Things never stay the same

I have been thinking about how the industry and what I do has changed…I spent a lot of time in the car today and I thought back to a conversation I had last week with a former F1 driver who was racing at event I was at.  We talked about how things had changed – it started with a question about what he thought of F1 cars today as they are ‘beautiful’ as they were when he raced.  He went on to say that today F1 has changed beyond recognition from when he raced.  It is all about aerodynamics and beauty as a byproduct is important anymore.  Something that supercomputer has brought – a change from when people drew cars.
He continued that when he started, particularly, back in 1984, the people doing my job were doing it very differently.  Recording an interview wasn’t really an option.  There was no digital photography – they had to be printed and delivered by hand to a, no computers of course meant that stories were constructed and delivered very differently.  Deadlines were different, the style was different.  Now I can stand at a track, record an interview, take photos and edit both and have it all online and available around the world within minutes.  The only thing that slows it is me.
The same changes have been seen in PR and my job at the uni.  When I graduated from undergraduate University (2005) my job that I do now didn’t exist.  The news cycle was a lot different.  Staff communications had to have an entirely different approach.  Video was impossible as a mass tool on our budget.  The skills when I started at USQ in 2007 were vastly different to what I need now.  Even from a year ago, the tools that I used are of no use now (they have either been usurped by ‘marketeers’ (i.e. Linkedin Groups) or now too expensive i.e. a conference).
Certainly professional development and keeping up with the game has fallen on one’s own ability to learn and keep up.  The web seems to be entrepreneurial in nature, but things – like government funded bodies don’t necessarily change with the times and politics and money will always slow you.
I concurrently work in both a fast moving, risk free sector (i.e. working by myself as a motorsport media professional) and in a slow moving, risk averse sector – the Australian University sector.
Marrying the two is simple.  I experiment in one and bring the successful stuff over.  Where this fits though in creating something truly innovative is a little more complex, but change is rapid and building something to make people’s lives easier here could be an option.

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Creative Toowoomba

Creative Toowoomba

Today a little about where I live, some may not think this is entirely fair, other may think I am being too fair on my town – that of Toowoomba.  Once known as the ‘gateway to the west’ as it is the last place of population before it was all small rural towns.  Now it is know as the ‘garden city’.  It features a lot of educational institutions – a university, TAFE, schools galore and private institutions.  Other industries include government offices, retail/service, with mining starting to emerge.
Traditionally, the town has been ruled by ‘old money’ and over the recent decades has been very conservative.  This has meant that it doesn’t have a thriving creative industry.  There are a  couple of radio stations, a couple of newspapers and magazines, the television station recently downsized its place in the area.  Given that there are a lot of schools and a university the young try to keep a culture alive through art, music and theatre but it is rare they stay beyond university.  The lure of a big city, a more open minded place with greater employment opportunities is usually too big.  In fact, if I were to look for another job in what I do, it would be unlikely that I could stay in Toowoomba.  Additionally, the tyranny of distance in Australia means that genuine networking and ability to pursue a creative passion in another city and live in Toowoomba or vice-versa is difficult.
Saying that, there are small grants (seemingly to be about $1000) to help creative events like music concerts or art events.
All is not lost though for people like me that may want to start a creative business in something like social media, public relations (which, while not a ‘creative industry’ is an art), serious news site or photography/videography – or a combination of it all.  To date, this has only really been done successfully in regional Australia by ABC with the ABC Open Producers – thanks to government funding.  How to make something something like this work through private funding is not so clear.  Does one run it primarily as a photography business plan or PR consultancy or otherwise?
Whatever you do, for creative industries there are a number of grants that are available – including arts grants, regional arts grants and even sponsorship grants.  Additionally, there are a number of small business grants that are available through government funds.  You can also access business planning sessions for free or little outlay.  However, it seems that angel funding or private funding for start-ups does not seem to exist in this area.  For this, like another job in my chosen profession, I would need to move – preferably to Sydney or Melbourne – to be in the centre of creativity and innovation.  Those are the centres of the tech giants in Australia.  For personal networking Brisbane – a couple of hours down the road has many clubs/groups.  Included in these is Business Communicators Queensland, Opportunite Brisbane and the Young Professionals Network to name but a few.  You make these when you can but it is difficult with work, life, study.
It is one of the reasons why I have chosen to take up further education – the opportunities to network with professionals in my field is slim in Toowoomba.  It is a nature of what Toowoomba is and has grown to be. 

10 ideas in 10 minutes to innovate.

So…looking at where ideas come from.  Trying to be innovative and think about new products/services that make life easier is a difficult task.  I am used to workarounds, making the best with what I have.  I guess, that in its own way is innovative.  Here I am trying to think of 10 things (in 10 minutes) that I would like that would make my life, or the life of my workmates, friends and family much easier.

It is a more difficult task than you may think – life is diverse and trying to think what might make it easier, particularly in just 10 minutes is not so easy.  Getting the creative juices flowing in this post Bathurst 12 Hours is also not such an easy task.  But tell be what you think of my list.  The first is definitely the best but I think all have something in their own little way…

1. Where is my dog app – GPS by microchip means if your dog runs away, you can find it easily
2. Phone alerts when negative conversations begin about your brand/person/organisation
3. Location based service to prevent information from being transmitted for legitimate legal reasons (like the name of a deceased person)
4. App that learns your usual routes and advises you of traffic difficulties
5. An app that tells you in real time when and where your creative media is being stolen
6. Location based app that tells you the kind of cafe/pubs round that can be searched by client demands (eg. craft beer/sportsbar)
7. Recept/warranty app that combines with the digital wallet to tell you when your purchases are out of warranty or the warranty can be honoured from the app
8.  Contact details (for example) sharing with everyone in a geographical or networked area for conferences etc
9. KPI capture, a computer device that recognises (from inputted data) that you are working on a project that directly relates to a KPI and can report on it
10. Instant direct payment, digital file transfer between devices for people selling video/photos at events

Disruption in the maketplace

Innovation breeds innovation and disruption to the established market place can lead us down roads that we never imagined.

When we look at the art that is photography – originally established in the 1800s, it changed the way we looked at pictures and the way that pictures were made.  As it developed, the quality got better.  Technology around pictures enabled pictures to get better and better and be transported wider and wider through the print media.  Cameras and film got to a point that the middle class could afford them.

Massive business empires were created around photos.  Cameras and film was the domain of Kodak, the printing business was massive and a 1 hour turnaround came at a price.  Fun was had with polaroid but the film industry looked unstoppable – that was until 1999.

Disruptive technology – or technology that changes the marketplace, provides alternatives where people didn’t even know they wanted an alternative has been around for a long time.  When big computers became small computers, when horses gave way to cars, when the humble child worker gave way to mechanisation (and child welfare laws – at least in the West).

And so, film gave way to digital.  Slowly at first.  Kodak, in fact created the first digital camera in 1975 but it wasn’t until 1999 and Nikon did a commercially available camera hit the market place.  Like most new inventions, it needed time to develop, needed customers to get used to the technology and ultimately to take it up in large numbers.

And they did.

The rate of change was astounding.  In 1998 no one owned a digital camera and in 2012 the king of the film industry, Kodak was in financial administration, personal digital cameras were in the hands of almost everyone – if not a stand alone camera, a camera in their phone and professional cameras were providing better pictures than the film cameras ever could.

It also didn’t take long for the support services to support digital photography.  The printing shops that survived quickly offered digital print services but importantly, the web – the initiation of the social web sprung up to share photos.

Early blogs could upload photos, photos could be shared via services like ICQ.  Soon we saw services like Flickr emerge.  More recently we have Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.

The kings of the digital age have been Canon and Nikon who dominate the DSLR market and Apple and Samsung who dominate the smartphone market.  Google, Yahoo! and Facebook have made their name by publishing photos.

The losers?  Kodak, mass media and in a strange way – the professional photographer.  The photographer that could not keep with the times, change their business model saw their revenue stream dry up.  Additionally the decreased cost in publishing photos and learning to be great at photography has seen the revenue stream decrease and the competition increase – but that is an entirely different topic to post about.

The winners demonstrated an ability to innovate in their field, a will to invest and drive through the emerging stages of their product lifecycle and a willingness to educate their customers on what they really should want.

As a result, this disruptive technology became the Sustaining Technology – or in other words, what everyone uses and what we expect.  Where the money is made.

Web 2.0 was the perfect platform for photo sharing.  The internet was fast enough for photos and storage space wasn’t an issue.  It offered a way for people to connect as they never had the power to do before.  Over the past decades, people could only communicate over a distance via voice.  Now sight was added to the mix.  Social media’s instantaneous nature, the 24 hour news cycle, the 24 hour shopping cycle and the connected nature of our lives worked perfectly for digital photography.  You still could see what your friends and family could see in faraway places.

It could also hang round, be easily accessed for years at the touch of a few keys.  It became more secure than the film.

And it ended dinner parties centered around a slide show.  Conversations now centre around the experience, as people have already seen the pictures.

But as we have seen  in the past, this ground that Nikon et al have can be eroded by the next revolution.  We see these companies evolve their products, but they must keep an eye out for the next people to to them, what they did to their counterparts over the last 15 years.

Undoubtedly, the social web will assist this.  It enabled the rise of digital photography.  Who knows where it will take us next.

 

Sam Tickell

Online and off, credentials and opinion living in harmony

I’ve been thinking recently on how the social media landscape has impacted communications – well I think of it a lot it is my job.

Thinking how it affects how we write for the media.  Everything we learnt in media school on how to introduce an article is done. in the past.  No longer do we try for the how-what-when-where-why in the opening 25 words.  It is now a battle.  A battle to get people to read the headline.  If they read the headline, to get them to read the first paragraph, then the second and so on.

We promote things differently – we love our blogs and, apparently, we love our Facebook posts that start “Click like if…”

I have also started to read Socailnomics by Erik Qualman.  It is a solid read so far.  The economy of the internet – how people drive it, make it successful.  How this has made traditional media difficult to maintain.

The text struggles – to an extent – with issues like core marketing and business principles and their application to social media.  Some might like to search for something like – social media is a new set of tools not a new medium to get some balance, if reading Socialnomics.  It does raise great points on why blogging is so successful and why traditional media is struggling.

Certainly there is one issue that I have with how Socialnomics treats blogs – it is not that the book is wrong – quite the opposite, Qualman has got the thing right – bloggers lack of bureaucracy and ability to just write on opinion an tweets means they are quicker and access people in a more efficient way than a journalist (see p22 of the book).

Despite being heavily involved in social media and public relations (the kind of behaviour that exhibited can be great for people like me) when you are looking for news, hard hitting news, I like to side with Aaron Sorkin (through quotes in both Studio 60 and The Newsroom) where I like my journalists to have credentials.  To put research in.  To have consequences if things are wrong.

To that extent, the internet is catching up again.  Paywalls for major newspapers may limit news dissemination, but the quality is more assured than what it was before.  Business models like that use by the Huffington Post helps too.

Print too, is making a comeback.  Magazines, at least, have way to fight back and in The Guardian’s article – Who Said Print is Dead, niche magazines have bucked the downturn – both producing great content, high sales, and high profitability.

In this way, print and internet can live side by side, producing great content both for those who want their friends opinion and those wanting credentialed journalists – and most want both.

Now, as a society and as a profession, we just need to get past Facebook posts that commence with “Click like if…”

Sam Tickell

Looking at 2 years of civil upheaval

And how social communication and social media enabled it to happen

 

There are two years in living memory that changed the world, altered the political landscape.  The first was 1989 – and the fall of communism in the Eastern Bloc and of course 2011 and the Arab Spring.

They have similarities to each other.  The West was not prepared nor did they expect it to happen.  The US, in particular did not recognise either uprising for what they were.  As such, those behind the change and the wider protesting public could not rely on support from the west. The first governments fell and changed easily – in the 1989 case, Hungary was the first without much fight.  In 2011, it was Tunisia.  As the change continued, change got harder – eg. Yugoslavia and Syria respectively.  Finally, and importantly, people power made it happen.

The differences though are also stark.  In 1989, the East – i.e. Mikhail Gorbachev recognised that, largely communism wasn’t effective financially anymore and that change coming through from the new breed communist who wanted change.  In 2011, there was no such movement from the top – it was people power.  Financials weren’t an issue – while there was the underclass and corruption, the Arab governments weren’t teetering on financial collapse.  The domino effect was similar, though – people demand change and there was little the powers that be could do about it – unless they resorted to civil warfare.

The communication and activism methods that were used by those in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria et al and those in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, East Germany et al would make for an interesting study – details that deserve to be explored won’t be here – if only for the fact that I don’t have 20 000 words and years to study.

In 1989, it was the brave few on Radio Free Europe, those publishing on-the-then ‘illegitimate’ media (eg. flyers that weren’t state sanctioned) and word of mouth that got the word round, that put together activists with different skills – so that their conquest could be achieved.

It was the same for 2011, though the tools were different.  In one sense, the Arab Spring occurred because the Arab leaders underestimated the power of the internet – the power that social media has to bring people together and for the sole purpose of ‘activism’.

The underlying philosophies of communication remained the same as was the purpose of the communication.  People power to overthrow oppressive governments.

Forgetting isolated incidents of activism, particularly those in free states – like the Cronulla Riots (see Trends in Social Activism Across Australian Minority Communities). The use of social technology in more destructive incidents like the London Riots or the Paris Riots also had a heavy use of social media.  There are countless examples but the use of Internet in oppressive states to overthrow governments, has a particular place in history.

If we assume that the word of mouth, use of traditional media and the purpose of the communications are the same for both the events of 1989 and 2011, then we should look at the technology and what advantages it gave to the proponents of the 2011 change and why the governments of the time underestimated its power.

There was almost a sense from the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt – the early runners in the Arab Spring that digital communications was only for social communication.  If they had looked deeper – even to previous activism, like the Cronulla Riots, they would have known that mass communication that social technology can bring allowed connections between people like never before.  

The social communication has been shaped out of necessity.  While on one side of the coin, we can tell each other that we ate corn flakes for breakfast, it has evolved as activists dream.  In the Arab Spring, its key role was to bring people together who had the skills and the want to do something – from advanced computer programming to those who just wanted to have their voice heard.  It brought about an efficiency to communication – an immediacy and an ability to get around censorship.

The immediacy of communication was vital.  Atrocities were being recorded and transmitted in real time, people’s emotion was being broadcast at the same time.  People could join immediately.  No longer did you need to smuggle photos out of the county, wait for Time or Newsweek to publish the photos.  No longer did you need, at least initially to wait for people to tell others.  All of a sudden there was no delay in the relay of information.  No longer did people have to take a leap of faith in what they were being told – they could see it, it was right there in front of them – for the first time in history.

Social media – from mobile phones, to video, to Facebook and Twitter to word of mouth were all able to be tailored to be fit-for-purpose for a governmental overthrow.  It also enabled a true bottom-up change.  Unlike in 1989, 2011 didn’t need any leaders who wanted change.  It didn’t need accredited journalists who put themselves in danger and happened to be at the right place in the right time.

It needed the people that wanted change.  It needed people to connect and use their skills for the greater good.  

While the recent past, the second half of 2012, the activism and rate of change has dramatically changed with the willingness of Heads of State to use force and war against their citizens, its purpose remains.  Video and pictures emerge from the countries detailing violence.  In times past, only professionals working through a network of smugglers would have been able to achieve this.  Now amateurs and activists can detail the news, bring to light the actions of a nation-state.

The social communication technology has proven that it can change for purpose and proven to be the most radical driver for change that we have experienced for many decades.

Sources:
Atton C, 2004, Alternative Internet

Hands J, 2011, @ is for Activism

Kessler S, 2010, Why Social Media is reinventing activism

Martin M, 2012, Social Media changing the way of activism

Meyer M, 2009, The Year that Changed the World

Scott D, 2011, Trends in social activism across Australian minority communities

BBC, 2011, How Facebook changed the world: the Arab Spring

And a thanks to Dave Harte for his insight and summaries.

Sam Tickell

A personal story on bringing social capital into a new world

This entry is a bit of a follow up of my post looking at the ills of social media on creative art.  I want to look at the concepts of social capital and apply it away from a whole of world concept.

The traditional thinkers on social capital or Coleman, Bourdieu etc look at social capital as

“networks and the associated norms of reciprocity have value. They have value for the people who are in them, and they have, at least in some instances, demonstrable externalities, so that there are both public and private faces of social capital.”

                            Putman (p1)

There is much research suggesting social capital as a tool for societies to move forward, churches, associations and even governments taking networks, taking people’s behaviour and even wealth for the betterment of them, and maybe others.

The problem is that the definition and research around social capital is still quite new, still quite elastic so to transfer it to individuals or groups of people can be difficult.

In my last post, I mentioned that social media has made it easy to take people’s creative products and use them for their own gain without payment or even thanks to the creator of the product.

In one way, that was a bit of a personal gripe – and one that is shared by many of my photographer friends.  Conversely, social media has allowed be to gain work – infact, it has probably accounted for 80% of the work I have ever had.

Granted, I do (even if I say so) great work in motorsport media.  But so do many people so why do I get jobs over someone else?

This is where I come to social capital.

Over my decade in the sport, I have dedicated much of my time to learning the sport and helping the sport.  I worked for cheap or for free for the young guys, the struggling car clubs, those who didn’t have big media coverage.

I never really talked about my work online – I gave out links, advertised the people I was working for.

This allowed me to build up a sense of trust, of goodwill in the industry.  Importantly, people had seen that I wasn’t a fanboy, wasn’t there to get rich, and obviously seen the quality of my work.  Built up capital that I could spend elsewhere.

That is where the work came in and came in via social media.  80% of my work has come from social media, most of that from Twitter.  Most of it coming from people I have never met.  The payback was biggest when I was putting more in.  In 2012, the payback dried up a little as my focus was on the day job and study.  The more I put in, the more came out – again offers from people I don’t know – just know me from my efforts in the sport.

The links to social capital may be tenuous and it is difficult to explain it in a short blog post but social capital is something that we can interpret and use beyond large and obscure political theory.

It is also where social media will influence social capital.  The world is changing faster than some can comprehend and faster than research can view.  A PhD is a minimum of three years – in that time behaviours come and go – although we may now reach a plateau to better look at social capital in the 21st century.  It will function differently with different tools.  It won’t have to be marketing – infact marketing may lessen your social capital.  It will be genuineness and sincerity to your cause, to your virtual community.

No longer will people have to talk in a church or community hall to build social capital.  They can do it from the comfort of their living room with people they will never meet.