Monthly Archives: March 2009

Does Crowd Sourcing work?

Consider this, Wikipedia is just over 9 years old  and currently has 2.9 million articles. Contrast this with Microsoft’s Encarta at a little over 42,000 articles which was founded 16 years ago when Microsoft bought assets from the now defunct; Funk & Wagnells.

Microsoft announced yesterday that Encarta will be discontinued this year saying “People today seek and consume information in considerably different ways than in years past.”

I think thats Prima Facie evidence that Crowd Sourcing works.

Event Report : Green is the New Black

From the Churchill Club Event on the 19th March 2009

The global energy business alone is worth 6 trillion dollars. that’s a big pie. What size piece can Victoria and Australia capture and can we take a leading role in sustainable design and green thinking? But after discussing “Green is the new Black” with our panel, some great insights were uncovered.

Our panel was:
Kelly O’Shaunassy – CEO Environment Victoria
Scott Kilmartin – CEO and Founder Haul

Andrew Sweatman – General Manager WSP Environmental

Moderator
Michel Hogan – Principal, Brandology

So what’s going in the world of green opportunities?

  • Countries such as the Netherlands and Australia are actually leaders in the field, we just don’t communicate this fact very well.

  • Many of our exporters are also do very well, however their major driver is compliance with “green” regulations in customers countries.

  • Confused discussion and ideas abound – Hybrid cars are just not as environmentally friendly as a small modern diesel and millions of dollars are offered for a solution to take Co2 out of the air (the answer is of course a tree).

  • Green generally is an afterthought of design, not a principle.

  • The international standard for Green products is ISO 14000. This standard includes how to measure environmental impact costs over a products life cycle.

How do you sell green to Corporate Australia?

  • Although there has been a fair amount of effort over the last 10 years, only in the last 5 years have larger Corporate’s started paying attention.

  • Creating a green product isn’t easy. The supply chain must also be audited.

  • GECA accreditation (www.geca.org.au) is generally necessary for selling to Corporate’s in Australia.

  • Helping Corporate’s communicate their greeness is also valued as in Australia we are generally bad at it.

And how do you sell green to the man on the street?

  • Studies show that 83% of Australian consumers are concerned about the environment however only a small proportion of them are actually prepared to act.

  • Green groups are concerned that the current interest in the environment is fashion and not a sustainable interest.

  • At the coal face consumers primary purchasing decisions are made on price and style. Whether a product is environmentally friendly or not is only a secondary attribute.

Pitching for Government Agency IP

In 1999 a small web development business called Pyra Labs was founded by two people.  They were trying to build an online Project Management system called Pyra.  Times were tough and staff number fluctuated dramatically (at one stage, down to one person holding on to the vision).  Eventually some interest was shown in a side product they had developed and the small company with six staff was eventually sold.  The Pyra Labs product was called Blogger and it was sold to Google.  This small business coined the term “Blogger” and founded the now dominant method of online journalism.  Although the price was not disclosed, its assumed that a “never have to work again price was paid”.

A bit closer to home a couple of academics setup a wireless networking business in 1997 based on a brand new idea that came out of their research. With government and venture capital support this business grew to 57 staff before eventually being sold in 2001.  This small Australian company was called Radiata and they sold themselves to CISCO Systems for $595 Million.

Both tiny companies came up with new ideas that weren’t incremental innovations.  They were disruptive, adding a brand new offering into the marketplace that wasn’t previously being taken advantage.  There are plenty of examples around of these disruptive innovations, in fact the Wikipedia article on it has a great list.

An interesting thing though is that all these disruptive innovations (a term coined by Harvard Professor Clayton Christensen )  have something in common,  every single one has its origins in small business, not large corporates.

Large Corporates simply don’t bring disruptive innovations to the market for four reasons.

  1. Disruptive innovations, by their nature, normally start with small markets and the ROI just isn’t there in the planning horizon of the average Public Company CEO (think mobile phone market in 1990).
  2. Disruptive innovations have a tendency of cannibalising existing profitable markets (think LCD screens v’s CRT screens)
  3. These innovations are normally accompanied by failures along the way so can be costly in terms of development funds spent , and for the careers of those scapegoated!
  4. And finally staff inside the large corporate generally benefit from relationships with existing suppliers so there is plenty of internal friction and lethargy  (Would you give up your top salesman conference in the Bahama’s ?).

So why am I talking about this?  Last week I met with a CSIRO Flagship Director and had to convince him that it was critically important that CSIRO licence some of its cleverest IP to start-ups.  Obviously he was resistant as they were keen on only licencing their technology to a large corporate (preferably ASX 200) where they could get the best return.  However this was a laboriously slow process and there were very few wins.

My pitch was that the way to licence your IP into large corporates for the largest premium, is to licence it to a small business first (an intermediate step) and let the small business validate there is a profitable market for it first.  If the small business succeeds, they will get themselves acquired by a large corporate and the licence can then be renegotiated.  Large Corporates like this route as the market gets validated and the product refined before they get involved.

The pitch worked.

And back to my initial examples;  Evan Williams,  a co-founder of Blogger, currently has a brand new idea in the market place which doesn’t have a revenue model yet.  You may have heard of it, its called TwitterThe co-founder and CEO of Radiata was a chap called Dr David Skellern .  David now runs NICTA an Australian Government agency that is probably Australia’s leading ICT research organisation.  Creating of course, disruptive technologies.

connecting social media

Bloody Social Media!

Having decided to have a crack at the Twitter thing I have run into the problem that my day can now be chewed up managing content online.

My main poetic activities now seem to be writing quick posts on what I am upto in LinkedIn then Facebook then  Twitter, or writing in depth articles for Digital Bottom Line which I store with other stuff at a wordpress blog called One Sock.

Since (according to my father in law) I am lazy swine, I decided to streamline things a little and thought I’d share the results.  The following solution allows me to enter content just once and then have the other systems pick it up and publish it.

iPhone to Twitter

Since I am out and about alot, I need to send Tweets from my iPhone.  I checked around to see what others were using and noticed that Tweetie seemed to get a run from the poeple I thought were early adopters of technology.  So I downloaded Tweetie from the Apple AppStore (note the hyperlink here is to the App Store) which is a free piece of software.  Now I’m not locked to a computer to when Twittering, which is important as mostly interesting stuff happens when I am outside the office.

Twitter to Facebook

Facebook has an Application that will automatically suck your Twitter updates into Facebook  Its at http://apps.facebook.com/twitter/ and seems to happen almost instantaneously.  If you click the Application button in the bottom left hand corner you can add it that way.  So each Twitter is automatically recreated in your Facebook profile.

Twitter to WordPress Blog

WordPress has quite a number of Twitter widget’s available.  I chose Twitter for WordPress as I wanted the twitter feed to be placed in my sidebar, not as a blog posting.  This is because I wanted Twitter to pick up my blog posts, and I didn’t want to create a circle of new twitter’s being picked up as new twitters. (could be fun though to watch a loop sending twitter, facebook and wordpress mad).

Blog to Twitter

I came across a website called Twitterfeed which is a free service that picks up blogs (or any rss feed) and posts them to Twitter.  Its pretty cool as its automatically creates an entry with title, opening words and a tinyurl version of the web address.  The only challenge with it is that you need an OpenID to log into Twitterfeed with.  This is free but potentially a bit confusing to setup.

Blog to Facebook

My blog posts don’t go directly to Facebook.  They do however get picked up by Twitter (see above) then Facebook picks up the Twitter notification.  ie because of my previous actions, my blog gets automatically posted to Facebook (via Twitter).

Blog to Linkedin

Linkedin now has a whole group of applications that you can plug into your profile.  Amongst the “connect your blog” applications is  My Blog at WordPress.com which you simply turn on, then enter the address of your blog. 

Twitter to LinkedIn

Because my status updates in Twitter and Facebook are normally of a much more personal nature (eg yesterday evening I mentioned I cooked up Kangaroo with a macadamia nut salad) I haven’t attempted to connect Twitter to LinkedIn.   At this stage its easiest if I keep LinkedIn as a business only tool.  However there does seem to be plenty of solutions for this as well.

My way is not the only way.  There are clearly heaps of ways of making this connectivity happen, with lots of gadgets that will do the same thing in slightly different ways.  The above pieces are just the first ones I tried that I could get to work.  Because I am lazy its unlikely that I will come up with a better solution since these ones seems to work fine.

Message for the  Father-in-law : I reckon I’m good/clever lazy not bad/stupid lazy.

Failure has bad PR

Why Most Things FailIn mid February the Churchill Club ran a programme called Innovation DNA which was about making innovation a sustainable programme in Australian SME’s.  One of the panellists, Wes Sonnenreich from Deloitte, mentioned that a good failure was one that was quick and cheap.

Which got me thinking about failure again.  My assertion has been for a long time that Australian’s in business are generally terrified of failure  as it creates a stain on your reputation.  Which is fascinating as you can’t have reward without risk, and risk means there will be failure.

Science and FailureAn interesting contrast then to the business approach, is how Australian science treats failure.  Failure is absolutely a  necessary part of any experiment and just as important as success.  For example a test for a link between cancer and smoking, needs to also prove that there is no link between sucking on a tube and cancer (a failure).

The scientists understand the importance of failure and also understand how to give it good PR.  Most grant applications are to test whether there is a link between two areas, instead of trying to prove there is.  The science approach to grants means that you always have a successful outcome (either you proved there was a link, or you proved there wasn’t a link).

So back to We’s comment about good failure being “quick and cheap”.  It seems to me that at a qualitative level a good failure is one that you can learn from (which is why we do exit interviews when employees leave).  But it still leaves a problem on how do you quantitatively measure the value of failure.

Well Wes working for Deloitte gave me the clue.  It made me think how would an accountant treat the problem?  Although it was dusty and unused, I pulled the accountant hat out of the cupboard had had a go at it.  My thoughts went like this.

1.  The value of an activity is normally measured by an Accountant with a Profit and Loss statement.

2. Failure generates costs.

3. An Innovation programme will have a budget that’s used to generate lots of failures.

Cutting to the chase, here’s the idea.

Why not create a profit and loss statement to measure whether its a good failure or a bad failure.

Profit and Loss

The first thing you would do is apportion the budget of an innovation programme across a number of projects.  This would give you a notional revenue figure for each project.

You then apportion the costs of each project to its project P&L.

If the project fails quickly and with low costs, you will get a notional profit, which could be interpreted as good failure.  If you take forever to fail and commit lots of resources and get a notional loss, it means its a bad failure.

Obviously this idea needs to be tweaked for the situation, but I feel it would provide a great platform for starting to measure the value of failure, and give it better PR in commercial environments.

The Rise of New Media

From the Churchill Club Event on  the  5th March 2009

That traditional media is in trouble is not news, with mastheads in the US closing almost every other day.  But after discussing “The Rise of New Media” with our panel, some great new insights were uncovered.

Our panel was:
Debra Allanson – CEO of Ish Media
James Kirby – Editor of the Eureka Report
Stephen Mayne – Founder Crikey and the Mayne Report

So What’s Changed?

  • Categories were very skill specific; There was TV, Movies and Journalism.  Now its all just content and small screen means mobile phones not TV.
  • The production focus has changed from broadcaster or distribution format;  to users and the appliance used to access the content.
  • Because a “connected, opportunistic crowd” is always reporting from the scene before traditional media, breaking news has been dramatically devalued.
  • Many more revenue models have opened up, its not just advertising funded anymore.
  • Editions (AM, PM , six o’clock news) are traditional media concepts that don’t map well into new media businesses.  Instead its a 24×7 constant stream.
  • Controlling redistribution of content has become impossibly difficult.
  • Software programmers are now an integral part of the team.
  • Search Engines have soaked up the lions share of online advertising as they provide a more targetted service than online media.  Connecting advertisiers with customers at the moment when the customer is interested in buying, not just when the customer is interested.

So What’s Still the Same?

  • Opportunistic members of crowds normally only get one event in there lifetime, so old fasioned story getting and news production still has to occur for effective new media properties.
  • The same skills are required to produce quality content, just the engagement mdoel tends to be shifting towards contract workers from anywhere around the globe, rather than local employees.
  • Quality opinion and analyis is still getting produced by the same experts.
  • Quality stories and tight video is still beign produced by the same experts.

So What’s on the Horizon?

  • The money is currently being made by selling new media properties to traditional media, not through operations.  Therefore simply surviving can be the most valuable asset at this stage.  But this is sure to change due to the variety of revenue models opening up and the collapse of  traditional media.
  • Despite the size of the web, there is still little competition in quality content.
  • Fee to Air TV, Cinema and Newspapers will continue to disintegrate.  Which will benefit new media models such as the internet and Cable TV.
  • Shadow Media will not go unregulated for ever.  There is sure to be problems which will cause knee jerk legislative reactions.
  • Content is still King.