Misfit minds: why mental illnesses and learning difficulties can be useful

ZZ35EAFC61

Image: Don’t stay too close to the pack… 

The classic liberal text, On Liberty by John Stuart Mill made a big impression on me years ago. What stayed with me above all was Mill’s insistence that liberty and tolerance were essential for a healthy society, since they permitted diversity.

Diversity of thought, behaviour, beliefs, ideas keep societies alive because they mean that there is an edge (not that Mills used this term – that’s more John Hagel) where new ideas can be born and taken back into the mainstream. When you start trying to make everyone adhere to a norm, become a single homogenous mainstream, things stagnate – essentially because there are no new ideas. (more…)

Media in the age of networks: the decay/evolution of advertising models

The Association of Publishing Agencies first International Content Summit was a great event to attend, as a speaker and a delegate. As well as the many inspiring and useful speakers, it was the ambition and optimism of the industry there that was striking.

This is the contract publishing industry, the kinds of publishers that create the supermarket mag, the in-flight periodical, the car brand’s customer title. Largely due to this lack of reliance on advertisers (beyond the client) and cover-price revenue it was a different kind of publishing gathering to ones I’d seen before.

There was little of the web-denial, the over-obsession with iPad as a saviour for the industry, a way of porting old formats (and business models) into the age of the web. The sense I got was of opportunity, of openness to new ideas and possibilities.

As I said in the notes to my talk, the marketing and media sectors are wide open for new approaches, new business models Everything is up for grabs, from content formats to how advertising is sold.

On that last point, I was really impressed by the analysis of the decay of the traditional advertising model presented by William Owen of Made by Many (one of the most interesting firms in this new space). His slides are below, but I recommend taking a look at his blog post which walks through his arguments.

William was set the brief by the APA of answering the following question: “is the traditional [advertising] model dead?”.

His response was to begin with a sensible “no”. Obviously the media buying-centred model of advertising is alive and kicking multi-million pound behinds. But it is decaying, and evolving.

Walking us through possible stages of the advertising model’s evolution (or decay, depending on your point of view), William took us through mass, fragmented, earned media models and arrived at this networked model (I nearly stood and cheered at that point, but this was an English conference so resisted):

201011270731.jpg

The networked media model. This diagram is really a crude approximation of something much more complex: communities of customers becoming value producers in their own right, creating content, making recommendations, providing thousands of small services to each other. There’s an opportunity for brands to harness that power by adding services to products and creating communities of interest around social objects.

And of course there are also opportunities for still-powerful media channel brands in television and print to build direct relationships with advertisers and sponsors, using technology creatively to build applications that add co-branded services to content and facilitate direct transactions. This removes their reliance on ad networks and ups their margins.

He’s got it dead on, I think. That’s not to say I won’t be continuing to mull this presentation over for some time to come to challenge and build on the ideas, but for now I simply applaud…

William ended by quoting Russell Davies:

Experience Design will become the master discipline for businesses that want to be good at selling stuff.

That actually sounds obvious to a lot of us in this space, but it is worth repeating, rolling around the brain, and repeating again. That is experience design, not media buying, that will be at the core of the selling part of the media/marketing complex in years to come. Those experiences will be conceived in, of and through networks.

Polluting the streams, pruning the networks…

Image: There's a really good illustration for this post behind this door...

* * UPDATED: corrected from draft which was published. Facts/links/opinions unaltered. * *

Alan Patrick’s pure class in my book. His blog is prickly, argumentative and pushy in the very best kinds of ways. I reckon it’s blogs like Broadstuff and DotBen that help me keep questioning things. Without them the idealistic eejit in me decides to dance off into a digital daze chanting lines from Clay Shirky and waiting for the Singularity to arrive in the style of an evangelical rapture and sweep us up to the all-too-virtual promised land.

So, Alan’s post about filtering the Twitterstream gets me thinking. He talks about the Tweets around the Guardian’s Activate conference:

What was interesting to me was the massive degradation in the User Generated Twitterstream. Last year, and early this year, you could tune in to such Twitterstreams and get a fairly decent “user generated media” view of what was going on. The “User Generated” Activate Twitterstream yesterday was….well, “unhelpful” would put it mildly. (more…)

Faris on the “natural selection of interesting”

Image: From The Origin of Species
Image: From The Origin of Species

After Mr Obama got sworn in some things threw me off kilter – sorry for the indecent silence…

Warming up with some things catching my eye, I’ll be building to an outpouring of pent up thoughts about social, strategy and the business of everything.

Hail Faris Yakob for weaving together two of my best-loved skeins of thought:

  1. Evolutionary theory and complexity (see Beinhocker)
  2. Competition for attention

He’s musing about why things win out in attention markets and rolls out a lovely phrase from his brother – it’s all about the “natural selection of interesting”…

Ants in colonies don’t require any conscious top down organisation – local rules exist and individual behaviours leave pheremone trails that get reinforced if the behaviour is imitated, which leads to directional changes of the whole.

We leave links and tags, tweets and posts, instead of pheremones – and these guide the allocation of attention.

Oh – that’s just beautiful. An elegant analogy for the social web if ever there was one…

Image: If it's interesting, we'll help each other find it
Image: If it's interesting, we'll help each other find it (Image: Budslife Busy)

He continues:

As Duncan Watts has pointed out, the structure of the network is as important as that which seeks attention, and the same thing that becomes an attention grabbing hit one day, may not the next.

This chimes with the story of Dogster and impact horizons that its founder Ted Rheingold talks about. This is how I tell it in the Brands in Networks e-book:

When Ted started Dogster he was developing new content and features with project times – from spotting a need to getting something out there – of about a month. As revenue began to come in from premium subscriptions and sponsorship deals he began to invest in more ambitious projects with longer lead times.

Suddenly, it seemed, the failure rate for projects began to increase. When a review of projects that were failing was conducted, a common factor was quickly spotted: almost all of the failing projects had taken six months or more from idea to public release. They were failing because the community had moved on; was interested in other things. Their needs had shifted.

Ted calls this effect: the impact horizon. Ever since, he has been working on bringing down the development time for new features to as close to a month as possible.

You start thinking about competing for attention in this environment and you get to thinking about the production process for your lovely useful/interesting ideas, bits of content, data, whatever that you’re going to send out into the big bad networks ecosystem. And suddenly building one thing starts to look like a very precarious approach.

Much better to build a process or platform for producing lots of things – because there’s a better chance of some of them working. When an idea takes, earns some good attention, ask why before the narrative bias kicks in and you’re tempted so it was always going to be that way.

Then ask how you would do it again.

Anyway – more of that later…