Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Navigating through a New Media World

Human API(application programming interface), mobile platforms, new platform entrants, and of course, iPad apps were among future hot topics tagged by speakers at the SIPA UK Online Publishing and Marketing Summit last week.  This year’s event focused heavily on the mechanics of new product launches, marketing automation, and web analytics.  The London conference was put on by the UK branch of the Specialized Information Publishers Association (SIPA UK). 

Your humble blogger was there, representing our newMeetia initiative.  Despite the distance from home, I knew instantly that I was with kindred spirits, entrepreneurial media utilitarians, very much like the SIPA members in the U.S.  The only adjustment was getting used to hearing expressions like “brilliant,” “dodgy,” and “jolly.”

The conference offered many practical lessons but the experience of the London region was itself a powerful lesson.  In a vibrant city, surrounded by the evidence of over two thousand years of human history one gains a perspective on the breaking news and trends.  The swirling change; the rise and fall of individuals, tribes, and empires; the roar of commerce and rush of technological change all seem less important than the consistencies of human nature, both brilliant and dark.

The Royal Observatory at Greenwich provided perhaps the most powerful lesson of the trip.  In the middle of the my trip, I finished the book Longitude about centuries of search for a solution to the problem of finding longitude and especially about John Harrison, a self-educated carpenter-turned-clockmaker who came up with a practical solution in the 1700’s.  Harrison spent most of his life perfecting a timepiece accurate, durable, and cheap enough to be used to calculate longitude at sea. Marine navigation caught my interest years ago when I saw how much Bernie Goldhirsh, the founder of Inc. Magazine, relished plotting his course, under sail.   Between business meetings, I set out to have a look at Harrison’s prototypes on display at the Observatory. 
 I  didn't get to see Harrison's last effort, H5, which is
 housed in the Clockmakers Museum at Guildhall in

Two prototypes, dubbed H2 and H3 are remarkable contraptions.  Gears of wood and metal, bobbing brass weights, and levers and springs were crafted by Harrison to achieve unprecedented accuracy in marking time.  These clocks still work today.  But Harrison was not satisfied until he produced H4, barely bigger than a pocket watch, and accurate to within seconds over the length of a long sail voyage.

H4 became the prototype for further simplified and improved clocks which could be produced in volume and which became known as Chronometers.  Especially once key patents expired, chronometers became essential equipment on board ships and remained so until replaced by satellite navigation systems.  The advanced technology spread to common watches and to the timepieces many of us wear on our wrists today.

Encircled by the Observatory's loudly ticking display of the march of 18th of century technology, and knowing a little of the longitude story with all its hard fought battles, your humble blogger was struck with commonalities to our own age of change.

Today we are navigating through a new media world.  Claims of solutions to our business challenges, dismissive commentary about every experiment and countless counter-claims abound.  At least one thing is clear: the future of media and communications involves new digital platforms which are better, cheaper and more portable.  

Perhaps soon we simply will wear a media device, instead of a watch.  But the people who figure out successful new information business models integrated with these platforms will probably be practical entrepreneurs, learning by doing, like the members of SIPA and like the determined clockmaker, John Harrison.

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Seven Quick Ideas on Event Curation

Most people associate “curation” with the art of museum management. Some might mistake it for a method of meat preservation. But curation is now is the term de jour for the process of selecting organizing and presenting content in media and, more broadly, merchandise and even food. Lately it has been used to ennoble the process of making any set of choices that create an experience.

The term “curation” originally appealed to media mavens as a way to impart museum dignity to the process of aggregating online content. In the fashion trades, where your humble blogger suspects the modern usage originated, “curate” is used interchangeably with “edit” as a fancy way to say “select carefully” (see a humorous article about this by Alex Williams last year the NYT).

“Event curation” is worth thinking about even though it might sound a bit pretentious for show biz. After all, creating good events is a lot tougher than lining up a few links or arranging the soft goods “just so.” Whether your event content is entertainment, participation, or information, or some combination of the three, here are seven quick thoughts about event curation:

1. Content ain’t king. It’s a noble and necessary part of a winning event. However, the score of the game is rarely kept in content measures. Know how the score is kept and what your content is expected to accomplish.

2. Start early. Good content takes time to develop and the details cascade into countless other aspects of event execution, especially marketing. You are working to a fixed date. Rushing greatly increases risk.

3. Don’t proceed linearly. Not every avenue of content exploration will pan out. For instance, in an informational event, invite more than one speaker per slot simultaneously so you have options as the program develops.

4. Stay flexible. Take full advantage of the live, real-time nature of events. Build quick reaction into your curation process. Make room for hot developments around your content as well as for the usual problems.

5. Know and believe in your own content. Don’t be afraid to invest in learning. “Content farms” and “conference mills” operate on the theory that content is a low value commodity that is not worth deep consideration or appreciation – it shows in their products.

6. Be a media utilitarian. Incorporate whatever it takes to move minds (and hearts) effectively and make sure every media you use - print, live action, visual display, online, mobile, etc. - works together and really contributes. Don’t waste effort on conventional or wiz-bang stuff that isn’t clearly useful.

7. Focus on the experience. A great concert is tough to enjoy if the seats are uncomfortable or the room is too hot. You may not have control over all elements of an event experience but use your influence to integrate the content into the full experience.

Purposefully creating a full experience is the essence of event curation. Feel free to comment with your ideas and questions.

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