The year was 1996.
I had just signed up for Hotmail - a free email service. I had recently been introduced to email - something I rarely used, but was increasingly relying on it, especially to communicate with friends who were far away. But Hotmail was amazing. It was free (we take this for granted today). Plus, I no longer had to go to the computer lab and login to my university email account, or deal with telnet. Any computer in the world with an internet connection and a browser would allow me to send a message (near instantly) to anyone around the world. I was amazed. The pen pals I had gathered during my youth from Alaska, Oklahoma, Hawaii, Arizona, and other places would no longer have to wait for a week to receive my letters.
Five years later, I found a site called Ryze.com. It was the first meaningful business social networking site. Over the next year, I learned about the power of digital social networks. I was amazed at the power of using the Internet to find people who might be looking for my services, or that could provide me with something I was looking for. I met friends, clients, and service providers on Ryze. About a year later, I became one of the first few thousand people to join a new business networking site called LinkedIn. LinkedIn was simply a profile holder for me for a few years before it began to gain critical mass. 347 million people since then have now joined the pulsing business network.
Five years after that (2007), I created an account on a new peculiar site called Twttr. The ability to search and filter people and their short bursts of thoughts or links took things to another level. It's a fascinating tool and has opened up dozens (if not hundreds) of new doors and relationships for me.
Last night (March 2015), I broadcasted live from Periscope for the first time. The content was nothing particularly special. I was driving to dinner and it was close to sunset time, so I opened up the app on my phone and pointed it out the car window at the crashing surf and ocean on my left. Within a minute, close to 50 people (most of them strangers) had joined me virtually in real time, liking and commenting on the sunset out my car's window.
A journey towards richer (virtual) communication
The bigger story to this brief 20 year retrospective is that technology continues to enable people to search, find, and communicate with people in better and richer ways. We continue to progress on a journey towards teleportation. For those in the developed world, geographical boundaries continue to be destroyed. Technology is increasingly enabling us to extend the power of our senses beyond our physical bodies. I can now see and hear (touch and smell are being experimented with) what's happening most places in the world, in real time.
Twenty years ago, I could send a written electronic message to someone who was known. Then, with Ryze, I could search for, find, and communicate with business people who shared my interests. With Twitter, I learned that I could essentially search for and communicate with people anywhere for any reason, on any topic, in real time. Twitter tracks the pulse of the planet. It has become the world's best real time monitor. On more than one occasion, I found out the details about earthquakes before the news media did. We can narrow and find experts and real time conversations on any topic possible.
The game has now leveled up. There is, has been, and will continue to be a non-linear progression from static written text based content to richer and richer media forms that are used for 1:1, 1:many, and many:many communications. Email, LinkedIn, and Twitter all now have the ability to share text, but also images and video as well. Periscope (and Meerkat) takes a prohibitively expensive capability from just weeks ago and makes it free and accessible to anyone with a smartphone and a data connection. If a picture is worth a thousand words, what is real time streaming video worth?
As I'm writing this, I'm watching Vala Afshar simultaneously live broadcast his (and Michael Krigsman's) #CXOTalk on Periscope and Google+ hangout. His guest, Shashank Shashena, Director of Digital and E-Commerce at Kroger, just shared that between the time he woke up this morning and the start of the show, more content was uploaded to YouTube than Hollywood has produced in around of 100 years of existence. When live streaming catches on, how much more media will be produced than the relatively labor intensive work of recording and uploading to YouTube?
Periscope allows us to see and hear anything, anywhere, if just one person opens up a port hole for us to do so. As a caveat, the technology is still relatively immature, still riddled with bugs, and will likely have an incident or two that will give the masses pause on whether or not they should use it.
Regardless of how it plays out, the larger progression and path of technology and human behavior is clear. As broadband, storage, and processing power increases, we'll collectively create, find, and leverage new technology to participate in richer communication experiences.
So what does this mean for the Enterprise?
Humans have a fundamental need to connect, to learn, to share. Long ago, there was essentially only one way to do that; in person - in full fidelity. Technology (telegraph, telephone, arpanet, email, social.) has enabled connection and communication to take place in various fragmented methods that continue to march toward the experience of full fidelity in-person communication. In most cases, these richer communication experiences have come bundled with better discovery and matching capabilities as well. As each channel and/or method of communication matures, each of them becomes optimized for the best appropriate use cases.
We've learned through the consumerization of IT and BYOD movements that as soon as something is possible, people will try it. And if they like it, they will defend and demand it's use. Artificial constraints set by the enterprise have a very difficult time holding the line over the long haul.
I have no idea which players will win over the next few years, but the direction is set and there are some considerations to take into account.
1. If this catches on, employees and customers will expect this to work equally as well for work as it does in their personal lives.
2. If and when this reaches broad adoption (or even before), the job of the CIO will get harder. Anything happening inside the "walls" of your enterprise (virtual and physical) can be live streamed. Risk just skyrocketed. Just like when social media was introduced, reasonable guardrails and policies must be introduced.
3. Oh, another thing, demands on broadband and the network will also spike. There's that small issue.
4. Could this be an alternative to GotoMeeting, WebEx, Skype, etc: The technology isn't there yet, but why bother with the hassle of laptop and webcam, and the three (or sometimes 23) minutes of getting the web conferencing service up when I can just start a broadcast from my phone and get on with it?
Typically risk and chaos are coupled with new opportunities.
- Which activities, events, people, assets, if exposed to a broader audience, would benefit your organization? How can you leverage emerging networks to establish a new outpost for thought leadership?
- What value could your team offer your industry, your peers, your customers? Does this new distribution model enable a new channel for providing value?
- How could listening and observing what's happening around the world help to shape your decisions, your marketing, your product direction?
- With critical mass, could this open up a new medium for ethnographic research?
- If everyone can live stream, how will this effect your customer service and support strategies, capabilities, and processes?
- When Periscope opens up the analytics on its platform, what clues will this uncover about human behavior? How will we be able to use these to enhance employee and/or customer engagement?
Plenty to think about. I'd love to hear your thoughts and questions.
The views and opinions expressed herein are my own and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of KPMG LLP.
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