|In The Innovator’s Solution, Clay Christensen identifies two types of disruptive innovation in business:
Christensen’s definitions are rooted in the Market Economy, and hence don’t exactly apply to blogs and other ‘products’ of the Gift Economy. Or do they? ‘Free’ is certainty ‘a lower cost’. Readers are clearly ‘overserved’ by newspapers of which they read and care about 10% or less of the content. And blogs offer ‘benefits not available at all’ and ‘previously inconvenient’ to newspaper readers — the ability to comment, respond and discuss articles with the authors, and hotlinks to previous articles, backgrounders and more detailed reports on the same subject.
But blogs don’t quite meet the definition of a Low End Disruptive Innovation (LEDI) because the incumbents do care about losing business (readership) to bloggers. And they don’t quite meet the definition of New Market Disruptive Innovation (NMDI) either, because blog readers are not ‘new’ to newsreading — they were mostly (except perhaps for ‘pure’ personal diary bloggers) already avid consumers of news in another format.
The legacy media initially ignored blogging as a fad, and then as blogging has continued to grow, they have taken potshots at it (“a million guys in pajamas”) and tried to coopt it with their own blogs. A few have even formed partnerships with bloggers, using them as ‘extensions’ of their print and online editions. And many newspapers now offer stripped-down tabloid size editions free to commuters, funded entirely by advertising and full of teasers to additional information only available in the paid editions. Many magazines have done the same thing — embargoing each edition so that paid subscribers get the ‘scoop’ first, or offering some articles only to subscribers. But bloggers persist because the legacy media can match neither the price (zero) or the variety (virtually infinite) of entertainment and information that bloggers offer. And the legacy media persist because:
What then is the future of blogs? Much has been written about what blogs could become or might evolve into, but as interesting as this is to read, most of it won’t happen because of the three constraints bulleted above. In fact, the newest reports indicate that the proportion of blogs that are active is dropping sharply (lots of people find they just don’t have that much to say, or the time to say it to people they don’t know well) and that the ratio of blog readers to blog writers has plateaued and is now also falling.
I’ve written before about what I think will happen to blogs as a medium for business knowledge sharing, and I think it just makes sense to let selected people browse and search a well-ordered, context-rich archive of business colleagues’ electronic filing cabinets, and to use RSS digests of this content as a means of selectively communicating with and even selling to customers. I see business blogs migrating from their current reverse-chronological format to a more dynamic format to suit this business purpose.
Non-business blogs, I believe, are likely to become mainstream not as a source of useful and interesting information (which they mostly are now), but as a means of very dynamic social recreation. They are a greater threat, therefore, to television, radio and other forms of recreation (the telephone, the movie theatre, the shopping mall, sports, even recreational reading) than they are to the news and information media. We are, at heart, far more social than political creatures. We care more about social interaction than about learning (admit it — you too!) And that means there will be more of an appetite for new technologies and products that enhance human interaction than there will be for those that inform us. As a consequence, look for blogs to go conversational, multimedia and ‘live’.
Consider what Skype has started doing to telephony — it threatens to bury the VoIP ‘industry’ before it can even be born. You can now call land lines in most of the West, and talk as long as you want free of charge, even with people on the other side of the digital divide. Video add-ons to Skype allow you to chat with Grandma in Britain or the kids at university in Australia, free. The videophone has long been predicted. But now that it is free, and drawing people who previously had no use for computers, watch it take off.
That functionality will extend multimedia blogging from its current state of evolution (podcasting) to seamless conversations between and among bloggers and blog readers. Why would you want to watch the news of what’s happening in Paris or Honolulu or Sri Lanka or Iraq or Caracas when you can ‘blog in’ (hey, I want credit for inventing that phrase — I used it first in this context!) to a live conversation (with video, and text transcription produced by voice recognition software) with someone who is right there and can tell you and show you first hand, and chat with you about what it means?
How about from the perspective of us introspective blog writers, though? We like to spend the time carefully crafting our posts, with useful links in them, and we’re more comfortable writing our thoughts than communicating orally real-time, right? Well, that’s probably true, but what if you found that if you spent the time in selective conversations (right people, right topic, right time) instead of writing:
This is what I think will happen. When you turn on your computer in the morning, your e-mail and RSS will have many fewer articles and many more invitations to join real-time conversations (with video) scheduled at various points during the day on specific topics that you are interested in and/or acknowledged as informed about. It will have some live audio and video feeds with commentary from the areas where breaking news is happening, hosted by a blogger who lives there or has traveled there. You’ll be able to see for yourself, and ask questions of the host blogger. Some bloggers will be offering live travelogues you can ‘blog in’ to and chat with them about. Blog posts will evolve into blog events, ‘programs’, from an impromptu kaffee klatsch about a book you (or someone you trust) just read, to an hour in the life of a blogger’s family in Riyadh. Your blog will look more like a program schedule (with multimedia tapes and transcripts of the programs and events) than a journal. What’s fascinating to me about this is that the word ‘diary’ will still apply to these evolved blogs, but in the future-oriented sense of ‘daily agenda’ rather than past-oriented sense of ‘daily record’.
This should spell the end of talk radio and TV (why listen or dial in when you can participate as a peer?), and the end of reality TV. It will disruptively innovate all ‘canned’ programming — TV and movie drama, comedy, documentary — because you’ll have the option to be part of a ‘live’ program instead, somewhat less polished but including you as participant, part of the ‘cast’. It will profoundly blur the lines between the different parts of our social networks, and deepen and broaden those networks. It will drag the rest of the world across the digital divide to see what all the commotion is about, and to play. And it will all be free.
Blogs will then become both LEDIs and NMDIs — but not so much to the news media as to the entertainment and recreation industries. The software developed for multi-player gaming apps will be adapted to manage multi-participant blog events. Just think what this capability could mean for business conferences, university courses, amateur sporting events, investigating reporting, live theatre, real-time real-space games, shopping trips, dating, Friday-night poker, parties.
And like all disruptive innovations, the incumbent providers and arrangers of entertainment, recreation, communication and other forms of social interaction won’t know what hit them until it’s too late.
I believe every aspect of the burgeoning Gift Economy has the opportunity to be a similar disruptive innovation. We have already seen this in open source and file-sharing. Software vendors disrupted by open source technologies have responded by refocusing on large corporate accounts (their ‘high end’) where they can offer customization and services that open source cannot — a classic response to LEDI. They will survive as long as those high end accounts continue to thrive — even fat cat companies can only say ‘no’ to ‘free’ for so long. Record, movie, and now book vendors (Amazon and the publishing industry are balking at Google Print, which provides free full text of books in print) have tried to sue customers who use technology to make personal-use copies of their content — a foolish and fruitless approach. These industries need to follow the lead of the software vendors and respond to the file-sharing LEDI by offering something that file-sharing cannot — like concert tickets, personalized content, and personal interviews with the performers. As consultants have learned, you give away your recorded content free, as calling card and publicity for a personal, personalized appearance, something that cannot be copied.
But most industries disrupted by Gift Economy LEDI and NMDI will probably have to learn the hard way. They will have to learn that:
Last word to Jeff Jarvis (thanks to Dave Davison for this timely link) who wrote yesterday:
Distribution is not king. Content is not king. Conversation is the kingdom. In our media 2.0, web 2.0, post-media, post-scarcity, small-is-the-new-big, open-source, Gift Economy world of the empowered and connected individual, the value is no longer in maintaining an exclusive hold on things. The value is no longer in owning content or distribution.The value is in relationships. The value is in trust.
But in this new age, you donít want to own the content or the pipe that delivers it. You want to participate in what people want to do on their own. You donít want to extract value. You want to add value. You donít want to build walls or fences or gardens to keep people from doing what they want to do without you. You want to enable them to do it. You want to join in.
In this model, newspapers have a problem: They want to control information and the means of sharing rather than enabling that sharing. Book publishers are inefficient as hell: They have to guess what the audience wants rather than helping questioners find answerers. Entertainment producers are doomed to support extravagant costs: They have raised the bar to success beyond their own reach. Cable companies and broadcasters are lost: They have no idea how to serve people, only masses. Marketers and their agencies are befuddled: They have evolved into beasts without ears. And ó hereís my favorite ó AOL has it utterly, completely, spectacularly wrong: It wanted to control content and distribution and controlled nothing at all.
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