When I started talking about the Four Pillars model (search, syndication, conversation and fulfilment) four or five years ago, I had some very specific views about syndication. And, as I see the new generation start entering the workforce, if anything those views have been reinforced.
Let’s take reports and enquiries. In this context, when I use the word “report”, I mean something paper-based, chundered out of a giant enterprise system. And when I use the word “enquiry” I mean something that is similarly yawned out, but online rather than on paper. Both these things come in two flavours, regular and ad-hoc. If you haven’t had to come across such things so far, count your lucky stars.
When I started working in the industry, listing paper grew on trees. And global warming was but a glint in Al Gore’s eye (he was 32!). I was surrounded by ream after ream of paper, green-lined and perforated, in a size I would have guessed as A3-ish. Your desk was dominated by large “trays” marked IN and OUT and, if you were important, maybe even one called URGENT. Sometimes you were even more important, you could decide to suspend work, you had a tray marked PENDING. When you “arrived”, became someone, you were probably given a tray marked FILING, with a person to do that job for you. This usually happened around the time you had the Ceremony of the Keys, when you were finally allowed to use the Executive Toilet. [That’s if you were male, of course.]
But I digress. IN trays. Reams of listing paper. I used to watch what happened to that listing paper with some bemusement. It arrived magically in on a desk in the morning, patiently gathering dust and meeting like-minded reams for a few days. Then, when the pile grew too high, it would get moved. To the floor alongside the desk, en route being junked.
I kid you not. Offices (we didn’t use words like “enterprise” in those days) were full of printed reports that seemed unstoppable, they had a life of their own. They’d get produced, hang around for a while and then get junked.
The advent of the PC and the AT bus changed all that, we stopped using terms like “console printer” and “dot matrix printer” and settled down to the good old laser printer. [I think inkjet and bubble came around the same time, but I was a laser man myself. You haven’t lived until you’ve changed a ribbon on a free-standing console printer.]
So much for the reports of yesteryear. When it came to enquiries it was more of the same, except that you didn’t have reams of paper. Instead you had a new problem. Or rather a new opportunity. You could spend your life figuring out how many ways there were to get the response “Invalid Code”. No more, no less.
Some people think that sticking decal-like things on your computer is a very cool Generation M thing to do. Not true. People were sticking things to the side of their 80×24 dumb terminals thirty years ago. But what they stuck was different indeed. They were lists of “valid codes”, usually scribbled on paper and sellotaped on to the side of the terminal.
You see them nowadays as well, often at cashtills.
What’s the point of all this? Where am I leading? It’s simple. Syndication in the past was a complete nightmare. if you asked for reports you got broadcast grapeshot that then became impossible to turn off. If you asked for enquiries you dealt with unforgiving deterministic forms. The upshot was the same: no personalisation, a firehose that won’t turn off, a deterministic rather than probabilistic process of enquiry, intolerant and not fit for purpose.
Why did I put up with it? I had no alternative. Worse than that, I hadn’t ever seen an alternative.
Well, today’s kids are different. Generation M is different. The generation entering the workforce is different. They are used to RSS, to feed readers, to Google, to iGoogle, to Netvibes, to Pipes, to relevance and ranking, to wild cards.
And they won’t put up with our trashy way of doing things.
Not even for money.
So next time you look at a humongous monolithic system using arcane meaningless codes and chundering out pages of tripe, start planning to replace it. That’s if you want to attract employees from the coming generations.
And by the way, do bear this in mind: Generation M has no border: India and China and Chile and Mexico and Russia also have kids who think the same way. You’re not going to be able to offshore this sucker for long.