Peer-to-peer content distribution

Human-668298_1280The smartwatch movement inspired me recently, which is surprising because I haven’t worn a watch since I started carrying a smartphone many years ago. I’m about as far as you can get from being a fashionista and I liken a watch to other obsolete single-use devices like the GPS. I doubt I’ll buy one anytime soon but I believe the device synchronization model used by smartwatches lends itself to content distribution as well.

You’re probably aware of how most smartwatches get paired with your smartphone. Although they don’t have all the capabilities of a smartphone, things like text messages and phone calls can be redirected from your phone to your watch, thanks in large part to Bluetooth technology. Your phone communicates with your watch the same way your phone connects with a wireless headset or desktop Bluetooth speaker, for example.

Let’s fast-forward to the day when we’ve all become peer-to-peer content distributors. Rather than relying on centrally-managed and hosted sites and services that handle everything from reviews to downloads, this peer-to-peer model means we’re doing all that for each other using Bluetooth or some other simple networking protocols. For example, your phone or computer can easily be turned into a wifi server, allowing you to connect multiple devices to it; that's a capability that exists today and I'm suggesting it could be extended for new uses in the future.

The Kindle introduced a whole new level of reading privacy. Once upon a time on a crowded bus you could see the cover of the book being read by the person across the aisle. Now we’re all masking our reading habits with tablets and phones. No, I’m not suggesting we embrace an overly intrusive model that has privacy advocates screaming in the streets. Rather, I believe a peer-to-peer model could be used to improve discovery and consumption at the hyperlocal level.

Think of the hundreds of riders on a commuter train each morning. Maybe they’re traveling from the northern suburbs into Manhattan. Some of them are neighbors. Many of them are businesspeople. All of them probably follow and read some type of news. Instead of just knowing the top global trends on Google, wouldn’t it be interesting to know what news stories your fellow commuters are reading?

The same concept can be applied to passengers on a plane or even homeowners in a neighborhood. Just as NextDoor.com has disrupted Angie’s List and brought communication and recommendations to the local level, I suggest a peer-to-peer model could do the same for content.

The peer-to-peer aspect really shines when you consider how the content gets from my device to yours. That news story I just read on TheGuardian.com still lives in my browser’s cache. If enough of my fellow commuters read the same article, it floats to the top of the popular news list for our little commuter community. You click the link to it in our peer-to-peer content app and the article is pulled from my cache to your device.

In short, we’re distributing content to each other, without having to go up and down, to and from a central server. Wouldn’t this be terrific on a 4-hour flight with no wifi? Each of our devices acts as a mini-server, hosting content for everyone else.

Publishers would freak out over this model, at least initially. They’ll no longer control distribution and it will create holes in their analytics. I’m sure most, if not all, publishers have something buried in their terms and conditions preventing this sort of thing, but those who want to embrace broader distribution and consumption will eventually warm up to it.

Btw, the model isn’t limited to web pages. Think about the benefits this offers the book publishing sector. What if you could see a list of the popular ebooks in your neighborhood or among your fellow commuters? And what if you could pull a sample of one of those popular titles from someone else’s device, again, a particularly useful solution when you’re outside wifi and cellular range? If you decide you like that sample and you end up buying the ebook your peer-to-peer commuter friend gets credit for the sale with an affiliate cut of the resulting transaction.

We place way too much emphasis on the ability to measure global trends. You see it every day on Google, Twitter, etc. While we all care about these global trends, we’re also keenly interested in local and hyper-local trends. This peer-to-peer model addresses that point while also providing some relief for data plan limits and spotty wifi coverage.


Random Thoughts

Bubble thought

Lots of little things bouncing around in my head today...

First up, my employer, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., just reported outstanding results for the fiscal year we completed on 4/30.  Congrats to the entire Wiley team!

Next up, Don Felder's Heaven and Hell.  Who's he?  The guy from The Eagles who wasn't Don Henley, Glen Frey, Joe Walsh, Randy Meisner or Timothy B. Schmit.  Seriously, every time I watched their Hell Freezes Over DVD I kept asking myself...who is that guy?!  Well, it turns out he's an incredible author with a fascinating story to tell.  Wiley recently published Felder's Heaven and Hell and a copy hit my desk last week.  Bear in mind I was a bit of an Eagles fan, but not a huge one.  I totally love the Hotel California album but that's about it for me.  When I started reading this I thought I'd be bored by the story of Felder's youth and all the pre-Eagles coverage.  Wow, was I wrong.  His story is fascinating from page one and the writing is exceptional.  I'm not quite halfway through it and can't wait to read more.  I'll have a full review shortly but if the rest is half as good as what I've already read this one will quickly become one of my all-time favorites.

Another interesting new book showed up on my front porch yesterday as well.  It's called The PITA Principle: How to Work with and Avoid Becoming a Pain in the Ass and I first heard of it via Lori Cates and her Publishing Careers blog.  She sent me a galley of the book and I can't wait to dig into it.  (Current Wiley colleagues and former colleagues from elsewhere...please hold all your jokes about how much of a PITA I can be from time to time...remember, I'm moderating all comments here.)

Speaking of PITA's, how about that wacky HSE School Board?  They're at it again.  First they blow money right and left on severance packages and now the local paper had to save them from making the incredibly embarassing mistake of offering the superintendent job to a candidate whose previous employer paid a settlement on a sexual harassment lawsuit that he was facing.  Given all the recent gaffes I figured this would be a tough slot to fill.  The new superintendent will either have baggage, like this one did, or they haven't studied the history close enough to know they should run from the opportunity.  And who's the recruiter the Board has working on this?!  Jeez, are they unable to do simple background checks?  Oh, HSE School Board, is their any type of embarssment you're unwilling to bring upon yourselves?


A Good Magazine Indeed

Good_magAlthough my reading habits have shifted dramatically over the past couple of years, opting for RSS feeds over print magazines, I just discovered a new magazine that's worth a closer look. It's appropriately called Good, and based on the issue I just read, I think they could have also called it Great.

I just finished their "High Tech/Low Tech" issue and found more interesting articles in this one magazine than I typically find in a handful of others.  Think Wired without all the annoying artwork and gratuitous neon ink.  That's right.  It's full of...wait for it...great content!

New issues come out every other month and a one-year subscription is $20.  And get this...  Every penny of your $20 subscription goes to one of 12 different nonprofit organizations that have partnered with Good.  The list includes Room to Read, Teach for America and several others.  I just signed up for a subscription and selected Kiva as my nonprofit recipient.


Look Both Ways, by Linda Criddle

LookAs a reader of this blog there's a pretty high likelihood that you not only realize the online predator problem but you have also taken some steps to protect your family.  It's probably the less web-savvy parents out there that really need better guidance...or are they the only ones struggling?  I don't think so.

As a parent and someone who uses Norton's Parental Control product as another layer of security, I thought I knew all the facts about safeguarding my kids online.  Now that I've had the chance to read Linda Criddle's book Look Both Ways, I can see how naive I've been.  The book is full of practical how-to advice that's critical for any parent of kids who are browsing, chatting, blogging, etc.  Loads of checklists are used throughout and Linda builds the bulk of the book around her "13 Steps to Internet Security."

If you're a parent, do yourself a favor and buy a copy of this book.  Perhaps more importantly, if you know any parents who aren't all that well-versed in online safety measures (and we all know at least one, right?!), buy them a copy as a holiday gift.  This is a problem that isn't going away anytime soon, so it is best to follow the advice of an expert like Linda Criddle.


Gary Varvel, Newspaper Hero

I attended the annual Shepherd Community banquet last week and got to see one of our local newspaper icons win an award.  Gary Varvel, editorial cartoonist with the Indianapolis Star, was given the H. Dean Evans Legacy Award for his ongoing community service efforts.  I’ve always enjoyed Gary’s cartoons in the local paper and I truly appreciate his perspective.

Gary is also a blogger and I encourage you to take a look at what he has to say.  You’ll find it’s a great resource for anyone interested in current events as well as aspiring illustrators.

Also, if you’re an Indianapolis resident and you’re looking for a great service organization to get involved with, I highly recommend you hook up with the folks at the Shepherd Community Center.  Take a look at the list of services they provide inner-city families.  There are plenty of ways you can help them accomplish their goals, whether it’s volunteering your time or sending them a donation.  I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some of their staff over the past couple of years and I’ve found it to be an awesome organization.


Time’s 2006 Person of the Year: You?

According to this tidbit on wwd.com, yes, you, or better stated, the collective “we” might be Time’s 2006 Person of the Year.  That sounds about right.  Think about the combined influence of blogs, YouTube, wiki’s, etc., and how they’re not just changing the media landscape but rapidly becoming everyday tools and solutions.

These technologies weren’t invented in 2006, but it’s hard to argue their importance and how it has surged throughout the year.  Thanks to each of these tools, anyone can easily create their own platform, communicate their message and share it all with the rest of the community.  Just ask anyone who owns stock in one of the publicly traded newspapers and see what they think of the citizen media model.  It’s changing the world and it’s here to stay.


The Indianapolis Star on Congressional Races

Here’s an example of local opinion and commentary done right. This article in today’s Indianapolis Star summarizes the candidates and makes recommendations for the upcoming House races. The paper’s Editorial Board interviewed the candidates for this piece, noted strengths and weaknesses and even talked about one incumbent who “frequently rambled and was disjointed in her responses to questions.”

This is exactly the sort of local coverage that newspapers are uniquely qualified for. Further, although the article is freely available on the Star’s website, the print version fits nicely on one page and features a map of the state with each district clearly identified; I’m not sure why the map is left off the online version. While it’s possible to post reader comments about the story on the Star’s site, I don’t think the paper goes far enough to encourage this level of community involvement.

Why not use the paper itself to stimulate more community input and debate on these candidates?  They should have put a sidebar or some other element in the paper saying something like “Give us your feedback and help other voters learn more about the issues and the candidates at www.indystar.com/2006races.” Instead, the article in print provides no information about the ability to provide feedback and comments online. I generally don’t believe URLs in print cause many people to go online, but an invitation like this is more meaningful than most. Another nice touch would have been to videotape the Editorial Board interviews and post them alongside each district summary online; again, this could have been played up in print, driving more people to the Star’s website.


The New York Times on Airline Security

I've been on the road a lot lately and continue to be amazed by the odd airport security solutions used by the TSA.  I got off a plane last Thursday, the first day of "no liquids, gels, etc.", finally feeling safe from the threat of bottled water and cosmetics.

John Tierney of The New York Times sums it up quite well in this article (subscription required, but free trial available).  I agree with him that we're going about this all wrong and need to look at the Israeli airports for a model that provides better security.  Am I prepared to wait in long lines to be individually screened?  You bet.


“Blue Ocean Strategy” and “Hot Property”: getAbstract Summaries

As part of my ongoing use of the getAbstract book summaries program I was able to “read” two books on a recent flight home: Blue Ocean Strategy and Hot Property.

Blue Ocean Strategy is all about “hitting ‘em where they ain’t”, in old baseball lingo. In other words, rather than competing in an overcrowded space where all participants suffer from reduced market share and profits, why not move into the “blue ocean” and build a new business where none currently exist? It sounds much simpler than it is, of course, but it still caused me to stop and think. I love this quote:

To fundamentally shift the strategy canvas of an industry, you must begin by reorienting your strategic focus from competitors to alternatives, and from customers to non-customers.

Read that again. In just about any business out there it’s accurate to say the number of non-customers far exceeds the number of customers. What can you do to convert those non-customers? What sort of new product would lure them in? Most of your non-customers don’t even know you exist, so you not only have to create a completely new, exciting product, but you’ve got to figure out how to raise awareness. If you think about great new product developments of the past I’ll bet most of them weren’t created so much to beat a competitor as they were to establish a new industry.

One final (great) quote from this one:

Non-customers tend to offer far more insight into how to unlock and grow a blue ocean than do relatively content existing customers.

Hot Property’s subtitle is The Stealing of Ideas in an Age of Globalization. It talks not only about the IP theft that’s so widespread today and how the U.S. is “the world’s most zealous intellectual property cop”, but also how the U.S. “owes its Industrial Revolution to some astonishing instances of industrial espionage.” One of the excerpts notes that “Hamilton and Congress wanted to rapidly industrialize the United States…by whatever means necessary…America thus became the world’s premier legal sanctuary for industrial pirates.” Very interesting.


A Million Little P.R. Boosts

There’s no such thing as bad publicity, right? Given all the press James Frey and his book A Million Little Pieces are getting these days, I’d have to agree with that statement. Despite all the criticism Frey is enduring, the book remains in the top 5 on Amazon. I also get a kick out of the fact that the Amazon title still includes “Oprah’s Book Club” in it – I wonder how hard she’s fighting to get that phrase removed!

Earlier today The Wall Street Journal weighed in on the topic with an article titled Publishers Say Fact-Checking Is Too Costly. They make a compelling case and state how the fact-checking burden should really fall on the author’s shoulders. One agent, Jeff Kleinman of Folio Literary Management said “publishers could add a clause to the author’s warranty section in their contracts, stating that to the best of the writer’s knowledge the facts in the book are true.” He then points out that if the author is found to egregiously misrepresent the facts, the author could be sued for breach of contract.

Makes sense…until you bring the lawyers into the equation. I’m sure I’m reading this wrong, but the article goes on to talk about an attorney who is representing a reader who is suing Random House because they “failed to conduct a reasonable investigation or inquiry regarding the truthfulness or accuracy of the material.” This lawyer says “he will seek more than $50 million in damages for the plaintiffs.” Note that “plaintiffs” is plural, so I hope that means he’s representing more than the one reader cited in the article.

My favorite quote in the article: This lawyer says, “Nobody can get away with profiting with a product that you represented as something that it is not.”  Well, nobody can profit…except for the lawyers apparently!  $50 million?!