Reflections on class 8/18/08

August 20, 2008

The last class session. left me with that classic feeling of “Now I know how much I don’t know.”  From the student summaries of “Wikinomics” and “Here Comes Everybody,” these books seemed to be further takes on the mass-collaboration, non-market driven production model advanced in “Wealth of Networks” and “The Future of the Internet.”  I’ve certainly come to understand this phenomenon in this class, but I’m as skeptical as ever that mass participation paradigm is going to mature into an enduring threat to profit-driven enterprises.  In hindsight, a model that I wished we had discussed are the t-shirt and sneaker companies who solicit designs from their customer community and then have the community vote on the winners, who are then compensated.   Not exactly collaboration, but it does tap into one of the driving forces of network production – the gratification that participants derive from contributing.  Plus, it adds the profit incentive for the competitors and  “American Idol” component of getting to vote.

“We Are All Journalists Now” is a concept I have more trouble with, so perhaps I should read it. If all bloggers are journalists, then “journalist” loses its meaning, anyone can demand a press pass, and a mafia soldier could start a blog and refuse to testify in a murder trial under the premise of protecting his journalistic sources.

Along with my skepticism about the viability of networked production, I left the class with a greater curiosity for the potential of net-based market-driven production models.


Reflections on class 8/4/08

August 6, 2008

It was a real treat to have Howard Rheingold make his appearance, and, of course, I was tickled that he started with my question about “How come with all our web-facilitated transparency into politicians and our smart-mob-organizing technology, we have fewer protests in the US than 40 years ago?” Howard didn’t actually answer the question, and, in general, his answers lofted at the altitude of the Big Picture. I’m sure some students were hoping that he’d get more specific than “Follow your bliss” in his answer to Christy’s request for vocational guidance. I personally liked that his answers had the perspective of someone, who, like me, was already in mid-life when this Internet thing came along.

Watching the Benkler video, having the full group discussion and then doing the small group exercise of trying to come up with viable ideas for social production projects made me think that perhaps I was too easy on Benkler in my review of TWoN. My point that the social production model seems to have to sharp limitations to its application (e.g., forget narrative art) was driven home when we strained to brainstorm a real project or two. I don’t recall any that were proposed that lit up the scoreboard or that wouldn’t seem to require a full-time administrator. As with TLT, I think it remains to be seen whether the shining examples the authors site as the basis for their predictions are forerunners or anomalies.

I’ve not included tags with this post because I don’t really want it turning up in other people’s searches or showing up on their Google alerts.

Refelections on Media Economics: advertising and social production

July 28, 2008

In keeping with the objective, textbook-style editorial posture it maintains throughout, in its chapter on advertising, Media Economics acknowledges the popular divide on the subject:

“Advertising is both attacked as a monopolistic and wasteful practice and defended a promoting competition and lowering the cost that consumers pay for goods.” [p.248]

Advertising especially lowers the cost of what we pay for information goods, as illustrated by the example of how the NY Times simultaneously lowered subscription costs to consumers and raised advertising rates as a result of the increased circulation.

The debate over the merits and perniciousness of advertising has continued full pitch in digital media arena. Online advertising seems to rouse even more populist ire than direct mail, in part, I believe, because we think of the Internet as a public good (p. 295), as nonrivalrous and nonexcludable as media has been yet, at least for those of us on the lucky side of the digital divide. An advertising-free Internet is an idealistic extension of the Information should be free ethic. To the capitalism-weary, advertising is glaring, galling evidence that the Internet is being bought up, parceled and sold out by the same oligopolies that control traditional media.

One of the revolutionary prospects of social production offered by Benkler in The Wealth of Networks is that non-market-based production will “present new sources of competition to incumbents that produce information goods…” (p. 122). And since these new production entities aren’t in it for the money like the Firms they compete with, they won’t exact the price of making us endure pre-roll advertising with out videos or even Google ads with our encyclopedias.

Social production success stories such as open source software and Wikipedia certainly validate the potential, but the jury is still out as to how deeply and broadly social production will compete with the profit-driven industrial information complex. No matter how powerful our emotional and altruistic motivations to participate in social production, quality has inevitable financial costs, and if social production infrastructures are going to proliferate beyond the limited number that can be bankrolled by benefactors, revenue (not profit), is essential.

I would challenge advocates of social production to look at advertising afresh, not as toxic waste from the capitalist media model, but as biofuel for the social production factories. As Google has demonstrated, advertising that is informative, non-intrusive and highly relevant to users can be hardly annoying at all, and even helpful. Social production enterprises have enormous potential to build unique, informed and highly engaged communities of producer-consumers — very attractive audiences for advertisers. A successful social production enterprise could not only be very selective about the types and volume of advertising it features; it could promise advertisers highly efficient targeting, charge premium rates and effectively compete with its profit-driven counterparts at their very own game.

Reflections on class, 7-21-08

July 23, 2008

Mike Culver’s presentation about Amazon’s foray into web and Mechanical Turk services was an interesting look at Amazon’s diversification strategy. Neither is an obvious logical extension of Amazon’s core business, and both are good examples of lateral thinking on how to leverage brand assets. As Mike explained, web services arose from asking the question, “What have we learned from having to deploy all these servers, bandwidth and XML apps?” In that respect, Amazon is leveraging their intellectual capital. It’s more challenging to connect the dots from Amazon’s core business to Mechanical Turk. Was the question, “What’s another way we take advantage of all this traffic?” Or was it an inspiration that appeared from completely outside the box?

Mechanical Turk: the definitive Long Tail employment agency.
I registered to provide labor on Mechanical Turk today but haven’t been inspired to take advantage of any of the, um, opportunities, such as:

Provide links to RV park information for $0.01
Extract meeting data Information from websites for $0.08
Write a review of a car you’ve driven for $0.20

I did a rough calculation of the time it would take me to test drive enough cars to review at $0.20 each in order to earn what I would earn from one hour of writing a car commercial . If I drove and reviewed 3 cars per day (I’d have to do this part-time, of course), it would take me nearly six months. My inner net-economist says that this would not be a good career move. Extracting meeting data from websites for $0.08 may be the way to go.

Bless you, Malcolm Gladwell.
I do some consulting through another consultant who helps companies and non-profits sort out their branding and positioning. He conducts workshops with the client’s staff to identify key values, positioning statements, product benefits, customer propositions, prospective visual themes, brand identity colors, etc. He then tests these online through Survey Monkey with several hundred respondents who represent a demographic roughly approximating that of the client company’s target market. If, say, one visual theme scores a narrow victory over the visual theme #2, it is declared the winner and the one that should be deployed in creative executions, which is my department. Convincing him that a creative execution using theme #2 would be more effective for a particular application is always a struggle because “the research says that the audience responds better to #1.” I will now tie him to a chair and make him watch Gladwell on the wisdom of “perfect sauces” – plural. Thank you, Kathy.

Information should be free.
No it shouldn’t. Information should be reasonably priced, and reward the creator well enough to enable and encourage her to create more, and long enough after her death to get her kids through college and provide for her pets to be cared for in a Leona Helmsley Pet Hotel. But I had my say in class, so I’ll turn this one over to the student blogosphere.

Refelections on class, 7/14/08

July 16, 2008

T.A. McCann has obviously devoted a great deal of attention to focusing on how we use technology, particularly collaborative technology all the way down to email, to identify our pain and how his entrepreneurial efforts might alleviate it.

His business focus on the nexus of Community, Communication and Data Assets is a result of asking Where is all this going? (Community); What’s essential to facilitating it (Communication); and What can I provide that the people who want to do this better will pay for (Data Assets).

His latest venture, MineBox, squarely answers those questions, while also tapping into the leading issues on Chris Anderson’s Top Trends List: the Long Tail, and the limitless sources of information competing for our limited time and attention. MineBox seems like a killer app for T.A.’s low-hanging fruit — power salespeople and those who want to have any advantage over everyone else in the room when it comes to having the latest scoop on everyone else in the room.

Getting betting information in less time, and spending less time on low-return activities are current priorities of mine, so I followed T.A.’s link to the interview with Tim Ferris, author of “The Four Hour Work Week,” which I read a few months ago. Ferris outsources the labor of filtering his email.  I recommend the interview for the time-challenged like myself.  Or do I?  I devoted 30 minutes to watching the interview and another 30 to checking out various outsourcing and time-tracking sites Ferris mentioned — an hour I had scheduled to use for a work-related task that I can’t outsource, and which I now have to claw back by bumping something else on my To Do list.  Be careful our there.

Reflections on Class – 7/7/08

July 9, 2008

I hadn’t read “Should You Invest in the Long Tail?” by class time and didn’t initially grasp the heart of the Elberse’s position from the abstract presentations. Now that I’ve read it and the authors’ responses to each other, I see why the discussion leaders were challenged to sum up the disagreement, since Anderson and Elberse have differing definitions of the Head and Tail.

What I think is valid about Elberse’s position is her general caveats to not assume that :  1) hits are going away anytime soon, or that they have less significance in shaping consumer buying habits; or 2) because obscure products are more discoverable and purchasable out there in the Long Tail, enough people are going to buy them to make a Long Tail business model viable, unless your aggregation and distribution costs are near zero.

Jeff ‘s discussion on “How Not to Build an Online Market” was also cautionary, a good summary of what when wrong when propane entrepreneurs  tried to eliminate the middle man, only to discover that the middle man also served as the Customer Service department in a highly problem-prone transaction chain.

What is it about cautionary Internet tales that have a subjective appeal for me?  Perhaps it’s a personal weariness with a type of irrational exuberance among a breed of digerati who are over-eager to declare that “X is now dead!”  Examples of X include Advertising, Broadcast TV, The Water Cooler, Movie Critics, Boy Bands and Paying Sticker Price.

Whatever annoys you, there’s bound to be a digital trend watcher predicting that the Internet will do us all a favor any day now by shoving X onto the cultural ice flow.  These prognosticators are, of course, hoping their prediction will be a hit, as epitomized by Anderson’s deserved success with “The Long Tail.”  This may be why the most feverish of them can’t just get excited about the new thing that’s on its way in; the new thing/trend/Web 2.0 phenomenon must be cast as being so revolutionary that it will drive a stake through the heart of some current, irritating or unfair thing so as to make a little more room for us to embrace it.

But I have to admit that one great thing about this Internet is that I can make sweeping opinionated generalizations like that without citing any sources.

Personal learning goals for Net-centric Economics

July 2, 2008

My goals for the class are to acquire an understanding of:
• the principles classic economics theory
• how the dynamics of net-centric economics conform to and diverge from the principles of classic economics
• specific reasons, related to the above principles and dynamics, why various net-centric business models have succeeded or failed
• the strengths and weaknesses of networked production models

• enhance my ability to evaluate the viability of net-centric ventures, especially the ones that pop into my head
• get over my proprietary resistance to the concept of user-generated content (specifically in advertising) and identify opportunities to harness it for the benefit of my clients and my business