Dell’s Social Media Experiment Aims to Capture the Digital Nomad

Digital Nomads

While the actual term “digital nomad” has been around for a little while, it usually seems to fall under the shadow of the more expansive term of telecommuting. The fact is that really they are two different ideas altogether.

The idea of telecommuting has been around for almost as long as computers have been able to talk to each over a copper wire. I remember back in the days of bulletin board services (BBS) the idea of people being able to work from home was beginning to take shape. At the time, the big drawback was that the technology hadn’t advanced to the point where it was really feasible, not to mention the fact that employers were almost wholly unified against the idea.

Then along came the internet and with it increasing access speeds and more powerful machines that could handle what was needed for telecommuting to work. At the same time though, another phenomena was occurring that made the idea of telecommuting seem old fashion even before it really took off. Laptops started becoming primary machines as they started equaling everything that could be found in a desktop computer.

digital-nomadTied in with that was the arrival of Web 2.0 and the idea that with nothing less than an idea and a laptop with access to the internet you could start your own web business. You could hold meetings either in a boardroom or remotely and you could then get together with your coding teams at coffee bars anywhere in the world as long as they had Internet access.

No more were you tied down to a single location if you didn’t want to be, no more did your development or business team all have to be in the same place. The days of the digital nomads had arrived and they were proving more and more that good ideas didn’t need four walls and an expensive address in order to get off the ground. Among the first to really discover this freedom of a nomadic working life probably had to be bloggers as they sat in Starbucks posting the hottest news or posting a Qik video interview they had with some young CEO over coffee.

With the rise of these digital nomads there were plenty of blogs talking about the concept, talking about living the lifestyle or how to deal with companies who weren’t use to this new style of doing things. What there wasn’t though was a service or meeting place on the Web where these digital nomads could virtually congregate and learn from each others’ experiences. Recently though this has changed, and while some might suggest it was done strictly for marketing purposes, Dell launched the new Digital Nomads community website.

There is no denying that Dell has a vested interest in launching a site like this and trying to attract all those digital nomads roaming out there, but when you actually visit the site you see very little overt Dell product tie-ins. Yes, there is the obligatory sidebar ad promoting one of the laptops but even the video in the sidebar isn’t a pushing heavy market speak production – rather it is an examination of how the workspace has changed and what these new workers are looking for in their tools. The idea here seems to truly provide these digital nomads with helpful information about their new lifestyle and reap any indirect benefits they can from the site. As Hugh MacLeod said when he wrote about the site:

The Digital Nomads blog is what I call "indirect marketing". People aren’t supposed to read it and go, "My, what a lovely blog. I think I’ll go out and buy me a couple of brand new Dell laptops". This is more of an "Alignment" play. In other words, by "aligning" themselves more with the digital-nomad crowd, they hope it’ll help them in time to create products that are more compelling and relevant to them. If you were in the computer business, you’d want to have the same alignment. "The Porous Membrane" etc. The good news is, Alignment plays can be extremely effective. The bad news is, they take FOREVER to gather momentum.

Even sampling some of the newest posts on the site and you can see that the focus is on the people rather than the product:

The Rise of the Digital Nomad – Jay White

Being a Digital Nomad used to mean either a traveling salesperson or perhaps the occasional work-at-home employee. Today, it means all of the above, but it adds a caveat that includes capitalizing on connectivity and opportunity regardless of your location. Who can respond to multiple conversations the fastest and who can create solutions and opportunity for less.

For example, today’s internet (a term I dislike) allows anyone to create the relationships needed to produce better products or services, for less. Younger generations realize this. If you and I can assemble a team, regardless of the location of its pieces, that can design, manufacture, and distribute a better widget, we’re in business. You are no longer looking local for help, you are looking in India, China, Russia – everywhere. Why work for a corporation right away when I can build one or perhaps build a niche that supports one?

12 Essential Services for the Digital Nomad – Chanpory Rith

  • Gmail Webmail doesn’t get any better than Gmail. It’s free and includes mobile access, POP/IMAP functionality, junk mail filtering, and oodles of space. It’ll even work with your own domain name. Each account also gets you access to Google Docs, a Web-based suite of word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation applications.
  • Earth Class Mail But what about your snail mail? If you’re never home, Earth Class Mail can scan your postal mail so you can view them online anywhere. Addresses are available in 20 cities including New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle.
  • A Mailbox from The UPS Store If missing package deliveries is the problem, then you can get a real street address from The UPS store. Unlike a PO Box, they’ll accept packages as well as snail mail. The UPS Store won’t scan your mail like Earth Class Mail, but you get a much greater choice of addresses.

Mark’em, back’em up, encrpyt’em… Do it or lose it – Philip Torrone

My laptop “sleeve” is often made from a dirty t-shirt, or if you’re hardcore… old underwear. That’s right, no thief poking around in your bag when you’re not looking is going to want to wade through what seems to be a dirty laundry collection.

Laptop bondage… I once saw someone try and steal someone’s laptop at a bar, it was in their laptop bag and when the thief tried to make off with the bag it tugged the fellow having a beer. It ended quickly, words were exchanged, large men were involved. The fellow said that he always loops the laptop bag strap around his chair or leg wherever he goes, I’ve done that ever since.

So while this might strike the more cynical bunch out there who think that a company never does anything for the good of a community the fact is that I think in this case Dell is proving them wrong. I’m not sure how this project from Dell will work out over time, but I think that if more and more digital nomads make it a go-to resource it has a good chance of succeeding.

What do you think – marketing ploy or an honest effort to provide a valuable service to a growing segment of the workforce?

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