Newspapers failing web 2.0 challenge

Newspapers need to find innovative ways to embrace web 2.0 – or face a perilous future

(Originally published 12/05/09 – silicon.com)

For too long now people have talked about the decline in newspapers as if this was something slow and cyclical – worse still, something that they can actually manage.  I’m sure the people who ran chemical based photography at Kodak thought the same. The music industry clearly also had this perspective on life. Look, this might well just be a “decline” that has been accelerated by a recession but equally we may be approaching a structural, social and generational cliff face. Either way, you surely don’t want to be just another lemming?

Newspapers are facing the most fundamental period of change in their history. Some would say that until recently nothing much had actually changed since the town crier used to wander into the market square, ring his bell and shout “hear ye, hear ye – plague, death, taxation, fat-cat bankers and the worst recession in living memory …. local vicar involved”.

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Wikipedia 1 – 0 Microsoft

Microsoft today ran up the white flag in the battle of the online encyclopedias

“On October 31, 2009, MSN Encarta Web sites worldwide will be discontinued, with the exception of Encarta Japan, which will be discontinued on December 31, 2009. Additionally, Microsoft will cease to sell Microsoft Student and Encarta Premium software products worldwide by June 2009…”

Interestingly they close with ……

“Encarta has been a popular product around the world for many years. However, the category of traditional encyclopedias and reference material has changed. People today seek and consume information in considerably different ways than in years past. As part of Microsoft’s goal to deliver the most effective and engaging resources for today’s consumer, it has made the decision to exit the Encarta business.”

Is free and socially networked the only way to survive ?

Enterprise 2.0

I was fortunate to meet up with Andrew McAfee from Harvard Business School (blog.hbs.edu/faculty/amcafee) last week, discussing the growth of social networking software inside organisations – commonly called Enterprise 2.0 – so I thought I would add some content here on my observations, leanings and views. Most of you will know from my posts on “learning from my kids” and “facebook” that I am quite keen on this topic

About the best definition I can find so far for this stuff is “… the use of existing and emerging social software platforms within companies, or between companies and their partners or customers.” So that basically covers blogs, wikis, content tagging, social networks, RSS etc

As Andrew says

Despite the hype, these are genuinely new technologies which offer the potential for an organisation to be far more effective around innovation, collaboration, knowledge sharing and collective intelligence. Unfortunately the bariers to adoption now seem to be the lack of foresight or draconian policies of the IT department (or maybe even the irrational fears of some CIOs) rather than the willingness of the customers to embrace the solutions on offer.

There are some simple trends that seem to be driving the adoption of E2.0 solutions

  • Software has become simple, social and inclusive. Technology is now actually being used to connect rather than alienate or frustrate people.
  • Network effect – all of these solutions improve with scale so its in the interests of participants to promote use and “market” their new found information and connections
  • “Platforms” are replacing channels – Web 2.0 promotes the move from channels to platforms (email is a 1.0 channel – a one to one conversation that has no interactivity or contribution). In a web 2.0 world the platforms aspire to be universal, visible and open to the broadest possible interaction.
  • Most Web2.0 tools have a distinct lack of upfront structure but they have mechanisms in place that allows structure to emerge. This is a really new (and potentially frightening concept for IT folks) – get out of the way of the customers and almost give them a blank slate. Conventional IT has lots of rules and structure. It slots people into roles, assigns privileges to roles, define workflows and data formats etc. This is not wrong, but applying this approach universally can be barrier to collaboration and innovation. Web 2.0 tools (praticularly inside an enterprise) requires a bit more sublety – segmentation if you will – making sure that the appropriatre tools and services are available to the right people. Wikipedia is a great example of managed collaboration – with great self selection and editing. Del.icio.us allows you to store bookmarks online and share them but people tag their entries, not based on any predefined lists, but entirely on the words they choose themselves.

Adoption Challenges
The biggest challenge for any new solution is usually down to replacing or superceeding what already exists. Email is the most common collaboration tool – however bad we think it is !! – and for anything new there will always be a level of personal evaluation between an incumbent technology and a prospect technology. Remember that customers rarely make rational lists to come to a decision. An existing or incumbent solution is over-weighted – often by a factor of 3 and the new proposition is under-weighted by a similar amount. So new concepts often have to be at least 9x better than existing systems.

So what do I think…
I think Enterprise 2.0 is going to be the difference between innovative and laggard companies. The ones who can embrace and harness the potential from a connected and collaborative organisation will simply be streets ahead of their competritors