John McCann

Archive for the ‘Content workers’ Category

Create the new “news”

In Citizen Journalism, Content workers on September 27, 2006 at 11:47 pm

I just saw a post on the Knight Foundation blog about a new program that provides funds for folks who want to create the next-generation news:

“The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation today launches the Knight Brothers 21st Century News Challenge, investing as much as $5 million in its first year in community news projects that best use the digital world to connect people to the real world. The News Challenge is looking to fund new ideas, prototypes, products and leadership initiatives that use innovative news methods to help citizens better connect within their communities. The competition is open to anyone, not just the journalism community.“News and information are the glue that binds communities. We want to help today’s high-tech news do in the 21st century what the Knight brothers’ newspapers did this past century,” said Alberto Ibargüen, president of Knight Foundation. “Through their newspapers, the Knight brothers helped build a sense of community in cities and towns across the country. They did it by providing news, information and commentary that helped citizens understand their common interests and opportunities. The Knight brothers helped define the geography where people lived. We want to continue that tradition using new media to do what the brothers used to do with ink on paper,” said Ibargüen.If the quality of entries warrant it, the foundation may spend as much as $25 million during the next five years in the search for bold community news experiments.”

Now that’s quite an invitation to all of us who may have an interest in participating in the new age of news.


Teens participating

In Content business, Content workers on August 1, 2006 at 7:34 pm

Judy McGrath, chairman and CEO of MTV Networks, gave a keynote address at the 2006 CTAM Summit, which was a conference of cable and media folks. Lostremote provided a synopsis of her remarks. The aspect that interests me the most is her remark about the role that teens are playing in MTV’s media efforts:

  • MTV research shows that 57% teens create content for web; spend 3 hours on the web every day; and 9 out of 10 use the web for homework.
  • “Our audience wants to participate and wants to leave their mark on the media landscape.”
  • These teens are content workers. Even though they work for free, they are still content workers. They are in the content business in the sense that they are creating content. Firms such as MTV provide the tools and the context for their creation. Just a couple of years ago, such content did not have a suitable distribution channel. Today, sites such as YouTube provide the conduit, one that is getting filled with content. The result: serving 100 million videos a day.

    This is just one more piece of evidence that the Participation Age is in full bloom.

    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."

    Are you a Big Time Content Worker?

    In Content workers on April 19, 2006 at 12:01 pm

    A Big Time Content Worker (BTCW) is someone who works (reads, watches, listens, creates, communicates, etc.) with content almost all of the work day.

    • If you work in a cubicle or an office or at a desk in an open work area, you are a BTCW.
    • If you travel most of the day to different locations where you primarily talk to people about their situations, you are a BTCW.
    • If your work day involves being in constant contact with customers, suppliers, partners, team members, bosses, etc., you are a BTCW.

    During my academic career, I was a BTCW. I read academic literature and the major business publications, I wrote comments about what I had read, I prepared lectures and other classroom exercises, I wrote and graded exams, I prepared and conducted research projects, I wrote articles and books that described my research, I conducted classes, I consulted with managers, I made speeches, I talked with my colleagues, I participated in committees, I wrote committee reports, etc. My entire academic life was the life of a BTCW.

    During my engineering career, I was a BTCW. I studied a problem, I devised a solution, I designed the mechanical devices needed for the solution, I tested it, I wrote a report about my solution and the test, I did a business analysis of the feasibility of my solution, I presented my results, I argued for the implementation of my solution, etc. I did all of this while working in an office, cubicle, laboratory, and production facility.

    The more I think about white collar workers as Content Workers, I see that a large fraction of them are probably Big Time Content Workers.

    Participation Age Perestroika

    In Content workers, Early Predictions, Technology on April 18, 2006 at 4:16 pm

    The Participation Age is a new age for the planet, in general, and the United States in particular. As is the case in any new age, we must have a restructuring of our economy so that we can move from old practices into new ones. Such a reconstruction has been called a perestroika in the context of the restructuring of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s.

    In the 1990 book Bionomics, Michael Rothschild provides an analysis and forecast of the perestroika associated with the emergence of the Participation Age.

    "Most technical advances lead to only minor improvement in products and slight changes in the organization of work. A modified condenser might boost the power of a steam locomotive, but it wouldn't radically affect the work of the train's crew or fundamentally alter the economic role of railroads. But, in rare cases, an especially potent new technology will trigger a restructuring that ripples throughout the entire economy — from the lowliest work cells to the largest organizations. Today, as the twentieth century draws to a close, we are in the midst of precisely this kind of massive structural transformation. Because we lack the benefit of hindsight, we cannot fully appreciate the magnitude of the economic restructuring we are now experiencing. But our descendants will almost certainly judge the 'computer-on-a-chip' to be the most economically significant technical achievement of the previous 500 years. The microprocessor will rank at the very pinnacle of human invention because — like the printing press — it slashed the cost of encoding, copying, and communicating information. And, by doing so, it has brought vast areas of previously unattainable knowledge within human grasp and has made possible a staggering array of new products. Today these products are profoundly altering the capabilities of millions of work cells in every niche of the global economy. … By delivering on the promise of computer technology, the microprocessor thrust the world's capitalist economies into a new economic era — the Information Age. Robert Noyce, co-inventor of the integrated circuit and a founder of Intel Corporation, wrote: 'Just as the Industrial Revolution enabled man to apply and control greater physical power than his own muscle could provide, so electronics has extended his intellectual power. … As millions of microprocessors flooded into the economy, it was as if the information-processing power of each work cell's nucleus was abruptly and immensely multiplied. With their newly acquired personal computers, front-line managers began exercising a level of control that was previously unimaginable. Production cells that had always depended upon instructions from remote headquarters cells suddenly were empowered with enough information-processing capacity to make fast, rational decisions on their own. In short, microprocessor technology radically boosted the productive potential of every work cell in the economy. In a turbulent decade, with little conscious awareness of the fundamental forces at play, and without any plan, the economy spontaneously restructured itself in what amounted to an unsung American perestroika."

    The key phrase: "microprocessor technology radically boosted the productive potential of every work cell in the economy." Every work cell, be it a person, group, department, remote location or team, could now use this new productive potential to participate independently. This is the very nature of the Participation Age.

    Content tools

    In Content workers, Technology on April 12, 2006 at 11:48 am

    In an earlier post titled "You are in the Content Business," I concluded that all white collar workers are Content Workers (CWs). As Content Workers they locate, combine, create, refine, store, protect, communicate and display content. In this work, they use Content Tools (CTs) such as computers, networks, software, hard drives, DVDs, phones, mp3 players, video devices, cameras, camcorders, PDAs and other digital technologies.

    When we look at the world in this way, we can see that the digital technology industry is all about conceiving, designing, manufacturing and marketing CTs. That's what the digital technology industry does, year in and year out. In the 60s, the industry focused on large computer systems for office automation. In the 70s, the focus shifted to the medium-sized, time-sharing systems for use in factories, process control, etc. The 80s was the decade of the personal computer and its empowerment of the individual through productivity software. The 90s brought us two new networks: 1) the Internet for connecting all of those computers into a global universe, along with email, instant messages and the World Wide Web, and 2) mobile phone networks. So far, the 00s is the gadget decade with digital devices that connect to these networks and enable mobile content creation and management.

    The Participation Age is enabled by these digital technologies. Each new generation of CTs allows non-experts to participate in the content world in ways that were previously reserved for the highly trained professional.

    Internet enters Lego Era

    In Content workers on April 7, 2006 at 12:06 pm

    An article in the New York Times titled "Software Out There" opens with the statement that the Internet has entered the Lego Era because of the nature of the tools now available to people building software that runs on the Internet. Here is the essence of the argument made in the article:

    Indeed, blocks of interchangeable software components are proliferating on the Web and developers are joining them together to create a potentially infinite array of useful new programs. This new software represents a marked departure from the inflexible, at times unwieldy, programs of the past, which were designed to run on individual computers.

    As a result, computer industry innovation is rapidly becoming decentralized. In the place of large, intricate and self-contained programs like Microsoft Word, written and maintained by armies of programmers, smaller companies, with just a handful of developers, are now producing pioneering software and Web-based services. These new services can be delivered directly to PC's or even to cellphones. Bigger companies are taking note.

    Being in the Lego Era means that people can construct new applications by piecing together existing components and services, a process that is much quicker than writing all of those components and services from scratch. Ray Ozzie, Microsoft's Chief Technology Officer, is quoted in the article as saying that this is leading to a power shift.

    "For years, vendors like Microsoft have put huge resources into tools to build composite applications," he said. "With mash-ups, the real power becomes the people who can weave the applications together."

    My interpretation of this statement is that the Lego Era is part of the Participation Age: many people can now participate in the world of software development by simply mashing-up the work of others to create something new.

    Teens create content for the net

    In Content workers, Culture & society on April 6, 2006 at 12:17 pm

    Recent research by the Pew Foundation focused on content creation and the resuls are reported in the report "Teen Content Creation and Consumers." The report makes the point that it is increasingly common for teens to create content for the Internet. The key here is for the Internet. As outlined in a previous post, we all create content as part of our daily lives. But creating content for, and distributing it on, the Internet is the new phenomenon. This point is clear in the following material from the report:

    Thanks to the Internet, American teenagers can engage media material and create their own content in ways their parents could not. Today's online teens live in a world filled with self-authored, customized, and on-demand content, much of which is easily replicated, manipulated, and redistributable. The Internet and digital publishing technologies have given them the tools to create, remix, and share content on a scale that had previously only been accessible to the professional gatekeepers of broadcast, print, and recorded media outlets.

    Create, mix and share … those are the common activities. The report tells us that over one-half of today's teens participate in this practice through several activities.

    More than half of all online teens who go online create content for the internet. Among internet-using teens, 57% (or 50% of all teens, roughly 12 million youth) are what might be called Content Creators. They report having done one or more of the following content- creating activities: create a blog; create a personal webpage; create a webpage for school, a friend, or an organization; share original content they created themselves online; or remix content found online into a new creation.

    The practice of remixing online content has created a "remix culture" that is championed by many people, including Larry Lessig, a Stanford law professor. Wikipedia contains an entry about his position.

    Remix culture is a term employed by Lawrence Lessig to describe a society which allows and encourages derivative works. Such a culture would be, by default, permissive of efforts to improve upon, change, integrate, or otherwise remix the work of copyright holders. Lessig presents this as a desirable ideal and argues, among other things, that the health, progress, and wealth creation of a culture is fundamentally tied to this participatory remix process.

    The beauty of a remix culture is that creativity feeds creativity. You create something that spurs me to create something that builds upon it. I may put your creative expression, your creative content, together with mine to produce something entirely new.

    Whether through pure creativity or some form of remix, today's teens are participating in the Internet-based content creation in new and exciting ways. I wonder where this will lead when they move into their twenties.

    You are in the content business!

    In Content business, Content workers on April 4, 2006 at 11:51 am

    An article in USA Today reports that Hollywood is starting to offer downloads of its newer movies at the same time that it makes them available on DVD. The article ends with a quote about what this represents on a larger scale:

    "The smartest people in Hollywood realize that they are not in the movie business; they are in the content business," says Shelly Palmer, author of Television Disrupted: The Transition from Network to Networked TV.

    Looking at a business in a broader context is now a standard way for executives to begin to understand how they can expand and/or break out of their normal way of doing business. Once the studios recognize they are in the content business, they can move beyond the structures and strategies of the movie business.

    When I read this article I was struck by the question: Who else is in the content business? This question led me to a line of thought that produced insights that surprised me.

    • If a movie is content, then so is a television show and a music recording. In fact, all recorded entertainment is content.
    • If the movie "My Fair Lady" is content, is the theater production of "My Fair Lady" also content? Does something have to be recorded onto some medium in order to be content? No, a live performance is also content.
    • So entertainment in all forms and formats is content, including concerts, plays, nightclub performances, etc.
    • Newspaper and magazine stories are content.
    • All written communications are content, including letters, instant messages, and memoranda.
    • Radio programs are content, as are podcasts.
    • All spoken words are content, including telephone calls, sermons, conversations, college lectures and corporate presentations.
    • Software is content, including entertainment software (games, etc.), business software (Microsoft Office, etc.), and web pages.
    • Content includes all expressions of knowledge.
    • Most content is private to the individual, family, group or organization.
    • All white collar workers are content producers and/or managers. They produce content by their daily work and they manage the content that they and others produce.
    • Content is located, combined, created, refined, stored, protected, communicated and displayed.

    The most surprising insight, at least surprising to me, is that all white collar workers are Content Workers in the sense that they work with content in their daily jobs. Their organizations may not be in the content business, but they are when they talk on the phone, participate in meetings, prepare and deliver a presentation, find content produced by others, send an email message, write a memorandum, etc.

    I now see that I was a Content Worker (CW) when I designed and tested new products as an engineer, prepared and taught college courses, did research and wrote papers, consulted with corporations, etc.

    This insight allows me to see the Participation Age through a new lens, and I will be writing about what I see in future posts.