The Online Book Project Starts Now

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A year ago, I wrote a long piece called "Listenomics" (registration required), about how open-source principles are already changing the economy and the society, and how the world of marketing is therefore being turned upside down. It was a sort of manifesto on consumer control, and it generated an enormous response.

Well, now comes "Listenomics: the Book," which I'll be writing right here, in this space, over the next 18 months. With your help, I hope.

The idea is to put it together, chapter by chapter, with ideas, criticism and corrections coming from all of you out in the Bobosphere. (You may think of it this way.) It's no wiki; I'm the sole author. And it will be owned lock, stock and hypertext by my employer, Crain Communications. But who cares? It's being produced in full public view for public view.

So let's get started. Here is a chapter outline, which will either absolutely predict or bear no resemblence to the final product:

1) Say it Ain't So, Status Quo: The context for epochal changes is a complete breakdown in the media-marketing model and the ascendance of the internet. All of this explained.

2) Sticky Wiki. A few nerds decided that big crowds can write better software than little committees. Linux was born. But now the open-source concept is spilling over to other disciplines. Very quickly.

3) Spot On. The same digital technology that lets consumers skip past TV commercials allows them to make their own. And they're doing it, intervening -- for better or worse -- in other people's business.

4) Your Product Sucks. You used to be able to drown out consumer skepticism with your own message, endlessly repeated. No more. Your customers are talking to whomever will listen, and a lot of prospects are listening very closely.

5) Word of Mouth: It has always been the most trusted consumer advice. Now that social networks are so connected, marketers are desperately trying to manipulate which words go in which mouths. A peek inside a burgeoning industry.

6) Go Fly a Kite. There's more to e-pinions than constant bitching. There is also the amassed creativity, insight and inspiration of the world. See how it is already being tapped by marketers who cede crucial decisions – from design on down -- to the customers themselves. We visit a kite-surfing company that manufacturers based on what its customers propose online.

7) Revenge of the Nodes. As Malcolm Gladwell reported in "The Tipping Point," social networks are built around loosely connected nodes, or hubs of influence. This can all be measured, mapped and acted upon by marketers – or politicians – interested in most efficiently changing minds.

8) The Algorithm Method. One way to pay attention is to listen to individual voices, mining for insight. Another is to make decisions based on the collective judgment of the crowd. That's how Google lists searches, according to who has linked, and how often to a given page. That notion can be expanded – for instance, to an online newspaper that constantly repaginates itself to reflect the preferences of those who have read the paper so far. That project is underway.

9) Mayberry RFID. Every shopping aisle in America will be a virtual community, in which a shopper can wave her handheld over a piece of merchandise and instantly find out – with the help of a wafer-thin RFID transponder in the package -- what her neighbors think of it. Walmart and Borders are using the technology right now. Is this little brother, doing errands for you, or Big Brother, tracking your every move?

10) The Unusual Suspects. Journalism is all about finding the right source for comment and insight on the subject at hand. Historically, however, reporters have tended to return again and again to the same proven sources, who have as a group coalesced into an elite class of influencers. But what if modern journalism fanned out wide, by asking whole communities what they think – and about what they think is underreported. In Minnesota, this is happening.

11) The China Syndrome: How info-fascism has turned on web communities in China, and how the same may happen here.

12) Aggregation Nation. It has always seemed like a chicken-and-egg proposition. When the mass-media model collapses, where will the content come from? Who will pay to create programming without the guaranteed payoff from ad-supported media? Answer: clever aggregators will gather meta data from the online universe and serve up what the public finds most engaging.

13) No One is Safe from Everyone: The compulsion to share won't end with products and politics. It will extend to interpersonal relationships -- in exciting and terrifying ways.
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