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November 6th, 2013

9 Ideas About the Future

Here are a few ideas about what the future could look like.

I wouldn’t consider these holy writ; more like provocations to think about.

A. Bitcoin becomes extremely popular, replaces gold as a stable currency because of its algorithmic, predictable, stable nature. Bitcoin ATMs on every block.

B. Home Depot becomes a giant room, 2% of its usual size, with 3D printers in the back that just print out whatever it is that you want. No more inventory.

C. Amazon does the opposite. Opens warehouses that become showcases for the few things you have trouble ordering online… fridges, etc.

D. Your smartphone becomes your wallet, your ID card, your keys. Segments society into smartphone users (who have access to the best services), and non-smartphone users (who don’t).

E. Social networks become generational, with each successive generation abandoning the previous one and software using more highly viral methods to reach the generation that is not yet captured. See: Snapchat, WeChat. Eventual boom/bust cycles cause great instability. OR…

F. Social networks obtain permanent place in the stage of life of the participant. i.e LinkedIn becomes the dominant circle when your work life starts to gain in importance, then declines once you retire. Etc.

G. Google Fiber threatens to put all other telecom providers out of business as a result of their intent to “organize and make available all of the world’s information,” theorizing that slow internet prevents access to information. Anti-trust legislation follows. See Jason Calacanis’ Launch list for more on this.

H. Wars develop for each location a piece of hardware can exist: the eye, the wrist, the hand, the desk, etc. Nike probably wins the wrist. The rest… I mean, hey, hard to bet on anything else but Google.

I. Increasingly peer-to-peer services replace everything, as they create efficiencies where middlemen are unnecessary. Offices (obviously), restaurants, tours, travel, flights… everything. And remember, the inevitable end result of all technology is omniscience and telepathy. Or extinction. (Only slightly kidding.)

* Filed by Julien at 6:35 pm under trends

October 9th, 2013

Your marketing job is about to become an engineering job. Get used to it.

There is so much happening, so fast, in the world of marketing that I would never have guessed as a “social media guy.”

First, the rise of the growth hacker. This is a term familiar to basically all people who work at startups, but few outside of it, as of yet, yet it means that engineers are taking marketing jobs left and right and will continue to, basically forever, because they’re better at it. This post was over a year ago and still everybody acts like nothing has changed.

Also, there is the fact that marketing is largely becoming about algorithms, instead of catchy jingles. How it’s become about optimization instead of “grand openings” or “launch dates.” Data instead of instinct.

Third, there is the destruction of “influencer marketing,” and the realization of how destructive it can become to try and seek out attention when a product is, at the outset, broken and / or uninteresting.

There are so many more trends like this, all basically pointing to the fact that your marketing job is about to become obsolete.

You are about to be replaced with a junior engineer, 23 years old, maybe without a degree, who makes half of what you make and gets better results. It’s just going to happen.

God help you if you actually got a marketing degree.

Conclusion: We have no choice but to evolve.

“Community” is not enough.

“Influence” is not enough.

Nothing but quickly shipped, highly interesting product, rapidly iterated and tightened with viral loops will get you where you need to go.

Segue into a quick story.

I am on a marketing panel in Montreal a few months back that Ray Hiltz set up about content marketing, I think. Doing my thing, which is generally to push the envelope.

I start saying that people have to go further and do more, that their stuff is usually more boring than they think it is, and that they have to try harder.

Another panelist asks me why. And this is when I begin to channel Aaron Wall from back in my SEO days.

The answer as to why we should be doing everything harder, better, faster, stronger is because otherwise, your competition will.

So it’s not really about you, but about the ecosystem. You have to be the #1 player, because the #1 player gets all the spoils (80/20 rule works in SEO and everywhere else).

And you only become the #1 player by beating whatever would become #1 otherwise. Your competition is at your heels.

And here’s the thing. Being more hardcore doesn’t mean you’ll win. It just means you get a shot.

Back to my point, which is about engineers vs marketers.

The world is becoming increasingly directed by machines. Those machines are only partially comprehensible to non-technical people.

Non-technical people are realizing they can create viral products exclusively through tweaking and that is has little to nothing to do with or advertising awards or “viral videos.”

They realize that they can sell their companies by doing this and make more money than the next guy.

Two types of engineers begin to emerge: the highly technical, build-hard-stuff engineer, and then the half-engineer, half-marketer, whose job it is to build things like the first Craigslist hack that made Airbnb take off. (Note: It wasn’t a viral video that made them popular.)

And this is the guy that wants your job. And If you don’t believe me, you should believe Fred Wilson who just blogged about this today: If You Aren’t Technical, Get Technical.

I don’t know about you, but I am personally regretting my “I’m too lazy to work at math, engineering, and science” attitude from high school. I was good at it, but I was lazy. Listen to your parents, kids.

So what’s the solution?

Personally, on my team, I like it when people go to Codecademy, even if they are not technical, and especially if they interface with engineers on a daily basis (hint: everyone interfaces with engineers). It not only gives them an impression of code as craft but also lets them understand the why behind everything.

As a bonus, they can become vaguely technical, or about 5% technical, which as we all know is infinitely better than zero. P.S.: HTML does not count as technical.

For you, personally, the marketer reading this, just like the engineer, you have two options:

A. Become the half-marketer, half-engineer that the industry will shortly demand.

B. Do the opposite and become so high level that you only strategize. Think Mitch Joel, Seth Godin, and all those other guys. They are the soft skills guys, and they are good at it.

But here’s the thing: you can get to a high level of B, and you’re good– but only the 1% truly profit here. No one’s dying to give away options in companies where people are spouting truisms / truthiness on blogs. Only the A guys get that. They become Dave McClure. The B guys get to run agencies. Your choice.

Hope I made you think. Cheers.

* Filed by Julien at 8:54 am under trends

August 26th, 2013

Coming Soon: A Totally Mechanized City

I’m totally fascinated by this imaginary article from the future on TechCrunch about Uber.

It’s moments like these when you realize what cities will become in the future. Seriously.

Driverless cars– no drivers will ever be able to compete with the lowering of prices that will occur when you make robots drive cars. The margins skyrocket, the staff goes down– for a business, almost nothing but good things occur. Uber just hit a $3.5B valuation and they don’t even actually have driverless cars yet. Imagine when they do.

But that’s just one aspect of what cities will look like. You can forget for a moment whether you think my company Breather will win or not, but someone will win the “smart lock” war and will build a network from it. That’s a billion dollar company for sure. You have to be braindead not to see that.

Ok, so far we have automated software-as-a-service type lock and car networks. What else could be automated? Cross-country shipping / truck driving? What other basic, “all-American” industry will be totally overturned by the internet of things? Auto repair? Farming?

More precisely, which one won’t? You will be left with fully automated processes, often with just a human watching, to make sure everything is ok. This is actually what Uber’s city HQs look like, by the way. They are central brains, often with ex-traders in them, buying and selling cars as needed.

Because once you turn it into software, the industry and its components can be bought and sold, almost like stocks.

So let’s look at the city of the future. Once you realize that driverless cars are possible, happening, and will become a service, you realize that so much more is possible than was ever imagined. The city becomes a pulsing machine that just happens to have people in it. And what’s ironic bout this is that those people are actually inventing more machines.

Think about that.

The city is a machine, with people in it, which are mostly working on building other machines (software and hardware) to help us build better machines.

Is this starting to seem weird yet?

Technology creeping into cities is inevitable, and it will happen at a pre-determined rate, largely based on hardware advances as they occur.

People driving cars will become like books– they will be a luxury for the rich.

Conversation from 10 years in the future?

Rich guy A: “I prefer paper– it just feels better.”

Rich guy B: “I use a driver– it just feels better.”

Tell me this isn’t going to happen. Tell me that, when your employer can send an autocar to drive you to work, it won’t. This basically means everyone will be taking “public transportation,” except it’ll be private public transportation that comes to you. You’ll be able to use it to read or work.

And what happens after that? Well, who knows. But I have a few more bets I’m willing to take.

If you’re curious about the future of transportation in cities, you should also look at the app, Transit. It’s basically perfect if you don’t drive. Check it.

* Filed by Julien at 6:18 pm under cities, trends

October 25th, 2011

The 6 Shifts of a Kindle Dominated Marketplace


Every little while, technology is democratized to a point where everyone is once again put on equal footing.

It happened at the printing press. It happened with blogs. It happened with podcasting, and it happened with Twitter. It happens a little bit at a time, and as it does, I’m amazed by the average person’s ability to step up to the plate. Normal, supposedly non-qualified people become journalists, entertainers, or musicians. Everyone proves themselves capable, often despite the misgivings of those in the ivory towers.

Well, it’s about to happen again. I’m starting to see it now, and you probably are too.

The iPhone iPod has been out for ten years, and it’s reached a point of such ubiquity that everyone now also has an e-reader. They can push any text to their phone pretty much instantly.

So, this is about the time everyone starts to write books.

This is the time we all become authors.

I can start to see it already. The Domino Project is in full gear. I just received word that Chris Moore published his first book on his experiences in Cuba, direct to Amazon, for three bucks. Joshua just published his own, of short stories, since quitting his job. James Altucher continues to self-publish his work instead of going through mainstream publishers. And let’s not forget Mark Yoshimoto Nemcoff, whose most recent, Transistor Rodeo, got its movie rights optioned recently.

So, I was sitting having breakfast with Greg Isenberg the other day when this gem occurred to me: at one point, the internet was nerdy and uncool. Now it is hip and super popular. Those that got in early on the web, won. Those that got in late, not so much.

So our job is now to find the new uncool thing immediately. And right now, self-publishing via Kindle is definitely one of those uncool things.

No prestige, no money, no gatekeepers. Everything that goes the way of the vanity press is supposedly low-quality, but is it really? Soon, we won’t think so. Everyone will be doing it, and you’ll wonder why you never got in on it back then.

We’re all going to be peers. It’ll be about sales and reviews, not about advances. It’ll be about cutting out the middleman. Bloggers, and others with powerful platforms, will realize they don’t need the middleman at all (or rather, that Amazon has become the new middleman, and they do a better job).

Now onto what happens to authors themselves, and their work.

First, friction for a purchase is drastically reduced by a deeply discounted price point. $2.99 for fifty thousand words will significantly impact sales.

Second, a book no longer sits there on your desk. Anyone with an iPhone can hold 1,000 of them. So your most recently read/opened books become your RSS reader, with new things popping up all the time.

Third, add numbers 1 and 2 above and you naturally get many more unfinished books than you’re used to seeing– that is to say, readers not bothering to finish books. You don’t see the unfinished books at the bottom of your Kindle list, so you never finish them, and the price point means you didn’t waste much. New books on the top of the pile end up being tried out instead of old ones getting finished.

Fourth, this means shorter books end up dominating. Seth Godin has it right here.

Fifth, the ebook (or whatever we end up calling it) ends up becoming the midpoint between the blog post and the book. Some authors (many, actually) may stay here since it’ll provide them with enough income to survive and a direct connection to their audience. I’m thinking the Ev Bogue and Gwen Bell types.

Sixth, publishers naturally need to adapt– and they end up at the top of the market, grabbing the best of the ebook markets and offering them great deals (the way publishers like Wiley do with bloggers now).

Sidenote, all of these things are happening already. This post isn’t about the future at all; it’s about the present. Hope you’re ready!

* Filed by Julien at 4:14 pm under trends

February 4th, 2011

The Future of Blogs is Paid Access

Update: Aaron Wall left an epic comment here which adds significantly to the discussion. Click here to see it (it’s #55).

Pay attention. This will be on the test.

I remember having a conversation with Chris, sitting in Café Méliès in Montreal one time, talking about business. We had an idea for a private forum. This was a few years ago, I think– maybe even before the book.

We would base is on Aaron Wall’s private SEO community, base it on our expertise in social media etc. We’d split whatever money we made, pay any blogger who wanted to be an affiliate. The idea was simple, but good and scalable. It would make a lot of money if we did it right. So we called Brian Clark– he was doing Teaching Sells at the time. He said, “Good stuff. I’m in.”

The joke is, Chris and I never did it… at least, not in that format. :)

Much later, Third Tribe would be released– pretty much the same thing we talked about. Good on Brian for actually having the initiative. :) Aaron Wall’s forum would increase in price, from $100 to $300 per month (still a good value IMHO) and continue to grow. Chris would launch Kitchen Table Companies and other private communities of the same type.

This is now old news. Or is it?

Except I’ve been talking to Mark O’Sullivan at the exceptional Vanilla Forums, who says that big web personalities are asking him about private forums for their sites. I’ve been interviewing Brett Rogers, who funds his documentaries partially by having people come along on his adventures. And I’ve just started working with Martin Berkhan, who can’t handle the flood of questions people ask him about his workout and nutrition methods because they seem to work so well.

What is there was a solution to this? I think there is. But let’s veer off for a second.

I think you can lead an exceptional life, market yourself correctly, and the life itself will help pay its own way.

Something big changed with the web. We could create personal brands, broadcast ourselves for free, and create a following. Except if we got popular, we started not being able to pay attention to everyone anymore. This is normal.

I’m thinking of Richard Nikoley. His (successful) experiment with not washing his hair for two years has led to articles in the Chicago Tribune and other places. He can’t handle the emails he gets anymore. Also Chris Guillebeau, who recently got 800 comments on a post he put out.

As Aaron Wall has said, popularity is an inequality between supply and demand. You solve it by raising price.

Books and conferences are price points– they are old methods that people are used to and don’t flinch at. I use both, and they work well. But there’s a problem with them.

Middlemen take over the old methods. They live as parasites off what you and I produce. Many of them do it without adding any value whatsoever.

There is something missing from Kevin Kelly’s 1000 True Fans method. It is fine for artists, for producers of actual artifacts, artists, etc. This is one reason Seth Godin’s Domino Project is so interesting. It cuts middlemen out. But it still requires the creation of an artifact… of a product.

What if YOU were the product?

I believe that what people want when they read your book, when they come to see you speak, or sing, or when they buy art from you– I believe that what they actually want is you.

This method has worked for authors before. Gary Vee and Tim Ferriss basically sold 1-on-1 time with them in exchange for bulk book purchases. This has the advantage of making them look big to a mainstream audience, but the end result is the same. People often want them, not the book. Same with all the people I mentioned who do amazing things.

Your audience wants to be a part of your life. Maybe, in some cases, you should let them.

Here is another assertion which I might be a bit shocking.

The future of the web personalities is the monetization of weak ties.

The web naturally creates an ecosystem of micro-stars, like television, but doesn’t necessarily have a way to turn this into a living. If you keep answering emails, forever, you become exhausted and your personal time is sucked out of your life.

The solution is paid access.

Of course, you don’t want to monetize your strong ties. That would be insane. The social norms space stays pure. You don’t pay your wife for the nice dinner she made.

But weak ties, by definition, take more than they give. They do not, as many people say, “pay in terms of attention,” except in huge masses which become unwieldy because of a new kind of demand– bug fixes, emails, etc.

Here is my theory. Once supply and demand of personal access are no longer equal, solving it through price not only helps you maintain a solid personal life but accelerates the process of popularity, by helping you free your time and do cooler shit.

A new stream of income means more freedom, which turns into a more interesting life, which turns into more popularity, which turns into more income, etc. A virtuous circle.

Of course, most of what you do is free and public. That’s one level of access. But I think that you should turn on different levels as well. Everyone in social media right now wants books and speaking gigs. You only get those at a certain level of popularity, but you could turn lesser levels on as well. Forum access, email access, Skype access– any of these could become an income stream for various types of web personalities.

But wait!, I hear you saying. Let’s say some of these weak ties become strong ties! What do we do then? Well, easy. Stop monetizing them. We could call this the dinner party rule– if you’d invite someone to dinner, then they should have free access to you. This impacts the bottom line, but that’s natural with friendships– wanted, even. Besides, friendship is more valuable than $47 a month or whatever.

Help me out here.

Look, this post has already gotten much longer than I thought it would. I could go on forever about this– it’s so logical to me that I could argue it until the cows come home. But I won’t.

Instead, I’ll ask you what you think, and to spread it if you think the idea is interesting or worth talking about. Tweet or subscribe below.

By the way, I don’t know if it’s something I personally want to do– although I’m pretty sure I could. Maybe you could too, once your audience reaches a certain mass. Wouldn’t that be easier than trying to get a frikkin book deal or becoming a social media expert? Besides, I suspect there’s only enough of those to go around.

* Filed by Julien at 11:09 am under business, community, experiments, social media, trends

June 25th, 2010

Cop Bots vs Robber Bots

A simple metaphor for an important phenomenon. I’ll explain.

Cop bots are the enforcers. Google is an organizing algorithm but, more importantly, it’s also an exclusion robot. It says “you’re in,” and “you’re out.” It has to be very good at this, or it makes no money, and the robot gets shut down.

Spammers are infamous for sending millions of emails. These are robber bots. They find new ways around systems and exploit loopholes in the cop bots to give profit to their masters.

Both the cop and robber bots are massively leveraged. Both of them work extremely fast, but there’s one element that’s missing: humans.

Humans are currently sophisticated enough to detect most robber bots. We know when we’re on a splog instead of a real blog, and we know when a spam comment is real or not. But if you have a blog, especially one that gets a fair amount of traffic, you’ll notice it’s taking you longer than before to see what comments are real. Robber bots are getting smarter.

As time goes on, robber bots will get better and better at confusing us, just the same way game bots are getting better than humans at chess and Jeopardy. The cop bots accelerate too, but they need us to triage the grey areas, which is why there are “moderated” comments and CAPTCHAs that require human intervention.

This means humans will have to spend more and more time in the grey area, detecting robber bots. In other words, the robber robots are accelerating. Humans are not.

This is exacerbated by the problem that more and more existing information is going online and becoming spammable, where detection is more difficult due to restriction in trust signals (ie humans can detect each other easier in person).

I hypothesize that the inevitable endgame to this is a 100% non-anonymous internet, which has already begun with Google Accounts, Facebook, and Verified Twitter accounts. I’m not sure I like this idea, but I have a feeling that there is no way to avoid it, because it is the only way to ensure that someone is human, thus giving us our time back (especially since content creators are often moderators, too).

It is highly possible that there are gaps in my logic. If so, please poke holes in them, I’d be more than happy about it.

* Filed by Julien at 1:06 pm under culture, trends

April 8th, 2010

The End of Bookstores?

I wonder: Is this the last time I’ll visit a bookstore?

It’s about two weeks before the release of the iPad in Canada, and I’m at Indigo reading Do More Great Work (it’s crazy good btw). I saw it on Amazon and wanted it right away, so I picked it up here because I wanted that immediacy– book lovers, you know what I mean.

That immediacy required:

By this point, the book better be good for all the effort I’ve gone through to find it, right? (Hint: Amazon helped with that too.)

Anyway, that immediacy is the only reason I’ve ever come to a bookstore in the past 5 years. Aside from that, it’s always been Amazon.ca (which, by the way, doesn’t have the Prime feature you guys have in America) for 95% of my purchases.

At over 60 books purchased per year, I am what people would call an ideal customer for the publishing industry. So are Mitch Joel, Chris Brogan, and many of you. What happens when we all pick up these devices, solving our immediacy problems forever?

Nobody knows.

But we do know that the margins of bookstores are lean as hell… kind of like record stores. Heh.

It’s going to take a lot of candle, wrapping paper, and greeting card displays to cover those losses.

Is the future of the bookstore “The Content Store,” where you go to pick up all your content needs, music, book or otherwise, visited by grandparents everywhere who are afraid of putting their credit cards online? Who knows. But the landscape of content delivery will be changed radically over the next year, that’s for sure.

* Filed by Julien at 9:56 am under trends

March 9th, 2010

Why Things Need Twitter

So, as I asked yesterday, what happens if every object has a status message?

The status message can be expanded to every object in our world. It is natural and in fact inevitable that this will happen. It has no privacy concerns and is far more useful to know where an object is than to know random snippets from a person.

It might even be possible that we needed people to create the status message, but that the amount of interest in objects’ status will eventually supersede that interest in people.

This may seem like a stretch, but it’s natural. We don’t need to hear where Jim is on Twitter when we can ping his location instead.* I’m already finding that logging into foursquare is sometimes more useful to let people know where I am than sending them a text message.

Do you see the same thing?

* Merlene reminds us that locative metadata is great for avoiding people, too. ;)

* Filed by Julien at 2:54 pm under trends

February 3rd, 2010

What are we going to do about the BA?

I was discussing with someone last night about the uselessness of the basic university degree. I compared it to an arms race– when one group has a BA, the other needs the BA to compete with them in the job marketplace, but when both sides have them, they no longer provide any employment advantage whatsoever.

Despite this, the price for university degrees remain absurdly high, and their ubiquity means people still ask for them before you’re allowed a job.

I’m not a big conspiracy theorist, but putting students into $100,000’s of debt before their 25th birthday (and inciting them with “no interest until graduation!!!!!”) sure is a great way of keeping them subservient, isn’t it?

Anyway, I don’t think university is useless for everyone, but there has got to be a better way to do things for most people. Wipe out 2 years of college + 3 years of university and you can make it from the mailroom to a level you would be proud to get straight out of university– likely with a better salary. This, assuming you’re decently smart.

Actually, there’s the real problem. The BA is a credential, used to fog people into believing in your competence, despite the real world having very little to do with how well you do in school. I’m sure this is one of the reasons the Peter Principle is true.

For those of us that don’t need degrees, or whose children don’t, what alternative do we have? School still provides you with the contacts you need, and the credentials can occasionally be useful (art school comes to mind). Where can we go from here, what are the options?

I just can’t figure out why we should waste so much to achieve so little.

* Filed by Julien at 3:29 pm under clear thinking, community, culture, trends

November 30th, 2009

Invisible = Impotent

In other words: Out of sight, out of mind.

Ever wonder why Sally Struthers needs to show us little Ethiopian babies before we’ll give away a bit of dough to them? Easy; it’s because we don’t care– until it’s right in front of us. Would those Ethiopian babies need feeding if their plight was broadcast into every home?

Ever wonder why Big Brother is so powerful? It’s because his message is everywhere. You can’t escape it. Even if you disagree at first, over time it’ll end up convincing you, just because you’re hearing more of it than anything else. Would Big Brother be as frightening if he only had a low-budget 30-second commercial that played on late night television?

The supremely visible are supremely powerful. Because they can make their will known, over time, it becomes the will of the people. Their opinions become the zeitgeist.

The invisible are largely impotent. Because they can’t influence others to their point of view, their will is largely their own. If they are wronged, they need to resort to other means to obtain justice– or anything else they want.

The rule of law keeps the biggest and toughest from overpowering the weakest. If you wipe out police and legal repercussions, you would quickly see a transformation in power structures that would bring the largest and strongest back up to the top– specifically in smaller communities that aren’t dominated by other forms of power (ie, wealth).

As law is to the weak, new media is to the invisible. Now, everyone has the ability to be #1 on Google for a problem they have, or can publicize their own revolution, no matter how small.

But among those who are gaining back visibility are those that are choosing to become extremely visible. Some people have done it just with Twitter. Others use every channel available to them. How you become visible will influence where your power flows.

This is why the medium is the message. People who use tools like foursquare will come to be known locally due to their influence in bringing others to a new venue. Social graphs based on other metadata– or social objects– will do the same in their spheres.

As always, the most important thing is to become visible, to build the channel, before the need. And as always, those with some forms of existing advantage will use it in this new space.

But the creation of new tools allows users a kind of jumping point. Chris, Gary, or whomever may have been huge with their respective platforms but them bringing the audiences onto Twitter allowed them to leap further forward, faster than they would have otherwise, gaining a lead that is now very hard to beat. You can do the same.

Power has always been dependent on visibility. But now is the time when there are more places– you could almost call them markets– to develop visibility and attention. This leaves you a better chance than you would ever have had when the barriers to entry were high.

So get to it.

* Filed by Julien at 1:33 pm under trends