Rubber Hits Road

The past two months I’ve been cruising along, working with my usual mix of entrepreneurs, investors, corporates, and academics right at that corner of new technology and real life. There is of course the intersection of cool tech and the movies which we visit on occasion, but mostly we are in the business of applying rapidly changing technology.

In the real world, AI, AR, VR, Blockchain, etc, are changing fast; faster than much of it can be productized and commercialized. There are a head spinning number of potential applications and developing usable products is of course the first step and then it must be injected into the way we do business.  Integration is a minefield of challenges.  And before that can all happen, more changes appear.

The past week I came across some interesting connections involving Generation Z and the news business.

Recently, I’ve met a few startup teams, focused on products for Generation Z, those born between the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s. What radically struck me is this, they say  Gen Z is weary of technology and yearning for human contact. Of course they use their devices, computers, ipads, even smartphones (the average age  of attainment in the United States is 10 years old, at least according to this), but they also want in equal measure human connection.   This idea of injecting more humanity into tech is impacting  the nature of the tech being created to serve them.  One of the most interesting companies is Blue Fevr. So, hold that thought.

The news business, like many industries, is trying like crazy to define a sustainable business model.  It’s no secret, a free press is critical to a functioning democracy and our free press is struggling.  It costs “real” money to cover and report local, state, national and international news; and do it well.  The news business like many industries was slow to realize the import of radically changing technology in the 80’s and 90’s, to get in on that change early.  That resistance exists today for many reasons even in the face of real consequences (there are somewhere around 1000 less newspapers in the United States today than there were in 1980 and broadcast news audiences of simultaneously been shrinking).

News is about what people do, when they do it, how they do it and why they do it individually, collectively or grouped together in cities, states, organizations, corporations, firms, or businesses–it’s not going away.  But professional journalism is in trouble, perhaps it’s not too strong to say in jeopardy over the long term .  There is a tremendous amount of experimenting going on by and among corporate, public, and independent news entities which is encouraging.

Two startups I’ve also come across are NewsPicks and Purple.  Both of them are injecting a different kind of connectivity and human interaction.  Purple’s added value is the relationship between a journalist and her followers, a person not a bot.   NewsPicks for which I am a ProPicker in full disclosure, provides a commentary feature and allows for upvotes. Those features together encourage thoughtful engagement in an highly curated environment of premium content and a diverse group of professionals. Purple has apparently proven there is a market by racking up subscribers we will see where that goes.

Five years ago we talked a lot about algorithms, and they have found a place in headlines, article placements and other ways.  They will stay too.  But looking forward I find the interesting inflection point is how do we inject more humanity in our news products? How do we develop and discover the features audiences will decide they must have and will pay for?

 

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