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Why Connections (not Things) Will Change the World

Much has been made of the “Internet of Things” and a growing array of “smart” things that will soon change nearly every aspect of our lives — from Google’s driverless car and iRobot’s Ava 500 video collaboration robot to “smart” pill bottles that will automatically renew a prescription and remind you when to take it.

While we often think that it’s all about the things, it’s not actually the “things” that create the value, it’s the connections among people, process, data, and things — or the Internet of Everything—that creates value.

You can see the power of connections by adding a sensor and an Internet connection to any “dumb” thing. Consider, for example, your front door lock. It has no “intelligence” of its own — it’s simply a mechanical device that allows you to open and close the front door of your house. But if you add a sensor with a connection to the cloud, that “dumb” device can take an image of your face, send it to the cloud for analysis, and determine whether or not to let you into the house, based on facial-recognition technology. The lock itself doesn’t have the intelligence or compute power to make this decision, but the cloud does. It’s the connection that makes this “dumb” thing “intelligent.”

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Internet of Everything: Harnessing an Exponentially More Powerful Internet #IoE [Infographic]

As we begin the Internet of Everything (IoE) era, more attention is being focused on Metcalfe’s law—a.k.a., the “network effect”—to see if the same rules will apply.  Metcalfe’s law states that the value of a network increases proportionately to the square of the number of users. Simply put, networks become exponentially more valuable as the number of users increases.

Recently, Nir Eyal and Sangeet Paul Choudary wrote in TechCrunch about the fading power of the network effect. In their view, it is “stored value” (creative content, reputation, usage data, and influence) produced by users that reinforces the power of the network effect, enabling businesses to retain customers and grow market share.

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Network Effects Video Documentary – Transmedia Storytelling

Over the past year we’ve been (quietly) working on a video documentary that has nothing to do with Cisco products, solutions, launches or events. Our goal was to use storytelling and video imagery to showcase the amazing impact that the telecom network is having on the socio-economic status of communities around the world. Through the work of local service providers, community leaders, and dedicated volunteers the changes are phenomenal to witness.

We enlisted the help of Dr. Steven Shepard of USC’s Institute for Communications Technology Management program to narrate the videos. Dr. Shepard shared some wisdom from his 25 years of experience as  a veteran of the telecommunications industry, networking and education. He traveled with us and interviewed telecom executives from various businesses, as well as many interesting characters he happened upon during the journey. Six videos were created for the series.

  1. Network Effect
  2. Pioneers of the Network
  3. A Network Built for Mom
  4. Reaching the Unreachable
  5. Phone Company In a Box
  6. Looking Forward

We invite you to watch this documentary during its television broadcast debut exclusively on ShortsTV.  (This channel is currently only available to subscribers of AT&T U-verse and DirectTV.) Once the promotion is completed (at the end of July), the documentary will be available on YouTube. As a sneak peak, here is one of the episodes.

A Catalyst for Social Change

The stories told are great examples of an aspect of social media that is often missing – social impact, changing lives, empowering people to be their best. These stories go beyond individual products, or solutions but dive into the power of being connected. A stone mason whose neighbors skip meals one day a week to pay for a satellite dish to promote his business. Delivering reading lessons via SMS to teach young women to read thereby enabling them to get better jobs. Thousands of micro-businesses increased sales over 30 percent while reducing costs because of access to telephony services housed in shipping containers. Hearing the impact and creativeness of those who use the telecom network is what drove our mission.

As these videos evolved we used our Connected Life Exchange (CLE) blog to promote the series.  We started CLE  for the purpose of experimenting with the then new transmedia multi-platform storytelling approach to communication. In March, CLE was selected as the runner-up finalist for Best Corporate Blog by B2B magazine.

Clearly this type of multimedia storytelling, editorial essays, and the ability to make human connections, without a self-promotional agenda, is the best example of authentic social marketing in action.  BtoB Magazine remarked:

“The whole package is refreshingly non-promotional and often fascinating. Cisco continues to innovate in the suddenly red-hot field of content marketing with an approach to thought leadership that emphasizes actual thinking”

What examples of inspirational story telling have you seen? Do you think a more subtle approach is better at reaching your target audience? When is it best used, and why?

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Developing Commerce in Africa: Phone Company in a Box

I never thought of paint as being an important part of the engine of commerce.

That is, until I met Ueli Frei, who heads FUNDES International, an NGO that fosters economic growth among micro-businesses in Latin America. His team helped a group of independent “mom and pop” drug stores band together and operate, in many ways, as a single retailer.

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