Alister Cameron // Blogologist

Changing the world. One blog(ger) at a time.

Read this before you buy that next thing!

Here’s a trend you’ll start to feel the effect of soon: collaborative consumption.

It’s based on a really simple but powerful (nay, paradigm-shifting!) idea: you don’t need to own things to get value out of them! As expert Rachel Botsman challenges, “Why buy the drill when all you need is the hole?”

Think about it:

  • You need a lawnmower to mow your lawn. But do you need to own the lawnmower? Could a number of the residents in your street just share one? For how many other garden tools might this work too?
  • How long before you’re tired of that CD you bought (or those iTunes songs you downloaded)? With apps like Spotify, you can listen till you’re bored, but you didn’t waste money on buying songs!
  • In many cities, the public transport is so good, you don’t really need a car. And when you do, why not just rent one by the hour?
  • Kids notoriously get bored with toys quickly, with some exceptions. So why not join or setup a toy library, which can afford to buy high-quality and reliable toys for a large number of children to enjoy?
  • Whenever we’re dealing with high-cost services, we typically find models of collaborative consumption as the only possible solution. For example, mums join babysitting clubs because none can afford a private nanny (or even babysitting bills).

It’s just human psychology, isn’t it. We “covet” what we see others have, yet we experience post-purchase dissonance as soon as we buy it for ourselves, and worse still, we continue to feel guilty for using the thing far less than we ought. Remember that gym membership?!

Maybe collaborative consumption models offer a guilt-free alternative. Maybe they’re good for the soul! And, seriously, I think they are, because they make for richer experiences of community, they save on resources, and they make you feel better about your own consumption habits. What’s not to like??

Here’s Rachel’s TED talk. Tell me you’re not in love with the idea!

So… are you going to join the revolution? Maybe you already have…

Common Goods for the Common Good

I don’t know about you, but I reckon there’s something so very dehumanizing and fake about out-of-control consumerism, about the endless pursuit of more stuff. My hope for myself, and for you, dear reader, is that this trend towards collaborative consumption yields good fruit, and not just in the sense of less stuff, but in a greater sense of value for something we don’t talk about much: the common good.

Ever stopped to think about what “common good” means? It means life is better done with other people, well. It points to those things in society that make it “rich”. So… if you had to share a lawnmower with your neighbours, would that enrich or impoverish your street? If you give your kids toys from a shared resource like a toy library, would that enrich or impoverish your children’s lives? If you were wealthy enough to afford a nanny and a housekeeper and a private driver and every other personal service, and didn’t need to work out “swaps” with friends, would that enrich or impoverish your life?

I think “less is more” if it means we discover the riches of stronger community.

So… will you commit to more common goods if this will really lead to a richer common good?

Are you really in control?

I’m reading through a Pew Research report titled “Millennials will benefit and suffer due to their hyperconnected lives”. It’s fascinating reading.

Only five pages in, and I was struck by this paragraph, which has been percolating in my head ever since, and which I encourage you to read thoughtfully…

“There will be a premium on the skill of maintaining presence, of mindfulness, of awareness in the face of persistent and pervasive tool extensions and incursions into our lives. Is this my intention, or is the tool inciting me to feel and think this way? That question, more than multitasking or brain atrophy due to accessing collective intelligence via the internet, will be the challenge of the future.”

The person behind this quote is Barry Chudakov, a research fellow in the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology at the University of Toronto. I know nothing about him, but I love his thinking.

Lets unpack this a little, and as a father of teens and pre-teens, it’s stuff that I think about a lot and am “bothered” by…

By 2020, the typical Western kid is going to be so immersed in technology that he/she won’t readily know where the technology ends and he/she begins. That’s actually pretty scary. It thus puts a premium on the skill of maintaining a proper and comprehensive sense of self. It means being able to constantly ask oneself, “Do I own the decisions I’m making? And am I consciously choosing to head in a given direction, or am I being ‘led’ there unconsciously by the prompts and triggers of the technology that’s supposed to be adding ‘leverage’ to my natural abilities, but not ‘steering the ship’, as it were?”

And knowing youth as I do, they don’t yet have the brain maturity – even at a physiological level – to display an adult’s kind of judgement and self-discipline. It’s going to take adults in their lives to help them be very deliverate and disciplined about how they use technology to their advantage, but not to the point where they’ve, in actual fact, surrendered a lot of control to the “devices”.

Futurist John Smart explains, in very basic terms, how we develop maturity about this stuff:

“As machine intelligence advances the first response of humans is to offload their intelligence and motivation to the machines. That’s a dehumanizing, first-generation response. Only the later, third-generation educational systems will correct for this.”

Yeah, but while it’s still a first-generation response, it’s our youth who are most deeply experiencing it, and thus it’s our youth whose welfare we’re risking the most!

So there’s some stuff to think about: at the same time as technology can enhance our lives, our early efforts to embrace it responsibly are typically messy and, in hindsight, seen to be – at times – damaging and destructive. I’m just worried our kids are going to get hurt the most.

The Pew Research is great reading! Love to hear your thoughts…

Do you want to build a business, or start a movement??

Had a lot on my mind, lately. In short, I think many of us are at a tipping point…

As a Christian, I’m going to start with a theological point. If you’re an atheist, skip this paragraph! Humans are created in the image of a trinitarian God, to be community-oriented, and to favour experiences that are collaborative, co-creative, and allow the individual to have his/her say. To put it another way, people love to be consulted, and they love to argue. Our pursuit for meaning in life is a collective endeavour and we get to more meaningful stuff by arguing and “dialectic”. Hold that thought.

In 1937 a British economist called Ronald Coase wrote a famous paper on “The Nature of the Firm“. He hypothesised that corporations only need exist to address the problem of prohibitively high transaction costs between individuals in a marketplace. The very structure and existence of a corporation, then, only makes sense to manage efficiencies and economies of scale, as a better alternative to leaving individuals to find others to trade with, to negotiate price, to manage the logistics of supply, etc. Heady stuff, but the basic idea is simple enough: if transaction costs between individuals were not prohibitively high, there would be no value in having individuals come together in a “closed economy” called a corporation, with all the complexities and compromises that come with it.

Now, since 1937, there’s not been a great deal of talk about Coase, because the world has operated on the assumption – never strongly challenged – that corporations are effective economic models. We can’t imagine big business without them!

However, since the advent of the Internet, and its broad adoption for important things in every sector of society and industry, we are beginning to see real working examples of alternatives to the traditional corporate model, for getting important stuff done. These new models are championed by people who are passionate about openness and transparency, who have seen how impossibly hard it is to foster innovation in the typical corporate structure. These are folk at the fringes.

Linus Torvalds sat at his computer in 1995 and wrote an email to colleagues, sharing the vision for a free and open alternative to the computer operating systems available in the day. Out of that simple invitation, a global movement was born – awkwardly at first – called Linux. Today it remains an “open source” operating system, but it has been so incredibly successful – due to its high quality and broad appeal – that it now powers the majority of servers, routers and other such devices which power the public Internet globally. It’s a truly remarkable story.

Similarly remarkable is the story of Wikipedia. Indeed, so successful has the Wikimedia Foundation been, that they have all but removed the encyclopedia from the for-profit business world’s reach. The closest commercial competitor was Microsoft’s Encarta, which closed down in March 2009 when it was fighting to retain under 2 per cent of market share. Encyclopedia Britannica continues, but I honestly don’t know how! In successfully eliminating all competitors, Wikipedia has gone further: it has taken advantage of the Internet, along with a mature tool for peer collaboration and co-creation called the wiki, to completely redefine what success looks like in the encyclopedia business!

And this goes to the very heart of what digital disruption does: in many sectors of industry and society it not only offers better ways of doing things, but it invites a complete redefinition of what is possible, in favour of completely new experiences, values and benefits.

Examples like Linux and Wikipedia (and many others I can describe) demonstrate that a compelling case can be made, that for a growing number of “use cases”, the mass-gathering of amateurs working to professional standards, using tools which support the peer production of shared value, is the best way to do it! Wikipedia today proves beyond doubt that the best way to put an encyclopedia together is via a massive collaborative effort of amateur volunteers working to professional standards, motivated by an open source license, a meritocratic model of governance, and the sheer love of knowledge!

Linux and Wikipedia are not businesses; they’re movements. They don’t have customers; they have contributors. And in both cases many of the contributors care about something more than they care about the projects themselves: they care about the underlying open model. They are passionate about open source. Why? Because it fosters innovation. Because it brings co-labourers together for reasons of shared passion, not shared profit. Because it holds the potential to grow into something wonderful and surprising for all involved. Because it’s way more fun!

Now, I’m not predicting the overnight demise of corporations. At least not universally. But I’m seeing a growing number of movements of highly intelligent, passionate people, seeking alternatives to existing for-profit, “shareholders-first, customers-second” corporate models, and they’re chalking up some big early wins.

This disconnect between our fundamental human nature – our innate preference for an equal part to play and an equal say – and the last 100 years of “corporate rule” is very well captured in this short video by, funnily enough, Microsoft:

I have shown this video to many different audiences (including many groups of senior executives) over the last few years, and the knowing giggles and smiles are universal. None of us doubt the price the consumer has had to pay in the last 60 years or so of hegemonic rule between the modern corporation and the one-way broadcasting paradigm of the mainstream media. The “balance of power” did not favour the consumer.

But today, in many sectors, the open source movement is presenting a compelling challenge to reconsider the most basic construct of business: the division between consumer and producer. Thanks to the elegance of modern Internet and social media technology, those “formerly known as the consumer” are banding together and taking back production for themselves. It is my conviction that this re-appropriation of the means of production by the “consumer” is set to accelerate rapidly in the next decade, now that the Internet and social media tools have reached a point of sophistication where they are no longer impediments but common-place, indeed boring. As one commentator puts it, “Communications tools don’t get socially interesting until they get technologically boring.”

Consumers are using modern tools of peer production to do more and more amazing things. The fruit of such endeavours include the Open Source Software (OSS) movement, with such well-known projects as Linux, http://apache.org/, http://wordpress.org/, http://drupal.org/ and many more. More recently, the Open Source Hardware movement has gained significant momentum with popular projects including Arduino and Raspberry Pi in the electronics sector, Makerbot for 3D printing, and Wikispeed and the Global Village Construction Set bringing the vision of open source machinery to life.

In the case of Wikispeed, it is little short of remarkable that a group of volunteers and amateurs from around the world have been able to self-organise as distributed manufacturing and design teams, to refine and build a production-ready passenger car that does 100 miles to the gallon and meets all production safety standards!

In Scotland, a virtual mobile phone company called GiffGaff has completely given over their customer support function to their customers, who call themselves “members”. With the exception of account-related matters, all customer support issues are handled by a member-managed online forum. The average response time for support enquiries is 3 minutes. Customer satisfaction surveys consistently return a satisfaction rating of 90%. These would be dream results for any company, but GiffGaff consistently achieves these results using an open model where they have given customer service back to the customers themselves. Not only does it work; it works better than can be achieved by any competitors using a traditional model using paid customer service staff. Amazing. Somewhat disturbingly, there are GiffGaff customers who are so delighted, they’ve tattooed the logo on themselves. So I’m told.

So… in light of the above, how will your business invite customers so far into the company itself that they no longer think of themselves as customers but partners, advocates and members of a movement? Perhaps going down an open source or non-patent path is part of it, but the challenge is to write openness and transparency into the very genetic code of the company from the very start.

If this is done well, then the business will gain enormously from word-of-mouth marketing, and will not have to spend as much on above-the-line marketing. If this is done well, customers will feel more like brand advocates than consumers of a product. If this is done well, a spirit of innovation will be as meaningful for your customers as for the company itself.

It is nothing short of terrifying to consider something which, for the typical Harvard-weaned business executive, is incomprehensible: an inverted business model where you entrust tools of production to your customer, in order to unleash their passion and innovation.

In such an inverted model, the asset of the company is the brand and the custodianship of the IP around the product. There is no questioning the value of the Linux or Wikipedia brands. Nor is there any questioning of their market-share. But the road to profitability is different for everyone. Wikimedia Foundation’s expenses are covered by grants and donations. RedHat charges for professional services, and service level agreements, and does very well from that, even though their core product is open source software.

You’ll have to do some hard thinking about how the revenue will come. It’s not necessarily harder, it’s just different. But the trade-off is worth it.

I encourage you, dear reader, to read Macrowikinomics, a new(ish) book by Don Tapscott. There are many books you could read, but this one, I think, is a good entry-point.

If you have 30 minutes, you should watch Don explain what it’s all about:

I’ll conclude with some quick thoughts about the Law of Assymetrical Competition (!):

Yesterday, the majority of competition was symmetrical: between players with relatively evenly matched resources and capabilities. Think Ford v. GM, P&G v. Unilever, or K-Mart v. Sears. While new entrants have always challenged these incumbents, it’s different now:

  • Rarely before have new entrants upset incumbents so decisively — to actually put them out of commission. (i.e. 244–yr old Britannica v. 11–yr old Wikipedia).
  • Never have entrants dominated entire industries with such speed (i.e. Facebook’s domination of not just the social media industry but the entire Internet).
  • Never before have so little resources been needed to compete (i.e. Airbnb v. hotels)
  • Never before have so many revolutionaries threatened so many incumbents across a broad sweep of industries.

In short, the Law of Asymmetrical Competition states that closed, hierarchical organizations will lose to those entrants who collaborate with their user communities via networked technologies.

Love to hear your thoughts!

A new blog design for a new year!

It won’t land January 1, but I’m looking to redesign this blog. I want it to be simpler, cleaner, more… 2013-ish! Keen to know what people like about the current design, if some things should be retained. Let me know in the comments icon smile A new blog design for a new year!

Obama and “Big Data”

Head of Digital at World Vision Australia

I’ve been slack on the blog, since taking up my new role as Head of Digital at World Vision Australia. It’s just pretty full on in the “first 100 days”, but I’m working on it! What would you like me to blog about?!

My prediction for 2012 and beyond: gamification of the entire social web

i love to compete hat p148726691096421134zvhz8 400 My prediction for 2012 and beyond: gamification of the entire social web

I’ve been “fiddling” (as I do) with Empire Avenue and Klout lately. These are two very different attempts at measuring a person’s online influence and authority. If I’m not careful I can spend up to 30 minutes a day on Empire Avenue and I check my Klout most days.

Empire Avenue is far more elaborate than Klout, in may ways. It’s a deeply “gamified” experience, where you are given all kinds of things to do to increase your share price and wealth, to interact with others, and to, well, waste lots of time.

But standing back from these two services, and others like them, I am conscious of another much bigger opportunity for someone big. Think… Facebook big, or Google big. I’m thinking about the gamification of the entire social web.

Can you imagine it? In the not too distant future (a future that is approaching us at “internet speed”), pretty much everything you do online will be measured and will be intelligently ranked against pretty much everything everyone else does online, to give you a very detailed influence/authority score.

Presently, systems like Klout, Peer Index and Empire Avenue are very limited. They give us only the slimmest idea of what’s coming. They are limited to measuring you on a pathetically small handful of services: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, YouTube and the like. The limitations of this should be obvious.

If you’re the most influential book reviewer on Amazon, none of these ranking services can see any of that. If you’re the most authoritative contributor to a large niche discussion forum on, say, day trading… none of these ranking services can see any of that either.

To suggest that Klout, Empire Avenue, Peer Index or the like can hope to give you a fair and comprehensive ranking is a nonsense. There are only three kinds of people who rank highly on them now: celebrities, social media professionals (who spend all day online and are “strategically prolific” in talking amongst themselves) and hackers – people like me who write and deploy scripts and other trickery to generate “activity” to make us look bigger and more awesome than we may actually be.

It’s also a fundamental flaw of these systems – in claiming to offer a single-digit representation of a person’s social media influence and authority – that they see the social media world as one homogenous “cosmos”. I may be Justin Bieber with a perfect score of 100/100 on Klout, but that doesn’t mean I’m in any way valuable to that huge and lively forum of day traders. I’m a total zero over there.

So what’s the end game here? What needs to happen? What do I think WILL happen?

Firstly, I think this is fundamentally a Very Big Data opportunity. So that means Google, Facebook or Microsoft. It’s only these sorts of monster internet businesses who can possibly hope to track your every move online. Google pretty much already does, but has a track-record of doing search+advertising sales brilliantly and pretty much everything else averagely. Microsoft does nothing really well outside of the enterprise or the desktop, so that leaves Facebook, who are very slow about extending outside their own domain name.

If I think Google is still a good chance it’s because their analytics product is almost everywhere, so they’re already tracking more online activity across websites, at least, than anyone else.

See, I think the big game here is about your identity! The winner is the company which can come out owning your identity online. That means: knowing more about you than anyone else, tracking where you go and what you do better than anyone else, and paying others for that information handsomely.

And no company is going to achieve that without giving you an enjoyable, rewarding, engaging experience, in the context of which you will be happy to stay loyal to them, to give them all your gory details, etc.

But for this winner to emerge, more than anything else, they are going to have to collect comprehensive information on your online activities. And as Facebook’s latest announcements make clear, there will need to be a lot better data collected on you than ever before.

Right now Facebook is transitioning from a service which allowed you to “like” or “recommend” things, to a service which waits to see what you actually do. It makes sense that Alister Cameron buying a book on Amazon is a more accurate indication of his interest in that book than Alister Cameron’s “liking” of that book.

The best data to collect reflects what you do, moreso than what you say you like. And so it is that Facebook is “democratizing verbs”, so that in the near future your Facebook timeline will record that you read an article, bought an event ticket, donated money, rated someone’s comment on a blog, etc.

As the guys over at Badgeville are putting it, your “behaviour graph” is in every way more important than your “interest graph”. That’s where social media reputation scoring is going.

But if we know what data we’re trying to track, we still have a fundamental problem: comprehensiveness. Badgeville is developing a fantastic product called Social Fabric. But it’s for an individual site to implement for their own user base… only. We’re back to the same problem we identified earlier. There’s no one doing the two critical elements of this: tracking what everyone actually does online, and building game mechanics around that to provide incentives, rewards, and recognition for it. And finally, no one has figured out how to do this in such a way that a given person’s specific expertise is surfaced and rewarded, based on what they’ve actually done, rather than on what they or others say about them. But that’s all coming…

These are some initial thoughts. I need to develop them a lot further, but I’m at least certain of this: that there is enormous money to be made out of the kinds of data to be collected from what you and I actually do online, and there is definitely a way to make it so that the gameplay follows you around online, pretty much wherever you go. And that you have massive fun with it!

Can you imagine that? Does what I’m describing make sense to you?

Content curation: computers and humans creating collaborative intelligence

We don’t have a problem of “information overload”… we have a problem of “filter failure”. And even as you’re reading this massive money is being spent to create better filters. And the best filters are those which allow humans and computers to both do what they do best… in a new thing called “collaborative intelligence”.

Content Curation. We’re starting to hear about it all over the place! But what is it?!

I think it’s pretty simple. It’s about organizing information. It’s all the extra intelligence that’s wrapped around raw information that makes it accessible, findable (is that a word), and meaningful to the right people at the right time.
It could be said that most journalists are really content curators. They don’t usually write, so much as they organize and represent raw information from elsewhere, in a form that’s better packages, timely and more meaningful to their specific readership.
Many bloggers do that. I’m one of those bloggers. I cover blogging and social media on this blog, but most of the time I’m doing a fine enough job if all I do is act as a filter for my readers, in helping them to get to the good stuff out there. And I do that by “editorializing” around the raw content I find out there… cutting bits out of it here and there, rewording it, explaining the context, making an argument around it, etc. That’s curation!
If you’re a fellow bloggers, you have a success formula if all you so is faithfully bring your readers up-to-date curated content on a given niche or subject-matter. You don’t have to write the raw content. Let others do that. Just do what journalists do: bring it in digestible form to your readers. That’s curation!

Now, in 2011, curation is coming into its own precisely because various content syndication, management and filtering technologies have reached maturity and ubiquity, to the point where “Joe Average” netizen can use them freely and effectively to create a new kind of collaboration, and a new kind of intelligence: that of man and machine working together on a new, faster, more comprehensive and more enjoyable kind of curating experience that’s called “collaborative intelligence”.
I’ll have more to say on this in the coming weeks and months.
To start, here’s social media guru Brian Solis

Karan Bavandi is the founder of KBucket.com (a curation platform I’m still figuring out). He’s very vocal about content curation and his Twitter account is worth following for that reason…

Why is content #curation the next disruptive business? Here are some good arguments by some smart people – http://dld.bz/XtYw
KBucketeer me normal Content curation: computers and humans creating collaborative intelligence
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favicon Content curation: computers and humans creating collaborative intelligenceSeptember 25, 2011

Here are a couple of good slide decks on the topic. There are many!

Magnify is an impressive platform for video curation and Steve Rosenbaum is the boss…
Shel Holtz is a very well known marketing dude online, and he’s all over curation too…

Here are a couple of curation tools (or platforms) to look into. The first is Storify, and I’m using it to write my blog! The second is scoop.it, which is a curation platform many are playing with. The difference is that Storify (in my opinion) does a better job of giving you easy ways to bring content in from the outside.

Storify gives me a Chrome extension, which I love! I can grab pretty much anything from anywhere on the web, and bring it into a Storify story that I’m working on. I can then move it around, add my own editorial comment around it, etc. Very nice!

Here’s the ubiquitous Robert Scoble talking to the Scoop.it founder…

logo scoopit facebook Content curation: computers and humans creating collaborative intelligence Be The Curator of Your Favorite Topic! | Scoop.it
Create your topic-centric media by collecting gems among relevant streams Publish it to your favorite social media or to your blog

Finally, everyone has their opinion on what makes a great content curation platform, and you’ll need to make up your own mind. Here’s a review of a whole bunch.

amplify Content curation: computers and humans creating collaborative intelligence 30+ Cool Content Curation Tools for Personal & Professional Use
Posted By WebAdvantage.net on Aug 19th, 2011 As the web becomes more and more inundated with blogs, videos, tweets, status updates, news, articles, and countless other forms of content, "information overload" is something we all seem to suffer.

Has content curation appeared on your radar? Do you as a blogger realize the power you have, not to be a subject matter expert but to be an expert curator?!

 Content curation: computers and humans creating collaborative intelligence

Empire Avenue has me hooked!

I’ve just connected up to Empire Avenue and it’s proving very addictive. If you have a strong social media profile you’re gonna love it! If you don’t… it will challenge you!! Give it a look-see and let me know what you think icon smile Empire Avenue has me hooked!

Three solid, clean HTML5 WordPress “starting” themes to build off…

I’ve found three pretty funky and super clean HTML5 WordPress themes that you can use as the starting-point of your own WordPress theme/design. They are Constellation, HTML5Reset and Roots. Have you found anything better out there? Please drop a comment and let me and other know…

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