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I’ve been saying for some time that FB can’t be all things to all people, and, ultimately, that trying to be will be its biggest challenge. I’ve advanced the idea that people will gravitate towards networks where their specific interests are addressed.

I believe we’re beginning to see an emergance of this. Others, such as Jay Jamison — who articulates the idea of “interest-based networks” beautifully in this article — seem to think so too.

People are seemingly shocked by the rapid acceleration of Pinterest. They shouldn’t be.

Look at Pinterest’s mantra: “Organize and share things you love.” Compare this with Facebook’s: “Facebook is a social utility that connects people with friends and others who work, study and live around them.”

See the distinction? FB is about organizing around people; Pinterest is about organizing around things.

We’ve naturally conceived of social networks as being “for” helping us connect with other people (that’s what FB, Twitter, Tumblr, etc. do). The problem with this is that for most of us there is a relatively finite number of people with whom we’ll connect (cf. Gladwell’s idea in The Tipping Point that the max number of authentic social connections anyone can have is 150. UPDATE: Thanks to 9gs reader, Elainejoli for correcting an omission of mine. Though Gladwell is perhaps responsible for popularizing the idea of 150 social connections, the theory was originated by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar).

Not so with things.

We’re constantly discovering new things about which we might want to learn more (in an era where everyone is a content creator, this ain’t slowing down).

The unintended consequence of organizing around things, of course, is that it leads to the possibility of breaking through the glass ceiling of acquaintances. In other words, we have a far better chance of making new social acquaintances via organizing around things than we do connecting with people. This is why Pinterest is growing so quickly.

When we organize around a thing, we’re breaking through barriers of geography and demographics and, instead, uniting around a shared psychographic interest. I can, for instance, tweet a link to an article about some great bbq that I’m looking forward to trying in Austin during sxsw, and I know that some percentage of my followers on Twitter and FB will appreciate this article. However, I’m unlikely to expand my social circle via this gesture.

Conversely, if I go organize myself around the interest/object of bbq, and then look to see others who have done the same, there is a chance that my social circle can expand (i.e. meet new people).

To be clear, I’m not for a minute saying that FB is going away/going to fail (the cost of abandonment is just too high for most people; though there have been some studies of late showing a large degree of unused FB accounts).

Rather, I’m saying that there is tremendous opportunity to rethink how we should be concieving of networks moving forward. As I’ve argued forever, look to objects of interest (in some respects, the more specific the better) that people are passionate about, and give them the tools to better organize. Doing so will lead to far more durable, rewarding, and expansive connections than organizing around existing social connections.

Of course, the real winner will be the person/company who combines object-orientated organization with acquaintance-orientated organization (you can bet FB is working on this). The chart below attempts to exemplify the trends, and the potential outcome.

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Almost two years ago to the day, I wrote a poste entitled, The Death of Flip.

In this post I predicted that the imminent launch of the new iPhone (complete with video capture functionality) would make the single-purpose Flip obsolete (working from the premise that the best camera is the camera you have with you):

This is bad news for Flip.

Just as the still camera in the iPhone eliminated the need for people to carry a second camera for casual pictures, the video function will do the same.

We own several Flip cameras currently, and I can pretty much guarantee that once the new iPhone with the video function is released, our Flips will be relegated to the same junk box where our other still cameras and video cameras have gone to die (it’s perched in the basement upon — not kidding — a VHS player).

As an aside, Flip could have at least forestalled their demise by not having such an utter crap UI for their video management tool. Of course, Apple has that covered pretty well.

Well, two years (and a massive acquisition by Cisco) later, and it was reported today that Flip is indeed by killed off by Cisco:

[Cisco] said it will close down its Flip business and support FlipShare customers and partners with a transition plan. Cisco will take up to $300 million in one-time charges in its third and fourth quarters as part of the plan.

The message here — as I try to tattoo in my students’ minds at this point every semester — is that businesses have two choices: innovate or die.

Entrepreneurship is creative destruction, and the world is littered with the near-forgotten corpses of once-innovative firms (e.g. Flip) that, due to a lack of innovation/poor management, have been relegated to a footnote as other companies pass them by.

This is not limited to products; entire industries/institutions can be and are destroyed (I read recently that the firm that supplies most of the gumball machines to stores is suffering mightily).

Some areas I believe are perilously close to going the way of Flip if they don’t innovate soon:

    The traditional music business
    The traditional film business
    The traditional book business
    Higher Education
    The Banking business
    Cable TV

All of the above institutions have enjoyed a robust moat around them that kept competition away. However, tech, lack of innovation, complacency, etc. are, slowly, but surely, allowing competitive innovators to encroach. Once the gap is breeched, the change will be violent and sudden.

The tie that binds those in the above list is that nimbler and more customer-centric firms are creating value propositions — via innovative approaches — that will offer substitutes to customers who are all too eager for a better alternative.

Just think, it wasn’t even ten years ago when a typical Saturday might involve: a drive to the local Tower records to pick up a CD, prior to making a stop at the Borders to grab a hardback book, and, on the way home, a stop off at Blockbuster to rent a movie for the evening.

The music business is indeed a canary in a coal mine; what is your firm learning from its mistakes?

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