Author Archive

Location, Location, Location

June 4th, 2010, by Ted Shelton | located in Conversations | No comments yet | trackback
Yes the joke has been made before – what has long been said about the real estate industry is now also true of the mobile industry and even of the Internet more broadly as mobile access continues to grow and eventually becomes the primary way we access the Internet. The ability to detect a user’s location is changing the way we design and use applications and is already creating enormous new business opportunities. What is truly amazing is that this is only the first of a series of sensors we’ll carry with us in our phones — the “low hanging fruit” of the mobile revolution that the 2010s will bring to our society.

Data courtesy of Open-FirstHere at Open-First we have been studying the emergence of the mobile paradigm and have been applying our knowledge in advising our corporate clients. The graph shown here is an important key to understanding the tremendous shift underway. It shows the first 5 quarters of user growth for the now enormously popular Twitter service, and the more recently launched Foursquare service. Both of these services can be seen as “lightweight social networks” in the sense that they provide one particular way in which people will interact, as opposed to Facebook and others that aggregate a variety of interaction modes.

But Foursquare reached 1 million users in half the time that Twitter did, even after a huge growth spurt for Twitter following the 2007 SXSW conference, largely acknowledged as the point at which the technology world “discovered” Twitter. Why has Foursquare grown so much more quickly?

In our opinion the disparate growth has everything to do with what Geoff Moore called in his famous book of the same name, “Crossing the Chasm.” At the risk of losing all of the subtlety of Geoffrey’s invaluable book (go buy it and read it if you haven’t already) the simple explanation for how a product moves from “visionaries” to “pragmatists” is by providing some easily understood real value in the use of the product. Thus the difference in the growth rate of Twitter and Foursquare in our view was the time it took for each to establish that value.

Foursquare’s advantage in this race was location. The shift is at once subtle but fundamental. Twitter is at heart a message bus, merely a facility that enables a wide range of activities. But Foursquare inherently incorporates purpose into its use. One could even say that location is a proxy for purpose — I am in a particular place because I am doing a specific thing there. Others that come to that place are likely to be doing something similar for similar reasons. I immediately share purpose with others — a social network of purpose will prove its value much more rapidly than a social network of interest like Twitter.

And even aside from mobile we currently have an explosion of social networks of purpose. The social buying site Groupon for example. But the other important aspect of Foursquare is the way in which it is leveraging a mobile sensor, in this case GPS for establishing location. This is important because we are about to see an explosion in the number and variety of sensors deployed in the built environment and on our bodies, generating vast new quantities of data, often into social pools (see Dr. Andreas Weigend’s Social Data Revolution for more on this).

In each case, as a type of sensor is popularized, new applications (and new businesses) will emerge and because they will be tightly coupled with purpose, these applications will leap to “pragmatists” quickly and grow in importance and use quickly. What are these other sensors you ask? How about a device that accurately monitors how many calories you are burning? Or a personal pollutant sensor? Location will be extended to monitor social proximity and we’ll also know more and more about an individual’s activities while with others based on text, audio, and visual content collected and correlated based on content location tagging.

Our mobile phones have been turned into a global distributed sensor network. These devices will contain an increasing level of sophistication in what they are able to sense and transmit into networked database that will then overlay and correlate data from other sources. In a recent guest post for TechCrunch Robert Scoble imagines how this new world of location based services will change the way we live — Location 2012.

And really, this is just the beginning.

Information Has NO Value

April 28th, 2010, by Ted Shelton | located in Conversations | No comments yet | trackback
Information has no intrinsic value. It is what you DO with information that creates value. Perhaps this seems obvious or even useless to point out, but if you read through this post, perhaps you’ll agree that it is an important key to understanding the future (and past) of all media businesses.

When you read news about why a company will do well or poorly you might invest more intelligently and make money. You listen to music. A joke makes you laugh. Each of these is a use – make money, listen, laugh… value begins when you are doing something with or because of information, not in the information itself.

Why is this distinction important? Information business models must be evaluated in terms of what the creator (or owner anyway) can gain through uses of information and what the recipients would gain. Not from something about the information itself. And there are some important places in which the benefits for creator and recipient are aligned and some where they are at odds.

A simple example — malfeasance by a government official is a kind of information that as long as it is secret protects the job of that official. But it is in the public interest to have this information known widely so that whatever abuse is occurring can be stopped. Creators want it private, the rest of us want it to be public.

In media businesses we assume that the interests of creators and recipients are aligned — but this is often not the case if we dig a little bit deeper.

Value Conflict 1: Restricted vs Broad Distribution
In the news business there are stories that are more valuable for the recipient if fewer people know about them so that acting on the info is limited (info about a company which will make a stock go up or down). And some stories that are more valuable if a large number of people know about them (the description of how a computer virus is passed between computers) so that acting on the info is widespread.

But a news company’s business model might not be aligned with the value for recipients. It might be skewed toward broad access (the more subscribers the higher the revenue) even when restricting access would create more value for individual subscribers. Or toward restricting access (fees for reading online articles) even though all recipients would benefit more from broad knowledge of the content.

Value Conflict 2: Immediate vs. Long Term Returns
Time frame is another important component of recognizing value conflicts. Take music for example — on the one hand a musician would like everyone to hear his songs as this helps build awareness and appreciation for that musician over time. Doing so may lead to more attendance at concerts, use of the song in advertising, and even future sales of related products. But in order to make money from selling copies of recordings (a shorter term benefit from the music) access to the music must be restricted. For recipients easy access is essential in a world in which far more music is available than can be heard.

Value Conflict 3: Constraints Imposed by Media Format
In some cases the delivery medium confuses the value proposition. For a newspaper owner, there is a clear efficiency in bundling information of a variety of mostly unrelated types into one rolled stack of pages in a plastic bag. But for the reader this is a very inefficient model for consuming information. Why wade through section after section when looking just for job listings or sport scores?

Similarly TV with its limited bandwidth and time slots needs an executive decision process to determine which programs go into which limited time slots but this isn’t at all convenient for the consumption of content. As consumers we each want to start watching when we are ready and watch the program of our choice at the time of our choosing.

Internet Deconstruction
The wonderful and horrifying thing about the Internet is that it collapses the constructs which have created value conflicts and forces us to entirely reexamine our institutions and business models that create and distribute information. The key to developing new successful models will be to analyze the ways in that value for creators and recipients of information can be aligned.

For example news organizations reporting on politics have to focus on business models which earn money through the largest number of people consuming their content because a democracy functions most efficiently when all people are aware of the issues and positions and can debate and vote on them intelligently.

Musicians could focus on creating great experiences of listening to music, and communities of listeners. Value created for listeners would then result in more loyal fans who attend more concerts and buy more non-music products and increase the likelihood of other commercial uses of the music.

What is certain is that where business models exist today in which value to the recipient is frustrated by the attempt to extract value by the information creator (or owner), the business model will be defeated by a more aligned model.

So to create value in new media business models focus on what we DO with the information.

And remember that the information in itself has no value.

The Strategic Use of Social Data

March 13th, 2010, by Ted Shelton | located in Conversations | No comments yet | trackback
There is a tidal wave coming, or as my friend and colleague Andreas Weigend likes to say, a “Social Data Revolution.” I like the metaphor of the tidal wave because it evokes the image of a force of nature that cannot be stopped whereas “revolution” might fail or be reversed by “counter-revolution.” And I don’t think the change coming can be stopped or reversed.

In the past few weeks since attending a fabulous workshop in Zurich hosted by the Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute I have been even more attuned to the emerging corporate practices in which social data is informing decision making processes. A few examples:

  • A retailer checking to see if your email address is active on a range of social networks as a way of deciding whether or not to clear your online order

  • A credit card company that has realized that customers who have extensive and long standing LinkedIn profiles are significantly less likely to default on their credit cards

  • An insurance company that is making decisions about which insurance claims to further investigate based on the social graph of the claimant

  • An enterprise IT equipment company that has modified its sales lead scoring algorithm to include a variety of factors from activity in social networks and social media

  • An appliance manufacturing company that has reduced the delay in knowing that they have a product defect issue by two months by monitoring online conversation rather than waiting for data from their field repair organization

The list goes on. Companies of all kinds, in every industry and region, are discovering that there is an enormous pool of information — call it social data — that is being created at an every increasing pace from which they can learn more, and make better decisions more quickly.

This trend will only accelerate with advanced mobile technologies. Every individual now has the capability of being a “sensor” in their physical environment, recording and transmitting physical data (location, speed, etc) but also behavioral and emotional data. When people walk into a particular store, say Starbucks, are they happier than before they walked in? How does that one store’s data compare to other stores in the area?

For the past ten years we have been building out a network of sensors in roadways that can transmit data about the speed of passing vehicles and allow us to aggregate that data into a visualization (typically a map) to help us decide which roads we should choose to get from point A to point B. This is an example of data-driven decision making with which we have all become familiar.

Now every person is a “sensor” and is using their computer or mobile phone to transmit information into public (and private) databases. Businesses must learn how to build the analytical models and visualization tools to give their employees the equivalent of a map in order to comprehend this information and use it to make better decisions.

The companies that utilize these tools effectively in their industries will have an enormous strategic advantage over their competitors. The time to join the tidal wave or revolution is now.

The next Facebook

March 6th, 2010, by Ted Shelton | located in Conversations | No comments yet | trackback
Randall Stross offers some useful insights on Facebook and on the phenomena of the “network effect” in his latest NY Times article, “Getting older without getting old.” But he misses the easy one when he writes
Industry watchers constantly scan the horizon for a challenger that could displace Facebook…

The most interesting thing which we should all reflect on in our businesses is the rapid emergence of Facebook from nothing to 50 million users in 2007 to over 400 million in early 2010… and how a bunch of kids have rapidly transformed the business landscape with an idea backed by a little bit of software and the Internet. And how this is happening over and over again in every industry.

The “next facebook” is the wrong question to ask. We should be asking, what is the idea that is going to blow up all of our own preconceived notions of the way our market/industry works and how can the “network effect” be used to create the next amazing transformation? What should you be doing right this minute to change the way your company is connecting with customers, creating value in the marketplace, and changing the way business gets done?

The “next facebook” will almost certainly not be anything like facebook – it will be a new insight into the way in which the Internet removes barriers to our collaborating and co-creating meaning in our world.

Geoffrey Moore on Innovation: Video

November 13th, 2009, by Ted Shelton | located in Conversations | No comments yet | trackback
At the end of last month, on October 27th and 28th in London, TCG helped the Symbian Foundation host a conference on the future of mobile. Almost 3,000 people attended this dynamic event, held at the Earl’s Court exhibition center. On the second day of the event Geoffrey Moore spoke to the audience about what Symbian should be doing and how Nokia and the other members should be participating in and benefiting from the Symbian Foundation. The slides and a video of his presentation are now available. Geoff makes an excellent set of observations useful for every company about the role of innovation in your business and what you need to be doing to compete:

Geoffrey Moore at Symbian Exchange and Exposition from Ted Shelton on Vimeo.