I had the opportunity to attend the WebbyConnect Summit on October 3-5 at Laguna Beach. It was a series of non-technical panel discussions on the various growing trends on the Web, and their social and cultural impacts, especially with respect to the media and internet industries. Topics discussed include:
- Web as an essential media channel
- Convergence of online and traditional media
- Convergence of minority expert knowledge and mass collective intelligence
- Disruptive innovation in organizations
- Privacy vs. piracy on the Web; cultural impacts on the next generation
- Convergence of the Web and physical worlds
- Emergence of social networks and online media as political platforms
- Importance of brand and storytelling on the Web
- Web 2.0 as a customer engagement platform
- PR’s transition from absolute control to dialogues with consumers
It was a very insightful event, as the various very notable speakers presented their thoughts on how media and social trends are impacting the evolution of the Web, and vice versa.
- General theme of “convergence” between extremes; emerging focus on “and” and away from “either/or” debates; best of both worlds and hybrid models instead of one dominating/replacing the other. For example,
- Traditional TV media and online media
- Computers and devices
- Online and offline
- Inherent openness and selective filtering / segmented privacy
- User generated content and high production value content
- Mass collective knowledge and expert editorial
- Summit opened with Tommy Means’ (Creative Director, Mekanism) overview of the “Clarifications” campaign for Microsoft Windows Vista launch
- Rei Inamoto (Global Creative Director, AKQA) provided an overview of the “Iris” alt-reality game (ARG) and “Believe” campaigns for the Halo 3 launch
- Amanda Kelso (Executive Producer, DBH) – Mentos Intern “Trevor” campaign
- Nick Bergstrom (Creative Director, FarFar) – Diesel “Heidies 15MBs of fame” campaign
- Ricardo Figueira (Creactive Director, AgencialClick, Brazil) – Motorola RAZR2 campaign
- Rob Master (Director of Marketing U.S., Skin, Unilever) – Dove webisodes and AXE campaigns
- Arianna Huffington (Co-Founder, The Huffington Post) mentioned during her keynote address: "stop the debate of either/or", and "Get connected to figure out how to get disconnected, then reconnect with ourselves"
- Michael Eisner (Founder, Tornante; former Chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company) mentioned during his keynote address, that change is the constant theme (based on what he has seen in the media industry over the years), but the ability of great storytelling and expert editorial remains essential
- Vinton Cerf (Chief Internet Evangelist, Google) mentioned trends of convergence and mobility ("I P on everything!"), and that client-side software is still relevant. Also interesting was the observation on challenges of the digital age, where information preservation (for thousands of years) will become a major issue due to the rapid advancements in technology
It was very refreshing to hear from the thought leaders in the social Web and media and advertising agency spaces. Particularly many campaigns that worked wildly successfully, by leveraging many social elements of Web 2.0. For example, “Trevor” as world’s intern where anyone can schedule Trevor’s time and ask him to do things (like sending a heavy metal birthday gram), effectively used a combination of user-generated content, viral advertising, live web feeds, instant messaging, video streaming, community establishment in Facebook and Myspace, etc., that drew an extremely popular response on the Web. The campaigns discussed were just about the most effective use of Web 2.0 platforms I’ve seen.
To me it boils down to brand management, and the emergence of using Web-oriented techniques to drive a new breed of brand campaigns on the Web. However, a few principles remain the same (lessons for a technologist such as myself, but obvious to people working in these areas):
- It’s about storytelling and not product placement
- Fun and humor (one layer of connecting at an emotional level), but also be able to poke fun at oneself especially if concepts are parallel to public perception of the brand to begin with
- It is comparatively less effective if a brand tries to uphold itself by fighting against public perception; as after all, brand *is* perception
On the general trend of convergence:
This was my biggest takeaway from the summit, as it was clear that the pendulum has swung back away from the extremes, in many different areas. As noted earlier, online and off-line, traditional media and online media, collective intelligence and expert editorial, etc. Basically people are no longer claiming the absolute dominance of one extreme over the other, but are seeing trends that hybrid and combinatorial models work much more effectively. In the technology world, the focus is now shifting towards bringing information and access to the users in a seamless and consistent manner, but with targeted user experiences for different platforms.
Coming back closer to home, from a technology architecture perspective, I found all these trends of convergence are very analogous to the core of Microsoft’s "Software Plus Services" (S+S) strategy (and moniker). I akin S+S to Microsoft’s vision of the future, in response to all the recent innovation and mindshare on SOA, Web 2.0, SaaS, etc. I will leave the details of my thoughts on S+S to another post, but just briefly here – it’s an architecture of "AND", where both local software and cloud-based services work together to provide the most targeted user experiences. Vinton Cerf noted a similar thought in his keynote, that the internet is still largely a transport that is agnostic of the context and data that traverses it. We still need software to interpret and visualize the information in meaningful ways. And the fact is, the dominant players in the online space, such as Google, Yahoo, eBay, Saleforce.com, etc., are all moving towards this middle by providing client-side software. It seems their current approach can be categorized as "Services Plus Software" where cloud-based services are augmented by client-side software, compared to Microsoft’s approach of "Software Plus Services" where client-side software is augmented by "Web as features". It is arguable which approach (or direction) is more relevant, but I think in general the macro-trend that is occurring is that of convergence between software and services.