Algorithms, the institution of the future!

Tom Goodwin’s precise summing up of the shifting business environment is now legend – Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate. Something interesting is happening. 

Institutional realignment is now on an accelerated path. In this superb, nuanced post titled ‘Uber and AirBnB make the rules now – but to whose benefit?“, Vili Lehdonvirta brings up very interesting perspectives. (To paraphrase)

– If buyers switch to a new market, sometimes sellers have no choice but to follow, irrespective of whether it brings them gains or losses (eg. if there is very little business outside of Uber to be had)

– Even if everyone participates with interests intact, the collective effects on society may not always be positive (eg. AirBnB rooms causing nuisance to neighbours)

– These conflicting interests are usually reconciled by political institutions, but they face the challenge of siding with incumbents or upstarts.

And towards the end of the article, this very important thought – these new platforms appear to provide access to those who have been denied it by the institutions and processes thus far, but is it that simple? In this context, the new jobs being created are quite different from the typical ‘job’ description. That brings me to a key institution – the traditional workplace.


Agile @ Scale


I think I used ‘dis-aggregated social network‘ on this blog for the first time in 2009, referring to Google’s basket of services that were connected relatively flimsily then. IMO, Google has always been that way, even including Google+. (read) I remembered it when I tweeted this about Facebook – around the time news of their Fan Audience Network started trickling in.

It got me thinking (again) on ‘scale’, a recurring theme here. In a less complicated world, where the trends in the business landscape were significantly more linear, (growth, competition, consumption, economy) scale was a powerful weapon to wield. But it’s a different world now. Artificial Intelligence, 3D Printing, Internet of Things, Wearables  and a hundred other things might completely disrupt the status quo and the need an incumbent brand satisfies. These are the known ones, and then there are the conceptually invisible (at this point) ones. Surviving (let alone thriving) in this shifting scenario requires agility, and it is difficult (though not impossible) to see scale and agility together. I looked to Google and Facebook for an approach towards this because not only are they surviving, they seem to be thriving. Yes, we’ll get to Amazon in a while.

What does it take to be agile at scale? I can think of four ingredients, the last three repurposed from the title of this post by JP Rangaswami.


I remember talking about re-defining of scale at the Dachis Social Business Summit. The thrust of the presentation was that brands could engage consumers at scale only if they use currencies that create value for the user in the context of a shared purpose. I have elaborated it in this post at Medianama. Recently, I saw that Hugh MacLeod has brought it out beautifully here. Simply put




The purpose need not have one constant rendition. As the landscape changes, a business will need to adapt it to suit changing circumstances. For that, a business needs to understand the possibilities. I saw a very good line in this post about being a maker – the more you work in the future, the less competition you will have. How much into the future a business needs to be working is subjective and depends on its dynamics, but if it doesn’t disrupt itself, someone else will gladly do it for them. (“The Jeff Bezos School of Long-Term Thinking” is a good read in this context)


While purpose and possibilities are all good at high altitudes, a business also needs strong operational  platforms to back it up. As organisations scale, I have seen two things that affect agility. One, the processes that are introduced to create efficiency @ scale more often than not, become the goal instead of a means, slowing things down and taking away from actual goals. Two, as processes and manpower increase, silos are created. The good news is that it is easy to see technology platforms bringing more efficiency into processes as well as an iterative way of thinking in the near future. It is already happening in marketing. This, and many other factors are also dictating a consumer experience driven approach and are forcing organisations to break silos. As the entire brand/organisation becomes a platform (read) that regularly revisits its context and purpose in the life of a consumer, ‘everything becomes a node on the network


HuffPo had a post sometime back, citing Zappos, calling 2014 the year of workplace reinvention. It is interesting to note that parent company Amazon has apparently aped Zappos’ ‘pay to quit’ policy, even as more and more stories about working there being a ‘soul crushing experience‘ are coming out. Meanwhile, the two points it mentioned for this to happen are purpose and trust. These I’d say are the bedrock of culture. It’s intuitive that a workforce mindful of the organisation’s purpose and their role in it would keep an eye out for the business’ possibilities, be ready to work beyond silos towards a great consumer experience, and bring in others who would help the business scale. This, along with purpose, has to be the glue that holds it all together, enabling the organisation to move fast without cracking.

While different sectors are at disparate distances from a radical shift necessitated by technological developments, it is, I think, inevitable. In this fantastic post titled ‘Knowledge is faster than mortar‘, which looks at scale through a different lens, the author makes the point that ‘the old mechanisms don’t fit the new social structure.Old mechanisms were built to scale stability, new ones will have to be built to scale despite instability. Anti-fragile, so to speak. Indeed, we will see many manifestations as existing structures try to adapt – internal mechanisms like Amazon’s 2 pizza rule, consumer facing disaggregation like Facebook that have a corresponding internal wiring, or brands tweaking their 4Ps even further for different contexts. But whatever paths businesses choose, this will hold true


until next time, the fast and the curious

Brands and Plus points

Considering that I tweeted this sometime back, and found this a great read, this post is not on the pros-cons/ how to use Google Plus or on the lines of 'why I am getting out of Facebook and hopping into bed with Google Plus'. These are just thoughts based on a query I asked on and about the platform a couple of days back.

The context: I observed that, on my Plus stream ( I have 'circled' about 150 people), a few people were sharing the same content they did on Twitter and LinkedIn, presented the same way as well. I could understand why they would use these as distribution networks because it is difficult to accurately predict who catches what in busy streams. But what did surprise me was this content being shared as 'Public' on Google Plus, when it is very easy to create circles of people with common interest and share accordingly. (using earlier interactions on other networks or even what they share on Plus) And so I asked

Predictably, the most insightful comment came from generic propecia online no prescription 1!/misentropy” target=”_blank”>Iqbal, who nailed it with “we are used to the environment defining the limits of who we share with – rather than having the ability to choose and consciously picking one set of people over another, every time we have something to say.” In this context, I remembered an excellent post by JP Rangaswami on the subject of filters, publishers and subscribers. While I agree with his summation that “We can only fix filter failure by providing subscribers with better filters, by providing publishers with tools that allow subscribers to filter better“, I did feel that in the interim, till the environment (/infrastructure) is able to deliver this at least to a certain degree of satisfaction (it's a dynamic scenario, not likely to be completely perfect), publishers (us) should filter our output too.

All of this led me to a comparison of this scenario to that of brands as publishers. Thanks to traditional media platforms, brands had an environment which to a large extent defined the what/who/where/how of marketing communication. Few brands have been able to cope with the explosion of platforms and the freedom, choices and protocols that come with it. As consumers become filters and learn selective broadcast, exploring and navigating the platforms might be a good idea for brands, but it might be a better idea to (also) invest in a content-communication infrastructure which can be customised to meet both the dynamics – the brand's messaging needs and the consumer's sharing habits. (in the brand's context)

until next time, helpless to help+ :)


Brands – real and virtual frontiers

A few months back, I had written about the Balkanisation of the internet, in which I had asked how a  brand could deal with the surge of not just new services, but new platforms too. A few days back, I thought of this from a (slightly oblique) user point of view and remembered incidents spread across years – a few years back, one morning, when I was thankful on seeing a CCD in Colva, Goa while I was hunting for breakfast options because I knew exactly what to expect in a CCD menu; last year, when I visited a mall in Cochin, and realised that I could more or less predict the brands that would be present there; on television, the increasing popularity of US TV shows and how channels seem to be working to sync a global audience in terms of seasons; (forget torrents for now) and how, a meme on Twitter or Facebook is many a time global in appeal and interesting apps on iPhone/Android platforms are discussion points across geographies and in general, an increasingly growing population is 'in touch' and having similar sensibilities.

The themes here from the real world experiences to virtual ones are homogeneity, and of a user's preference (in many cases) for familiarity. Which makes me turn back the question on balkanisation

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. Despite the balkanisation, do new platforms accelerate a homogeneity within a certain demographic?  The rate of upward mobility notwithstanding, do you think, at some point, popular culture and preferences will become homogenous globally? eg. say Angry Birds, Dexter, Bieber hatred…

Meanwhile, since the time I switched to Android – a few months ago, I have noticed that services like Facebook, Twitter, 4sq and the Google range, are working hard to ensure that users can move seamlessly across different platforms – web, mobile web, apps, tablets. While that doesn't absolve the brands from having to understand the workings of different platforms, consumption patterns and how they could provide the user an interesting experience in these contexts, it does provide some relief.

Few brands have been known to get regional nuances right in communication. Now, along with location and location based marketing becoming center-stage, there is an added challenge. Not only do they have to get the nuances right in their communication, but they also have to provide consistency in the value offering (not the same as being static) in experiences across platforms. That is a long stretch from blasting messages across traditional media platforms.

until next time, brand-owned platforms?


Appeasing consumers

Last week, I had asked on twitter whether Indiatimes should consider buying/building a GroupOn clone and use its other media platforms to scale the business, especially since its also proxy advertising for their clients. In response, Shahid had wondered what prevented an Airtel from getting into it. The point (simplistically) being that, any platform owner with a ‘captive’ audience could get into the business.

It made me think about the mobile as a platform, especially considering the app talk I’ve been doing on the blog for a while now. While appification across platforms is what I’d discussed last week, for the purpose of this post, I shall restrict my thoughts to mobile platforms. Even before I read and wrote about the appification across platforms, I had asked a question on qoura “Has any Indian bank considered a smartphone app?”  ( I got 2 answers, and though I was looking for Android, they were still helpful – Robin Samuel pointed me to ICICI (I think Gopi had also mentioned it on Twitter) and Aditya Sengupta mentioned a Nokia Money + YES Bank pilot.

Citibank, whom I bank with, had a few Android apps, I noticed. The Citi Hong Kong app was specially interesting, since in addition to location of ATMs, they also display offers nearby. I’d obviously like an app which will also help me transact, and they have that too, elsewhere. (they are by no means, the pioneers or only ones, as a google search would tell you). The idea here, though is a ‘commodity’ service (banking) increasing user convenience, and making a shift to another bank less appealing. This isn’t an ad vs app debate, but spreading this information would be simple enough (without mass media) during consumer acquisition, as well as later through digital and social platforms. Maybe even tie up with a mobile manufacturer and offer to subsidise the handset for the consumer in return for publicity. The point, platforms are exploding and brands need to think of new ways to associate and partner. These apps could itself evolve into a branding vehicle.

And since that point is made, we can broaden the scope beyond mobile as a platform. Just in case you thought brands might be constrained with that as the only option, how about TVs, kitchens, laundry rooms, cars, tables? Check it out.  (via Avi Joseph)

until next time, Applying minds :)