FEATURE : A conversation with Mike Lee—Digital Strategy Adviser

Mike Lee is a Digital Strategy Adviser for AARP and a long-time friend of GCF. He works in the field of mobile development, looking into the future of technology and road-mapping the next year and a half.

What do you think is the most critical tool or skill for educational communicators to have?
It’s important to monitor industry thought leaders on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. At a minimum, use RSS feeds. Get and try to maintain a sense of what is going on out there. Same with mobility/mobile devices—get a smartphone or Android phone, and use it regularly. Try out some apps.

What do you see for the future? What are the latest things to watch for?
Consumer mobile technologies are changing very rapidly. Besides smartphones and tablets, I’d look at what impact may result from the arrival of very low cost e-readers—when you start to see them hanging on a hook in a drug store, or given away as advertising/marketing specialties. Apple, through their marketing and product design, can get away with their higher prices, but Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google, and Samsung are going to work to pull their prices down. All of that will drive the industry. There’s a profound amount of power when the price is dropping every year. Compared to a backpack full of books…there is no comparison. And it’s not lost on these companies that there’s an opportunity to revolutionize the textbook market. In the future, the publisher will give you a device. Books will be copyright protected and locked to the device. You’ll be able to add things like social media, which is another binding force to lock a student into that publisher’s device.

On the macro level, it’s about the “gang of four” companies who are innovating in the consumer market: Google, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook. They are setting the trends; they are into devices, the publishing industry, TV/movies, and social media. Google and Apple are moving aggressively into the education market.

What are your thoughts on apps versus mobile sites?
After a year of developing mobile apps for the iPhone and Android, I am really more in favor of mobile web for nonprofit and educational institutions. If you have the opportunity or strategic reasons and money to create an app, that is great—do it. However, your first priority is launching a version of your existing website that just works on mobile devices, because most phones/tablets have a web browser. Your mobile site should fit on a smartphone screen, and it should be readable. Some companies offer mobile templates.

Does the AARP offer their magazine online? Would they ever eliminate the print version?
AARP does have the largest subscriber base to its magazine, but it’s not something you can just buy—you need a membership, and the magazine is a benefit. Right now, our business model for publications is holding because the membership construct around this can still demand advertising dollars, which offset the cost of printing the magazine. The articles are syndicated to the website, and made available in digital facsimile form (PDF). But we will have challenges like many large publishers, such as what will happen with the postal service.

How do you feel about Google+?
It has grown at a faster rate in the beginning than Facebook and Twitter when they started.
They’ve also opened the development end so people can write code to enhance the functionality in ways that Google hasn’t imagined. There will never be one dominant company that owns social media, because these companies all have access to a lot of the same basic tools and approaches (computer chips, servers, etc.).

Any final advice?
The best way to keep up with new developments, both social and mobile, is to immerse yourself. Google calls that dogfooding. There is nothing like firsthand experiences. You can read all you want, but to get a sense of how new technologies work you need to get intimately involved.

See the Cool Tools section for Mike’s recommended news blogs.