In Technology, a common request is to predict what’s next. Today, looking into the crystal ball, the view is definitely cloudy – or to be more precise a complete cloud obscures the view. This is not just financial meltdown angst but more importantly the future of computing – Cloud Computing. Much is already written on the subject of the Cloud and much confusion reigns as to what it is precisely, as well as the issues it raises around personal data security and privacy – hence the cloudiness of the Cloud. For the non-geek, the Cloud is essentially made from the combination of datacentres acting as computing factories that use wireless networks to connect people to software being delivered as an online service. The Economist quotes Lutz Heuser, Head of Research at SAP, who refers to it as an “Internet of services” but adds that the cloud metaphor is probably more adpt. But despite this complexity, the Cloud will pervade economies transforming behaviours, societies and most importantly the way we communicate. Here are five headlines describing how communicators can respond to this change: 1. Understand Everything Will Connect: Through the Cloud, information will increasingly become connected to sources, related comment, opinions and disagreements in a seamless way. This will make the connectivity of Web 2.0 seem tame. Internet users will have to become navigators of connections, understanding everything has a back story, some of it spurious but all of it trackable. As professionals we will live in a digital world that we must understand in tremendous depth and detail. Context will become king and we will have to be masters of context. 2. Focus On Making It Real: The danger of this cloudy world is that everything is shaped digitally but it becomes ethereal. Consumers or Citizens will look to make it real by building tangible connections between digital and the real world. Our success will be shaped by how we make the Cloud tangible for our audiences – understanding the interface will be the key to success. To quote a comment businessweek.com: “It should allow people to make real things, assemble real things and have real experiences and deliver real services. Go beyond sharing photos and share reality.” 3. Develop Influence: In the increasingly vast interconnected web, understanding who influences (at a global and micro level) and how influence spreads will replace the traditional need for control. It will be communicators who can work with influencers to create new ideas that will achieve powerful relationships. Understanding the nodes that create influence, who then amplifies an idea and how conversations and stories spread and gain momentum will be at the heart of communications strategy – not just for traditional Public Relations approaches but truly conversational Brand strategies. 4. Use Embedded Brains: An extension of the Cloud will be the ability for embedded computing to allow objects to talk to one another. A car part will tell the garage via an ip address when it is going to breakdown. How we build strategies to support this interaction between the real and digital will become a key measure of success. How Business harnesses and exploits this transparency will be a key marketing differentiator transforming customer service and expectations. 5. Exploit Mobile Mania: In the Cloud, computing will become more and more disembodied and so be consumed where it is needed. Consumers will be able to access it at anytime through mobile devices. As a result, mobile communications will take another leap forward and become even more sophisticated. The communicators that master the immediacy and human nature of this new model will be the ones that work best in the cloudy future. Amid these headline opportunities, there is also a dark side to the Cloud. Questions are raised about how it will be made secure and, importantly, what happens to privacy and an individual’s rights to access their own information when so much personal data is held by the companies that maintain the Cloud. One obvious bug bear is who will control a person’s ability to store and access information kept within the Cloud. Does a Business have the right to turn off your personal data stored within the Cloud? As with previous generations of new Technology, the industry will need to create technologies and protocols to solve these challenges. Clearly, Businesses will need to be acutely aware of the Public Relations pitfalls of entering the cloudy future. Yet in the post credit crunch world, the need to get more out of less, communicate more efficiently and create new business models – all of which are benefits of the Cloud – will mean many firms have no choice. Further reading • The Economist, Cloud Computing Supplement, Technology Quarterly, Autumn 2008 • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloud_computing • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6PNuQHUiV3Q • Cloud computing: A catchphrase in puberty: How Google and Amazon will take your money and step on your dreams (www.theregister.co.uk/2008/08/25/cloud_dziuba/) • Cloud Computing: Are there dangers to having information infrastructure, software and services hosted on the internet rather than on our own personal computers?, The Times Online, 5 May 2008
Author Archives: Jonathan
Rick Murray circulated a great blog post from Seth Godwin
The post outlines how Storytelling is the art that elevated our role from publicists to great public relations practitioners. The jist of the comment is that essentially through a story we can create a mythology and perception that has lasting resonance as opposed to a release of information that generates a headline or newsletter article or comment.
Luke’s post on the ability for video to tell stories got me thinking about what elements of storytelling shape a mental picture that endures. My thoughts were that the story should cover some of the points below (your thoughts on any additional points welcome) :
1. Narrative – beginning, middle and end
2. Resolves a mystery, paradox, moral dilemma
3. Characters/organization who go through a journey
4. Illuminates a specific setting, back drop or world view
Back in the day brand owners and advertisers in particular became very good at telling stories think of the Milk Tray Man or the packet of Pilas Phogg Snacks (remember them?) but there are many classic adds that exploited this storytelling ability. Ironically PR agencies were less effective at story telling and often defaulting to tactical release driven media relations and publicity, however, the new environment of social media presents a great opportunity for PR people to set this right.
As we know we are now in an age of conversation where the driving force of communication are comments, thoughts and ideas that are exchanged rapidly and even tweeted in only 180 characters. But this creates a challenge for communicators. How do we tell a story in this environment? The answer is not easy because listening and contributing to a conversation makes a narrative very hard. Traditional messaging does n’t work because a conversation means listening and responding real time.
The answer has to be strategic, based on analysis and insight. If we have a way of analyzing the whole conversation at a moment in time then we can build a framework for our story to engage the conversation. However, we also need a way of rapidly refining what we have to say and this is where monitoring comes in and using 2.0 tools to listen and adapt our point but within the umbrella of a story. Two things are important here: firstly influencers and this is because it more effective to listen to the influential and then a more powerful endorsement and amplifier when the influential comment on our story. Secondly the issues are key because if the story is built around a known issue that people are talking about then it will automatically start to become a part of a much bigger issues-driven narrative. The nirvana for this kind of story telling is when you become an idea starter or partner with an idea starter whether it is Dita Von Teese to tell a story about a new kind of lingerie or David Rothschild to campaign on re-using plastics if your idea starts or ignites the story then it spreads and grows exponentially.
However, the challenge does n’t end with conversation because there is also chaos. A great report from Forrester estimated that 80 percent of comment on a brand is beyond the control of the brand owner. Again in this scenario the company has to work with the influential to be understood. However, the nature of this conversation can be chaotic take for instance the spoof video circulating recently of news coverage around Sony product launch that revolved around the company being honest and to put it mildly cursing the usefulness of it’s products.
Attachment(s) available for download until 2009-04-10
Attachment: THE TRUTH ABOUT ELECTRONIC GOODIES.wmv, 5.07 MBytes
This is the live rail of social media and how we tell stories in this world of chaos is a thorny issue. A part of the answer must be in authentic ideas, conversations and humility in story telling as the video shows anything too slick or messaged is resented and parodied. But it takes a lot of strength to remain gracious in the face of this kind of onslaught. Unless of course this was itself an attempt at authenticity.
Gordon Brown’s much publicised tweet has created some turbulence in coffee thoughts. On the face of it the tweet can really be seen as a step change. His minute-by-minute, almost ludicrously detailed commentary of his PM’s agenda, complete with interactive feedback from its audience, represents a monumental shift in how politicians – or at least their staff – communicate with citizens. So putting aside any cynicism about tweeting being a part of a Brown relaunch it’s a move that has to be applauded at least in spirit of the transparency it could engender in relationships between the governors and the governed.
However, the essential ‘news worthiness of this initiative worries me: why should an official tweet be so unusual that it makes the news? The Internet as a force for empowering citizens and conversations with politicians and policy makers has been broadly understood since the 2004 Presidential election. In this time, a pioneering society should have been able to deploy a myriad of tools and channels to build this dialogue between institutions and citizens. Yet apart from isolated acts the No10 petition being a notable example the UK has done little to build a true digi-democracy.
It is easy to see this as either a social failing, a part of Britain’s growing apathy with politics, a reflection on the innate conservatism of Britain’s institutions and dearth of innovation culture. However, even in the US the tradition behind land of free has led to much greater dialogue but the establishment of a true digi-democracy seems stunted or a preserve of special interest groups.
For me it noticeable that for the shift to a digi-democracy to gather pace greater integration with existing platforms and better awareness amongst citizens themselves of the potential for real dialogue, is required. There is clearly a perception gap between what empowered citizens think they can do and the technical ability to deliver a joined up political conversation.
I am still rather stung by the vitriol coming from ‘fruit of’s’ comment on my cold jabberwocky. In particularly as it appears so much at odds with the mood of the moment. I came across a fascinating technology business the other day imaginatik who have an interesting product called Ideas Central that allows its users to democratically source ideas and feedback from the online world. It seems that in this world of mass sourcing ideas that surely some cold jabberwocky will inevitably rise to the surface but to quote a travelling Frenchman from the 19th century to focus on this jabberwocky is to miss the point that “the moral empire of the majority is founded in part on the idea that there is more enlightenment and wisdom in many men united than one.” Stick that in your whimsical pipe.
In fact the more I think on ‘fo’s’ agenda the more I am worried. If the pedants such as ‘fo’ get their way and ascend to becoming the influencer and online arbitrator because the shout the loudest and most humorously then perhaps this majority becomes tyrannous? To quote the more elegant Frenchman: “As long as the majority is doubtful one speaks but when it is irrevocably pronounced everyone becomes silent friends and enemies alike then seem to hitch themselves together to its wagon.”
Clearly the danger of this tyranny becomes greater when anonymity is allowed to go unchallenged so in the name of all that is good would ‘fruit of’ please reveal his true identity.
Disclosure: Edelman has a commerical relationship with Imaginatik
So the coffee question that’s been on my mind for the last few quarters: is the online conversation today the same as the conversation in the pub or even coffee shop? Well it clearly depends on the company you keep. But if five years ago you were to treat the rantings , ruminations and postings on bulletin boards, proto-blogs and use groups as a proxy to views on the broader ‘real’ world then it would have led to some pretty flawed analysis and decisions. However, today with the scale of the online jawing and the new tools to monitor, analyses, catalogue and cross reference influencers do we now have the luxury of assuming that online and broader word-of-mouth are the same conversations?
A quick dipstick of the blogosphere gives a clear anecdotal answer: you are going to be making decisions weighted in favour of sandal wearing values. Let’s face it even housewife technology reviewer is hardly normal of her peer group. Yet this may not be the relevant point the kitchen-based lap top reviewer may not be a-typical, however, she may be the influencer- the thought starter if you like.
So back to the pub – slash – coffee shop. Is n’t this how conversations always started essentially with the curious or argumentative challenging someone who really knew their onions. Indeed I am sure sociologists will insist there has always been a conversational hierarchy. The ManU fan’s opinion on Ronaldo will always be sought as they will have watched him the most and will give the most passionate defence or support. True we would be foolish to treat this view as objective so then perhaps we consult our drinking partner who played right wing for the pub team as having some expert objectivity in the matter and from there obviously the argument escalates until I reach the conclusion they should still have bought Berbatov to stand a chance of winning the league.
So now it seems to me that this process is clearly happening in the online world with a dynamic which if it not exactly conversational is pretty to a dialogue. This still leaves me the questions are the topics the same in both environments? And then even if is so who are these darn influencers and would you trust and online influencer if you met them in the street to same degree?
The big coffee issue for me at the moment is identity. Not just the big questions frappacino, cappa or Latte as I think I am a default Americano man. But I believe there is a flaw with the Internet: It does not know who I am? In fact, to be more precise it knows that I am lots of different habits but not really who I am?
Kim Cameron, Microsoft’s Chief Identity Architect, summed things up in a recent Garner interview. http://www.gartner.com/research/fellows/asset_187313_1176.jsp?RRFellows49
As he explained, “Systems should be capable of responding to us as individuals and support interactions based on relationships. In order to do that, we have to know things about each other. Right now, we don’t even know who we’re talking to on the Web. The Web is missing its identity layer. How can we build relationships in a world where we don’t know who we are talking to? A lot of the Web 2.0 stuff is based on the notion of communities, relationships and an understanding of my individual preferences. A lot of people would like their personal information to be transportable and shareable. I’ve got information over here that I’d like to get over there, and by the way, I’d like you to be able to see my calendar. But who are you? I don’t know. Nobody has an identity. ”
<!– II. The Future of Stock Exchanges
–>This problem might seem somewhat philosphical but with grand hopes we all have for the future of Internet then it may be a serious fly in the 2.0 ointment. How can we create trust in virtual relationships if the system we are in does not know who we are and who we are building relationships around?
So while all the talk of meta-identity systems might sound like Big Brother is it actually what is needed to enable trust? Or put another way is the ability to identify and track individuals their actions, behaviours and habits the only basis to enforcing law and trusting relations?
I do think without some answers then the virtual life will be naturally limited and people will still need to meet in coffee shops and enjoyed printed gossip sheets. In fact does this explain explain why bloggers are so relieved to meet in person and is there yet a word for the deja vu feeling of a face-to-face meeting between bloggers?
The best coffee of the year to date was consumed on a recent trip to Milan … no shock really. But while in Italy one of the weirdest of all 2.0 stories crossed the caffeine radar. This was the news that in the Habbo virtual world one of the residents lost their furniture. When I say lost the evidence pointed to it being stolen. The perpetrator apparently set up a site that looked like Habbo. The furniture speculator then captured the names and passwords of those who entered and then used these to get into the real habbo sites take their furniture and deposit it in his own Habbo world. Now given that furniture in Habbo or any virtual world is only a collection of pixels and at times only vaguely resembles real life items this is may seem no great loss. However, this overlooks the value of these digital objects to the communities, for instance Josh Hargreaves aged 3 has become very attached to the disco floor in his igloo in club Penguin. Now he only has a vague idea of what a disco actually is so something quite strange is happening as the first second-life generation grow up believing in things that have digital value but no meaning in the real world. It has got to influence how they relate to the world. So onto more adult matters … webcam sex. ITV which I suppose was one of the first virtual worlds had a programme on how the web was changing the world of sexual relations last night. The show complete with Dear Deirdrie concluded that that webcam sex involving two viewers/surfers who were married but not to each other was the same thing as cheating in the real world. So the same question as with the virtual furniture thief would this stand up as the same thing in the court of law? Clearly as the first second-life generation grows up these issues are only going to get more convoluted. The show also speculated that the web has caused a 25% increase in infidelity brought about by the increasing ease of networking. So to borrow from a scene in When Harry Met Sally that an awful lot of arguing over who gets the wagon wheel coffee table …