itself to (the human shape) of twitter, not for twitter to accomodate itself to business," as @stephenfry put it at #140conf
One small experimental step. A giant leap for businesskind.

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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

This is not just a Christmas rant... It's an M&S Christmas rant

Marks & SpencerImage via Wikipedia
I've just sent this to Marks & Spencer on one of those dreadful 'contact us' forms. No copy for my records generated by one of those things, of course. And I always worry they disappear into the bucket of zero response.

So I've grabbed it to paste here.

This is how it reads:

Please forward this to Stuart Rose (or Marc Bolland if he's in place yet)

I would appreciate a rapid acknowledgement of receipt because I hate forms like this (see the m&s site 'contact us' section) as a way to connect with any org.

I hate drop-down menus of subjects my email is meant to correspond to and I hate not knowing who I am addressing.

No doubt your IT people thought it a wise way to reduce spam.
It also reduces interaction with your customer. It is slow and not mobile-friendly (I am writing this at the point of inspiration - on my iPhone). You have made this harder than it need be and therefore retrict the flow of hugely valuable customer insight.

Clue: your IT department don't like volume. Turn them, not your customer away.

This kind of email 'form' also fails as I don't get a copy of my initial comms AND it discourages conversational dialogue and encourages lengthy missives more broadcast in nature (cite this very email!)

But I'm not emailing about this form, I'm emailing about your lost commercial opportunity revealed by my ordering Christmas Dinner from your company today.

To order, the customer can go online. But they can only print out the order form. Which must then be filled in by hand and taken to a participating M&S store.
Where it is then painstakingly transferred by a member of staff into your own computers. Taking a good 5 mins.
Why not allow the order process, complete with the taking of your 20% deposit, online? You could also book your pickup slot online (instead of this being scrawled on paper in the store).

So that would save you and your customers time. It would therefore extend the reach of each store ( and you closed our nearest one).

While I'll acknowledge that forcing me to visit your store to make the booking in person today resulted in the sale of a sandwich, I guess you'd beat the small profit on that by increasing the number of people who would order if they didn't have to/couldn't make the additional trip to the store.

But here's the one that blows my mind. You have the opportunity here to match supply to demand more perfectly than ever. Yet you limit the number of people you are willing to gain this perfect knowledge from by limiting the amount of 'pick up slots'.

That's crazy. Not only does each order mean 20% of the transaction in the bank in advance, it also means you could staff up to meet the precise predicted demand on pick up days.

So that's my bit of customer feedback for you. My bit. Imagine if you opened up your feedback channels to learn from everyone transacting with you, in real time, on their time, through their chosen channels, at their point of inspiration.

And when the penny drops, well let's talk:

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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

A powerful tool for the real-time age

Remember that a-tissue Twitter-powered hayfever map that Kleenex did?

Yesterday I was kicking around an idea to track expressed activity in a mash-up of Twitter and googlemaps.
And I'm starting to wonder if there is a solution to the 'social media monitoring' problem I identified at last month's Monitoring Social Media buried somewhere in functionality like this.

My contention was that current monitoring tech gives us snap shots which we can the examine under the microscope. A boon in developing a strategy based on where people WERE talking about you, in what ways and in what parts of the social media toolset.

But what we increasingly need for the real-time web is a video version - because the peer-to-peer interaction of the Internet is more flock than rational in it's nature.

Past recorded behaviour is not necessarily a predictor of future interaction.

Put another way, we're trying to drive using the rear-view mirrors.

We need real time - to know that the flock is moving, at what speed, at what rate of change of speed and in what direction. That may equip us to join in more effectively as part of the movement -as true amplifiers - rather than trying to turn the flock in our chosen direction. (there's a chapter in my book on our inability to dictate to flocks from the centre).

Mashing up real-time expressions of particular activities and displaying this on a map of the physical world would at least show the spread of an activity through a geolocated community (through a street, a town, a county, a nation...)

Further, this could be mapped against other activity to reveal real-time correlations.
Imagine if there was a link between the spread of unhappiness and street crime and you could see, in real time, a cloud of despair headed your way. The police could staff up - heading it off by knowing the direction it was headed in and at what speed.

Perhaps a business could better predict demand and allocate resource more efficiently as a result?

Imagine a despot could use it to put down a revolution before it got off the ground?

And imagine if you mapped this not only against the physical world, but also against the digital?

A powerful tool for the real-time age.

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Monday, December 07, 2009

Hamsters, information and the internet of things

I've been meaning to (find this and) post this ever since I saw JP Rangaswami speak at the London 140chars conference at the 02 on November 17.
JP was the reason I came back to the O2 for the afternoon session (I chaired a panel at Monitoring Social Media in the middle of the day).
He chose to spend 10 minutes talking about what it means that twitter is not a news service but an information service. And about traffic lights, the internet of things - and his family hamster.

Enjoy. And if you do, find JP as @jobsworth on twitter.

Thanks to Delymyth for shooting and sharing on Viddler.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Using + Social Media = Fail

I was at #Online09 (Online Publishing) at Olympia in London, to do a keynote in the Social Media Marketing theatre today.

I'm delighted to say (and perhaps its a sign of the times) that the room was packed - standing room only. They even stayed until the end :-)

I was kicking around what happens when you deconstruct the social media thang, into its social + media parts (I have blogged about this previously).

But I started from the perspective that the future is not digital.

When Gutenberg invented movable type (circa 1450) a new era was ushered in. Within 50 years there were 20 million books on the planet (to share among 450m people - I know there were 450m people at the time because I asked my friends on Twitter).

That's 20m in 50 years from a standing start (as described by Stephen Fry in his BBC show on Gutenberg). And that standing start included zero mass production techniques or technologies. Quite staggering.

And I wondered what the big prediction would have been in 1500 among the soothest sayers of the day. What next? More books?

Not likely is it.

Yet we keep banging on about a digital future.

1450 is also regarded as the beginning of the great age of exploration. The future was the renaissance, new forms of organisation (capitalism replacing feudalism) the destruction of the power of the old order (the Reformation across Europe). That's the effect of more books - it is what people did together with this new 'book' technology.

And right now, the future is not about new and better digital tools, or their prolifieration - it is about what we do together with them - the new self-organising future that dawns.

And that, and what businesses and organisations can do to benefit from all this, is what my keynote was about this morning.

Here's the slides - and, as always, your thoughts are welcome.

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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?