Posts filed under ‘digital’

Stages of digital grief

Andy Stubbings writes: I went to a talk on the future of publishing recently by Julius Wiedemann, the Design Editor at the art book publisher Taschen, at the Design Museum round the corner from our London office. Wiedemann made a cute analogy between the classic “DABDA” framework on the stages of grief (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance) and the way the publishing industry is adapting (or not) to digital technologies and planning for its future.

It wasn’t exactly clear from the talk where publishing is on the DABDA journey (inevitably, the projector was malfunctioning), but it appears we have gone past Denial (“Of course the traditional newspaper model is viable!”) through Anger (“How dare people find information for free that they used to have to pay for!”), and is now somewhere into Bargaining (“OK, you can read all our magazines as much as you want online, but only by subscribing to our ‘digital newstand’ via your iPad”). One thought that occurred to me during Wiedemann’s argument was that skeuomorphic design – the idea that objects should retain part of their previous typeform or design cues to put users at ease (e.g. the page-flip mechanism of online magazines) – could be a product of submerged anxiety in an industry still in a ‘Bargaining’ phase, and therefore can’t let go of doing things in old ways.

According to Wiedemann, things are going to get a lot worse before they get better for the industry in the shift to digital. Chief among the reasons for this is fragmentation – of publishers and publishing formats, of retailers and distribution models, of device operating systems and interface standards.


10 August 2012 at 1:40 pm 1 comment

Copyright wars

Andrew Curry writes:

Watching the SOPA/PIPA saga unfold from the other side of the Atlantic, it was difficult not to see it as a ‘wave war’, in which companies which grew up in different technology waves compete to set the frame of economic and policy discussion. On the one side, the media companies, creatures of the mass production era that dominated much of the 20th century; on the other, the technology companies that have grown up in the digital wave that followed it. (We wrote about these waves in our Futures Perspective report, Technology 2020).

The technology companies seem to be on the right side of the generational wave. As we noted last week in Futures Five, our fortnightly US newsletter for MONITOR clients,

most [Millennials] see far more nuance in pirated content-sharing than other generations: According to the 2011 Yankelovich MONITOR, 70% of Millennials indicate it’s “sometimes forgivable” if a person “views or downloads pirated content online (such as movies, television shows, music or shows),” almost double the 34% of Baby Boomers who feel the same way.

Of course, this is not a uniquely American issue. The proposed international treaty ACTA has the same intent as SOPA, as do sections of the UK’s Digital Economy Act. My view on this was shaped by James Boyle, the Duke University scholar who wrote The Public Domain, and his view was shaped by Thomas Jefferson, the first policy-maker to think seriously about copyright (yes, that Thomas Jefferson).

In a nutshell, we need copyright to reward creators, but in creating this legal privilege, we need to balance it so we don’t kill off the social, cultural, and economic gains from the free flow of knowledge, which let creators and innovators stand on the shoulders of others. The hugely extended copyright periods we now have in the USA and the UK are a grotesque tribute to the lobbying powers of media owners and old rock stars.

There’s another point here, too, about the way in which the mental landscapes of politicians shift only slowly. It’s been said that American politicians were surprised by the strength of opposition to the SOPA and PIPA bills, and more surprised to discover that their media industries were small fry, in economic terms, when compared to the tech industries.

The UK had a similar problem, in a very different sector, a decade ago. In response to an outbreak of foot and mouth disease, the government closed off large swathes of the countryside, only to discover that rural tourism and leisure were worth far more to the economy than farming. The policy-makers understood this. The politicians didn’t, because they’d got used to the farmers’ lobby. But, as with SOPA, the noise of the lobbyists had drowned out the quiet shifts of long-term change.

The image at the top is from the Bangstyle blog, where you will also find a perspective from the independent music sector. It is used with thanks.

30 January 2012 at 11:59 am Leave a comment

Trending @CES 2012

Last week, we and 150,000 of our closest gearhead friends attended CES, the consumer electronics industry’s largest trade event – and with a few days’ distance from the Las Vegas hype and glitter, we’ve been able to identify some of the show’s most interesting trends.

1. The Center of the CE World Is Shifting

While the big Japan brands – Sony, Panasonic, Toshiba – still dominate the show floor, it’s never been more obvious that Korea’s tech titans, Samsung and LG, now represent the front line of consumer electronics innovation. Or at least the innovation on display at CES. The biggest U.S. gadget players – HP, Google and especially Apple – are conspicuous by their absence; Microsoft has announced that next year, it too will exit the show, selling the rights to its coveted exhibit space to Dish Networks and China’s Hisense electronics. The latter is also a sign of the times: While Chinese brands are still quietly building market share rather than trying to technologically leapfrog, it’s only a matter of time before the biggest China players – Lenovo, Haier and TCL in particular – make a move for mindshare as well.

2. Say Hello to the Internet of Things

As of 2010, there was an average of one net-connected device per human being on Earth; by 2015, there will be an average of two. This reflects the reality that more and more information is being exchanged between intelligent devices, independent of human agency. In fact, networking giant Cisco recently estimated that the single fastest-growing category for Internet traffic is “machine-to-machine,” with the amount of data flowing between M2M modules now soaring at a rate of 258% per year.

Several brands at CES pushed the curve on the thing-based Internet. LG showed off the second generation of its “Thinq-enabled” home appliances line – e.g. a smart refrigerator that’s capable of tracking grocery purchases and ordering favorites when they run low, as well as transferring recipe suggestions to a connected smart stove.

Not to be outdone, Samsung unveiled its own plans for a household ecosystem of connected intelligent devices, with the Smart TV at its center. Will the television go from digital hearth to digital hub? Samsung – the world’s number-one seller of TVs – is banking on it.

3. Rise of the Intuitive, Immersive Interface

For obvious reasons, traditional devices are awkward input and control tools for an Internet of Things. (A microwave with a keyboard? No thanks.) This year’s CES showed dozens of ways that manufacturers are attempting to solve for this problem: Wall-sized multitouch surfaces (including a massive 82-inch capacitive display from Perceptive Pixel, whose technology powers the “smart walls” used on CNN), face recognition, and, of course, natural-language voice control.

Behind closed doors, Nuance – the developers of the speech recognition technology used in the iPhone 4S’s Siri intelligent agent – showed off their new DragonTV voice-based television interface, and it was impressive; Nuance says the software will power the smart TV offerings of “all the major manufacturers” (including, perhaps, Apple’s hypothetical new iTV?).

Meanwhile, startup Tobii unveiled an eye-tracking system that senses what you want to select next based on the position of your pupils. And PrimeSense, developers of the technology used in Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect peripheral, demonstrated the next-generation version of their motion recognition system, which uses a 3D camera to allow users to control devices with typical touchscreen gestures (swipe, pinch to zoom, and so on) – in thin air, from up to ten feet away.

4. What’s Next
Though some have questioned CES’s continued relevance in an era of instant communications and social networks, the show remains one of the few opportunities to watch the dynamics of the technology marketplace up close – allowing active observers to spot new technologies, track the uptake of trends, and identify emerging standards in real time. We’ll be following up on the phenomena we saw this year, so watch this space.

17 January 2012 at 9:45 am Leave a comment

Ten notes on the future of retail

Phil Soanes writes:

I spoke earlier this week at a WPP workshop run by The Store on the future of retail , and the form was a series of short sharp presentations (for example, by Kantar Retail, Fitch, and Ecommera) with discussion. My theme was the future of consumer segmentation in the age of austerity, but what I wanted to do here was to share – unattributably, unfortunately – the ten big things I heard during the day from the different presentations.

  1. Retailers are moving away from their traditional segmentation models.  The classic segmentation combines a ‘Why’ (need-state) on one axis with a ‘What’ (value or attitude) on the other. Now retailers are segmenting occasions and missions. As one speaker said, there are fewer missions than consumer types so it’s easier to segment that way. For me this feels like the easiest way to segment, and closest to point of purchase, but it doesn’t negate the need to understand what’s driving the consumer.
  2. Retailing is now about data. There’s lots of it and the winners will be the ones who can collate and understand it to their advantage. Getting to a ‘single customer view’ (with integrated data sources) is the holy grail, but it’s a massive task and most retailers won’t achieve it. Retailers are reluctant to hand their data over, but may need to if they’re to make the most of it. One other implication of this: less market research. People will have less need to collect survey data.
  3. The discount noise in the market is deafening. This isn’t surprising given the economic climate. But when you look at who is doing well (or less badly) it shows that the secret of good retail is still having a great proposition at the heart of the business, and this defines the ‘value for money’ test. This also means that brand really matters, probably more than before.
  4. Consumer motivation to buy and shop for different categories differs widely. so working this out is important. Close up, motivation by category looks different, while there is a repertoire of behaviour within categories. It is also clear that making shopping easy is the tipping point in some categories. And the need to deliver ‘easy’ is replacing the need to optimise customer satisfaction.
  5. Trust and transparency matter more than ever. It was true before austerity struck. It keeps on getting more true because in tough times consumers expect, more than ever, that brands won’t take advantage. They’re less concerned with the ‘fluffy’ idea of ‘on your side’ as with a ‘fair deal’. Getting found out has more severe consequences for brands than it used to.
  6. The future will be multi-channel. But not in the way people sometimes think. The purchase path is increasingly complex, with consumers jumping between online and offline as they go. But offline retailers need to understand better why their customers are there instead of in front of a screen.
  7. The value exchange on a shopping mission is critical. What do consumers need to get out of a shopping ‘trip’, actual or virtual, to make it worthwhile for them?
  8. Shopping mind states fall into three groups. One contributor conceived shopping ‘mind-states’ as falling into three types: locate, explore, dream. For another this division was more operational, via stages of a shopper journey: plan, search, select, and buy. Consumers switch between offline and online within many of these stages,  so understanding the role that each plays at different time is crucial draw out. I think we’d say there’s more work to be done here, in particular in understanding the role of ‘reviewing’ and who’s involved in that, and also to map how these behaviours apply to different categories. And conventional shopper journeys also tend to neglect the shopper relationship after purchase, from service to sharing to word of mouth. One more thought on mind-states: what is the potential to offer ‘dreaming’ online?
  9. Online retailers have to get everything right to be successful. Contrary to the received wisdom, online retail is a less forgiving environment than physical; ‘everything’ includes vision and planning as well as ‘enablers’ and delivery. Amazon are the only one to hit all the numbers and this is partly down to a relentless focus on what they can control.
  10. There are some important questions where we don’t really know the answers yet. For example:
  • Does impulse exist?
  • How do you measure loyalty?
  • What categories will and won’t work online? I know; after more than a decade you’d have thought we’d have cracked this, but it seems we haven’t.

The picture at the top of this post was taken by Peter Curry. It is published here under a Creative Commons licence: some rights reserved. If you’d like to see a copy of Phil’s slides from the conference, please contact him.

2 December 2011 at 9:53 am 3 comments

Messengers and memes

We hadn’t planned to return to the subject of social networks so quickly after introducing our latest thinking on the subject here last week, but a week of disorder in England has thrown up big questions about the the relationship between online social networks and real social tensions. It seemed worth coming back to it. – Andrew Curry.

Alex Steer writes: We think of riots as disorderly. We observe the way in which an initial silent protest outside Tottenham police station, seeking answers from the police over the death of Mark Duggan, burst first into focused violence, and  then into crime and looting that was more dispersed, less explicable, less clearly connected to its initial cause. But riots are also a form of social networking activity, an impressive (though intimidating) coordination of individuals, each self-motivated but guided by a set of common practices and ground rules, even in the absence of clearly articulated goals.

Sound familiar? In social networks, ideas are transmitted by memes, not manifestos. The Metropolitan Police made much of its impressive ‘command and control’ structure. But the rioters didn’t need one. Since the uprisings of the Arab Spring (far more coherent, and legitimate, in their orientation), it’s become fashionable to talk about ‘leaderless’ revolutions. While the lack of chains of command has been exaggerated, in both the Arab demonstrations and the London riots, it’s good to see more attention being paid to our ability to ‘organize without organizations‘ (in Clay Shirky’s memorable phrase).

From a technology perspective, the story has been the role that online social networks have played in the coordination of the riots. The media – and perhaps the authorities? – found themselves blindsided by a misunderstanding of how consumer decisions shape their use of online social networks. (We can say with some confidence that these looters were acting as consumers, though not ones bound by the usual laws of market exchange.) When the riots began, and as they spread, it became obvious that they were being coordinated online, as people used their social graphs as a recruitment mechanism to get more people onto the streets – and, in the days that followed, to pre-arrange tactical looting in towns and boroughs. The media’s attention turned immediately to the big, familiar social networks, Facebook and Twitter.

Using our Pivot Points framework, we can describe these as ‘Big Net’, ‘Open Hand’, ‘Turn On’ networks. They are built for scale, openness, and immediacy – as you know if you’ve ever tired of having a thousand ‘friends’, accidentally left compromising pictures visible to the wrong people, or tweeted in anger. They are the perfect tools for commenting on emerging events, as we’ve seen, and even for organizing legal activity, as the mass ‘riot cleanup’ operations of the last few days have shown.

For organizing rioting or looting, though, Big Net/Open Hand/Turn On networks are a disaster. You want them to be ‘Turn On’ networks, of course – they have to work in real time – but scale and openness are perilous if you want to avoid the attention of the police. It took the rioters less time than the media to figure this out. In our framework, the opposite of ‘Big Net’ is ‘Tight Knit’ – smaller-scale, more intimate networks which revolve around connections with a few close friends. The opposite of ‘Open Hand’ is ‘Closed Fist’, where privacy and secrecy are paramount.

Under the radar of mainstream attention, BBM has seen a huge growth in popularity among teenagers and young adults. In part this is because it’s free; in part, because its PIN authentication system, and RIM’s strong pro-privacy stance in other countries, give a reasonable guarantee of secrecy. We know that intimacy and secrecy are of interest to British teenagers, especially poor ones on the fringes of hyper-localised gang cultures, so it’s no surprise that the perfect Tight Knit/Closed Fist/Turn On network was already in their hands – private group texting and instant messaging smartphone apps, and especially BlackBerry Messenger (BBM).

When we focus on the obvious, we can miss a lot. The Pivot Points framework is designed to test our assumptions about what the shape – or shapes –  of the social networks of the future. By concentrating on the types of networks they knew, journalists misunderstood how London’s, and England’s, disorder was spreading.

12 August 2011 at 1:57 pm 1 comment

The future of social networks #5

Andrew Curry and Andy Stubbings write: The Shell Oil futures guru Pierre Wack described his work as being about “the gentle art of reperceiving”, and the type of work that Alex Steer has laid out in his four blog posts this week on the future of social networks is about changing perceptions by improving anticiption. We can’t know the future, but we can improve our understanding of the present and our ability to respond to change. Better anticipation, in short, increases both the depth and the breadth of vision.

So what do the six social media Pivot Points (here and here), and the tensions they represent for users, tell us about the future of social networks?

The Future of Facebook

Looking first at Facebook, it says that the model at the heart of Facebook (One for All-Big Net-TurnOn-Open Hand) may not persist. Alternative futures, for example, include a version in which ‘One for Each’ emerges as more valuable and its Connect system becomes its biggest asset, the ‘invisible social layer’ which connects other web and mobile properties, a valuable utility, without maintaining a huge public presence itself. A less promising future sees Facebook losing out as users start to value privacy and specificity more online (Tight Knit-Closed Fist-One for Each), and drift away, leaving the social network as a legacy “first generation” social network. Somewhere in between these is a future in which Facebook is less of a warehouse, and more a series of rooms, in which the tensions between One for All and One for Each are more finely balanced. In this model, it becomes a series of smaller tighter circles, but with ease of movement between them. But of course, this is also the space into which Google+ has pushed itself into with its ‘Circles” model.

Innovation spaces

Interrogating the Pivot Points, combining them in ways which stretch thinking, also starts to throw up some interesting innovation spaces.  To pick up a few here:

  • Big Net‘ and ‘Closed Fist‘  don’t appear, on the face of it, to be good fellow travellers. One is ubiquitous, the other about strong privacy concerns. But this is a potential future in which value accrues to the institutions which can guarantee security of digital identification; it may be a ‘’, which gives access to public services which also confirming one’s online identity to third parties who are concerned about anonymous behaviour online. And it might also be the gateway through which we manage our personal ‘official’ data, or volunteer, or alert public services to repairs or improvement.
  • Play‘ and ‘Turn On‘ obviously describes the world of immersive online multi-player games, but what if we add ‘Challenge‘ to that instead of ‘Confirm”? It becomes the safe space of the Fool or the Jokester, the place where one can challenge current assumptions without spurring revolution or retribution. Think of it as the ‘Carnival Incubator’, a space where communities of interest can engage with diversity or difference to innovate.
  • And working through these in a short internal session at The Futures Company, we also saw an emerging world of ‘Hive Mind’, in which shared tags created created new associations between things and people, in which Delicious met location. Imagine a travel guide that reassembles itself in a thousand different ways, and has a hundred curators.

One strong possibility emerges from this overview: that marketers may look back at this early development stage of the social network with nostalgia, even amazement. It is not at all clear that the current dominant model, which emphasises mass engagement and openness, will persist at its current scale. In most of the futures which emerge from our thinking about the pivot points, marketers have to work harder, and smarter, to reach people who are more resistant to marketing.

Andrew Curry and Andy Stubbings lead The Futures Company’s thought leadership team on the future of media and technology. They are currently working on a report on ‘Technology 2020’. The earlier posts in this series on the future of social networking start here. The cartoon at the top of this post is by Jenna Cotton, was published by the Canadian University Press Newswire, and is used with thanks.

5 August 2011 at 12:00 pm Leave a comment

The future of social media #4

#4: Pivot Points – pervasiveness, utility, and worldview

Alex Steer writes: Yesterday I wrote about how different consumer decisions about scale, privacy and specificity create very different outcomes for social networking. Today I’m going to explore the other three Pivot Points.

Pervasiveness – Turn On or Tune Out?

Social networking has been driven by people’s enthusiasm for connectivity – yet many increasingly find themselves at risk of information overload. So will we want to be permanently connected to our networks, or to dip in and out as it suits us?

In a Turn On future, consumers will want to be “always on” in their networks, receiving updates and information in real time – a possibility made easier by the global mobile and smartphone boom. Buzzwords are real-time, context-specific and multiplatform, and marketers will be expected to feed the desire for constant novelty with content and deals designed to be acted on fast.

Tune Out futures, though, see consumers looking for ways to step back and manage the flow of information and complexity – good news for networks like Flickr or YouTube that function more like a library than an updates service. At this end of the axis, marketing activity needs to be opt-in, durable, asynchronous and polite – designed to be enjoyed wherever, but also whenever.

Utility – Plug or Play?

As we have said, social interactions online can range from the serious to the frivolous. But will consumers see social networks more as a useful resource or more as a form of entertainment?

In Plug futures, consumers look for networks that let them access information, opinion and tools without demanding too much attention. Application, utility and embedded socialization are our buzzwords, and brands which provide lean, useful branded tools will thrive.

In Play futures, though, entertainment is the name of the game. Consumers see networks as places to spend time accessing interesting and immersive content. Think interaction and fun – content creators seek to reward time, attention and sharing with sheer entertainment value, and don’t just push marketing messages.

Worldview – Confirm or Challenge?

Are social recommendation features and personalization a way to access the most relevant and interesting experiences – or are they trapping us inside a self-reinforcing ‘filter bubble’? Will we want social networks to confirm or challenge our worldview?

In Confirm futures, consumers want news, opinion and content filtered and curated by their social connections. Here, marketers make it easy and rewarding for consumers to share content, and target offers based on online habits and relationships.

In contrast, in Challenge futures, marketers provide exposure to new experiences and divergent points of view. Buzzwords are novelty, debate and surprise, and brands will thrive by standing out from the crowd, challenging, stimulating and offering genuine novelty and serendipity.

Using the Pivot Points today

These six Pivot Points are signposts, not predictions – by knowing the directions of people’s behaviour and preferences, we can quickly identify, and prepare for, different possible outcomes. They also offer present opportunities. They can be used to make better business and marketing decisions by tracking target consumers’ attitudes and values, and making sense of changing habits online. The Futures Company is already working with clients to show how to understand, measure and seize those opportunities. We hope that the Pivot Points provide a way to navigate an unstable landscape, and take control of an uncertain future.

This is the last of four posts on the future of social networking by Alex Steer. To read the earlier posts, click here. The image at the top of this post is from the New Medici website, and is used with thanks.

4 August 2011 at 8:04 am 1 comment

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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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