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

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.


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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Play, Creativity, Innovation and Commercialization

Perhaps keynote speaker Alexander Manu‘s perspective can help. I am particularly interested in his concept of “Weak Signal Discovery and Amplification” and the idea that the human need for play is a largely untapped resource in our businesses, our communities and in ourselves. If the emerging new media world is the tip of an iceberg, then we need to learn to play, have fun and enjoy the process of creative discovery as a central part of our business strategies. I need to learn more about Manu’s work at the Beale Centre for Strategic Creativity at OCAD. I am interested in how game design and the concept of work as play can be applied to innovation and creativity.

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I believe very strongly that no one individual and no one company on their own is smart enough to know what this historical transition ultimately means or where it is headed. Partnerships and community will become more and more important in order to gather the best talent and create the knowledge to innovate new business models and new business methods. For those that work and play in the digital media content and social media tools space, the answer is to exchange knowledge, partner and innovate rapidly. But what kind of innovation? What is the appropriate strategy?

Two Separate, But Related, Communities

digital copyright owners and social media tools

Towards a Massively Parallel Creativity and Innovation Pipeline:

The new tools have so radically reduced the barriers to entry, that rapid agile innovation has been made possible on a scale that was unimagined even a few short years ago. The appropriate strategy for the digital media content and social media tools communities is to organize themselves along a massively parallel innovation pipeline that networks of companies, institutions and individual creative professionals participate in and benefit from. This pipeline should draw from the best and brightest minds that will be drawn from many different professions, organizations and communities of practice. It should produce many new ideas as rapidly as possible and get them out to audiences and users as quickly as possible and then improved over iterations in dialogue with those audiences, once discovered. Most will fail. But some may become the seeds of the next Google or MySpace and create entirely new markets and business models. We need an infrastructure and orientation to support this creative pipeline.

Barriers, Obstacles and Points of Resistance:

Some of those in the iSummit audience on Thursday didn’t return on Friday and they may believe this doesn’t apply to them. Perhaps it doesn’t, if, as Raja Khanna stated at OMDC’s Six Degrees of Integration Conference in February, they are planning on retiring in the next 5 years.

There are also some companies and individuals who have deeply vested interests in the mainstream media, closed network present who will resist change and who have serious financial resources to defend their positions. But as Michael O’Connor Clarke said, it is about AND, not OR logic: there is room for passive mainstream media and participative social media. But let there be no mistake, as Jim Griffin pointed out, there will be winners and losers and American media conglomerates are actively positioning themselves to both resist change and buy it up as quickly as possible. The dinosaurs will eat the scurrying mammals.

This could create an acquisition feeding frenzy that has the potential to produce another bubble, but which will result in a massive transfer of wealth to emerging innovators. There are also huge public policy implications about cultural participation in this emerging world of social media that are related to the digital divide, broadband access in remote communities and net neutrality. There are huge implications in Canada for the role of the CRTC and government as either barriers to or enablers of creativity and innovation as the new global market for social media and digital entertainment starts to emerge from the foggy depths. The effects are already being felt, and our society is collectively slow to react.

Is Gen-X the new Intermediary?

Generation X built much of the web that we know of today. They developed the first web sites, they were the raw material of the dot-com boom. They also suffered during the dot-com bust. But now, they are smarter, reinvigorated and are either in or entering their professional prime. The Millennials will lead the charge through their radically different consumption patterns, Gen-X will continue building the infrastructure for the generation that follows them, and the Boomers will be slow to adjust. The wisdom of the Greatest Generation is profoundly and sadly absent.

Come to DemoCamp, Go to mesh:

I would like to point all iSummit attendees to pay attention to the emergent community and agile innovation approaches practices coming out of the web development community in Toronto and elsewhere. DemoCamp is one spinoff of the BarCamp unconference phenomenon, which began in Toronto with TorCamp. It is a nascent community of software innovators, programmers, geeks, entrepreneurs and other interested parties that is completely self-organized in a way that follows agile principles. DemoCamps have been happening more or less monthly and attendance has been growing at an exponential rate. The future of DemoCamp is being discussed right now: here, here, here and here.

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And for anyone working in the digital media space, you must understand the Web 2.0 phenomenon. You have a fantastic opportunity with the mesh conference in Toronto May 15/16. The speaker list is impressive, and it is setting up to be a major event, which will also be hosted at our favourite innovation hub, MaRS.


As a good blogger, I should be transparent and disclose that I have been working as an independent consultant to the Ontario Ministry of Culture and I contributed to the development of Ontario’s Entertainment and Creative Cluster strategy which was mentioned in the recent Ontario budget. I happen to passionately and personally believe in the creative and economic potential of this cluster, believe in its long-run economic importance to sustaining our quality of life, and I will work to help realize that potential whether through my work with the government or within the community as a concerned citizen.

An Historic Opportunity for the Creative City:

The alignment of stars that has produced MaRS, TorCamp, iSummit, DemoCamp and mesh is truly breathtaking to behold. Within government, the creation of the Ministry of Research & Innovation, the Creative Cities project and the Entertainment & Creative Cluster strategy are also contributing to the critical mass. Who is missing? I believe that the biggest missing piece to the puzzle right now is capital and large Canadian companies. Without the flame of money and capital, all the kindling in the world won’t start a bonfire of creativity. I seek the holy grail:

Content + Social Media Tools + Venture Capital

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