Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Recession, web 2.0 and the way forward

While I was in the UK I got the chance to visit the CEO of a very big group doing similar work to us, except their budget is approx 200 times bigger than ours. I like them a lot and there is a lot of synergy with them. Because we are in the non-profit area we act as partners rather than competitors.

When I visited I was shown a new integrated social networking and media platform that they will launch in a few weeks. It's close to some of what we had talked about as a group early in the spring. They had the budget to execute it very well. Not that some of the projects we do aren't done well. There is a very creative project we are also about to launch within the next few weeks... but... overnight and today it set me thinking.

This group are also involved with another very large project for audience interaction that I went to see in Australia at the beginning of the year. It's excellent, but very 'heavy weight'. We are working on a module to integrate SMS into that system right now. I have two programmers working on that for the next two weeks.

Yesterday I had an email from the external partners co-ordinator for this project. He challenged us 'Given the rapid changes occurring in social media, this may need to be more a loosely aligned organism rather than a complex system to cope with these changes.' That is what really set me thinking. How and why are projects so difficult to achieve?

We have not always succeeded by a long way, but I always try to be 'fast and light' rather than 'big and heavy' since the world is changing. My target is that if it is not achievable within 6 months then its probably too complex. The Desk Top Publishing [DTP] war is an example of what I mean:

Originally there had been two DTP programs head to head: Aldus Pagemaker and QuarkXpress. By the mid 90s QuarkXpress had become the world leader with Aldus/Adobe Pagemaker a second runner. Both were big complex programs. By 1997 Quark was in version 4.0 and so slow was development it took till 2002 to release a 5.0 version.

Adobe purchased Aldus and then released InDesign in 1999. InDesign was a small simple program with many, many plug-ins. So radical and stable was version 1.0 of InDesign Quark were forced to bring out a 4.1 version within months.

I think that is the way of the future and allows rapid and evolving development. I think their model is right: a small simple core with plug-ins that can be upgraded easily and quickly to do the majority of the work.

I'm looking at one of our projects. It has been excellent with very good audience feedback. It was that project that I mention that in the spring said we needed to integrate social networking into the core of the project. At the moment there is a large amount of interaction, but it still has a significant publishing aspect to the project.

Globally we have two things happening simultaneously:
  • A recession leading to a post-recession
    I believe that early next year there will be a second dip, the upturn will be for the Christmas period only, and will then be approx 12 months before we see a real upturn from the recession.
  • Web 2.0
    Web 2.0 will permanently change the way we do things. Publishing is dead, long live self-publishing. Well, maybe that is a bit strong, but it is the direction of the future.
One respected media consultant put it this way 'While traditional media isn't going away, you basically have two choices: Evolve, or disappear.'

So that's the challenge I have been thinking about today. Chatting with Peter he mentioned that his brother, who is a software developer, said their company only does projects that are achievable within 4-6 weeks. That was exactly what I was thinking about: Light and fast. RAD. Rapid Application Development. And that's the model Adobe took with InDesign.

We have to change - we have to develop a method of working that allows every project to be achieved in 4-6 weeks. Its a different way of thinking. RAD implies developing a prototype very quickly and then evolving it into the final product using customer feedback. So the specification is inevitably light, not tied down.

This doesn't mean that it's flaky - let me quote the media consultant I have been reading again: 'Are People More Creative or Productive Working without Limits? No. Absolutely not. Boundaries matter. One of the biggest threats to not reaching your goal is working without limits.' For us the boundary needs to become time.

When I worked for the BBC many, many years ago I used to work on TV news. The 6 o'clock news went out at 6 o'clock. Plus or minus no seconds! I remember well dubbing a film [yes, we shot film in those days] which was number three in the running order while number one in the running order was going out. At the same time I was listening to production talkback, and hit the rewind button on the telecine machine which would allow a few seconds grace by the time it had rewound ready for play out. The 6 o'clock news went out at 6 o'clock. Plus or minus no seconds!

In so many ways we have lost the concept of deadlines. And computers have caused this. When I was dubbing that film I did the best job I could, then grabbed a few extra gramophone records with sound effects, ran to the studio and added the extra effects live as it went out. It was the best we could do and the audience would have believed all the sounds were real.

But 'the best job I could' doesn't work for computer programs - they either work or they don't work. Looking nice but not working is useless. So we have become used to massive overruns and time slips to make it work.

Somehow we need to change our approach and methods so that we can return to the concept of making something workable within a limited time frame and within a limited budget. But something that is nevertheless good enough that the audience accept it, enjoy it and interact with it. The combination of the recession and web 2.0 are forcing that upon us. We have to embrace it and 'evolve or disappear'.

1 comment:

BookWhirl.com said...

Thankfully, due to technology's advancements, the publishing industry has moved forward. It now offers a wide variety on getting books out there. It doesn't come that expensive compared to the past decade. Thanks for this post. Keep on writing!

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