Written by Mary Roddy

This is an “almost-live” blog of the presentation by Steve Hoover, CEO of the legendary PARC lab, on the Future of Communications at the concluding day of the Xerox Premier Partners Congress yesterday, day 2 of drupa. When speaking on this topic, Steve is known to quote PARC alumnus Alan Kay’s remark from the 1970s: “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” The quote is just as relevant today, as PARC celebrates its 10th anniversary as an independent, for-profit Xerox company conducting research for Xerox, other companies and governments.

Apparently, an accident on the autobahn has delayed the arrival of many drupa attendees, so the doors open about 10 minutes late. Techno music fills the hall as members of the Xerox Premier Partners Congress filter in. Looks like another full house (several hundred), and a very chatty one, I might add.

9:50: The lights just dimmed and the sound of rock music kicks in.  A video shows highlights from the first day of the congress, including the evening dinner party at the Classic Remise car museum. A big cheer goes up for scenes of last night’s dancing — not all of it pretty. We’ll be getting started in a moment

9:56: Steve takes the stage. He notes that we’re living in a time of many changes, socially, economically and technologically.  Today he’s going to take s a step back and look at why that’s happening and where things might go.

He encourages the audience members, as innovators, to find the business opportunities in these changes.

10:00: Steve’s going to cover five key trends.

The first is digital. The industry’s growth opportunities are in digital printing. Think of digital not only as the way print is made but way information is created and transformed.  It’s not only digital print — it’s digital communications

Here Steve calls up the famous Marshall McLuhan quote. “The medium is the message.” The quote is often mis-interpreted as something superficial, but it’s actually a profound thought. The media changes the way people think and what they want.

Steve says his daughter sends and receives between 700 and 1,000 texts per month on her mobile phone. But before she got the phone, she didn’t make 1,000 calls. That’s the point. Media changes how people behave and what people want.

10:02: Digital print does not merely replace print that was done in analog forms. It creates new forms of communications. Today print has a different role. It’s about the interaction between different types of media. For example, Google uses print to tell people how to better use online media.

We need to ask ourselves, are we in print business or communication business? Steve notes that many in the audience — industry leading members of the Premier Partners — think of it as a more encompassing communications business. Of the many forms of communications, the more you can do, the better off you’ll be.

10:04: Unfortunately an innovator’s job is never done. The next trends Steve is going to discuss are about how communications are changing.

  • First: social media. He’s showing a video showing social media statistics. Facebook would be nation’s third largest country.
  • A new member signs up for LinkedIn each second.
  • Lady Gaga has more followers than the population of Sweden.

In our generation (the older half of the population?), we don’t really understand how transformative this is. This is how those under 30 interact. For printers focused on how to help customers send targeted communications, this is more and more how people are communicating.

Steve notes that innovators experiment, and asks, “Are you experimenting with social advertising and social communities in your business?” There are tremendous opportunities here, and integrating print with social media is one of them. “This is what’s driving the future of communications over the next 3-8 years/”

10:10: Now Steve talks about research in these areas. Social networks are where word-of-mouth dominates. How do you identify the key influencers? If you can identify that individual by looking at their social network, then that’s a really powerful target. One PARC initiative is investigating that.

Another area of research is people’s online behaviors. With online games, people mimic their real life persona. PARC is doing research to analyze online game behavior to devise a person’s demographics with 94% accuracy.

10:12: Next trend: Mobile, “clearly a trend that is here.” For the first time more phones and ipads are sold than PCs. Today’s phone has the computing power of a laptop 10 years ago.

Mobile is about the always-on connection to other people and information sources.

10:14: QR codes are one way digital connects the physical and virtual world. Augmented Reality superimposes information from the virtual world onto the physical world.

PARC is working on wearable computers with Motorola. They are focusing on commercial applications, such as for paramedics to view information on an eyepiece in real time giving directions about what to do in different types of emergencies. Google also has research in this field.

10:16:

Mobile is the real the personal computer. Many computers were on desktops and were shared with family members. Mobile is truly personal and with us all the time. It’s how we interact with the world.

Steve discusses a restaurant recommendation application. It bases the recommendations on the individual’s context. Location is one. Personal history — who you are and what you interact with — can be others. “It’s intensely personal.”

10:18:

All of this means that the growth of Internet devises will continue to accelerate. More types of devices will get connected and be digital.  Smart tags on packages will record the temperature and vibration history.

Printed electronics is a very low cost way to make certain classes of electronics. So printing becomes one of the manufacturing processes to create digital information that in some cases displaces print.

Steve lets that irony hang in the air before moving on to the final trend.

10:19: That trend is gamificiation. Steve remarks that the event support staff asked him if that was actually a word. He assures us it is. He shows a video on gaming, which reports that by age 21 many children have spent 10,000 hours gaming. That’s the same amount of time they spend in school from grades 5-12 if they have perfect attendance. And it’s the number of hours of study some say are required by age 21 to become a virtuoso. We have an entire generation of virtuoso gamers. So what are they good at?

Steve notes that many people dismiss games as trivial, if haven’t grown up in it. But those who grew up in multi-user games learn important skills, such as how to put people together, and keep them motivated and engaged using virtual styles of interaction. They are learning how to lead, organize, strategize and create.

I can’ tell you how it will play out, but it will influence the future of communications and marketing.”

10:23: Steve’s closing thought: an innovators job is never done. It’s about disrupting your industry before others beat you to it.

10:24: In the Q&A, Steve fields one question: How would you take some of that thinking and apply to my business?

Steve encourages people to explore multi-media communications if they aren’t already. Print is only one of the ways customers are communicated to. Are you partnering with someone who can help you understand that world?

“Second I encourage you to experiment with social media for your own business. A bad reference will spread at 10 times the rate of a good one. Do you know what people are saying about you? Are you using to create networks of your own users?”

10: 27: No more questions. Steve leaves the stage to a round of applause.