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Every Company Is An Experience Company

By - September 28, 2014
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Illustration by Craig Swanson and idea by James Cennamo

Some years ago while attempting to explain the thinking behind my then-startup Federated Media, I wrote that all brands are publishers (it was over on the FM blog, which the new owners apparently have taken down – a summary of my thinking can be found here). I’d been speechifying on this theme for years, since well before FM or even the Industry Standard – after all, great brands always created great content (think TV ads or the spreads in early editions of Wired), we just didn’t call it that until our recent obsession with “native advertising” and “content marketing,” an obsession I certainly helped stoke during my FM years.

Today, there is an entire industry committed to helping brands become publishers, and the idea that brands need to “join the conversation” and “think like media companies” is pretty widely held. But I think the metaphor of brands as media creators has some uneasy limitations. We are all wary of what might be called contextual dissonance - when we consume media, we want to do so in proper context. I’ve seen a lot of branded content that feels contextually dissonant to me – easily shareable stories distributed through Outbrain, Buzzfeed, and Sharethrough, for example, or highly shareable videos distributed through YouTube and Facebook.

So why is this content dissonant? I’m thinking out loud here, but it has to do with our expectations. When a significant percentage of the content that gets pushed into my social streams is branded content, I’m likely to presume that my content streams have a commercial agenda. But when I’m in content consumption mode, I’m not usually in a commercial mode.  To be clear, I’m not hopping on the “brands are trying to trick us into their corporate agendas” bandwagon, I think there’s something more fundamental at work here. There are plenty of times during any given day when I *am* in commercial context - wandering through a mall, researching purchases online, running errands in my car – but when I’m consuming content, I’m usually not in commercial context. Hence the disassociation. When clearly commercial content is offered during a time when I’m not in commercial mode, it just feels off.

I think this largely has to do with a lack of signaling in media formats these days. Much has been made of how native advertising takes on the look and feel of the content around it, and most of the complaint has to do with how that corporate speech is somehow disingenuous, sly, or deceitful. But I don’t think that’s the issue. What we have here is a problem of context, plain and simple.

Any company with money can get smart content creators to create, well, smart content, content that has as good a chance as any to be part of a conversation. In essence, branded content is something of a commodity these days – just like a 30 second spot of a display ad is a commodity. We’re just not accustomed to commercial content in the context of our social reading habits. In time, as formats and signaling get better, we will be. As that occurs, “content marketing” becomes table stakes – essential, but not what will set a brand apart.

Reflecting on my earlier work on brands as media companies, I realize that the word “media” was really a placeholder for “experience.” It’s not that every company should be a media company per se – but rather, that every company must become an experience company. Media is one kind of experience – but for many companies, the right kind of experience is not media, at least if we understand “media” to mean content.

But let’s start with a successful experience that is media – American Express’ Open Forum. If I as a consumer chose to engage with Open Forum, I do so in the clear context that it’s an American Express property, a service created by the brand. There’s no potential for deceit – the context is understood. This is a platform owned and operated by Amex, and I’ll engage with it knowing that fact. Over the years Amex has earned a solid reputation for creating valuable content and advice on that platform – it has built a media experience that has low contextual dissonance.

But not every experience is a media experience, unless you interpret the word “media” in a far more catholic sense. If you begin to imagine every possible touchpoint that a customer might have with your brand as a highly interactive media experience – mediated by the equivalent of a software- and rules-driven UX – well now we’re talking about something far larger.

To illustrate what I mean I think back to my original “Gap Scenario” from nearly five years ago. I imagined what it might be like to visit a retail outlet like Gap a few years from now. I paint a picture where the experience that any given shopper might have in a Gap store (or any other retail outlet) is distinct and seamless, because Gap has woven together a tapestry of data, technology platforms, and delivery channels that turns a pedestrian trip to the mall into a pleasurable experience that makes me feel like the company understands and values me. I’m a forty-something Dad, I don’t want to spend more than 45 seconds in Gap if I don’t have to. My daughter, on the other hand, may want to wander around and engage with the retail clerks for 45 minutes or more. Different people, different experiences. It’s Gap’s job to understand these experience flows and design around them. That takes programmatic platforms, online CRM, well-trained retail clerks, new approaches to information flows, and a lot of partners.

I believe that every brand needs to get good at experience design and delivery. Those that are great at it tend to grow by exponential word of mouth – think of Google, Facebook, Uber, Airbnb, or Earnest (a new lending company). When marketing becomes experience design, brands win.

There’s far more to say about this, including my thesis that “information first” companies win at experience-based marketing. All fodder for far more posts. For now, I think I’ll retire the maxim “all companies are media companies” and replace it with “every company is an experience company.” Feels more on key.

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NewCo New York 2014: My Chairman’s Picks To Visit

By - August 25, 2014

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Last week I created my schedule for NewCo San Francisco, and wrote about them here. What many folks don’t know is that there are now nine confirmed NewCo festivals around the world. Three weeks after San Francisco, nearly 100 New York companies will be opening their doors and welcoming festival goers in our second annual NewCo New York, Sept. 30th-Oct. 2nd. If you live in NY, or are going there for Advertising Week this Sept.29-October 3rd, please register and visit some of your favorites.

With that in mind, here are my picks for New York.

Day One, Weds. October 1st

tumblr9 am - Tumblr. I knew the company back before it was acquired by Yahoo!, but I have not been back since. I cannot wait to grok the vibe of the place again. This is perhaps the most compelling part of NewCo Festivals for me – the vibe of the company you get simply by being inside the place. Tumblr has not yet uploaded its session description (tick tick, folks!), so I don’t know who is presenting, but it doesn’t matter – I want to get smart about this company once again. Runners up:  Simulmedia and Dstillery. Both are run by great colleagues of mine – so I already know a lot about their businesses. But both are worth a look – as they are disrupting media models in television and advertising, respectively.

foursquare10:30 am – Foursquare. Founder and CEO Dennis Crowley will be presenting Foursquare much-anticipated reboot, and I’m looking forward to hearing about the strategy from the founder’s mouth. Crowley has ridden the hype cycle up, down and now back up again, and I plan to learn as much as I can from that experience. Runners up: Evoke Neuroscience and General Assembly. Evoke is all about wearables and health data, a field I want to learn – but I’ll have to wait. And GA is re-thinking education in the tech space, a burgeoning market that I’m keeping an eye on.

Chartbeat12 pm – Chartbeat. I keep hearing great things about this “attention metrics” company, but know precious little about it. What a great opportunity to learn more and connect to its leaders – as with most NewCo sessions, the presentor is also the CEO. Runners up: Basno, a bitcoin blockchain company, and Glimpse, whose founder is doing a session on the ups and downs of running a startup.

retoy1.30 pm – Retoy. This is a flyer, but who doesn’t want to see a new kind of toy company? The CEO of Retoy will present on overcoming the “jar jar effect” of groupthink inside companies of all sizes. Runners up: RebelMouse and Zeel. RebelMouse is one of my investments and has a great founding team. Zeel is bring massages on demand everywhere – including the NY NewCo session!

MRY3 pm – MRY Group. I’ve always marveled at the work of agencies in the media world, but not spent much time with the creative side of that industry. MRY sounds like a new kind of agency that is rethinking how to work with cutting edge brands. Runners up: The New School and Startup Institute. Both are educational in nature, but very unique. I’ve always wanted to get to know the New School – I may change my sked, it was really a toss up between MRY and The New School. And Startup Institute sounds like a very New York place to hang.

LHV4.30 pm – Lerer Hippeau Ventures. One of the most connected and successful New York venture firms. I just could not pas sup a chance to see how they do what they do. Runners up: Yahoo! and OrderGroove. Yahoo! is always interesting, and I’d love to learn how the New York office feels compared to the Valley. And OrderGroove seems to be onto something really important when it comes to the conversation economy – connecting brands to truly loyal customers.

Day Two, Thursday, October 2

wichcraft9 am - ‘wichcraft. Ya gotta throw in a few curveballs at any NewCo. This is a food purveyor, one I’ve never heard of. But they focus on local and seasonal ingredients, and it’s always good to start your day with a company that has great food! Runners up: NYC Media Lab and NextJump. The NYC Media Lab sounds fascinating – a connector between NYC’s universities and its workplaces. And NextJump is a very “newco” NewCo – it’s mission is dead on to NewCo’s philosophy: “To change the world by changing the workplace.”

casper10.30 am – Casper. “Taking back sleep on bed at a time.” A new kind of company disrupting the totally bullsh*t mattress industry? Yes please! Runners up: Kickstarter and DonorsChose. One has redefined how projects get funded, the other is one of the most powerful and agile philanthropic orgs around. So many great choices!

pave12 pm – Pave. A better way to borrow money for a generation that grew up with the Internet. Fascinating. Runners Up: Parse.ly and Atavist. Both are editorial companies, the former focused on editorial analytics, the latter (and I am an investor) on story telling platforms and quality narrative product.

purpose1.30 pm – Purpose. How do “movements” come together? I hope to learn that and more at Pave’s session, which includes case studies on movement-building around gun safety, the Syrian humanitarian crisis, marriage equality, climate, and more. Runners up: MPOWERD and Aviary. My kids use both these companies’ products, one to solar power his phone, the other to edit her photos on her mobile device.

sprinklr3 pm – Sprinklr. Companies like Sprinklr help brands manage their content marketing streams. As someone with a bit of history in the field, I’m looking forward to finally meeting the team behind Sprinklr. Runners Up: SeatGeek and Animoto. SeakGeek helps fans figure out if they are getting scalped for tickets, and Animoto helps anyone make great videos (I could use the help!).

grubhub4.30 pm – GrubHub. Did anyone think food delivery would be a massive business after Kozmo fell down? Well, it is, and I want to see how GrubHub did it. Runners up: Kenshoo and Capital One Labs. Kenshoo is a very smart marketing automation company, and I’d be quite interested in learning how an old school credit card player is innovating these days….

Once again, 12 companies in two days. And consider this sked subject to change, there are so many great choices, I may well move it around a bit. Then again, as with last year, sessions will fill up quickly, so if you haven’t already, go register and fill out your sked now! NewCo New York promises to be an incredible experience.

My 2014 NewCo SF Schedule: Hard Choices

By - August 14, 2014
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The NewCo award, given to host companies who join the NewCo festival this year.

As I did last year, I picked my NewCo San Francisco schedule early, so I could prepare in advance of the festival this September 10-12. There are nearly 130 extraordinary companies to choose from, so it’s not easy to decide where to spend your time. But decide we must. Here are my choices for this year’s SF festival (there are festivals in Amsterdam, New York, Silicon Valley, LA, Detroit, Boulder, London, and Istanbul so far).

Haven’t heard of NewCo? Learn all about it here. In short, we pick extraordinary companies that are mission-driven and changing the face of our city and our society, and they open their doors to the public for a one hour session on a topic of their choice. It’s free, but if you want to insure that you get into the companies you care about, you can pay a small fee to jump to the head of the line right now. Some companies are already full, others are almost full. When we open General Admission, which is free, they’ll all fill up quickly. So it’s worth $90 to get in where you want to go. Here are the ones I plan to visit:

Day 1 – Thursday September 11

M_128_black9 am – Medium. I’m fascinated by Medium’s rise as a reliable place to find thoughtful and well crafted writing. Founder Ev Williams has been improvising on the theme of publishing platforms for nearly 15 years – first with Blogger, then with Twitter. Medium is a place in between those two, as it relates to the point of view of the creator. It has yet to develop a full throated business model, but I sense one emerging. I’m going to find out more about the company and its people and community. Medium is also one of the Yahoo Media Innovation sessions – a curated track that Yahoo! and NewCo put together to highlight innovative media companies who are participating in NewCo SF.  Runners up: GitHub and Brigade. GitHub has always fascinated me – sure, it’s a code-base repository and developer community, but more importantly, it’s the center of an emerging power class in our society. And Brigade has at its core a mission that fascinates me – it asks the question: Can we leverage new technologies to change our political system?

ACT10:30 am – American Conservatory Theater/The Costume Shop. Look, how often do you get a chance to actually see the backstage magic that creates first-class theatre productions? I’m a total theatre geek, though I don’t get to shows nearly as often as I’d like. I’m hoping to re-kindle my love affair with the stage by seeing behind the ACT’s curtain for the first time. Super excited. Runners Up: The Moxie Institute and Chute. I am a huge fan of filmmaker Tiffany Shlain, who is a pal. Her “Let It Ripple” films on AOL are a huge hit, and her “The Future Starts Here” series is up for an Emmy. And I’m on the Board of Chute, which is a promising startup in the visual discovery, rights management, and adtech publishing market. But for me, NewCo is about new – so I’m going with ACT.

Rickshaw-BagworksNoon - Rickshaw Bagworks. It’s not a bad hop from mid-market, where ACT has set up shop, to Dogpatch, where Rickshaw Bags manufactures its wares. I met the CEO of Rickshaw at last year’s festival, and was inspired by his devotion to quality, community, and local manufacturing. I haven’t gotten a chance to see his digs yet, and I know the tour of his shop will be inspiring. Plus, I am a customer of Rickshaw, I love my Rickshaw backpack. It’s cool to be able to see where it was made.  Runners Up: PUBLIC Bikes and SVAngel. I’m a biker, and I want to understand the rise of the “city bike,” which PUBLIC Bikes creates right in the heart of SF. And while I know folks at SV Angel, I’ve actually never seen their space. It will have to wait till next year, alas!

Earnest-logo1.30 pm – Earnest. When someone leaves Andreessen Horowitz to start a mission-driven company, you know he or she must be pretty, well, driven. In this session, I get a chance to meet the CEO of Earnest, which is a new lending platform with the outsized goal of changing how lending works. Classic NewCo company. Runners Up: the melt and KITE Solutions. I’ve never had a melt sandwich, but I love how the company has grown over the past two years, and wish I could be in two places at once. And KITE, run by my pal Mark Silva, is matching innovative startups to large brands, a business I love. But again, the new beats the known at NewCo for me.

lit-motors-c13:00 pm – Lit Motors. I was so bummed to miss Lit last year, and thrilled they are back at NewCo SF this year. Lit makes new kinds of vehicles, not exactly cars, but not cycles either. I can’t wait to learn about the ideas which inspire these creations. Runners Up: AdStage and City & County of SF. AdStage is a super promising platform for managing marketing – but I’m an investor so I know a fair bit about it. And I love that the Mayor’s office is part of the NewCo platform – their session will provide insights on how the city works with entrepreneurs to tackle big civic problems and opportunities.

Twitter_logo_blue4:30 pm – Twitter. Sure, I get inside Twitter from time to time to meet with friends and colleagues, but this session is going to be different. Twitter is focusing its NewCo session on how it is leaning into community development and philanthropy. This is a critical issue to the mid market area, as well as to all cities who are experiencing a tech-driven boom. Not to be missed. Runners Up: Yahoo!, Pinterest, and DocuSign. Yahoo! continues its reinvention, and this session is an opportunity to learn how it’s going. DocuSign has a tiger by the tail, I’m deeply impressed with what Keith Krach and his team have done there (Krach is a speaker at our VIP Plenary kickoff party, which you can attend by buying a VIP ticket here). And Pinterest is on FIRE. Tough choices here.

Day 2 – Friday, September 12

175686-29c2d3209bfc05aa95c9c509d5bc31b3-medium_jpg9.00 am – Tumml. I’m taking a flyer here, as I know very little about this startup, but I love their mission, which is all about addressing issues of urban environments through public/private partnerships. Also, the session is taking the form of a pitch session, where entrepreneurs in the Tumml program pitch the audience. That should be a blast. Runners Up: Bloomberg and Blossom Coffee. I went to Bloomberg last year and loved seeing behind the scenes of how TV gets made. And who doesn’t need a good cup of Joe at 9 am?!

lemnos10:30 am – Lemnos Labs. This speciality VC firm funds hardware startups. What do I know about hardware? Almost nothing! And that’s why I’m heading to this session. Runners up: TechShop and Salesforce.com. I went to TechShop last year and learned a ton about the new culture of DIY and Big Machines. And Salesforce, which is hosting our plenary VIP event, is a great company doing well by doing good.

FCCNoon – Founders Circle Capital & Shasta Ventures. I’m an advisor to FCC, so I’ve been to their South Park offices. But it’s always good to hang at a homebase during NewCo, and I love FCC’s model of founder-driven secondary financing. A much needed innovation for fast growing companies, plus I get to meet the folks at Shasta. Runners Up: Automattic (just a wonderful company well worth the visit) and Yerdle.

airbnb1.30 pm – Airbnb. OK, so I’ve been wanting to see the new offices ever since they opened last year. I can’t wait to get inside and see how one of the most valuable startups in the world gets its business on. Runners Up: Backplane and Hightail. Backplane has built a platform based on the insights from creating Lady Gaga’s Little Monsters community, and Hightail is competing in the world of Box and Dropbox. Both are run by fascinating entrepreuners.

cloverpop3:00 pm – Cloverpop. Another flyer, but this one seems super cool. The company is attempting to “upgrade how we make decisions” using social data and storytelling. There’s a special invite for their private beta for those who come to the session. Now that’s pretty awesome. Runners Up: SEAGLASS, Delectable, and Scoot. In fact, this is the most difficult hour of the whole festival – so many amazing companies. Please head to SEAGLASS, last year they had pure honey dripping from actual honeycomb. It’s an incredible restaurant. And Delectable is all about wine, and my guess is there’s wine to be had there. And Scoot is just a super cool idea – electric scooter sharing.

jawbone-logo-display4:30 pm – Jawbone. I’m eager to know what’s next from this innovative company – now that Apple has purchase Beats in particular. If not for NewCo, I doubt I’d ever get a chance to visit Jawbone – and that’s kind of the point! Runners Up: Comcast Ventures and Trulia. Comcast Ventures is making a move to be a player in SF VC, and I find any move by Comcast significant these days. And Trulia, recently merged with Zillow, is just a fascinating business.

Wow. That’s a dozen deep dives into companies in just two days. I really love the NewCo concept – I know, I know, I’m Chair of it, after all. But really, where else do you get a chance to get inside so many extraordinary organizations and really experience how they are changing our society? Please, join me and dive in. I’ll see you there!

 

Content Marketing And the New Mainstream

By - July 08, 2014

Content-Marketing(image) On the eve of our third annual P&G Signal (a private event I’ve produced for P&G these past few years) comes this piece in HBR: The Content Marketing Revolution. Just this morning I was reflecting on the speed with which the idea that “all brands are publishers” has moved from evangelical blog post to standard business practice – less than four years since we officially canonized it at FM, and about seven since I first began writing about “conversational marketing” in earnest on this site.

The HBR post notes “Nine out of ten organizations are now marketing with content – that is, going beyond the traditional sales pitches and instead enhancing brands by publishing (or passing along) relevant information, ideas, and entertainment that customers will value. The success of content marketing has radicalized the way companies communicate.”

That’s quite a shift in what is, by the standards of media and marketing, a very, very short time. Back in 2007 (!) I wrote a post that pointed to early examples of content marketing in a social and digital context, and offered a framework for why this nascent movement made sense. In it, I said:

Marketers are realizing that while it’s fine to advertise in traditional ways (Hey! This movie is about to open! Hey! Check out the cool new car/product, etc.), it’s now an option to begin a dialog with the folks who you hope are noticing your ads. In fact, it might even be a great experience for all involved. Brands might hear criticisms that are valid, and have the chance, through conversations with customers, to address those critiques. Customers have the chance to give their input on new versions of products, ask questions, learn more – in other words, have a dialog.

And in the end, isn’t having a dialog with your customers what business, and brands, are supposed to be about?

We’re still early in the shift to conversational marketing, and not all brands are excellent at it. But even the most traditional brands are now deeply engaged in figuring out how to be part of conversations that matter to them. And that’s a very good thing. Content marketing has birthed native advertising, which has given new life to independent publications like Quartz and Vox. And it’s become the lifeblood of massive platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and LinkedIn. In short, content marketing is working.

Sure, there are as many examples of flat footed or poorly thought-out executions as there are screaming successes, but again, we’re just getting started. Brands are finding their voice, and we, their audiences, will determine the value they add by our response to what they have to say.

To Win The Newsfeed, Facebook Should Put Its Users In Control

By - April 01, 2014


Lost in the latest Facebook kerfuffle (if you’ve missed it, read this cheeky Eat24 post, and the hundreds of articles it prompted) is the fact that we all seemed quite confused about what Facebook’s newsfeed is supposed to be. Is it an intimate channel for peer to peer communication, where you stay in touch with people who matter to you? Is is a place you go to find out what’s happening in the world at large, a watercooler of sorts, a newspaper, as Zuckerberg has said? Is it a marketing channel, where any brand can pay for the right to pitch you things based on your stated or inferred interests? Is it all of these things? Can it be?

We’re in the midst of finding out. Of course, I have an opinion. It boils down to this: Facebook’s newsfeed should be what I tell it to be, not what Facebook – or anyone else – tells me it should be. If I want to fill my newsfeed with Eat24 sushi porn, then it should be brimming with it. If I tell it to only show musings from Dwight Schrute and  Marc Cuban, then that’s what I want to see. If I love what Mickey D’s is posting and want to see the best of their posts as determined by engagement, then Big Mac me. And if I prefer to keep it to my immediate family, then damnit, show me that.

If the cost of giving me that kind of control is that I have to see a marketer’s post every five or six entries, I’m cool with that. That’s what Twitter does, and it doesn’t bother me, it’s table stakes, I get it. But what I think Facebook’s got wrong is where they’ve instrumented the controls. Facebook spends an inordinate amount of time and energy tweaking a black box set of algorithms to figure out what it thinks I want in my feed, boiling an ever-larger ocean of content into a stream of stuff it believes I want. For reasons I can’t fathom, it doesn’t give me the chance to truly curate my feed, beyond some clunky lists and filters which, from what I can tell, are only good for blocking people or indicating preference for a particular feed (but not saying, for example, “show me everything from this source.”)

Facebook is therefore viewed as paternalistic – it has a vibe of “we’ll figure out what’s best to show you.” You have *some* input into the feed, but you are not encouraged to actively curate it the way you can curate friends or brands on Instagram or Twitter (and I think both have a long way to go as well). I think Facebook could trump all this debate once and for all by putting the end-user of its service in charge, and iterating the newsfeed based on that feedback. Scary, perhaps, but ultimately liberating and, more importantly, truly authentic. Over time, the value will accrue back. As we say around the office at NewCo, give (control) to get (benefit back).

 

We Have Yet to Clothe Ourselves In Data. We Will.

By - March 12, 2014

SenatorTogaWe are all accustomed to the idea of software “Preferences” – that part of the program where you can personalize how a particular application looks, feels, and works. Nearly every application that matters to me on my computer – Word, Keynote, Garage Band, etc. –  have preferences and settings.

On a Macintosh computer, for example, “System Preferences” is the control box of your most important interactions with the machine.

I use the System Preferences box at least five times a week, if not more.

And of course, on the Internet, there’s a yard sale’s worth of preferences: I’ve got settings for Twitter, Facebook, WordPress, Evernote, and of course Google – where I probably have a dozen different settings, given I have multiple identities there, and I use Google for mail, calendar, docs, YouTube, and the like.

preferencesAny service I find important has settings. It’s how I control my interactions with The Machine. But truth is, Preferences are no fun. And they should be.

The problem: I mainly access preferences when something is wrong. In the digital world, we’ve been trained to see “Preferences” as synonymous with “Dealing With Shit I Don’t Want To Deal With.” I use System Preferences, for example, almost exclusively to deal with problems: Fixing the orientation of my monitors when moving from work to home, finding the right Wifi network, debugging a printer, re-connecting a mouse or keyboard to my computer.  And I only check Facebook or Google preferences to fix things too – to opt out of ads, resolve an identity issue, or  enable some new software feature. Hardly exciting stuff.

Put another way, Preferences is a “plumbing” brand – we only think about it when it breaks.

But what if we thought of it differently? What if managing your digital Preferences was more like….managing your wardrobe?

A few years back I wrote The Rise of Digital Plumage, in which I posited that sometime soon we’ll be wearing the equivalent of “digital clothing.” We’ll spend as much time deciding how we want to “look” in the public sphere of the Internet as we do getting dressed in the morning (and possibly more). We’ll “dress ourselves in data,” because it will become socially important – and personally rewarding –  to do so. We’ll have dashboards that help us instrument our wardrobe, and while their roots will most likely stem from the lowly Preference pane, they’ll soon evolve into something far more valuable.

This is a difficult idea to get your head around, because right now, data about ourselves is warehoused on huge platforms that live, in the main, outside our control. Sure, you can download a copy of your Facebook data, but what can you *do* with it? Not much. Platforms like Facebook are doing an awful lot with your data – that’s the trade for using the service. But do you know how Facebook models you to its partners and advertisers? Nope. Facebook (and nearly all other Internet services) keep us in the dark about that.

We lack an ecosytem that encourages innovation in data use, because the major platforms hoard our data.

This is retarded, in the nominal/verb sense of the word. Facebook’s picture of me is quite different from Google’s, Twitter’s, Apple’s, or Acxiom’s*. Imagine what might happen if I, as the co-creator of all that data, could share it all with various third parties that I trusted? Imagine further if I could mash it up with other data entities – be they friends of mine, bands I like, or even brands?

Our current model of data use, in which we outsource individual agency over our data to huge factory farms, will soon prove a passing phase. We are at once social and individual creatures, and we will embrace any technology that allows us to express who we are through deft weavings of our personal data – weavings that might include any number of clever bricolage with any number of related cohorts. Fashion has its tailors, its brands, its designers and its standards (think blue jeans or the white t-shirt). Data fashion will develop similar players.

Think of all the data that exists about you – all those Facebook likes and posts, your web browsing and search history, your location signal, your Instagrams, your supermarket loyalty card, your credit card and Square and PayPal purchases, your Amazon clickstream, your Fitbit output – think of each of these as threads which might be woven into a fabric, and that fabric then cut into a personalized wardrobe that describes who you are, in the context of how you’d like to be seen in any given situation.

Humans first started wearing clothing about 170,000 years ago. “Fashion” as we know it today is traced to the rise of European merchant classes in the 14th century. Well before that, clothing had become a social fact. A social fact is a stricture imposed by society – for example, if you don’t wear clothing, you are branded as something of a weirdo.

Clothing is an extremely social artifact –  *what* you wear, and how, are matters of social judgement and reciprocity. We obsess over what we wear, and we celebrate those “geniuses” who have managed to escape this fact (Einstein and Steve Jobs both famously wore the same thing nearly every day).

There’s another reason the data fabric of your life is not easily converted into clothing – because at the moment, digital clothing is not a social fact. There’s no social pressure for your “look” a certain way, because thanks our outsourcing of our digital identity to places like Facebook, Twitter, and Google+, we all pretty much look the same to each other online. As I wrote in Digital Plumage:

How strange is it that we as humans have created an elaborate, branded costume culture to declare who we are in the physical world, but online, we’re all pretty much wearing khakis and blue shirts?

At it relates to data, we are naked apes, but this is about to change. It’s far too huge an opportunity.

Consider: The global clothing industry grosses more than $1 trillion annually. We now spend more time online that we do watching television. And as software eats the world, it turns formerly inanimate physical surroundings into animated actors on our digital stage. As we interact with these data lit spaces, we’ll increasingly want to declare our preferences inside them via digital plumage.

An example. Within a few years, nearly every “hip” retail store will be lit with wifi, sensors, and sophisticated apps. In other words, software will eat the store. Let’s say you’re going into an Athleta outlet. When you enter, the store will know you’ve arrived, and begin to communicate with your computing device – never mind if its Glass, a mobile phone, or some other wearable.  As the consumer in this scenario, won’t you want to declare “who you are” to the retail brand’s sensing device? That’s what you do in the real world, no? And won’t you want to instrument your intent – provide signal to that store that will allow the store to understand your intent? And wouldn’t the “you” at Athleta be quite different from, say, the “you” that you become when shopping at Whole Foods or attending a Lord Huron concert?

Then again, you could be content with whatever profile Facebook has on you, (or Google, or ….whoever). Good luck with that.

I believe we will embrace the idea of describing and declaring who we are through data, in social context. It’s wired into us. We’ve evolved as social creatures. So I believe we’re at the starting gun of a new industry. One where thousands of participants take our whole data cloth and stitch it into form, function, and fashion for each of us. Soon we’ll have a new kind of “Preferences” – social preferences that we wear, trade, customize, and buy and sell.

In a way, younger generations are already getting prepared for such a world – what is the selfie but a kind of digital dress up?

Lastly, as with real clothing, I believe brands will be the key driving force in the rise of this industry. As I’m already over 1,000 words, I’ll write more on that idea in another post. 

*(fwiw, I am on Acxiom’s board)

How Facebook Changed Us, and How We Might Change Again

By - February 05, 2014

keep-calm-and-love-data-2(image) If you weren’t under a rock yesterday, you know Facebook turned ten years old this week (that’s a link to a Zuckerberg interview on the Today Show, so yep, hard to miss). My favorite post on the matter (besides Sara’s musings here and here – she was at Harvard with Zuck when the service launched) is from former Facebook employee Blake Ross, who penned a beauty about the “Rules” that have fallen over the past ten years. Re/code covers it  here, and emphasizes how much has changed in ten years – what was once sacred is now mundane. To wit:

- No, you can’t let moms join Facebook because Facebook is for students.

- No, you can’t put ads in newsfeed because newsfeed is sacred.

- No, you can’t allow people to follow strangers because Facebook is for real-world friends.

- No, you can’t launch a standalone app because integration is our wheelhouse.

- No, you can’t encourage public sharing because Facebook is for private sharing.

- No, you can’t encourage private sharing because Facebook is moving toward public sharing.

- No, you can’t encourage public sharing because Facebook is moving toward ultra-private sharing between small groups.

And this one’s a snapchat with about 3 seconds left, so hurry up and bludgeon someone with it:

- No, you can’t allow anonymity because Facebook is built on real identity.

None of these pillars came down quietly. They crashed with fury, scattering huddles of shellshocked employees across watering holes like dotted brush fires after a meteor strike.

Re/code ends its post with “makes you wonder what might change in the next 10 years.” Well yes, it certainly does.

A close read of Ross’ post leaves me wondering about “informational personhood.” He considers all the change at Facebook, and his role in it as an sometimes frustrated employee, concluding that what he got from the experience was perspective:

It took me probably half a dozen meteoric nothings before I learned how to stop worrying and love the bomb. A congenital pessimist, I gradually began to see the other side of risk. Now, when the interns wanted to mix blue and yellow, I could squint and see green; but I thought the sun might still rise if everything went black. I felt calmer at work. I began to mentor the newer hires who were still afraid of meteors. Today I watch Facebook from a distance with 1.2 billion other survivors, and my old fears charm like the monster under the bed: I couldn’t checkmate this thing in a single move even if I wanted to. But even now, I know someone over there is frantically getting the band back together.

Fortunately, this blossoming resilience followed me home from work:

My very chemistry has changed. In relationships, hobbies, and life, I find myself fidgeting in the safe smallness of the status quo. I want more from you now, and I want more from myself, and I’m less afraid of the risks it’ll take to get there because I have breathed through chaos before and I believe now—finally—that we’ll all still be here when the band stops playing.

This is, of course, just a staple of adulthood. It’s what we were missing that night when meteors left us crater-faced for senior prom and we all thought our lives were over. It’s called perspective, and it’s the best thing I got from growing up Facebook.

Hmmm. So many things to ponder here. The constant renegotiation of the rules at Facebook changed his “very chemistry.” A fascinating observation – heated debate about the rules of our social road made Ross a different person. Did this happen to us all? Is it happening now? For example, are we, as a culture, “getting used to” having the policies around our informational identities – our “infopersons” – routinely renegotiated by a corporate entity?

I think so far the answer is yes. I’m not claiming that’s wrong, per se, but rather, it is interesting and noteworthy. This perspective that Ross speaks of – this “growing up” – it bears more conversation, more exploration. What are the “Rules” right now, and will they change in ten years, or less? (And these “Rules” need not be only internal to Facebook – I mean “Rules” from the point of view of ourselves as informational people.)

Some that come to mind for me include:

- I don’t spend that much of my time thinking about the information I am becoming, but when I do, it makes me uneasy.

- I can always change the information that is known about me, if it’s wrong, but it’s a huge PITA.

- I can always access the information that is known about me, if I really want to do the work (but the truth is, I usually don’t).

- I know the information about me is valuable, but I don’t expect to derive any monetary value from it.

- It’s OK for the government to have access to all this information, because we trust the government. (Like it or not, this is in fact true by rule of law in the US).

- It’s OK for marketers to have information about me, because it allows for free Internet services and content. (Ditto)

- I understand that most of the information that makes up my own identity is controlled by large corporations, because in the end, I trust they have my best interests at heart (and if not, I can always leave).

What rules do you think much of our society currently operates under? And are they up for renegotiation, or are we starting to set them in stone?

Get Out of Your Office, And Into The Modern Working City: OpenCo SF Is Live!

By - September 19, 2013

Openco113I’m bustin’ with pride to announce that after great festivals in London, New York, and Detroit, OpenCo is returning next month to its home base of San Francisco, and the lineup is 135 companies strong*.

For those who haven’t heard about it before, OpenCo is an “inside out” event – instead of going into a ballroom and hearing CEOs talk at you, you go to literally inside their companies, and interact with the people and the cultures that are changing our world. It’s a really cool idea, and it’s really, really a different experience.

Oh, and it’s free. As in, no cost.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a business if we didn’t have an upgrade from free: you can buy various levels of upgrades that get you early access to picking just the companies you want to visit –  last year, many companies sold out the same week that the schedule picker went live. And guess what – the schedule picker is now LIVE! So….go register.

If you upgrade to “Reserved” you’ll get early access to the picker – that’s just $95. If you want to go to the Plenary, which is a VIP cocktail before the event kicks off, featuring Mayor Ed Lee, Ron Conway, Airbnb’s Brian Chesky, Rickshaw’s Mark Dwight, and more, well, that’ll cost more – a “Backstage” pass is $495. But you also get access to the picker right now, as in, first. General admission, you get to pick your companies at the end of this month.

In any case, it’s a great event. I’m so proud of it, and I hope you’ll support it in any way you can**. The spirit of open communication, open collaboration, and the open Internet are alive and well and driving change and innovation in San Francisco. Come see it this October!

* Host OpenCos include the American Conservatory Theatre, Cloudera, Code For America, Eventbrite, Github, Google, IFTTT, Jawbone, Nextdoor, Presidio Trust, Project Frog, Rickshaw Bags, Salesforce, Scoot Network, Sidecar, SVAngel, Wired and many more.

** Huge thanks to American Express OPEN Forum, Yahoo!, and the InterPublic Group of Companies, among many others, for helping make this possible. 

 

Thoughts on Ford’s OpenXC: In The Future, Brands With Open Data Will Win

By - August 18, 2013

Ford Open XCI spent today at the first-ever Boing Boing Ingenuity, a two-day hackathon cum “vaudeville show” – truly Boing Boing brought to life. It made me so proud to see the essence of conversational marketing at work – a major brand adding deep value to a community, an independent publisher realizing its dream of celebrating its voice and community through a unique event that built up online over many months.

Here’s the Twitter stream. It was really great. And the main insight I took away was this: Brands will soon have no choice but to become data (because we are all becoming data, after all). A car creates tons of data every mile it is driven, for example. Faced with this fact, how might a car brand respond? It could see that data as its private asset, put up fences around it, and make that data really difficult for the driver (and society at large) to access. Or, it could act like Ford did, and tack in the direction of openness.

Ford has created a platform called OpenXC that opens APIs into 50 or so data streams coming out of your car. On the first day of Ingenuity, teams of makers, hackers, and regular folks came up with amazing ideas that leveraged Ford’s innovative platform. For example, one team built an app that senses when a pet or child is in your car, then monitors the car’s internal temperature. If it gets too hot, this app can lower the windows, turn on the AC, and text the car’s owner. I mean, how cool is that?!

Boing Boing’s editors presented the winners on stage on Sunday during Ingenuity, a day long celebration of, well, the weird and wonderful people and ideas that make Boing Boing, Boing Boing. There was a hack that turned driving data into music – if you drive aggressively and waste resources, the music gets aggravating. If you drive well, it gets soothing. Another hack interpreted braking, steering, and other information into new signals for other drivers – imagine a taillight flashing “Thank you!’ when someone lets you merge into oncoming traffic, for example. Yet another hack took all that data and turned it into a “cost per trip” dashboard that gamifies driving and encourages you to drive in a way that saves money.

These kinds of innovations can only occur in an ecosystem of openness. As our society tips toward one based on data, our collective decisions around how that data can be used will determine what kind of a culture we live in. And what I observed at Ingenuity strengthened my belief that companies that lean into an open approach to data will win. There will soon be streams of data coming from all manner of products – appliances, clothing, sporting goods, you name it. Wouldn’t you rather live in a world where you can export the data from your son’s football helmet to a new app that monitors force and impact against a cohort of high school players around the country? Or would a better world be one where Riddell Inc. owns and controls that data?

Way back in 2008 I wrote a piece about Facebook and data called It’s Time For Services on The Web to Compete On More Than Data. My point was this: winning on a strategy of data lockdown is a short-term play. What matters is the service you provide on top of that data. For companies like Ford, the key won’t be to lock in customer data and try to be the best at leveraging your proprietary insights. It’ll be allowing your customers to take that data out, remix it into a robust ecosystem, and feed it back to your company and products, so they can get better. Companies will compete on how they best leverage a customer’s data, not on whether or not they’ve locked those customers’ data assets in (are you listening, cable companies?!).

Of course, a true test of this optimistic scenario will come when GM, Toyota, or other car companies join Ford in offering a data platform, and a long-time Ford customer buys a Chevy. Will Ford let that customer take their data over to GM? Time will tell, but I know where I come down: Openness and portability will win in the end.