What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos

1

Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers

2

Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge

3

Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more
Close
With rendition switcher

Transcript

Question: What does a Director of Insights do?

Steve Rubel: So, my job as Director of Insights is to ensure to be insightful.  It’s to really study first and foremost technology, understand kind of where the technology trends are going and begin to directionally make sense of that. 

Second, is to think about how consumers are going to interact with technology and finally is to think about how this is all going to impact our clients in a year, 3 years, 5 years time. 

And then what I do after that is basically I’ve kind of, you know, studied trends which I do through a number of different ways.  I process all that and I serve as an adviser to first our teams, second to some of our key clients as kind of a consultant on digital trends and then finally I have a big external role like this interview for example that helps me build the Edelman Digital brand around the world.

Question: How do you follow technology trends?

Steve Rubel: First of all, I know I’m going to be wrong a lot, I mean, and I think I allow myself to be wrong and so but first thing I do is I’m a tremendous avid reader. I mean I read huge amounts of information on this topic.  I subscribe to thousands of blogs. I read Twitter streams. I read research reports. I read books. I’m constantly reading on the subject.

Second thing I do is I talk to our clients which are some of the biggest marketers in the world, to kind of understand what their pinpoints are and what they’re thinking and what they’re feeling and what they worry about and then, and then beyond that I just talk to a lot of folks. I go to conferences. I go out and meet with technology vendors and through all that, I’m able to process where things are going.

Question: What trend are you currently following?

Steve Rubel: One of the more pivotal trends I’m watching I think is what we call the media reforestation which is, you know, which is I think Big Think is definitely part of and I say that in a good way. 

The whole notion that, you know, media over the last 5-6 years has been completely democratized as you are, as your studio here and your crew is proving and with that I think that finally that coupled with the recession and a number of other trends is beginning to erode, you know, big media companies and a big part of that is the transition from atoms to bits. So, I think that all media is going to be digital or in digital format or tangible forms of media will either be in decline or gone I think in five years and that includes everything from books to DVDs to newspapers. I mean they will still be around I think some of them, but I think they’ll be in decline in five years. 

And so, at the same time there’s huge opportunities for, you know, entrepreneurs like yourself or companies to become media brands in themselves or individuals to become media brands and I think there’s going to just be, that’s you know, the economy that is built on top of the media ecosystem is huge.

I think about the advertising agencies in that entire complex, you know, you think about the PR industry. It’s a huge industry around media and not just the people who employed in the media business and obviously as they begin to go through changes so will all these industries.

Question: What is the future of print media?

Steve Rubel: You’ve got to look at the statistics and the trend lines. You know, when you look at the statistics from Amazon. When there’s a Kindle, when the book is available in both Kindle format, Amazon Kindle format and print format, 35 percent of the time Amazon sells the Kindle format. 

That’s a big number. I mean that’s the biggest, one of the biggest book retailers in the world and 35 percent of the books that they sell in Kindle format which is a huge number, I mean, it’s like you know, hundreds of thousands of titles is in Kindle format and they’re just getting going.

So, I mean, that’s a that’s a 2.0 device.  Imagine when it’s a 5.0 device or imagine when the iPhone is you know, which now is a 2.0 device, imagine when that’s you know, a 5.0 device, you know, also uses the kindle format so, it’s coming. 

Also, demographically you have to look at the younger audience too, they grew up reading on screens and so I think that for books, we’re going to, you know, I think that will be either eroded or really sharp decline by five years. I think newspapers, I mean, they’re already on their way out a lot of them in recent print, regionally faster than nationally, we’ll see about the national ones. 

DVDs I think, you know, as great as blue-ray is a format I think we’re going to see over the air, over the internet downloading be the preferable way to go and get the content as the speeds pickup, devices improve, you know, and even video games as great as video games are as CDs, I think that we’re seeing you know, this whole notion of downloadable games wether it be on your iPhone or, you know, downloadable through the X-Box live system which I actually have in my house and even those titles are big, and it’s hard to push those down a pipe right now, it’s coming and so I just don’t see...

I think the one area where I could probably be wrong is magazines, because people seem to like the tangible feeling to them but I just see, you know, I commute in the Long Island Railroad to New York everyday and I look and, you know, I started commuting in 1999. You had to have a newspaper to get on the train and you do not get on the train unless you have a newspaper. Now, you know, it’s probably two-to-one you know, devices versus newspapers. So, and it’s shrinking, I think it shrinks everyday so that’s you know, I'm putting a five-year timeline on it like I said, I can be wrong but I think a lot of these are going to be accelerated by that.

Question: Which print media companies are making a smooth transition to digital?

Steve Rubel: The New York Times I think has done a remarkable job. I mean, you know, these sites have done a remarkable job as it relates to the delivery of content and the presentation and the format and the approach versus the monetization. So those two things are sometimes very different. 

So, the Times has done an incredible job, I think, creating a website that’s just been nothing short of amazing. Everything from what the average users use when they go there, to the features that if you really, you know, surf and you found them are incredible, I don’t know if you know Snap but the Times it’s actually tagging every single story in your website with topics and I think if you go to topics.nytimes.com, you can pick any topic you’re interested in. If you’re interested in Alex Rodriguez or you’re interested in, you know, Apple or you’re interested in Barack Obama, you can pick any topic you want and you can navigate all the stories that are tagged with that topic in a fantastic interface including articles that are highlighted articles that show you the most recent things that are really notable as opposed to just mention some stories. 

It’s beautiful and you can subscribe to the feed, they have that, they also have an incredible developer platform that lets developers create things on top of their work, they're developing prototypes that are unbelievable. They launched and they called it the Times Wire which is kind of a live stream of the stories in a stream format as opposed to a this is the most important story of the day. So, they’re doing a lot with it. I mean their iPhone act is incredible.

They are doing a lot. Now the question is, are they monetizing all that? And I think that their challenge is that they’re still putting banners around pages and doing interstitials around pages, because that’s what advertisers buy. But they’re not selling enough of them to justify the cost of the investment online and obviously the money that they were doing well in print which was funding a lot of the online stuff, I think is also eroding. So, they’ve done a good job online in translating the content and the way they’re presenting things. The monetization has been slower. So they’ve impressed me. 

You know, I think these companies that are doing more things in the aggregation side that are interesting. Those are not necessarily print companies that made the transition but I have to say Daylife that are looking how they kind of crawl the web and begin to categorize it and organize it for you. Topix.com is another. Those are interesting companies that are doing neat things.

Print companies that have made the transition?  You know I think the magazines, I think some of the newsweeklies, I think the Time has done a good job, moving their product over, you know.  They’re recognizing it as more of a daily format now if they can’t, you know, think weekly anymore. It’s not really, newsweekly is not right. Boston Globe has done a nice job. I think it’s called the Big Photo where they show you like these gigantic photos everyday and they break it down, how it was taken and what’s behind it. So, it’s a lot of innovation but it’s more on the editorial side, less on the paid side.

And the magazines too I mean, the, you know, the iPhone. The recognizing is a great platform and now some of the magazines are testing launching paid applications, people just launched one yesterday you actually have to pay for it.  I think its two dollars or something like that and so they’re venturing and doing some unique things and they’re treating each medium as different as much I like but again I don’t. I still think that they’re treating the way of monetizing it exactly the same as they did before and I think they are partly to blame as is the advertising community.

Question: How will print media adapt to digital devices?

Steve Rubel: I think the print media will adapt themselves to devices and there’s not going to be any one device that is going to win. I mean, the iPhone right now is giant but I mean, there’s die-hard people that love their BlackBerry's and you have to pry from their dead hands and the Kindle is, you know, it seems to be taking well of also. They haven’t released numbers and obviously there’s lots of people who don’t have smart phones, who maybe don’t want one yet and maybe will get one and they’re just happy doing text messaging. 

So, I think it’s, you have to map your approach to  devices. The problem is that you have a proliferation of these devices and you have to create content in gazillion different formats and in some case, you have to negotiate with the carriers to get preferential treatment to get on their decks. That seems to be going away, I mean, iPhone is an open platform. Android is more of an open platform. BlackBerry is, I think, you know, platform, Windows Mobile.

But you know, my view is that the mobile phone is the, is your future computer. I mean, it’s an extension of your computer today but I think in a few years time it’ll be your future computer. Here’s what I mean, so you’ll carry one device of choice and, you know, pick your hardware vendor and let’s just say it’s an iPhone. Your iPhone in the office, when you come in to the office, will synch up wirelessly with a monitor. It’ll drive a 20 or 27-inch monitor and it’ll also interact with a Bluetooth keyboard and Bluetooth mouse. 

The OS it will run when you’re in the office, will be standard desktop OS. So let’s say in the Apple’s case it will be OS 10, but then maybe OS 11 or OS 12 and the data it draws off of will be server based either it will be on a corporate server or will be somewhere in the internet cloud and that’s the data that you interact with. 

You leave your office, some of that data will stay on your device and you will interact with it using a mobile OS wherever you are.  You’ll go home, your home server or the home internet cloud you connect to whether it would be Google services or whomever, will recognize you are home and you will interact with a monitor and keyboard in your home environment also using an operating system, a desktop operating system, and do your photo editing and all that and so forth and that will be it and so I think, that the one device and then, you know, if you get fired or whatever your corporation will cut you off, that data will be gone and, you know, that’s I think, that’s the motto.

I don’t see, I think we'll lauch that we carried around laptops on planes. It’s going to feel weird, I think the keyboard you know, the device themselves will get a little bit more sophisticated and it seems to already be a blurring of lines between laptops and mobile devices. If you look at netbook category that’s just growing like crazy, these 300 dollar notebooks. They’re great, but they’re almost like hybrids between mobile phones, at least from a data perspective, not telephones, and laptops and they’re very cheap. You know, the keyboards are terrible, the screens are bad but again, you know, it’s the first inning.  So I think the mobile device is the center, at least in developed nations, in this capacity will be the device that kind of integrates all their lives in certain ways and obviously in other markets in third world nations in countries where computing isn’t pervasive it will be the device period.

Question: How does the public relations industry use the Internet?

Steve Rubel: The PR industry should’ve embraced the Internet and given it a giant hug and a slobbery kiss and I don’t think we did as an industry as fast as the advertising industry did.  I think that certain companies including Edelman did. But others I think the industry was slow to adapt and I think there’s still slow to adapt to it. 

So the history, you know, PR as an industry is over a hundred years old and Edelman is over I think 1952 so we’re 57 years old and, you know, I think the history was at first was pay attention to it but I think that there was, you know, we did a lot of work to generate media results online and that was effective for our clients but I think the clients always seem to, and even to this day, seem to value more the tangible results--the plays on the Today Show, the article in the New York Times. They seem to value that and over time I think the PR industry kind of have, kind of kept locked in step with the use of patterns in terms of its adoption. I think that the advertising industry that was fast to embrace things like search, we stay all over on it and I think the PR industry in this search I think we can get it back but I do think we were slow to embrace it.

Question: How should a company leverage social media?

Steve Rubel: Media reforestation is a democratizer I mean, anybody can get involved at any level that they want and be effective. You could get involved as an individual, you know, as many of us have shown and become, you know…use it as a very effective vehicle for your company, your cause, your need. 

In terms of the way to get started, I think you have to first and foremost figure out where people are talking about the topics that you have a passion for, that you can contribute to and can be relevant in. Now, anybody can be relevant in any discussion, but I mean relevant in a way where people are going to want to hear what you’re saying. And so I think that you could need to begin and do that.

If you have resources, one way to do that is to research and you can use a big research company to kind of figure out where your, where your audience is and what they’re talking about and begin to figure out how you get to that conversation. If you’re an individual, I think you just dabble and you begin to explore and you see what’s happening in different communities wether it be Facebook or Twitter or MySpace or YouTube et cetera.  And then once you’ve kind of, but I think as the first step is just research and then after that you kind of know where the conversation is but I think we have to keep in mind that these sites come and go. 

No single site, community site, has ever had staying power of more than five years. They just seem to come and go and especially in the consumer space. So, you know, while today I can’t go to a meeting without talking about Twitter and Facebook, I think we need to keep in mind that you know, three years ago, it was actually more like two years ago, I couldn’t go to a meeting without talking about Second Life and I know kind of a quite Second Life as being digital marketing’s Vietnam. So, we need to just kind of remember that things change, but I think for first step is research always.

Question: How is the Internet affecting TV advertising money?

Steve Rubel: You have to look at the money that’s in TV. It’s huge. And even now in the recession, it’s huge. I mean, it’s billions and that’s like, I look at that almost like a giant ice shelf that is just slowly melting and, maybe this is not the right analogy but that’s like in Antarctica melting and, or Greenland melting, and all that water is going to look for a home.

So they have all these billions of dollars in money and marketers are not necessarily going to know where to spend it and they’re going to look for what works. Well, the problem is that as TV advertising erodes, obviously the options in digital are multi, you know, there’s a multitude of options there. 

The cost of engaging in those options compared to TV is, you know, a fraction of the cost but the measurement and the ways of quantifying success in digital vary depending on the tactic and who you talk to. whereas TV we kind of know what success is. We can measure it in gross ratings points or we can measure it in Nielsen ratings. 

We can’t as easily with digital, because there’s different ways of engaging and those numbers are actually getting smaller so TV is a mass rich vehicle even with the number of stations that we have, and there are thousands of stations at least nationally. But when you get down into, you know, to digital, it’s you know, we’re taking a pie and we’re slicing, it’s like eating a pizza that comes with 32,000 slices I mean it’s like. So, how do you, you know,  I think the metrics if we think about that are going to be a challenge for marketers as the money shifts at the same time I think the money shifting is going to force TV to innovate faster.

Question: Is advertising that interrupts people effective?

Steve Rubel: This is a kind of what Seth Gordon has been talking about for years with permission marketing, you know, "pull." You want to be there when people open the door and it’s going to be harder to push things through that door when people don’t want them. 

So, I mean, I agree although I think that it’s not quite so black and white. Advertising still does a wonderful job of, you know, of creating demand and then, but, you know, the question is, you know, people, what’s noticed is people don’t want to be interrupted and I don’t care if they’re on the social networks, they don’t want to be interrupted there. When they’re watching TV, they don’t want to be interrupted and obviously you know, TiVo is showing there's a market for that, you know, iTunes is showing there's a market for that and so the whole notion of interrupted marketing is being challenged right now and I think that it’s all, it’s about relevance. It’s about being relevant to the right people in the right place at the right time and then I think it would be wanted if it’s informative. 

That’s why I’m bullish on the prospects of the public relations industry because I think that what we do is we either create content or we generate content that is relevant toward people who are interested in it because we know the public and their wants, their needs and we’re either doing this directly increasingly or we’re doing it through media partners who also are going to act as a BS detector and be able to really, you know, wade through all this stuff in a credible way. I don’t care if it’s a blogger or if it’s a journalist and so, but I think that you know, the way of doing things is definitely changing.

Question: What is the next step for the public relations industry?

Steve Rubel: I think that one thing that the PR industry is now focused on right now that we got to get focus on in a hurry is the intersection between search and PR. Google isn’t just a search engine. Google is media. Every single day the, you know, people are making decisions--talk about permission marketing and pull--based on what they find in Google, based on long tail of searches they put into the search engine, mostly around problems not around solutions. What I like to say is people Google, if they have a headache not that they need aspirin, you know, that’s… They Google that have roaches not that they need Raid.

Increasingly the search engines, all of them, I mean, Microsoft is going to come out with a new search engine this week, it sounds like, or you know, are favoring quality content and that content can come from brands, media or individuals and less so, and they’ve done a good job of eliminating spam out of the search engines. They’ve done a good job of making sure the black hat SEO folks don’t do, don’t work and they’re favoring quality content that has generated a lot of social connectivity and links from other like sources. And so, as a result, I think that PR professionals need to start to think about search engines as a media platform and that means that the work that the content that we create and the content that we generate needs to take search into account and apply it and I also think it’s a very good way for us to measure out our value to clients. I don’t think that people are talking about that because search is an old technology and people kind of like to chase the hot new stuff but, you know, search to me is pivotal and as a Semantic Web comes in it’s going to get even bigger.

Question: How significant is Twitter as a marketing vehicle?

Steve Rubel: It’s huge right now and I stress the words “right now." What’s interesting about Twitter is as a marketing vehicle is that, one, it has a huge community and growing. Years ago when I did media relations, I don’t do media relations anymore but what I did, the best tip I ever got was to go where the media are. It’s just much easier to get results if you do something where the media are already gathered than to try and get the media to come to you for whatever it is you’re trying to do. This day that’s a tactic, a lot of PR professionals make heavy use of. 

It’s the same exact thing in social media. You want to go where there’s already people and there’s a lot of people on Twitter and the numbers show that they’re growing. And I know that at some point they will plateau and somebody else will come along and it will be kind of interesting to see how things shake out but I think the way you, the reason it’s taken a lot from marketers is that one, the community is there. 

Two, it’s lightweight, you know, I can’t even tell you how many clients over the years I’ve talked about blogging and they were all interested about it and they all had interest in it but the problem was that they were just afraid of the time to manage their comments, the time to create the content. Creating content is a lot of work. You know it. I know it. It’s a lot of work to create good content.

But on Twitter it’s actually easier and it’s lightweight in a 140-character nature that makes it actually pretty easy for one person or two people to participate in a credible and meaningful way over a period of time. So, I think the way marketers are using it now is some are using it as a pure just information-delivery mechanism.

That’s fine. I don't think it's going to get you very far, but it's fine. The more savvy brands are using it as a customer service tool and a feedback mechanism where they can actually listen and respond to customers in real time and that’s been very effective.

Others are doing promotions in Twitter and, or contests so I think that there’s fun things that are happening there as opposed. It’s working because the community is there they’re receptive to brands if they are respectful of the space and contribute and I think there’s a lot of, and the platform is very flexible in what you could do with it. But you know again, we’ll see where this all goes.

Question: Will Twitter succeed where other networking sites have failed?

Steve Rubel: I think that there’s a few things they have going for them that those guys don’t.  First they have this incredible developer ecosystem. They opened up the ways that programmers could build applications on top of Twitter in ways that really nobody else has ever done for free and this has spawned thousands of mash-ups, desktop applications and search engines and all kinds of innovation and I think that they can find a way to help those folks monetize those and in the process when you get some share of that revenue. So, I think that’s an avenue with the developer community. It's an avenue for them to monetize. 

Advertising, I’m not bullish on the prospects for advertising in Twitter, I don’t think it’s, I think they’ve set up their community the way they’ve set it up and it’s going to be hard to introduce that in a credible way. I think that around search though, they’ve got a big opportunity there, to monetize that I think that’s an area they can monetize.

But their challenge right now and I think with your focus on it from everything I’ve been reading and from my discussions with them is they’re focussed on maintaining and growing their community and I think that’s exactly the spot on things to do, they’ve got plenty of cash and they have to focus on making sure they don’t lose their community because they lose their community then all the modernization options in the world are going to matter and we’ll see if they're the ones that break the cycle. 

I don’t know if they can, you know, FriendFeed is coming in strong with this a certain group of influencers and innovating in some incredible ways and they can be much easier to manage the conversation and to navigate it you know. It's early. I think Twitter is going to be around en force for several, the question really is, it comes in the culture. Will people get tired of Tweetting? Will they just get tired of it and we’re fickle online. And I think that’s going to be interesting to watch.

Question: How will the Semantic Web affect the Internet?

Steve Rubel: Wolfram Alpha is an interesting site right now. I don’t, I mean, it’s been kind of characterized as a potential Google killer. I don’t think it’s a, we’ll, we’ll watch that, you know, we’ll see how that works.

The bigger trend and I  think you’re talking about is what’s called the Semantic Web and I think that in it’s very, very, very early days right now. But when that gets going it could be huge and I think that’s three to five year, maybe even longer, time horizon as that gets going. So, the semantic web is really on a couple of levels and I’m just being honest with you, just beginning to get my head around it as well because it’s pretty technical right now. 

It’s the layering in of data inside of web pages that make it easy for machines to talk to machines and surface information for you that is relevant to what you’re looking for in a way that the current structure of the web does not, is not really capable of doing. 

And so I think that holds a lot of potential because on a very simplistic level, the search engines will begin to know what you’re searching for and will imply meeting based on personalization, based on your search history but also based on all those metadata of machines talking to machines. 

So, in theory, if machines start to talk to machines and is sharing information, the machines will be able to tell the search engines how they’re being found or vice versa to make searching smarter for you and more personalized so that content you care about finds you rather you having to go find it.

That’s I think the beginning of the promise of the semantic web but I’m not quite sure. I’m just starting to get my head around what the implications are for the PR and advertising community. I’m sure everyday but I feel like without I have some time because standards have to come into place, it’s very technical in nature right now. It’s pretty esoteric subject for a lot of people and the developers need to start to embrace it.

But the thing that was I telling you was that Google two weeks ago, if you have certain kinds of semantic data in your pages, Google now will start to recognize it. So for example, CNET has put star ratings for all the products they review into the code of their entire site, so now, if you were to go and you were to Google "iPhone review," in addition to the data about the page, you know, the center of the headline and the snippet. The snippet now is only have they call "rich snippet" that show you actually the star rating on the CNET Review.  And so I think that’s because, and so you know, I’m sure Yahoo and other folks like that will open up and begin to make a semantic data available so it’s just getting going but its potential I think is big.

Question: Where do bloggers fit in the world of journalism?

Steve Rubel: You know, what we like to do is, as a society, is put things in boxes and label things.  And, you know, we like to be able to say this is an elephant and this is a zebra and it was very easy to do that with blogs and journalism. It was easier than it is now, even a couple of years ago.

So, bloggers operate in a certain way, they want to be treated in a certain way, they have an expectation level, there was an ethos of transparency and an ethos of, you know, things that you do and you don’t do with bloggers. That was kind of an unwritten rule that was published. 

But what we’ve seen over the last couple of years though is that the elephants and the zebras have mated and I don’t know what’s what anymore so we have journalists that blog all the time and are on Twitter and yet we still have to treat them like professional journalists and there’s absolutely, and it’s our way of operating with them. 

There are bloggers that basically run little media companies and we have to, they expect to be treated in certain way but not quite in the same way that the Times wants, but with different kinds of rules of their own and then we have individuals that maybe have no rules whatsoever they’re just individuals who had day jobs who are publishing for passion. 

So, it’s very blurry and so the rules of engagement really vary and the blending of what’s a journalist and what’s a blogger is you know, it’s obliterated.  I mean, it’s more clear if you work for a major media organization that you’re a journalist, that’s pretty clear cut, but, you know, let’s take an example like TechCrunch which is one of the most popular blogs in the web which is independent. You know, is that a media company? Do we treat them like we do journalists?  I don’t know, or Talking Points Memo is another example. 

So I think that, I think that each individual is going to develop their own rules of engagement. Each company will develop their own rules and engagement and some of those will be written and some of those will be unwritten and we’ll have to test them in an ethical way and see and we’ll see what works and what doesn’t, I mean, I’ll give you an example with blogging, you know blogging is, as a company and not with people or fake blogs never went anywhere. It was something that was kind of a non-starter. 

On Twitter, there seems to be more receptivity towards that kind of stuff. I don’t know if it is as effective but there seems to be some more acceptance there.  So, every community, every site seems, every person seems to have their own rules and it’s extraordinarily messy and it’s not easy to just, you know, box things up.

Question: Do you have any blog horror stories?

Steve Rubel: So I joined Edelman in 2006, and I started my blog in 2004 and when I was, the first two years I was blogging I was in a small PR company with 30 people so we had, you know, 15 clients and you know, that gave me a canvas that was huge. I could write about anything, anybody and not be concerned about it because I didn’t really have to worry about getting tripped up.

When I went to Edelman, you know, that’s a client, that’s an organization with 3,500 people around the world and, you know, we have thousands of clients and I don’t even know who our clients are, I mean, it’s just so, it’s just huge and, you know, we could represent one company in one market and not represent them anywhere else, I mean, you know, so it’s really.  It’s a very huge organization.

The wakeup call I’ve got was about two years ago. When I got on Twitter actually, in a stream of consciousness I just begun to write about my media habits and one of the things that I, at that time I was getting a complementary subscription to the print edition of PC magazine and so what I ended up writing was, I get a copy of PC Magazine for free but I throw it away. Now, the reason I said that is because actually I was reading it online at that time. 

Well, somebody who doesn’t like us and doesn’t like Edelman reached out to the editor of PC Magazine at that time and, you know, he was understandably upset about it, and he wrote a pretty nasty up op-ed criticizing not just me but basically threatening to blacklist our entire PR firm. 

So, he was basically saying, he was posturing that he would, you know, any approach from our firm to him or his editors will just be a non-starter because of this little tweet that I wrote. And that was a huge wakeup call. I had to go on my blog and write an apology. I mean, it wasn’t like somebody twisted my arm, I was all ready to do that. I had no intention of slamming it. I was just something I wrote in the stream of consciousness and then Twitter didn’t give me a lot of room and it was early, early days for Twitter but that was a sign to me that I can’t do what I was doing before. I don’t have that level of freedom, it’s not because somebody is watching over me but because I just, you know, I have to protect the firm, I’ve got to protect our clients and obviously a part of that,  I’ve got to protect me. So that was a pretty bad experience then. But you know, I came out better for it and I think so did Edelman.

Question: Is privacy possible in the digital age?

Steve Rubel: You’re assuming there’s a notion of privacy. I mean, I was with a publisher of a major news media site today and we were talking about privacy, and we were saying that if we went out in the street and you ask a hundred people about privacy or cookies or whatever, they wouldn’t even know.

I think the vast majority of people, even educated people, don’t have a sense for the data that’s being collected about them and that’s being used to target at them in positive and negative ways. I think there is an aware of spyware and viruses and things in that nature because it’s very much in your face. But you know, just simple things like, you know, how your data is being used in all those websites and what your, you know, what rights you have for that data and to get that data out of that system unit if you want it. 

People have no awareness of and it’s going to. I think it’s going to take a 9/11 type of event for privacy to really shake people to their core and recognize they’ve got to pay attention to this and then and only then I think will they take responsibility.

The terrorism model is probably right. If you, you know, if you saw five young guys on a plane, dispersed throughout the airplane that were kind of doing suspicious things, you would pay attention to it and you would maybe tell the flight attendant and you would and honest to God forbid that they did something. I think that the likelihood of us having another attack exactly the same way that those guys did it is impossible. There’s too many people on too many planes that will try to stop them because we saw the movie already. I think that we have awareness now about terrorism that we didn’t have before. 

Same thing I think happens with privacy. I think, there's going to be, there’s going to be some sort of 9/11 event that takes place that where some giant breach that affects a lot of people of some kind whether it’ll be, maybe it’s with the government or maybe it’s with, you know, a major bank where I mean, literally people will lose their livelihoods or whatever that will shake people to that core and recognize that "okay, I now going to take privacy into my own hands as a user and do something about it."

Question: Are gross violations of privacy happening everyday on the Web?

Steve Rubel: No. I haven’t seen any. I mean, what I know that everyone’s worry about is Google. They seem to be doing an incredible job with how they let you export your data. Pretty much any data you put in Google, you can either delete or export easily which you can’t necessarily do for Facebook.

You know, there’s no way for you to export your address book in Facebook if you want to. If you end your relation with Facebook, and say, "I want to delete my account." I think there has been some problems with that in the past but you can do that now pretty easily. But if you’re going to take, you know, those connections with you and that contact information with you or your photos with you, good luck. You’re not going to do that. 

Goggle is doing a better job with that but I think we’re going to see those expectations rise and people are going to want to, want to have more of their data exportable and I haven’t seen, you know, companies that are really like nefarious doing that because I think that stuff just gets outted in a hurry and…But it’s more of the stuff that’s being collected behind your back that you've got to worry about.

Recorded on: May 27, 2009

 

Big Think Interview with St...

Newsletter: Share: