Two technological forces have driven human behavioral change since the beginning of the 21st century: digitization (The Media Revolution) and distribution (The Network Revolution). For better or worse, these “revolutions” have become known colloquially as “social media” and “social networks” respectively. Rather than getting into a squabble over the ever-morphing definition of social media and social networks, I want to focus on the technologies responsible for each revolution: mediums (Yes, grammar police, I know) and networks.
Two quick definitions:
- Mediums store things
- Networks distribute things
The Media Revolution ended on January 18th, 2012, when the worldwide poster child for physical media, Kodak, filed for bankruptcy. The end of the film-era demonstrated proof that our world had finally transitioned from one that stored its content in the form of atoms to one that now stores its content in the form of bits.
The Network Revolution, on the other hand, is just starting to heat up. With search engines connecting our digitized content semantically, Facebook and LinkedIn connecting people through our relationships, and interest-based networks like Twitter connecting us through our favorite subjects, we’ve just scratched the surface on understanding how to distribute our digital content through them effectively. And while we hone our skills in the use of semantic, relational, and interest-based networks, a new network form is emerging from the primordial ooze of innovation–one that connects people with the information that they need to make daily decisions in their personal and professional lives.
Recent advances in hardware, software, and cloud-based technologies have combined to seemingly make the impossible possible by offering ways to solve problems from the bottom-up, as opposed to the traditional top-down manner. Networks enable an unprecedented power of scale, totally inverting the concept of attaining efficiency through resource centralization. For example:
- Citizen-based networks such as Safecast.org and the soon-to-be-built #AirQualityEgg network, allow individuals and Non Government Organizations to pool their resources to create valuable information for their communities, one sensor at a time.
- As GPS technologies become more prevalent, people can share anonymized information that may benefit the collective. For example, by combining my GPS location with that provided by others, mobile applications such as Waze can provide a real-time picture of traffic congestion, ultimately helping all of the participants make better informed routing decisions.
- Or, have you ever tried to plan an event around a weather forecast such as, “There’s a 20 percent chance of rain today?” By combining your GPS location with a National Weather Service map, DarkSky can accurately predict the moment that it will start (or stop) raining in your exact location.
- Through wireless connectivity within my house (Wifi, Bluetooth, and soon-to-be ZigBee), I can connect my bathroom scale, blood pressure cuff, and refrigerator to my private network to track my svelte build (well, okay let’s not push it), systolic and diastolic measurements for my doctor, and check my refrigerator before I leave work for a list of things that I need to pick up on my way home.
The network infrastructure exists. The cost of connecting sensors to the network is plummeting. The combination of these two forces requires companies to start asking some serious questions.
- How can our ability to tap into sensor-based networks help create new products and services, fund their development, and ultimately deliver them to our customers?
- How can we harness the scaling power of networks to make our companies smarter, leaner, and much more efficient?
- How can we use the power of network technologies to reduce whatever form of waste exists in our business processes (money, resources, environmental contaminants) in order to increase the overall health of our company, finances, employees and local communities?
The Media Revolution is over. Bits have beaten atoms and our behaviors are forever changed. However, the Network Revolution is beginning to pick up steam. How will you use the creative destruction that it’s about to unleash upon the status quo?