FASTForward 2009 – impressions from the first day

This year, FASTForward is in Las Vegas, which is quite a shock to the system. I haven’t been here since 1987, when I visited COMDEX and stayed at the Bally, then the largest hotel here. Now you can hardly see it for all the new and much bigger ones. (Las Vegas has changed in other ways as well, the business model is no longer “cheap booze and food, make it up in the casino”. Since most people no longer come here primarily to gamble, so a glass of red wine was $15 in the bar..)

The theme for the conference this year is “Engage your user” and the program builds on the one from last year, but with, it seems to me, fewer circuit speakers and more company examples, which is fine with me.

Don Tapscott: The Net Generation

First speaker out: Don Tapscott, actually a colleague of mine from nGenera, talking about his new book Grown up digital. Don is very optimistic about the net generation, in contrast to the many articles that have cropped up saying that the current net-addicted generation is the dumbest ever. The population in USA has gone from boom to bust to echo: The echo group is called the Net Generation, the digital natives. For the first time in history, kids are authorities (in relation to their parents) on something that is important. In contrast to their parents, when asked whether they want to be smarter or better-looking, two thirds of them answer “smarter” (except in England.) Are they coddled? 40% of them move home after university. but is this a bad thing?

HTML beaten by XML: Tapscott’s son created a Facebook community around Wikinomics, got 126 users in 7 countries in one day. Then the community started pointing out errors in the book and requesting participation from Tapscott himself. Company ad spending online is growing faster than time people spend online. Prescription: Don’t create products, create Consumer experiences. Don’ create place, create Anyplace. Don’t focus on price, focus on Discovery as a mechanism for price setting. Don’t focus on promotion, focus on Engagement. Marketer are losing control of the brand, which now needs to have integrity, or the influence network will kick in and trounce you on the social networks.

There are many things young people don’t know – so perhaps it is time to tear down these generational firewalls and get some mentoring going.

Clay Shirky: Here comes everybody

Five word summary of the book: Group interaction just got easier.

Example: Someone posts an HDR picture on Flickr and asks what the best software for this is. It balloons into a long and very technical discussion, with more photos. Happens every day, but is a very powerful technology that has profoundly changed how we interact. Since you can attach conversations to everything, every URL is a possible platform for interaction.

Another example: HSBC sold many students on penalty-free checking, but reneged on it during summer vacation, wanting to charge their customers 140 pounds. Didn’t count on Facebook. The information advantage of HBSC disappeared – one person found out how to simply move his money to another bank, posted it, and that was it. Then the thousand of Facebook users started to protest – and eventually HSBC caved in to this group of coordinated participants.

Information moves faster: The earthquake in Sichuan last year got reported immediately via and Twitter. The last time something similar happened, in the 1970s, it took three months before the Chinese authorities would even admit it would happen.

Another example: Chris Avenir, student at Ryerson University, taking Chemistry 101. Started a study group on Facebook, 146 participants. And then he gets a note from the university saying he may be expelled because he was putting course stuff online, whereas he saw it as simply taking what he was doing in the real world online. This is a clash of metaphors: The university sees it as a media outlet, the students as regular social life. That is the wrong question to ask: Facebook is Facebook, not a manifestation of something else.

Crowsourcing: Howardsforums now has engineers from handset manufacturers sending their customers there. Companies look at this as a source of free labor, but fail to see the passion necessary – and the fact that they cannot, inside their companies, model the complexity and the uses of their products that takes place out there in the real world.

Example: Dogear, an internal service in IBM similar to, in that it let users tag and save URLs. It led to two research groups (one in England and one in the US) finding out they were working on the same problem and initiating collaboration.

How to get started with this? Amazon has lots of social applications, but have never had a strategy for it, nor a button marked “community”. Their social interaction tools have evolved through trial and error, which takes a tolerance of failure and a willingness to learn.

Dan Rasmus: Navigating the new world of business

Dan is Director of Insight in Microsoft (now, there is a title I have given to myself many times). His role is to look at changes in business and the workplace on a rolling basis. Quotes Schopenhauer: “The task is not so much to see what no one yet has seen, but to think what nobody has yet thought about that which everybody has seen.”

Microsoft uses scenario planning to try to make sure that investments will work in several scenarios as opposed to depend on one and only one future change. Key dimensions: Globalization vs. bordering, centralization vs. decentralization. Four scenarios: Proud tower, Border Friction, Freelance Planet and one more. [This was presented in a rather busy video.]  Credit crisis has a tendency to overpower everything, but we still have to worry about environment, mobile tech, and other things. Globalization is there in spite of “buy American”: A standard breakfast cereal has components from all over the world. How do you manage a workforce of outsourced people, freelancers and consultants?

Other examples: Data everywhere, placeless work (punctuated workday), need to be open to attract younger workers. Going towards a blended future, with blended jobs – such as “authenticity engineer”