Fred Wilson’s post December 30th highlighted some salient points around our current business landscape through the lens of digital technology. He was talking about how mobility will become an inherent function of web economics. Wilson went on to say that “scarcity is not a viable business model for the Internet”.
Truth is, scarcity isn’t going away just yet, not at least until we are able to remove the artificial barriers we have imposed with our transactional models. Scarcity has come into play as a manufactured by-product of supply and demand dynamics (think of how stock or commodities markets have evolved; speculation—not value—is the currency).
The search and publishing spaces, for one, exist in a vacuum because there is no consensual context for how or why stories or told, or, why they mean so much to business. But the fact is that most businesses have very little if any context for understanding them anyway. Much of this has to do with their organizational outlay, and much more of it has to do with the fact that we are conditioned, through institutional systems, in how we are supposed to think and act.
But here's the good news: conversations and respective behaviors can and do evolve as stories (narrative fractals, for example); the communities and discussion forums are everywhere – and metadata can tie them all together into new, dynamic intelligence frameworks.
The LBS (location-based services) space is a terrific example of where dynamic intelligence could go or be codified, provided that we don’t use the respective channels as fodder for sales indulgences or as a means to spy on the unsuspecting.
Regardless, we have lots of work to do to get to a place where dynamic intelligence is protected (think of this as the new privacy). And where intelligence isn’t protected, neither is business.
Take Google, for example; Google offers free application suites and open source services (not to mention a host of great non-profit ventures) yet revenue is confined to fixed media systems that cannot scale; it can only push its model outward (Google basically skins the same cat differently - the core search product - and then repackages it across its offerings.)
So ask yourself the important questions:
Will things like "Social Search" or "Google Instant" change the search paradigm? They can’t.
Will a quicker, faster, eCommerce engine make buying more meaningful and fun? Hardly.
Will people continue to check into places because they want to give their data away? No f---ing way.
Will more media, easier and quicker to digest, produce meaningful experiences, or compel us to make purchases? Maybe for a moment or two, but not really.
You see where this is going.
Let’s break this down into a purely business context, with the caveat that we love each and every one of these companies for different reasons... It’s just that their business models were not prepared for the inevitability of open networks.
Google considers itself a media company (not a technology company) but doesn’t quite grasp the construct that the inherent value—and scale—is in people, not technology. Case in point: Google is a highly unsocial brand.
Amazon is an eCommerce company (not a media or publishing company) that doesn’t understand the inherent value in buying is actually sharing, not making limited purchases (or purchases with unwanted thresholds).
Netflix is really an intermediary business (although it considers itself disintermediary) that does not understand the value of people as products; for one, where are all the peer reviews in the US market? (As one person tweeted recently, why not merge with a partner like Rotten Tomatoes, for example?)
AOL is a portal that wants to be a publishing powerhouse but can't - why? Because it is reliant upon closed networks dedicated solely to inflating the value of its own inventory, or that within its own affiliate/publisher networks.
...Just like Gawker and StumbleUpon can only try to filter content so as to shoehorn their relevance into…more and more of the same...
...Just like OpenText needs better, more hyper-relevant and hyper-local search characteristics to be better at selling its core vertical services.
Pepsi is changing its entire business model around a sustainable infrastructure (and deserves high praise for this), but having made a major investment in fixed media systems as well as product development and procurement loops, Pepsi needs major help.
Walmart has exploited its might in the green & clean energy space for a few years now. But it also owns the distribution chain. What happens when supply runs low or is commodified or distribution hubs disintegrate and abundance wipes away the need to purchase? (It could happen... And soon.)
Best Buy already recognizes that its future is not actually in electronics retailing, but in providing families with utilities of scale (like energy credits).
Arguably, every Fortune 100 brand needs help in this way. Every company needs help in this way. Economies of scale can’t scale if the media and technology systems they rely on won’t afford them the opportunity to be adaptable. While the dynamics are very complex, the paradigm is quite simple.
And all businesses already curate. What they don’t realize is exactly what or why.
Federated curation culminates in purpose, intent and action.
We might pare this down to a single equivalence: the realization that like individuals who need to have a higher purpose other than their jobs (the ideal scenario being one in which the job is the purpose), businesses need a purpose other than to just sell products and services.
Clay Shirky’s recent article about social media supporting civil society is a terrific (if unintended?) commentary on how individuals and businesses can find their meaning and purpose in curation. Quite simply, civility is the key to relational (and relatable) value. Relational value leads to collective understanding. The web will continue to evolve into a network of actions, fueled by common purpose.
That said, common purpose requires actionable context.
For businesses, this can culminate in a wiki, for example, but we need to be able to actively provide instances for change. In other words, forums are not channels or platforms (in the digital or media sense); forums, like networks, are comprised of people intent on taking action.
In 1727, Benjamin Franklin organized a group of friends to provide a structured forum for discussion about money, called Junto. The group, initially comprised of twelve Philadephia members, were drawn from diverse occupations and backgrounds, but they all shared a spirit of inquiry and a desire to improve themselves, their community, and to help others.
Franklin’s Junto was an early effort to literally socialize the discourse of our everyday challenges. In 21st Century terms, that socialization matched the underlying drivers to a series of frameworks that acted as actionable solution-sets; these solutions spawned a movement that would illustrate a real, human willingness to contextualize the role of institutional hierarchies, and in particular, banking systems. Junto also introduced some of the earlier precepts for localizing subsidies and making financial “utilities” a fungible, tactical practice that would leverage human networks.
Further, Franklin and his Junto colleagues used the act of physical lending or subsidization as a reciprocal means for creating better social value.
What they did was effectively curate social value (actionable value) within a truly federated system.
Today, there are a number of juntos in existence, including many online forums that elicit action in local communities and affect change. Several of us in an emergence collective have used our own Junto to evaluate instances in an attempt to co-create solutions around them, including hard thinking about curated experiences in a federated system... The heart of Part IV.
The following illustrations manifested by Gavin Keech represent the infocology of how content develops as a fluid experience, as well as what the variables for an experience might look like. These will be posted in Part IV as well to hopefully provide and gather more context; the last piece will actually walk us through what an interface experience might look like, with an emphasis on how purchasing and social value can align.
First, is the infocology of content as a fluid experience. While you can identify a pentagram shape within the design, do not be alarmed ;) Our intention is to build technologies around or representative of these flowcycles.