Crowd shot, RMIT Web Conference 2014, Storey Hall. Photo: Simon Sellars.
On Monday, we mapped the first half of RMIT's 2014 Web Conference. We discussed John Riccio's talk on what he believes web policy should do: advise and empower. We related that to the aims of RMIT's web policy awareness campaign.
We looked at the presentations given by John Barnes, Brett Maishman and Cameron Owens. Their shared imperative was for content providers to understand their audience and its needs (a natural fit with RMIT's Web User Experience Policy). Also, to exploit the connectivity of social media to build relationships (see our Social Media Policy).
We reviewed Shefik Bey's talk, which, among other things, looked at optimising content for mobile (see RMIT's Web Content Policy and Mobile Channel Policy). We explored Jeremy's Hodgson's advice to make sure content is at least as powerful as the platform it's distributed on (see the Web Content Policy).
Now, the final batch of speakers.
Jodie Moule, Director of Symplicit, regaled us with an intriguing case study: the research and development that went into Cook, her highly successful recipe-sharing app. Cook had half a million downloads in its first three months, and currently sits on over a million. But as she said, 'you don't just set out one day and decide: "I'm going to make a disruptive innovation"; it's an evolution'.
For her, research is the key. Lots of it. 'There is an art to good research,' she said: plenty of collaboration and user testing. Everyone on her multidisciplinary team sketched an ideal version of the app, no matter what their drawing proficiency or area of expertise. Ideas were then pooled and discussed.
Jodie Moule and her team. Photo: Simon Sellars.
Then at the beta stage, they began user testing, making good use of social media, like closed groups on Yammer and Facebook, to collect and discuss audience feedback. For Moule this was essential, not only to explore the viability of the idea with actual end users before going live, but also, once the initial bugs were ironed out, to increase the team's belief in the product.
Her central advice echoed previous presenters: learn to be flexible. 'Be obsessed about your product,' she said, 'but be brave enough to change it. There are no short cuts to innovation.' Bonus points to Moule, too, for quoting Steve Jobs, realising that was too corny, even for a conference on digital strategy, then switching allegiance to the sage advice of Louis Pasteur: 'Chance favours the prepared mind.'
"Cook" was developed using a multi disciplinary team in an agile process. Very much like #rmitwebtransformation #rmitwebconf @symplicit
— Mary Sabotkoski (@msabotkoski) July 1, 2014
Greg Muller, CEO of Global Review, the respected digital analytics firm, covered many topics, including the merger of traditional and digital channels to create integrated campaigns and 'omni-channel experiences'. To do this, though, means smashing down the silos. Bring key stakeholders together regularly, even if they carry conflicting viewpoints, philosophies, workloads. Perhaps easier said than done...
He quoted marketing guru Doug Kessler's maxim: 'Traditional marketing talks at people. Content marketing talks with them.' Collaboration is the key. Strategic alignment. Make use of 'big data' – 'the ability to target and predict' – and know your audience inside out. Understand their online behaviour; given the ease and accessibility of analytics packages these days, there's simply no excuse not to.
But don’t get overloaded with stats. Develop a few important metrics and 'persist, test and measure. Don't forget to try new things.' Remember, too: trust is crucial. 'You're not entitled to an audience,' Hallam reminded us. 'If people trust you enough, you'll be given an audience.' It's a good point and speaks to an age where people can simply tune you out of your feed if they're not interested. And getting back from there is often a painful process, so 'be honest, be real, be genuine'. Have fun, too – don’t forget that.
@gmull @GlobalReviews #rmitwebconf Engaging your audience #contentmarketing #contentstrategy pic.twitter.com/QtRWlnhwMQ
— Assyl Haidar (@assylh) July 1, 2014
John Ryan, founder of Sitegeist, the content strategy consultancy, spoke at the inaugural 2013 conference. He returned in 2014 and his insights were as welcome as they were last year. Ryan's specialty is writing great online content and he, too, corroborated the insights of other speakers: use analytics, often. Get to know your audience by studying its online behaviour. Create, test, publish, measure. Find out where your content is failing, then change it. Help your content succeed. Help your users succeed.
It's hard to summarise his talk. He covered a lot of ground and it was packed with insight, all relevant to anyone trying to professionalise their web content. Actually, make that 'online content'. Actually, make that simply content. He exhorted the audience to embrace a 'digital first' philosophy. That doesn't just mean online content. For Ryan, '"Digital first" simply means breaking the relationship between content and form. Content doesn't live on pages anymore – even web pages.'
I especially liked his final piece of advice, not least for its inversion of Marshall McLuhan's classic bon mot – 'the medium is the message'. Ryan said: 'You can't predict where your content will end up. Never mind McLuhan: the medium is immaterial.'
John Ryan: "everyone assembling content is a curator. Curation creates meaning" #rmitwebconf pic.twitter.com/4Duf90qJgZ
— Social Frenzy (@social_frenzy) July 1, 2014
Ending the conference, Steve Hallam, partner at Deloitte Digital, took a provocative approach: trying to predict digital trends in five years' time. That's not easy. Think of the progression of the mobile phone. Five years ago, the iPhone was in its infancy. Android was barely a player. It would have taken extreme foresight to predict the sheer computing power embodied in today's smartphones.
It's not for nothing that the novelist J.G. Ballard, once renowned for his science fiction, announced he was giving up writing about the future in favour of the present day. Modern technology's extreme, rapid rate of change has rendered science fiction redundant. Never mind the next 500 years, Ballard wanted to write about 'the next five minutes'.
Appropriately, Hallam asserted, 'it's hard to predict the future, but easy to predict trends'. His talk was rapid fire, not dwelling on anything for too long. It was appropriate to a blipvert culture: blink and you'll miss the next fad, the next meme, the next ripple through the Twitterverse. Digital tattoos. Augmented reality. Cyborgs. He touched on it all.
He even invoked controversial futurist Ray Kurzweil, champion of the Singularity, the hypothetical moment when artificial machine intelligence surpasses human intelligence, rendering the human race essentially redundant. Humans, according to Kurzweil, will then augment their bodies with nanotech, artificial intelligence, genetic modifications. For Hallam, Kurzweil is 'one person I'd trust' to map the future. Of course the jury is out on Kurzweil, who's been branded a con artist elsewhere. And that's putting it mildly.
So what exactly is Hallam's point? Perhaps this: we're in the age of convergence. We're merging with our tech, and everything is on demand, including lifestyles, emotions, professions. This, he believes, has massive ramifications for higher education. No longer will students flock to the institution; the institution must go to them. How can universities survive?
Steve Hallam's near future. Photo: Simon Sellars.
'Unbundling of content' is one trend to watch out for, he warned. Here, we're back to digital disruption. 'Unbundling' describes how, in the age of connectivity and immediate information access, new technologies and new devices are breaking apart institutions. Monolithic industries are being cannibalised, their traditional offerings scaled down in size and costs and offered to all takers. Newer, mobile, intelligent business units are supplying the future on demand. The result in the university context, according to Hallam: 'Peer-to-peer education'. 'Education on demand'. Adapt or perish.
Things aren't quite that dire, though. Any threshold moment, any hinge between eras, especially those marked by technological advance, provides great opportunity. Undoubtedly, we're living through a threshold moment now – a blip between technological eras – and that's why Hallam's final words were refreshing. 'Disruption has a negative connotation,' he said, 'but it can be quite positive. As a university, here's your chance to enhance the learning experience, rather than let it be supplanted.'
Good advice. Let's merge.
Spent the day at #rmitwebconf in #RMIT Storey Hall, so I feel like an extra on a vampire movie set. #QueenOfTheDamned http://t.co/y3M1d3IauA
— Cassandra O'Leary (@cass_oleary) July 1, 2014
Crowd shot, RMIT Web Conference 2014, Storey Hall. Photo: Peter T. Clarke.
> Part one of this review
> Collection of 112 tweets from the conference, curated by @me3722
> Web Policy Awareness video
> Web policy awareness campaign
> Web Policy Suite
> Web User Experience Policy (relevant to Moule and Muller's talks)
> Web Accessibility Policy (relevant to Ryan's talk)
> Mobile Channel Policy (relevant to Bey's talk)
> Social Media Policy (relevant to Muller's talk)
> Web Content Policy (relevant to Ryan's talk)