John McCann

Archive for May, 2006|Monthly archive page

Participation Web

In ParticipationWeb on May 30, 2006 at 5:40 pm

We are in the midst of a change in the World Wide Web from what some call the "static web" to a new environment that has been called, among other names, the New Neb, Web2.0, and the Read/WriteWeb. In this new environment, people offer web-based services that we can use for work and leisure purposes. The most popular services include MySpace, Flickr, Facebook, Blogger, MS Spaces, BitTorrent, Wikipedia and YouTube. All of these services share one common feature: they are all Participation Services (PS). A Participation Service is a website where people can place their content so that other people can read, listen, watch and/or view what they have produced, as well as enhance another person's content with their own comments and/or tags.

The collection of Participation Services forms the ParticipationWeb, a name that I believe best reflects what this new web has to offer: new ways for people to participate in Internet-based activities.

Of course, the web has always been about people being able to participate by building websites, leaving comments on other websites, entering into discussions on a forum, etc. The difference now is the ease by which one can publish almost any content in almost any medium. Patricia Russo, CEO of Lucent Technologies described this new environment in a recent USA Today article based on a roundtable discussion among CEO's of tech firms:

"… we think of it as four C's. It's collaboration. It's content — I don't even think we've begun to see the impact of video on these networks. It's converged services — doing multiple things. And it's community. The opportunity for those who get ahead and develop a set of services that are more personalized, customized, location-based and presence-based in this next generation is going to help define who can win"

The popular services listed above, the ones that are clearly winning today, are based on one or more of the four C's: collaboration, content, converged services and community. And these four C's provide a description of today's ParticipationWeb.

Participation Age examples

In Content business, Internet, Long Tail, Media involvement, Video on May 15, 2006 at 11:34 pm

I read five articles (including one advertisement) on May 15, 2006, that point to the rise of various aspects of the Participation Age and the associated diminishing of aspects of the mass culture age.

  1. An advertisement in the Life section of today's USA Today invited young people to use video to tell short stories: "What matters to you? Film it. Send it. Tell us. 30 to 60 seconds. Choose an issue. Open to all residents 18 to 26. Deadline May 21, 2006. Visit to find out more." This is one of several recent efforts to tap into the creativity of amateurs at the expense of professionals.
  2. The Money section of the same paper contained the following headline: "Most older teens can't ID the networks." The article provides some statistics: "Almost 80% of 16-to 18-year-olds can't name the four top TV broadcasters ….. Just 33% of the total audience — which ranged in age from 16 to 34 — correctly said NBC, ABC, CBS or Fox …" These two articles indicate that the Participation Age is indeed rising as the older Passive Age slips away. Young people are just not as tuned into traditional media as their counterparts were in previous times.
  3. A blog post by Dion Hinchcliffe discusses the challenges that Microsoft faces as the World Wide Web goes through a transformation to what some call Web2.0. He first writes about the change in Microsoft's focus from a software company to a media company and says it is yet another example of the "fundamental changes imposed on many corporates by the increasing pre-eminence of just about anything on the Web. … Microsoft thinks the action (i.e., value) is moving to content and the eyeballs (people) attached to it." He goes on to explain this shift: "attracting users with the most compelling content (including, or even especially, each other in the form of online social communities) is now considerably more valuable than punching out code in a world where non-connected software is becoming relentless commoditized and growth-constrained." The key aspect of this statement is the phrase "each other" by which he means that the content provided by "users" is of prime importance. This statement agrees with item #1 above. In this view, it is traditional software that you install on your computer (e.g., Microsoft's Office software) that is diminishing in value.
  4. Doc Searls, one of the bloggers that I read daily, writes about the rise of independent media, and the associated demise of traditional media. He starts his article by posing a couple of questions: "What would happen if anybody could produce radio or TV programming as easily as they consume it? What would happen if the natural limits to broadcasting went away?" After explaining, in some depth, the natural limits of radio and television broadcasting, Searls explains why those limitations are becoming mute points: "Today, if I want to put a show on the radio, I don't bother with radio at all. I record an .mp3 file, put it on a website and 'enclose' a pointer in an RSS feed. Anybody who picks up the feed or downloads the file can get the recording, anywhere on the Net. Which is anywhere with a Net connection, anywhere in the world. This is why radio as we know it is doomed. Same with TV. AM and FM stations have a future as long as manufacturers ship cars with radios. But that future will be increasingly restricted by a growing assortment of other sources of what we've come to call 'content'." He then writes about attempts to simply move the traditional TV model of passive viewers to the Internet, and he says that such approaches miss the point. "What all this misses, however, is the evolution of consumers to producers, and the obsolescence of 'media' as a one-way construct. … the result will be the end of media as we knew it — as scarce, expensive and restricted ways for a few producers to reach millions of consumers."
  5. As I explained in my initial posting about the content business, content is created via conversations, whether those conversations are recorded or simply pass away when the conversation is over. It is easy to generate such content when people are in the same room. And we can use phones, instant messaging, and other technologies to hold conversations among several people. But it is difficult to generate conversation-based content with a larger group of people who are distributed around the globe. We now have a new tool, Skypecast, that promises to solve this problem. An "early preview" on the Skype (a form of telephony that uses the Internet instead of the traditonal telephone network) website describes this new tool: "Skypecasts are live, moderated conversations allowing groups of up to 100 people from anywhere in the world to talk to one another. Skypecasts enable people to discuss shared interests — anything from classic cars and cooking, to home design and computer support. Skypecasts are moderated by the ‘host’ who is able to mute, eject or pass the virtual microphone to participants when they wish to speak. Hosting or participating in a Skypecast is completely free."

These five stories point to one common theme: new ways are emerging for people to participate in activities that were previously restricted to professionals in the "content businesses" and people are using those tools in different ways.

Don’t disparage the youth!

In Content business, Content workers, Early Predictions, Globalization on May 9, 2006 at 5:12 pm

In his keynote address at Telcom 95 in Geneva, Switzerland, Andy Grove, then the CEO of Intel, talked about one of his favorite topics: the Strategic Inflection Point (SIP). He said that all organizations, sooner or later, will face a Strategic Inflection Point because of technology, deregulation and competition. Here is my depiction of a chart that he used in his address:


The blue curve denotes the organization's growth, which is rapid at first, then slows and eventually plateau's at its SIP when it encounters the three forces of digital technologies, deregulation and competition. Depending upon its actions, it will either enter a new growth path or go into decline.

He talked about the "mother of all Strategic Inflection Points" that firms were facing in 1995:

"In the future, with a medium of hundreds of millions pushing onto a billion connected computers available for commerce as well as for other tasks. Transactions, business will be connected not face to face but stream to stream. And I think this will be the mother of all strategic inflection points because it's going to change the way those of us in the information technology industry do our business but even more importantly, it is going to change the way everybody in commerce does their daily business. As with strategic inflection points there are two paths. There's a path of ascent and a path to descent. And which path you are going to be ending up on depends on the decisions and the plans and the implementation of those plans that begin at the time of that inflection point which I submit to you is today."

A couple of years later, Lou Gerstner, then the IBM CEO, appeared on the PBS Nightly Business Report in a segment titled Net Effects. He had this to say about the nature of the coming business world.

“The network world is going to change the world the way man flight changed the world, the way the electric light changed the world. It is going to fundamentally alter every institution in our society and it will change the way we work, the way we communicate, and the way we relate to each other. It will have implications for the nation-state, for the way we organize around the world. It is a powerful force and it evolve over the next two decades into something that we will look back and say that was a quaint world in the 1980s. I’m talking about a revolution that I think will take several decades in terms of its impacts on all of society. But every single quarter some other industry will see its basic competitive landscape change because of this network.”

When I started this blog, I had been using these remarks (along with hundreds of others that I collected in the 1990s) to help me explain the nature of the networked world and why it was so important. Only in the last few weeks have I been able to recognize that one implication of the trends is that a large fraction of the workers in the developed world are content workers.

Each of us (if you are reading this blog post, you are surely a content worker) is in the content business. And as I explained in my piece on globalization, we operate in a world of real time relationships among dispersed individuals and organizations. We use and distribute content to all corners of the globe through our conversations, emails, web pages, blogs, etc.

Both content workers of the digital age and factory workers of the industrial age have faced or will face their Strategic Inflection Point as their livelihood is impacted by digital technologies, competition and deregulation. Those impacts are associated with many words and phrases that have come into vogue in the past two decades: lay-offs, downsizing, right sizing, out sourcing, home sourcing, etc.

These words represent the consequences of organizations responding to their SIPs. They find new ways to participate in their industries via new strategies and/or structures aimed at reducing their costs and/or expanding their revenue streams. More often than not, these changes involved new uses of digital technologies to improve individual, group and organizational productivity.

That is what organizations do. Too often, individuals in those organizations are the last to recognize that they are about to face their own SIPs. They may not be ready to operate in the new world, the one into which their organization is transitioning. They need to learn how to operate in a world of real time relationships among dispersed individuals and organizations.

But where do they turn for guidance? Where can they find a role model when most of their peers are in a similar situation? Just who does know how to operate in a world of real time relationships among dispersed individuals and organizations? Who are those people and where can they be found?

My answer: they are all around us. They may be in our own homes or next door at our neighbor's house. They may mow our grass, or drive around our neighborhood with music blasting from their cars. They may saunter around the mall in groups. They are today's youth.

What are they doing that is so important to us? They are playing multi-player online games, creating Facebook and MySpace profiles, blogging, sending short messages from their mobile phones, sharing digital pictures on Flickr & other photo services, walking around with their mobile phones glued to their ears, conversing in a half-dozen Instant Messaging (IM) windows on their computers at the same time, etc. They use those technologies and services to stay in continual contact with their friends, acquaintances, teachers, etc.

That is, they are managing real time relationships among dispersed individuals. They are global!! Being content workers is second nature to them.

We, the adults of the world, have to be careful when we advise them about their use of technologies. We may be too eager to focus on the articles about the negative consequences of the use of digital technologies. We need to recognize that they are global, and most of us are not. They grew up participating in real time relationships among dispersed individuals in ways that are far more advanced than our ways of relating to others.

We need to recognize that their work endeavors will be in an environment that is different from the ones in which we operate. We may be far more adept at operating in an organization that has not faced its SIP. They may be far more adept at operating in a post-SIP global organization because they were raised in the networked world.

Keep in mind what Gerstner said about that world: "It is going to fundamentally alter every institution in our society and it will change the way we work, the way we communicate, and the way we relate to each other." Perhaps we should each seek out a member of this generation and get him or her to mentor us on relating to other people through digital technologies.

But too many of us are not thinking this way. Too often we disparage their use of technology. We do not recognize that their behaviors are ones that we might want to emulate. We are very good at establishing and nurturing relationships with individuals we work along side. We have a lot to teach the youth about work ethics and social behaviors in our workplaces.

Those same youth are very good at establishing and nurturing relationships among dispersed individuals. I imagine they have a lot to teach us about how to operate in their world, which is much closer to the global business environment than most of our work environments.

Last winter, I taught a class titled "Technology and Life" at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Duke. During several of the class sessions, one person in the class would ask the same question: Aren't you worried about what the young people are doing? My answer was always "No, that does not worry me."

If I were asked that question today, I would say, "Yes, I do worry. But not about what the youth are doing with digital technologies. I worry about what adults are not doing with them."

Participation Age up close

In Content business on May 1, 2006 at 10:49 pm

My wife and I went to Merlefest, a music festival held in honor of Merle Watson, the deceased musician and son of Doc Watson. It was a great festival and we had a wonderful time. We also saw, up close and personal, what Michael Malone called the Digital Photography Revolution.

There were a dozen or so venues throughout the Wilkes Community College campus. The largest venue, the Watson Stage, has thousands of seats with room for many, many more in a grassy area in the back. There must have been tens of thousands of people in the audience during performances of some of the stars, such as Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch, Nickel Creek, etc.

As shown on the seating chart, there are two main aisles that lead to the area in front of the stage. We had seats on the end of the fourth row, next to Aisle 4. No only did we have a great view of the stage, we witnessed a parade of photographers, both professional and amateur, coming down to take pictures of the performers. Police and volunteer ushers made sure that people had time to take a few pictures, and then encouraged them to go back to their seats. As a result, we saw hundreds of people clamoring to take pictures with digital cameras of all shapes, sizes and prices.

When you snap a picture, you create content. In order to participate in a larger community, you need to share the picture so that others can enjoy it. A "Merlefest" search on the Flickr picture sharing site returned 242 photos, such as this picture of Gillian Welch, which appears to have been taken near where I was standing during her performance on Saturday on the Creekside stage. I imagine there will be many more posted on Flickr and similar sites as people get around to transferring their pictures from their cameras.

Whether simply taking pictures, taking and sharing them, photographers at Merlefest brought the Participation Age into my lap as they jostled at times to get close to the stage. It was quite an experience!