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November 2012
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As Many Paths As Possible

Since late November Russell Davies has been doing a splendid job of documenting his Kindle Highlights from the many and diverse books that he has read. One of my favourite quotes came from Kindle book number 34, The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway:

"You don't make strategy so that there's one path to victory; you make it so that as many paths as possible lead to something which isn't loss."


Creative Commons & the Sharing Web

 Creative commons

We've just passed the tenth anniversary of the release of the first collection of Creative Commons licenses, established by the non-profit Creative Commons organisation to facilitate a "simple, standardized way to give the public permission to share and use your creative work — on conditions of your choice". 

In the decade since that release the free and easy-to-use licenses have been expanded and improved, and their usage and application has grown exponentially. Hundreds of millions of creative works are now licensed under the system which has expanded to a network of affiliates that support and promote CC activities in over 70 jurisdictions around the world.

Creative Commons licenses work alongside copyright, and are important to the sharing web since they provide a framework to support creative re-use of content, and expand the available range of creative works upon which others can legally build and share. And in a world where everything is a remix, building on the work of others is a fundamental form of innovation and creativity. Such a framework provides a great foundation for a community built around sharing and constructive practices like attribution.

Flickr has long shown how to make mass adoption of CC easier, and YouTube, Google+, Slideshare and Soundcloud all support the CC licensing system, giving users flexibility to license their content as they see fit, and making it easy to create defaults under settings options.

Yet, as Ryan Singel wrote about over Christmas, some some of our largest and most popular social networks do not support Creative Commons. Facebook (and now Instagram) in particular, is focused on creating defaults set to share openly, but with most of that sharing happening within Facebook. There is no option for users to license their content for creative re-use, and settings for sharing are instead governed by complex, multi-page terms of service which no-one reads (two Carnegie Mellon researchers published a paper earlier this year that suggested that it would take 76 work days to read all of the privacy policies that an average Internet user encounters in a year).

In fairness, Facebook are not alone in not supporting CC, but with the huge volumes of content that are shared on the service every day, it's worrying that we are learning sharing behaviours set around defaults that don't encourage constructive re-use and voluntary attribution. 

Anil Dash recently wrote about the web we lost, lamenting the apparent drift from some of the core attributes that underpinned the heady early days of the sharing web. Surely one of the best ways in which we can rebuild the web we lost, is to encourage universal support for the one system that stands the best chance of providing users with a degree of flexibility and protection around their content and creative work, whilst establishing a sound foundation for communities built around constructive sharing.

The Best Blog Posts Of 2012

Last year around this time I posted a list of some of my favourite posts from the year. As I said then I'm a big believer in celebrating great writing and thinking (it's the motivation behind doing Post Of The Month) so I'm doing it again. So here are fourteen posts (in no particular order, and just the number I arrived at) that I really enjoyed this year:

Myself, Quantified by Dan Hon

Make Things People Want or Make People Want Things? from John Willshire

What Closing A Magazine Tells You About Why You Had To Close A Magazine by David Hepworth

To The Father I Never Knew On Father's Day by Erik Proulx

What Will Matter In The Future by Stowe Boyd

Leaving The Guardian, Creativity vs Mild Depression, The Quantified Self, and Running by Dan Catt

5 Ideas Trapping The Ad Industry Right Now from Mark Pollard

Words I Hate by Martin Weigel

Graft and Craft: What Makes a Planner from Martin Weigel

Advertising Is Dying, Long Live Design from George Prest

Subcompact Publishing from Craig Mod

Two Cities from Heidi Hackemer

The Web We Lost by Anil Dash

The Abundance Of Slowness by Matt Steel

There's so many I could have included in this list and it's heartening that blogging continues to add such enormous value to the debate in our industry. My appreciation goes to all the bloggers who care enough to have continued to provide us with such thought-provoking and well articulated thinking this year.

On Competitive Focus

So much management time in organisations is wasted analysing what the competition are doing. Competitive positioning and strategies are important of-course, but I often think that one of the downsides of an over-enthusiastic focus on responding to what others are doing in your market is that you forget to be awesome yourself. So in that context this quote from Larry Page, taken from this rare but informative interview, is illuminating:

"Obviously we think about competition to some extent. But I feel my job is mostly getting people not to think about our competition. In general I think there's a tendency for people to think about the things that exist. Our job is to think of the thing you haven't thought of yet that you really need."

Should Publishers Refocus on ARPU?

Newspaper and magazine publishers (and other media owners) typically run their businesses based on segmented revenue streams such as circulation, advertising, promotions and so on. The revenue streams often report vertically, ensuring that the focus is on vertical strategies and execution first, and horizontal second. But could it be the right time for publishing businesses to refocus around a central guiding metric such as average revenue per user? Here's five reasons why that might be a good idea:

  • It would mean that revenues, and therefore activities to generate revenues, are focused and structured in a customer-centric rather than a company-centric way. Customer-centricity is the hallmark of many a successful digital (and otherwise) business, and ARPU is a naturally customer-focused measure
  • If your starting point is the customer, that means that strategies for growing revenues have to be more joined-up. ARPU can illustrate better from a customer perspective what is driving revenue growth and margins, and joined-up approaches (particularly with data and analytics, and the ultimate objective of a single customer view) are becoming increasingly important to companies across many different sectors (not least for improved user experience, cross-sell, up-sell, and improving the targeting of value-add services)
  • If your strategies for growing revenues are more customer-focused and joined-up, it means that the development of extra services to generate revenues is easier, and can be less restricted by legacy thinking or approaches. ARPU growth can be a good measure for how successfully a company or brands are transitioning users to new services that are both attractive to customers and strategically important to the business 
  • If you are less restricted by legacy thinking and practices, you can take a genuinely platform neutral approach to growing the business
  • ARPU is used successfully by companies that offer subscription based services to clients (telephony, ISPs). Content is increasingly a subscription business, and most publishers are already familiar with making subscription models work. As revenue streams diversify (for example into commerce and added value services) and become increasingly digital in origin, ARPU provides a unifying metric and objective for everyone in the business to get around - not just the commercial teams

It's certainly not an easy switch to make, but with the degree of challenge most media owners are dealing with perhaps it's exactly the kind of change that's needed. Agree? Disagree?

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