RonAmok!

The adventures of an analog engineer and digital storyteller who studies emerging networks and their impact on the great game of business.


Last week, Paul Gillin wrote a blog post called Lemmings with Microphones, where he questions’s the value of large-scale journalistic investment in covering both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. He argues that with the state of today’s communications technologies, 15,000 journalists spending $30 million are not needed to cover the event. Gillin, who has been chronicling the collapse of the newspaper industry since March 2007 in his  Newspaper Deathwatch blog, questions the mass media’s use of their precious business resources.

The blog post got me to thinking about the changes in how live event coverage is changing in lieu of the digitalization of content and the socialization of networks responsible for distributing that content. Back in the 1960s & 1970s, coverage of a NASA rocket launch required expensive communications networks, thousands of people, and millions of dollars to deliver the event.

But no longer.

Today, the average person with a smartphone can broadcast remote video–live, for the cost of their data plans. Through services like Google+, they can broadcast live video for the cost of their monthly Internet access charge. By virtually eliminating the cost-to-broadcast-barrier, the power to tell your own story has been wrestled from the grips of the few and placed into the hands of many.

Take NASA for example. In 2012, they don’t need mass media to tell the full story of Curiosity. With the ability to broadcast live Martian images directly to anyone with Internet connectivity, they are no longer beholden to the limitations of prime-time, drive-time, or late-night television programming.

It’s time for companies to consider the communications technologies available and the stories that they want to tell through them. One of my favorite examples is Digikey’s Another Geek Moment videos. Digikey is one of the largest suppliers of electronic components. It’s using modern communications technologies to demonstrate products to the company’s highly technical audience. Another Geek Moment demonstrates the power that resides at the fingertips of every corporate storyteller.

For example, consider the following video of a rocket launch. It essentially delivers all of the content that the mass media did for the Apollo rocket launches with one main difference. Rather than requiring thousands of people and millions of dollars, it was created by two guys, a handful of off-the-shelf-parts, and a cell phone.

The video has everything: multiple camera angles, a “Cape Canaveral” (the launch site), and a “Mission Control” (the remote launch site). Check out Texas Instruments MSP430 Launchpad.

Times have changed. Affordable communications technology is available for your company to tell its own stories. The question is whether or not it’ll choose to use them.

Apollo 9 Photo used under Wikimedia Commons

Apr 26, 2012

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:

  1. Mediums store things
  2. 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?

This past Friday, my friend Mike asked if I wanted to burn off some Thanksgiving calories on the basketball court. I jumped at the opportunity.

In between our games of one-on-one (Mike beat me two out of three games, BTW) we discussed my recent decision to expand the focus of RonAmok! beyond “social media for marketing and PR” to include new advances in hardware, software, and networking technologies that allow individuals, businesses, nonprofits, and governments to accomplish things that couldn’t have been conceived of just few short years ago. In between dribbles, we discussed the ramifications of crowd-sourcing, machine-to-machine communication, and the Internet of Things.

That’s when Mike, stopped, held the ball for a moment and asked, “But, what’s the link between social media and your new direction?”

“They are one in the same,” I answered, realizing that at first blush, the statement sounded crazy.

All communications require three things: a message, a recipient, and a method to connect the two. A medium carries messages to intended recipients. It doesn’t matter if that medium comes in the form of a traditional broadcast, the press, the Internet, a social networking site, drums or even smoke signals. The ramifications of easily digitized content delivered through cheap distribution networks has blurred the media lines. Therefore, rather than caring about how the message is delivered (the medium), communicators should care more about accomplishing a specific goal by matching medium with message.

The economies of scale resulting from our ability to cheaply digitize, distribute and present messages to the right audiences have opened exciting new possibilities. However, in order to take advantage of this scale, we must determine the optimum connection between medium, message, and purpose.

Communications decisions must be driven by purpose first, followed by message and medium. Ask not what Facebook, Twitter, or crowd-sourcing can do for you. Ask how they can help fulfill your company’s purpose.