Posts Tagged ‘Futurism’

Will Social Media Marketers Become Obsolete Middle Men?

August 16, 2012 Leave a comment

The Point Where "Middle" Parties Become Irrelevant is where Easier Use / More Powerful Tools intersects With Increased  User Expertise

Demand for Social Media Marketing has exploded in the past decade as brands struggle to reach audiences beyond the increasingly-fractured traditional media consuming public.  Right now Social Media Marketers are able to take advantage of the public’s overwhelming ignorance about communicating via social media and get paid to navigate those spheres for their clients.

It won’t last forever.  It may not even last another decade.

Think of the travel industry.  Before ‘teh interwebz’ information used to be scarce, so it made sense to pay someone else with expertise to navigate the complicated pricing schemes and array of accommodations providers to do it for you.  Flash-forward to the year 2000 when the web came into its own in terms of providing easier ways to book airline tickets, hotel rooms and car rentals (as well as recommendation sites chock full of free expertise and reviews).  This great graphic from the Cleveland Plain Dealer says it all: Read more…

Will the Filter Bubble Render Social Bookmarking Obsolete?

December 9, 2011 3 comments

Will the Filter Bubble Render Social Bookmarking Obsolete?

I don’t know – I’m just asking.

The Context

For clarification, the “Filter Bubble” is a term coined by Eli Pariser referring to the practice of search engines (most notably Google which enjoys the largest market share) tailoring search results to each individual user using an algorithm that takes into account that user’s online behavior (Pariser’s TED Talk on the subject is available here – recommended watch).  So depending on what sites I regularly view, what terms I search for, how long I spend on pages, whether or not I hit the “back” button immediately after viewing a page – the results I will see are different from the results you will see.  The concern expressed by Pariser is that it’s further helping us insulate ourselves away from people and ideas that are different from our own, allowing us to live in a self-reinforcing “bubble.”  Beyond cramping our ability to broaden our outlook, there are also nefarious possibilities – that, for example, those in charge of the algorithms that power search results could quietly weed out unflattering content or the content of competitors.

Social Bookmarking” is a practice facilitated by a variety of platforms and tools in which individual users curate the limitless content of the web by adding their own categories, terms, tags, keywords, and even annotations based on how they perceive that content.  So, for example, if I go to Slashdot – I know that I will see “news for nerds” whereas if I use Digg – I will see more entertainment-themed content with a specific philosophical/political bent applied to it.  (The brilliant satirical site Uncyclopedia has particularly hilarious send-ups of both Slashdot and Digg that illustrate their nuances.)

The Future of Social Bookmarking

Here’s how my train of logic goes: Read more…

The Future of the Post Office and the Digital Divide

September 14, 2011 1 comment

The Digital Divide

What does the future of the United States Post Office hold for the people affected by the Digital Divide?

I wish I knew.

What I do know is that the current state of Internet access in the US is completely inadequate for us to consider ourselves a functioning democracy.  As the New York Times and just noted, we’re behind ROMANIA in terms of Internet speed (25th out of developed nations).

Here are just some of the reasons that Internet Access should be considered a basic right for all people:

Political Involvement:

  • Legislation moves quickly enough now that the standard “snail mail” (plus the added time it takes for legislators to screen their mail given the threat of terrorism) means it’s really too slow anyway and now the spectre of privatizing the mail service is in the future which will increase costs to send a letter (because it’s no longer subsidized by the government).
  • Want to send a fax to your legislator?  Unless you own a fax machine, most places charge a dollar or more per page.
  • Many required disclosures by public organizations have moved online, and virtually all historical documents and records are available online.
  • Citizen Journalism is a burgeoning phenomena that could potentially bring a great deal more transparency to the world we live in, but it also requires high-speed Internet access to work.

Career Advancement:

  • Moving onward and upward without Internet Access is extraordinarily difficult.  Consider the impact of the decline of the newspaper industry on access to classified ads for jobs.  Many organizations have moved to online job listings through web-based services like,,, etc.
  • Networking still happens face-to-face, and it’s still valuable, but networking (and maintaining networks) online is rapidly becoming a new norm.
  • Social networking and other web-based platforms are now integral to most work that pays a decent wage – using those tools requires a considerable amount of time online to learn and practice skills.


  • The other day I saw a van for a local HVAC servicing company wrapped with branding imagery that included a Facebook button.  The “Flat Earth” has brought about a revolution in commerce and anyone can easily start up a business with far fewer resources because so many things can be accomplished inexpensively online (from payroll to managing finances to setting up an e-commerce platform).

Not enough attention is being paid to this issue.  Here’s a great example; even PBS has retired its Digital Divide site:

PBS Digital Divide Site Retired

Edutopia has a well-written piece on the state of the Digital Divide in the US which was recently updated and includes contextual information on the last decade of attempts to address it.

One of the ways to address the digital divide is to break the stranglehold the for-profit telecommunications industry has on Internet Access.  Attempts nationwide have been made to provide low-cost or free Internet access – like municipalities purchasing and providing wi-fi for their citizens (which have been fought tooth and nail by the telecoms).  That’s the main reason I was so excited about Google Fiber; the possibility that experiment holds for bridging the digital divide is promising.


Even Grand Rapids has attempted to bring low-cost or free Internet access to its citizens (GR’s “The Rapidian” has a good write-up about the current efforts involving a company called Clear“) but progress has been slow.If the Post Office is dramatically cut or eliminated outright, that’s going to dramatically ramp up the need for a “digital” equivalent of those “analog” services.

In Praise of the Skunkworks

July 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Wherever I’ve worked, the most innovative work gets done outside the official hierarchy and processes.  It’s unfortunate but true.  For good reason, the leadership of most organizations is risk-averse.  That makes it important to allow the freedom for employees to collaborate across various departments and to give them some leeway in their work duties to pursue the things they believe are important (a principle 3M thrives on).

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Some great examples of the value of the skunkworks at Grand Rapids Community College:

  • Social Media Engagement:  Though it was never part of my job description, I’ve been following and experimenting with social media on behalf of my organization for years, and it’s now turning into a valuable tool for outreach and information gathering.
  • Online Reputation Management: Watching the conversations about things I’m interested in has long been a practice of mine, and I brought it with me to GRCC.  It’s now a core part of my workday and the college relies on the insights we glean from conversations in social media.
  • iPhone App:  This project was rejected by the leadership of the college’s IT department, so my friend/colleague (and brilliant programmer) Szymon Machajewski worked on it in his free time.
  • Social Media Policy:  No one asked for it, but I felt there was a need for the college to engage employees on the topic of social media, so I drafted guidelines that are currently making their way through the approval process.
  • SMS Txt Crisis Messages:  Undertaken by the Distance Learning staff with the exceedingly generous contributions of Doug Kaufman of Cleartxt (the crisis portion of which was later acquired by Rave Wireless), GRCC became the first college in the region (and possibly the state) to offer crisis text messaging waaay back in 2005 – long before the shootings at Virginia Tech that popularized the service among higher education institutions.
  • Collaboration With Google Docs: Early adopters at the college like Eric Mullen began using Google Docs and they now serve as the basis for the work GRCC’s Communications Dept. does (using forms/templates to collect data about projects, and shared folders to hold project-related data that can be shared seamlessly).

So to my colleagues Szymon Machajewski, Klaas Kwant, Eric Kunnen, Eric Mullen,  Garrett Brand and Patrick LaPenna – thanks for making work a fulfilling, engaging, challenging experience.  All hail the Skunkworks!

A Matter of Taste: Millennials and MP3s

May 20, 2010 Leave a comment

Jonathan Berger (professors at Stanford) tests his students aural sensibilities by polling them about which forms of audio they like the best.  The surprising result is that, to the disdain of audiophiles everywhere, they increasingly prefer the tinny, crispy sound produced by compressed music formats like MP3.

Why?  – It’s what they’ve been raised on.

A Matter of Taste: Millennials and MP3s

Appreciators of virtually anything (cinema, music, food) hearken back to the familiar.  It’s a very primal component of the human condition.

Consider: if Millennials prefer their audio crispy, in spite of the fact that every audio tech could rant for four hours straight about all of the deficiencies in the MP3 format, what else might they prefer because of what they’ve been raised on?

  • Might that explain their lack of concern about protecting their personal privacy and leaping into social networking sites with a reckless abandon that sometimes compromises their job prospects?
  • Might that explain their disdain for copyright laws?
  • Might that explain their relative disinterest in the traditional media?

To really engage people, you need to embrace the philosophy that the ways they communicate aren’t right or wrong – they’re a matter of taste.  The sooner you can reframe your thinking, the healthier your relations with those who don’t fit into your generational category will be (or any other demographic feature).  That’s especially important at a time where we have the most diversity in the age of the working population in the history of our species.

Idea for the Evolution of the Newsmedia: Get People to Take Their Medicine

December 8, 2009 Leave a comment

The newsmedia has become an incestuous, sensationalism-obsessed mess.  Everyone reports endlessly on the same [trivial] events.

Even the local news feels compelled to cover the same substance-bereft stories airing ad nauseum on cable (though they make a superficial attempt to “localize” them).  Why?  To siphon off the dregs of the audience that hasn’t heard about them yet?  No wonder readers/viewers are leaving in droves.

What newspapers need to realize is that they’re in the business of providing an information service, not a product (absent our sentimental attachment, a physical newspaper is no more consequential than the wrapper my Spicy Chickencrisp Sandwich came in).  Their focus should be making that service more attractive (not trying to commit mass suicide by walling the public off from that service).

Years ago Palm’s epiphany was realizing that they weren’t competing with other gadgets, but instead with the pen and paper.  Today, newspapers need to realize that their competition isn’t the Internet – it’s the authorities people go to for info/advice.

Where journalists might better provide value to customers  is in providing life guidance (for lack of a better term) to the average person more efficiently than other resources.  As this scary Wired Magazine article shows – we need it.  Badly.

Scanning one’s environment for relevant information is a daunting task, even with some of the amazing tools available.  What if the information-gathering abilities could be invested not only in digging up news – but in indexing/categorizing that news so that it can be pushed in front of the people who aren’t looking for it (but who nevertheless need to know about it)?  In that context – American ignorance suddenly becomes a market waiting to be conquered.

What if newspapers analyzed raw data about you using algorithms similar to those developed by and Netflix for their recommendation engines and combined it with their coverage?  What if they could turn that analysis into a daily “to do” list, make suggestions in scheduling your calendar, or populate your address book?

I envision it working like this (three scenarios):

1. Say you’re a homeowner.  You know how much you pay in property taxes every year, but there’s no way you have time to follow all of the public notices and legal happenings that may affect your life.  Would you pay for a service that could:

  • … scan public notices and the minutes of local government entities for developments that affect you, record your support/opposition in a tweet, and recommend a donation to a local political action group that represents your views …
  • … crunch crime data and use it to reschedule locations/times of meetings for you to keep you out of harm’s way …
  • … keep tabs on the real estate market and recommend changes to your insurance policy in real-time based on local housing values, the weather, and a background check of your new neighbors …

2. Say you’re interested in video gaming.  You may follow the latest release details on hot properties like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, but beyond that it’s unlikely you’ll see other stories of direct relevance to your life and efficiently make use of that information.  What if if this service could:

  • …make you aware of a recent report on a scientific study about the health effects of playing first-person shooters, and automatically scaled back the time on your calendar that you plan to play during the week…
  • …tell you about a business story about a large national chain threatening to remove the game from its shelves over complaints about the content, then change your shopping list so you can boycott that chain, and inform your broker to divest any of your holdings in that company…

3. Say you have diabetes. You may be able to follow your doctor’s recommendations, but how easy is it for you to keep up on the latest relevant information about your condition?  What if a service could:

  • watch the federal register and automatically send you the paperwork when changes to health care insurance laws affect you …
  • … study consumer reviews about blood glucose testing equipment and send you real-time reviews as you’re browsing in a store …
  • … compare your social calendar to the available menus and reviews of the restaurants you’re going to visit and recommend the best options for you …

Newspapers have access to a lot of this information – but it’s buried within the arcane methods we have for organizing data.  If they spent less time trying to dig up locals with a connection to the latest national scandal or tragedy and more time creating and organizing hyperlocal content, they might survive.

Suddenly a degree in Library Science is pretty relevant.