Thursday, 15 March 2007

Crossing the Chasm

In the fast moving world of technolgy 16 years is a huge chasm to cross. What can a book written in 1991 tell us about the marketing and strategy formulation for technology companies today?

Quite a lot as it turns out. We review Moore's classic Crossing the Chasm, providing high level commentary on the text, before examining the strengths and weaknesses of his argument.

Crossing the Chasm critical commentary here...

Wednesday, 14 March 2007

The Journey of the New Troubadours

The least we can say is that music industry is moving fast - very fast. It was not a long time ago that Thomas Edison breveted a French idea from Charles Cros and developed in 1877 the first phonograph able to record and play music. With the emergence of the walkman, music started to invade the outside of home and tapes enabled us to create our own copies, CD technology only re-enforcing an astonishing sound quality.

A new generation for music has now arisen with audio compression formats such as mp3 allowing an incredible simplicity of usage and manipulation of tracks to create our own music lists from our favourite artists. Music is selected and downloaded directly to our computers from our old CD collection or from fast growing web stores such as iTunes.

All these continuous improved technologies coupled with the development of communications systems (radio followed by television followed by internet) helped the growth of a mass market music industry and created wide opportunities through the emergence of pop music and its derivatives (metal rock, electronic music, etc.) generating amazing amount of money for some luckiest artists (which personally I find the amount of money they generate, outrageous) but essentially it gave the opportunity for prolific talented people to express theirs skills, live from their passion and generate all this various lyrics and melodies we love so much.

Nevertheless, it seems that a derivative system is penetrating the market of music industry to offer the possibility to download music for free on websites which started with Napster and which are in the process to be legally approved despite some artists brandishing the risk of prejudice for author rights and the end of a golden era (in term of money making) for music artists. Maybe I have different values but it is difficult for me to find it normal to get for free the work of people who worked hard to produce it even if my wallet would feel better, nevertheless, if it is legally free, I will not pay!
In the mean time, the record companies seem focusing on the easy route to make money with shows such as pop idol and other X-factor to nominate a pseudo-artist who will find instant fame without any credibility and being forgotten by the public after one to two years but generating a huge amount of money for record companies in a very short time. This controversial method is , I believe, shadowing the emergence of what I call real artists who write their own music and touring for years, slowly improving and perfecting their singular music style to attract and keep a specific public audience.

I am glad that today communication technology and also sites such as myspace increase the awareness of the public to a wider range of potential music artists and enlarge our choice for music to give less power to record companies dictating us through radio DJs what to listen and buy, thus marginal artists but with real talent get the chance to attract an audience while still being outside the record industry system. But I have concerns about a sustainable future for the majority music artists with the end of the author rights and the emergence of the pop idol phenomen. I am hoping music artists will still be able to live from their talent music through touring concerts and will not morph to providers of music for other industries (i.e. movies soudtracks) where they can still make money. A worst case scenario would be that a majority of talented people who could not afford to live from their music, would keep it as a hobby during the week end with potentially less engagement and passion, therefore a loss for music in general.

Do you remember the troubadours? They were not wealthy people but living their passion for music and spreading their creations to the public. Well, it seems like artists will be back to a troubadour-esque life style and only passionate ones will continue to convoy the evolution of music through various channel of information and still be able to perform on stage. Hopefully this would skim the music from its commercial aspect and give back performing artists their true place in the public heart during all these highly communicative concerts where music is at its best.

Sunday, 11 March 2007

Open source marketing, without marketing

If you remember the Blair Witch Project, you will no doubt remember all the attendent hype. You'll remember that the film was made on a shoestring budget, but maybe not that it was also marketed for even less. Yet incredibly successfully.

Alex Wipperfurth's superb book Brand Hijack explains how, and presents a framework adopted by Red Bull, by Apple and many others whereby brand managers are turning to the masses to define, segment and market their products for them.

"With enough eyes, all bugs are shallow". It seems that with enough Is, brands are in fact deeper. Wipperfurth talks convincingly about the "tribes" and "cults" that have sprung up around various totem poles. Rather than erecting the poles, successful companies are instead handing out chisels and letting the good people do it for them. The resulting brands succeed because they are "defined by cool" - rather than "chasing cool". The result of this - loyalty beyond reason and high profits, though not necessarily from where you thought.

One step of logic not open when the book was published was that of Second Life. If you want to open source a brand - why not do it online where speed of interaction is high and cost is low. Nike might want to look at World of Warcraft for their next product launch. Boots of striding and leaping?

Pabst Blue Label beer - which features strongly in the book - is already at it.

Though not explictly labelled "open source" it seems a good example of the concept's spread from traditional software sector. How much further it goes is open for debate. Services, I'd suggest, could all easily follow. With little fixed cost centres and easily facilitated peer review and recommendation, services like marketing and consulting are well suited to open sourcing. Business Week last podcast even told of mining companies open sourcing the search for gold.

Pharmaceuticals, heavily regulated with high fixed cost assets (laboratories, etc.) will have trouble following. Whilst code or brand is hard to fake, clinical trials cannot be subjected to remote peer review so easily. If anyone knows of any advance examples it'd be great to hear about them. For now it seems those "bugs" are of the electronic kind only.

Friday, 9 March 2007

Following on from Peter’s article on democracy I thought I would highlight this paper on e-democracy. It seems to be a collective piece of work on the potential democratic impact of blogs. The very fact the work itself is collective is indicative of the influence it believes blogs could have on democracy through facilitating debate.

The article talks about the fact that currently pressure groups have more say than individuals in policy making. It also notes that the press was originally considered to be the voice of the people but is now more or less simply the voice of business and media barons. This is hard to deny if you read the profile of Rupert Murdoch published last year in the New Yorker – reading this article it is difficult to identify who decides elections; the voters or the media. The natural follow on question from that is who politicians serve when in office?

The article suggests that blogs may help address this imbalance, giving the example of the Trent Lott resignation. The intuition here is easy, bloggers as a community of voters will become another powerful open pressure group but one with significant numbers of actual voters.

The article also questions Peter’s assumption that you will always need a town planning officer. It suggests instead that blogs could facilitate citizens self organising to address complex democratic issues. It debates points such as the need for freedom of speech and for web democracy to come from many-to-many conversations rather than the manipulation of the internet by corporations and governments to control people.

I guess the question is will this happen or will the internet not simply go the same way as the press, and be dominated by big corporate players such Google and News Corp.

Saturday, 3 March 2007

Mr Spock where are you?

The degree of information we can get today is, I believe, endangering the thrill of adventure. Despite living now in Sheffield, I consider myself as a passionate surfer (not on the web but the real stuff which involves a surfboard, sometimes nice blue turquoise waves but not systematically long blond hair) and I have to admit that I enjoy today technology which allows me to keep in touch with my home beach in France. It is indeed very easy to check everyday the conditions of my favourite surfing spot through webcams and other weather forecast analysis, accessible from the internet. Obviously I pray for bad conditions to happen so I don’t miss anything and can spend a peaceful day at work but unfortunately, most of the time I pay a look on the internet, conditions are great and I feel then that the time is right to share with my colleagues my delight of being stuck in sunny and warm Sheffield instead of spending time on a gold sand beach in the South West of France! What is worse is that I also just discovered a great video of my surf spot on youtube to make me suffer even more!

Being back to my point, I have always considered surfing as my domain of adventure, going to different places in the world, analysing conditions, moving further to the original spot to find a better environment, meeting people, etc. which I consider are the necessary preliminaries to a good surf momentum. But with the information we can gather now from the today technologies, it is easy to determine, days in advance, where the surf will be best, the optimum time of the tide, etc. which create a crowded surfing population gathered in the same place fighting each other for a wave and who have lost this adventure spirit and converted surf to any other banal activity. This model is easily adaptable to any other adventure type activity slowly dying because of too much accessible information, allowing to plan with extreme details leaving few to the unexpected which is the source of adventure.
We are now too dependent of the sophisticated tools we are developing to explore remote places, collecting various data, analysing data collected without physically travelling and make our own perception of the environment leaving that to the machine, forgetting to use our five senses (some people believe we have more than five senses but I will not go to this route for this time).

For these reasons, I consider the exploration adventure on Earth as over apart maybe for the abyss exploration but it would be more an invitation to deepen our knowledge of our environment rather than a human adventure unless to our surprise we encounter some forms of developed intelligence living at the bottom of our oceans (and I am not talking about the kraken) who wisely avoided to communicate with us until now.

My worry is that the future of exploration, space exploration, will lie predominantly in the machine perception of our external environment. I really liked the concept of Gene Roddeberry’s Star Trek Enterprise with humans mixed with other species such as Mr Spock and the representation of what should be the human adventure, meeting new life forms from a different environment for a voyage to undiscovered territories where the human place was preponderant and not the information system hardwares used as a safe device prior exploration which in reality spoil the concept of exploration adventure. So what is the future of exploration now, who will be the new Christopher Columbus, the new Doctor Livingstone, will Captain Kirk be replaced by Data? I would be really disappointed if the encounter of a new form of intelligent life was established through a satellite named XX37PT or robot R2D2 junior rather than a human person; if we meet this new intelligent form, what kind of interaction can we propose with a machine as interlocutor and not a proper person with feelings and great capacity of adaptation . We need to think about where the information needs to stop and the human adventure can start (or rather continue).

Today we are already launching various space missions using satellites but I am glad that NASA is resuscitating space programs to send people to the moon and are thinking to send people on Mars. I am still waiting for an equivalent of the Star Trek Enterprise to meet Mr Spock and search for this final frontier quest to recognise at last that the adventure is where the man can go, not the machine. It is imperative to think where is the place of information systems in term of exploration, and the need to place human first to live the adventure, not watching it.

Friday, 2 March 2007

The toaster will be online soon

I was reading this article last night, and given the content of todays MBA talk about utility billing based on live feedback from meters, it seemed appropriate to post it - despite the fact that the article itself dates back to 2001.

The gist of the article is that everything will soon be on-line. I have to say that the fact the toaster could be on line is what stuck in my mind!,1282,42104,00.html

Thursday, 1 March 2007

To Bare One’s Sole
(I never was very good with words!!)

Last week I made my first blog posting. I did so at a time when I was supposed to be moving house so life was a tad hectic. However, in posting the article I procrastinated somewhat before actually pressing post. Over the next few days I thought: why?

On reflection, this was because the action of posting put my thoughts out “there” for all to read; whatever or wherever “there” is! Like publishing a book or writing a newspaper article, this was creativity. Ultimately, this is what scared me - my thoughts irretrievable published for the world.

I then found this article which debated whether blogging is the domain of the creative or the commercial, noting:

"Who feels confident about their perspective in a way that they're willing to announce it to the world? Confidence is not the same as expertise. Some people are far more confident than they deserve to be; others are afraid to speak up even though their expressions are so valuable."

I would not claim to have expressions that are incredibly valuable beyond perhaps my immediate circle of friends and family, and I express myself best in dry, sarcastic wit. This does not translate well to a blog world where it seems that to succeed you have to be able to communicate in an appealing and interestingly literary way.

The key to good blogging seems to be creativity, the blog discussed on the MBA course is popular primarily because of the talented and engaging writing style. My girlfriend finds my blog colleague hmatt’s style of writing very appealing and funny and thus returns to read his posts.

So where does this leave those of us who stand at the flat world’s edge and don’t feel we translate easily into the blogosphere? Yes I like the thought that blogs turn people from the now popular pastime of passive consumerism to the more challenging role of creative participants, but clearly some of us have a way to go to discover how we can use this new medium to freely express our creativity.

Using a blog in a work/business environment is one thing, it holds less trepidation, as we tend to work with material and people we are comfortable with. Using it to be a creative participant in a much larger world is entirely another. That is not to say we should not seek to express our creativity and blogs are surely one of the most accessible tools available to us, especially given the anonymity they afford. The alternative, of course, is to join what E M Forster called “the vast armies of the benighted”.