On the web, even the most secretive companies eventually embrace openness

Back in the 1990s, many people considered Microsoft a kind of “death star” of the northern wilderness, stealthily issuing new products that would destroy an entire category of software overnight.  But in the 2000s, the mantle for Most Secretive Company In High Tech passed to an unlikely successor, Apple Computer.

Under the second reign of Steve Jobs, the legal team at Apple would pursue leakers with a vengeance, hounding them with legal action.  But now, as one of the original Apple rumor site founders notes on Tina Brown’s new site The Daily Beast, a kinder, gentler Apple seems more inclined to let rumors and leaks slide by unchallenged.

What happened?   Did Apple suddenly lose their mighty mojo?

It’s just another illustration of creative collaboration.   The web is an echo chamber.  Rumors and photos constantly leak out of Apple.  Some are accurate, some are not.   Today they appear on various blogs, and then they get picked up by CNET and AOL’s Engadget…. and then suddenly the rumor metastasizes across the  blogosphere.

What can Apple’s legal team possibly do to muzzle the entire blogosphere?   Absolutely nothing.

We’re seeing something similar occur during the 2008 presidential campaign.   On the surface, both candidates have agreed to take the high road and steer clear of nasty smears and innuendo.   But on the outer fringes of the blogosphere, you can find all sorts of kooky speculation about Obama’s purported ties to Muslims and Palin’s ties to Alaskan secessionists (and McCain’s ties to Keating, etc etc ad nauseum).   This garbage is leaked by campaign operatives and sympathizers.   And once the rumors appears on the fringe blogs, they migrate rapidly to the mainstream blogs who report on the rumors, and from there to the web sites for the mainstream media.    Once the rumor is published on a blog, no matter how dubious, it can be swiftly legitimized by mass media hungry for any scoop in a fiercely competitive 24 hour news cycle.

Any attempt to repress the rumors only drives more search and more page views for the original rumor.  Supression is tantamount to promotion.  Heavy-handed attempts with cease and desist orders only stoke the furnace hotter… thereby spreading the meme further.

The obvious solution is to embrace openness.  Reveal all, for on the web, privacy and secrecy are artifacts of a bygone era.   Far better to reveal all the gory detail right up front, as Sarah Palin did with her family’s awkward teen pregnancy.   Get the facts out, endure the painful news cycle, and then relax because once the info is revealed you are immunized.    Until the next leak.

Collaborative approach to disasters

This week I gave a presentation to Fortune 500 executives at the Marketing Forum on my favorite subject, collaborative creativity.  Although my talk was focused on social media for marketing purposes, I included many examples of “incomplete content” where the participation of the audience is necessary for a complete content experience.   This principle extends to a broad range of online experiences, from online community to multiplayer games to citizen journalism.   My argument is that marketers in a two-way network must foster “brand experiences” that people can participate in and contribute to, rather than passively view.  It’s the difference between an “impression” and an “expression”.

Now, today, here’s a great example of a small group of people harnessing the power of social media for the greater good. Blogger Nate Ritter has launched a program to utilize social software to generate alerts and a public address system for natural disasters.   Check out his blog post and then click through to IdeaBlob to vote for this idea so Nate’s team can win the funding necessary to bring this project to completion.

Surely this project merits the financial support of a major marketer, such an an insurance company or financial services firm (okay, maybe this is the wrong week to mention marketing spend by financial services companies).   But seriously, what better way to give people a brand experience than Nate’s project, especially if your brand involves security, safety and wellbeing?

BTW, I notice that IdeaBlob is supported by Advanta.  Smart positioning for Advanta, dontcha think?

Innovation in television? Look to the Web.

Check out this useful comment by Mike Hale in today’s NYT heralding the arrival of original video series on the Web.  For too long, broadcasters have regarded the Web as a dumping ground for uninspired promotional content and lame marketing gimmicks for the regular broadcast schedule.  Recently, however, some TV networks are starting to take the Web seriously as a vehicle for rapid, low cost innovation.

The NY TImes piece highlights the distinction between genuinely new programming concepts and old-school marketing masquerading as original content.   Hale also skewers the dubious quality and relentless product placement as obvious defects in some new programs.  But video is expensive to produce, and after all, somebody has to pay the bills.

Such mainstream TV efforts face stiff competition from web pure plays, who are not beholden to corporate policies and are thereby able to innovate more freely.  I’m still betting on the shock value of sites like to capture viewers with a fresh voice unencumbered with an old school broadcaster’s agenda.

This is a useful meme and one that will certainly be explored in more detail at the 5D conference in Long Beach in early October.

Are comic books the future of self help? New Google collaboration with Scott McCloud shows how.

The introduction of Google’s new open source Chrome browser is newsworthy.  So is the way that Google chose to explain the new features to users. Both items are sterling examples of collaborative creativity.

Google teamed up with veteran cartoonist Scott McCloud to create a cool graphic narrative about the new browser.

During a week of breaking news about hurricanes, lurid political drama, and the GOP convention, the Google announcement is likely to get buried in sensational headlines.  But it’s worth your while to check out this new online comic book that illustrates the sophisticated new features of the Chrome browser.   Because this type of presentation just might be the future of self help guidebooks. Continue Reading

Collaborative Creativity now on Australian TV

My speech at the Cross Media Lab in Melbourne was broadcast last week on ABC 2 in Australia.    The theme of this speech was “Collaborative Creativity”, which refers particularly to my passion for including the audience in the process of creating entertainment.    This is harder than it sounds.  I selected three examples from my personal experience in TV, web and mobile to illustrate some of the principals of collaboration via two-way networks.  Not all of these were successful! Continue Reading

Don’t expect Virgin America to fix the horrible US airline problem

This week I flew Virgin America round trip from Los Angeles to New York JFK for the first time.  Having heard rave reviews about this new airline, I decided to give it a try.  My experience was so disappointing that I will never fly Virgin America again.

Launching a new airline to compete with American must have seemed like an irresistible challenge to Richard Branson, considering the horrendous quality of the typical US airline.  Great idea, lousy execution. Continue Reading

Here comes the iPhone backlash

Apple‘s legendary obsession with controlling information and availability of products has reached the tipping point.  A growing number of iPhone developers are grumbling about the arbitrary nature of the decision-making process which governs which applications get included in the iTunes storefront.   A spate of recent stories highlights what is clearly a haphazard and chaotic process. Worse, for those who are paranoid about Apple’s ability to control how consumers make use of the iPhone is the emergence of a blacklist built into the phone.  No one knows what the criteria for making the blacklist might be… and Apple isn’t telling anyone.

Simultaneously, a growing number of consumers are voicing their concerns with the iPhone, too.

Coming on the heels of the widely-publicized glitch in the launch of the iPhone 3G and the much-publicized failure of the MobileMe service, these reactions underscore just how difficult it is to execute a new strategy in the wireless business.   It turns out the mobile carriers are not so bad, after all. Continue Reading

Highlights from XML Melbourne presentations

X Media Lab presented a collection of insightful speakers from around the world.   My brain was nearly overloaded by the end of the first day.

Below is a summary of some highlights.  I did not manage to take notes on all of the speeches, however.   For comprehensive reporting on XML, check out LagrangePoint where Brad Howarth diligently live-blogged the entire conference.

  • Stewart Butterfield‘s presentation included a bunch of Flickr photos from people in the audience at Obama’s speech at the Siegesaule in Berlin.  In every photo, you could see dozens of hands waving tiny digital cameras and camcorders.  His point:  everybody has a digital camera now, and when these cameras are connected to sites like Flickr, they serve as “the eyes of the world.”   It’s a freaky cool idea.   The internet has transformed into a global nervous system and now digital cameras and cameraphones have sprouted like billions of digital eyes.   And so the Web can see! Continue Reading

About the X Media Lab in Melbourne

Wow, what a weekend.  I am seriously jet-lagged.    Just returned from X-Media Lab, which is an intensive three-day workshop held periodically in different cities throughout Asia:  Dubai, Shanghai, Seoul, Singapore, Mumbai.   Last weekend XML took place in Melbourne, Australia.

How XML works:  ten individuals with experience in digital media arrive from all corners of the globe.  16 companies are chosen for the workshop from a competitive field.   On the first day, the experts present their vision and background as it pertains to the subject matter of the lab.  (Our topic was “DIY Media”).   During the next two days, each of the 16 companies has the opportunity to review their project in one-on-one sessions with the experts.   The result is a combination of brainstorming, pitching, debate, challenge, refinement and collaborative creativity.   Very fun.  It’s unlike any other conference.

The XML workshop is the brainchild of Australian impressario Brendan Harkin.   He and his tireless partner Megan Elliott make the whole thing work:  coordinating the travel of 10 speakers, finding and screening the projects, securing the venue and government support. Continue Reading

Collaborative Creativity at the X Media Lab in Melbourne

I am very excited to be attending the X Media Lab in Melbourne, Australia on August 1 – 3.   I’ve been invited to give one of the keynote speeches during the opening session.

My talk will address the subject of Collaborative Creativity, especially as it pertains to user-generated content in the context of major media brands.  This is a more challenging proposition than it may seem.  Most media companies are unfamiliar with user-generated content, and many of them are not especially skilled at dealing with customer feedback.  It’s a steep learning curve. Continue Reading