Monthly Archives: March 2010

Apple escaped ‘lock-in.’ Can you?

Lost in all the buzz about the iPad saving publishing is the fact the tablet thing works as a real computer, too. Fast-forward the video above to 1:40 and you’ll see Apple SVP Phil Schiller demonstrate how to edit spreadsheets on a glass screen with finger motions. Our “ah-ha” came when we noticed that the iPad’s virtual keyboard changes based on user modality (3:04). If you’re working with formulas or numbers or dollars or text, the input fields adjust. The obvious question is whether Apple’s $500 iPad will cannibalize its $2,000 computer sales, or the sales of the broader PC industry whose Excel, PowerPoint and Word programs will run inside the iPad’s iWork suite.

Avoiding path dependence

But the deeper issue is whether Apple’s emergent design will break the lock-in endemic in laptops and PCs. Lock-in has several definitions: In technology, it’s the dynamic where one design is followed by so many subsequent designs dependent upon it that it becomes nearly impossible to change the original arrangement. Examples include U.S. automobiles with steering wheels placed on the left side, keyboards with a QWERTY layout, and Microsoft Word with “Toolbars” mysteriously nestled in the “View” drop-down menu instead of the “Tools” drop-down list where you’d expect it — all designed systems that are now nearly impossible to change because traffic patterns, hardware designs and millions of documents are locked in to the original concepts. But lock-in can also refer to mindsets, such as the escalating commitment of decision-makers to a bad course of action. Conservatives could point to a jumbled U.S. healthcare reform law; liberals could point to U.S. leaping into war in Iraq — all are outcomes of processes involving path dependence, where the options for decisions at any point grow more limited based on the commitments of the past.

You know. It’s too late to stop now.

Mitch Joel suggests that smartphones in the U.S. will grow to about 33% market share by the end of 2010, creating a plethora of new gadgets that could challenge the interfaces of the computers we’ve been stuck using for the past 25 years. Imagine that: the world of technology is going through a rare shift in which past lock-in is being broken, where radical new device usability could emerge, where “toolbars” might be located under “tools” where they belong. We all suffer from lock-in: The religious and political points of view our parents ingrained in us, the business committees pushing investments that follow other sunk costs, the temptation to follow a fad because our ecosystem of friends or colleagues have all jumped aboard and we can’t pan out to the worldview around it. The question is: should you evaluate your own life for paths you’ve gotten locked into that might need shifting?

Content is not a gadget

Powered’s Greg Verdino posted some intriguing slides on “What is Content?” We responded with this:

I’ve been wondering why so many define content in terms of the tool that transports it. Print publishers defend paper. Mobile marketers promote visuals on cell screens. Web designers push the web, saying printed paper is dead. Social media gurus push chat inside social media tools, saying the :30 second spot on TV is dead. Depending on which box you make a living from, you promote your box and denigrate all other boxes.

Which is silly, isn’t it? Content is one of only three things that flow in our economy — to wit, (1) content or information, (2) good or services, and (3) financial value. It’s part of the bloodstream of society. Who cares what box it fits in, or more important, why do we have to define it in the constraining definition of a box?

I’m in the middle of reading Jaron Lanier‘s brilliant “You Are Not a Gadget.” Content is not a gadget, either.

Image: Clio20

How Apple could destroy publishing in 5 easy steps

Publishers such as Condé Nast, masters of our beloved Wired magazine, are so hopeful the iPad and the tablets chasing it will revive their economic health: you know, more readers will pay for subscriptions; no paper means lower operating costs; advertisers will suddenly yearn for higher CPMs to get aboard such gorgeous, interactive content …

Yet perhaps Apple has deeper motives for the iPad, say, moving the margins of the book and magazine industries directly into its own pockets. (See: iTunes, the No. 1 music vendor in the United States.) Here’s how Apple could destroy publishing in five easy steps:

1. Launch the iPad, then gradually reduce price points while adding features (webcams, backside video cams, slimmer bezels, 3-D) until ramping gadget sales achieve lock-in for Apple as the de facto tablet-cum-publishing store in the world.

2. Upgrade the Apple word processing program Pages to include simple templates for books, novels, pamphlets, and magazines, all publishable electronically as gorgeous interactive PDFs. And just as an iTunes software version exists for Windows, promote a version of Pages to work in Microsoft environments as well.

3. Give consumers new incentives to publish books or magazines themselves by including interactive ads that fit in the margins of their self-published PDFs. You’ll get paid for every thousand eyeballs reading your stuff, and advertisers will compete for this new form of contextual advertising tied to GPS location systems built into the iPad.

4. With a click, allow these aspiring authors to upload their now-beautiful, already monetized book layouts to the iBookstore.

5. Build in social media features to help you promote your own book to your network of followers on Twitter and Facebook, and pray that they scale it to their friends.

You may not sell a million books or a best-selling magazine, but you’ll no longer need all that thorny pitching, rejection, approval, editing, and self-whoring that comes from working with big publishing houses. Don’t look at us. Chris Anderson called his own book “Free.”

Podcast: Riffs on the Last Advertising Agency on Earth

(Play me.)

Last night we were lucky to debate the future of advertising, iPad vs. the TV, and whether you still want to shop at Circuit City with Christian Borges of Deep Focus, Bill Green of Make the Logo Bigger, Åsk Wäppling of, and the melodious Bob Knorpp. To listen in, click the play button above. If you don’t listen to The BeanCast every week, you’re missing the best marketing podcast out there.

The failure of self-centered social networks

Many of today’s marketing gurus promise that social media will change the world, so we wonder: why haven’t these tools been used to do more than promote selfish interests?

This is not a judgment call, just an observation. Brands leap into social media trying to build “communities” between their products and potential audiences, resulting in networks of, say, bloggers driving across country to promote a Ford automobile. Individuals join Facebook or Twitter to build “friends” and “followers” around themselves. What is common is the ego, or more accurately the Id, is at the center of every micro-network. The motive for all is to promote oneself. (Want proof? If we asked you, dear reader, how many followers you have on Twitter, we bet you could answer accurately plus or minus 10 without peeking.) It’s no mistake that the central mechanism for organizations to build networks on Facebook is called a Fan Page.

Trouble is, all these micro-social networks compete with each other leaving little meaningful development beyond the individual hubs. If you had asked an oracle of the Torah or Old Testament or Renaissance what would happen if humans could communicate instantly and seamlessly around the globe, he or she might have suggested we’d build new peace organizations, refine religions, launch political parties, even build global democracies that cut through the old models of entrenched statecraft and corporate defenses. Sure, what Robert Scoble calls malleable social graphs or mini mobs may form based on an individual or group’s modality — think ad colleagues grouping at SXSW in Austin or a pulse of humanitarian interest gathering funds after a Haitian earthquake. But even those more useful efforts still revolve around a selfish idea — meet up with me, or give money to my cause. Broader networks are not arising to move collective minds into a higher category of group actualization.

In simplest terms, we have incredibly efficient markets for moving goods and money; but no similar network has been built to shift ideas and the social good.

Perhaps that is why: Money flows better because it is the root of all gains. The selfishness of finance creates efficient investments, but it also leads to fragmented, disaggregated, disparate resources that do not work together for common interests. The deep issues of our day — poverty, hunger, unchecked growth that will eventually (if not already) tax our ecosystem, disease, droughts, hostilities that lead to wars — are not being touched by the new communication tools the technology prophets say are changing the world.

The gravity well of social media is centered around you. That’s a useful construct for pulling small groups into your orbit, but perhaps a poor solution for networking to build collective solutions. Perhaps no tool can do it if the wielder has only self-interest at heart.


Earth Emergency Procedures Safety Card

Want to promote your next book? Try gut-wrenching fear.

Author Eli Kintisch is about to release Hack the Planet, which proposes that our human desire to control things could get us into trouble as we try to solve big problems. Take global warming: Sure, you may not buy it if you watch Fox News, but imagine what would happen if a rogue nation decided to try and fix the atmosphere by flying a few planes around seeding chemicals for geoengineering … and got the formula wrong? Kintisch is promoting his upcoming missive with a blog and juicy interactive Earth Emergency Procedures Safety Card, you know, if the planet melts, please head for the nearest exit.

This is really not news. Our Planet Earth, a strapping young adult about 4 billion years through our sun’s 10 billion-year lifespan, has gone through five major extinction events in which almost all life died. Yup; not only the dinosaurs, they were just the last to get hit. Today, scientists warn we could be approaching another extinction whack — not just a random asteroid (like the one that punched a 180-kilometer crater in the Yucatan Peninsula) or global warming, but massive methane leaks from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, nuclear holocaust (we’re still pointing bombs at each other), robotic advances that might replace people, or nanotechnology that if unleashed without care could turn our planet into mush.

Good promotion. Sweet dreams.

SXSW interview: Pepsi’s social media move explained

Our Humongo partner Darryl Ohrt sat down with PepsiCo’s Bonin Bough, global director of digital and social media, and Josh Karpf, digital media manager, to ask what was up with this giant brand dissing the Super Bowl. Turns out the world is moving from impressions to connections, but one doesn’t necessarily replace the other: Like stocking both Gatorade and Tropicana in your fridge, there’s more than one way to refresh a brand.

Goodbye, gadgets

Around 1998 or so a funny thing happened to personal computers: they all started to look alike. Same plasticky keyboards, same ashen boxy monitors, and Dells and HPs all began to blend. Gateway resorted to opening retail stores with farm themes and shipping packages splotched with cow designs. PCs were slapped with stickers touting — wait for it — Intel chip speed to stand apart. But then flatpanels came along, and then Apple tweaked first colors and then glass-like translucent shells and then carved aluminum, the same cheap material you wrap leftover fish in — but, today if you peer above Engadget for a moment, you might see it.

Once again, gadgets are all starting to look alike.

They’re becoming frames. Just screen casings. Droid phones and iPhones and, yes, the best current example, the Apple iPad, just shells for digital content. (That’s right, you’re considering dropping five Benjamins for a black electronic frame.) Which makes us wonder, as we approach the singularity of device transparency, when the iGenie gadget of 2020 morphs from handset to laptop to big screen to projection on the wall of your bedroom, cradling content like a slender, almost invisible mother, will hardware designs even matter? Ludicrous to suggest, perhaps, as we still battle over cell phones with sliding keyboards or Kindleish left-right e-reader buttons. But the singularity is coming. How will device manufacturers compete when the view inside the window becomes more important than the border around it?

Image: Gizmodo via Photo Giddy.

No, your video won’t go viral

Mike Arauz and Bud Caddell spoke at SXSW on why most online videos fail to scale, and engaged their audience in a “Web Video Thunderdome” to debate why. They suggest: Be brief. Be odd. Be funny. Be random. Try repeatedly. And recognize that even if you get all that right, in the online sea of wavering interest, you’ll still likely get only 100 hits.

Via Marci Ikeler.