About the Author

Geoffrey Moore

Managing Director, TCG Advisors Venture Partner, Mohr Davidow Ventures

Geoffrey Moore is a best-selling author, a Managing Director at TCG Advisors and a venture partner at MDV.  More...

November 2008

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Top Ten Truths About the Digital Ecosystem

This piece follows up a request from the World Economic Forum for thoughts about the Digital Ecosystem, in preparation for framing the 2007 agenda at Davos.  I would really appreciate any comments that would expand, improve, or correct these lines of thought.

10. Images are king.  Verbal content, by virtue of its sheer volume, is increasingly perceived as noise.  We are entering a new era of collage, where the mind of the viewer is the assembling artist.  Verbalization happens post facto, the residue of headline skimming and subconscious synthesis. 

The esthetics of digitally enhanced images will become increasingly powerful as a vehicle for cutting through the clutter.  Manipulating semantics or semiotics via images will become increasingly sophisticated, both in the private and public sectors.  High-definition displays and portable form factors will be popular mass markets.  Indexing and searching images, on the other hand, while technologically interesting, will be of peripheral impact.

9. Songs are the spiritual property of the young.  They construct their identities around them and feel they own the rights to them in a way that no economic contract could interpret.  Sharing songs and sets of songs is a type of free speech.  By contrast, films have nowhere near this visceral appeal and matter much less.

Operating on songs is the paradigm for the new creative consumer who will not create content so much as modify it and send it along.  Tools and sites that let people extract, reframe, and re-present will be core enablers, a la MySpace, UTube, and the like.

8. There is no place to hide.  This is good for exposing the horrors of man’s inhumanity to man.  It is bad for the privacy advocates.  It is meaningless for the security forces as no command-and-control big brother can keep up with the sheer volume of self-organizing chaotic systems in flux.

Next-generation security will organize around the person and the personal identity instead of the data and the institution.  Mobility will only complicate this challenge.

7. Wikis rule and “crowd-sourcing” works!  Outsourcing tasks to a self-organizing community of volunteers, a la open source software, is proving to be a powerful tactic for tapping into the collective wisdom and experience of the planet.  Surprisingly, this mechanism is nowhere near as susceptible to demagoguery as edited media.

The wiki model is becoming a de facto collaboration paradigm within private enterprises with global reach.  It seems likely to spawn comparable efforts in the public sector: a wiki-versity, a wike-health-care-system, a wiki-disaster-recovery-effort.  We will get object lessons in the power of memes (or the lack thereof).

6. Games tell all.  Anthropologists of future centuries can be spared digging through layers of sedimentary rock.  Instead they will just need to find game machines that let them play World of Warcraft or play back the history of an avatar in Second Life.  All the metaphors of contemporary culture are being acted out in one or another corner of this virtual universe.  And currency exchanges are beginning to link this universe to the physical one.

The emphasis on symbolic interactions in a digital lifestyle will have unpredictable effects on self-perception and social norms.  Historically the real world has set the norms and the digital world reflected them, but the obverse can be expected to be true going forward.  Games can become living laboratories to explore strategies for living, a role played by literature and drama in ages past.

5. Services displace products.  In the digital world, as bits substitute for atoms, products are reconceived as services.  This is the threat that Google poses against Microsoft. 

Services companies still have not completely caught up with this.  They tend to describe their offers as products, which, although convenient as a means for integrating them into traditional organizational thinking, profoundly misrepresents their dynamics and causes companies to miss whole dimensions of consumer experience, need and value.

4. Everything is media.  While advertising will not pay for everything, everything will become a potential opportunity to advertise.  This means that at least some technology adoption life cycles can be short-circuited by providing the disruptive innovation for free. 

If advertising is the default funder of digital offers, then consumption is the ultimate paradigm.  Over time people and cultures will weary of this, and socially constructed content will become more pervasive as an escape from constantly being pitched.

3. Outsourcing and offshoring are inevitable.   Digitization of work is profoundly world-flattening.  In an Internet-enabled world, as work itself becomes digitized, markets cannot be protected.  This will be hugely dislocating to the developed economies in the short term.   Longer term, it will be the single most effective tool to combat global poverty and its cousin terrorism.

Instrumentation and institutions that create visibility and control over processes that span geographical and enterprise boundaries will become increasingly powerful.  Everything will ultimately resolve to a Service Level Agreement and a series of compliance-assuring mechanisms.

2. Symbolic competence creates competitive advantage.
  On the web, as one cartoonist famously noted, no one knows you are a dog.  All they experience about you is a function of your ability to manipulate vocabulary and symbols. 

This puts liberal arts education in high relief.  The digital world will move from being an engineering phenomenon to a cultural one.  Memes, brands, reputations, causes—all will seek to recruit the most powerful symbolists to their ends.

1. Omnipresent distractions increase the need for inner peace.  Digital systems intrude into every aspect of life and, unrestricted and unbalanced, can overwhelm our perception of personal and social values.  The resulting alienation will lead to a search for direct personal spiritual experience.

Traditional religion, with its reliance on belief, will be undermined by digital communications, for as symbolic manipulations becomes increasingly transparent, it creates distrust in any institution that engages in it.  In this context, meditation, yoga, and other forms on non-mediated spiritual experience will become increasingly attractive. 


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Christopher Meyer

Three quick thoughts:

1. There is potential for improvement of life in each of the points you raise but there are also threats. Be it fundamentalist religious views or economic challenges such as the current legislative threat to historic "net neutrality". A truth is that as the digital ecosystems gains increasing influence, there are those that resist and/or seek to take local advantage. Their efforts can be highly disruptive.

2. The "no place to hide" struck me. Once one is immersed in the digital ecospace as "home base" what you say is true, but many segments of society are not. Cut it by generation, income, geography, etc., many people are more present in other domains where hidding still occurs. Example: on a recent trip to Europe, I was struck by the frank exposure of death by european broadcasters of the war in Iraq in contrast to sheltered view presented to US viewers. The trend is true for those immersed but the impact on society is measured by those who are not.

3. "Songs are the spiritual property of the young" almost conflicts with #10 re: images. It's not just music, it's MTV! (and other media with viral connection to music, pop culture etc.) For example, my son made a short film that describes what happened over to the video game character Pac Man character since his hey day that has ripped through UTube, MySpace, etc. (proud parent plug: www.videogametheater.com). It underscores where the blurring between music, video, gaming and other pop culture elements.

Michelle McLean

I like the thinking these Top Ten Truths prompt. Of course it begs the question of how to include those living outside the digital eco-system - the sense of community and the ability to affect and learn from each other enabled by memes are all compromised by the increasing digital divide. But within the “connected” world, these ideas pervade so many issues.

As an English major at tech-heavy Cal ("So, you want to be a teacher?"), I especially loved #2. But as a convert to tech marketing - you know, one of those symbolists - #8 really resonated. I've been in networking for 15 years and am excited to see new trends around security based on the individual. At the same time that we must protect the individual close to the source (i.e., organizing security around the individual and identity), similarly in our companies we must use identity to protect the business and its information assets. In the process of protecting that data, we're often protecting individuals again, but the key is to use identity to control where people can go digitally in the business and what information they can see.

While I believe companies will continue to protect at the server, at the database, and in the application (analogs of your examples of protecting data and institutions) to practice defense in depth, this notion of keying off the individual's identity to control access is critical to securing the fabric of the network. And since the network is the digital ecosystem of a business – tying together people within it and partners to it – protecting the network itself, along with the data on it, is crucial to a company’s success.

Thanks for pulling together such a broad array of key trends and reminding us to think more holistically in our endeavors.


Some of these verge on ivory-towerish observations of youth by the comfortably middle-age, but they're good points nonetheless.

"...World of Warcraft or play back the history of an avatar in Second Life."

As to the future archeology of games: we can forget about it. These aren't "games" like board games or even CD-ROM games that reside on physical media, they're extended situations, stored on distributed systems in server farms and in players' computers. There is no "game" that can be loaded up and "played back" and more than you could "play back" July 18, 1996 or any other date from your past.

And even the history that *is* available in-game is coprporate IP, not public record. When Linden Labs or Blizzard finally shuts their doors and powers down their servers, the histories of their games go with them.

What we hopefully will have left is the many millions of web sites *about* the games that players have created; a history of sorts, I guess.


Also, your number 10 about Images obviously doesn't assume the dissappearance of writing. Reading extended texts online (email, blogs, wikipedia, news, this site...) is obviously only on the increase. I think you could argue we're becoming *more* literate.

Geoff Moore

Given my brain's vacation on the issue of replaying, I want to re-make this point some other way. What I am struck by is how much social information is embedded in the emerging responses these games create.

Paul Cubbage

These are great talking/thinking points. One item worth considering is that the cell phone is becoming the universal device. Estimates of cellular subscribers go as high as 2B or one for every 3 people. Intuitively, that seems too high but anyway the number is huge. Go to a country like the Philippines and everyone seems to have one. They will be the major platform for music and many other change drivers.

Gustavo Jimenez

I would add.
A turnaorund from private to poublic transportation a la Mag Lev trains in Shamghai and France.

Some kind of replacemnet of the US OIL addiction to ethanol, hybrid cars and fuel cells, some believe may come 15 to 2o years from now.

If India and China industrial development follow similar one car one family model as the US the oil equation is tottaly unaceptable. No room at all.

What if the barrel of oil reachers US $100 limit. Forget it! You get another 9/11 for the world industrialized economy, that is a 90% collapse of Wall Street stock market

Sorry for the doom perspective I do hope I am totally wrong.

Robert Redford is VERY optimist in a recent CNN colum on grass roots movemnet toward moving away form US oil addiction .

I do hope his vission suceeds and mine fails.
Yours, cordially
Gustavo Jimenez from South America

saul kaplan

My reaction to your digital ecosystem riff is to proclaim the death of the silo and long live the horizontal thinker and do-er. The digital ecosytem fueled by enough bandwidth puts the patient, student, citizen, and consumer at the center demanding the recombination of capabilities into networks that deliver better value. Siloed companies and institutions both public and private that don't start experiementing with networked business models to deliver it will be sidelined quickly. They will have to learn a new trick...R&D for new business models not just new products or services. Lets all celebrate the anti-silo.

Al Armstrong

Is the adoption of SaaS by the enterprise any different than the usual technology adoption life cycle? I completely agree with point #5 & 3, and SaaS adoption is not about company size, but application type for the cusomer.

Ultimately SaaS will take over most of the mundane tasks of Enterprise IT. I've blogged about it here:

I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on that.

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