Archive for September, 2011

Some notes from Stream

Andrew Curry writes:

Stream, WPP’s annual tech ‘un-conference’, held by tradition at a former Club Med resort near Athens, has just finished. I’m going to try to catch a snapshot of some of the things I learned while I was there.

3D printing is a slow train coming
We’ve been talking to clients for a while about the potential of 3D printing, or ‘fabbing’, and a discussion led by Steve Sammartino of Grey got into some of the complexities of this. The principle of 3D printing is that you send the code and a machine makes the object locally – possibly even in your home. Costs are falling quite fast, with the ‘hobbyist’ fabricator kit, Maker Bot, now less than $1,000, although the professional machines used by designers are still above $10,000. The other limitations are materials and time; a machine is set up to use one type of material, and making an object, even a small one, is slow. A designer taking part in the discussion showed a tape dispenser made on his printer which took ten hours to produce. Is this a new industrial revolution? Probably not. But over the next decade it could transform the way we repair things, prototype them, and also change the way we think about manufacturing.

The new high level internet domains will be a lawyers’ paradise
You may not have noticed, but ICANN, which regulates the Internet’s top level domains (.com, .edu, .uk, etc) is quite a long way down the road on a radical transformation of the domain system. Instead of the current relatively constrained architecture, it’s proposing to let people buy words instead; ‘.cheese’, say, or ‘.health’, or ‘.yahoo’. In practice, this means that large companies will buy them, if they so choose, since the application costs around $200,000, and preparing the application another $300,000.

The thing is, it’s hard to see who benefits: the internet becomes a sea of noise, and businesses are faced with a sea of unprofitable competition for domain names. Esther Dyson, who led the session, described it as “a tragedy of the commons”. But intellectual property lawyers should do well for themselves. The only saving grace is that the decision hasn’t yet been ratified; pressure on ICANN might yet prevent the change.

What we mean by ‘news’ is changing before our eyes. The idea emerged from several different sessions. Vice presented data which showed that the average age of the US audience for mainstream TV news was 60-something, compared to the far younger audience for Vice News. Peter Hirshberg, the urban data pioneer, suggested that “you really need to be able to understand data to tell stories in the 21st century”. The Guardian, challenged by its editor, Alan Rusbridger, that “the public is not interested in what’s in the public interest”, is launching the ‘Finance Game’, off the back of an anthropological investigation of the City of London’s bankers, to see if this leads to new ways of understanding, researching, and presenting complex stories (and potentially to different audiences). But in his platform interview, WPP Chief Executive Sir Martin Sorrell observed that if – as a society – “we value professional journalism, we’re probably going to have to subsidise it”.

The picture at the top of this post was taken by Andrew Curry. It is published here under a Creative Commons licence: some rights reserved.

16 September 2011 at 8:24 am Leave a comment

Goodbye to all that

Eleanor Cooksey writes:

It’s a month since I left The Futures Company after first starting working there in 1998, and during my final weeks I reflected on some of changes in the business over that time.

The first one seems obvious, although you still have to pinch yourself at the scale of the changes. In 1998, the internet was tiny (9% of UK households had internet access, and the web itself was far smaller). Instead, researching facts and figures was an activity valued in itself which required considerable effort and some expertise. The Henley Centre (as it was then) subscribed to many publications, which would arrive in the post and then be carefully filed in an extensive library, supervised by the company’s librarian. And when this wasn’t enough, off we would trot to public libraries to pore over more specialist titles.

Secondly, personal communication technologies were far less ubiquitous. People didn’t necessarily have a mobile phone of their own, and, indeed, there were several ‘office handsets’ one could book out for the day if necessary.

Thirdly, the company invested considerable resources in knowledge venturing – our thought leadership programme –  and developing proprietary content. This is one area where there has been some continuity, but with twists and turns along the way. Back in 1998, much of this content was published regularly in print editions and sold to clients. Over the past decade, knowledge venturing has remained critical, but publishing it commercially less so. Interestingly now we see a return to publications, but for our time. Instead of the book, one size fits all, there is Global MONITOR, with its searchable syndicated  insight, customised to the profile of a particular client.

Finally, there is one small change which, from a personal perspective I regret. In 1998, the company strapline was ‘Seize the Future’, which I must confess to preferring to our current version of ‘Unlocking Futures’. But then, all things must pass.

The image at the top of the post was taken by our design manager, Stacey Yates, and is published here under a creative commons licence: some rights reserved.

8 September 2011 at 8:41 am Leave a comment

The taking part that counts

Alex Oliver and Lawrence Wykes write: As the wave of Olympic test events comes to a close in London, it seemed a good moment to think about the other half of the sports equation – participation by people who just get involved for fun. As it happens, we recently brought together a number of cross-sector experts from different disciplines for a sports roundtable, to try to answer one question: as a society how can we get more people physically active?

Staggeringly, almost half of us in the UK don’t participate in any form of regular exercise. Men are more active than women and participation levels vary significantly by region, often with a worrying correlation to deprivation.

All the experts who participated in the roundtable, in one way or another, had an interest in getting this missing half of the population more active.

So what was their view? Well, the point was quickly made that the missing half weren’t just missing from sport – they were missing from the room. At The Futures Company we’ve done a lot of research for sports clients over the years, and in the course of this research we’ve learned that any plan to get people more active has to be co-created with the audience it is intended to benefit.

And this brings us to the s-word. A key theme that came through in the discussions and one which is mirrored in our own research is that for some people a word like ‘sport’ can itself be a barrier to participation.

But when we talk about getting people active, we don’t just mean formalised sports, of the kind promoted by the National Governing Bodies and lined up for the Olympics.  Increasing the population’s physical activity can also mean getting parents off the park bench to run around and play with the kids, or cycling to the station instead of driving. Whatever  we want people to do, we need to make sure we don’t put them off before we even start with the language we use. This again means getting to know the people you’re engaging

If we want to have a long-term impact on participation we have to plan for tomorrow and act today.  Our experts round the table  agreed that above all sport needs to be fun, accessible and normal – something for everyone and anyone.  People need to feel that they can take part regardless of what they wear, where they live, who and what size they are.  So what new ways can we find to involve people in ‘sport’ in a way that works for them – in schools, in parks, in streets and at the sports events themselves?

The image at the top of this post is a still from the T-mobile ‘Life’s for Sharing’ dancing at Liverpool Street Station website, and is used with thanks.

1 September 2011 at 5:10 pm Leave a comment


The Futures Company blog

The Futures Company was created through the merger of Henley Centre HeadlightVision and Yankelovich in 2008. This is the blog of the new company - but the former posts from the former Henley Centre Headlightvision blog still can be found here.


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