Archive for the 'News media' Category

Innovating, by embracing the past

Over at the apnakoi blog, I wrote about how traditional matrimonial websites have failed to leverage existing social connections amongst its users.

Here’s an excerpt…

Long before the internet became a household utility – in fact long before dial-up connections, or even the humble dial-tone – families indulged in matchmaking by tapping into far reaching social networks within their existing communities.  Chances were a relative, neighbour, or co-worker knew someone, who in turn knew someone, perfect for their son or daughter. Due diligence was reasonably effortless, with shared acquaintances between the two families vouching for the prospective bride or groom.

With each new generation, the fundamentals of this matchmaking model have evolved to keep pace with the changing times. Today, matchmaking is an indulgent pastime not just around family kitchen tables, but across college and corporate campuses alike.

Read the complete blog post here.

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Conference presentation on SlideShare

To view my presentation slides from last month’s USID Conference in Bangalore, India, head to – http://www.slideshare.net/vmalhotra/usid2008-presentation

USID2008 Conference on Design Innovation & User Experience

In our personal space, we artfully manage a constant dialogue across our networks – whether on Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn, or via tools like Twitter and Friend Feed. We effortlessly forge new communities of interest, and participate in a wider conversation.

In contrast, our workspaces are far better at enforcing hierarchy than they are at fostering a sense of community. Our workspace tools help control the message, rather than start a dialogue that would encourage collaboration and participation.

What can businesses do to adapt and thrive in this new environment? And how can smaller businesses take advantage of these new tools and technologies to compete globally?

I will be discussing the above themes in detail at the USID 2008 Conference on Design Innovation and User Experience, being held in Bangalore, India from 4 – 6  September, 2008 (via a video link).  If you happen to be in Bangalore and would like to attend the USID conference, please register at their website.

And if you happen to have any specific queries based on the themes discussed above, drop me an email and I’ll try and cover it in my presentation.

The Long Tail and social networks

In Chris Anderson’s best-selling thesis “The Long Tail” , he lauded online businesses that go to market with niche offerings, positing that a sizeable (and profitable) opportunity exists that mainstream businesses typically ignore.  Last week, Anita Elberse, in her HBR article titled “Should you invest in the Long Tail?” countered that argument, citing data that showed that mainstream demand continues to trump obscure, niche interests for wallet share.

While a healthy debate has ensued online between the authors, clearly both notions are plausible. Indeed, their relevance even impacts the strategies corporate decision makers pursue when deciding on how best to participate in online social networks.

At mainstream social networks like Facebook, My Space and Orkut, millions of members connect with friends to communicate and share experiences, forming clusters of people who have either something they identify with, or someone they know, in common.  Individual clusters expand and combine to form thriving online communities, where, as in the case of Facebook, over 250,000 new users sign up every day to participate.  The network effect inherent in sites like Facebook has challenged marketeers to embed their brands in the social experiences of their members.

The Long Tail theory applies spectacularly to online social networks too.  No matter how obscure your interest, idea, or obsession, there is likely a niche social network waiting to sign you up.  And where none exists, it is effortless to start one of your own, thanks to open platforms such like Ning (which had over 275,000 social networks as of May this year).

Niche online social networks can become a potent force, when they transition to full-fledged multi-sided platforms.  Consider LinkedIn, a professional networking site with more than 19 million members that renders the traditional Rolodex obsolete. Adding people to your LinkedIn network is akin to collecting business cards, except you get to view the person’s work history, and get a sneak peak at their network of contacts. And, whereas a business card is useless the moment a contact changes jobs, LinkedIn profiles are assiduously updated to ensure no achievement or career transition goes unnoticed. LinkedIn is well positioned to transform into a multi-sided platform serving the needs of individuals, recruitment firms, and employers.

As in the euphoric dotcom years, it is once again web start-ups who are rewriting the rules across industries. Still, significant opportunities do exist for traditional brands to extend their reach by embracing social networks, whether they participate in a mainstream social network like Facebook, or create their very own niche network. Last year, I posted a blog on how Choice magazine (a not-for-profit consumer reviews publication based in Australia) had squandered an opportunity to extend its brand online and tap into the collective wisdom of online Australians.

An equally compelling opportunity exists for another Australian publication – Vive magazine. This bi-monthly magazine for “women who mean business” has carefully cultivated it’s brand. Ambitious, sophisticated, and an astute sense of balance aren’t just Vive’s brand attributes -they could just as easily be traits their niche audience aspires to. The publishers of Vive have a tremendous opportunity to extend their brand values online, and to become an influential online destination for their key demographic. A hypothetical Vive online social network for women could allow members to comment on articles; authors and contributors could blog more frequently and initiate discussions on various topics; and, clusters of interest could emerge around subjects as varied as ‘working mothers’ to ‘starting my own business’.  Even the potential for advertising revenues would be amplified given the target audience at the site. 

There have been attempts by incumbent industry leaders – albeit limited in scale and ambition –  to extend their brands online via social networks (examples include Ernst & Young’s Facebook group to start a conversation with new grads, the HSBC Business Network, and Amex’s Open Forum). Perhaps the debate ignited by Elberse’s rebuttal of Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail will inspire corporate decision makers to revisit their own online social networking ambitions, and, who knows, maybe the next LinkedIn or Facebook will be the wilful foray of an old world company, attempting to rewrite the rules online.

The internet and the Fourth Estate

When commentating on the impact of the internet on business and industry, the news media, with its changing fortunes, is unenviably as much a part of the story, as it is scribe. During the frenzied dot-com days, publications such as Red Herring, The Industry Standard, eCompany Now (later known as Business 2.0) and Fast Company captured the ethos of the times. They informed and entertained, with anecdotes and evidence of entrepreneurial excellence, as well as excess. Ironically, the fate of these and other publications came to be inextricably linked to that of the companies they covered (of the four mentioned above, only Fast Company survives as a print publication).

Today, institutions no less mighty than the New York Times compete with The Huffington Post, an online newspaper. And a favourable nod by the blog TechCrunch for companies launching new products and services is more coveted for the right kind of buzz, than a mention in the mainstream press.

Websites like Digg.com have tapped into the power of social computing, allowing readers to submit news stories and vote on other reader’s submissions, democratising the quintessential editorial function of deciding what appears on the home page, and what is buried deep within. And across the internet, a plethora of social computing features like StumbleUpon, Reddit and Buzz Up integrate with ease into any website, allowing users to rate and share information with their peers.

Acutely aware of the changing dynamics of how news and information is created, distributed and consumed, the old guard is fighting back. Venerable publications like the New York Times have hypothesised on what the optimal business model might be, briefly launching a fee-based premium content service called TimeSelect, only to be convinced of the potency of online advertising as a more credible source of revenue. Time, Newsweek, The Financial Times, and countless other publications of their ilk have high-profile blogs, and support user-generated content. CNN aggressively promotes citizen journalism, inviting viewers to post their own video clips to their website for potential broadcast, if deemed newsworthy.

To gauge the shifting fortunes in the news media business, it is worth taking a look at Guy Kawasaki’s latest venture – Alltop.com. Describing itself as a “digital magazine rack” of the internet, it aggregates headlines from popular sources across varied topics. A quick glance at a topic like Politics is revealing. News feeds from The Washington Post, Fox News and the Guardian newspaper share real estate with online-only publications such as Politico, The Drudge Report and The Huffington Post.

Declining ad pages and a drop in circulation for traditional print media will no doubt claim casualties. In October 2007, a valuable chronicler of the dotcom years and a judicious commentator on online trends, Business 2.0 (owned by Time Warner), hit the stands for the last time.

A determined few are willing to risk reinvention to stay relevant. Earlier this year, Fast Company relaunched its website, creating a platform that encourages an ongoing conversation amongst its readers. Even the aforementioned magazines Red Herring and The Industry Standard have been revived as online-only publications, with the latter offering a creative twist on user participation.

An example of a new publication trying to carve out a niche for itself is Nett magazine (published in Australia), which offers practical information for small and medium-sized businesses with online ambitions. The handful of issues published to date showcase local entrepreneurial talent, and share insights on emerging online trends. Any early success notwithstanding, a bigger opportunity exists online for the publishers of Nett. No single website, social network or online community platform has as yet captured the imagination of the local entrepreneur. Across Australia and New Zealand, independent voices have emerged in the blogosphere, many of which try and fill the void with intelligent commentary and analysis on emerging online trends (rev2.org and Start Up are two really interesting examples from New Zealand). Nett has an opportunity to engage with the entrepreneurial community online, tapping into their collective wisdom for mutual benefit.

Years from now, when business students contemplate the consequences of the internet across industries, they will no doubt benefit from the meticulous reporting of the day as they go through the archives of various newspapers and business magazines. The question remains, which of today’s publications will still exist?


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