Competing in the Information Age
Competition drives all life on Earth. It is the invisible hand of markets and the engine of evolution. In our economic world, we see the traditional competition for jobs: Younger employees versed in new technologies forcing out workers with older skills, experienced employees competing with new graduates for fewer jobs, new technologies and services driving out existing companies, and the ever-popular corporate strategy of moving to cheaper labor markets. These are competitive factors we know and expect. But nowadays, new competitive pressures and opportunities present themselves in our ever-changing technological and globally socialized Age of Information.
Quick Note: I talked about the evolution of a new breed of technical communicator and content strategist in earlier postings, as well as adapting to a new open information environment. This is my third posting on changing ecosystems for content strategists of all typesâ€”web programmers, technical writers, knowledge managers, and anyone providing technical content to a new generation of Web 2.0 technologists and communicators using various media ports, portals for social interaction, and groups of common stakeholders.
Competing in the cloud
In the world of Web 2.0 social groups, companies rely on open forums, corporate Facebook pages, Twitter tweets, Linkedin, and other online social mediums to expand services and communicate with current and prospective customers. It is a symbiotic ecosystem in the web cloud where predators and prey feed and find their natural markets. But it is also an environment constantly roiling with changing roles and opportunities.
Competing as a solitary barracuda to challenge larger corporate sharks in the high tech ecosystem or scavenging as pilot fish for high-value product leftovers is nothing new. Microsoft, IBM, Apple, Blackberry, Google, and other high tech companies rely on independent third-party developers and authors to assist in educating their user base and providing applications for their platform. Subcontractors are needed to provide service engagements and work as project-based consultants. Most platforms rely on the competition of independent software and information developers. It is a developed market ecosystem.
Evolving markets and changes in traditional markets are also changing the economic environment. Small, nimble companies of individuals or collaborative tribes of developers now compete directly with larger competitors and in-house corporate teams. These small competitors provide more focused product lines (see TriActive), support the â€ślong-tailâ€ť of products abandoned by companies but not customers (see exprescient), or develop innovative mashups and service-oriented applications for specific market needs (see programmableweb). Small companies and individuals can develop add-on features and upsell to existing customers, fill in with new utilities for existing features or products, or develop entirely new applications by integrating open data sources and employing universal web artifacts.
Independent developers employ easy-to-build mashup applications, knowledge portals using RSS and Atom feeds, adoption of configurable social user interfaces (UIs), consumable APIs, and semantically-rich web content marked with XML syntax or other metadata using the resource description framework (RDF) data model. All new cloud infrastructures, methodologies, markups, and emerging protocols allow for easy assembly of powerful applications and personalized, contextual knowledge resources to fundamentally challenge the way we communicate and work together as societies.
For the content strategist, the ecosystem is a cloud of web objects ready to be formed and given purpose. Tim Berners-Leeâ€™s vision of a data-based system rather than a document-based system will be a reality at some time in the future. Personalization of features to deliver raw data and then render data as usable knowledge will be requiredâ€”no one wants your UI or your doc or your education. They want THEIR user interface and THEIR doc and THEIR education. They just want you to provide a way to consume it, even if they <gasp> have to pay for it.
Darwinian rules for everybody
Adaption to environment. Natural Selection. Inheritance. Survival of the fittest. Predators and prey.
All of the driving forces of the natural world apply to our brave new economic world we live in As the 150th anniversary publication of â€śThe Origin of Speciesâ€ť passes by, it would serve us well to take a closer look at the technological and economic Darwinism that faces us today.
Change brought on by the â€śGreat Recessionâ€ť seem to be destroying one ecosystem while creating opportunities in a newly emerging climate and environment. The world is in transition. Like always, all inhabitants are simply looking for a steady source of sustenance and a new way to survive. Much like the finches of the Galapagos Islands.
Most evolutionary processes take too long to view using standard empirical scientific research, but the finches off the small island of Daphne in the Galapagos archipelago evolve very quickly it seems. Like most of the flora and fauna of these islands, their distant location makes it easier to see how species evolve independently based on an isolated environment separated by miles of ocean. For a young Charles Darwin aboard the HMS Beagle, the Galapagos was a perfect laboratory of segmented evolution. It still is the perfect laboratory for seeing evolution on steroids.
The finches of Daphne seem to be evolving almost instantaneously. In a matter of decades, larger finches first noticed in 1982 began replacing the smaller finches because they had larger beaks for cracking the native seeds. They were more efficient at their jobs. Consequently, the birds with the smaller beaks moved to eating the smaller seeds overlooked by the larger birds, which favored the smallest of the small birds. The smallest finches were more adept at eating smaller seeds. This is known as â€ścharacter displacement,â€ť the act of finding a position to minimize competition in order to live in better harmony (i.e., to better survive).
During a drought in 2003 and 2004 on the island, fewer seeds grew overall and the larger birds competed for large seeds and the smaller birds competed for the smaller seeds. A more competitive environment accelerated the size change between each species of finch based on the size of the seeds they competed for and the efficiency in finding, cracking, and eating the sees: the larger birds got larger competing for the larger seeds and the smaller birds got smaller competing on the smaller seeds. After the culling of the less efficient food gatherers in each population, the most efficient size of finches evolved to fit the ecosystem. The finches of Daphne found an equilibrium and defined a new competitive system with each subgroup finding their most advantageous size and position.
So must we.
Some Feet-on-the-ground Ideas
Okay, so enough of the nebulous references to cloud computing, birds, and highbrow talk of becoming an independent content strategist. As my new friend Corda asks: How do you make this happen? Letâ€™s get real. We have mortgages and grocery bills. How do we make it work?
First of all, I do not call myself an expert in telling others what to do professionally. I am a student of new trends and and inquisitive bystander at this point, although I plan to put all of these ideas to the test very soon. So with that gigantic caveat, let me share some ideas:
- If this is fun, weâ€™re having it. The world is changing. Get used to it. Itâ€™s not like we have a choice. Enjoy the new skills you are about to learn and the challenges in front of you, and embrace all the opportunities. Because if this is NOT fun, weâ€™re also having it.
- The markets are changing. Products, services, and corporations in the market that have gotten fat, lazy, and effete are vulnerable to competition. A new type of democratic mercantilism of independent experts, collaborative tribes, and organized crafts men and women is emerging. Increased productivity, better tools, innovative practices, open web infrastructure, and skilled communicators can compete with anyone.
- The old markets are still in place. Some corporations are de facto monopolies or at least oligarchies. Think Toyota, Walmart, Microsoft, Google, and Apple. Technical Communicators need to keep close to these behemoths to utilize services and infrastructure and tap into customer base.
- We are straddling changing societies and technologies. The IT management system your company bought today will be obsolete in five years. Everything will be virtual partitions on a hard drive with embedded or online applications. 25 percent of what you know this year will be obsolete next. Your iPhone, Blackberry, of Google Droid is yesterdayâ€™s model. All of this change affects societies. The Iranian government is slowing down web access and using Twitter to counterstrike protestors.
- Skills are changing. Jobs are changing. You need to evolve into a multi-skilled Technical Communicator. The goal is to get information to people. That will require some additional skills in the emerging Information Age.
How to compete:
Letâ€™s get down to some specifics ideas. How about a table to keep notes. I an going to start taking a list of ideas here and expand it through time and effort.
|Projects||How to compete|
|Author contextual knowledge||Find a topic needing content and become an expert. Take a stance on a social issue. Blog, comment on sites, build social coalitions, write e-books, and push your agenda|
|Build mashups||Design and build web products using content and services from cloud resources. Mash videos, text, graphics, audio, and legacy content to provide alternatives to corporate products.|
|Build custom applications||Design and build applications for various platforms such as iPhone, Blackberry, Adobe AIR, MS Silverlight, and others large and small.|
|Sell services||Become an independent contractor.|
|Extend professional services||Work directly with customers or with other contractors to supply real-time, real-world content directly to customers.|
|Become an information portal||AppDeploy.com was an information portal bought by KACE. These were guys who provided a knowledge portal that was bought out.|
|Provide independent training||Undercut education wherever you can.|
|Hire on as content strategist||Build a rĂ©sumĂ© abound social networking and strategies to get companies noticed and their message out.|
|Become an analyst for a market and set of products.||Became a customer advocate in defined fields and compare, contrast products specifically for readers.|
My goal in this posting is to ferret out some of the opportunities for competing in a changing marketplace and point out some vulnerabilities to be exploited. We need to identify our seeds and see how big our beak needs to be to compete. That would be a significant difference between humankind and finches. We can decide what kind of forager or predator we are suited for and how we most want to compete.
I intend to openly discuss some of the problems and requirements associated with being a new type of technical communicator or content strategist and web masher. I plan to address more ideas around the reality of being an independent communicator (regardless of your current situation in or out of a corporation), what that means, and where the market is today. I will start by throwing out these basic ideas and hopefully get some comments. I will be updating this article from time to time as well.
December 11, 2009
Â· Michael Hiatt Â· 9 Comments
Posted in: Cloud Computing, Content Strategist, Contextual Data, Information Age, Information management, Knowledge management, Mashups, technical communicator