Posts Tagged ‘Internet’

The Internet’s Destiny: Five Truths

February 23, 2009

I’m honored that yesterday, Louis Gray – an extremely prolific and well respected social media observer and commentator – named Dawn’s Plan as one of his “five new blogs to watch.”  Since I’m getting new readers here because of it (Thank you, Louis), I thought I’d state my basic beliefs that inform everything I write about here.

 1) Business Models must be Distributive

The Digital Age is inherently about undoing the most egregious economic imbalances created by the Industrial Age, not creating more of them.  There is little difference between getting obscenely rich off the backs of others and getting obscenely rich off the brains and hearts of others. 

To his credit, Mark Zuckerberg recognized the value of each person’s social graph.  To his failure, he has yet to acknowledge that your social graph belongs to you and you should be compensated for its use.

Zuckerberg is a billionaire on paper while the Facebook membership that makes the network valuable earns nothing.  I predict Zuckerberg’s paper wealth will never be realized, because obscene concentration of wealth generated by exploiting others goes against what the Internet is naturally meant to be.

2) Advertising Distribution must be in the Hands of Users

Except for Search, Internet advertising doesn’t work.  It will never work when it is thrust upon us, because it is kneejerk to despise and easy to ignore.  Online advertising must be willingly accepted to be effective.  This demands taking ad distribution control away from advertisers and giving it to consumers.

Closed ad networks that pollute the Internet and do little to help the advertisers themselves will inevitably be replaced by open networks which offer ads that may be taken by users and placed on their own pages – if it is a product or service they wish to help promote.  This power shift will make corporations more accountable and will lead to higher quality ads and products.  Also, people will be less fearful of buying when they have recommendations from friends, family and coworkers. 

Placing ad distribution in the proper hands will thereby help our economy rebuild from the bottom up, as trust is injected back into the system and people start consuming again.  So by giving up power to distribute ads online, companies will gain.  At least the ones that are worthy will.   The others can die a quicker death and quit wasting resources that can be freed for better concerns.

3) Free must be replaced by Free plus Compensated

Free has been a collective disaster.  We obviously cannot move from an industrial economy to a digital economy (which we must do to survive) if there can be no transfer of digital goods and services for money.  That’s what an economy is.

4) Everybody must have a Place at the Digital Table, despite their Talents and Geography

Let’s face it, when it comes to making a living, the Internet has so far mostly benefitted left-brained people and has too often devastated right-brain people.  While geeks’ opportunities and incomes have exploded, creators like reporters, photographers, cartoonists and other writers and artists have lost their jobs and incomes.2008-05-01

Trade in digital goods and services holds the promise of allowing great numbers of people all over the world to make a living without raping the environment, but this can happen only if doors are opened to allow in all skills and talents, not just coding ability.

5) Google’s Domination is Unhealthy and Potentially Treacherous

Yeah, I don’t like Google.  Their hegemony rivals that of ancient Rome.  The good news is that Google is much more vulnerable than people think.  Their lion’s share of online ad revenue won’t last once the above four tenets are inevitably manifested.  The only unknown is exactly how long it will take.

If you want more details about any of these, I suggest you check out my archive.  You can also subscribe to my feed.

I hope you will stick around and give me your input.  I appreciate your comments and welcome discussion about how best to spur the Internet towards its natural destiny, for everybody’s benefit.

How can the Web truly be “open” when only young white male geeks get to decide what the Web is?

January 28, 2009

closed1

How many times have we heard from the tech world that ideas are worthless, that only the application of ideas has value?  This commonly held Silicon Valley belief – that ideas are insignificant compared to execution – is, pardon my language, Scoble slobber.  Yet, this mistaken belief drives the Web.  Moreover, it self-servingly puts all the power in very few, non-diverse hands. 

Wall Street: old white males. 

Silicon Valley: young white males. 

You can’t be offended by one and happy with the other.

Yes, application is vital.  More than vital.  But you can’t apply something that doesn’t first exist: the idea.  Poor ideas remain poor even when executed well.  The most stellar engineers can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

The opposite is also true.  Good ideas are hard to keep down, no matter what.  Twitter wasn’t executed particularly well, to which the Fail Whale testifies, yet Twitter is flourishing because at its core was a good idea.

Good ideas are just as essential as good execution.  And as “execution” moves closer and closer to becoming a commodity thanks to the Open Source movement that has made “patent” and “proprietary” dirty words and developers interchangeable and expendable, someday soon, the only wealth creation advantage for any Internet product will be the idea itself. 

 Problem #1 – Silicon Valley’s inability to judge if an idea is truly good or not

How many times have we heard venture capitalists say that in order for them to consider your project, you need to get something launched and prove traction?  What is this demand if not an admission that they don’t have a clue if your idea is solid or not?  Yes, you can choose to believe that they are testing your execution abilities, but your programming skills could be confirmed by simply pointing to other projects you’ve already completed.  What they really want to know is whether or not people will desire what you develop. 

That’s what traction is, of course: confirmation of the idea. 

Silicon Valley’s “let’s throw ideas against the wall to see what sticks” approach is extremely wasteful of time, talent and money.  It also limits executed ideas to those of mostly young (limited life experience), mostly left-brained (limited creativity) mostly males (limited accommodation).

Solution

VC firms have technical expertise to judge the technology, but as everything becomes open source and non-patentable, this analysis is less critical.  The Social Web has taken over and social science can no longer be ignored.   VC firms should hire or contract with people who can judge ideas from a human adoption standpoint.   This means people with expertise in anthropology, sociology and trend forecasting.

Problem #2 – Silicon Valley’s sexism

 “Sexism” is a word I very seldom use and certainly do not brandish carelessly.  Neither do I mean it on an individual basis.  These days most men aren’t ignorant-based bigots against women.  But Silicon Valley and the Web itself are extremely “institutionally sexist” given the fact that the vast majority of VCs, technologists, and tech reporters/bloggers are male.  Even as women are now online in greater numbers than men, female ideas and wants and desires largely go unexecuted. 

Elevating anthropology and sociology to the same plane as technology as suggested above will naturally bring in more women, but more needs to be done. 

Solution

Investors should actively seek out ideas not just from women, but also from other groups that aren’t now being included in VC’s ponder piles, like older folks and racial minorities. 

“If you could build the world’s best Internet experience, what would it be like?”  Ask that question, sift through the business plans, verify that the result would be desirable to large numbers and THEN go get the technical talent that it takes to execute.

Why is that so hard to fathom? 

Ideas may be a dime a dozen but GOOD ideas can be worth millions.  Even billions.  Open up who can offer business plans, get diverse experts to help review them from a people-perspective as well as tech-perspective – so you can stop the absurdity of “build this first and then maybe we’ll give you the money to build this” – and you’re bound to find some great ideas that can be executed.  And I’ll bet most will include monetization plans, too!

Either that or we can just stay stuck in the poverty of Web 2.0 until Scoble runs out of slobber for yet another social network by yet another young white geek male.  SIGH

PS: Before anybody accuses me of geek bashing, I love geeks.  My late husband was a geek who worked for Intel.  How could we live without you guys?  I wouldn’t want to try.  But it takes all kinds to make the world go round, and it is the Worldwide Web, after all. 

The Internet should reflect everybody.  And until it does “open” is closed.  That’s all I’m saying.

Silicon Valley Fad or Trend? – #1 in a series: Personal Branding

January 4, 2009

incrediblesSince starting this blog a month ago, I’ve found myself writing several posts about the importance of understanding anthropology, not just technology, when developing Internet products and services.  In an effort to be clearer regarding what I mean by “anthropology,” I’ve decided to get more specific. 

This is the first in a series of articles analyzing whether something we see and experience online is a Silicon Valley fad or a cultural trend you can expect to endure and permeate into non-geek cultures.  If you’re building an Internet product or service that you want to survive and make mainstream, it is vital to know the difference.

Personal Branding: Fad or Trend?

Sarah Lacy, a Silicon Valley journalist, yesterday posted an article about how her concerted efforts to brand herself haven’t paid off in cash.  Like so many others, Lacy is working longer and harder than ever for no visible return.

What is it?

Personal branding means to package yourself into a commercial property that can be applied to various products (think cartoonist Hugh MacLeod promoting tailored suits and wine) or across a variety of platforms (think Scobleizer on Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook, etc.)  Personal branding in the context of the Internet essentially comes down to Web celebrity in micro-niches, mostly geek related. 

Why is it?

Many people are busting out Yertle-the-Turtle tactics to virtually climb the social ladder by collecting “friends” and followers as some people might collect trading cards.  But much of this is nothing more than natural ego feeding and is not a conscious effort to establish a personal brand.

When it comes to deliberate personal branding efforts, I believe there are two main forces driving the aspiration.  One is the on-the-job desire to highlight your own external visibility, to grow it separately from that of your company, so that you may carry its value with you as you move from job to job to job.  Remember, nobody these days expects to work for the same company for very long, either by choice or by layoff. 

The media world is especially dynamic, thanks to disruption caused by the Internet.  If you have a job today, you can’t count on having it tomorrow, so it makes sense to leverage whatever visibility and credibility your employer offers and make it your own.   As an example, Robert Scoble formed a large hive of followers thanks to his job at Microsoft.  Since leaving the software giant, Scoble has maintained a herculean effort to breed this hive so that his value to other potential employers is much greater than it would be if he were a lone employee.  Like a queen bee, wherever Scoble moves, his hive moves with him, and a higher compensation point is assured, so long as visibility is what the new employer wants to hire.

The second propellant for personal branding is the Internet’s “culture of free.”   Most people with digitizable talents no longer have a secure and dependable means to profit directly from their work, since digitized copies can be swiped for nothing.  For example, markets for photographs, cartoons and freelance writing have collapsed.  But that’s a good thing, according to Silicon Valley’s free-culture evangelists.  Free, they’ve claimed for years, will make you richer than ever.   All you need to do is give your work away for nothing in order to build up followers and a personal brand, and then somehow (magically?), all that visibility will translate into dollars.  Sell t-shirts.  Sell book collections.  Become a paid speaker.  Just sit back as people throw money at you.  Ride the high tide of all that free love.  That’s the attractive theory.

Will it Last?

No.  Personal branding is a Silicon Valley fad; it’s not a cultural trend.

Yes, personal branding has indeed worked for a relatively small number of people in the short term, but it’s not sustainable for the long run.  Nor is it a practical strategy for the masses.  Here are some reasons why:

1) Personal branding is an extremely consuming effort.  Hugh MacLeod often writes in his blog about being exhausted by the demands of living an independent branded life without the security and relaxation of a steady income.  Robert Scoble claims to spend seven hours or more every day on FriendFeed alone, which is nine hours a week more than a full time job.  The vast majority of people are unwilling or unable to put in the time and dedication required to be a Web celebrity. 

2) Each one of us has two talents.  We have more or less ability to do a huge variety of tasks, but only two genuine talents.  Very few people have more than two and virtually nobody has less.  Unless one of those talents is salesmanship or you happen to fall into good luck (or a blend of both), you simply don’t have what it takes to turn the other talent (or mix of good-at’s) into popularity.

3) Celebrity itself is always ephemeral, no matter what you do.  As Sarah Lacy points out in the above article, you must constantly look over your shoulder to watch out for the next guy who wants to steal your thunder.  Count on that next person emerging to replace you, sooner or later.  People’s attention is a zero sum game.  If somebody new stays on the radar, then somebody else must disappear.  The most ardent fans are often the first to become disloyal since seeking the “new” and “fresh” and “exciting” is part of the psychological makeup of being a fan.

4) Being viewed as a brand is fraught with risk in this post-collapse economy when CEO-hating consumers distrust things that smack of corporate-ness.  Watch for people to increasingly disengage from folks who have a commercial agenda beyond the sharing of their own talents and genuine passions. (Scoble and MacLeod actually fair well here, since they both promote only what they’re honestly passionate about, or so it seems.)  Be mindful that what passed as confident self-expression pre-collapse may well be viewed as shameless self-promotion now.  More than ever, people want and need real value added to their own lives, not hype, and certainly not exploitation for somebody else’s profit.

5) Remember the lesson of The Incredibles: if everybody is “super,” then nobody is.  The idea that anybody and everybody can be a celebrity doesn’t logically work.  The frustration and dysfunction of trying to out-popular the next guy will ultimately collapse the desire – to the point that the culture turns against follower greed.  Soon, value and authority must be found in ways beyond how your stats look.

6) Brands must be positioned.  That’s the problem bloggers have.  Michael Arrington is the arrogant-ass tech blogger who specializes in arrogant-ass startup news.  But is that really what he wants to be doing forever?  Surely not.  Who wants to be doing anything forever?  But because of personal branding, Arrington is TechCrunch and TechCrunch is Arrington.  Consequently, it’s very difficult (some say impossible) for Arrington to sell TechCrunch.  And even if he could sell it, is he now too “typecast” to remake himself into a different brand?  Normal people live multiple dimensions and many different lives within one lifespan.  When you turn yourself into a brand, you’re short-changing other aspects of yourself in the present and threatening your future evolution. 

7) Branding yourself is potentially dangerous.  The goal of branding is to become as exposed as possible.  Do you really want to expose your whole self and consequently your loved ones, even your children, to the all the crazies in this world.  Do you really?  Most people don’t.

8 ) As the volume and quality of news, information and entertainment increase online to a more television-like level, and as average individuals become increasingly empowered to gather and share both, the concentrations of people who currently surround any one individual will disperse.  Average Joes and Janes will engage one-on-one with friends they mutually perceive as equally valuable.  While they will happily discuss pertinent content an A-list blogger may write, gathering at the feet of said blogger to be talked at, about all kinds of irrelevant matters, is going to go the way of the dodo tweet.  In other words, when more professionalism comes online and focus shifts to being about your work, not about you, personal branding becomes moot.  I predict this shift is going to happen before the end of next year.

9) Brand recognition doesn’t even equate to perceived value, much less real value.  In other words, having high recognition isn’t necessarily the same thing as having a good reputation and a valuable property.  It can be quite the contrary, in fact.  The most effective tool for building brand recognition online is controversy.  All web celebrities I can think of use it purposefully, some more than others.   “Shocking” language.  Cynicism and misanthropy.  Attacks on other Web celebrities.  The periodic drama between A-list friends.  It’s all about attracting and keeping attention.  Loren Feldman, who I happen to think is funny and talented though his subject matter doesn’t usually appeal to me, is the poster boy for growing his brand via controversy.  While it’s been effective for increasing viewership, it’s come back to bite him financially at least once.  Verizon dropped a distribution deal with Feldman because of his “TechNigga” videos from years ago.  If you put yourself out there as a brand, you’re going to attract enemies as well as friends, and you’re going to collect baggage, some of which could actually harm your career rather than help it.

Implications for Internet Products and Services

1) Blogging will not survive.  Blogs are a tool for personal branding, and we know how that will come out.  Create something to replace blogs.

2) As social networking matures, pointing to how many followers you have will seem immature at best, gauche at worst.  If you’re creating a new social network, don’t make the members’ number of followers public.  Leveling the playing field (as Ning does) will be much more effective than creating kings (as FriendFeed does).

3) Create a revenue model.  Design in it at the notebook stage.  Make it a part of your DNA, not something you clumsily strap on later.  Some of the Web’s best companies, like SmugMug, have refused to skip to Pied Piper economics and are doing well precisely because they didn’t believe the sham of Free and felt confident enough in their offering to charge for it. 

4) If you rely on advertising and are dependent on user-generated content, make your revenue model distributive.  Allow your members to own and control their social graph and compensate them for its use.  Pay your contributors for content that makes you money.  The days of making other people billionaires, like Mark Zuckerberg and the YouTube guys, without getting tangible compensation in return, are over.  Perhaps ironically, the next Google-like success story, the next IPO offering that leads to massive wealth for investors, is the company that understands that nobody wins the social networking space until we all do.

5) Understand the underlying trends that have led to the personal branding fad, and design products and services to solve those problems directly.  For example, create a way for photographers to get paid for their photos.  Or create a way for bloggers and journalists to carry their monetization models with them no matter what platform they’re on.

6) To expand #5 more generally: serve.  Serve your users – be they your readers, your social network members, or paying customers – as emotionally and as materially as you can.  This recession already feels like a depression to many people, and has for some time.  Find ways to save them money, create methods to make them money, allow them the means to find and commiserate with people in their same boat.  Create a way for fit-to-be-tied consumers to hold greedy corporations accountable!  The economy will get worse before it gets better.  Remember that we live in a post-collapse world and we’re never going back.  Even as the economy soars again, the culture won’t go back.  Our tolerance for commercialism, our debt tolerance, our trust capacity have all been forever altered.  All these things have implications when it comes to the successful design and development of Internet products and services.

I hope this article has provided at least some insight into the value of anthropology, and helps explain my assertion that the best technology will fail in the marketplace if it’s matched to poor anthropology.  Better yet, if you understand anthropology, you will find opportunity, and all of us need more of that.

 I will write other installments for this “Fad or Trend?” series in the coming weeks.  If you have any questions, topic suggestions, or wish to challenge me on anything, please leave a comment below.  Thanks.

First Post! Introduction to Swig: the Social Market

December 1, 2008

 

After about 15 years of widespread usage, it’s easy to think that the Internet is largely developed and set in its ways, especially by you who are under age 30.  That’s why today, the Monday after the United States celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday passed down from our founding families, I think it’s worth pointing out that we, the World Wide Web community, are in fact a pilgrim people.  The vast majority of the Internet’s unparalleled commercial power and potential is left unexplored and uncultivated. 

If ever there were a need for each one of us to start tilling the Internet’s fertile commercial soil, that need is now, as our old stomping grounds are crumbing to dust beneath our feet. 

My plan is to provide you the technical tools and cultural environment you need to do just that.  We’re going to put anthropology hand-in-hand with technology so that, for the first time, everybody will be welcome to the Internet’s table of plenty come next harvest.  No matter what your talents are.  No matter if you aren’t a geek.  Even if you don’t live in a developed nation.

While we are thankful to technologists for bringing us to this vast largely-unsettled place called the Internet, technology should not – must not! – be made its permanent master.  We are all stewards of the Internet.  And we pilgrims still have a long way to go.  So let’s link hands socially but also economically, remembering that no social network is a true social network unless it includes opportunity to produce economic good for its members, as it’s been for 200,000 years.

I hope you’ll watch this introductory video to my plan, my business plan for a company called Swig that is a private sector, Internet-based, “bottom up” solution to many of the challenges we’re facing.  More detailed videos can be found on my website at www.swig.me.

 

Welcome!  I hope you’ll work with me to get Swig going, or at least stick around to monitor our progress.  Should be interesting to see if we survive our first harsh winter.  😉 Thanks for being here.