iSummit Wrap-up

What Have We Learned?:

It is hard to sum up a conference like iSummit, and I certainly won’t try to summarize the various speakers – which is better done at the iSummit blog and at Gagglescape. I will try to synthesize the most remarkable of what I heard and try to put it into context with my own perspective. Other delegates will surely have very different takes on the conference, but hopefully this might kick off a post-iSummit conversation.

(Comments and trackbacks are open, and I will suggest posting or bookmarking using the tag iSummit on flickr, technorati or del.icio.us)

A Review of Findings:

  1. the digital content world is changing rapidly (no surprise there)
  2. an emerging world of open network social media is colliding with mainstream media brands, copyright and closed network business models
  3. this moment in history may represent a transition period between two different socio-cultural periods
  4. the old forms of media will not disappear, but will be profoundly affected
  5. technology is changing the human experience of all media, the structures and dynamics of social and business relationships, the human experience of culture and the opportunities for innovation and human cultural and creative expression
  6. in this new open network social media world, the content is not king, the audience is king: it is their attention and their money, after all, that creators are seeking as rewards for their cultural expressions in a market where the playing field has been dramatically leveled
  7. the only difference now is that the audience has tools to disintermediate the value chain if any intermediary puts up too many barriers between the audience and content it finds compelling
  8. this is threatening and frightening to many in the traditional media content industries and those whose job it is to edit, filter, distribute, manage or otherwise mediate this value chain

The open network social media future has been envisioned for years, since the creation of the web in 1991 and certainly gained steam since the Cluetrain Manifesto in 1999, but lay somewhat dormant during the dot-com bust as social media (blogs) emerged in 2001. The open participatory society has been predicted for a long-time. But the rate of change has been accelerating and a critical mass of inter-related technologies is building. Some of the important technology-related shifts that are driving towards this critical mass include:

  • broadband penetration
  • mobile net ubiquity
  • commoditized processing power and storage
  • super-efficient development tools like Ruby on Rails, techniques like Ajax and standards like RSS (“Web 2.0”)
  • the social experience of the web through MySpace, flickr, blogs, YouTube, Second Life and World of Warcraft
  • the mobile experience of media and the web bringing an always-on entertainment and information culture

Some of the visible collision points of these two different waves of history can be witnessed in multiple domains:

  • open network vs. closed networks
  • passive vs. participative audiences
  • mainstream media vs. social media
  • web 1.0 vs. web 2.0 tools
  • interruption advertising vs. attention economy
  • advertiser and content-centric vs. audience and user-centric strategic orientations
  • Canadian content in domestic markets vs niche content in global long-tail markets
  • Boomers vs. Millennials: the boomers own the content, their children live in the social media world

These collisions are important early indicators of a big global shift, from an industrial/information economy to a network economy of ideas. Where are we? Is this another bubble? I think the image projected behind every panel discussion at iSummit tells the story: what we are looking at is the tip of an iceberg that none of us on our own can fully comprehend.

Isummit

The elephant in the room, the questions on everyone’s lips were: What do we do? Where are the business models? What should we as a company or I as a creative professional, DO? Nobody had a complete answer for that, although many good examples were provided of money being made, business models being developed, startups being acquired and deals being struck. My thoughts after the jump…

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DemoCamp4 – it’s alive!

What a fantastic night at DemoCamp. The biggest room ever, in MaRS super high-tech collaboration centre, was pretty much filled up with 150 hungry DemoCampers. Many thanks to MaRS for supporting the community and providing their amazing facility. There is a feeling of a happening in the room. Most importantly, the community is meeting each other and creative sparks are flying all over the place.

We had some really great demos, including DemoCamp favourites Idee with visual search and several newcomers. Semacode is doing interesting things with camera-phone readable 3D 2D matrix barcodes that automatically link to URLs via your mobile’s wireless internet connection. I can imagine many interesting applications in the advertising space for their approach. Questionville is exploring social knowledge through public ranking of answers. Outmailer is exploring the latest releases of Ruby on Rails to stay on top of agile lightweight coding. The importance of Ruby is just becoming clear to me as a non-coding strategy nerd. The development efficiency demonstrates the radical reduction in the barriers to entry that Ruby brings to any web software product space.

We really have to start making clear that DemoCamp is first and foremost about technology and creativity; sharing techniques and ideas as demonstrated by and for the community. It is not the Canadian Venture Forum, and it shouldn’t become so. The depths of this critical difference were made abundantly clear when our regular recovering-VC participant asked a ridiculous question about business model of a fabulously obsessed hacker who is breaking into proprietary cheap disposable digital cameras. Huh? It’s a hack! Why do it? Because you can! The creative instinct is a strange and wonderful beast, and it should be respected however it manifests itself. Reverse engineering is an act of creative destruction and can be a source of innovation.

I’d like to comment about Josh’s Tag-Engine, but I don’t understand it. It looks like he put a lot of work into it, but I wasn’t getting the point. Something about templates for content development, but again I’m no coder. Strategy nerds should stick to what they know.

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Why I love Joe Clark (not that one, the other one)

I love my city, Toronto. The diversity, the creative vitality, the food, the people. Toronto to me feels like a place about to happen. But that’s also one of my complaints about the place, it seems like it’s perpetually about to happen, but it seems to fade just when it’s dreams appear closest to being realized. Toronto people are notoriously conflict averse, and criticism is often done in muted tones behind closed doors instead of in your face. Torontonians (and english Canadians generally) are the kings and queens of passive aggressiveness. This culture works against producing self-evident, vocal and proud greatness in many domains.

Then there’s Joe Clark. Joe Clark is a self-confessed curmudgeon and can be a total bitch sometimes. I had the pleasure of his critique at the first TorCamp event in the fall. He’s a tough critic, but smart, and totally not shy with his opinions. His critique was valid, well articulated and welcome. He’s an antidote to Toronto blandness, where crotchetiness is a lost art amongst all the polite civility. Joe Clark is Salieri in search of a worthy Mozart to be his foil. I don’t know if he’s found him yet, but apparently he’s taking issue with the mesh conference from a number of angles.

His points about a group that includes two journalist-bloggers inviting more journalist-bloggers to a conference about Web 2.0 may be valid. It’s a bit “inside the beltway” kind of stuff. To my mind blogging is a critical phenomenon of Web 2.0 (i.e. “The Social Web“) and worthy of particular emphasis by people that know their stuff. I won’t take a position on Clark’s web standards rant, being unqualified in these matters.

My recommendation to the mesh organizers is to listen to his criticism, because he probably has a point. But don’t get bent out of shape about. He’s just looking for Mozart, as are we all.

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[Geist]: Canada’s Telecom Policy Review

I recommend reading Michael Geist’s article in today’s Toronto Star about the recent report of Canada’s telecommunications policy review. A good summary of the headlines, but more importantly, insight about the parts the mainstream media missed. If you aren’t up on current issues around net neutrality, broadband access and its implications for culture and citizenship I highly recommend paying attention to Geist’s work.

My comment to his blog (title cut off, why no comment preview?) was to link this telecom policy review and the role of the CRTC in an open network world to the questions surrounding the recent announcement by Toronto Hydro Telecom to pursue ubiquitous municipal WiFi in Toronto.

Is it time to consider broadband a public utility?

The question of accessibility, openness and neutrality become much more critical in an open-network marketplace for ideas and culture. If the barriers that the CRTC has maintained for a generation to foster and cultivate a place for Canadian voices and culture in a big media broadcasting world are coming down or made irrelevant by an open-network social-media society, this has massive implications. I believe that the barriers to access for every Canadian need to come down along with those regulatory barriers. In fact, I would say that removing barriers to access are a precondition to removing regulatory barriers for the telecoms.

To my mind, broadband accessibility should be a critical concern for both cultural and economic reasons. Without broadband access to every harbour in Newfoundland or farming community in Saskatchewan, the broad diversity of Canada’s culture and the voices and point of view of its people will not be part of the social media conversation. Thankfully, as the Toronto Hydro Telecom example shows, the technologies for ubiquitous broadband are becoming more cost effective all the time, and public utilities have a role to play in filling out the gaps in the net.

I welcome anything that articulates this issue and raises its profile in the public debate. What’s your POV?

UPDATE: Check out this post by Om Malik on EU broadband efforts. Canada is doing quite well compared to the US. We are competing with Europe and Asia. Don’t get me started on South Korea.

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I’m going to iSummit, are You?

I’m looking forward to a very busy and interesting week. While mesh is spooling up, DemoCamp is tomorrow and iSummit starts Wednesday. I’m looking forward to hear Mullenweg of WordPress talk about social media; Michael Geist in a panel on the “Copyright Conundrum”; seeing Canadian innovators like marblemedia and QuickPlay; and in general learning more about Toronto’s vibrant and diverse digital media and video game scene. It should be fun and hopefully will provide me with more insight about this diverse and rapidly evolving space.

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[mesh]: The Economics of Ideas

With the mesh conference coming to town in May, I decided I will use the time leading up to it to intensify my research and prepare. Yes, I am a strategy nerd and a political economy geek; I need to get myself up to speed so I can usefully contribute to the conversation. David Crow helpfully posted a good reference to some seminal pieces on Marketing/Web 2.0. I am going to pick up just one thread here: the Economics of Ideas, which really is much bigger than either marketing or the web. Paul Romer argues that [pdf]:

Every generation has perceived the limits to growth that finite resources and undesirable side effects would pose if no new recipes or ideas were discovered. And every generation has underestimated the potential for finding new recipes and ideas.

This has important implications….

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