Saturday, 26 July 2008

How the internet is changing everything

I'm switching gears now to talk about how the internet is changing the media and much of the old social order along with it...This statement is not hyperbole.

As many of the early internet related
predictions have now come to pass, I stand by this statement while admitting the pace of change has been slower than expected and that some of the most radical activity is still happening on the fringes. Watch Joanne Jacob's guide to microblogging/lifecasting on 2gether08 to see what I mean - she speaks convincingly about the importance of Twitter - esp. hashtags - as a means of tracking and accessing information of relevance/interest - yet only 1% of the internet users are currently using Twitter. While I acknowledge that the drivers for change are different for each sector, I don't believe many market sectors are immune and here is why.

With internet enabled media fragmentation and the parallel rise of social networks/media, the way people get news/info and increasingly entertainment is changing. This means social change on many different levels - new business models, industry (re)structures as well as career trajectories and consequently skillsets and educational requirements.

Let's look at journalism, for example. As Paul Bradshaw at Birmingham City University points out in an excellent recent
blog entry, the traditional print media industry is downsizing with the rise of internet self-publishing. The article talks about how journalistic skill sets are evolving so fast that many journalism schools can't keep up - the capacity to curate and work across a wide range of media platforms will become as, if not more, important than the craft of writing. This analysis applies to many fields. The related world of advertising is another one but there are many more.

The need to change has a different effect on everyone and so the pace of change is as much about people as it is about technology. I am fortunate to meet many fascinating people through my work but the ones I admire the most are the entrepreneurs who are leading the charge.

Here are a few of my favourite new business models - I'm always looking for more examples, so please share them with me. A good source is Start Up Squad.
Traditional (yet progressive) organisations are paying heed: 4IP, Channel4's new 50M fund is just one example. In my mind, all of these initiatives are worth watching, supporting and, ideally, participating in.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Social networking goes mobile

A logical next step in the evolution of social networks is mobility, i.e. using social networks while on the move , geo-locating friends old and new for spontaneous get togethers, allowing your location to be tracked in real-time for all or some to see, etc. While it is easy to see a host of related privacy and safety issues, if managed properly, what fun mobile social networking could be.

Typically, Asian markets (in particular Japan, Korea and China) are ahead in this regard with many mobile extensions of existing social networks as well as bespoke mobile networks already doing well. Early US market feedback indicates: ".. .there could be demand, particularly from teens and young adults. Already, 33.2% of 18- to 24-year-old Americans post photos to Web sites via mobile phones, according to mobile consultancy M:Metrics." Business Week, 2006

Given that mobiles are the constant companion of most young people today, it is easy to envisage a future of mobile social networking. The fact that Google now own Dodgeball is a sign of future directions. The links below are indicative of some of the mobile social networking activity currently taking place but not an endorsement of them (more in depth reviews to follow at a later date):

The real coup for these networks will be physical presence detection, and although this feature is on the horizon for most, consumer adoption will be key. With some real innovation on that front happening, particularly in Europe, hopefully, the critical mass of users required to make mobile social networking a success will soon be reached. If the technology (esp. GPS) delivers a seamless user experience and people find it useful, they will no doubt succeed.

Swarms and swarm marketing

Self-organising communities inspired by nature is how I describe Ken Thompson's Swarm Teams or Tribes as he now refers to them. Ken created a manifesto published on Change This which was the beginning of his new enterprise. He studied bees, geese, dolphins and derived that the collective leadership typically found in the animal world was something that we humans could beneficially apply in our own undertakings.

The resulting software platform underpinned by the collective leadership philosophy enables group messaging by email, IM or SMS via an easy to use web or mobile interface. He envisaged swarms to be primarily used in the workplace, but the software has many possible applications. Currently sponsored by Nesta, it is being used by unsigned bands to help them manage their fan base. This could be a great opportunity for the music industry to identify and promote up-and-coming talent and of course many possible brand and cause uses also exist.


I first learned about HP's Mscapers software while at Futurelab where it was used for the previously mentioned Savannah project, amongst other things. Fast-foward 3 years later, and I came into contact with it again.

This time, it was thanks to Katz Kiely of b.tween, who invited me to participate in an Exploding Narrative panel sponsored by HPLabs and the Arts Council of England to look at how the mediascape software could be pushed forward even further.

The software has been continuously improving and growing in popularity with a wide ranging fanbase of practioners, academics and artists keen to help HP with its evolution. Deciding that crowdsourcing was definitely the way forward, a public call for ideas was held using a 'live commissioning' model.

I, and indeed the whole audience at the ICA, gave feedback to the short listed 5, who then refined their pitches which were made at b.tween 08 in Manchester in June. Although all had their strengths, the winning entry was Ben Dalton's 'Our Music, Our City', which will enable people to access a local musical soundscape as they traverse their city, in this case, Leeds. Although piloted there, it most certainly has potential for roll-out throughout the UK and beyond.

Those familiar with mediascapes will know that they are an emerging media platform with the potential to enrich a physical journey or experience with myriad digital content.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

From low tech to high tech

After OneWorld, I went to work at Futurelab in Brisol, a thinktank and ideaslab, focusing on digital applications in education. It was a fascinating place to work where the projects were not only innovative but helped children learn. An underlying premise of Futurelab is that educational software needs to become more sophisticated to meet the needs of digital natives, i.e. young people growing up using computuers, playing console games, etc.

A few mobile prototypes in particular stood out for me. First, was Savannah where with the aid of a PDA students became a pride of lions working together to make sure the pride survived. Next, Mudlarking in Deptford enabled students to go on a guided tour of the riverbed where they could also leave their own commentary in the form of photos and text. Finally, Fizzees, a piece of wearable technology, encouraged students to stay active in order to keep their Fizzee healthy. What all of these projects shared was a high-level of engagement with students as active learners - if only we had such things when I was in school - what fun!

Futurelab is an exciting place with a great website that is always worth a visit. They also extensively publish research including their Handbook on Handheld Learning. All of these resources are free.


I forgot to mention, the inspiration behind Mobile4Good was Daniel Annerose of Manobi who I met in Senegal. At the time his pioneering company was providing market prices to farmers and fishermen. He was a wonderful person to meet. The BBC covered his story back in 2002. He is still shaping the market in Africa and beyond and has also launched a foundation. Someone well worth watching.


When I worked at Oneworld back in 2001-2004, I was fortunate to get funding from the Vodafone Group Foundation to start a digital equality project in Kenya. It was designed to provide content via mobile phones (in this case by SMS) to give people access information about health, jobs and community news (starting in Kibera) that could help improve their life chances.

The idea was to make it a social enterprise, rather than a donor funded project, so it would have a better chance at sustainability. At the time, people were skeptical about whether or not it would work and discouraged us from even trying. In particular, they did not think the informal labour market could be organised. I'm proud to say, that four years on, it is not only thriving, but the model is being used in other markets as part of a social franchise business model which Accenture has invested in.

To find out more visit:,,

Mobile for starters

To start, I'm going to focus on mobile as in my mind, it the most exciting aspect of digital communications and it is highly transformative on so many different levels , e.g. language, art, cutlure, access to information, education, social movements, business, etc.

I'm going to share some of my favourite initiatives and hope to cover a number of themes including youth culture, social activism, CSR, health, community activation and anything else that catches my fancy.

My first dabbling with the telco sector occurred way back in 2000 when I was at and we were building the website for our client One2One - now T-Mobile. For a number of reasons I would rather forget about that experience. Thank heavens more interesting ones have come along since then. Although learning the term ARPU has come in handy in all my subsequent dealings with telcos.