Thursday, January 26, 2006

Context is King

Yesterday I had a conversation with Caleb Clauset, Senior Systems Engineer at Typefi Systems.

He brought up a concept that points to a possible value of the GME idea in thinking about real world business and social problems. Among many other things, Caleb's background includes training as an artist and communication designer.

I don't think that's an accident.

His notion, with which I strongly agree, is that in web 1.0 the mantra was the "content was king". But in web 2.0 the more appropriate mantra is that "context is king".

Because of IAI, information is fast becoming a commodity. The inclusion of massive armies of content creators and the opening of searchable databases presents a clear and present threat to any business or public model based on the protection of content creation as it's core value.

Also because of IAI, the context in which that information is presented to human beings becomes the new source of value creation. And in the GME, only true value creation can be sustainably monetized.

Business, health, education and government have been limited by old technologies as they worked to harness the power of context to augment meaning. Business leaders are masters of using the available tech. Starbucks is my present favorite for understanding the importance of "context". Google, of course, is the present master on the web, with Amazon close behind. WalMart, Costco, Staples, Apple, Trader Joe's and the corner coffee shop on my block, all get it and are doing very well.

The words they use are usually "brand", or "focusing on the customer experience" or "keeping the customer happy" any of a number of other 20th century words that all are trying to encapsulate the same phenomenon.

Now GME has created an environment in which new sets of accessible communication technologies appear every day. It has also made the successful use of those tools more than a "nice to have". Now it's become a matter of growth and perhaps even survival.

Professionally trained and talented communication designers, no matter what their medium of choice, have a long, well defined practice of putting "context" at the center of their solutions. If the problem is communicating, the best design solution has always been the artifact that communicates most elegantly and efficiently. The best book designers, advertising designers, and others have always found the ways to leverage the power of the viewer's context to maximize the effectiveness of the artifact they produce.

There is a lot more to say about applying this notion to problems in education, health, government and business, but that will keep for another day.

At this point, I only want to suggest the GME might be a useful construct to visualize the big picture economic context. It's another way to describe the phenomenon that has been called globalization, The problem with "globalization" is that it has been so laden with pro and con, that it's losing it's usefulness as an analytic concept. Perhaps GME will lead to more productive results.

So... GME is a shorthand for the big picture economic context. But contrary to what some might believe, the economic context, while very important, is not the really important part of the story. The last mile of communication happens in the real world, not the world of capital flows, balance of payments and ROI.

In the real world, people live in the contexts of their communities, their jobs, their families and – most importantly in the developed areas of the world – the context of their personal time.

To add another level of complexity, human beings move through time and space within overlapping groups - most often groups of 10, 30 or 150. It's those groups that are true carriers of culture.

The literature of communication research indicates that meaning is created from artifacts by the human interaction in these groups.

In the real world of human communities, ignoring the implications of GME leads to bad policy decisions in the public sector. In the world of business - either small, regional, national or global, ignoring the implications of GME leads to wasted marketing dollars and the inability to imagine the new sustainable business models. Denial of the new realities also makes it almost impossible to innovate and to leverage the value of emerging innovations.

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