The Rise of the Creative Middle Class - and Other Things We Learned in 2011

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In 2011 we saw the introduction of the iPad 2, Kindle Fire and a new Android operating system, along with a myriad of other great products. It was undoubtedly a year for great gadget innovation, but the real story that’s defined these past twelve months, as tech journalist Larry Magid puts it, “is how people used the software that runs inside their heads to change the world through technology they can hold in their hands.”

From hacktivists to the 99% to the brave citizens of the Arab Spring, what we saw time and again was how technology and social distribution have brazenly empowered the new denizens of change … which is to say, all of us. In this second part of our two part series on what we learned in 2011, we explore the delicate, symbiotic relationship between technology and people, and how they are inextricably and forevermore this year’s power couple.

Which brings us to these 5 more things we learned in 2011:

6. The Consumer Cloud Rocks Just a few years ago if you mentioned the word “Cloud” in passing, one would assume you were referring to the cumulus kind. The word quickly became co-opted by enterprise technologists in a failed attempt to simplify the fairly complicated process of outsourcing data storage. It wasn’t until this year that Cloud finally entered our cultural lexicon and became a household term. Thanks to Amazon, Apple and Google, our (digital) lives now thrive beyond the confines of our terrestrial apparatuses and have become instantly accessible in the Cloud.

7. The Creative Middle Class Rules The world’s largest marble run. A Jesus Christ Panini press. The world might never have known these innovations without the help of Kickstarter – a funding platform for creative projects that relies on monetary pledges from good-willed beneficiaries. Platforms like Kickstarter have opened doors to creative thinkers and doers from all walks of life to explore their passion and enter the creative milieu. These projects range from crazy to creative genius – but most importantly they represent the formation of a new, creative middle class that favor democratized access to closed-door patronization. Combine programs like these with an influx of semi-pro creative tools (e.g., Lytro camera, iMovie, Pro Tools) that are available to the masses and you’ve got nothing short of a creative coup d'état. Now all you need is a good idea…

8. Piracy Is Dead The comedian Louis CK often shares too much with his audience (do we need so many details of his private man-habits?). But he was concerned his fans would share too much when he put video of his new comedy special on his website for $5, with no copy protection. "No DRM, no regional restrictions, no crap," he wrote at louisck.net. "You can download this file, play it as much as you like, burn it to a DVD, whatever." Louis asked fans not to upload the video to BitTorrent or other file-sharing sites, but within a matter of hours, there were dozens of copies of 'Live at the Beacon Theater' available for free. Share fail? No way - this didn't stop plenty of fans from paying for the video. In more raw honesty, CK posted the financial results a few days into the experiment: more than 100,000 copies sold at $5 for a tidy profit of (subtracting production costs) at least $200,000. To date he's topped $1 million and counting. Fans of only moderate Internet piracy are cheering. "A win for the Web," proclaimed ReadWriteWeb. Yessss….

9. Content Is the New Black Marketers are in love with content – they just don’t know what to do with it. Brands big and small have flooded the web with posts, photos and videos while asking consumers to do the same -- all in the hopes of growing audience and forging deeper relationships. Not surprisingly, most of this content sits either unread or unwatched because good content is hard to produce. It's not about content written for search, it's about content written to be social. Only content that’s authentic and relevant, with a unique point of view, engages and builds real communities.

10. Amazon Owns the Internet for On-Demand Consumers Amazon's remarkable moves of the last couple of years show an emerging New Network Powerhouse moving into our living rooms. Lead with books. Add every other media type. Get devices right. Now bundle in free two-day delivery of real stuff via Amazon Prime - and we get what we want when we want it. Media space meets meat space. Home shopping network on steroids. And it looks massively different than the old media of the big three - ABC, NBC, CBS.

What did you learn in 2011? Tell us in the comments below.