I’m the digital associate at Epoch PR, until recently CMP Communications. It’s going great so far – we’ve won business together and they’re a lovely bunch of people with some brilliant ideas. But I didn’t realise how brilliant until I attended one of their Hothouse lunches recently.
Hothouse is the name they give to their programme of ideas. Programme of ideas? Dead right. Epoch’s take on PR is that they want to know what’s happening next as well as now. Sounds great, and I thought I may as well go along, especially as it might help me get over the exertions of the previous night’s Jackenhacks.
The ‘occasion’ was the 40th anniversary of the internet so we had people with unique, informed and extremely far-reaching views of what the internet was, what it is now, and what it could be in the future.
We had the editor of Wired UK, David Rowan. He introduced ten trends in ten minutes. Nice.
They ranged from the nature of Web 2.0 to, essentially, the nature of humanity. Take this: he talked about mapping thoughts digitally and the slightly worrying possibility of introducing viruses to that mapping and re-injecting them into people’s psyches. Sounds far-fetched? Latest word in cyberspace is that you actually can have people ‘reading’ each others’ thoughts across the interweb. It could be the first faltering steps in that direction. The thought-web. The web as thought. Good God.
We had Nico MacDonald of spy.co.uk. He talked about the importance of design in the future web, how we’ll expect to interact with it in much more intuitive ways than we currently do. For example, tactile response is important. We can already see rudiments of this with equipment such as the Nintendo Wii, and I guess his take tied in with David’s in that the ultimate interface would be, well, thought. Good grief.
Where they differed was in their view of Web 2.0. Nico’s take was that it’s purely marketing, and doesn’t really represent anything new. David’s was that there is a definite qualitative difference in Web 2.0.
I tend towards David’s view. If you want a tech definition, Web 2.0 is the application layer of the ISO model being transmitted over a network. In practice what this means is that whereas we once had networks that could just about send small amounts of data, we now have a worldwide network that is fast and reliable enough for us to share entire applications. We can run word processors and spreadsheets on other people’s machines – that’s what cloud computing is, at essence – and a by-product of this is that we can run applications that let us share stuff. That’s what social media is.
So you could think of the 2.0 in Web 2.0 as ‘two-way communication’. That’s how I explain it. In truth there’s probably some marketing in there too, as in ‘we’ve moved up a gear so give us more money’. But I do think Web 2.0 represents a change. There are many definitions of what Web 3.0 might be, and I think the best of those is that it’s mobile. Again, a definite, qualitative change. And here, the 3.0 could be ‘three dimensions’, as in, no matter where you are, you’re connected, with rich multimedia and sharing.
We also shared a table with Claire Fox. Now, I knew I recognised the name, and I sort of recognised… the voice. It wasn’t until I looked her up online afterwards that I knew why. She’s a regular on The Moral Maze on Radio 4 and made her name by laying into Michael Mansfield QC. Wow. As the director of the Institute of Ideas, she was certainly someone who brought something to the table, quite literally.
So the discussions were fascinating, and the food was great. I even managed a couple of glasses of wine after reconstituting from the Jackenhacks, on water and copious amounts of fresh air beforehand.
Why am I telling you this? To promote myself/Epoch/Hothouse? In part yes, but also because I think it’s very important to realise that what we see around us today holds the seeds of what might grow in future.
Futurology could be a load of old rowlocks – who could have predicted the rise and rise of texting, for example? I was shocked at my recent discovery that no one in PR talks about PR any more. And, on the flipside, we still don’t have jetpacks.
But it’s still worth thinking – and talking – about.
I’m no visionary but I do remember my sneaking suspicion that blogging would be important for PR about three years ago. RSS monitoring likewise. That’s why I now have blogging and monitoring as services complementing my copywriting, if you’re interested.
And for what it’s worth, I think the future of the web is going to be mobile and integration – that is, Web 3.0 will be about mobile connectivity integrating both human- and computer-generated information, so you can ‘talk’ to your IP-enabled car or call up augmented reality when getting lost in Vienna.
The ramifications for marketing communications? How about location-based advertising in your augmented reality? How about recommendations from corporate sponsors when you’re driving? If it’s done right, it’ll be unintrusive and will actually, genuinely help you.
When I was peering at Google Maps on my mobile phone’s tiny LCD screen in the rain when I went to Vienna last year, trying to figure out how to get back to my hotel, I could certainly have done with something that could just point me in the right direction and offer to find me a decent restaurant in the mix.
And given that I’m the kind of person who likes to go ‘wow’ a lot – at talking pianos, for instance – I’m certainly looking forward to future Hothouse lunches.
The only downside is that I can’t really give you a decent link on Epoch’s fancypants website for more details. This is something we all intend to remedy. One day you’ll be able to see what went on. And hear it. And, you never know – think it too.
PS And if you think this post is too verbose, you’re right. I’ve got to start cutting down…