Strategic foresight is beneficial to every organization and every complex problem, including Kinja. Anyone that has worked on Gawker Media’s platform knows that is is a complex system, and that building it to its greatest peak will require us to solve some rather complex problems - both in terms of product direction and code complexity. Practicing foresight and thinking longer-term than today’s impact will help us to create a product that will be truly impactful.
We can compare ourselves to existing competitors, like Medium and Tumblr, but in all likelihood these will not be what our product is competing with in 10 years. In fact, we have even acknowledged that there is not an organization that entirely encompasses what we want to achieve. Our true competitor does not even exist today and we know it. If we want a product that will not only serve a purpose now but will grow to fit the needs of people 10 years from now, we need to consider what will exist. Sure, we need to “catch up” with our known competitors regarding some specific features, but this is less about those competitors and more about implementing needs we would have been aware of anyway.
To do this, we need to identify the trends and patterns related to our mission. In my own thinking of this, those patterns have come down to:
(1) Crowd-sourcing / collaboration / socialization of everything
As with many other sectors, the news will become increasingly depending on gathering information from every person possible, especially those who have firsthand accounts of an event or those who are experts in the topic being discussion. How can we highlight and maximize this in our system?
(2) The “foxification” of news
As communities are becoming more and more insulated, how can we break that barrier down and encourage communication between different perspectives in a meaningful and constructive way?
(3) Generations X (Millennials) and Z (“Cybrids”) want bits of information, but access to more depth*
Younger generations are putting a higher value on media-rich and minimally worded information, wanting to scan as wide a range as possible to absorb more diverse sets of information quicker. How can we provide tools for this while also providing access to further detail for any given information bit?
*I have a very strong personal opinion that younger generations do still want long-form information, even though they want small bits of information more frequently. A Millennial or Cybrid wants to be able to scan a vast range of information quickly to gather as much information as possible, but then wants to be able to delve deeper into the parts that they are personally interested in. I believe many organizations mistake the behavior of these generations for short attention span when really it is a different means of efficiency.
(4) Symbiosis of humanity and technology
Devices and algorithms are becoming part of our daily lives and even our bodies, blurring the line between our physical and virtual realities. If the news will be following us more than we follow it (given our increasing immediate connectivity), how can we optimize our product to seamlessly integrate with a person’s daily life?
(5) Increased empathy leads to breakthroughs
If we look at how each technological developments have significantly increased the potential for empathy upon someone viewing content, we know that a breakthrough of this nature will happen again sometime soon, probably with the development of VR/AR or holograms. How can we best prepare our product to allow users to convey their content with as much emotional impact as possible and allow them to experience the content in the most realistic way possible?
While some of these patterns may feel too far off or too far fetched to pay mind to now, considering them and allowing those thoughts to shape our decisions today will mean that we are better prepared for it when it happens. Points 1-3 can actually be addressed directly now, even if only minimally, and points 4-5 will be impacting us sooner than we think. Practicing foresight once right now will not be the end-all-be-all, but if we manage to work this into our daily efforts and periodically reevaluate important trends and patterns, our efforts will prove more successful in the long term.
In user research I have led this year for the GMG Tech team, my favorite quote was that if Kinja were built out into its perfect final form, “it would be the perfect rabbit hole” for discovery and discussion. Gawker Media as a whole has the makings of a product that could match each one of our future news needs. Users often come to Kinja for the comments, to hear what other “normals” are saying, or to see Neil deGrasse Tyson jumping into a post to explain a “screwed up Tweet” he posted or to discuss NASCAR physics with the Jalopnik community. While the majority of the Kinja community is quite liberal, it does allow for any person to jump into a conversation and discuss their point of view - we just need to encourage that more. We excel at publishing pieces with real depth, which is not a dying art even if it is sought out in a different way by younger generations. Our writers are not afraid to push boundaries and speak with real human biases, they present the truth in its most honest form. All of these points mean that we have the foundation of an outlet for emotionally impactful news, if we can supply the right information in the right ways, we will already have won half the battle when more empathy-inducing technologies become our medium of communication.
The future will unfold before us and there is nothing that we can do to predict with total accuracy what it will be and how we will stand. What we can do now is act for a future that we want to see. So really, the most important question we can ask ourselves is:
....and how will you get there?