I find this fascinating. A few disconnected thoughts:
* Automated writing, long term, could be analogous to driverless cars. How could a machine ever replace a human? Time. Sort of scary for people who make a living by getting money for their writing (instead of fame for their writing).
* Data already changes the stories we see, in Facebook for example, but going forward it seems like properly harnessed data could make news more like a video game: actions the user takes will change their new experience, and it will be calculated live; or at least selected from a predetermined set of options.
* The general business of providing pre-written news that can be slotted in somewhere seems like a poor long-term business in an age where Google only recognizes content once; if you post it second, you might as well not have posted it, because Google will consider it copied content or spam. Where does that leave a wire service? Maybe the prevalence of mobile is the way out… but even still, why have the same story in more than once place?
Any time you’ve got a large profit margin, it’s inherently attractive to competitors, but I think their position is pretty defensible. There are actually a number of for-profit (and non-profit) outfits looking to get into the same market, including The Nantucket Project, Founders Forum, Summit Series, The DO Lectures, Future in Review, and others.
I think what makes TED’s position good is that there’s only so much appetite for TED-style events as a *consumer brand,* which is what they’re able to extract their premiums from. Without wide public recognition and distribution, competing events will find it tough to charge similar premiums (and pay similarly reduced fees for equal speaking talent).
I believe that Sonos also has a few patents on the wireless mesh network they use to synchronize and control music throughout a system, which is why you only need to plug one device (doesn’t even have to be a speaker) into your network. These days you may be able to do it all wirelessly. This technology gives them a huge advantage in setup and a good ten year head start on the competing products from Monster and whoever else is entering the market now that standardized wi-fi and bluetooth technology makes mimicking the Sonos experience possible.
What will be interesting to see is if having this head start is enough to defend their business, or at least their margins, in a newly competitive business.
I think we’re still only seeing the first tendrils of digital transformation in higher education. In part, I think we’re waiting for the right technological moment.
Like you mention, there’s a lot of excitement around things like MOOCs, but at the core, our ability to teach is not yet very scalable. Yes, people can watch a video, but even with high end technology used by, for example, HBS in “HBX” (http://www.hbs.edu/news/releases/Pages/hbx-live.aspx), we’re only really reducing infrastructure costs (buildings, travel), not human costs (paying the professor, hours worked, etc).
When technology — maybe a combination of Virtual Reality and AI — allows us to really think about scaling the teaching experience, THEN we’ll be talking really big change. Side note: I recommend The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson for anyone interested in thinking about how education and technology might mix in the future.