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Debra Scherer Headshot

Go With the Flow: How to Strategize for a System in Motion

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People often ask me, why have you called your company The Little Squares? Are you thinking about pixels? Polaroids? Contact sheets? Film stills? Or are you guys just terribly uncool? Well, although the answer to all of those questions is a definite yes, none are the actual reason. The Little Squares, as a title, is not a statement of purpose, but rather, a descriptive prediction. We see what is on the event horizon a bit before others do and use that information to comment, to participate and also to strategize.

The most important piece of the puzzle is that most brands, companies and publishers seem to ignore is the concept of information flow. Its such a grand concept, analogous to the physical world, it's like trying to talk about the concept of time and having to figure out how it is supposed to relate to our everyday experiences. Everyone is effected, whether you have an ecommerce site and you want to acquire customers or users, or you are launching the next big online content site and want to simply engage an audience and keep having them come back for more.

So, step one is, to simply see the entire world as one big system, in a continuum, never static, constantly in motion. The phrase "world wide web" should now include not only the internet, but also television, print and theatrics as well, as they are all windows into worlds. When we choose to click on, tune in, turn the page or in other words, participate, we are actually hitting the "pause" button. We are saying, wait, stop for a minute, or an hour or a few seconds, depending on the medium. This may seem obvious when you talk about Twitter or your Google+ stream, as you can literally see it moving every time someone adds their two cents into the stream. Even with television, one show ends and the next one begins and it never stops moving. Now think about radio; the point being that, if a song plays and you are not listening, that's right, you missed it. It's moving.

Step two, with this in mind, is to realize the most important evolution of our new connected world is that while it is constantly in motion, we, as participants, must be nimble and reactive. Long-term strategy doesn't necessarily apply in this system. Any plan can be disrupted at any time, "pre-empted" one might say, and those who are skilled and creative and have access to available material will be ready to participate and in a way that is relevant both to the conversation and to the big message one is trying to convey.

To place content into the continuum, one must see it as just a message in a bottle being thrown out to sea, with only the hope it will eventually reach another shore. You are adding to an infinite system in motion. Yet this continual flow itself has power, an energy to harness, and a wave to ride on. So your message in a bottle, once thrown into the stystem, does get carried off and will appear on someone else's shore. Once you check your Twitter feed, your Google+ stream, your Chill feed, Tumblr or Pinterest followings or any other community based social graph system, that message in a bottle has the potential to appear in front of a potential audience member, depending on the frequency with which you add to the system and how captivating that piece of content is. This potential reactive marketing seems risky, yet isn't it a much greater risk to put your flag in the ground, on a static storefront, or website banner ad, and rely solely on the hope that a potential customer or audience member will be the one to actively seek it out? Will happen to pass by?

With this continual information flow in mind, it seems that outside of major e-commerce sites, the individual website itself will become less relevant, acting merely as an archive feeder into these other interest graph or social graph based systems. This has already happened. The systems themselves are becoming more and more sophisticated and connected everyday as they link to each other. Sign up through Twitter! Sign up through Facebook! So why make individual potential customers or audience members have to come to you? This is why content already has two values; first based on how good it is (does it tell a brand story? Does it engage? Is it compelling?) Second, based on how strong is its ability to find you. Content has to work to find its audience and now it can. And thanks to the new importance of timelines, "records of streams," we can travel backwards and forwards, as we should.

So, what does this mean? It means design for mobile and forget everything else. If the design is good it should work seamlessly across every other platform. And why are we called The Little Squares? Again, it is a prediction; that things like to naturally organize themselves that way. Content streams flowing would naturally tend to want to become little squares. Look at your phone, look at your screen. They are everywhere. As a design choice it's completely unquestionably intuitive. As the web becomes too full of stuff moving at an ever speedier frequency, let there be order and let it be elegant. Let there be squares.