And so, here we go:
1. Cuban Twitter's Lessons For The Workplace Late last week, the AP reported that the US government secretly created a Twitter-inspired social network in Cuba called “ZunZuneo.” The goal: give Cubans the tools to organize an Arab spring of their own. The takeaway here is that social networks have proven so effective at undermining power, they’re now being introduced by countries looking to throw rival governments into upheaval.
This makes me wonder whether companies that intentionally introduce social networks for their employees realize the full effect these networks (Yammer, Salesforce Chatter, etc.) have on their organizations' power structures. Average employees, of course, are unlikely to use Chatter to organize flash mobs to protest the CEO’s unyielding work from home policies. But remember: the American workforce wasn’t allowed to organize until the late 1930s. I’m convinced we’re just beginning to see the radical changes these social tools will bring to the workplace, company sanctioned or not.
2. Rough Times Ahead For Twitter? Speaking of Twitter, on a panel I led at Ad Age’s Digital conference this week, NYU professor and L2ThinkTank founder Scott Galloway said the platform’s value was bound to decline. Marketers, he said, are going to consolidate their ad spend around just a few social platforms, and Twitter, garnering less advertiser dollars than LinkedIn, will be the odd man out.
Agree with the validity of this statement or not, one thing is clear: Twitter understands the risk and is not going down without a fight. The company's introduction of auto-expanded photos, though little discussed since launch, has changed its user experience dramatically. And the discussed elimination of hashtags and @replies would be yet another major change in the hopes of winning over more users. Good luck to Twitter in its effort to maximize dollars, but the more it changes its platform, the more it risks destroying the magic that brought it hundreds of millions in the first place. Change too much, and Galloway’s prediction will have a much better chance of coming true.
3. Data and Consumer Interest As we browse the internet, we enter into a bargain with content and ecommerce companies where they get to track us and we get to use their products for free. These companies tell us they’re using our data to provide a “better consumer experience.” But that’s not always the case. This week, a friend told me he saved over $200 dollars booking a flight through his browser’s incognito mode. This means that the site he visited used data to determine he was a more affluent customer and decided to mark his flight up as a result. “I wouldn’t go around yelling this is malicious, but it looked like it,” he told me.
We’re still in the early days of big data adoption, but consumers will be able to take control if they want to. As more stories like this one surface, the market for do not track browsers and ad block software will grow, and the lack of respect shown to consumers will bite these companies if they don’t reel in their behavior.
4. Terrible Week for Newspapers This week, we saw the closure of both Digital First Media’s Project Thunderdome and a layoff of 167 at the New Jersey Star-Ledger. It was a bad week for newspapers. The demise of Thunderdome of was particularly surprising. Digital First CEO John Paton hailed Thunderdome -- where a group of reporters write national stories for a newspaper group consisting mostly of local dailies -- as a cornerstone of his company’s planned revival. He harshly criticized those not willing to pursue innovative strategies, even giving a speech titled: “Old Dogs New Tricks and Crappy Newspaper Executives.” Yet Thunderdome, a pretty good idea, is finished. It makes one wonder.
I read through a number of blog posts written by Thunderdome staff and found the one penned by Mandy Jenkins, the project’s managing editor, most revealing. “Thunderdome never even got the chance to carry out even the beginnings of our goals. Many of our long-planned channels just started launching. We had a number of new revenue-generating products on the horizon. We had just started building our in-house product team. We were on the brink,” she wrote, adding: “Thunderdome didn’t fail. It didn’t even start.”
It’s difficult times for newspapers, but Thunderdome started in 2011 and it’s now 2014. The assertion that it “didn’t even start” is telling. Newspapers are in such dire straits, they don’t have time to allow innovation to roll out slowly. When they take their time, you get what happened to Thunderdome. (Think about how many digital news startups have rolled out over the past three years and are operating at full steam.) Perhaps that’s the lesson the demise of this project will teach.