Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Fast Company on the freemium business model: Infrics on the ways it may endanger the big research companies

How To Thrive In The Free-Product Economy | Fast Company:

Here is the major quote from this excellent Fast Company article:

If a product on the market can be monetized by any means other than directly selling it, a comparable version of that product will eventually be offered for free.

The "freemium" business model--free services as a gateway to monetization--is showing up in many places.  WiFi, which was a pay-to-use service in its earliest iteration, is classic.  You still pay in some situations, like on board an airplane, and in some hotels and most airports.  But Starbucks and thousands of other businesses deliver the internet for free as an incentive to spend money in other ways.   

I'm in the process of learning more about the future of technology research.  In the interviews with former leaders and insiders of the classic paid research model (Gartner, Forrester, IDC, etc.) one trend is emerging.  Those paid models are about to face a threat from social means of business research, and from the idea of giving away research findings in the hope of earning money from paid consulting work.  Infrics.com is based on that model; everything on the site is free, there are no subscription or access fees.  As the writer and owner of the site, I hope you'll like what you read well enough to hire me to assist your company or team with emerging technology strategy.  Look for the article on new research business models soon. It will include resources to lower your own research costs while getting better advice and insights.

How much longer will the big research company model hold up?  Is it in danger of being "freemiumed" to death, or will the big companies be disintermediated into irrelevancy?  What do you think?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

iTunes, Google Play, Amazon: digital ecosystems fail the stateless future, digital content IAM offers opportunity, hope

As John Battelle pointed out in his own blog post a few days ago about the Google Nexus 7 tablet, the company you choose for your digital ecosystem matters.  How we pay for, manage, and consume content is becoming more and more important.  That's because content--words, audio, video, and applications--represents the sentinel trend of the entire stateless revolution.  Content is digital, stored in the cloud, and separated (or decoupled) from the delivery mechanism and the way you consume it. 

In a pure version of this, you would pay for a license for the creative part, and then own it.  You would decide where it would be stored, how and when it would be delivered to you, and on what device you consumed it.

My own Nexus 7 arrived a couple of days ago.  As reported all over the web, it's optimized as a consumption device for the offerings of Google Play, their digital ecosystem of books, magazines, music, movies, and TV.  This is hardly a radical idea.  The iOS/iTunes pairing and the Amazon Kindle Fire are also designed toward the same goal; each claims to offer a complete one-stop answer for all your media purchase, storage, and consumption needs.
Content bound to media: how quaint
image from freedigitalphotos.net

What doesn't get mentioned often is just how carefully each is designed to make sure you don't get or consume content from the competitors.  That's the business model: create a single point of contact for digital media, keep it inside your own four walls, and sell it as a package.  Alas for big companies, that's the big-box retail model brought to the web, isn't it? As a consumer, you trade convenience for lock-in and more limited choice.

In that way, the business models from each company work directly against your own increasing ability to own and control your own content.  At the same time, across almost everything we see in technology, the real trend is toward personalization, more specialized choice, and the movement of tech power further away from big companies and ever closer to the end user.  

When you think about digital ecosystems as part of a business plan, rather than a reflection of where society and technology are taking us, there is a disconnect.  Where there is a disconnect, there is a need and a possibility.  Where there is a need, there is a business opportunity, and the likelihood of disruption.

 Later in this article, I'll introduce the idea of externalizing that control with Digital Content Identity and Access Management, and offer ideas about the way that one change may profoundly alter the way we think of digital ecosystems.

Historically, the physical manifestation of art--words, sounds, images--was bound to the thing that brought that content to you.  It could have been words on the page of a magazine or a book, or the tracks on an LP or CD.  When you paid for the physical thing, you bought a license for the artistic part at the same time.

The core of the stateless idea is that each of those elements is decoupled from the others; data and applications are cloud-delivered, and consumed on a machine designed to deliver a user interface and a connection to the cloud content.  The inevitable trend is toward separation of content from delivery mechanism from consumption mechanism.   So what happens to the license, your payment for the true worth of a book, a song, or a movie?  For the most part, when you become part of a digital ecosystem, it is still bound to the delivery mechanism, and your newfound digital freedom has been limited.

There is no iTunes app for Android, for instance.  You can "own" streaming movies through Amazon, but you can only access them through the video player on Amazon's website, which is Flash-only, therefore off-limits for iOS and my new Nexus tablet, which is Android Jellybean and also not Flash-enabled.  Digital books from Amazon are linked to their own Kindle device--and even though you've paid for a Kindle book, you can't loan it to anyone the way you could with a physical book (correction: shortly after I published the story, a reader let me know that you can, in fact, loan a Kindle book on a one-time basis to another reader. I think that is good news.)

Google Play is somewhat less controlled, but it's still a "four-walls" kind of thing.  Buy a song from Google, where do you have to manage it?  Yup. If any of these sites goes down, do you have rights to access a licensed copy of your content somewhere else?  No.  If your account is hacked, who do you have to go through to regain access to your content?  The ecosystem.  I think you see the point.  As things stand now, you only own content you buy if you play by the rules of the company that sold it to you. 

It's as if, 25 years ago, you bought a Fleetwood Mac CD from a Virgin Megastore, could only store it in their proprietary CD case, and only play it on a Virgin player.  I exaggerate, of course, but the point is, we have all gained one freedom--online access to our stuff--by trading control of it to the company we choose for that digital ecosystem.

The promise of stateless digital content is unfulfilled.  If ever there was an area facing a perfect storm of technology change, new user expectations, and old business ideas fighting to stay alive, this is the place.

What is the opportunity?  Digital content identity and access management (DCIAM) 

As part of your online identity, this company will--once it exists--maintain a database of all the digital rights you own, authenticate you as the rightful owner, and verify you as licensed owner of cloud-sourced digital content.  Accessible as a universal web service, and independent of any ecosystem, this is a not only a logical outcome of the move to stateless, it is a huge enabling technology for:

  • Further disintermediation of traditional media companies, as independent artists' reward system would move outside the media companies' control.  If you are a media company, it is now in your interest to make sure your product can be sold in the widest-possible range of locations, because what you are selling is just the license, now handled by a trusted third party.  If your business model is based on artificially high prices based on forced linkage between content, delivery, and consumption, that model will be in significant danger.  
  • New sales models, in essence re-enabling in digital format the old megastore idea, in which you could pay for a license for any content from any publisher or creator.  As the consumer, you would no longer be hindered by the fact that your ecosystem vendor does not have sales agreements with every source.
  • New digital content storage, management, and delivery vendors, who maintain libraries of content in common, and follow the cloud shared tenancy model to supply you with your content via DCIAM authentication.  Any device, any time.  If one vendor is down, DCIAM eliminates barriers to your access through another source.
  • New ultra-personalized "stations" combining delivery of your own licensed content with new content paid for via advertising or subscription.  I've already written about this idea as applied to Pandora.com, in which Pandora saves broadcast license fees by subtracting them from any content they play you that you already own.  If I paid for "Go Your Own Way" by Fleetwood Mac when I bought rights to the "Rumours" album, there is no longer any reason why Pandora should pay BMI or ASCAP if they stream it to me.  DCIAM makes granular song-by-song licensing not only possible, but powerful.

    Using DCIAM, the same model might further the distruption of the traditional video network concept and the cable/satellite industry.  We are already seeing a big consumer push toward a-la-carte TV; DCIAM can push that further toward the consumer.  If Pandora can deliver me a personalized audio experience of female jazz singers from the 50s, there is no logical reason why I can't get my own cooking channel on TV, assembling the best shows currently on the Food Network, Bravo, PBS, and the Travel Channel.  DCIAM would also manage one-time use licenses, such as for a TV show, either via purchase or paid by acceptance of advertising.  This is essentially a new network model, not of broadcasting, but of extreme narrowcasting.  DCIAM enables the business model.
  • Handled properly, the marketing opportunities presented by one common database of a consumer's taste and purchasing history for content can use DCIAM to radically personalize ad delivery in cases where content consumption is still ad-supported.  Ad personalization is still wildly fragmented, and largely because information about purchases and interests is localized to the sites that control the ecosystem.  Once that is externalized, those barriers are gone.  This is "era of you" personalization brought home in the form of a huge business opportunity.  If digital ecosystems are the sentinel of the stateless future, digital ad personalization is that sentinel's entrepreneurial cousin.

Technology triggers are in action here.  Changes in what is possible--stateless licensing, content, delivery, and consumption--mean that opportunity is near for a company who moves beyond the current digital ecosystem model.  In so doing, they access business opportunities that make current ecosystem efforts look miserly by comparison.  

Combine DCIAM with the upcoming revolution in digital personal assistants, and you begin to see the true battle of the giants for your loyalty in the near future.  

There are big questions.  Who will bring this to you?  Who will still be a significant vendor in 5 years? Who will you trust?

Infrics.com articles referenced in this report:

Don screams into his laptop at Pandora.com.  Computer says no.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Nexus 7 and The Cloud Commit Conundrum: Google Wins (For Now) | John Battelle's Search Blog

The Nexus 7 and The Cloud Commit Conundrum: Google Wins (For Now) | John Battelle's Search Blog:

When John Battelle expresses an opinion, I take notice.  His article is not just another review of the new Nexus 7 tablet, but a discussion about what your choice of devices means in terms of your commitment to the ecosystem of the company that brings it to you.  In his words, "your choice of tablet or phone...becomes a choice about what kind of a company you want as a partner in your digital life."

I have a Nexus 7 on order, and will report on my own experience with it in the near future.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Student's Smart Microsoft Rebranding Is Better Than The Real Thing | Co.Design: business + innovation + design

Image from fastcodesign.com

A Student's Smart Microsoft Rebranding Is Better Than The Real Thing | Co.Design: business + innovation + design

I think the Fastcodesign branch of Fast Company does some very nice work.  Design is an important part of the way the future will look and feel; it's important.

Lately, the idea that you use a screen to simulate the 3-D look of real objects has started to seem very old-fashioned.  Compare Apple's "bookcase" metaphor on iOS to the rebranding of Google's online look (no drop shadows, no "raised-looking" buttons.)  If you view the article's slides on this student's MS rebranding, there's some excellent discussion of this next generation of thinking about digital design.

Friday, July 6, 2012

For CEOs: 10-minute business process/technology dashboard

Technology and business processes are locked together.  Each supports the other, each is dependent on the other--a mismatch between them can be deadly, a great match can mean synergy and profits.  They can make or break the business you are trying to run.

That's why I developed this executive 10-minute benchmark tool, to help you see those relationships more clearly, and to generate an enterprise process/tech snapshot as a kickstarter for strategy planning. It may help you know where you need to transform your business or whether you can simply bring it into sharper focus.

The highest-level parts of business are grouped into 4 big categories:  Things You Sell, Your Customers, How You Work, and Your People.  For each area, rate it 0-10, asking yourself:

--does it do what I need?
--is it current?  Does it reflect best practices, or a legacy that can be improved? Or retired?
--does this process take advantage of the existing technology?
--does this technology fully support the existing process?
--does process hold back our technology, or does our technology hold back the process?
--is this a pain point or a reward center?
--is it more complex than it should be?
--does it add value or competitive advantage?  Could it?

Here is an example I populated to demonstrate the concept.  Formulas average your input across the categories, and automatically flag red-yellow-green depending on the values entered.   At the bottom is an average across all the processes and technologies.

Here is a blank Process and Technology Dashboard Tool you can copy to do the exercise yourself.


--This version is directed at the C-suite, especially the CEO or COO, or another officer who has an overview of the entire company.  Clearly, a lot of sub-processes and technologies are rolled up into their highest levels in this version of the tool.  To work this idea as part of a strategy evaluation, I recommend that the first iteration be a gestalt response--not a compilation of metrics, but the C-suite's sense of where things are.

--By expanding the idea, and pushing it out to departments, you can then build similar reports at higher detail, adding lines under Supply Chain, for instance, to list all the component processes and technologies.  The end result will be a map of your entire enterprise process/technology system.  

--Compare results generated closer to the processes with those predicted by executives.  The differences will point out the accuracy--or lack thereof--of many of the executive business metrics you use.

--How do your existing strategic plans fit with this view of your enterprise?  Are you paying attention to the right things, at the right level and sense of urgency?

Please do give me feedback; this is the first publication of this tool and this idea on Infrics.com.  I am building out toolsets to be part of an overall offering for on-site workshops on Strategy in the World of the Future.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Pano's PC Killer - NYTimes.com

Image from nytimes.com
 "Honey, does this Pano box make my Chrome OS look fat?"

Pano's PC Killer - NYTimes.com:

This is a fascinating development, the stateless idea extended to the point that more of the local OS has moved to the cloud. It appears to be solely a terminus for a cloud-based virtualized desktop.

A company in the traditional personal computer business “is like a saguaro cactus that has been shot,” (Pano CEO John)...Kish said. “It can stand for another 20 years without showing it, but it’s dead.”

Monday, July 2, 2012

Mozilla’s Boot To Gecko Becomes Firefox OS, Scores Support From Sprint, Deutsche Telekom, ZTE, And More | TechCrunch

Image from TechCrunch 
Mozilla’s Boot To Gecko Becomes Firefox OS, Scores Support From Sprint, Deutsche Telekom, ZTE, And More | TechCrunch:

The more-or-less official launch of what started at Boot 2 Gecko.  The big news here is the likelihood of an explosion in very low cost smartphones, and the first deployment of a stateless operating system for the mobile space (link is to all the Infrics.com stateless coverage, including a curated list of Boot 2 Gecko articles.) Firefox OS has the potential to be for smart phones what Chrome OS is for computers.