Steven Johnson, a best-selling writer and overall smart thinker on topics of science, culture and technology, kicked off the Mobile Enterprise Executive Summit (which went beautifully--check out page 16 for photos and a recap) with a discussion about the future. Johnson suggested that, going forward, enterprises would be wise to take a lesson from business models like that of YouTube. "YouTube started with three guys in a garage 18 months ago," he told the crowd. And in October, Google considered buying it for $1.6 billion.
YouTube's appeal is the massive, massive amount of information--videos--
it makes available. It's an amount that three guys in a garage couldn't have compiled in a million years--well, maybe in a million years--but give any interested person the ability to upload a video and what you get in under 18 months is the world's largest video database. The big idea here is that, today, the truly business-transforming information doesn't begin at headquarters and move out, it originates with every outside point of contact--every kid with a camera, every worker meeting with a customer--and moves in.
It's a fascinating concept (which Johnson explained far more eloquently than I'm doing here), and as we worked on this month's cover story I realized the same model was at work. The City of San Diego equipped its garbage trucks with a GPS technology that lets managers see where their trucks are, route them more efficiently and know each time the arm of the recycling bin collector goes up and down. The GPS receptor became the city's "man on the street," collecting information house by house, street by street, and bringing that information in. With its new data showing who was recycling and who wasn't, the city was able to send out targeted marketing materials encouraging the non-recyclers to join the program, and participation increased by 35 percent.
The masses matter in this business model; the input of everyone is the very thing that makes it work. Sounds like a pretty cool future.