TWO major trends to watch
Popularity versus Revenue
Categorized as “emerging media”, social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Linked-In and MySpace offer opportunities for individuals and companies to both connect and exchange information. From a company’s perspective, they have the ability to contribute to branding and real-time delivery of information. Uses I’ve seen include sending alerts, flash updates on blog postings, breaking news, press release links, and even customer support Q&A.
What is unclear is even if you have people following your posts on a social network, does it lead to revenue? Aside from something called “viral marketing”, the answer is no. In fact, Twitter.com doesn’t even have a revenue model of its own. Other sites rely on advertising links with the exception of Linked-In, which provides for certain paid-subscriber only benefits. So, this begs the question, “Is it all a bunch of hype?”
Finding your Market
Not everyone is a fan of online social networking. Although few could disagree that traditionally, social networking has many, many benefits in our personal and professional lives. As it pertains to online use, and specifically to Twitter, the context of your messages (of who you follow (or subscribe to) and who follows you) is limited to 140 characters. These short messages are known as tweets. Every smart-phone with few exceptions now has an application available to follow ‘tweets’. Tweets span the spectrum of websites, cellular phones, Instant Messaging and RSS feeds. With the potential of such penetration at zero cost, the benefits of the technology are limited to the value of your posted content and those that you ‘follow’.
With all the information available on the web, why would you care to follow somebody or a company on twitter? For that matter, why would somebody care to follow you? I believe the value here lies in the ability of getting the information first or ‘from the source’ as it happens. The other value is in getting information from an inside or knowledgeable source that you can follow-up with in real-time. It’s a two-way medium.
I have not found much in the way of either financial or builder related companies using Twitter although some are already using other networks such as Facebook and Linked-In. I believe we are still early in the adoption curve of this technology. What I do see is the preference of the Millennial generation to use these sites for making contacts and information gathering. I believe many companies are jumping in to ensure they have a presence even though the benefits are uncertain. That last sentence could have been said in 1995, about the emergence of webpages and websites. Stay tuned. The ‘what‘ and the ‘how‘ can not yet be answered, but I strongly suspect the ‘if‘ is a not-too-far-off certainty.
Another certainty: you have to experience the medium for yourself. It’s not a love-it or hate-it proposition although I suspect that for many of us, it might take some digging to find the value. At the very least, you’ll be the first to know that Shack stubbed his toe again or your nephew Trevor was arrested and is seeking bail money…
If you are ready to get your feet wet and experience a social network for yourself, the most beneficial from a company’s prospective at this time will be Facebook and Linked-In. Try them by searching for both companies and colleagues. If you find any of interest, you’ll want to create your own account (and profile) so that you can become networked together.
You probably already use a form of cloud computing. Services such as Yahoo Mail, AOL and GMail are all simple forms of cloud computing. So are YouTube and Twitter. These sites are all hosted across the internet, allowing you (the end-user) to access a specific server or service from anywhere at anytime. You have no hardware to maintain and no software to buy. At the most, some may charge you a periodic fee. So what is it and why is this likely to be a paradigm in I.T. departments?
Commoditization. I.T. has been a complex, vertical silo in organizations for the last 20+ years (longer for the large corporations who could afford I.T. services prior to the PC’s debut). Nowadays, it is quickly becoming a commodity where services need not be maintained in-house. Rather, a highly streamlined I.T. department uses outside service providers for things such as storage, Emails and various software applications. In essence, it offloads the chore of hardware, software, in-house expertise and in-house costs to an external provider specializing in a certain area.
Implications for the Organization
Since 2001, I have leveraged outside services for Web Design, Disaster Recovery, and Programming. Based on experiences at larger organizations – which actually taught me to have a contrarian view of certain practices – I maintain a belief that simple is better because it keeps focus on the business and not the technology behind it. With these beliefs as my basis, Cloud Computing will be the next, natural evolution in the industry. Cloud Computing takes the concept of outsourcing a step further by replacing what once were completely in-house services (such as file servers, email servers, accounting programs, and even applications such as MS Office Word and Excel) with internet based sources.
There will be a day when most small to medium sized companies will have the option of drastically reducing their hardware & software footprint within the organization. In-house technical expertise will be supplanted with a very small set of I.T. professionals who can focus solely on aligning their efforts with business goals. Currently, much of I.T.’s efforts concentrate on the day-to-day housekeeping of I.T. upkeep. Cloud Computing will bring simplicity to the I.T. environment and, at the same time, a reduction in costs and added resiliency of the services being provided.
In Harmony with Virtualization
Our company began virtualizing servers two years ago. It allows us to consolidate two or more servers into one physical server. The added servers are known as virtualized-servers. It reduces equipment, cooling and power demands while better utilizing the capacity of the hardware. The benefits of virtualization and those of cloud computing could easily reduce our existing infrastructure by 70% in the next three years and save us $120,000 every 36 months in equipment costs. This accounts for the reduction in capital expenditures for hardware alone. Added savings from software licensing would also be a significant savings.
Below is a diagram which shows how our Private/Internal network extends to the internet currently. Future services (represented by empty circles) constitute ‘The Cloud’. It will be an extension of our network services – all of which are currently contained within our company. For now, just know that when you hear somebody talk about the cloud – it isn’t necessarily a weather forecast being discussed! Such capabilities are especially important to many companies in light of recent economic constraints and the reduction of in-house talent. I’ll have more to share about this rapidly changing paradigm over the next 18 months. This should be about the time that more services become available and mature to the point where we can begin relying on the cloud for many of our services.