8 January 02008

The Age of the Free MP3 Player

Radiohead USB sticksThis is the season where many bloggers are providing their predictions for the year ahead. I tend to opt out of these because a year is both too long and too short to foresee many types of change, which are like rainstorms or earthquakes: you know one's coming, but you don't know quite when or where until the early warning signs appear. I'm more of a Long Bets man, so today I'm going to revisit something I've touched on occasionally in the past, most recently nearly two years ago: the falling price of MP3 players and the possible implications for listening/buying experiences.

In the last year or so there's been a growing wave of music being distributed on USB sticks — the picture is of Radiohead's 6-album "boxed set" in its USB version, which, at $160 or £79.99, somehow cost twice as much as the CD version of the same albums. The problem with these products is that, once you've copied the data off the stick, the stick is just… a stick. You can keep it on a shelf, back-up your homework or your novel on it, forget about it in the glove compartment or loan it to a friend who forgets it in his glove compartment. It's a piece of plastic with some data on it.

But add a player to it, and it has a different kind of value. Now you just have to bring your own headphones (or powered speakers) and you've got all you need to keep you entertained for as long as six Radiohead albums turn you on (about 15 minutes in my case, but these people may differ).

Continue reading "The Age of the Free MP3 Player"

3 January 02008

Looking for examples of social networking for professional development

I'm copying here something I've just added to the OpenRSA blog, relating to some work I'm doing in collaboration with Seb Schmoller:

I'm looking for examples of organisations (or looser affiliations of individuals) who are using social software for professional development. Does anyone have any suggestions that I could follow up?

By social software I mean social networks (e.g. Facebook, Ning), blogs, wikis, shared bookmarks etc. And professional development can mean many things, but I'm mostly interesting in enhancing intrinsic job-specific skills on the one hand and broader scouting of collaborative/entrepreneurial opportunities on the other. The organisations could be membership-based, employers, educators or just self-organising networks.

The selfish part of this is that it relates to some work I'm doing for the National College for School Leadership, who are interested in extending the way they use social software with their constituency of school leaders. I'm happy to feed back the lessons from any leads that anyone gives me and share them with readers of this blog. Look forward to hearing from you if you can recommend any suitable examples (with contact details if possible). Our immediate deadline is 18th January, but happy to continue the discussion beyond then…

Any suggestions welcome, either via comments here, or private communication.

2 January 02008

Does the nature of social networks limit their growth?

One idea in John Naughton's 02007 round-up/02008 predictions struck me: that social networks like MySpace and Facebook "are likely to peak because ego-centric social networking is intrinsically limiting: after you've 'befriended' everyone you know, what else is there to do?". He continues,

Next year will see mass outbreaks of a Facebook fatigue, as busy professionals realise they are wasting an hour or more a day on essentially mindless activities. By contrast, activity-based networking sites, such as Flickr.com, will continue to prosper, for the simple reason that they are not self-limiting in the way that ego-centric services are.

On Flickr, as long as you maintain your interest in photography, you will always have more photos you can upload share. On Last.fm, there will always be more music to discover and listen to.

But Naughton's suggestion that there's nothing to do on Facebook and MySpace ignores the role on social networks of people who make it their business to aggregate people, broker new collaborations or create messages that people will want to share. A minority of these are precious: latch onto their coattails and you will get good introductions to fascinating people. The majority are poisonous: once they have your details they will besiege you with all kinds of message and pokes that are either tiresomely self-promotional or bemusingly random.

The sad fact is that it's the bores that drive the most visible and aggressive growth in activity, so the likes of MySpace and Facebook tend to encourage them. But fast growth leads to fast fatigue. We might all be better off if the social networks would nurture the gold dust few who do networking really well.