Category Archives: Social Media

Social Media – It’s Not the Tools

Friday, August 29, 2003

500 years ago the communications system in the west was owned by one organization – the church. If you wanted something in writing a monk transcribed it. Few knew how to read as a result of books being so expensive. Your network news was delivered from the pulpit. The system supported the status quo of the power of God’s elect, the King and his henchmen the aristocracy and above supported the most powerful multinational enterprise the world had yet seen the church itself. The church was the largest landowner in the west at a time when land was the basis of all wealth. The barriers to competition were impossibly high.

I am sure that when Gutenberg built his first press that there was a lot of chatter about font types, about gearing and pressure and inks and about the best type of paper – the kind of geek talk that is central to all new things. This is where so much of the discourse is today about blogging – RSS etc. But the true power of the printing press was something else that went way beyond how it worked. It was how it was used that was to be important.

Within a hundred years huge numbers of people could read. It was possible to run off broadsheets – personal publishing very cheaply. So what happened as a result of this use of the new technology?

The reformation in Europe, the dissolution of the monasteries in the England the the redistribution of all that wealth to secular hands, the civil war and the end of the idea of monarchy being God’s anointed. The modern world was created where new ideas based on observation – such as a new vision of the universe – could not be held back by the establishment in spite of persecution.

So this is what will happen with blogging. What blogging is, is an end run on the strangle hold of our conversation and on our mindset that the corporate and institutional world has established. Until now the costs of having a human voice were set impossibly high. Only Rupert Murdoch or a government could play. But now communication costs are ridiculously low compared to the mainstream media and communications in corporations and government. Not only are the costs low but the interactive element of blogging is so much more powerful than the broadcast technique owned by the institutions. Any one of us can have a voice and groups can have power.Institutions are frightened of this voice and will fight it because it means that they will die as a result.

As at the time of the reformation – the general adoption of blogging tools  will lead to the overthrow of the corporate and the institutional mind. In so doing it will release the vast treasure that it locked up in the costs of corporate and institutional  life. It will free men and women from being peons in a feudal state where they had to live as liege men and offer fealty to their overlords.

We are not only oppressed by those in power in institutional life, we, like medieval peasant, are complicit. We know of no other life. Knowing no other life, like those in Plato’s cave, we cannot imagine what freedom from institutional life might be like. We fear freedom because we see no alternative to bondage.

Even simple blogging can help here. It offers for the first time to each of us the potential to find our voice. At first maybe to tell the world what we had for breakfast or to recall some work idea. But I have found in myself a huge change in the last year in my inner voice and in the confidence as I discover that I am not alone in how I think.

Until now people who think as I do have struggled alone. We are by nature are not joiners. Fewer of us every day work in institutional life and cannot use that voice. What “organ” do we have to speak with a human voice? Blogging By finding so many of us out there, we grow in confidence and our voice becomes less hesitant. I feel wonder as I read new blogs every week and see how close our thinking is. This is how power is created

Technical talk is helpful. It leads to better tools. But let’s talk more about how we will use blogging to change our world. It is not about making the corporation better – this type of discussion would be the same as a group of monks talking about how printing was going to help the church. It is about how to we take the institution out of our lives.

(Thanks to Dave Pollard for getting me going this week)

New movements tend to stall when the “in group” want to keep the movement within the
“in group”

The same may be true for blogging. The number of people that know about what a blog is among my clients is very small.  Intuitively I would say less than 2%. What would put them off? Anything technical. Blogging has to be made really easy.

Why do I mention St Paul? At the outset of Christianity there was a huge debate. The “In Group” as lead by the surviving disciples of Jesus insisted that to be a Christian you had to be a Jew. This meant adult circumcision for the men and backseat behind a screen for the women. Quite a “technical” hurdle!!!. Paul argued that all men and women should be able to become Christians – guess who won? Pride in coping with the technical sides of blogging is a block for take-up.

The real opportunity is when a group of “Ingroup folks” maybe like “socialtext” really engage with organizational life and find the fit. Step 1 has to be”Easy does it” Easy does it demands that anyone who can type can set up a good blog and that there are a number of great templates. We are exploring Typepad to see if we can make it even easier.

Step two has to be finding the immediate felt benefit. This is more challenging and I think demands that we find parts of an organization where building a community will help – maybe in the entire support area. This is where the whole KM issue rears its head. The idea of content management is an exceptionally stupid idea that flies in the face of how we understand knowledge. Only a small fraction of knowledge is explicit – the vast bulk is implicit – ie it is ten times better to talk to someone about an issue than to try and find what he has written about it. Who wants a manual when you can be walked through? BP has been a leader here in seeing that their key system issues is to find a way of connecting people with questions to people with answers. Each employee has a personal website that amongst other things has a lot of info about what they know. The deal at BP is that if you have question you search for the person.

Why should we care anyway? Blogging is our path back to being human at work. Blogging reveals who we are to not only others but more importantly to ourselves. For the first time mankind – the great tool maker – who has used tool making ingenuity to make the world and himself into a tool, or a thing, has created a tool that renews and brings back what it is to be human.

So like Paul – we are faced with an historic choice. We can relegate blogging to geekiness and tool making or we can work to change our relationships back from machine to human.

What do I mean by this bold statement? We can change democracy by making it essential for politicians to be real and to listen to us. We can get the issues that make sense on the table other than spin. We can make management of organizations transparent and give organizations a human Cluetrain voice. We can change how we learn – from each other rather than from institutions. We can change healthcare by empowering fellow sufferers to help each other rather than to rely on the priests of medicine. We so change the world as Paul did.

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Blogging and Friendship

Tuesday, July 01, 2003

Dina often provokes me to think more deeply. In her recent series on corporate blogging I started to think about the friendships that arise from Blogging.

I wonder – are we seeing a new basis for friendship? In the past, we have made our friends through a combination of place, interest and values.

EG – Until maybe 30 years ago on PEI, you married a girl who was no more than a day’s buggy ride. Your friends came from the small community you lived in and were cultivated in the pressure cooker of the local school. If you were Catholic, you could only associate with other Catholics. Good Catholic girls until 30 years ago did not even ride in cars with Prots. Then religion was the dividing line for one key set of values. Everyone farmed or earned their living connected to agriculture so all shared an interest in farming and all shared the same set of pioneer values that come with being yeoman farmers.

You can laugh at this narrow world but stop for a minute – where did your friends come from? Place interest and values. I bet place wa important.

My close friends still come from my time at university. I have given up all my school friends but for 2. I see now that they were a product of place. At school we all had such a narrow choice. So we all made do with the small pool of possible friends that a house of 65 and a school of  700 could provide. Once I entered a large enough world, Oxford, where there were many more choices, I focused on those where I had a closer match in interests & values. At the time we all shared a common set of values about ourselves and the world – we were all enamoured by the corporate world and all joined it willingly and did well financially from it. These friendships have endured. One reason is that we have all given the corporate world up. It is weird coincidence that this group are all now self employed and could never work back in the system again. We must have sensed intuitively all those years ago that we would make the shift in values from group to self. In addition we had another link. An interest that we all shared was our children. I am godfather to 7 and this precious human link to the future of my friends has kept our friendship alive.

This tells me that, today that for me shared values and a shared interest seem more important and enduring than a shared space in connecting friends.

But for many people place is I think still the main driver for friendship. Especially if you do not move around much and where your old friends who were cultivated in early life live close to you. I have moved more times than I can recall. All these moves have I seen in retrospect broken any place-related links except the ones where the interests and values are in still in synch. All my corporate friends who are still very corporate have largely fallen off. The exception are those that I feel are trembling themselves at the edge of the line.

What is true for friendship is true for love. The troubadours tell us that love enters through the eye. But even in love the requirement for place is eroding. I think that the key is that in cyberspace you can be heard. To hear someone is a gift, To hear them is to know them. Paradoxically being heard is a challenge in the early days of a face to face relationship when each person’s need to speak can stop their ability to listen. Being yourself  can be hard in face to face where “projection” plays such a large role and where we seek to please. We so often “see” who we want to see rather than the real person who is there. With blogging, it seems to be hard to hide the real you. The real you may take time to emerge but emerge it does. The irony is that in not seeking to please, we are more attractive to others.

The issue seems voice. After a while of blogging our real voice comes to us. For the first time maybe, we say to the world –  “here I am warts and all” Where Robert Scoble has to admit that it is hard to reconcile how work and his marriage. My reaction – Scoble is a real person and not just a techno scribe. Where Dave Winer cannot help but feel like a parent to RSS and sounds off he becomes a man and not just a commentator and developer. Paradoxically, the more real we are- the more frail – the more attractive we are. Conversely, corporate voices do not lose their temper or have doubts. Corporate voices are like Dolores Umbridge’s from the Ministry for Magic: they use soft language for terrible things such as final solution or “right sizing”. As Cluetrain tells us – the corporate voice is becoming the great lie that we cannot hear anymore. But I get ahead of myself. Back to friendship.

My question. Is blogging changing the rules for friendship and maybe for love? With blogging, you can get to “know” someone in a deeper way than after many candlelight dinners, many years at school and many barbeque’s with neighbours. We hear how the other person thinks. We hear what really interests them. We experience their values. In return, we can gently link up so that over time they too can know us too. Projection is more confined as we do not rely on the visual cues for our norms of what is attractive on the surface before we know what is attractive below the skin. Everyone is at choice – you can make the connection or not. I don’t know the sound of your voice and in many cases don’t know what you look like. In most cases we are separated not only by distance but by culture and by different Gods but if we speak the same values and we are interested in the same things, then the link is made.

The values that I am talking about are the great divide between those that are externally motivated and those that are on the path to a self motivated world.

There is a huge gulf between these two sets of values. Those that have crossed this line know that there is no going back and that it is dangerous to speak out too clearly to those that remain in the “group” mind. They too have acute sensitivity to heresy and there is no heresy quite like not having to belong to the group anymore. This shift in values is what is really going on today. In the centre is the progress/corporate hegemony. In revolt on the right are the fundamentalists who long for a mythic past where women know their place and God speaks for us. This group is firmly in the group set of values and are outstanding in forming groups – hence their power. On the left is a new group that is not really a group. We are the Cultural Creatives, the Free Agents. We don’t like groups and have not until now found a mechanism for getting together that fits our self driven mindset. Until now. Until blogging. We have no power as isolated individuals. Until now. Until blogging.

For the irony is that for those of us that have crossed the line, it is lonely. While our motivation is based on self, we are still primates and human and we crave brotherhood and sisterhood. Blogging appears to be a tool that enables non joiners to find a mechanism to join safely with others like them. A club for non clubbers!

For me the potential in blogging is less corporate than social. It will create a new business model rather than support the old. What do I mean by this?

I have hopes for corporate blogging but they are dim. Why am I so depressed about this? Because of the values clash. The essence of the corporate state is that it is a collective where the group identity is paramount. Such a values set is like anti matter for those who are self motivated. Corporations claim that they want initiative and creativity but they need obedience more. Obedience is the core piece of DNA in the Ford model.

Where blogging will help most is in creating social and economic networks of individuals who share common goals and values – look at Matt and Paolo. Or look at how the community of bloggers is coalescing on PEI around Peter Rukavina. Look at how a whole group of doctors is forming around Marc Pierson Look at the influence that Ross Mayfield is having on all of us that think about social software or that Critt Jarvis is having on the election. This is the world I think that I, Dave Pollard and Dina are looking for.

Look at what happens when those who have developed relationships via blogging meet in person!

This is surely a revolution? Place and Face are no longer the initiating drivers for human relationships. The blogosphere is becoming the safe place for creative people to connect in. Just as eBay made it possible to trade safely outside your local area, so blogging makes it possible to access a global network of friends and lovers safely.