When it was just the Mexicans taking the jobs, life was fairly simple. When it’s intelligent workflow cutting out clerical tasks, or advanced robotics building self-driving cars, it will be much harder to move a major nation backwards by 50 years by executive presidential order, especially given the role of the tech industry in all developed economies. Credit then to the Finns and the provincial government of Ontario for experimenting with social wages. We will have to be endlessly creative to make the whole productive economy of our countries meet the needs of all of our peoples. The urge to restore 1952 and take shelter there does not answer the questions – and things were not very good then anyway!

These thoughts were of course prompted by recent events. And prompted too by an increasingly hostile view of the way in which we use words (“sovereign” and “sovereignty” are current examples) to cover a multitude of cultural misunderstandings. If globalisation is now the hated concept from which we must retreat, please let us remember that the internet is a bedrock of globalisation. And if we communicate only by tweets, lets remember that the internet, gifted to the world in 1993 by the US DARPA researchers who created it, is what enables tweeting. History is not a series of accidents that can be revered at will, just as it is not a deterministic and unalterable process. Global communications were redefined in an age of free trade for a slew of reasons that range from making the developed world even richer to trying to feed some of the 800 million people who subsist on an inadequate diet. The Canute – like gesture of saying it has to stop because it no longer works in Dearborn or West Virginia will lead to protectionism and isolationism that provides the greatest opportunity yet for China, India and Brazil to rebalance world markets. A networked workflow is independent of geography, physical manufacturing is a just-in-time issue, drop out of the global conversation and it may be very hard to get back in, however rich and mighty the nation is that wants to turn back the clock.

And as it happens, much the same applies to “publishing”, another troubled word with poor definitional logic. Here Sovereignty (redefined by me as a sense of ownership and control which persists in a culture long after the reality has departed) is matched by IP or Copyright, a persistent belief that you own assets of value despite the fact that ownership cannot be exercised and content becomes commoditised. As many have noted, when information moved to global network-based markets, the entire business model structure of the analog world was fatally undermined. Despite these twenty five years spent trying to prop it up, the commoditization of content, and now data, is inexorable. So successful business models around content, if there are any to be had, have to take into account the idea that there is now no retreat to advertising based models and no pretense that subscription is the saviour. To think otherwise is Trumpery. Some models may have sponsorships, and others may have entry fees or upgrade charges, but I now suspect that there is safer ground to be had, and I was pleased to see Fred Wilson, a successful internet entrepreneur with a huge reputation, saying something similar.

The information marketplace in data and content has now become a software-based services and solutions market. Yes, we are still selling books and journals, but the future growth is in injecting content into workflow and decision support. In other words, into business models based on licensing, rental and fees. The value of content is expressed in the license, but it is a contextual value, not an inherent value, and it is not a high one. To the publisher who said to me 2 years ago that he was not going “to preside over this company becoming a software company”, I must now respond “Step away now, for the change is happening.”

In a world of broad-based network access (and the internet still has a long way to go) one thing is true: we can all be publishers now. Indeed, words like Publisher (consider “artist” in the same context) are more descriptive of common everyday acts (putting an image on Instagram) than they are of roles or professions. In this context Fred Wilson’s enthusiasm for Steem as a business model was impressive. Newspapers do not work as online business models and nor do magazines, and the nay-Sayers were delighted by the announcement that Medium was going ad-free and that Reddit was looking for a new business model. Maybe there is no way to put curated information into a consumer context online except free? So good news for fake news? Or can content services coalesce around a crypto currency, where providers and readers pay and are paid in the same currency, with rates varying by popularity. Maybe the currency is vital to creating the community in ways we had not imagined before. We have to try it – there is no going back!

Resolution: whatever we do in 2017, let us not enumerate our actions. “20 new uses for AI”, “Six fastest ways of going broke online”, “9 rules for investment success Digitally”, “3 certain ways of employing the right strategies for…” Enough. ENOUGH!

What follows here will be some things I am tracking that may or may not happen in 2017. This piece will end when I am tired or you are bored. Neither of us is keeping score.

* I am using a keyboard to communicate with you. Why? Since the early 1980s when I had to persuade lawyers to use them (“you mean, like my secretary?”). I have annually forecast the end of the keyboard. It’s stubborn resistance is deplorable, given its slowness and inadequacy as an interface. Will 2017 see at least the beginning of its end?

* Voice is the natural and obvious way to address a machine. We now have really good technology to relate voice documents to text. We can even (Wibbitz) turn text into video. And we have made two decades of progress in annotating documents with rich metadata, telling us what they contain and linking them to other texts in whatever form they have when stored or originated. Yet we still cannot fluently “communicate” with them.

* Yet they are, these texts, gradually getting the ability to communicate with each other. 2017 will see further evidence of self-cross referencing and self-updating environments. These will be essential to a future based on machine learning and machine intelligence. Will 2017 see the beginnings of a greater fluency within knowledge systems, be they business environments, scholarly research or intelligence systems, than exists between the people using them? “Sorry, I can no longer explain to you what we know about that, so perhaps your machine would like to talk to ours and get the full picture?”

* Please can we start inventing words to describe the forms we are using, instead of importing into the virtual world the format hangovers from the past. Book, magazine, newspaper, journal, article. Especially that last one. We need new words for episodes of scholarly communication, for example, that indicate aspects of research reporting: “article” does not cut it where “results” could mean “patent” or “data” or other matter relevant to research outcomes but stored elsewhere, not searchable in the same context etc. And the same confusing, terminological poverty exists everywhere.

* We need more numbers. We have spent the past twenty years trying hard to identify content, sources and authors. Now, in the face of legal sanctions which will only get tighter, we face an urgent need to better identify users. The ability to follow, record and measure online activity, and the value of the individual research trail as a contribution to knowledge, now becomes so great that individuals will be constrained to surrender privacy rights of their own in order to benefit from the data created as a result of others doing so. Or they may even be paid to do so.

* Self-publishing goes further and faster next year. Every publisher will have a system. Much will have been increased in sophistication and many services will be free. Creating documents that automatically join the community of reference and talk to each other in ways that update and restore currency is a predictable outcome, towards which we shall see further progress in 2017.

* “Verticalization” is becoming a key theme. We have seen in 2016 how a number of major information industry players have begun to exit horizontal, multi-market portfolio holdings and try to regroup around vertically-integrated, enterprise-driven corporate structures. More of that in 2017, as content becomes more commoditised and shared more effectively amongst users, and the age of data leads beyond the democratisation of information to the idea that it is not the information that has value that you need to protect as much as the way you treat it and relate it – we should be heralding the Age of Analytics.

* Look to see this reflected in M&A. More divestments of content that does not fit the vertical interest. More acquisition of tools, process systems, data analytics, discovery instruments etc. Once we added value to the information: now we will seek to add value to the process of using it, building client reliance on our ability to outsource whole sections of workflow seamlessly. This changes the dynamics of client relationships in ways that many current information players are wholly unprepared, as yet, to confront.

* Some of the old sayings learnt and rehearsed in the past 25 years of mass online usage remain valid. “Nothing succeeds in the network until it has first failed in the network” (think about current commentary on Blockchain). “Change is infinitely and often imperceptibly slow… but then goes with a rush at the end” (think about networks and user populations and communities and brands). “Nothing is so funny to the coming generation as the old-fashioned and antediluvian way in which the immediately previous generation organised themselves in the virtual world” (think about My Space and Facebook, and then Facebook and…)

How many was that? No, do NOT count them. If you have reached this point please accept the profound good wishes of this writer for a peaceful, productive and overwhelmingly happy new year. And if you didn’t? Well, the interstices between wisdom and idiocy are wafer-thin, and we shall never know whether you will have been wiser for not reading it than I have been by virtue of writing it!

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