How to keep a secret from the press?

My contribution to this month’s Wired UK: “How to keep a secret from the press?”. The wisdom comes from Valérie Gorin, a sociologist from the University of Geneva. Her advices: overshare to beat idle speculation, be way too boring for gossip, make it too big to be believable, trade privileges for silence.

Overshare to beat idle speculation
“What else can the media say about Lady Gaga when she constantly bombards the world with status updates and pictures?” asks Gorin. When you flood the market with information, its value tends to drop, and people stop speculating. “A good way to keep a secret is to bury it inside megabytes of data.”

Be way too boring for gossip
Have you ever wondered why nobody gossips about Clint Eastwood or Bono? The reason is pretty simple: “They live what appear to be very boring lives,” Gorin says. “Keeping their secrets is simple, because even their secrets, you think, can’t be that interesting.”

Make it too big to be believable
“When journalists find information, they often have no witness to back their claims. This principle can hold information for a while, but expect a wave of negative press once it breaks.” Dominique Strauss-Kahn is a good example: once he was accused of rape, disclosing his use of escorts was no longer risky.

Trade privileges for silence
“Politicians make it costly for journalists to cross certain lines, cutting the troublemakers from exclusives. François Mitterrand managed to hide the existence of his daughter for 20 years.” Presidential authority helped, but he likely obtained silence in exchange for privileges and small scoops.


Protecting the future from the past

Love this thought from Tim O’Reilly:

My friend the tech guru Tim O’Reilly has a great way to phrase the choice facing regulators, bureaucrats, and other policy makers in this situation: they can protect the future from the past, or protect the past from the future.


The ultimate form of crowd-sourcing: releasing an album as sheet music

There are musicians co-creating their songs with their public, those using youtube to assemble an orchestra, those asking their public to vote on what they should play. Then there is Beck, releasing a silent pop album that will only be made available as sheet music.

I really love the idea, this is quite gutsy and interesting, a sort of giant test of the power of crowdsourcing. Let’s see what can happen:

  • If I am a local band, I try to make a kickass video of one of the songs to get noticed
  • Youtube will be flooded with videos of the songs
  • All the followers of these musicians are reached, huge viral effect
  • The best videos (if the songs are good…) gather millions of hits
  • End result: millions of people hear the music
  • And when Beck gets on tour, he will sell more tickets.

Easy isn’t it? Here is an artist that completely moved beyond the CD. Fascinating.

I don’t like good ideas, in fact I hate good ideas

The amazing Tomas Espedal I met last week at Alexandre and Birgitta Ralston Bau (of tranplant fame) wedding, reading his book on walking, I really like the introduction and the praise for bad ideas:

My friend told me it would be a good idea to write a book about walking. My publisher said, it’s a good idea, it will be a bestseller, if it’s good you will be rich.
So I was often told it was a good idea. But I said ‘I don’t like good ideas’, in fact I hate good ideas. Good ideas are for people working in commercial or design or banks, good ideas never make good books.
The years went by, and after 6 or 7 years when the idea was bad, I decided to write it.
It took me two months, it became a best seller, I earned a lot of money. And I stopped walking. Today I only take taxis, aeroplanes and boats…/blockquote>

In Syria, “when the government arrests a dissident, the first thing they ask for is a username and password to social networks”

Governments are late to adopting innovation, but in a fast moving world social networks are now an old technology… So I was not surprised to read the following in a Le Monde article today:

Today, this part of the conflict [online information] has become so critical that ‘when the government stops a dissident, the first thing they ask is for a username and password to social networks,” said Francois-Bernard Huyghe, Director of research at the Institute of International and Strategic Relations (IRIS) and head of the Observatory geostrategic information. For him, the Baath Party, used to psychologically wearing conflicts, is genetically structured for this type of information warfare. But the latter can not be decisive by itself. On the field, the impact of a cyber-opposition remain at zero or nearly so. For François-Bernard Huyghe, if the rebels have the advantage in this cyber-war, if they generate greater sympathy from the international opinion, this is largely symbolic. “If it was enough to protest on the Internet, the Saudis and Bahrainis would have toppled their regime long ago. However, repression won out,” he says.

Link (via Google translate, original french version here)

Actually this is a bit contradictory: on one hand, online protests are not enough to overturn governments. On the other, the fact Syrian authorities are asking for passwords say they are afraid of something. What is the real power of millions of horrified people, watching the actions of a tyrannical regime armed with only the like button of Facebook, blog posts, and tweets?

Maybe one day the internet will give us greater power. If democracy gets more direct, perhaps citizens could vote on NATO’s priority, and make the decision to intervene? Perhaps one day there could even be kickstarter-like projects to fund a righteous war? Sounds crazy, but there has to be a better way for citizens to make their presences felt. Nobody is satisfied with being a helpless and over-informed witness.

25% of chance civilization will be lost in 2020

The good news: civilization goes beyond 2012! You won’t escape the christmas gifts craze this year, the mayans were wrong 😉

The bad news: according to the most pessimistic scenarios outlined in The Futurist and based on “pooling the empirical trend data and the knowledge of more than 100 experts”, the world has a 25% chance to “decline to disaster”.

From 2015 through 2020, a doubling of global GDP will cause the Global MegaCrisis to become intolerable, with the planet teetering on environmental collapse. Here are TechCast’s four scenarios:
• Decline to Disaster (25% probability): World fails to react, resulting in catastrophic natural and economic calamities. Possible loss of civilization.
• Muddling Down (35% probability): World reacts only partially, so ecological damage, increased poverty and conflict create major declines in life.
• Muddling Up (25% probability): World reacts in time out of need and high-tech capabilities; widespread disaster averted, although many problems remain.
• Rise to Maturity (15% probability): World transitions to a responsible global order.


Reminds me of a talk by The rational optimist author Matt Ridley in which he was explaining that, as far as he could remember, the end of the world was constantly predicted to happen in the next 20 years. And it never happened. Inhabitants of the 50s were afraid of the nuclear winter, those of the 70s of a global war between the US and USSR, in the 2000s there was the famous bug. Now it’s global warming and the mayan calendar. Perhaps this constant fear of the future is a positive social mechanism that motivates innovators and entrepreneurs to get to work and change the status quo. Perhaps it’s a crowd control tool? What do you think?

One day, current homes will “resemble caves”

Here are the “technology trajectories” that will change our homes in the near future, according to an article in The Futurist.

1.    Adaptive environments. For example,having ‘smart surfaces’ within the home that adapt to various uses to which they are subjected.
2.    Cloud intelligence. The ability to tap into information, analysis and contextual advice in more integrated ways.
3.    Collaboration economy. The outworking of ‘collective intelligence’ that enables us to accomplish tasks not easily handled by virtual agents and machines in the cloud. In other words it will mean accessing advice and recommendations by tapping into the social graph.
4.    Contextual reality. We will navigate through our daily activities thanks to multiple layers of real-time and location-specific information.
5.    Cutting the cable. Untethering personal devices from wired power and data connections. Access to the Internet will be ubiquitous. How welcome would this advance be for those of us constantly looking for misplaced adaptors and power cables!
6.    Information fusion. The ability to generate useful personal information by fusing available data. This personal data will become comprehensible through visualization and other services.
7.    Interface anywhere, any way. Freedom from conventional input devices such as keyboards, remotes, mouse, screen etc…
8.    Manufacturing 3.0. Manufacturing will be reconceived – from a far-flung, global activity to more of a human scale and re-localized endeavour.
9.    Personal analytics.  This information will become a consumer tool as much as a business tool. We’ll collect, store, interpret and apply vast amounts of personal data being created by and about ourselves during our everyday activities.
10.    Socially networked stuff. Many of our possessions will interact with each other and with the broader digital infrastructure.


US newspapers: 50y ago revenues were basically the same as today

While exploring Michael Degusta’s The Undestatement, found this image that is worth a thousand articles on the newspaper business transformation.

What strikes me:
• The revenue of online advertising is unchanged since 2003. Seven years of looking for a business model in an industry that moves at light speed. Terrible! How come nobody is cracking the code of on screen ads? What are you doing media entrepreneurs?
• If only the media had invested in online classified back in the nineties, they would be the ones pocketing the money that goes to craigslist and company.
• “Half a century ago revenues were basically the same as today, despite the country being just over half the size.” Ouch.

Social technologies demand a cultural transformation

One final post on the Unlocking value and productivity through social technologies report by the McKinsey Global Institute. This one will be very useful for anyone engaged in deploying social technologies – internal or external – in a corporate context.

First, MGI summarizes the different ways social technologies can add value across enterprises. Co-creation, analytics, marketing, sales, CRM, you find it all in one slide:

Then there is the cultural aspect that every social intrapreneur will face in a large company. If the above graph represents the “possibilities”, the one below shows the “hurdles”.

Report homepage | Executive summary | Full report