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!

It has been a strange autumn, from Brexit to Trump, but some continuing strands of human activity give re-assurance that even if the inmates have taken over the asylum, and just about everything else as well, at least some eternal verities remain in place. Arising from a sickbed that had forced me to miss the Charleston librarian’s conference I fumbled my way into the 10th annual NOAH show, anxious to be re-assured on exactly this point. Indeed, I wanted NOAH to rescue me from the Flood!

For those not dutifully attending the Old Billingsgate jamboree during this decade, NOAH, owned and run by the eponymous advisory team, is the premier presentational market for internet start-ups seeking funding or next-stage re-funding. Now joined by a spring offshoot in Berlin, the London show attracts some 2000 financiers who get to hear 10 minute pitches from a different company every 10 minutes for two days from three different stages – and some get to return the favour with pitches for their own funding services. The range is complete – from the impossible to the improbable to tomorrow’s success stories. All you have to do is pick a winner!

Companies are loosely categorised, with presentations in lead generation (still!), marketplaces and classifieds, travel, infrastructure, gaming, The sharing economy, social and dating, travel, logistics, security, finance and insurance, eCommerce, business services, fintech and medtech, to name the more obvious ones. The vast majority of the presentations are around a web services-based world and very many of them reflect the value definitions that we first created in the mid 1990s. These were all about personal productivity and convenience and cost-saving, and whether we could get merchandisers to pay for the value added to the user experience. So, in the context of some of the best presentations that I personally saw, I am perfectly prepared to believe that the German service Casa can help me buy furniture cost-effectively through combining the inventories of over 100 different furniture stores including Ikea, but if I have already made a brand decision then the value becomes a pricing or re-assurance check. Similarly, many will want to use Spottster to ensure that items on their wish lists have not been re-priced and thus brought within range, but the value added requires a determination in the dedicated shopper that only exists in dedicated minorities of populations. We are salami-slicing the value we offer end-users of all types and the result, if we are not careful, will be further marginalisation as markets inevitably consolidate. Increasingly many new service offerings look like add-ons which major players will either hoover up or re-invent in the passage of time. Picking those winners gets that much tougher, which of course raises the importance of NOAH.

And also gives rise to thoughts about where these innovations are going. The commentary online, for example, about AWS as a backward-looking innovation is important. I am not much concerned about whether the plan that Jeff Bezos approved in 2006 was the press release for cloud-based storage, but I am interested in a revival of thinking around value points that leads to the creation of a facilitation that users can then engage with and develop as they will, creating a user drive from an initial value experiment. The user-centricity is the key thing, like the empty chair at every Bezos meeting. So much of the initial web service value was created around this sort of thinking that I wonder why it has not become more important rather than less over time. It is still possible, in certain geographies, to create good service values modelled on things which have succeeded elsewhere – for me, the classic example was the charming food site, Farmy.ch, at NOAH, – but it is really hard to get these things to scale and they tend to be limited by local market conditions.

My prediction therefore would be that shows like NOAH will become much more broadly based in their conception of online innovation. In future years we shall see much more Internet service based development, with blockchain being an immediate focus. Invaluable as the Web may be, adding fresh value gets tougher all the time. Invention should be looking again at the one-to-one and one-to-many possibilities created by global networking; in a future which may well be Web-based but which is not only Web-based, and where the Web may be the service facilitation but not necessarily the service itself. NOAH remains the barometer of these changes, and as I left I could hear the cheerful laughter of investment bankers tinkling into the music of cash registers. How unlike the world outside that day!

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