Category Archives: disruptive technology

Looping technology

In his new book “The Shallows,” Nicholas Carr frets that technology may be making us more stupid as we frenetically search the Net for fads or ask Google to fill in our memory blanks. Steven Pinker counters that in a world of vastly scaling knowledge, we need technology to be smart, solving problems with engines that pull in data we can’t possibly retain ourselves. Clay Shirky parries most optimistically, suggesting the 1.8 billion humans now using the Internet have created a cognitive surplus that gave us Wikipedia at first, and perhaps leaps in creative output in the future.

All we can say about technology is: damn, KT Tunstall can jam with it.

Are Larry David and Segway ahead of your marketing plan?

Tomorrow your customers are going to want something different, and you probably are not ready.

The thought is sparked by Darryl at Plaid, who recently met with the founding brains of Segway to learn how and why they created a new concept for human transportation. Segway, as you know, is the funky self-balancing two-wheeled gizmo that rolls itself magically using gyroscopes and small elves inside. Segway is a perfect example of an innovation technology that is ahead of its time — meaning the masses of humanity are simply not ready to adopt it.

Hybrid cars, though, are further along the adoption curve. We all once laughed at the streamlined tin boxes; then, Larry David made the Prius look cool; now, damn, 40 MPG is looking fine. People are starting to wince at the gas pump, and we recently checked in to Honda to find that its part-electric Civic models are nearly sold out in the United States. After hybrids, American driveways are starting to fill with large but slightly efficient “crossover” vehicles, and some of us are still stuck with bloated SUVs.

The point is marketers need to anticipate adoption curves. Customers are not a static target; they are a moving, rolling mass, and the plans you begin today need to touch customers in the right position 1, 2 or 3 years from now. MP3 players are hot but may decline. Traditional theater audiences are aging and young moms are the next ticket sale. $1,000-a-month heating bills will revolutionize home efficiency. The internet has devastated traditional in-home tutoring materials. Consumers are using Google, not physician referrals, to research their own specialists.

Glance over at Segway and you’ll see it’s carefully working up the adoption curve. Marketing in the past few years focused on police and government workers. The recent social media site has an enviro-vibe, and Segway has also begun touching the mainstream with a sweet golfing model.

So: Is your marketing team thinking this way? Or do you spend your planning meetings looking in the rear-view mirror, at what once worked in the 1990s or 1980s? If you don’t look ahead at where customers are moving, you’re going to be left behind.

Yahoo yanks the wheels off your web site

Yahoo may soon make your web site irrelevant.

The search giant is percolating a new system that would lift entire blocks of copy and content from your web site to post in Yahoo results. This makes a lot of sense from a user’s perspective — think, if you were searching for movie reviews, wouldn’t it be nice to see all the top reviews about one film on one page? And this has been coming for a while. Search engines already lift titles and snippets of text and photos. Entire sections of your site popping into Google or Yahoo was bound to happen.

But from a marketer’s perspective, this is a disaster. Entire business models hinge on pulling people to sites. If people no longer need to click through to your site to read your content, then all your precious lead forms, phone numbers, designer-nuanced layout, usability-consulted pathways, even the ads on your site — it all goes away.


Stephen Baker over at BusinessWeek broke the story on March 13, after interviewing Prabhakar Raghavan, chief of research at Yahoo. Apparently Yahoo is cooking up new search results pages that will show blocks of information lifted from your web site, so that users can find what they want without having to click through to you.

Chris Brogan comments that while this may be beneficial to users — say, who could read all the car reviews they want on one single web page — it undercuts the entire web industry based on getting traffic. And even worse, it demolishes the third-party advertisers who buy space on all those web sites. Who in the world will want to buy into a Tremor Media or ad network of thousands of web sites, if users begin to ignore them to read everything on Yahoo?

Some may think this would undermine search engines’ overall utility to advertisers as well — but play it out all the way. If Yahoo makes organic clicks from its search results pages less likely, the only way to get traffic to your site from Yahoo will be to pay for PPC ads. And if the big advertisers who today are hot on vast ad networks find the long tail of hundreds of sites no longer performs, they’ll look to a portal — say, Yahoo — as the place to put ads. Now, only a cynic would suggest that Yahoo might consider diminishing organic clicks to other sites to build demand for its own ad inventory. Luckily, we are not that cynical.

It’s really just one more step in the evolution of users, not marketers, controlling content. RSS feeds already allow you to pull from blogs or news feeds you find interesting. Soon, you’ll get an instant RSS feed on any topic from a search engine.

Brogan notes that the only way for advertisers and companies to respond is to make their content portable, so that it can be passed easily along the web, perhaps with a few bread crumb trails leading back. Maybe the trick will be [click here for more information] to find [click here for lead form] ways to insert your real strategy [click here last chance!] into the message. We’ll see.

While we have our joyrides in Paris, technology may be moving too fast

It started over dinner with a friend from France Saturday night. We mentioned our favorite crazy racing film (C’├ętait un rendez-vous by Claude Lelouch, above, in which a Ferrari 275 GTB takes on downtown Paris at 220 kilometers per hour), which spurred him to recall Bill Joy‘s famous April 2000 thesis in Wired: Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us.

Our friend, a fluent IT brainiac, said the idea was simple: We’re moving very fast toward a technological future, but almost no one thinks about the consequences or the end point. Our pace today is similar to the physicists who tested the first nuclear bomb in the U.S. desert in 1945; Edward Teller warned that there was a three-in-a-million chance the explosion would set the entire atmosphere on fire, but the scientists went ahead anyway.

The trouble, Joy wrote, is if technology continues to progress, eventually machines will think, and when they do, those machines may not need people. Science fiction? No, just Moore’s law, in which computers double in power every 18 months:

I (once) believed that the rate of advances predicted by Moore’s law might continue only until roughly 2010, when some physical limits would begin to be reached …

But because of the recent rapid and radical progress in molecular electronics – where individual atoms and molecules replace lithographically drawn transistors – and related nanoscale technologies, we should be able to meet or exceed the Moore’s law rate of progress for another 30 years. By 2030, we are likely to be able to build machines, in quantity, a million times as powerful as the personal computers of today.

If Joy were right, we’re not talking about video cell phones in three decades. We’re talking about machines with human-like consciousness. And if computers someday wake up, it is not a stretch to think that self-thinking machines would learn to make copies of themselves. We could then either upload our souls into robots, or robots might just move on without us. We would control them for a while … but what then?

Along the way, technology advances pose additional risks. Nanotechnology and genetic engineering are much harder to control than nuclear secrets (which at least required centralized government control). Today, small cadres of scientists can pass the latest blueprints for life over the internet, tests and development are done around the world, and a single mistake by a single university could create a storm of gloop taking over the planet.

Joy’s article was lauded instantly. The Times of London compared it to Einstein’s 1939 warning to President Roosevelt that, soon, someone would build a nuclear bomb. Readers like Jeanne DesForges, associate VP, Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, were moved to weep at their desks. But the wisest reaction may have been that of Gregory Stock, director of the technology medicine program at UCLA, who wrote back:

I say that if we are one day to be transcended by machines, so be it … even the Dalai Lama once indicated he could imagine being reincarnated in a computer. So have a little faith, Bill. You may not like the future’s eventual shape, but your grandchildren – whoever or whatever they are – will probably think it’s just fine.

Leica and the coming technology plateau

On V-J Day, 1945, photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt ran down the street in Times Square as thousands cheered the end of conflict in the Second World War. He glanced back over his shoulder, saw a sailor grab a woman in white, spun, and clicked his Leica shutter.

The New Yorker’s Anthony Lane recounts the history of Leica, a little camera that invented 35mm photography and which was derided by serious photographers when it debuted in 1925. (One said at the time “it looked like a toy designed for a lady’s handbag.”) The Leica made candid photography possible, filled the columns of newspapers and magazines such as Life, and undocked artists from heavy boxes and 13 x 18 plates.

Leica was a disruptive technology — a brilliant, brief lift to the next level. Think of it: After Leica, the art of film plateaued for nearly 75 years. The mistake marketers make today, in our $600-Google-stock-Web 2.0-hyperbloggism, is believing that the current pace of change will go on forever. Yes, the web is becoming untethered, Apple iPhones and Verizon Voyagers will put Google in our pockets, and we’ll all have GPS tracking telling us where to find the remote control. But once mobile flat screens and fast wireless links are ubiquitous, technology will level.

We’ve already seen this with the slowing rate of software adoption (do you have Vista yet?). At a certain point, the transaction utility of buying the next new thing is outweighed by the comfort that your current versions of Word, Excel and Quark work pretty well already.

Today’s disruption is serious for advertisers. Print results are declining as most communications go digital. Internet advertising (interactive) and outdoor (can’t miss it) are the fastest growing ad formats, with everything else in the middle — cable, radio, magazines, newspapers — getting squeezed. Advertisers need to adjust to the new platform. Your old media plan will not work any longer. The good news is if you embrace the change, you may like it — and the new communications platform may be here for another 75 years.