Medium, Tumblr and Community Based Business Models

It has been a while since I wrote something here. Life has been getting in the way. However I noticed something form my colleague and friend Stowe Boyd which stimulated me to respond. Over at Tumblr Stowe posted:

Medium becomes more Tumblrish

Hamish McKenzie noted that Medium had become significantly more of a curated experience  in its recent facelift. But I think in his positioning of Medium and Flipboard as two competitors for our attention, he misses something important

He concludes with:

“I find it interesting that Tumblr seems to be changing so slowly — hardly at all — since being acquired by Yahoo. And one of the obvious ways to draw more interest to Tumblr would be the simple avenue of making the curated topics a/ public and b/ better looking. Right now they look like the (relatively unappealing) Tumblr dashboard, and there is little or no room for advertisements.”

“But I have made several of the curated topic feeds — like Tech and Design — a part of my central daily practice. I have not done that with Medium, although I do use Flipboard every day, too”

You can read the whole post by going to:

My response to this is:

I am one of the Tumblr tech curators/editors and I am not sure about how I feel regarding advertising on the curated areas of Tumblr. On the one hand I can understand the appeal and like Stowe have made looking at the curated areas part of my daily information practice. I can also understand that the service needs to make money to sustain itself and I am supportive of that as long as it is done in a way that is not intrusive on the reader/community. On the other hand I am somewhat leery of Tumblr/Yahoo making money on top of my voluntary efforts. I would need to balance off that against my view of my contribution to the community and also any value I feel the extra profile of a public and promoted page may do for me and our business.

This is the delicate balance of some of these new business models where the community is producing the product. Too delicate an economic business model may imperil the economic viability of the service, and too intrusive a model may damage the goodwill of the community and therefore make the whole thing evaporate or at least to a level that is non viable. Fundamentally I think that this is easier outside of a large company where transparency can allow the community to make finer grained judgements about the economic model and what it is delivering as long as it is transparent. That is much harder inside a larger company that tends not to publish data on the individual performance of its parts in a way that is clear for everyone to see.

I would be interested in comments.

Paul Higgins


Reflections from being at the Business Innovation Factory Conference – in a word WOW

For the last 3 days of last week it was my absolute pleasure and honour to be part of the Business Innovation Factory Conference ( in Providence, Rhode Island. BIF8 as it was called was a fantastic collection of storytellers and innovator participants.

I would like to reflect on some people and presentations that left a lasting impression on me:
Carne Ross
Carne is an ex British Diplomat who is now an independent diplomat which is an interesting concept I had never thought about before ( Carne was open and generous in his presentation by talking about how what looked like a brilliantly planned strategy was a series of stumbles and educated guesses. Besides that he described how in a world of networks and globalised connections an alternate approach to politics and diplomacy was both required and possible.
Tony Hsieh
Tony is the CEO of Zappos ( the online apparel and footwear company but what he talked about was different. Tony and others are investing $350m into downtown Las Vegas in order to build a better community. The purpose is twofold. Firstly based on Edward Glaesner’s work and book “Triumph of the City”, Tony believes cties can be redesigned to be more innovative than they already are. Secondly this is all based on a belief that this needs an approach where people are happy in their community. The presentation made me feel a bit foolish as I have been presenting on cities growing more innovative as they grow for a while. However I had never thought about how this was by accident and therefore we could apply intelligent design to make the effects better.
Jeffrey Sparr
Jeffrey is the founder of PeaceLove ( and gave a heartfelt presentation on mental health. Jeffrey suffers from from OCD and he put it all out there on stage and spoke with true passion about his efforts to help others suffering from mental illness through artistic methods. Jeffrey struggles every day with his illness and puts the rest of us to shame. I will be thinking of him the next time I let little things get in the way of doing stuff.
Nichlas Lowinger
Nicholas is 14 years old but has achieved more than most adults. He is the founder of Gotta Have Sole ( which has raised over $250,000 in financial and footwear donations to give kids in homeless shelters new shoes. His poised and professional presentation made me really think about the emotional difference between those kids getting new shoes or old donated ones.
Teny Gross
Teny is an ex Israeli soldier who is now the Executive Director of the Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence ( Teny gave a Bill Clinton like speech full of stories, emotion and numbers. The facts that 75% of the deaths are caused by 0.3% of the population and that each murder costs the system $8.3m put the whole problem into perspective from a number of points of view. It is a massive problem that astounds lots of people from outside of the USA. I left with some hope for the future.
Darrell Hammond
Darrell is the CEO and Founder of KaBOOM ( Kaboom has helped build over 2,000 playgrounds and playplaces in places where kids don’t have them. Darrell is a big believer in kids being able to get to play and how showing communities they can make a difference can empower those communities. A truly inspiring story.
Jeffrey Heimans
Jeffrey is a fellow Australian, and the founder of Purpose ( Apart from showing us video of him as an 8 year and 12 year old leading me to think of him as the scariest child I have ever seen he co-founded GetUp and now works on helping other movements start and sustain their efforts. I think of our mission being leveraging our skills to help others make a difference in their community. Jeffrey takes that up to a level that is many levels to the power of 10.
Jeff Lieberman
Jeff is a sculptor, musician, robotocist and host of the Discovery Channel’s Time Warp. He amazed us with a super slow video of a drop of water hitting the surface of a pool of water to demonstrate how we sometimes do not really know what is going on until we look at it a different way. He also talked about the nature of now and the future which I am going to steal for my presentations (don’t worry I told him)
David Mcaulay
David is the author and illustrator of The New Way Things Work. He just blew me away with a stream of consciousness presentation on the history of innovation. To hold that in your head and then create books that can explain that to kids while not dumbing it down is a stunning achievement.
Hilary Salmons
Hilary is the ED of the Providence After School Alliance ( which has transformed the after school program to such an extent that it is packing in the kids and teachers are asking for the methods to be brought back into the school program. Imagine if we could achieve that in every school?
Besides the absolute achievement of the presenters (sorry Saul – Storytellers) the other thing that was so powerful was the vulnerability and openness. We are used to politicians, leaders, and conference presenters telling us how successful they are but rarely see the struggles and failures and crises of confidence that come with the journey.Not at BIF
It was hard not to feel continually inadequate in this company but as someone else said late in the process, everybody was feeling the same way. The challenge was to take that feeling and go and do some stuff that makes a difference

I made some great connections with people that I hope will help me do that, but as I said to one email contact straight after the conference hope is not a strategy. So watch this space.
The whole experience was an interesting, stimulating and inspiring experience that was well worth the trip half way around the world. I intend to contribute to this amazing community of people and take what I have learnt into our work and our communities. I encourage you to have a look at some of the people I have briefly mentioned above. There are many others that I have left out in order to be be brief.
You can see videos from previous BIF summits at:
You can see details of BIF 8 at
and my friend Jess has published her fantastic sketch notes from the whole conference at :
Finally to the Piker, MFceo, SKbutt and my presentation coach. You know who you are and I would lke to thank you for taking a futurist a long way from home under your collective wing and making my trip far more enjoyable. I hope the friendship endures
Paul Higgins
Sept 24th 2012