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Putting technolgy back “inside” the box 08/21/2008

Posted by Paul Daigle in Uncategorized.
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You may have seen this (hilarious) video parody of what an iPod’s 2005 packaging might have looked like had it come from Microsoft. It explores in deadpan accuracy the kind of insulated thinking that keeps many technology companies from producing products and messages that connect with average people.

I find this topic interesting and timely because I often see today’s Web2.0 Cloud as a space where engineering paradigms and tech laden worldviews fuel industry marketing, product design and messaging.

The social web has produced vibrant social ecosystems for youth culture and tech enthusiasts. This is both good and important as early adopters help new technologies find their footing, and lead mainstream majorities to new value propositions. The growing expanse of tire kicking, test driving, puddle jumping and outright pioneering going on in Silicon City, the new city in the Cloud, is one of the most exciting human developments we’ve seen in years.

As we’ve watched new communication channels come to life we have also witnessed the emergence of a powerful social collective consciousness or hive-mind that I’ll call the new Social Tech Society. This prodigious and loosely tied community of social scientist, marketers, developers, entrepreneurs, cyborg anthropologist and influencers wrestle the daily streams of micro-innovation, advanced usage and data feeds to uncover new developments that can make networks flock, bloggers speculate and activities trend, fueling a network fetishism for technical innovation and social evolution. New apps, platforms, methodologies and memes are discovered, evaluated, documented and assimilates or dismisses at a rapid pace .

Is the work of the Social Tech Society widening the chasm between important new value propositions and Main St? Mass consumer success requires products and services that connect with the needs and desires of average people. This occurs when companies successfully package features, functionality and value around simple propositions like solving everyday problems and enhancing quality-of-life. The Social Tech Society is apparently convinced that today’s tech enthusiast ecosystem will one day become the mainstream. Geek is the new chic.  But the seductiveness of combing for watershed moments within the Cloud keeps focus on the outer edges of advancement, which leads to uncertainty, unreliability and diversion. Being an instrument of change, the Social Tech Society is not built for packaging proven features, functionality and value around reliable and well-defined value propositions.

Meanwhile, people who aren’t enamored by tech as tech want to understand what Silicon City is about?  What does it do? Why do we need it? What problems does it solve. How will it improve life? Companies that can develop products that answer these questions for the mass market will harness the true value of the network and the Cloud. Though the Social Tech Society may delay the inevitable, new technologies will eventually connect Main St., Geeks St. and the hive-mind to a truly unified social grid.

If the social web were the telephone, I think we can say that we’ve reached a point where the telephone has become widely embraced by a growing network of wired audio communication enthusiast.  But these participants currently define the network. Until those who care nothing about communication technologies or their effects on the evolution of the human species pick up the telephone and start talking, Silicon City will remain a land known mostly for it’s free flowing innovation and technophile pursuits.

The real value of the social web will be found in the network effect produced by a mass consumer market embracing the cloud for daily interactions. We’re not far from that moment, but we need to improve our ability to develop for and speak to average people. We need to put  technology back inside the box.