Posted on September 20th, 2005 No comments
A couple of months ago, a colleague showed me a presentation from Harvard’s Clark Gilbert
about disruptive technology and how traditional industries are affected by it. Someone else showed it to me again today. While I haven’t completely digested everything in it, I feel like this guy’s theories explain some bad behaviors I have observed at every media company I’ve worked at in my career– including one that’s 100% online! And I don’t see them as bad anymore — just sadly inevitable.
The basic premise of Gilbert’s theory is that disruptive businesses and technology often emerge outside of traditional industries. Consumers are at first slow to adopt a new product as its business is refined, but eventually there’s a tipping point where consumers flock to the new business and the “old” industry struggles to adapt. The central message is that established industries need to plan for disruption, and ideally both sustain their core business while simultaneously planning to disrupt it themselves in the future.
As I ponder this, I can’t help thinking that community is at the epicenter of a disruptive earthquake of changing consumer behavior in media. More people in traditional media companies now see it, but they’re focused on the wrong things.
Take for example Classifieds. In response to Craigslist, companies like Knight Ridder are starting to provide free online listings, and my own company backs new community brands like Bakotopia that are 100% free. If you ask anyone in the newspaper industry what Bakotopia is about, they’ll tell you it’s “that free ad thing”. They’ll say the same thing about Craigslist. But characterizing this as only a shift from paid to free is really missing the point. The real story is about how regular people are learning how cool it is to publish something to a community of interest and instantly hear back from people who share that interest. That interest can be to sell something, to find someone else who likes to snowboard, or to meet another mom whose daughter is into gymnastics. New businesses have emerged to meet those needs, and in most cases they aren’t newspapers, TV stations or radio stations.
You see the same fruitless argument over citizen journalism. Many reporters and editors fret about “the unwashed masses” storming the castle and providing “training” to help people report, when they should spend more time realizing how amazing it is for a mom to publish photos of her daughter at a gymnastics tournament. Do she need training to do that? And what’s to fear? You’re helping someone intimately connect with your brand in a way never possible before. That’s what I think Bakotopia and The Northwest Voice are about. Publishing is free because that’s how you get people to coalesce into a community. When you have a community, you have something very valuable that you can monetize.
When I look back on my journalism education, I feel like there was an unspoken assumption that we were “The Media” and that it was our job to find and tell stories, and the reader’s job to read and respond. There was a lot of distrust of things like market research and direct reader participation, and it was just assumed that we would always own the sacred role of gatekeeper. Our customers have moved on from that mode of thinking in a big way, and there are now multiple gatekeepers, some of whom get paid, but most of whom now don’t. And everyone is a publisher — through blogs, sites like Northwest Voice and Craigslist, and even simple things like writing an e-mail and copying 20 friends. That’s all niche publishing.
I think our roles as journalists, salespeople and publishers will naturally shift to helping people tell their stories and form communities of interest. Reporters will spend more time finding the story behind the stories people publish and separating fact from spin. Media companies that can provide superior service in matching people well will have a business in the future. Those that don’t will see a steady decline and eventually a sharp drop in business.
Posted on September 18th, 2005 No comments
The BBC has a sobering story that I think really challenges the way we live our lives. It’s an account from the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, which bases its conclusions from data from 1,300 researchers from 95 nations over four years.
Look closely at the graphs in the study. They show the effect our industrial and consumer society is having on the environment, which will negatively affect our lives and those of future generations. It’s probably already affecting our lives now in ways we can’t see.
I find it both interesting and ironic that a dramatic increase in the rate of human-produced nitrogen started in the 1960s, which is also when what we call the “environmental movement” started to gain steam.
This sidebar pretty much says it all (emphasis mine):
PLANET UNDER PRESSURE
60% of world ecosystem services have been degraded
Of 24 evaluated ecosystems, 15 are being damaged
About 20% of corals were lost in just 20 years; 20% degrade
Nutrient pollution has led to eutrophication of waters and coastal dead zones
Species extinction is now 100-1,000 times above the normal background rate
So why is it that when we see study after study like this for decades, each with more conclusive data than the last, many people continue to ignore it and keep buying Hummers? Meanwhile, millions still believe things with no evidence and in some cases evidence to the contrary?
I think the answer is that most people tend to believe what validates their world view and makes them feel most comfortable with their convictions and lifestyle. It just feels better to think that there is no effect from the emissions from your car, the power plants and fossil fuel mines that keep your furnace running, and the factories that give you conveniently processed and packaged goods. There are some people out there who even claim that the earth absorbs anything we can throw at it — when scientific data and common sense suggest otherwise.
It doesn’t make me feel good to believe studies like this, but I don’t see any reason to disbelieve them. I don’t understand why some people feel compelled to discredit and disprove such studies when the data they present is pretty universally accepted by scientists.
Of course I don’t really have any quick solutions, either, short of moving to a house that’s off the grid and having a job that requires no electricity, internet or telephone, spending twice as much time and money on fresh food that’s not packaged, and not commuting. (I’m doing OK with the commuting part right now, but that’s just blind luck.)
My family has been frantic for the last couple days, anxiously awating news from my sister Andrea, who has taken a job as a geologist for a coal prospector in Mongolia! I saw her off at the airport on Tuesday night. Starting around Wednesday night we began to get e-mails from her (gotta love that Internet!) And I just saw that she posted to her blog from Incheon in South Korea.
Here’s what she has to say about the hotel bidet:
… oh my, the hotel room bidet. I didn’t use it, didn’t want to use it, but got sprayed in the face when trying to find the flush button, only to find that the flush is the only manual button. And in my jet lag stupor I thought that was what they used to clean the walls of the bathroom until I figured it out, opened the door and hit the button to stop it (after I had closed the door and let it spray for a few minutes). Now I have to dry off the ceiling and the wood door.
She’s a stranger in a strange land! I’m very proud of her, and excited to live vicariously through her over the next year or two. She works 6 weeks in Mongolia, but then has 2 weeks off and can fly pretty much anywhere in the world she wants to during that time at the company’s expense.
Our grandfathers served in the Korean war, so after she left South Korea and entered Mongolia, I believe she may have become the most-traveled Pacheco ever (at least that we know of).
Apparently they have Skype down there, so I’m looking forward to getting a free Skype call from Mongolia. That will be a first!
Last week we upgraded Bakotopia.com on “Bakomatic 1.5″. It’s cool to see new faces on the home page througout the day. And thanks to some new radio ads recorded by some local bands who wanted to support Bakotopia, we’re seeing an influx of new people and posts. We’re now focused on the next version, which will include more cool stuff for the music community, and some other stuff I can’t talk about publicly.
Since I’m into strange stuff, I really liked this Queen Mary ghost picture a user posted yesterday. I can’t see the ghost myself — I just like the idea of someone uploading ghost pictures It’s like citizen journalism of the SciFi Channel variety.
We also introduced a new web site on Bakomatic called Más, which is tied to a new print publication Mercado Nuevo launched this week of the same name. Más is more of a traditional publication site right now, but that’s really because it just launched and the team is focusing on the more complex issues around writing, laying out, printing a distributing a biweekly publication. It may use more of Bakomatic’s community features in the future. Meanwhile, we do have a form on the page that lets people submit stories, and people are already sending in stories.
Más is for “second generation” Hispanics — like me! Since I’m in their target market, I can say without question that the Más team has done a great job speaking to the unique interests and issues of this growing segment of the U.S. population. I’m already taking notes from their story about raising bilingual kids. Kudos to Mary Lou Fulton, Olivia Garcia and the Más team for taking this novel idea from thought to action!
You can learn more about the mission and focus of Más in this Editor and Publisher article.
There’s a lot of buzz out there right now about AOL being bought by either Google or Microsoft.
This would make good business sense — AOL already uses Google’s search engine, Google is quickly building all of the features AOL has, and AOL and MSN aren’t all that different. It would be similar to the AOL-Netscape merger of years past. But yowza! If either happens, get ready for the biggest culture clash between Ph.D. software engineers and MBAs of all time. It would make the AOL-Time Warner merger look like a friendly social event.
Microsoft buying AOL would be interesting in another way because they hate each other so much. I recall going to a party in Seattle one time when I was still working at AOL. A friend introduced me to someone who seemed really laid back and friendly, but when my friend mentioned that I worked at AOL — the dude walked across the room and wouldn’t talk to me for the rest of the party.
Hopefully that guy has grown up a little since then, and that’s not an allegory of how AOL and Microsoft employees would treat each other.