For the last four months or so, I've been busy on a collective project called the $300 House. While I still spend my time working on my day job and traveling, I find this project fascinating. The key challenge is this: how do we bring individuals, companies, NGOs and governments to build and deploy a $300 House village for the poor?

The answer, to me at least, is to build an ecosystem of smart folks, and let the Power of Pull do the work for me.  So far, it seems to be working. We've put together an informal group of advisors, signed up almost 500 interested individuals from all over the world, and formed a small online group to see where this goes.

The first step was to create as much noise as possible to attract the attention of the right people.  When VG, my partner in crime, took our blog post to the Harvard Business Review, the response was overwhelming.

We ended up bringing together a series of blog-posts on the challenges posed by the $300 House, thanks to the extraordinary support from the editors at HBR (Scott Berinato even joined our group as an advisor!):

We then got some visibility in the Economist when they chose VG's 2011 Agenda as a leading thought.

Now we're starting phase two - D E S I G N.

Stay tuned!
 
I'm posting this because Forrester, the analyst firm which advises so many companies on how they should manage their web presence, just destroyed their online ecosystem. History has a way of repeating itself, because we don't learn from our mistakes. In terms of online brand presence, we are often our worst competitor.

Here's the same mistake, made by another famous institution.

Back in middle of 2009, the folks at Harvard Business Review moved to a new online home. They left the shelter of the business school and established a site of their own. They switched domains from hbswk.hbs.edu to harvardbusiness.org.  

Good idea, bad execution. 

Why? Because when they moved, they switched the old site off.

At the time, I created two charts - a before and an after - to see the extent of the damage they had caused to themselves:

BEFORE:

eco_hbr_before.gif

AFTER:

eco_hbr_after.gif

Overnight, they went from being the center of the thought-leadership universe (BusinessWeek, The Economist, Knowledge@Wharton, The McKinsey Quarterly, and Strategy + Business were all satellites in the old ecosystem) to a stand-alone with no connections.  They lost 80-90% of their traffic, and more importantly, they lost their preeminent position in Google and Yahoo.

Luckily, being Harvard Business Review, they recovered.  But they lost important ground to their competitors. Knowledge@Wharton has far outpaced them online.

And now Forrester makes the same mistake.

Last night’s “disaster” for the Democrats should have been easy to predict without any polling at all.

A simple look at the Alexa numbers tells the story:

Scott Brown: 72,289
Martha Coakley: 255,865

The difference? About 100,000 votes.


Now let’s look at social media.

Twitter >> 

@ScottBrownMA 16187 followers, 728 lists, 732 tweets

@MarthaCoakley 4347 followers, 355 lists, 599 tweets

Facebook >>

Brown 128,950 fans

Coakley 18,588 fans


And when I look at the online ecosystem, it’s dominated by Brown:

ecosys_MA_sen2010_small.gif


So is online engagement everything? 

Maybe not, but this has to be a wake up call for the snoozing Dems.

The Republicans have learned their lesson after Obama, and won’t cede the online space again.

Who is Co2isgreen.org?

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I have been rather quiet on this blog for several reasons, chief among them a series of projects which required my full time attention.  But now it's time to break my blog-silence. 

The catalyst? CO2isgreen.org - a group whose central premise is basically: "human beings breathe out carbon dioxide, so it must be good to produce even more of it!"

Disgusted by what I saw, I decided to run a quick analysis on CO2isgreen.org and their sister site PlantsneedCO2.org.  The "right-wing conspiracy" appeared instantly:

ecosys_co2igreen.gif

[click to enlarge]

The Nation
digs into the story here, even as the Billings Gazette and Cody Enterprise spew out misinformation.

The online ecosystem includes the following cast of characters and sites, led by one H. Leighton Steward (who almost seems like a decent guy if you read his bio).  The network includes the Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) and reality-denying sites like worldclimatereport.com, climate-skeptic.org, Inhofe's blog (we're paying for it), icecap.us, globalwarminghoax.com, the American Petroleum Institute, the National Association of Manufacturers, the US Chamber of Commerce, the Science and Public Policy Institute, FOX News, Michelle Malkin, humanevents.com, and all the usual attack dogs of the corporate-run media.

What's even more interesting is that this week, a group of large corporations -- including New Mexico utility PNM Resources, California utility PG&E, power generator Exelon and Nike -- denounced the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's opposition to climate legislation.

More on this particular circus here, and if you want to make a difference >>

BTW, this technique of business-funded propaganda is not new. And it does claim real casualties...
I promised my readers on ChristianSarkar.com that I'd dig into the October HBR article on shaping strategy by JH3 and JSB.

What is a shaping strategy?


A shaping strategy is "an effort to broadly redefine the terms of competition for a market sector through a positive,galvanizing message that promises benefits to all who adopt the new terms."

Think Apple's iTunes, Salesforce.com's AppExchange, or IBM's role in eclipse.org.

A "shaping" company builds a platform for others to engage in the co-creation of value.

The shaping company builds a critical mass of participants in its ecosystem and becomes the platform of choice in its industry.

shapingstrategy.gif
In essence, the "shaper" is the critical hub in building out the dominant ecosystem. 

In our work, we sometimes find multiple "shapers" in an industry, all trying to build critical mass with their ecosystem partners. When this happens, it is often the consumer who decides which  platform or ecosystem will prevail.

Download the article here >>

The traditional meaning of the term "business ecosystem" was developed in "Strategy as Ecology" an insightful article by Marco Iansiti and Roy Levien (March 2004, Harvard Business Review). In it, they defined business ecosystems as the "loose networks- of suppliers, distributors, outsourcing firms, makers of related products and services, technology providers, and a host of other organizations."

Let's define an online ecosystem as the network of sites which create a neighborhood around an industry, website, brand, product, people, or topic - it includes all your stakeholders and more - partners, suppliers, competitors, customers, analysts, commentators, journalists, bloggers, prospects, and citizens.

Whether you like it or not, your company's website sits in a neighborhood, surrounded by other sites which make up your online ecosystem.

In effect, this is your digital footprint.
Companies with large active ecosystems have large footprints. Companies with weak ecosystems, understandably, don't. Of course, the idea is to position your company in the right place - so that it will be found by your customers - past, present, and future.


How are you going to do that?  By becoming a hub in your industry's ecosystem.  And how are you going to do that?  Stay tuned.
What can companies learn from SAP's efforts to build a scalable ecosystem at the edge of its enterprise?

- Effective ecosystems generate differentiation and specialization

- Ecosystems evolve over time, but the orchestrator plays a key role in seeding and feeding participant initiatives

- Robust ecosystems are helpful to individuals, not just institutions

- Robust ecosystems require mobilizing large numbers of specialized third parties, not just the vendor and its customers

- Ecosystems at the edge bleed into the core of the enterprise

- Ecosystems are not just about connecting to existing resources--they help provide platforms for distributed innovation and learning

More here from John Hagel and John Seely Brown >>

There are many ways to understand online ecosystems.  The simplest way to think about them is to think of a virtual neighborhood, with virtual traffic driving up and down the streets, stopping at virtual stores and virtual houses to find something of value or interest.  If we could map this neighborhood, and the traffic patterns, you'd have a map of the online ecosystem.

In one sense it is a map of the attention paid to ecosystem participants - a visual representation of the attention economy in real-time.

That said, there are various ways to classify an online ecosystem. In our work, we find the following types of ecosystems.

Industry Ecosystems
The ecosystem map(s) of a specific industry showing the relative rankings of the industry leaders and their relationships to one another and their value-chain participants. We are able to identify weakness and strengths in the strategies of the companies identified in our maps as they are reflected in their online positioning.

Brand Ecosystems
The ecosystem map(s) of a specific brand and its online positioning against its competitors. We measure the daily ups and downs in brand vitality and plot trends over time.

Advertising Ecosystems
The ecosystem map(s) of the marketspace most related to a specific advertising campaign. A good ecosystem map will help you identify the optimal points of entry for a campaign based on relevance, reach, and effectiveness. This will stop wasting your advertising spend because now you can actually see which sites are true hubs and stop spending money on sites which don't perform.

Process Ecosystems
The ecosystem map(s) of a value-chain in your industry - either yours or your competitors. We can reveal the nature of competition in product design networks, supply chains, and distribution networks. A critical component in competitor analysis, our process ecosystem maps can also be used to identify opportunities for partnerships and alliances with the right set of vendors.

Practice Ecosystems
The ecosystem map(s) of collaborators and idea generators in a given marketspace. These include companies, organizations, collaboratives, and often individuals -- the thought-leaders who drive emerging practices in our rapidly changing world.

News & Media Ecosystems
The ecosystem map(s) of how news and ideas are disseminated in specific areas - from sports to politics to business. We can show you the news and buzz in your industry or topic.

Visualizing the news/media ecosystem is a critical intelligence gathering tool for PR and news executives and journalists as well. Observe how a "PR" campaign is propagated through the web. Identify sites bashing your client. Determine if the sites are worth worrying about or not.

Competitor Ecosystems
The ecosystem map(s) of your competitors and their partners. Find out their strengths and weaknesses and take advantage of this knowledge. You can actually build a firewall to protect you from the competition.

Customer Ecosystems
The ecosystem map(s) of your most important customers and prospects. A critical component for B2B strategy and tactics. By understanding your customers' ecosystems you'll be in a position to hold your own.

Demographic Ecosystems
The ecosystem map(s) for your targeted consumer demographics, from the boomers to kids, from tech-nerds to bankers, and most importantly, the women's marketspace. Catch the right fish.

Product Ecosystems
The ecosystem map(s) for your new product. You may spot critical weaknesses in your strategy before you burn your "launch-money."

Political Ecosystems
The ecosystem map(s) of our political machinery - Democrats, Republicans, and special interest groups. Blogosphere included.

Innovation Ecosystems
A way to look at the edge of your industry to keep track of the innovators and disruptors.  Also a great way to identify latent needs of customers (Kano model, etc.)

Social Ecosystems
Ecosystems which may not always deliver tangible business value, but they serve an important function:  building relationships and communities of like-minded or purpose-driven  participants.

We're still coming up with ways to define online ecosystems. Got any suggestions?

Virtually all executives now buy into the wisdom of Bill Joy's observation that "there are always more smart people outside your company than within." Almost everyone pay lip service to the idea of open-innovation -- that coming up with new value in the marketplace often depends upon connecting effectively with other companies and individuals.


For the past eight years, I have been studying online ecosystems, learning to discern patterns of traffic, relationships between sites, and the relative positioning of competitors in a crowded (or not so crowded) marketspace.

In this blog I look forward to sharing my insights and discoveries as we learn about different types of online ecosystems.  Join me as we discover, analyze, measure, and  learn to leverage online ecosystems
 

Feel free to contact me >>