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This is my third try with this new book. That's not nearly as bad as it may sound.
Scoble and I tried seven names before we came up with Naked Conversations. I don't even have a proposal yet, never mind a publisher or publishing date, so there is still lots of time.
But having a working title, even one that may change a few times, makes it easier to talk about my book. And the process of name requires me to focus thoughts on what this book is about in the simplest, clearest possible terms.
So let me try again:
--How Online Enterprise Communities improve products, markets & profits
This is a book about large enterprises and how their dedicated social networks are lowering the borders between them and their customers and partners. It is an attempt to address the lingering questions of social medias business value as well as where and how social media teams and programs fit into existing business practices.
In my prior two books, I've championed the tools of social media. I have argued that their business use was early and disruptive; that measurement was early and primitive. Over time, I argued, the early disruption would come to an end and that standards for measuring value would become more refined and easier.
My overwhelming focus in writing more than one million words about social media has looked at public venues such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and the rest. So have the traditional media and most of the burgeoning social media community. It's where so much action has been. There's conflict, adventure, celebrity walk-thrus, natural disasters and occasional sexuality.
It makes good copy, and yes, it also makes good business.
But where most of us have not looked is behind the firewalls of some of the world's largest organizations; companies with tens of thousands of corporate customers and partners; companies whose products are in the hands of hundreds of millions of end users who depend upon those products to conduct a majority of the world's business.
It turns out that there is a great deal of downright exciting social media action going on in the bellies of some of the biggest--and perhaps most boring--of technology enterprises.
The result are networks of online communities, built by huge enterprises for developers, customers, partners and employees to come together and share information and ideas. These private and semi-private social networks rarely have discussion of lunch menus and in my research I didn't find a single flirtation.
But I do see real business going on. I see new marketplaces that independent analysts say have values in the tens of billions of dollars. I see ideas and information being shared at high speed and with great accuracy in communities that are usually under a half-dozen years old but have attracted tens of millions of users.
This book will explore online enterprise communities. Much more than my previous books, the primary focus will be on business-to-business, which it turns out, has developed pretty much in the same way as business-to-consumer and peer-to-peer communities.
Blurring Boundaries will examine in depth six enterprises: IBM, Intuit, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP and possibly SAS. I will report on the history, structure and issues of their online social networks. I will look at how these communities are changing or have changed business models and strategy for the better during a period of great economic pressure.
A few days later Scott Gulbransen at Intuit, a company serving consumer and small business markets told me just about the same thing, despite clear differences between how Intuit and SAP's communities are organized and who they serve.
This book will explain that online community collaboration is shortening product development and improving product functionality and design because the people who use them are talking directly with the people building them. They are likewise, reducing time-to-market and marketing costs.
Online enterprise communities are also bring sanity to Terms of Agreement, product standards, developer certification programs, appropriate community behavior by allowing those who must adhere to these governing factors contribute to the rulebooks as they are written.
Blurring Boundaries also examines the issues of where social media teams and online communities belong on an enterprise org chart. Almost invariably, social media in corporations, began as skunkworks projects, places where small teams of bright people were allowed to experiment. Allotted small budgets, they were protected from the sea anchors of labyrinthine enterprise processes so that they could move with greater agility than systems in place would allow.
But they have grown fast and that speed is accelerating with millions of community members participating and billions of dollars of value in the marketplaces being created, the managers who recently disdained social media projects as having no real business value are now struggling with the inevitable process of assimilation. Each of these companies has dealt with this issue in different ways. This book will examine each and compare the results.
Blurring Boundaries will not answers the ubiquitous question of where's the ROI of social media. That question remains as daunting to answer as placing ROI on email or a telephone.
But it will show that there is real business value being generated because of online enterprise communities. And that billions of dollars in products and services are being generated as a real result.
People will walk away understanding that social media in business is at the end of it's early disruptive phases and is now entering the longer period in which use of the tools are normalizing, are becoming part of business practices and are valuable centers for the modern enterprise.
I've decided on a working title for my new book, unless of course, someone tells me why it's a bad idea:
--How online communities help companies & customers mutually profit.
When I interviewed Mark Finnern, who runs SAP's mentor program, he told me that the companies community networks were blurring the lines between the company and it's customers. The same perception came up again when I interviewed Intuit's Scott Gulbransen who talked about an ongoing collaborative process in communities that let the users say what they wanted in products in discussion with those who built it.
Then there's the whole ROI issue, which I view with the same ambiguity as measuring the ROI in a telephone. You really can't find the answer, but there must be a way to measure value. I will not be able to report that online communities are delivering directly to enterprise bottom lines. If they were, public companies would not be able to discuss specifically anyway. But my early research indicates that hundreds of millions of dollars are being realized by both companies and customers because of online communities.
I talked recently with Ray Wang, a partner at Altimeter Group who covers enterprise ecosystems--a major component of the book. He estimated that the SAP ecosystem had created a marketplace for the company, it's customers and partners of about $80 billion, with the lion's share being enjoyed by the partners and customers.
I asked him how much of that was being delivered by online communities. He explained that while very little--if any-- profit was being derived directly from the communities, a great deal was coming because of them. "The heart of the ecosystem is the community," he told me. "You cannot take them away. The level of connection is what gives the ecosystems life."
The novel concept is that companies and customers have historiacally seen themselves in a symbiotic tug of war. One makes and markets; the other buys and uses. One side's expense is the other side's profit. That perspective is starting t be seen through a new prism, one where both buyer and seller thrive or flounder together. This changes a great deal, I believe, and Blurry Lines will examine how this fluidity between company and customer change all marketplace dynamics.
The concept of the ecosystem coming to life because the communities are at their heart is yet another key point of this book. I was tempted to call this book "It's Alive!," until Lon Cohen who follows me on Twitter commented that the title sounds a bit like a cheesy horror movie.
So how does "Blurry Lines" sound to you for a book title? I may change it at some point down the line, but I really need a name right now. For me it's like having a new baby, who I'm calling "the kid," because I can't come up with a name I like.
Tell me what you think.
Intuit is one of at least five companies that I plan to profile in depth for my new--still nameless--book. The others are essentially big business-to-big business players.
But Intuit is business-to-small business and consumer. My particular interest is the small business side an area generally considered to be too fragmented, limited in budget and late to adopt to be a profitable area to serve.
Yet, every small business needs to manage its books and tax records and Intuit is the overwhelming supplier of automated products in this area.
Scott said Intuit has 50 million individual and small business users. It started its online communities about three years ago and today has 3.5 million active users. About 400,000 are small business users. Both numbers are growing.
Last week, I talked with Scott Gulbransen, a senior PR/Social media manager for Intuit's TurboTax group. It was an overview, the first of what will be a series of talks with Intuit, its customers and third-party developers.
Like other companies, Intuit did not wake up one morning and devise a grand strategy for online communities. In fact, it was more an outgrowth of issues that would keep company officials awake at night: how to migrate from a company whose products sold off retail shelves to one whose products are downloaded from the internet.
Scott didn't say it, but in the early-to-middle 2000s, Intuit lost luster as an innovator and some wondered if the company would remain as an independent entity. The company started to fumble with an online strategy and as it did, Scott told me, "a sense of community was woven into corporate DNA."
Like SAP, the communities are part of a larger something that both companies call "ecosystems." Both companies see the ecosystem as core to corporate strategy, but they've structured them differently. SAP has folded its network of communities into an Ecosystem and Partners Group, Intuit's communities are assigned to product groups and operated separately from each other.
Still, it assembles into an ecosystem strategy. At Intuit, developers collaborate at the back end, telling each other how to make applications succeed. And the strategy makes traditional command and control approaches obsolete.
“An ecosystem makes you get out of the way. You build a platform and enable. At the end of the day everybody benefits. Your marketplace becomes a living breathing thing,” he said.
Despite these different approaches, the outcome seems to be the same. The lines between company, customers and third-party vendors and partners get blurred as products, services, policies are developed, delivered and refined in transparent, collaborative style, somewhat ad hoc style. While marketing may be responsible for communities, these communities have diminished the importance of traditional marketing tactics of drum rolls announcing releases and updates. Stealth modes make no sense in collaborative environments where companies ask customers how to make the products better.
While the company built these communities, and they host them on company space, Intuit does not presume to run these communities from what Scott told me.
The lines between customers and the company have became less clearly defined. Third-party vendors who might previously have been regarded as competitors or irrelevant, became partners.
The key issue in the communities "is no longer what's good for Intuit," Scott said, but "what's best for the customer." Coincidentally, it turns out that what's best for the customer is almost always best for Intuit in the long run.
To understand the core benefit to Intuit, Scott quoted Scott Cook, Intuit founder and chairman “In the moment feedback is a huge gift to companies. You want to do everything you can to foster more and more. This was not possible 30 years ago.”
The communities created a partnering process for product development and for helping each other, sometimes without an Intuit representative being involved at all. The communities become a "connection platform," one where ideas and information are shared and spread faster than was previously possible.
Scott feels that the social networks have a special value for small business practitioners. "Running a small business can be lonely. The biggest obstacle is to connect with others like yourself."
Intuit can help proprietors find others like themselves and because its online, they do not need to take time away from their operations to attend a workshop or events.
The social networks also serve as development platforms, giving independent software developers unprecedented access to a community of millions of small business operators and you can affordably address them as property owners, or dry cleaners or coffee shop proprietors.
"If you can build for QuickBooks, then you have a massive market opportunity," Scott told me.
One such example is Propertyware.com which helps smaller property owners and operators to manage cost and flow of rental properties. It lets small landlords better manage their properties, understand profits, cash flows. The company has no brick and mortar, but exists exclusively in the cloud.
Through a variety of services including Intuit Marketplace and old-fashioned email newsletter, Intuit has given this small virtual company the ability to speak to Intuit's customer base. When Propertyware acquires a new customer, that customer can go directly to Propertyware to purchase additional products. Intuit is fine with that. The customer benefits and Intuit's value to that customer goes up.
One other place that SAP and Intuit seem to agree. Online communities do not reduce the need for face-to-face meetings between people who primarily know each other through online communities. They increase it.
Both companies host a series of social events for their most passionate community members. It seems there still is a business value to handshakes, smiles and occasional hugs.[NOTE: Do you have a story about Intuit or any other enterprise social network? Please let me know. This book is in the early phases of development. And I can use the wisdom of this crowd. Leave a comment or send me an email.]
One of my exercises in starting a new book is to create two sentences. The first tells you what the book is about and the second tells you who it is for. The challenge is to constrain yourself to two sentences.
I'm not there yet. It would be nice, because once I get there, figuring out the Title/subtitle would not feel like such a daunting task.
As I've written before, I use this blog as a sandbox, for my books, a place to play and experiment. A place to see what does and does not work. Over half the books I planned to write have never gotten beyond this sandbox. Almost all writers go through similar exercises, the difference being that mine occupies a public space. And my hope is that you give me some feedback that will help guide me forward.
So, here are a few thoughts I have on what this book is about. I offer them randomly. It helps me just to put them down on virtual paper. It would help more if you chose to give me some feedback.
These ideas are neither sequential, nor are they organized. They are the beginning of my understanding the two sentences of what this book is about and who will want to read it. I am missing a good deal and I am sure that some of what I've just written needs greater clarification.
It's a work in progress, so tell me what you think. Oh yeah, one more thing, got a good name for it?
Yesterday, I announced that I was dropping out of The Living Enterprise book project to write about enterprise communities from an independent perspective. Today I woke up and discovered that once again my toes are against the base of a mountain.
The mountain is a new book project. My toes are at the base, because I am starting anew and this post is the first baby step. At this moment, this new book has not title, no outline, no table of contents, or publishers proposal.
I have hundreds of interviews in front of me, dozens of chapter drafts, leads to pursue, dead ends to hit.
But, if I am at the beginning of a lengthy climb, I am better equipped than I was at the start of previous endeavors. First off, I have a satchel full of notes and ideas that come from dozens of conversations with SAP folk whose stories and insights will be helpful.
I've also started exploring elsewhere.
While writing this post, Intuit's Scott Gulbransen, a TurboTax PR guy, has sent me some links and intros, so that I can start exploring what they have done with communities that embrace independent developers and small businesses.
It's a start. I'm counting on you, dear crowd members, to be the source of more.
Let me tell you a few random thoughts that will be at the nexus of this book, whatever it will be called:
This is as far as I've gotten on the project so far. But Hell, it's only 10 am of Day 1. Please tell me what you think. Does this interest you? Do you have an idea that would make this a better book?
I have used crowd sourcing as much as any author I know and I have greatly appreciated the result in my two previous books. I hope once again, the people I meet in social media will help me write a better book.
Please start sending those cards and letters in. I'm eager to share my view with you from further up the mountain.
As you may know, I’ve been working on a new book called, “The Living Enterprise,” in collaboration with Mark Yolton, head of SAP’s community networks and Zia Yusuf, formerly EVP of SAP’s Ecosystem and Partner Group.
The original direction was to explore the SAP ecosystem and the role that its online communities play in making it work so well. It's a good story, but as I dug in I became increasingly aware that there are other good stories at other companies that I really want to cover as well. These include IBM, Intuit, Microsoft and Oracle as well as other companies and communities you may already know about that I want to learn about.
I have decided to write this new book independently of my co-authors. I continue to respect them and wish them well, but I am at my most comfortable as an independent writer and that is the course that I will pursue moving forward.
My new focus will be from an independent perspective, comparing and contrasting different communities and strategies; giving you ideas of options that may be useful to understand wherever it is that you work.
I will almost entirely talk about large companies and business-to-business strategies, perhaps as a contrast to Twitterville, which covered more small operations than large. Hopefully, it will give readers of the breadth and diversity of social media in business.
Mostly, as always, I will try to assemble some really useful and interesting stories. I remain convinced that the best way to tell business stories is not by putting a white paper between book covers, but by telling you about people; their struggles and dreams and how it impacts their work.
SAP will most certainly be part of my new book. It's a great story that tells you how one of the world's largest companies has figured out how to integrate social media into a modern enterprise to the benefit of its customers and partners as well as itself.
As always, I will crowd source as much of this book as I can. If you have a good story about an enterprise community, please share it with me. It can be favorable or unfavorable. What I am looking for is content that is will be useful or interesting to business readers.
If you have a good story lead, please leave a comment here or email me.
I thought I was having a senior moment this week, when NASA announced the "first tweet from outer space this week," by astronaut TJ Creamer, who declared:
"Hello Twitterverse! We r now LIVE tweeting from the International Space Station -- the 1st live tweet from Space! :) More soon, send your ?s"
Lots of press picked this up and declared this an historic moment.
"My spacewalk was amazing. We had some tough problems, but through them all, the view of our precious planet was beautiful."
The event got enough notice that @astro_mike now has over 1.3 million followers.
I recalled this instantly when I started seeing reports this week on Creamer's first tweet because I reported on the incident in Twitterville. What is remarkable is that a great many newspapers who reported Massimo's first tweet last year, reported Creamer's first tweet this week with seemingly no recollection of their own reports of eight months ago.
What about NASA? Well the may have some wiggle room, although I have my doubts. Last year, the question was raised on just how the first first tweet was actually sent. After all, there is no broadband in outer space. It turned out, that Massimo had relayed his message to a coworker who had the astronaut's twitter user ID and password. So the post actually came Florida, which is sometimes strange but always terrestrial.
So was Creamers the first space tweet that did not involved just a little bit of a cheat?
Not sure, because there still isn't anyway that's been explained on how you post a tweet from outer space.
I would ask NASA, but I have tried to interview them three times and all three times they ignored my requests and there's just so much rejection an earthling can take.
Author Diane Danielson has an excellent post on the role that social media played in Scott Brown's victory over Martha Coakley for the Massachusetts Senate seat. It reminded me of when I was asked for some social media thoughts on the California presidential primary by some of Hillary Clinton's pols.
Those talks were filled with a certain smugness on their part, that the California primary was in the bag and their interest in social media was how it could be used to get the word out and contributions in. They looked amused when I used such Gumbaya terminology as "listening to the voters," demonstrating that you care about what they care about."
One of them quipped, "Yeah, we'll just have Hillary sit down an email every Democrat in the state."
I think Coakley's loss reflects a certain smugness on her campaign's part. They presumed they were the heir apparent to the Kennedy throne. They didn't think Coakley needed to go out and ask the voters what was on their mind. They didn't need to do what we want people in power to do more than anything else: Listen to us. Stop talking and start listening.
Coakley started later than Scott Brown on Twitter and ended up with fewer than one-fourth of his followers. Brown was more conversational. Whoever was tweeting on his behalf really sounded like him. Whether true or not, he used social media to demonstrate a thread of sharing experience with working class people,with people facing struggles in tough times.
I don't think this election was won or lost in Twitterville any more than I believe that it was a referendum on Obama or health care. In fact, Massachusetts has the closest thing to universal health care that we have in the US.
Elections are often more complex, more layered and nuanced than pollsters and newsrooms portray them. Sure their are polarized loyalists to one party or another, but increasingly, we vote for people; people we can relate to, people who may see the issues from a similar perspective or with a similar ethic set as we do.
Scott Brown seems to have come across as a more human and accessible candidate, in my view from 3000 miles away. He used social media--along with many other channels-- to portray himself that way. Social media did not make the difference but I'm pretty sure it made a difference.
These days, politicians need to be on social media for the same reason that they go to the funerals of famous people. That where the voters are. That's how they show a human side. That's where people have access to those who are elected to serve them.
This is a global phenomenon. Elected officials are joining Twitter, not just in the US but in the UK and most recently in Japan. Why? because voters are there in increasing numbers. You can reach more of them faster and at lower cost, but more, much more than that, you can find out what is on their mind.
You can listen and respond and that is really what we want from ut elected officials.
In 1953, Ralph Ellison wrote The Invisible Man a book I was required to read in college in the 1960s and one that has shaped my thinking. The invisible man in that book was a black man, one that you would pass by without seeing; you could say what you wanted within earshot of him and it did not matter, because well, it was as if he wasn't there.
Over the years, I have become aware of all sorts of invisible people in the world, those whom we are more comfortable ignoring than acknowledging; those whose problems do not concern us, because their poverty or affliction was not our doing.
Mark Horvath has been a commercial TV producer and a recording artist. He's also a great writer and story teller. Earlier in his diverse career, he was teen age pot dealer and would end up being one of those invisible people along Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. If I had passed him by in 1995, I probably would not have seen him at all--except for the large lizard on his shoulder.
Mark is now producing TV again at invisiblepeople.TV. He is also tweeting at Hardly Normal. To say his new endeavor is being done on a shoestring might exaggerate his assets. But the next time you want a dose of reality TV, try watching some f Mark's incredibly interesting, moving and occasionally inspirational episodes.
His story is below, but first one other note: Mark could really use some editing equipment. If you have some to spare contact him through me or at Hardly Normal.
1. Let's start with your background. Where were you born and raised? What did you aspire to do when you grew up?
I grew up In Binghamton, NY. At age 14 until I was 16 I sold an average of 20 pounds of marijuana per week. It was my first business experience. As a kid, I could not come home with a new car so the group of kids that helped me --my “employees” would spend event cent on anything fun.
I also started to play drums professionally--meaning I made money--at age 14. By the time I was 16 music gave me the same power that selling drugs did, and since people now gave me drugs to hang with the ‘band,’ and since I was no longer a minor and laws changed if I was caught selling drugs - I stopped selling.
At 17, I formed a record and publishing company and produced my first single. Music became my life. I also learned how to do lots with a little. I did not have money to compete with major labels, but by using a little extra effort and creative thinking the stuff I produced came across with big budget excellence.
At age 26, my girlfriend and I moved to LA. I did a little everything for a while: music, acting, working apprentice special effects on B movies.
In 1990, I was playing music fulltime and got a girl pregnant. I thought I would need health insurance and started to look for ‘normal’ work. I lied on an application to a major TV syndicator. They hired me as traffic supervisor. Two weeks later they fired my boss and made me traffic manager. Soon, I ran traffic, mass duplication, vault and fulfillment services for a major TV company. It may not have been glamorous, but if you watched TV from 1990 to 1994 I was responsible for getting it to your TV set.
2. How did you become homeless?
My homelessness resulted from a series of bad decisions and severe drug abuse over a 20-year period. I was always a very high-functioning drug addict. I didn’t lose my job because I was on drugs; I lost it because I refused to obey an order to fire a Mexican to cover a mistake made by a a senior executive.
They fired one of my team members anyway. I screamed about it and the madness sent my drug abuse into overdrive and that cost me my job. I went back to old habits and started hanging out with some very bad people.
I lost it mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
I lived on or near Hollywood Boulevard off and on for about a year. I would go into a homeless shelter and kicked out. I was brought down to the point of no support, and no security.
It’s very hard to explain what homelessness is like. Living on the streets is hopeless and horrible. You beat yourself up with, “how did I get here” and “how am I going to get out of here” questions.
Visiting my homeless memories are not easy for me. I remember, in 1995, sitting by what was then a tee-shirt shop next to Grumman’s Chinese Theatre. My pet
6-foot-long iguana, "D.O.G." was sitting on my shoulder. My head was buried in my hands. I was lost in thoughts of my situation.
Then, a busload of Asian tourists unloaded and a group of them surrounded me. One asked, “can I take a picture of your Iguana?”
“Sure”, I said “for a dollar.” Everyone started handing me dollar bills. It was at that moment that I started to sell photos of D.O.G. and became “The Lizard Man Of Hollywood Boulevard.”
There's irony. Grumman's Chinese Theater became Kodak Theater. Fifteen years ago I survived by panhandling in front of it. In 2009, thanks to Jeff Pulver, I presented from the stage at The 140 Characters Conference because of my Twitter experience.
3. Tell me your happiest personal story from you homeless days. Tell me your saddest.There are no happy stories.
There are memories that I now laugh at, but I don’t consider them happy. Here is a post I wrote for Change.org about my first homeless night. After walking all day to find a safe place to sleep, I finally lay down in a park only for the sprinklers to go off.
Horrible then – funny now!
4. When, how and why did you decide to not be homeless?
No one decides to be homeless.
I mean, people do dumb things that often have negative consequences. But ‘Recycling Engineer’ is never an option on career day.
I can tell you right now looking at it from both sides the system is broken. I completely understand why some people give up trying. You keep hitting wall after wall trying to make your life better and eventually it wears you down.
It’s called learned helplessness.
After everything I have been through I cannot honestly tell you why or how I made it. But I did.
What I can tell you is that I didn’t do it alone. Along that way when I was at my lowest someone was there to give a hand. We must never give up on people. Ever. I was one of the worst of the worst, yet I changed.
I'm proof that anyone can change and have a better life.
5. Having been through such an experience, you elected to then spend your life working with and for the homeless. Why?
Oh please know I didn’t pick this life. Several people have blogged about me being a hero and I cringe – I’m really not that nice - I’m not.
I just could no longer walk by people and do nothing. And that didn’t just happen overnight, either. In a way, I had heart surgery and I’ll never be the same.
I November 2007, I was working in St. Louis and earning in the six figures when I lost my job. I aggressively searched for nine months, paying my mortgage and food with my credit cards.
Executive jobs were still being cut and low end employers like McDonalds wouldn't hire me after seeing my last income.
I crashed hard. I remember applying for food stamps. Walking into the building crushed me like it did when I was homeless applying for government assistance.
I was about done when I lucked into a job back in Los Angeles. I grabbed a ghetto apartment to save money since because I had all the St. Louis debt to deal with. Three months later I was one of 50 people to get laid off. It devastated me.
I felt like I had when I had been homeless 15 years earlier, maybe worse since I'd been sober all these years.
November of 2008 I started Invisiblepeople.tv.
It wasn’t this long thought-out process, maybe because the basic concept had been in me for years. As a nonprofit television producer I was tired of spinning homeless stories. And I had wrestled around the idea of doing a very ‘raw’ project.
Since I had nothing but a laptop, a camera and an iPhone, not even editing equipment. If I had any money, I would love to edit Invisible people.
Last winter I took a temp job supporting a homeless shelter. Along with making new friends while taping InvisiblePeople.tv my life changed.
A year ago my plan was to move back to LA for a cushy marketing job, start a new band, find a hot wife and vacation in Hawaii. Today, my financial crisis in many ways is worse, but my heart has been changed.
I sometimes dream about getting a normal job, but I know deep down I’d hate it.
In homeless services outreach you never know who you are going to meet. I was called to a park in Pasadena to assist a family. I loaded the father, mother and two babies into the van driving them to our facility. After we arrived the father was helping me unload the baby stroller from the back of the van.
Without saying anything he pointed to a rock. I thought he was helping me clean out the back of the van so I grabbed it to throw it away. He stopped me, took the rock out of my hand and handed it to his daughter. They are homeless. They live in a park. The only toy he could give his child is a smooth rock.
My heart was wrecked and I have never been the same since.
6. Malcolm Gladwell has written that most homeless people are that way for a very short period of time and that the problems of violence, property damage and emergency room costs that disturb so many people are caused by an extremely small number of people. What is your view on that?
I love what [San Francisco mayor] Gavin Newsom said, “We don’t have a homeless problem. We have a housing problem.”
You are referring to Million Dollar Murray a likeable homeless guy who cost public services over a million dollars, before he died on the street in a drunken stupor.
In Denver it costs $40k to keep someone on the streets and $14k to house them. To the taxpayer that’s a yearly savings of $26k per homeless individual being helped.
This is part of the growing Housing First movement, which I support.
Although controversial, it saves lives and saves money
But just providing housing is not enough.
The issue is what happens when you house people who are still on drugs or are mentally ill. Consider this: how do you stay sober when you are crapping behind a dumpster in a McDonalds parking lot?
It’s nearly impossible to stay sober on the streets. Point blank - unless a person has dignity they are not going to change. Give a person shelter--then work on the ‘issues’
We cannot just throw a chronic homeless person into housing and leave them alone. \ People need tangible social interaction.
7. Let's talk social media. When and how did it catch your attention? Tell me how you got started.
When I was job hunting from St. Louis, for the job that brought me back to Los Angeles. My prospective new boss tweeted, and was tweeting about the interview process, so of course, I looked, and looked, and looked! I started my account.
Being a TV producer by trade, I started a Twitter experiment. Driving from St. Louis back to Los Angeles, I told the story and used a few tricks to engage people. People started to email me, “where you going?”
The light bulb started to glow and I saw Twitter's value as a storytelling tool. Good marketing is simply telling a good story.
When I started Invisiblepeople.tv,I used Twitter to market it for not great strategic reason. I did it because Twitter is free and that fit my budget.
I’m your typical front page USA Today recession story. I’ve lost everything. Layoff, after layoff, after layoff, house lost to foreclosure. I did not, and still do not, have an operating budget. I use what I can afford and will give me real-time storytelling ability.
8. What is one of your InvisiblePeople that moved you the most?
I walked under a bridge in Atlanta and met Angela. She’s dying under that bridge, and the best I could do is give her a sandwich. Food is not enough. We need to support people who need help with housing, jobs and health services. Sure, maybe your support level is making a sandwich. Well then, make a bunch and take them to your local homeless shelter so they can save on their food budget for housing, jobs and health services.
if you wonder how Beth may have ended up under that bridge maybe this will help
9. How have your social media experiences helped homeless people in general and in specific.
I have an agenda. I am after your perceptions. Thing is a perception is a hard thing to measure, yet every now and then I get a glimpse. One day I was getting crazy traffic and clicked on the link that took me to America’s Next Top Model. You don’t have to be a genius to know models and homeless don’t mix. I scrolled down to find a comment left by a girl saying after visiting Invisiblepeople.tv she no longer thinks homeless are bums
Social media has been everything. I mean, I would not be typing this today if it was not for the people I met via social media that helped me. From the road trip to putting food in my fridge, social media changed my life. I am very grateful to everyone.
Now let’s get real. I was an unemployed guy who lost everything. With only a laptop and a cell phone I got the word ‘homeless’ to trend on twitter. Michael Jackson trends, iPhone trends – not HOMELESS – that’s huge! Even better, probably the coolest thing that has ever happened in homeless cause marketing may be Ford mirroring my content
I search twitter for the word ‘homeless’. Sometimes I get people being ignorant and I educate, and sometimes I find others helping homeless people. Probably the most interesting is this story.
Those are only a few of many examples of how I changed the general public’s view on homelessness.
This last summer’s road trip I was told about 50 homeless kids that didn’t have shoes so they could not go to school. One hour later they all had new shoes. Because I had the courage to do something different and with the help of people on social media housing and food programs have been started. That’s really amazing for a guy who has nothing but twitter to make things happen.
12. Can you tell me a single story that illustrates what social media has done for the homeless?
This may be the best single story.
In February 2006, Chris Shipley, then executive producer of the DEMO conferences delivered an important keynote address. In it, she defined the term 'social media.' At the time there was conclusion between it and Web 2.0.
Simultaneously, there was a new generation of online conversational tools that included, blogs, wikis, video and photo sharing. Shipley's definition was simple and clear:
"Social media were spaces on the web where people could hold public conversations."
I thought it was a great definition for a fast-emerging category of tools that needed their own taxonomy. I wrote and spoke about the term as often as I could. I still do.
So very much has happened since then; so many millions of people have come to social media spaces to share a wide array of conversational elements. The topics are is varied as what gets discussed in email or on the phone.
Lately, I've noticed a new level of confusion. Social Media's definition is getting narrowed down to Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube and a few other public platforms. Recently, someone who should know better told me that enterprise online communities are not really social media. Earlier today, I go a similar comment on Twitter.
Of course they are. They are public conversations. Large numbers of people can join in on a topic. They make geography less of a barrier to information and ideas.
My consistent view is that people keep confusing a set of interactive communications tools with apps. The answer to the questions of how you use Twitter is "however you want."
That answer changes only slightly when the question becomes, "how do you use SAP's community networks. There the answers is, "in any way that is relevant and appropriate to the overall community."
There is so much these days, which gets clouded by layers of complexity. To my way of thinking social media's definition is quite simple and has not changed since it first came into use.
I hope it remains that way.
It seems to me that SAP's 75 mentors are the fire starters for much of what happens in SAP's two-million member community network and I told you a little about why in my previous post. And further, they have influence on programs, policies, product and ideas that often spread throughout SAP global infrastructure
For that reason, I'm giving a good deal of attention to the mentors while researching The Living Enterprise. My previous post told you a bit about the organization and today's post looks at the program's founder and leader.
Mark Finnern, is SAP's chief community evangelist. He created, named and orchestrates the SAP Mentor group. It would not be accurate to say he runs the mentors, because they in fact, run themselves. He is more like a spiritual vortex for them. His role is not part of any company devised grand strategy. Rather, his job has sort of evolved as so many social media positions have done in the past few years. In some ways, social media professionals in established businesses are still making it up as they go along.
It started in 2003, when Mark became part of a small handful of SAP professionals assigned to develop a developer outreach program for NetWeaver, then a new software platform that needed to open the company up to a larger number of software developers that had been previously necessary.
This became the Software Developers Network [SDN] SAP's first online social network. Sinc then there have been several new social networks created, all under the SAP Communities Network [SCN] umbrella. Like other enterprises, these communities are public in that anyone can visit them, but they are private in that only community members with a designated userID and password can post content. Free thought and speech is encouraged, but inappropriate content is promptly taken down and repeat offenders can be banned.
Mark was the non-technical member of the technical team that started SDN. "I brought the passion," he told me. He also brought a series of new ideas and played a key role in stitching together a series of communities that meander seemlessly from online to off and from company representative to partner or customer and back again.
SDN's first module was an old-fashioned forum, which pretty much looks and feels like any forum that you may have seen in the last 20 years or so. Mark's first significant improvement was to add blogs to the forums. Blogs were still relatively new, outside of the development community. There were less than 50 of them among Fortune 100 companies in 2004, when these started.
Tim O'Reilly, CEO of O'Reilly Media, an open source champion,publisher and event producer consulted SAP on how to get started and social media and provided the company with it's first online community platform. [As the communities and users grew, with thousands of posts per day, the company would eventually migrate to Jive Software.]
Blogs move faster than forums and the comment structure is more conversational. After Mark and others injected them into SDN, the conversations became a lot more interesting.
But they also raised issues that have been a pain points for most businesses related to social media. SDN, is an official SAP site. Companies are accustomed to being in command and control of what is said on their own turf. And when you think about it, why shouldn't the company, have the power to review, revision, polishing and filtering.
Blogs just don't work well that way. And on SDN customers were encouraged to post blogs side-by-side with those from SAP employees. This changed the perspective from company to community.
Company concerns probably reached a crescendo when an outside developer posted a blog calling a particular SAP product a failure. Mark's phone started ringing a few minutes later, a higher up ordered Mark to take the post down.
Mark resisted. Deleting it would cost the company credibility. While the internal offline debate continued, something started happening at SDN itself. Other community members began chiming, posting defenses for the product and pointing to several mistruths in the original post.
The result strengthened the product's position as well as SAP's credibility in the developer community. When customers defend a company, it has greater influence than anything a company spokesperson could hope to accomplish.
But it was a two-way street. The community had revealed itself to be credible to the company. If some officials had feared that blogging would allow an unruly mob to light torches, it turned out that those torches would illuminate the truth about a company and its products. It meant that praise could protect SAP and the criticism that did come in would be mostly constructive, helping the company to adjust course when it was wise to do so.
The incident helped SAP to gain credibility with some of the hardest-to-impress people inside SAP. Senior technologists generally speaking tend to be viewed as hard nosed and cynical to any form of hype and SAP's are no different. SAP's Horst Keller, an internationally known German physicist and author was one such senior technologist. After the incident, he posted a blog describing what had happened as very cool. Mark encouraged him to post more content and Horst complied, opening the door for some of SAP's most respected technology voices to join the conversation.
Mark kept helping to evolve functionality. he encouraged the team to add wikis, which seem to keep better focus than others I've seen. he adapted a system from Reilly media that allowed the company to reward contributions with points based on frequency and quality of contribution.
Perhaps most significantly, was that Mark realized that while online communities may reduce barriers of time and geography, it misses one of the magic points of human interaction: the face-to-face meeting.
He started developing events in cooperation with the mentors. It began with "unconferences," where attendees set the agenda and schedule. These have evolved into what is now called SDN Meets Labs, day-long sessions, usually produced by SAP mentors held all over the world. He added Tee-shirts that often touted community boosting slogans.
When O'Reilly keynoted to 5000 SAP customers at Tech Ed 2007, he walked onto the dais wearing a tee shirt he had received at a smaller, more intimate Community Day for 350 the day before. Paraphrasing a famous Clint Eastwood line, it declared, "Go ahead. Make my community day. "O'Reilly looked down at his shirt and commented, Any company that puts this on their tee-shirts, gets it."
Another face-to-face event produced by Mark and the mentors is the SDN Clubhouse. When attendees of Tech Ed or SAPphire, the huge annual conferences conference sessions get bored they can wander into the clubhouse for coffee and conversation. Mark makes having the best coffee at each event a major priority.
Mark told me he doubts the mentors would not have emerged into either so tight-knit or as influential of a community without the face-to-face get togethers.
"The experience of being in a room with people who share the passion, to work together and to solve problems is what gives the mentors their magic," he told me.
It seems to me that Mark's personality, a mixture of passion, intensity and dry humor has much to do with the personality adopted by the mentor organization of 75 people and because of their collective position of influence over both SAP and its community this small group is contributing to the texture, personality, products and policies of a global community of millions of millions of people.
One aspect of the mentors is a common thread of music loving. Mark, for example plays several instruments including the accordion and harmonica. At an event in 2007, attendees were given harmonicas as they filed in. mark entered, playing one, and then the audience joined in which may be the only harmonica-fest in tech sector history.
Keynote speakers for the main Tech Ed speak the day before at the smaller, more intimate Community Day. They are asked to play a musical instrument to precede the main event and set the tone for the gathering.
Over the coming days I will be speaking with additional members of the Mentor group and sharing notes here. They will certainly be included in the book that comes from this effort.
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We* see SAP's ecosystem as a living thing. To understand it, think of the biological kind rather than the org chart or PowerPoint slide that some companies use to represent their ecosystems. Think of people and places and how they interconnect and interdepend on each other.
In Earth's ecosystem, there are land masses. Some are huge and divided into different sectors. While people in each share a great deal in common, they sometimes don't speak the same language and have cultural differences. This sometimes leads to misunderstandings, which can be costly to all parties involved.
In the earth's ecosystem, oceans and waterways connect all the land masses. Increasing the same can be said for SAP's network of online communities. But there's two million users of these networks. Some are occasional visitors some merely use it to get fast answers to tough technical questions.
But there are others who have for varying reasons, chosen to immerse themselves into the community. They have demonstrated expertise. They have helped others and contributed to the community by organizing events, writing white papers, advising newcomers, advising and sometimes pressuring SAP to adjust course.
They are also good communicators and you find their contributions are almost omnipresent wherever you look across the SAP Community Network [SCN]. They are hand-holders, advocates and occasional antagonists; the defend the company against false accusations and tell the company when they think the company is making a mistake in product, service or policy.
They produce local face-to-face events and travel to regional and national ones sponsored by or related to SAP. A mentor gets an annual performance review. She or he can be fired for poor performance and in return for all this time and effort, they are rewarded with tee shirts, recognition and points.
A mentor is an unpaid volunteer who needs to keep his or her day job. There are 75 of them and they reside all over the world. Most work for SAP customers or partners. A few are employed by SAP.
Obviously, the recognition makes them influential in the overall enterprise technology communities, but from those I've talked to, that is not what makes them spend all this time and energy as mentors. They seem to me to be motivated by passion more than professional creds.
which are almost deeply technical. But they simply would not have been selected; nor would they have wanted to be, if each of them was not passionate about SAP and the issues impacting company, customers and partners.
Mentors are similar in many ways to Microsoft's better-known Most Valuable Professional (MVP) program. But the significant difference in perspective is in the name. "MVP, is a sports term. It's for the stars in the field. "Mentor," refers to a wise and trusted counselor or teacher. It's not about being a star. It's about giving.
One other aspect that has impressed me and the reason for this post's title. The mentors self organize into teams. The membership is determined by what needs to be accomplished, rather than who wants some glory. So far, despite some attempts to get them to behave otherwise, each of them speaks and acts in support of the other. It seems to be part of their culture.
Mark Finnern, who will be the subject of my next TLE-related post, runs the program. When I spoke with him, he emphasized that the group was called SAP Mentors, not community mentors. This was because they are influencing and changing all of SAP. Not just the social networks.
More on Mark in my next report.*When I say "we" I mean my co-authors Mark Yolton, Zia Yusuf and me. I do not presume to speak for SAP and I often bring a different perspective to this story.
An open letter to Mark Zuckerberg
First, congrats on building Facebook into the world's largest social network. You now have about as many users as the US has residents and China has people on the internet. That makes Facebook a very important platform and you a very influential decision-maker on how this new Conversational Age will unfold in the coming years.
I'm writing you now because of your recent remarks during a recent eight-minute interview where you said that you try to maintain "a beginner's view" of Facebook and make decisions as if you were starting your company today. In that light you decided to open all Facebook user information in the interest of transparency and because you believes your 350 million users were now comfortable with it.
Mark, I have to say, I think you are wrong in so many ways.
We may be in transparent times. If we are I applaud a new age of transparency. But there is a big difference between transparency and privacy. Let me illustrate:
I may elect to blog about taking a work day off and using the time to take a romantic walk on the beach with my wife. I may post a picture of her and my dog on that beach. But their are elements that I keep private. Perhaps we share an intimate moment in the sand dunes. I elect not to tell you about that part.
So there are a few pieces to this. First, I disclosed personal stuff including some photos of loved ones and a confession that I was playing when I should have been working. I also elected to hold back certain parts of the day because they were private.
Transparency is important in business as well. Businesses, using venues such as Facebook are learning that it is safe and wise to be far more transparent today than they were at the beginning of the last decade. But that safety comes from the assurance that they can keep certain matters private and that they get to decide what information they should hold back.
Mark, I have no problem really with the data you just released to the world about me. I'm a pretty transparent person and all the stuff you released is pretty public already. But Mark, I have a huge problem with you deciding to release that stuff about me. I would greatly prefer to have been asked. I'm betting a good percentage of your other 349,999,999 users do as well.
You see, we agreed to other rules. We did not know that you would start every day as if Facebook were brand new and could then change the rules on us and many of us just don't like it.
To be honest Mark, you are building up a compelling case that there is a command-and-control aspect to your customer approach that a few generals might envy. A couple of years back, you decided to use advertising to monetize Facebook without asking customers.
In response, your users started an "I hate Facebook" campaign, using Facebook itself as the group's epicenter. I thought you were wise to have backed off. I had hoped that you would have learned a lesson. Apparently this was not the case.
Mark, as I stated Facebook is a force to be reckoned with. You can probably get away with this. But please think about the precedent you are setting. If you ca share my user name and email account, why can't the next guy unilaterally share my phone number, and street address. How about pictures of my grandchildren along with the schools they attend and the routes they walk to get there?
Then there a great question about what banks, credit cards and governments might do down the line.
The term "slippery slope" is little bit overworked, but Mark, honestly, I feel you have just put 350 million of us at the top of a mountain on a toboggan that you remotely control and have gien us a swift push down a steep trajectory.
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As you probably know, Google very recently responded to hacks into it's China operation that could very well have been conducted by the government trying to trick human rights activists, with a two-part agenda:
(1) It is no longer complying with government restrictions. In short for the first ime ever, people in China are able to search for anything they wish and get results.
(2) It has threaten to leave if the government makes its GoogleCN situation untenable. By that it means in conflict with the company's stated "do no evil" policy.
Will Moss has posted the best analysis on it I've seen so far on his blog, where he said in part: "Google has taken China corporate communications playbook, wrapped it in oily rags, doused it in gasoline & lit a match."
I have spent all of one week in China, and I've probably read six-or-eight books on the topic. So I am far from an expert. When I was there, I met with a great number of Web 2.0 folk, including some serious blog dissidents, executives from GoogleCN and other executives who told us a good deal about how they work under and around the China censors.
I left the country understanding for the first time how little I understood about the complex, fragile relationship between the Chinese people and the nine elderly men who run the country as its Politburo.
I remember tweeting on my last day in Beijing, "Whatever you've heard about China is true."
Here are a few random insights I got from visiting China:
Which brings me to some observations of why this issue has huge implications. This is a stand-down that will probably have huge implications for business and for China's relationship with the west and standing in the world community.
If China deports Google, most of the world will praise their heroic stance. Other companies will need to think of the repercussions of continuing to collaborate with a government that spies on its citizens and abuses those who seem to foment unrest. Likewise, if China deports Google, it will at a minimum have a dent on it's relationship with its emerging, well-educated citizens particularly the 350 million of them who use the Internet and have experienced the frustration of being blocked.
Other companies will have to rethink what they are willing to accommodate. Looking like a China government shill will not bode well for the image of most of the world's largest companies.
In short this incident may be a thread that has been pulled on a very large sweater. And the remainder of it may start to unravel, first slowly then perhaps more rapidly. That may sound like the good thing that I hope it is, except for one well-documented fact. When this government gets pushed or frustrated it sometimes responds with a great deal f violence toward citizens and guests.
I had a great meeting with Mark Yolton, yesterday, one of my two co-authors on The Living Enterprise, a book about SAP's ecosystem. We talked mostly about people in SAP communities who might have cool stories to share for the book.
But Mark also gave me a new example of lethal generosity, a term I've written about previously here and in Twitterville. The concept is based on the observation that the people and companies who are most generous in social media companies are also the most influential. And those who just promote their self-serving agenda very often fail. By being more generous to customers than your competitor, you essentially eclipse them in the eyes of people who would buy or recommend your products or services.
Yesterday, Mark mentioned the SAP Community Network (SCN) Job Board. At first this seemed pretty uninteresting, but as he explained, it got a lot better. Mark, who heads up SAP communities said the company spends a lot of time just observing its community conversations.
Not that long ago, his team noticed a lot of people saying they needed jobs. Simultaneously, others were saying they needed to hire. In fact some of those companies couldn't buy more SAP software because they were short tech staff to install and deploy it.
So SCN created a community job board where friction is reduced and employment holes are filled, thus letting customers buy and use more software. A sweet touch is that SAP doesn't post for jobs on its own job board. It refuses to compete for talent against its own customers and partners.
"If we make customers more prosperous," Mark told me, "we prosper."
But here's the part that makes it lethal generosity, in my view. As far as SAP knows none of its competitors have job boards. If an Oracle customer wants a fast, free way to find quality developers to hire, it would have to switch to SAP. If one of SAP's customer's competitors wanted to access talent, it would have to become an SAP customer for the access.
It was interesting to learn about other plans SAP has to gain competitive advantage by monitoring its own communities to spot early trends. For example, it might notice that there's suddenly a lot of conversation is taking place in and about Turkey or perhaps Brazil indicating that software sales in that country is heating up and it can inform its sales organization to adjust course accordingly.
I've heard very few cases of enterprises using communities to directly impact sales in such a way. It is part of the ecosystem approach that seems to me to integrate social media tools with the entire company's needs.
I like that.
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My friend, Beth Kanter* pointed recently to a Forbes.com piece by Laurie Burkitt about Threadless.com, the Chicago-based tee-shirt company. The author says that the dotcom, consumer retailer sprang to life from the idea that "employees and customers don't have to be two distinct groups."
It's a good thought, one that I think captures one of the fundamental changes being brought on by social media's emerging role in business.
SAP is no consumer marketing company. It is big, technical and it's customers are big and the people they talk with are most often technical.
Yet the thought that customers and companies and the third-party consultants that are involved are all part of the same community. If one party benefits, so do the others. If one becomes unhealthy so do the others.
Now the Threadless concept is about the customer doing the design work and being rewarded accordingly. That's not how it works exactly at SAP. But SAP does let its customers mess around with SAP product source code to customize software to their respective needs.
It also has inserted a several online communities into its company infrastructure, where customers, partners and SAP share ideas and information. There are two million unique visits to these social networks each month; 6,000 posts-per-day. In the course of 2008, 70,000 individuals in over 200 countries contributed to more than a million topics.
Because these conversations are in blogs, forums and wikis, the answers to questions are easy and fast to find. A developer can usually get the answer to a question in less than 20 minutes. All sorts of SAP people, from its myriad locations, workgroups and perspectives participate
At the end of the day, it can be hard to determine whether an idea or suggestions, or useful tidbit was generated by a customer, a partner or SAP itself.
It is far more complex than Threadless. But the concept is the same. There is a shared interest and a common need.
In the Conversation Age, employees and customers are no longer two distinct groups. They have a common need. They swim in the same waters. They flourish or flounder together.
This has probably always been true for marketplaces. But it has become a lot more clear to a lot more businesses since social media opened up businesses, than it ever was before.
*Today is Beth's 53rd birthday. You should go wish her the happiness she deserves.
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My previous post announced The Living Enterprise, [TLE] a book I'm writing with Mark Yolton and Zia Yusuf about how SAP has created an ecosystem valued at about $80 billion and why what they've learned can help your business as well.
I talked mostly about SAP regards their enterprise ecosystem as a living, moving shapeless entity, more like a biologic ecosystem than the traditional customer networks that other companies call ecosystems.
Near the bottom of the piece, I briefly mentioned that SAP has adopted a new position for itself in its own ecosystem, one modeled after a symphony orchestra conductor. This was intended to be a teaser, something that made readers hungry for this next installment.
It seemed to work. Rebecca Krause-Hardie left a comment saying, "I'm looking forward to hearing more. But putting on my orchestral musician hat I can't quite get the conductor metaphor."
That comment turned out to be one of those Marshall McLuhan moments you may recall from the movie Annie Hall. Rebecca it seems, know all about orchestra conductors.
A graduate of Juilliard, she played second horn in the Phoenix Symphony for a while then went on to serve as orchestra manager for the Detroit symphony. She has emerged as a pioneer in integrating new media into orchestras. Among her achievements was creating Playmusic.org, the first interactive music website for kids and an extremely interesting project.
While I was learning this, my co-author Zia Yusuf jumped in with a comment for Rebecca, which made sense. As head of the SAP's Ecosystem group at the time, he was the guy who brought the orchestra metaphor into SAP to begin with.
I thought he gave a pretty good answer. In part this is what he said:
"The success of an orchestra rests on various instruments working in harmony, under the direction of the conductor, making beautiful music.In a similar way the ecosystem consists of a variety of players: customers, software vendors, service providers, individuals etc."
If you think about it, the symphony conductor is almost always the most prominent person in the hall and very often the lionshare recipient of recognition and revenue. But the conductor depends upon each of the 80 or so musicians as much as the musicians depend upon him--and if you think about it--each other.
A conductor by himself is some guy with a baton. He's as capable of making memorable music as is a teenager with an air guitar. Conversely, if the talented, creative, passionate musicians assembled together on stage without a conductor, you'd end up with a jam session at best and a headache at worse.
The conductor and these individuals interdepend on each other. The musicians count on him to bring the group together, to set tempo and mood; to spotlight individuals when it makes sense, and entire sections when the moment calls for it. Everyone assembled gets to contribute and benefit.
This is a very far cry from so many of the military analogies that so many large companies use to describe their positions and strategies. And this is how SAP is approaching it's ecosystems. You cannot make an ecosystem work by trying to organize it in battalions, divisions and squadrons. The best you can get is a marching band which lacks the elegance, diversity, subtlety and talent of most symphony orchestras.
I just noticed that Erin Liman,SAP's director of social business innovation has just added a comment in reply to Rebecca as well. Erin is playing a highly contributive role in this project. Among the most valuable was her indepth interview with Dorcas McCall, a career orchestra viola player who we will talk about in TLE.
In my view, the Orchestra Conductor metaphor is worth all these words. I think the book will hinge, in part, on our explaining it properly. If I were to boil the entire 80,000 words down to three bullets on a PowerPoint slide, they would be:
I am very pleased to announce my next book project: The Living Enterprise: How SAP built a multibillion dollar ecosystem; what it learned and why your business should care.” This is a working title and may be tweaked, so let me know what you think.
I have two co-authors: Zia Yusuf who was EVP of SAP's Global Ecosystem and Partner Group until November and Mark Yolton, SVP responsible for SAP's online communities. I'm just the writer/researcher. This is really more their story and the story of the ecosystem group.
But much more than SAP itself, The Living Enterprise [TLE] is the story of how SAP's 7000 partners and 86,000 corporate customers benefit from SAP's integration of social networks with a traditional partner program into an enterprise ecosystem.
The result has been an answer to social media's most persistent business question: "Where's the money?" SAP's ecosystem according to independent analysts has a marketplace value of $70 billion to $90 billion for the companies represented by two million users of the company's social networks.
There's the money.When I started talking with Mark and Zia last September, I was concerned with the term enterprise ecosystem. It sounded to me like the sort of "corpspeak" that Scoble and I admonished in Naked Conversations. At first it seemed to me, the term is a cliche designed by marketers to modernize an old-fashioned large company networks.
That may be true elsewhere, but not so at SAP I have learned. SAP looks at its enterprise ecosystem through the same prism as you would look at a biological ecosystem, where objects and living things interact and depend on each other to survive or thrive. Even a tiny change in an obscure part of an ecosystem can have the same impact on larger participants as a polar bear slipping off a sheet of melting ice has on eventual water level in New York City.
Except with the internet as the ocean, it all happens much, much faster when online social networks bloodlines dynamically circulation information and ideas throughout the enterprise ecosystem with great speed.
Before all this happened, SAP felt many of the dilemmas that most modern companies are experiencing. If social media champions are shouting that the company should not be in command and control of it's own ecosystem, just who should be. And for that matter, if SAP was not to dominate, just what was it's new role?
It took a lot of time and effort to find its own series of answers. The first was replace itself at the center of its own ecosystem with its customers. This was not altruism, it was the realization that the health of SAP and its business partners depended on the health of its customers at least as much as the reverse.
As to the question of what role SAP should assume once it stepped out of the center, Zia Yusuf came up with a new metaphor, that of the symphony orchestra conductor.
But first, I am looking for your help. I like to think that my books are different from other business books because I take the story-teller's perspective and because I use my blog and Twitter for a good deal of crowd sourcing.
Later, of course, I'll use my social media tools to ask your help in promoting the book. But right now, I'm looking for juicy stories about SAP and for that matter other enterprise social networks and ecosystems.
If you are among SAP's two million social network users, please share your experience with me--whether it was wonderful or awful. My books come alive with the user stories much more than the company stories that provide the framework.If you have an experience in social nets at Microsoft, IBM, Salesforce, Oracle or any other enterprise inside or out of the tech sector please let me know.
Because of my co-authors and SAP's commitment to the project, TLE has a solid foundation, but it will be the stories that come from elsewhere that will make this book as special as we hope it will be.
Also, please keep in mind that I appreciate tough love. If you think this idea is brilliant, that inflates my ego. If you think we are on the wrong track, then we will be greatly appreciative of you setting us straight.
On Christmas Day 2009, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, a son of one of Nigeria's richest families was preparing to board a flight to Detroit from Schiphol Airport, in Amsterdam one of the world's busiest. He probably slipped into a restroom, where he taped a large quantity of PEDT to the inside front of his underwear.
PEDT is a chemical explosive, and this was a new strain of it, designed to get past airport security. It worked, and simultaneously airport security failed. Umar was on an international terror watch list and he was holding a one-way ticket to the US.
As Northwest Air Flight 258 began it's descent into Detroit, Umar took out a syringe containing clear liquid. Lots of people carry syringes containing clear liquid onto planes. We are diabetics. Umar's however, contained a chemical accelerant that was supposed to make the PEDT blow a huge hole into the planes said and thus kill 278 people.
Instead, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab succeeded only in incinerating his own penis. If he had died and been rewarded his 100 virgins, as his Al Qaeda mentors may have promised, that would have been a very big loss for him.
Security learned that the bad guys had a new form of explosive and they would have to adjust yet again. It's a tough job, in my view. On one hand we just hate the scrutiny as they queue into airport lines. On the other hand we demand that this system of screening millions of people per hour all over the world be absolutely foolproof.
The fact of the matter is that it is very difficult to catch a criminal who is willing and often motivated to die to reach his or her goal. It is difficult and painful to stave off a culture who raises children to be suicide bombers. It is very hard to tell the difference between a student and a terrorist posing as a student.
So do we want security to do really? Do we now think airport security agents should pat everyone's crotches before they are allowed to fly? How about diabetics with insulin and syringes? No, we cannot put it in checked luggage for a few reasons. We can get doctor notes, but so can the terrorists.
President Obama is right that we just had a "systemic failure." A known bad guy got onto a plane. But those who pay attention to system failures will tell you that nearly all large scale complex systems fail, sooner or later, particularly when something new and unanticipated gets inserted into the system.
Yet, right now, everyone is freaking out. TSA, the US airline security people tried to subpoena bloggers; Obama is taking his eye off of healthcare to address public concerns over security. Taiwan Air has unilaterally tightened security on flights into the US.
And so it goes.
I see what just happened from a different perspective than from most of those who I've heard or read. I look back to Sept. 11, 2001, and remember a spectacular horror. One that required coordination and collaboration between more than 100 people at least. One that required financial resources and talent.
On 9/11 the whole world was terrorized. In the following months we shuddered when people dear to us flew, or drive over bridges or go to an event attended by many people. We feared for our children and our landmarks.
Al Qaeda had made its signature large and spectacular acts of terrorism. Multiple coordinated assaults killing large numbers of people. Coordinated bombs in US embassies; hitting the USS Cole bombing a disco in Bali.
This is the way to foment terror. Hit anywhere at anytime. Kill people randomly and in big numbers. Make huge craters where building used to stand.
Compare that with a disturbed young man burning his penis off over Detroit.
It isn't that I don't take this event seriously, because I do. But I wonder if the world has not already seen Al Qaeda's best shot and we have survived and retaliated.
Look at a couple of other facts:
I think it will be a long, long time before there is no need for a war on terrorism. I also think it is important to realize that it seems to be on the wane right now and its strength is waning from inside its ranks as well as from Western efforts to contain and destroy it.
But the purpose of terrorist acts is to provoke terror in those who survive the actual act. Let us not be more terrified than the fcts merit we should be.
Tom Foremski had a really interesting post yesterday about the fact that many PR people have more followers than the editors they have to pitch on behalf of their clients. He cites three of my favorite PR bloggers: Brian Solis, Todd Defren and Steve Rubel.
Each of these guys are well-known in the social media community, better known than most of the thinning selection of traditional editors who cover categories where their respective clients might be newsworthy.
But, Tom observes a paradox, these three PR executives rarely if ever write about their own clients and if they did, then they would be more than a little likely to lose the considerable popularity and credibility they have established.
"Having someone else write a story about your client,on a third-party site, where there has been no exchange of money, conveys far higher value to the story," Tom observes. "That's the paradox of PR peoples' large, personal media footprint -- they can't use their own access to large numbers of people to promote their clients."
Tom is absolutely right, of course. But I think there is more irony and nuance than that. There is also the aside, that Brian Solis, Todd Defren and Steve Rubel have reached a point in their careers where they probably do very little media pitching on their own.
I have spent time with each of them and none has ever even mentioned a client to me.I thank them for that. It also means that if one of them ever did, I would listen closely and use it if I thought my readers might care. They have used social media to become very credible in the social media community. They know enough about me, to know what sort of stories would spark my interest and I would consider them truthful sources who weren't spinning an issue to make their clients look better than they should.
This is in stark contrast to some of the pitches I hear on a regular basis, from PR people who do not read me and have not contributed sufficiently in social media for me to check them out and decide if I consider them credible resources.
In addition to seeing social media as a promotional venue, they should also regard it as a building venue. PR people can use blogs and tweets and Facebook posts to build their own reputations and of even greater importance, they can use it to build relationships with people who may make a difference to them or their clients somewhere down the line.
That brings me to a second point. Tom references PR people pitching traditional media for client coverage. If that is all today's PR person is doing in the name of media relations, then they are performing to a diminishing crowd. The truth is that there are fewer traditional media covering fewer topic, they are very often providing less depth and bring less years f expertise to the topic and they are being read by fewer people.
PR people need to realize that the people relevant to their clients can be found, not behind a newspaper or magazine, but in social media venues. These people may be professional journalists, they may be industry enthusiasts or they may just be wandering through a topic.
The way a PR person finds them today is not by wandering down a purchased media list, but by reading the right social media content for their clients and reading it on a very regular basis. They are found by using topical search tools with some skill and imagination.
And then PR people are welcome to join the conversation and build a relationship before they try pitching a client for coverage. This does not take so long, because relationships form quite fast in social media. And if you are good at it, like Brian, Todd and Steve, the taint of PR hucksterism disappears.
I have occasionally mentioned that I am a diabetic in my social media writing. But I have rarely dwelt on it. I position it more as an incidental fact about me, than something at the core of what I am about. I'm a blogger who has diabetes, not a diabetic blogger and I hope you see the difference.
There are nearly 24 million diabetics in the US and 250 million in the world, The World Health Organization says that on the average, five percent of deaths each year are caused by diabetes. So having diabetes is not even slightly unique.
Nor does having a life-threatening health condition. I know of no family that does not have a member at risk of at least one of the myriad things that kill or debilitate us. I have no friends my age who have not yet experienced the death of a friend, which is a far different experience than losing a parent or elder.
So I write now, not to share how I feel about diabetes; nor do I in this case look for support on the subject and I do not think that I will write about it again in the near future.
I write now, because I just went through an experience that millions of other diabetics will have. It was emotionally difficult for me and involved a change in my daily activity. It involved a sense that I had failed and I want to share with others who may follow my path, that it really is not so bad as I had thought.
I am the son and grandson of diabetics. They both got it when they were in their middle 40s and had become moderately obese. So did I. Sometime around my 42nd birthday, I was about 20 pounds overweight. I had abandoned a very long routine of exercising and I had developed a love of starchy delights like pasta, pizza and San Francisco sourdough.
A routine physical exam showed my blood glucose had gone through the roof. A dormant beta gene that I had inherited from my dad was triggered somehow by the obesity. I had diabetes. I would always have diabetes and it is a degenerative disease. In short, no matter what you do, diabetes gets worse over time for almost anyone who gets it.
The good news for me 23 years ago was that I would not need to take insulin. I could control my diabetes by diet, exercise and a few pills taken every day. I got fairly obsessive with the diet and exercise, but still every few years my Glucose measurement would spike and another pill would get added on, despite the diet, the exercise and a headstrong determination that I would never, NEVER have to jab myself in the belly with a syringe.
This became personal between me and insulin. It was the enemy and if it won, I would have to concede that diabetes was defeating me. I would have to concede, that at age 65 I was closer to my death date than I was at 42.
About a year ago, my glucose number spiked again. It was the 5th time in 23 years when I had a spike, but this time there were no more pills. My doctor told me it was time to start taking insulin, and that insulin regulates sugar in my blood better than the pills. In fact, he said I would be overall healthier on insulin.
I refused. I started working out for longer periods of time and more times per week. I cleaned up my diet habits. I lost 8 pounds. A six-month glucose test indicated I had improved, but was not out of the danger zone. Then this past November, I registered some truly awful numbers and there were no more pills left to take.
I had lost. If I wanted to live a longer life I had to start using insulin. I posted a single comment on Twitter saying that I felt like I had failed and got all sorts of supportive and sympathetic tweets. While I appreciated all the words of kindness, I found myself feeling more embarrassed than supported. I felt that my tweet had a certain "oh poor me," tone.
I know that many people with conditions more threatening than I had found support, encouragement and strength in social media. I am happy for them and have written about why this is a good idea, but for me it didn't seem to work that way. I felt worse after tweeting about insulin than I had before.
On Dec. 14, I met with an extremely well-informed nurse nutritionist at the Palo Alto medical Center in Palo Alto. Her job was to educate me and get me to start on insulin. In our conversation, I realized that over the years, I had forgotten a great many tings about carbohydrates and fiber and so on. They were all minor, but over time they had accumulated.
I also took a lesson in self injection using a harmless saline solution. It was easy and did not hurt. That night, I began a ritual that I will continue for the rest of my life. I gave myself my first insulin injection.
Before bed, I use a device that looks like a big fountain pen. I turn a dial and give myself the measured dosage. The process is painless and takes less than 5 minutes. It is nearly foolproof for taking the right quantity and using sterile procedures. I use a form of slow insulin that seeps into my bloodstream slowly over the next 24 hours.
My blood sugar has been reduced but I am not there yet. Every couple of nights I increase my dosage by a couple of units. When my blood sugar settles into a reading between 150 and 100 every morning, then I will be "in control." There's a chance, even a likelihood, that I will need to take a "fast insulin" before and after dinner to avoid big spikes.
This is not pleasant, but the nightly shots have already become part of a nightly routine. Before I go to bed, I check email and twitter, brush my teeth and take a shot of insulin.
I share all this now, so that other people who have this experience understand what I've learned in two weeks. Insulin, for some of us is a genetic necessity. Taking it is not a failure. It allows you to live longer and better. It allows you to watch grandchildren grow. Injections do not hurt and require no more time than brushing your teeth.
I hope you never have to learn what I have learned; but if you do, it simply isn't so bad.
Live long and prosper.
This is an afterthought to my previous post on my answers to Twitter FAQs.
Another way I sometimes respond to the question of how you can possibly accomplish anything in just 140 characters:
Picture Twitter as a big, piping hot, flavorful bowl of soup. That first spoonful gives you a good sense of what's in that soup. It could be unsatisfying thin soup, or perhaps is mass produced in some food-processing facility.
But sometimes it is a fine and unique porridge, made in a friend's kitchen. It warms you on a cold day and you remember it after it is gone.
You don't fully appreciate it until you engage in numerous spoonfuls and become nourished by the full conversational bowls.
Those first 140 characters are just a first spoonful. It's a taste that reveals a promise of what is likely to be there for you. But don't judge the whole bowl on just the first sip.
Those of us who spend significant percentages of our public time talking about Twitter and social media, often hear the same question voiced over and over again. It my seem redundant to us, but it makes overwhelmingly clear what the barriers are: what reason people have to not use Twitter.
On the short list of these questions is: "How can a message constrained to 140 characters possibly have value?"
It takes more than 140 characters to answer it.
First off, the question often reveals a traditional marketer's mindset: How do I get a message out? How do I get people to buy my goods and services in a measly 140 characters.
The answer is that you don't. Twitter does not work well as a one-directional message-sending tool. It is more like a telephone. One person speaks and another listens. The parties go back and forth. The person who started the conversation often finds greater value in what she or he is told, than in the brief words that initiated the conversation.
Second, Twitter is a business tool that is best used in conjunction with other social media tools. It's advantages are that it is very fast for spreading ideas, information or just interesting thoughts. It is broad and shallow, while other tools such as blogs, podcasts or even wikis go much deeper.
Let's compare Twitter to a hammer. Both are diverse in the ways you can use them. You can use a hammer to build a house or perhaps bludgeon a spouse. In either case using a saw to help you with the job will usually prove useful and productive.
That gets me to the third frequently asked set of questions: "Exactly what do I use the thing for?"
The answer they hate to hear is precisely the one I have to give: Use it for whatever you want to do with it. Twitter is not an application. It is a communications tool or platform. You can use Twitter in as many ways as a telephone or email.
Then there is the dreaded ROI question, the one that makes Twitter and social media champions roll their eyes toward the sky with Pavlovian consistency.
There are somethings that have clear value but are difficult to measure. For example, I have elected to wear pants at every face-to-face business meeting I've ever attended. I cannot think of any way to measure the value, but I know it's there. I know in most cases the pants have greater value than say my wearing a skirt or no pants at all.
But I cannot give you the comparative ROI on the investment.
Nor can I quantify the value of a good telephone conversation; a customer whose problem got painlessly fixed by a support technician; a CEO spending five days of company tie and money to speak at an industry gathering; or a holiday donation to a homeless shelter.
Yes, there is a value to each of these things and somehow it translates to the bottom line. Yes, all things in business need to be measured to be understood and to scale. But more and more, measurement has become more complex.
When you understand what it is you want to do with Twitter, then you can find what it is you need to measure. Their are many tools and people who will help you.
And that brings me to the final and most difficult to answer of my frequently asked questions: "Why should I use Twitter."
My blunt answer is: "Whatever you want." Just like that hammer and phone.
I have a chapter in Twitterville called "B2Bs are People Too. If I were to rewrite the book, I would have to expand the chapter on B2B, [business-to-business] because it has grown so massively since June, when the book was finished.
IBM, for example, was the tweetingest company I found last June with over 1000 employee tweeters. Now that number has grown to about 7500 and that's just the IBM employees. The number would be far greater if you included the partners, consultants, customers, analysts, editors and other members of the IBM infrastructure. If you included them, you'd have tens of thousands of IBM community members communicating tens of thousand of times daily. IBM, the third largest technology company in fact is trusting a growing portion to its business to Twitter, where they are realizing significant, measurable and growing favorable results.
Another company, mentioned in my book is Sodexo, North America's largest food service company. Last year they adopted Twitter as an executive recruiting tool, integrating it with their other online tools. Traffic to their job site traffic has tripled and they have saved, I'm told about $350,000 in recruiting ad costs.
My favorite B2B story in the book is about tiny United Linen. Located in Bartlesville, Okla., this company was founded by a family during the Great Depression. They took in laundry from neighbors to make ends meet. Now United Linen is the largest restaurant linen and uniform laundry service in a four-state region. They use Twitter in all sorts of ways and it's activities have made happier customers, established the company as a community leader, has given them an emergency customer communications tool, which they used last winter in an ice storm. It has also generated significant coverage in BusinessWeek, Forbes, the Wall Street Journal and other publications.
While companies who use Twitter to reach public markets get more attention, simply because they are trying for public recognition, B2Bs are extremely active and at this time, may be growing faster that consumer-focused companies. You may not know much about what IBM is doing, but IBM doesn't really care. They are using Twitter and other social media tools to talk with their communities online.
I learned about United Linen from Joe Zuccaro, who is better known as the Marketing Consigliere . Joe is passionate and highly knowledgeable about B2Bs and social media. Last year, he started awarding a "B2B Tweeter of the Year Award" and it went to United Linen. When I asked through Twitter for suggestion for my book, Joe suggested the Bartlesville laundry service.
This year, Joe just asked for suggestion for the new B2B Tweeter of the Year and received a note from someone he knew that was crammed with ridicule and scorn;; someone who thinks tweeting is about broadcasting a single message, rather than having ongoing conversations, someone who in my opinion is completely ignorant to the mounting facts and stats, of Twitter''s value in B2B. Facts that decision makers I've talked with at Wells Fargo, Microsoft, SAP, HP and others have noted and embraced.
Joe's a classy guy and doesn't want to name his ignorant colleague. I would have named him and still would. Anyone who goes on the record, using disinformation or a lack of knowledge to defame those who are better informed, should be spotlighted in my opinion.
Anyway, my best to Joe. My repeated thanks for a great story in my book and I look forward to spotlighting whoever Joe selects this year in a future blog post.
When I started exploring Global Neighbourhoods in Twitterville, I never thought I would discover and connect with a Tanzanian chicken farmer turned educator. But there was Mama Lucy Kampton, smiling and warm, having dinner at our home in San Carlos, CA some 10,000 miles from her home on the rural edges of Arusha, Tanzania, not far from the legendary Mt. Kilimanjaro.
She had come to dinner with Stacey Monk and Sanjay Patel, the co-founders of Epic Change, best-known for producing Tweetsgiving, the annual grassroots fundraising campaign to benefit the children of Shepherds Jr, a school Mama Lucy founded for Tanzanian school children in a country whose government does not provide adequate schools.
Last year, Epic Change slapped together a last-minute, short notice campaign to raise money to replace the building Mama Lucy was using to school about 175 kids when the landlord decided to bulldoze the property. In a two-day period, using blogs and tweets to promote the effort, Epic Change raised about $11,000 from 372 people who gave about $30 each.
A new school was built and the kids, who now have their own Twitter account, engraved the Twitter handles of all 372 donors into a stucco wall at the new school. [You can talk to the kids on Twitter at @ShepherdsJr.]
My connection with all this is that I wrote about Epic Change and Mama Lucy in Twitterville and I often discuss Shepherds Jr and Tweetsgiving in my public talks.
This year, Tweetsgiving went global with a series of events all over the world, each scheduled close to the American Thanksgiving. This year, $30,000 was raised. The funds will be used to for classrooms, a library, cafeteria and a dorm. The former is needed because feeding these children is an essential part of what the school is about and the dorm is needed because several orphans attend Shepherds Jr.
The school is mostly dedicated to giving a good education. Last year it finished first in Tanzania out of 117 schools taking an achievement test, despite the fact that many of the other schools were long-established, privately funded and run by people with more academic credentials than Mama Lucy, who actually holds not formal educator's credentials. This year, Shepherds Jr has expanded to about 350 students, enabled mostly by Shepherds Jr.
Uneducated herself, Mama Lucy is bursting with passion about education for her kids. She has put three children through college. That is a journey that started when each was only six-years-old and Mama Lucy had to put them on a bus that traversed and navigated a poor excuse for a road into neighboring Kenya, where her kids would stay for six months to attend real schools.
None of us knew what to expect when our three guests arrived on a rainy night December night at our door, but we somehow found ourselves hugging and laughing and all talking at once. It was like meeting old friends for the first time and it was all because of social media and the book and we all just felt like we knew and understood each other and shared many of the same values.
Mama Lucy seemed to like our home, but what she liked best was the fire we had going and how it warmed our living room. She was in the Bay Area on part of a whirlwind trip, made possible by Epic Change and Tweetsgiving funds. She and Stacey had spoken in Amsterdam, the Bay Area and DC. In between were visits with friends of Epic Change and that included Paula and me.
Mama Lucy is essentially a shy and humble woman. She seemed more worried about her English than she needed to be. She told us a few stories with calm and dignity that showed not everyone treated her r these kids with much calm or dignity.
She told us about being treated in an insulting style by a Barclay's Bank clerk in Tanzania, who she had successfully taken on. " Some people come to Africa, but they don't seem comfortable being physically close to Africans. I don't understand why they come to where we live she told us.
It took a little prodding by Sanjay for her to tell us about an incident at a Tanzanian Game Preserve, where her son had arranged for four busloads of Shepherds Jr kids to visit. The buses of excited children arrived, but the pre-arranged entrance at the gate was denied and the kid were denied entrance.
It seems that some white visitors were enjoying lunch on the veranda and the Preserve administrator did not want to disturb his visiting guests. Apparently, people who had come to see wild animals would find the sight of African children disturbing to their digestive system.
The teachers asked if the kids, could just go in a few at a time, but the request was denied. They asked if it would be okay if the kids came in and promised to not speak. Request denied.
Stacey, at the time, was a volunteer assistant at the school and Mama Lucy asked her to go to talk to the official. Why Stacey? Because she had white skin as did the administrator. Stacey went, but the administrator hid from her. She could see him cowering in the shadows.
These were conversation that touched Paula and me. They were blended into a night where Mama Lucy revealed herself to be an overwhelmingly positive person, appreciating what so many people she has never met have done on behalf of her school project.
This trip was her first to Europe or the US. She visited with some misgiving based on experience such as she had at the bank and the preserve. But she has been touched by how well received she has been.
She does have one misgiving about the US. She thinks we could treat older people with greater respect. In her country, the title "mama" is a term of respect. Here, she sees children calling aunts and uncles by their first names and she considers that disrespectful. She also does not understand why children send off their parents to homes for the elderly. They should bring them into their homes where they can receive love as well as care. She has a point.
Meeting mama Lucy makes me want to do more to help her kids and Epic Change who is committed to finding and helping other Shepherds Jr-type situations.
There are many ways you can help Shepherds Jr. Here are a few that Stacey and I discussed:
In the early 2000s, I partnered with Gary Bolles in something called Conferenza Premium Reports. It was a subscription-based newsletter that we circulated via email. We covered the major tech conferences of the day, like "D," TED, PopTech, Demo, PCForum, Agenda, the Dick Shaffer Outlook Conferences and more.
We covered what speakers said, what the audience thought abut it and the added our own opinions. We also had observations about the mood of the conference and the quality of food as well as blink.
We wrote for what we thought the conference was worth, sometimes we went as long as 10,000 words. It took several days to write and edit. We thought that if we got it out in a week, we had done well and so did the few hundred people who subscribed to us.
We never made a living at it, but we did get free passes into the coolest tech gathering. We met many interesting people and picked up some consulting fees from time-to-time.
Then, in late 2003, these clusters of people started showing up. They were mostly respected members of the tech community and they were doing something new and different called blogging.
Gary and I almost immediately understood the threat. These guys were writing much shorter pieces then Conferenza produced. They weren't doing the legwork we were doing, but they were loosely-joined reporters, linking to each other's works.
Conferenza was longer and deeper than any of them was producing, but collectively they were contributing more information than we--as individuals--possibly could. They were posting nearly instantly, and we could not possibly post ours with the filtering, editing and polishing we thought our readers required.
Worse--much worse--they were offering these new blog posts for free.
As a great many media companies of much larger size would son learn, Free was a very tough competitive price point.
By 2004, we knew were cooked. We changed Conferenza into a blog and hoped for ad support which never really materialized. I went on leave from Conferenza, took the style Gary and I developed and started writing books in 2005. In March of 2009, Conferenza seemingly stopped posting without fanfare and to be honest I had not really even noticed.
By 2005, live blogging was flourishing. Every tech event had multiple free reports being generated to the world by audience attendees. Photos and video clips were flourishing. People started to post blogs on non tech gatherings, particularly educational and government. They were filling a void caused, nut just by the small death of Conferenza, but by the steady atrophy of trade and business journalists who had been attending these conferences.
The live bloggers were a new cadre of citizen journalists and I considered them important to a social media revolution. Each speaker on any dais in the developed world could be heard and seen by anyone who was interested. Several bloggers would post from multiple perceptions giving those interested a balanced point of view. People everywhere could comment and ask questions that could be heard in the room. Speakers who lied got caught and it was reported even as they stood on stage fabricating.
Then along came Twitter. Obviously, I considered this also important and revolutionary. I still do. But it has occurred to me that this, faster, easier, shorter way of reporting through "live tweets" has replaced the longer, deeper, more thoughtful social media form,at of live blogging. It has done so in a very short period of time and my sense is something is being lost.
Tweets by their nature are terse. An audience members usually says who is speakig & maybe the topic. A rave review is the that she or he "rocks." But the coverage of what is actually being said is reduced. So are the questions and comments coming from outside the room.
I have noticed this year, that there were fewer live blog posts at conferences I was attending that there used to be. But I wondered if that was partly because my path has veered to some degree from the tech sector where live blogging had been so strong so recently.
So, this morning I checked out Le Web. Being held in Paris, it has over 2000 attendees from 46 countries and is probably the largest gathering in history of social media people. A search on either Google or Bing produced less than 20 blog results.
Then I looked at Technorati, the fading mainstay for blog searches. I almost spiked this post after taking a first look, which produced 1759 results. While that still seemed low for a conference of 2000 people running over five days with a sterling of prominent speakers most of who are known to have a good deal to say.
But a closer look, cut the number way down from that. Many of the Technorati posts were duplicates. Others were traditional media posting about columns that appeared elsewhere, I guess these count, but they are not quite citizen-generated. Still more were old, talking about would would happen. Quite a few were by scheduled speakers announcing they would be on the dais.
On a quick look, my guess is there have been a few hundred posts of attendee reporting on what was being said from the dais. Those focused mostly on the most prominent speakers. Few discovered new people with new ideas. Very few spaned a lot of commentary.
I did not bother to compare this Le Web with the last or the one prior, but my guess is there is less coverage and far fewer diverse opinions coming through blogs.
Meanwhile the tweetstream has been a whitewater gush of little tidbits. There have been thousands of them and I guess I could get some substance from them if I went to #LeWeb. I could see what the producers had to say, if I joined over 14,000 people to follow @LeWeb on Twitter the official account.
The all may be useful and interesting. They are also extremely good at spreading the word about what is happening almost as it happens. But they are also shallow little spoonfuls of information, lacking depth and missing nuance.
As I wrote in Twitterville, Twitter works best when used with other social media tools including photo, video and in this case, blogs. I certainly remain a proponent of Tweeting conferences, but I believe something is being lost as the world so rapidly blows past the very short Era of live blogging.
I keep watching with interest the crescendo of debate on global warming orchestrated to coincide with the Copenhagen Summit which is now underway. I am no scientist and a great number of you reading this post probably understand the data and implications better than I do.
It does seem to me that those who believe that humans are causing the planet to warm may be guilty of some dirty tricks regarding peer review inclusion of dissenting views. This is a shame because peer review and debate to me is a time-honored tradition and through the friction of opposing views, observers can come to informed conclusions.
I wish political arguments on say health care used peer review. Then most of us Americans might know a bit more about what we are talking about and logic might prevail over emotions.
Most people are emotional on the issue of climate change as well. And I think both sides in the scientific community have managed to dent their own credibility.
But that's not the key issue. The key issue is that the risks in not acting in a global way may end life as we know it on Earth. It is clear that the overwhelming number of those expert in this field see overwhelming evidence that we are on a path of destruction so imminent that it could impact or even terminate the lives of our grandchildren.
So when I hear the argument that the Earth has only warmed by a mere half degree in 30 years and therefore the movement to curb emissions is a massive and costly overreaction, I wonder.
Maybe they are right, but am I willing to risk the lives of my grandchildren on that speculation? My oldest granddaughter is 11.Perhaps, if she drove my car down a highway she would not hurt herself, or anyone else, but why would I take that risk?
Who in their right mind would take that risk? What society in its right collective wisdom would take that risk?
We'll find out the answer to that question very shortly in Copenhagen.
[Wife Paula, dog Brewster & Unidentified bearded man in red suit. Photo by Shel]
is the 5th time I've published this holiday post. The only real change is my having to update my age. The annual trigger seems to be the annual purchase of a holiday tree, which we just placed in our living room. Enjoy.
I grew up in the 1950s in New Bedford, Mass., an overwhelmingly Christian East Coast city. Christmas was the biggest day of the year. School was closed. Parents had rare paid days off. There was usually snow on the ground and the abundant churches would chime carols from bell towers all day long.
Even if you were a Jewish kid and you knew this day was not designed for you, you couldn’t help but share in the excitement. My parents, who were born in Europe at a time when it was unfortunate to be both European and Jewish, were unable to conceal their own ambivalence. Our small family would drive to gentile neighborhoods admiring decorations. We once ventured all the way to Boston--in those days a two-hour drive-- where we saw live reindeer fenced in on Boston Commons beside a large illuminated plastic nativity scene.
More than once, my mother cooked a turkey on Christmas day and family would come for the day—but we never, ever admitted that the celebration had any relationship to Christmas. There were no stockings hung by our chimney with care, no bulbous piles of loot, no sweet smell of pine trees in our living room.
Christmas was a source of huge confusion for me as a boy and teenager. Perhaps it still is.
As a Jewish kid, we had Hanukkah. But the Festival of Lights, as it is called, seemed pale in the shadow of all that Christmas glitter of tinsel and bright blinking bulbs. Christmas was everywhere in the windows of homes and stores, on lawns in parks and even on rooftops. Yes, it was in the schools and no one even thought of objecting at that time. I still wouldn't.
While he was still alive, my grandfather, a white-haired kindly old man gave me Hanukkah “gelt,” in the form of a silver dollar. A dollar was big-time money back then, but how could my grandfather ever compete with the other white-haired guy, the one in the red suit with the elves, the flying sleigh and all his well-disguised doubles in department stores?
I liked getting a gift each of the eight days of Hanukkah, even if over-half was only socks and clothing that I would have gotten anyway. But while my Christian friends had only a single day, theirs seemed to be the Perfecta jackpot, dwarfing our quantity of days with their quality of day.
In January. when we went back to Betsy B. Winslow School, I’d hear glee-filled reports of how these Christian kids had awakened Dec. 25 to entire living rooms filled with Schwinn bikes, Lionel Trains, American Flyer Wagons and Junior Builder Erector Sets. All they had done was to leave out some faith-based milk and cookies the night before.
Christmas loot was bad enough, but then there were the miracles. Theirs was the birth of God’s son on a night when animals talked. Ours was that a temple light burned for a long time. Big deal. Our most popular Hanukkah song was, “Dreydle, Dreydle, Dreydle,” which has the same melodic merit as “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” Not quite on par with “Silent Night,” “First Noel” or even, for that matter, “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Our Holiday food featured potato latkas, still a personal, cholesterol-soaked favorite, but we had no Mormon Tabernacle Choir, no TV special with Perry Como crooning “Ave Maria.“ We never dashed through the snow, laughing even part of the way.
But Hanukkah had one special part for a Jewish kid in that era-- latent machismo. The holiday story was about how Judah Maccabee had led a successful guerrilla war against the previously undefeated Roman Legions, making himself the central figure in the whole Hanukkah tale. Maccabee had kicked some serious Roman butt back when the Romans were the undefeated champs. It made me proud. He was our Rocky, our Joltin' Joe DiMaggio, Jackie Robinson. He wasn't no wimp as Jewish kids were often considered to be in the 50s.
I started remembering all this, while driving through the sad city of East Palo Alto (EPA). A few years back, EPA had the highest murder rate in the country--outdoing Detroit, New York City and Oakland. They say it’s a lot better now that they’ve brought in a Home Depot, Ikea and Sun Microsystems campus. But as I sat at a traffic light watching a packaged goods deal between a dude in a long coat and a kid on a bike, I saw a sign that reminded me about what I envied most about Christmas. It hung in huge, slightly lopsided letters across University Avenue.
It said: “Peace on Earth.” There wasn’t space I guess, for the tagline, which of course is, “Good will toward men.”
Tomorrow will be my 65th Christmas. It was a great many Christmases ago when I first heard the words, and fewer Christmas ago when I came to understand the bigness of the concept and the power of the thought. Peace on Earth is much, much bigger than Maccabee kicking Roman butt.
Not too many years ago, I met Paula who is now my wife. She loved Christmas like the kids in the old TV programs sponsored by Hallmark cards. She loved the planning, and decorating; the gifting and wrapping and opening and putting ribbons on her head; she loved the cooking and filling the house with unlikely assortments of people who somehow enjoyed each other. Her zeal put me at odds with my own deep and ambiguous feelings about the holiday. I’ve never been able to explain them to her in any way that makes sense and perhaps that’s what I’m trying to do in this particular blog.
There are now two things special about Christmas for me. The first is the big thought, dream or illusion of peace on earth and goodwill between its many inhabitants--Christians Jews, Muslims, Hindus, atheists and even Republicans. I don’t pray, but I do hope. If you do pray for these issues, I hope they come through and I will be grateful to you if your prayers delivered that dream.
The second is smaller and more personal. It’s about Paula and how she catches the season’s joy as if it were something contagious. Whatever the germ, I’ve caught it as I find myself looking forward to the planning, and decorating; the gifting, wrapping and opening--albeit without ribbons on my head. Monday our home will filled with unlikely assortments of people and I already know it will work out just fine.
Happy holidays, whichever you choose to observe, and may the New Year bring all of us closer to peace on Earth."[Originally published December 24, 2003
It's been among the toughest of tough years. You've cut just about everything there is to cut. There a few weeks left to the year and you want to try for a special boost for your company, particularly retailers.
So, do you scrape a few more pennies off margin for one more last minute sale? How do you promote that sale. Even if you can afford to invest in advertising, where do you do it? Newspapers or radio? Don't be silly. Online banners? How have they worked for you so far this year? Think it will help if you shout louder at your customers than your competitor does? Do your customers respect your brand when it shouts at them?
In Twitterville, I introduced the concept of lethal generosity. I suggested that social media influence is based on a cult of generosity; that those who give the most to their online communities become the most influential and will indirectly realize the most benefit to the bottom line.
I talked about Jeremiah Owyang, back when he was at Hitachi Data Systems and he created the genetically named Data Storage wiki.Anyone, a customer, prospect, a competitor or a competitor's customer could join to discuss any topic related to data storage. If competitors joined in, they would be following Hitachi's lead. If they ignored the wiki, then they were ignoring important conversations between members of their community.
I also discussed what was then Molson Canada [now Molson Coors], which last Holiday Season salvaged all night public transportation for Toronto's New Year's Eve. They did it in the name of "responsible drinking."Then they invited LaBatts, their biggest Canadian competitor to join in the campaign. If LaBatts said know, then they might be seen as supporters of irresponsible drinking. If they said yes, they were following the Molson lead.
A third Twitterville example was Rubbermaid, which has used Twitter, blogging and YouTube to form a community of professional organizers, and then arranging for them to get discounts on Rubbermaid storage goods.
Each of these are examples of different forms of community generosity. Each is lethal to competitors because they need to either follow a rival's leadership or turn their backs on initiatives that benefit their community.
Each of these lethally generous examples cost very little and are long-remembered bu communities. They generate respect, influence and trust. Now when's the last time you saw an ad do that for your organization?
If you don't have time to be lethally generous for Christmas. Start thinking about Q1 next year.
James Governor has posted a nice piece about his company's seven-year-saga to acquire exclusive online use of Redmonk, his company's name. In the post, he refers to his Twitterville interview where he talks about how important company brand names are.
He also politely overlooks that in a recent freelance piece I did for BusinessWeek.com, I in inadvertently further mutilated his brand by referring to Tom Raftery, who runs the Greenmonk sustainability arm of the company as tweeting as @Greenmonk. He does not. He tweets as @TomRaftery. This gets still further muddled by the fact that James has also been using the @Monkchips handle on Twitter because Steve Ivy, now of Six Apart owned @Redmonk until turning it over to James.
Whew. Was all that trouble worth it? You bet it was. Every time someone did a Redmonk search the results caused confusion. James found himself using more "monk" derivatives than many medieval monasteries.
I feel the pain from personal experience. This blog is called "Global Neighbourhoods" with the British spelling because when I first started using it, a Florida entity, which existed simply to aggregate and resell URLs had taken the American "Neighborhoods" and wanted $25,000 for its rights. When I offered $10, they came back with a $5,000 offer. I then offered $1 and there the negotiations froze.
Earlier this year, GoDaddy.com told me that Global Neighborhoods name had been released and I immediately licensed it for the next several years. If you click on it you get here, but it seems to me that so much time has passed, so many people have the "u" version that to switch yet again could cause more confusion.
Sometimes, as I have also experienced, people buy URLs not for hopes of profit but for malicious reasons. In Twitterville, I also write about Mayo Clinic who first obtained an account for defensive reasons. On MySpace, the Mayo Clinic name was purchased by a British woman, with apparently little love for the esteemed Minnesota-based clinic. The icon there shows someone being snuffed in an electric chair.
My point is this, while branding issues are currently undergoing a good deal of rethinking, brand names and images are not. There are many ways to corrupt a company brand. In the case of Redmonk, two legitimate entities came up with the same name by coincidence and caused seven years of headaches. Mayo learned that there are folks on the Internet who would like to put an egg in the face of their brand.
My advice is simple. Protect your name in as many places and in as many ways as you can. I learned this the hard way and now I invest nearly $1,000 a year on protecting brands I use. Still there are ways that are overlooked. If you are a company, think through every possibility and invest in protecting yourself.
I wonder, if I register "BlueMonk," how much James will pay for it at some point in the future when he branches out again?
[Mama Lucy Kampton and some Tweetsgiving recipients. Photo by Tim Llewellyn]
Almost any author will tell you the same thing. There are parts to their books that become part of them. There are moments we write about, which change the paths we take in life.
When I was writing Naked Conversations, it was the realization that blogs were part of something much bigger than another business marketing tool. There was something fundamental that would change a great deal between organization and constituencies. When I started on the book with Robert Scoble, I had no idea that much of my next five years would continue down a social media path.
When I wrote Twitterville, I had no idea that my Goodwill Fundraising chapter would rekindle a long-abandoned interest in organizations dedicated to helping others. I had become jaded in my belief that the money I had donated to curing cancer and saving whales was not being used for the purposes I had believed they would be used. There is something in many of us that simply doesn't trust large institutions whose messages are engineered by marketing teams.
But then I came across people like Beth Kanter, whose dedication to Cambodian orphans has clearly made a difference; to Connie Reece who started the Frozen Pea Fund to fight Susan Reynolds cancer; to David Armano who raised money to help an abused house cleaner and her kids; to the folks at charity:water and Twestival.
Each of these stories rekindled my long-smothered belief that people can help people; can contribute to the well-being of strangers and that money raised can go almost entirely to the people in need.
Of all these stories, the saga of Stacey Monk, a freelance product manager, Mama Lucy Kampton, a Tanzanian chicken farmer [above] and the kids at Shepherds Jr who were going to lose their school in Tanzania and Tweetsgiving moved me most of all. Last year, 372 people donated about $30 each to build a new school in Tanzania. I'm not sure why. All these other causes and so many more, are equally valid.
But causes are a subjective thing and I have given what little money and time I could this year to the new Tweetsgiving event. I am taking my wife and her mom to one of the worldwide Tweetsgiving fund raisers being held tonight and I am hoping that people all over the world will give to Tweetsgiving and Stacey's Epic Change which will find other Lucy Thorntons and help more kids.
I don't know what you favorite cause is. And if you don't live in the U.S. the synchronization with our Thanksgiving may make no sense to you. But it is a holiday about giving thanks, and that I'm sure you can understand.
It is a time to be thankful that you may be able to give rather than need to receive so that you and your kids can eat, or be educated or be made safe or healthy or drink clean water.
Sometime during this season, I hope you give to something and I hope you feel as good about it as I feel about Tweetsgiving.
Among the most obvious victims of freeware have been news-gathering organizations. Print publishers and broadcasters seemed well-suited to make the change at first. A print edition cost little more than pocket change and broadcast was almost totally free. In both cases, their real money came from advertisers who wanted access to those masses who followed that media.
Had media companies been willing to meet the challenges for change as they evolved in the middle 90s, perhaps they would have been able to cross the chasm into current times; but they did not. They remained loyal to their subscription models for far too long. They underestimate the small damages like classified ads moving to Craig's List, until those little changes made big differences; many just thought that their professionalism; their access to prominent people and events would allow their old ways to endure new times and new forms of competition.
That brings us to Google, which in my view, has been the most disruptive of all forces on traditional news organizations. Google gives us all free access to content that historically was produced by professionals as a way to earn a living. The advertising that supported media has migrated to the Internet where Google has become the largest beneficiary.
And when media companies say that revenue derived from advertising that supports content they produced, Google has shrugged it's mighty do-no-evil shoulders, telling media companies they are free to not make their content available on Google anymore.
I am no great fan of the public companies that own news-based organizations. neither are the editors and reporters who have worked for them. But that loss of revenue has been the driving force in the brutal reduction in paid news professionals.
Now there are two factors that have entered center stage. The first is Bing, a very nice search engine developed by Microsoft that many users find to be just as good as Google, but not really better in most cases.
Then there's the decision by Rupert Murdoch. mean-spirited billionaire owner of NewsCorp, which is perhaps the world's leading producer of news content, including the Wall Street Journal, Fox News and myriad and diverse other brands.
Murdoch has been persistent in arguing that Google and other search engines should pay professional news organizations for their content inthe form of sharing ad revenues. Google has declined, saying Murdoch is free to withhold his content from Google Search results.
The online community of course sides with Google, which is generally regarded as an ultimately cool company. It's billionaire leadership is younger and far more charming than Murdoch, wh has been called "old school" and clueless in recent days.
Maybe it's a personal thing, but I believe when someone prospers from someone else's work, the original producer should share in that wealth. I think fair beats cool every day.
For those who think social media practitioners can replace all professionals, I'd ask you to think again. A loss of professional news will not make the world safer, freer or better informed place.
For those of you who feel Google shareholders should be the overwhelming profit recipients of reporters hard work, I would ask you to rethink just what is fair and what is not.
In fact, now that I think about it, when Google and the search engines serve up my content-the content you are reading right now--and put an ad next to it, why should I not benefit from the revenue--or you--or anyone else?
Now, News Corp is forging an exclusive deal with Bing that would provide Microsoft's challenging search engine with content not available to people who just use Google. This complicates matters for users, but getting the News Corp content will still cost users nothing.
For those who argue that no news source has value because so many sources now produce news. This is partly true. Likewise, as we recently saw in Iran, on the Hudson River, in Gaza and Mumbai, citizens are very often producing the most valuable news content.
All true. But the world will not be a better or freer place without traditional news organizations. We are not close to the day when bloggers will be invited t attend White House news conferences. Nor will we very often be airdropped to cover wars or national disasters. Some citizen journalists may be digging into investigative efforts, but so far, nothing on the scale of Watergate has emerged.
Most people, myself I know, myself included, and some employed by the man, do not hold Rupert Murdock in a very high regard.
But let's not have that cloud the merits of his case for being compensated fairly for the reuse of NewsCorp content. And because others just happen to think Google is the coolest of Internet companies, one avowed to do no evil, should get away with prospering with intellectual property that others labored to produce.
I've been out speaking a lot lately, mostly promoting Twitterville and always talking about social media and it's impact on business, government, nonprofits and other institutions. The most frequent question I get is regarding what I see coming next.
Predictions make me uncomfortable. If I were better at them I would spend more time picking stocks. The thing that I've learned to love about the future is that it will surprise us and we can have a good chuckle about how silly predictions can be.
Social media so far has been a series of surprises and these surprises on one hand have led to sustained change that almost all observers now see as changing how business and organizations will interface with customers. These surprises have been spurred by one innovation after another and it has been going on for a decade now. What began in the tech sector has spilled over into business and government;; education and goodwill fundraising. These changes have disrupted and undermined how we get our news, who we talk with, what we buy, watch listen to and a good deal more.
When viewed through social media, it has been a period of relentless change and a pretty exhausting time for most business managers. Their jobs during this period have not changed all that much. They are still worried about operating margins and headcount; costs of goods sold and how to replace best practice which are not as good as they once were.
The fundamentals of business do not really change. They are all about exchange goods and services for profit in a marketplace. They should not change at this fundamental level and those who argue that they should seem to miss the key benefit of social media tools.
The overwhelming benefit of these tools is to make business and markets work better for both buyers and sellers; to make it all work more effectively and efficiently; to make access to markets easier and cheaper and larger to expedite and open communications.
Social media has accomplished enough of that to make enough business people understand the value and want to embrace them. What has slowed the process is that social media has also been very disruptive.
We have gone through a prolonged period of disruption in which social media tools have change a great many aspects of the way modern companies conduct business. I believe that this period is now coming to a close.
We are leaving the age of social media innovation and entering a longer, slower-moving period in which businesses and institutions will absorb and assimilate these tools into their everyday business practices. The novelty of these tools will fade away as the utility of them becomes clearer and more universally accepted.
There was a time when people wrote books and produced conferences to discuss the business benefits of email and fax machines. The telephone got introduced at a public fair and immediately business thinkers warned of the dangers that existed if such a device were permitted into the workplace.
A great many executives agreed about the phone, but eventually, business saw that the benefits far outweighed the liabilities. Businesses that continued to ignored those benefits eventually disappeared. And as the benefits of the phone became clearer to more and more people, the once-heated conversation about the phone's place in business cooled down, became obvious, tedious and would eventually wither.
What I see happening in the near term future is far more valuable than it is controversial or interesting. We have entered into a long, slow, steady, non-disruptive period of refinement and adoption. The tools we have will get better and easier and faster, but they will not be soon replaced by some shiny new thing. The business that have painfully adopted the new tools will feel far less pain and far more results. New people coming into the workplace and marketplace will use social media tools with as little angst or consideration as they use email or phone.
We are entering the Social Media Age of Normalization. The guy in the photo above is Warren G. Harding, one of the darkest horses to ever get elected president. He did it by sitting on a nice porch in Ohio and declaring that after the horrors of the Great War, Americans wanted to "return to normalcy."
The word "normalization" is actually a more recent word. It was developed by database technicians who used it to describe how relational databases work, once all the flaws were scraped out.
That's what happening with Facebook, Twitter, blogs, podcasts, YouTube and the rest. It is no straight line, but the tools are getting steadily better and their usage, for the most part, is growing in the same way.
Welcome to the Social Media Age of Normalization. I predict an Era about as tumultuous as watching paint dry and as significant as the adoption of the automobile. I wonder what I get to write about next.
I had a chapter in Twitterville about government in Twitter. My research for the book took place in about February. At the time I saw great promise in government using social media to get closer with constituents, mostly in the day-to-day conducting of government government business and information distribution.
Two examples of this that I used in Twitterville were the San Diego Metro Transit System, which is one of many public transit systems using twitter to giver passengers real time information about delays, snags and changes. I also liked Newcastle [UK] City Council's whose secretary Alistair Smith tweets school closings, with greater currency than than the BBC can provide.
But since I wrote the chapter six months have gone by. The size of Twitter has at least doubled and by some estimates tripled. And I was curious if government, which usually lags behind other segments in tech adoption has been keeping pace.
So I went back to Twitter and I asked a couple of times for examples of government using Twitter--any part of government in any country, state, province or municipality. Beyond that I was intentionally open-ended and vague.
I received over 50 responses in a 24-hour period, which is a lot higher than my requests usually generate. But as was the case six months ago, about half the suggestions were for politics, not government. The two are of course, closely related. But my interest is not in social media efforts to sell a cause or candidate; nor was it to see how well organizations are raising money or pushing messages.
I just wanted to see if much of government. in its day-to-day operations was adopting a tool that could allow it's mid-level workers to serve the needs of constituents with greater efficiency. I was wondering about the barriers and fears that have been prevalent, not just in government, but in all the organizational segments including business, nonprofits, education and so on.
I found there has been a great deal happening in the western developed world. I have yet to hear about government using social media in Asia, Africa or South America. There were some encouraging and surprising examples.
I was curious in part, because I had a couple of private visits with government officials in both Ireland and Northern Ireland, where I found representatives of both national governments well-informed and looking for useful, pragmatic insight and information. Both gave me lots of examples of how they are using social media and both had just begun. In Dublin Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board is exploring ways to use social media to educate constituents as to where and how and why food is raised,in a time where local grown and organic are emerging complex issues.
Northern Ireland has become active in social media as well in the last six months. Their web-based NIDirect, has started using Twitter and in October used it to get accurate information out quickly related to swine flu.
In Ireland and Norther Ireland where I found absolutely nothing six months ago, I met privately on a recent trip with government officials who were well-informed and dedicated to using social media in a variety of ways ranging from education on how food is raised to information about swine flu to handling license fees online.
Neither group was looking at lofty "world-changing" approaches, but upon the day-to-day interactions where government interacts with constituents, often to the frustration of both sides.
I got several other stories through Twitter of activity where there was none before. New Zealander Katarina Sorstedt educated me how government keeps people current on earthquakes and geologic activity in the South Pacific via Twitter . New Zealand's Parliament has posted a mere 15 times, but has begun a bipartisan effort to post information to Twitter.
In the US, there is a great deal happening on state and local levels. Mayoral offices in at least a dozen cities have blogs, Twitter and Facebook accounts where they directly, usually promptly and somewhat transparently answer constituent queries and comments. I liked Washington State's Department of Transportation's use of social media to to let people know of any changes regarding any public way, be it roads, water, airports or tracks.
In the US Federal government a majority of Congress uses social media with varied levels of direct conversation and self-serving promotion. The Obama Administration's White House has several promising initiatives, but so far seem more intent on sending messages out than listening to what people have to say. All executive wing departments are now using social media to varying degrees as are most state governments.
Six months ago each of those areas were at less than the 50 percent mark.
Law enforcement in the US, UK, Canada and Mexico are using social media. Fire Departments are too and seem generally focused on using social media as a set of new communications tools to warn people of impending disasters to avoid. The Los Angeles Fire Department, a pioneer in using online and conversational resources, recently warned residents of fast shifts in the deadly path of the recent Station Fire.
What interesting is that I found little conversation of grandiose social media activities such as, say, a national town meeting on healthcare. The idea that we could have big audience/big issue simultaneous conversation never seemed realistic to me. We have too many cases of government issues that have been sullied by people with agendas and everyone talking at once.
In governments of the West, what I am seeing is softer, less dramatic and entirely realistic. Social media is being used to help midlevel government workers help constituents with every day, recurrent issues. It is becoming normal in some quiet frontiers to guide constituents away from the phone and email and website and onto the Twitter and Facebook accounts.
And in tiny spoonfuls like those, social media is starting to make governments just a little bit better.
The question was: " What do you think is more important for attaining power: followers or who you follow?" It was directed at me as I sat on a panel at the Social Media Summit, produced by London-headquartered Lewis PR.
It took me by surprise and one live tweeter accused me of skirting the issue and not understanding about power. I disagree with his assessment but that's besides the point.
It took me by surprise because most people who follow me know that I see social media as all about the conversation; not power. It involves personal and corporate branding issues, but not power. It even is about influence, which may touch upon power but it is not the same.
The way social media works just about the same way computer networks work. They both adhere to Metcalfe's Law, which loosely stated says the value of a network is determined by the sum of your users. It was true for telecommunications and it seems to me to apply very clearly to social networks as well.
But value for the individual simply does not translate into power. The power is in the sum of the users on the network. In social media, each of us is a node and the more nodes we connect with has something to do with power.
But each of us matters very little to the sum of the massive networks we connect with. If some one with five followers leaves a network it matters very little. If someone with over a million users departs, it may get noticed for a short while, but the power of that network stays close to the same. Why? Because those millions of other people are still there, are still connected; still contain nearly all the knowledge, data, wisdom, ideas and energy as they did prior to the departure of that one really big node.
Networks have great power in social media. People don't, not really. Each of us is too easily replaced.
We can, however, benefit greatly from the power of the networks we join. As to the specific question, almost everyone who has examined twitter believes that in most cases there is greater value in who we follow than in who follows us. Those people are out newspapers. They are our source of much inspiration. We care about people and those people give us all sorts of valuable stuff.
Social media is about so many things. But if you have come to it for power, I really think you'd be happier going to work for an Electal utility.
I get uncomfortable whenever I get introduced as a social media expert or guru. First off, whenever I hear someone else called that, I have a tendency to fold my arms and think, "Oh Yeah?" I find myself poised to pounce if that person makes anything close to a mistake.
When people call themselves either of those titles, my inclination gets amplified.
Judging by the surplus of Twitter and blogs shots being taken at those marketing themselves as coaches, gurus and experts, it appears that I am not alone in my inclinations. But that does not make us right.
I think this controversy has been accelerated because people have started making money teaching others about social media. And when they and their friends come up against competition they take a very old school approach. They badmouth people they do not know, and assume the right to point a derogatory finger simply because they were doing the stuff first.
Among my circle of personal social media friends, I have heard the argument that we were here first and anyone we don't know, anyone who does not go way back to the good old days of say 2006 must not be an expert.
This, of course, is a mountain of mole dung.
There are now hundreds of millions of people using social media. Many of them have them have spent thousands of hours using the tools; have drunk the same brands of KoolAid as others have, feel the same passion we have and are very, very capable of teaching others the strategies and tactics of using social media; who understand that social media is about conversations not about monologue.
The global neighborhoods of all the virtual social spaces are filled with people I have never met; who have attended events and meet ups I have not attended does not diminish their knowledge.
While I may not feel comfortable calling myself an expert, that does not require them to make the same choice. There are score, perhaps hundreds or even thousands of people who are capable of teaching others why and how to use social media and it seems to me, they can call themselves "guru" "coach," "expert" or whatever they damned well please. And those who feel that for some reason their timeline seniority allows them to challenge the claim should sit down and shut up.
Let the clients and customers, the students and friends; the attendees and workshop participants determine who is expert and who is not.
It's been my week for hallowed halls of academia.
Yesterday was my jet lag recovery day and I used the afternoon to walk a strip of this city of 1.4 million. The highlight was my 2nd tour of Trinity College, Ireland's top-rated University, where Jonathan Swift, Samuel Becket, Oscar Wilde and many other giants went to school.
First Harvard. Then Trinity. Had I applied for admission to either of these two schools the Admissions officers would have been rolling on the floor laughing.
I got to Trinity via a stroll through St. Stephen's Green a small but very attractive park; Grafton Street, a crowded, thriving shopping district and Temple Bar, an historic district of shops and pubs where I most enjoyed the organic market recommended to me on Twitter.
I took the irreverent, but informative walking tour of Trinity Campus, where a recent grad told us a few juicy anecdotes, including Chancellor Salmon, who rule Trinity for many years. In 1904, he was confronted with proponents of allowing women into Trinity. "Over my dead body," he declared, then three days later proceeded to die. Women started attending a few months later. Salmon was interred at the south entrance of the university and for several years women were directed to enter the school via that route literally stepping over the chancellor's dead body.
I had taken this tour before. But last time, time required that I had to drop off before a visit to Trinity's Old Library, where the Book of Kells is displayed under glass. Hand-inked onto stretched calfskin by monks more than 1300 years ago. It is a beautiful work with an amazing amount of detail and colors which remain vivid despite centuries of aging.
Equally jaw dropping was the Long Room, a single space, two stories high containing 200,000 volumes of books, the most recent of which is more than 300 years old. They are arranged, not by author, title or topic, but by physical size. It seems the library was set up before there was a Dewey Decimal System, not to mention Google.
Students are allowed to use the library, but none do. First they can't find anything specific because the books are arranged by physical dimension not topic and second, there's no Internet connection in the building.
I did all this touring through historic volumes with an iPhone in my pocket and an eBook on my wish list, feeling more than a little ambivalent. Something there is that loves an old book, a hand-etched illustration created with patience, passion and inspiration by people who lived so many centuries past.
I am of a time in which the printed word is on the wane and the electronic book is on a relentless ascent. The benefits are clear. Tomorrow's eBook might contain almost as many volumes and words as do the Long Room. The environment benefits, the costs to all parties is reduced.
But something remains that loves an old book and I hope the future generations will know and see how books first came into being and how recorded words and illustrations were born so many centuries ago.
I am heartened that I've received some comments and thoughtful questions that indicate I am not alone in thinking the time has come to establish social media departments in the enterprise.
This follow up post offers a few thoughts on just what this department would--and would not--do. And I need to start with a disclaimer. I do not think this new department should own social media in the enterprise. That is as bad an idea as one department owning email and deciding how it should be used, or the telephone and so on. Social media encompasses a set of tools that improve communications by making them interactive and by decentralizing who can speak for the enterprise.
Why am I pushing this? It seems to me that recent recession has caused most enterprise thinkers to recalibrate what their organization can and should look like as recovery becomes more real. We seem to be pretty much at a turning point. The smart business thinker realizes that it would be unwise to just go back to the way it was before the bottom started falling out.
It is now time to evaluate what works with te greatest efficiency and effectiveness and in a great many cases, the answer is social media worked and traditional marketing did not.
But the issue is what to do about it. And the answer is to make a few adjustments to allow social media to take its rightful place on the org chart. It cannot reach it's full potential by remaining some sort of ad hoc, penniless orphan constantly scurrying for resources.
My answer to tat is now is the time to create a social media department [SMD]. Here are some of ways I see them functioning:
I was having lunch with an old friend who has spent the better part of the last four years pushing the social media rock up the enterprise mountain. She was frustrated. Marketing, after disdaining and ignoring her social media team efforts four years ago; after having then gotten angry and tried to shut down the social media efforts two years ago, now wanted to fold the social media team into the marketing department.
She is not alone. Almost every enterprise has a small band of social media champions. They have almost operated as a skunkworks operation, one who existed from project to project with money they scraped and cajoled from various org chart boxes--PR, marketing, branding corporate communications, vendor agencies.
Their salaries and operational budgets have been historically chump change, funds perhaps from a few ads that got canceled or a PR budget for a canceled product press tour.
But now we are in a time of prolonged budget cuts. Fat marketing budgets have been scraped to the white bone. Now chump change matters. So does control. One fact has emerged and that is that social media does get results that can now be measured and quantified with increasing accuracy. Social media is efficient.
Yet, in almost no cases does a social media department have its own place on the org chart which means it does not have its own budget. It is always a muddy and complex issue determining who the head of a social media team should report to.
Lately, marketing departments, smarting from the pain of having had several legs either amputated or trimmed seems to be trying to take over. After all, they are the message people. More and more marketing is being conducted in social media venues, why not fold it in neatly to the corporate structure.
The answer is simple. Social media is for communications and communications is not the purview of any one department. Marketing, PR, brand managers, communications officers, customer support all need to use social media increasingly to get the information they need, to share ideas and build relationships with customers. HR needs social media to recruit, train and inform employees. In fact most departments need social media.
It seems to me that if you fold social media into marketing, it becomes a marketing tool and support will suffer. Conversely, if you put it into support, marketing will suffer and so on.
It seems to me the time has come to build a new department into the enterprise org chart, one that interacts with various departments just as product managers or IT do, one that has its own budget, operational plan and roadmap into the future.
If any incumbent department takes ownership, the company will lose far more than it gains. More important, so will the customers.
A great deal is being said these days about personal brand and as is usually the case, with a new term, there is debate on how new or important it is. There are those who feel personal brand is just a new term for good old-fashioned reputation and others who feel there is an opportunity for old advertisers to try a new spin on their creative attempts to insert position messages into human minds.
I see some truth in all of this, and the whole truth in none of it. To me personal brand is very closely connected to human reputation. There are two aspects that I think make it at least slightly different:
Corporate brands themselves are defined indifferent ways, but it generally has to do with how someone in your market feels about your company, its products and services. It's primary tools involve advertising and graphic design. Traditionally branding was used to create the illusion that an organization consisting of tens of thousand of employees spoke with a single voice, marched in unison and never, ever made a mistake--or at least one that the company would admit to.
Over time, this form of branding has lost effectiveness and the cost of maintaining this sort of brand strategy has simultaneously become more expensive. Those high costs in these down times have much to do with the current acceleration of large companies into social media.
While there are quite a few exceptions, generally speaking traditional type brand messaging has fallen flat in social media venues while personal brand has thrived.
How does this impact the marketplace? In several ways. But at the essence of them all is the current realization that companies are not branded monoliths but are comprised if many people, diverse people, whose views sometimes differ and even collide; talented people wh sometimes screw up, but are human enough to admit their mistakes and to promise to do better next time.
A fundamental problem with corporate branding is that its strategies are designed to be one directional--to send messages out. This collided with the most common complain people have against large organizations: "they don't listen to me. They don't want to hear my complaints. The support people want to get me off the phone."
But social media lets markets talk back at companies. We can shout, ask or suggest. And we often get answers. Instead of being disdained we are getting respect.
Personal branding has much to do with this. Personal brands are far more human than corporate brands. I think personal brands are reshaping corporate brands and it has far more to do with social media than traditional marketing. We hated Dell when they had the audacity to call us Dude in ads while giving us support people who did not speak our language. But now there are dozens of people there; people we have come to know in social media; people who sometimes don't have good answers, but at least they tried.
Many of us feel better about Dell than we used to and that translates into corporate brand equity.
Much has been said about personal brand and what it does for the individual. If we blog, tweet, podcast or engage in all these new tools it allows us to create a new for of web-based ever-changing resume and that seemed great in a world where we took jobs while simultaneously planning to move on to a new employer a couple of years hence. But the economy's great swan dive into the toilet may have changed that.
We and our personal brands are more likely, I think, to stay put for longer times. The thought of being a lifer just may start inching back into workforce thinking. And this too will apply personal brand to the reshaping of corporate brand.
Time was traditional branders designed our business cards. And when someone received it, that logo may have shaped their view of you. Now it's the opposite. What that person thinks of you is shaping their emotions of your corporate logo. Brand seems to me to work much better on both sides of that business card when there is a perception that real humans are part of those graphic representations.
[Howard Rheingold. Photo by Oscar Espiritusanto]
Note: This is part part 2 of two parts. You can see Part 1, Where we've been here.
This title is just slightly misleading. Howard really offered no predictions of where people and technology is heading in the Conversation Age, and I didn't try to get him him to make forecasts.
While his writings have displayed more than a little prescience, he is more of a thinker than a futurist. But he did offer some interesting observations about at least one emergent technology and some useful insights into his students at Stanford and UC Berkeley and from there you might draw some conclusions yourself.
Q. You were an early champion of virtual reality, which may not have taken off as quickly as you forecast. Do you think it is still likely to evolve? How do you see it being incorporated into social media moving forward?
You win some, you lose some. I can't really take credit for being prescient without taking blame for foreseeing events that have yet to come to pass -- may never come to pass. To be fair to myself, I did note that truly photorealistic immersive virtual worlds would not exist until sufficient affordable computation power came along, some time in the early 21st century. And people like Jeremy Bailenson at Stanford have been doing some extremely valuable social science research using today's version of virtual reality.
There are some fundamental unsolved problems. If you can move your perceptions around a limitless virtual world, what keeps your body from slamming into the wall when you try to run toward the horizon? In regard to social media, I've spent enough time in Second Life to see exactly how seductive to a small portion of the population an immersive virtual world with photorealistic or Photoshop unrealistic avatars that can not only navigate and communicate but build and exchange landscapes, buildings, objects with behaviors can be.
But it's work to create an avatar and learn how to navigate it and where the action is. In an infinite landscape, human actitivies seem to take place far apart. So I don't see such worlds as ever becoming universal.
It's NOT the "future of the Web."
However, I do see them getting less centralized and easier to use, and people will start inventing uses for them that we don't foresee right now, and the population of enthusiasts will grow from a tiny cult following to a small cyber subculture. There are things you can do in such environments that you can't do elsewhere.
[At right--giant sunflowers from Howard's garden. Those suckers are 16 feet tall.]
Q.I’ve argued that social media is disrupting all institutions, business, government, education, health, etc. Do you agree or disagree? What is your vision for how technology will make this a better/world for everyday people 10 or 100 years hence.
I think "better world" is an
unrealistically rosy way of framing the present situation. We're in deep shit.
Doug Engelbart and Vannevar Bush saw it coming half a century ago, and the Whole
Earth Catalog started looking at planetary-scale systemic problems decades ago
-- which is part of what drew me to it. We have ancient human problems of
tribalism, hatred, and atrocity meeting modern armaments, including WMDs.
Isn't it evident from what I've written that I've been immersed in experiencing, influencing, learning about, and communicating about this disruption precisely because I think it's the single most fundamental critical uncertainty of the present age?
We have global warming, loss of species and habitat, collapse of key populations like salmon, the energy and food needs of the world population, emergent epidemics. I'd say that the main goal of the human species ought to be our own survival. The next 50 years are going to require a lot of problem-solving. The most powerful tool we have are all those people.
If only enough of them could be healthy, fed, and educated enough to help us tackle those problems. Technology and social media and new knowledge about human collective action can help.
But I don't want to be quoted as saying that the
technology, the social media themselves are the linchpin. I think the way
people end up using these media, our degree of knowledge about how our literacy
is connected with a struggle between power and counter-power, the degree of
education of the people who pollute or nourish the infosphere, even plain old
fashioned netiquette -- all matter now. I am an anti-determinist.
I believe in
human agency. But there are no guarantees that democracy will win over
totalitarianism, that tools will be used to feed people, that our social and
political and economic institutions and our own minds will be able to cope with
the pace of change that our inventions have helped us bring on ourselves.
Education and learning haven't changed, but the circumstances under which they take place are radically different.
The lecture-and-test method goes back a thousand years, to the days when books were written by hand and chained to a podium, where a professor stood up and read them. In recent years, without (I strongly suspect) any real consultation among faculty about the pedagogical consequences, wireless Internet access was installed in classrooms and lecture halls around the world. For the first time, students could look up information to determine whether the professor really knew what he or she was talking about. Students can now chat and share information among themselves during lectures and if the professor is too boring, there is always Facebook or World of Warcraft.
Many professors are in denial about this, and drone on with the same lecture they've delivered for decades. Other professors make extremely bad use of technology by reading their text-laden PowerPoint slides to their students. Others simply demand their students keep their laptops closed for the duration of class.
Of course, since I
teach social media, I can neither ignore nor prohibit laptop use, so
I've taken steps to help my students become mindful of the way they
deploy their attention.
One strategy is to have only the student
co-teaching team keep their laptops open while they are helping me lead
the class; one member of the team makes notes on the wiki, sketching in
top-level headings that the other students will fill in AFTER class,
another member of the team identifies words for the lexicon and adds
them to the wiki (and again the class, as a whole, fills in the
definitions before the next class), and a third member of the team
looks up sites online and projects them (I have three screens in my
classroom at Stanford).
Another strategy -- 20% of my students are
allowed to have their laptops open at any time, but it's up to them to
self-police. I have also made video of my students from my point of
view and from theirs and have shown it to them.
profoundly, social media have enabled students to engage in
collaborative inquiry with peers, engaging in online discussions that
are no longer solo performances for the teacher, but engage other
students in digging down into issues that came up in class via forums,
collaborating with each other and me in real time through a Twitter
back channel, reflect on their learning for their own benefit and that
of classmates on their blog, and learn how to learn and compose
collaboratively via the wiki.
The technologies are not used to add contemporary appeal or techie flashiness but are affordances for a kind of learning based more in inquiry, collaboration, and discourse than on trying to detect what is going to be on the test and memorize it.I ask my students to read in advance my extensive description of what is expected of them and to commit themselves in writing to the kind of participation I ask. It has taken me five years, in close consultation with my students, to come up with a set of procedures that work. It's tremendously exciting to see the classroom come alive, and to engage students between class meetings via their blogs, the forums, and the wiki. Here's a presentation of one of our class sessions.
Q. Can you tell me what’s on college student
minds these days?
It's not easy to get into Stanford or Berkeley these days. By the time I get them, students are highly trained grade-making machines. They want to know what's on the test. They are so institutionalized that they aren't even aware of it.
For example, in my open classroom, the students come in on the first day and take chairs from stacks and arrange them -- with no direction on my part -- into rows and columns. If I don't intervene, they will do the same thing the second week, and sit in the same place they chose the first day of class.I ask them to arrange the chairs in a circle -- there is no back row to hide in in a circle. It isn't easy to overcome learned helplessness.
Yesterday, over on Twitter, I asked for suggestions for my SM Global Report and was surprised by the confusion that caused. Some people thought I was offering some sort of proprietary report, perhaps a PDF.
This post is to help me explain and to give me a link I can point to in the future. [If you know all about the SM Global Report and how I use it, just skip this report and come back later.]
The Social Media [SM] Global Report is at the core of what I do. Since 2005, I have interviewed people about how they use social media in their work and lives. In all there have been over 400 interviews with people in 40 countries. These people have varied from CEOs of global enterprises to pioneers in NGOs, elected officials and regime change activists; a cancer victim using Twitter for ideas and support; a member of the Lebanese Parliament using Facebook to talk with constituents while hiding from Hezbollah.
And so on... It began essentially as a business report, but it seems that I am following social media wherever it goes. I am looking for new stories that either inspire others or give pragmatic ideas of new ways social media can be used.
Almost invariably the SM Global Report is at the core of the books and articles I write. People I interview often become subjects for my speaking engagements and when I get a new project, the SM Global Report gets renamed for a period of time. It became "Twitterville Notebook" for a while. when I was working on my recent book.
I am always looking for stories of people who have used social media successfully. It doesn't matter where, but it most certainly matters how. These are case studies. I write about things that have already happened partly in the hope that it will help others make adopt social media in new ways.
In that light, I rarely--if ever--write about new companies with new tools or APIs. Despite that fact, I get more than a few pitches for stories like that and I get very few pitches for the stories I am really after. When I tweeted yesterday that I wrote about people not companies, I immediately received a few company pitches. So if you are a PR practitioner, please keep that in mind. You can email me with story ideas whenever you like, but it would be best for me if you took the time to click on the SM Global Report category button in my sidebar and read a few of the Reports first.
If you have such a story or an idea on how I can find one please let me know.
[Howard Rheingold in his backyard giant sunflower patch. Photo by Shel Israel]
is a founding father of the Conversational Era. He has spent much of his past 40 years exploring the impact and promise of the
convergence of technology and the human brain. He is a student of the many people, incidents and trends that have brought us to today, and as a prolific thinker, writer and speaker, he has contributed significantly to the body of knowledge and thought.
He's not sure just how many books and articles he has authored or collaborated on, since 1970, but Amazon offers 72 titles with his byline. Two of these books, The Virtual Community
 and Smart Mobs  have
profoundly influenced my thinking and writing over the past half dozen years and if you happened to be into social media he is among the early pioneers who blazed the trail the rest of us have followed. He has been a friend & colleague of many of the thinkers and doers who have delivered us to today and in many cases he can say he had been there and part of the collaborating team that did that. He has also been often prophetic in seeing the seeds that began as visions and have since become reality.
Arizona-born in 1947, he graduated Reed College in Portland, Oregon, then moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he became an integral part of America's most controversial Renaissance Era. He drank the original KoolAid. He also dabbled at Xerox PARC, the legendary tech
experimental tech center where, among other innovations, the personal computer's graphical interface was developed. He started writing professionally in 1970 and has rarely stopped for long.
He was editor of the Whole Earth Catalog Millenium Edition, an almanac that supported the counter-culture lifestyle. Founded by thinker-enterpreneur Stuart Brand, Whole Earth Catalogs were a grassroots compendium of alternative lifestyle resources. A young hippie fruitarian of that time named Steve Jobs would later describe the Catalog as both the forerunner to the Worldwide Web and Google.
Rheingold was an early and enthusiastic member of the San Francisco-based
" Well," the first internet-based
community to gain widespread notice and momentum. His speaking and writing about it, particularly in The Virtual Community introduced a great number of people to the vision of social media for the first time.
These days he continues to write and speak on issues related to the human brain and technology--his central focus throughout his adult life. He also teaches courses at both Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley.
I have divided this interview into two parts. In this first part, Howard reflects and illuminates on what has happened so far. Most of Part 2 will discuss his thoughts on tomorrow, partly by discussing what he sees in his students.
One word of caution: this is not a quick read. It is filled with links to some of the people and events that have brought about the Conversation Age and I hope that you will follow some of these links to see and learn. Maybe it will give you some ideas on what you can contribute to tomorrow.
Q. You attended Reed College in the mid 60s, an elite liberal arts college known for free thought and lifestyle. How did that experience shape who you have become?
It's very astute to start with this question. My relationship with Reed was co-evolutionary: Reed seems to send out a
kind of invisible signal that attracts a certain kind of person, and the people
who are able to stick it out (very high dropout rate) tend to remain "Reedies"
I was a National Merit Scholar, which meant I could
have gotten into any university, but Reed was the only place I applied! I
originally got wind of it because the character in Kerouac's Dharma Bums who
was based on Gary Snyder who went to Reed. Snyder, more than Kerouac, was a hero of
mine when I was 16 years old, so that was about all I needed to know. In
retrospect, I'd say that the dominant characteristics of a person meant for
a. A stubborn commitment to think for oneself
b. A deep and broad interest in texts and intellectual discourse
c. Because of the first two characteristics, we were mostly the smart weird kids in our high schools
d. We dropped out of the brand-name college game
Reed alumni magazine did an article on me, written by Wired [Howard was founding exec editor of Wired.com] writer and fellow Reed alumni Gary Wolf.
The Reed years were 1964-68 for me, so
these were also tumultuous times. And I took a lot of LSD. I want to be clear
on this: Many of my friends got in serious trouble or died because of drugs
(and many more because of one drug: alcohol), so I'm not an advocate of
indiscriminate use of recreational drugs. But LSD was an extremely important
influence on my thinking.
I didn't drop acid and go to concerts. I
dropped acid and stayed in my room and painted, read -- I read most of the
Bible on acid -- and explored other dimensions with my fellow travelers.
particular 1968 -- the Tet offensive, Prague Spring, China's Red Guards and Cultural Revolution; May revolt in Paris;
Chicago, and assassinations of RF Kennedy and ML King; riots in American cities. We
weren't participants in these events, but the world stage seemed particularly
apocalyptic. I became convinced that we were living in times that would decide
the future of the human experiment, and just as I went to Reed because I wanted
to engage in a meaningful and deep dialogue with others about the curriculum
(the sex, drugs, and rock&roll were part of it, but were always secondary
to the intellectual quest), I left Reed and entered the world with a conviction
that what I said and did with my education would matter not just to me but to
When I got involved with people I met from the Well, my wife, who I met at Reed said: "This is just like Reed. A bunch of intelligent misfits have found each other and are going to town."
Q. The common thread that seems to tie your considerable
writing and thought together is the interaction of the human brain and
technology. It seems to have developed in the early 80s between your work
with The Whole Earth Catalog and your involvement with The Well. Can you walk me through how that developed?
The brain and technology--and evolution and consciousness--were the subjects of my undergraduate thesis. One of the things that LSD taught me was that what we think we know about our minds is tiny compared to what we have to learn. I felt technology would open a new front, along with that of chemical agents (it's too bad that legitimate psychedelic research was shut down), and the approaches pointed to by Eastern mysticism, in understanding consciousness -- which seemed to me to be the essential stuff of which the universe is made.
I had what I later learned I could call a "noetic" conviction about these conjectures, and was determined to somehow add to our body of knowledge about our minds and how we could control our minds better.
3. You coined the term “Virtual Community” and it became the title of one of your most influential books. It’s first chapter talked about the Parenting group in The Well. Your stories in that chapter are strikingly close to stories I found in Twitter. Can you compare/contrast The Well and Twitter? What has remained the same and what has changed?
Absolutely true! In my first months on Twitter, I told fellow Well veterans Twitter felt just like
the Well. While it would be a
categoric error to call the Twitter population in general a community, it was
clear that communities were forming there. People were getting to know each
other, strangers were engaging in discussions with each other; new forms of fun
were being invented; new ways to use the platform to communicate socially like the hashtag and retweet were being invented by users; people were exchanging
and reciprocating knowledge; social capital was accumulating in some groups.
At the same time, Twitter
was totally different. In the Well, each user might participate in different
topic threads in different conferences (forums), but the discussions were
centered on topics and were like places where a group of people accumulated. In
each discussion, we paid attention to each other. In Twitter there is no
such social symmetry. There are no topics, outside of hashtags and each person
sees a different group of others.
Despite, and because of, this asymmetry, Twitter always had a social vibrancy.
Another similarity is the
sense among the users that what we were co-creating with the Twitter founders
would take on new forms as we went along. The Well was built on Unix, so coders
and users were in dialogue, but with the Twitter's open API and the explosion
of third-party applications, that co-evolving relationship seems to be in
Twestival, 300,000 tweets/hour from Tehran, the Twitpic of the
airplane that landed in the Hudson -- events that change our minds about what
Twitter can be used for seem to be happening with increasing frequency
Q. For the benefit of our studio audience, just what
do you mean when you say the computer is an amplifier of the human mind?
I've learned that most people don't know much history, and those who
know it seem to quickly forget it. Until a couple of mavericks who were not at
all related to the existing computer industry started thinking seriously about
using digital computers to augment human intellect and create new communication
media, this was a crazy idea.
Computers were for scientific calculations and
business data processing. But JCR Licklider [computer time-sharing], Doug Engelbart [the mouse], Bob Taylor [the internet], Alan
Kay [graphical interface] thought differently. What if we could move words around on a screen by
pointing at them, instead of retyping the whole page? What if we could create
documents as outlines, then expand and contract them so we can zoom from big
picture to detail? What if we could command computers by clicking on icons instead
of typing commands? What if we could link texts, documents, and different media
and move smoothly from one to another by clicking on the link?
these low-level symbol manipulation tasks, would that free the brain to take in
larger pictures, see relationships between micro and macro levels that couldn't
be observed, try many more hypotheses than old methods afforded? All these
capabilities seem obvious today, but not only were they not obvious until
Engelbart's Mother of All Demos in 1968. I told the story of this creation of
revolutionary innovation by a small group of outsiders in my book, Tools
for Thought. I started using a modem when I first started exploring personal
computer culture in the early 1980s, but didn't join the Well until after Tools
for Thought was published in 1985.
I started out to make a living as a writer when I was 23, in 1970. I had a typewriter, a telephone, and a library card. Comparing the tools I had for thinking, researching, communicating, organizing back then with what I have now, it's like starting out my career with a horse and buggy and now I have my own 747.
It took me about 5 seconds to look up the passage of Engelbart's that originally fired me up, and to copy it. And I did it sitting here in my garden, via laptop and WiFi. Keeping in mind what I said previously about my interests in brain and technology and my conviction regarding this historical moment and my role and responsibility to it, it still makes sense to me as an answer to your question:
By "augmenting human intellect" we mean increasing the capability of a man to approach a complex problem situation, to gain comprehension to suit his particular needs, and to derive solutions to problems. Increased capability in this respect is taken to mean a mixture of the following: more-rapid comprehension, better comprehension, the possibility of gaining a useful degree of comprehension in a situation that previously was too complex, speedier solutions, better solutions, and the possibility of finding solutions to problems that before seemed insoluble. And by "complex situations" we include the professional problems of diplomats, executives, social scientists, life scientists, physical scientists, attorneys, designers -- whether the problem situation exists for twenty minutes or twenty years. We do not speak of isolated clever tricks that help in particular situations. We refer to a way of life in an integrated domain where hunches, cut-and-try, intangibles, and the human "feel for a situation" usefully coexist with powerful concepts, streamlined terminology and notation, sophisticated methods, and high-powered electronic aids. Man's population and gross product are increasing at a considerable rate, but the complexity of his problems grows still faster, and the urgency with which solutions must be found becomes steadily greater in response to the increased rate of activity and the increasingly global nature of that activity. Augmenting man's intellect, in the sense defined above, would warrant full pursuit by an enlightened society if there could be shown a reasonable approach and some plausible benefits.
In 2002, you authored Smart Mobs, which has been critically acclaimed for it’s foreshadowing of social media. Among the incidents that most impressed me was how street people used mobile SMS to out maneuver police & eventually overthrow the government. When the Iran election took place in June of this year, did you see a certain similarity? How did has technology involved to empower people. Where do you see/hope it is ultimately headed?
Let me start with the conclusion and then unpack it:
With a billion people on the Internet and 4 billion mobile phones, the ability to
gain information, to process it computationally, to organize collective action
with others, to publish and broadcast has been radically democratized -- but
whether or not that democratized communication and coordination capability will
lead to more or less democracy is not a function of the technology but of the
social, political, economic activities of the people who use it.
The events in
Iran should be an object lesson that access to digital media and networks
guarantees that it will be impossible to keep the world from witnessing massive
oppression, but does not guarantee the victory of forces of counterpower who
seek liberty from oppression. Power always wakes up and mobilizes when
counterpower threatens it.
The Iranian regime broadcast disinformation. They
shut down Internet access. They ran cloaked proxy servers as honey pots to
catch dissidents. So far, they are succeeding.
In China, the Great Firewall and
tens of thousands of human cyber-police make sure that over a quarter billion Chinese
netizens enjoy the power to do anything they want online as long as it doesn't
challenge the authority of the party.
The victory of smart mobs is not
guaranteed by the power of the tools they hold in their hands. That's just
magical thinking. However, the events I described in my book were real. There
were other forces at work in the Philippines -- there are always other forces
at work -- but the SMS-organized People Power II demonstrations were a large
part of what brought down the Estrada regime. The elections of heads of state
were tipped away from the frontrunner through smart-mobbed demonstrations and
get out the vote campaigns in Korea and Spain.
Where do I see it headed? My experiences have convinced me that the most important focus for public attention right now should shift to the literacies that bring power to those who possess them and leave behind those who don't know how to use their telephone as a medical instrument, educational medium, social radar, political organizing tool.
fabrication plants, teenage personal computer wizards and moguls, networks of
fiber optics and satellites have played and will continue to play their parts
in the distribution of computing and communication power to every human on
But now that devices with such enormous untapped power are in the hands
of so many, the factor that will most powerfully shape the resulting social
institutions is literacy. My definition of "literacy" builds the
thinking of Neil Postman: I mean the inward-looking skill that enables an
individual to read and write, to decode and encode messages with a medium, and
I also refer to the external community to which this skill provides entrance.
As I've written recently in regard to "Crap Detection 101," the literacies I am talking about are not just about individual empowerment, but
are crucial to the health of the commons.
We can't stop the Web from being overwhelmed with misinformation, disinformation, hoaxes, urban legends, spam, porn, porn-spam by controlling the sources - the Web is powerful precisely because there are no controls on what people put on it. We can only guarantee the ultimate health of the Web as a source of useful and trustworthy information by encouraging the spread of crap detection skills. That, to me, is the most important meaning of the "social" in "social media" -- that we are not just amplifying our minds and showing off for each other, we are learning and organizing, creating, innovating, building, liberating together.
To me, individualism versus collectivism is a toxically false dichotomy. Humans are humans because of our individual capabilities, the evolved genius of what we've taught each other to do with our expanded forebrains. But the "taught each other to do" part is crucial. Our individual genius would not only be useless, it wouldn't exist without our social interchanges.
Groundswell co-author Josh Bernoff interviewed me on Twitter this morning. You can see his transcript of it here. For 30 minutes, he asked me questions & I answered, Then we opened it up for anyone to ask questions.
It is the fourth such tweet-based experiment in which I participated and I think it will be my last for a while. There are certain aspects of it that I think have potential. In our talk prior to doing the interview, Josh likened it as a panel talk at a conference followed by a Q&A. For two college classrooms, it was a good way of demonstrating what can be accomplished in quick conversational tidbits.
But for folks viewing my interchange with Josh this morning, there were too many moving parts. The latency between Q&A was some times painful. People did not know who to address questions to. Sometimes I forgot to add our #tville hashtag and so on.
Maybe someone will find a way to refine how this sort of interchange could succeed. Maybe Twitter or a third-party will figure out a plug in or addition that will make it work.
Until then, there are lots of other venues. Even for classrooms, I think Skype is a better social media tool. It still leaves a great many useful applications for my favorite tool.
I have a few friends at BusinessWeek. I imagine each of them is breathing a little easier today after being purchased yesterday by Bloomberg Business News, for a rumored $5 million.
Bloomberg, a news service for financial and business professionals is only 20 years old, but it has grown into one of the world's largest media companies, thriving in a period when most media companies have waned. It employs 10,000 people, many of them business news reporters covering 160 countries via its legendary computer network that often gets business information out in near realtime. It distributes news through a computer-based wire service, TV, video, and audio.
My sense is that this computer network is at the core of the reason Bloomberg is thriving while most media companies are floundering. Bloomberg was born in the Information Age and has no legacy of loving paper. It's significant subscription fees are based on the value and speed of the information it delivers, not on the medium it uses to deliver it.
Another asset, to my thinking, is New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg who essentially owns the network. Because the news organization is not a public corporation, Bloomberg is not obliged to focus on delivering quarterly profits to shareholders. He is free to do what the families who once owned newspapers used to do: focus on longterm strategy and reputation-enhancing activities.
Unlike, private equity companies, that also considered acquiring BusinessWeek, and were likely to chop the organization up, selling it for parts, Bloomberg Business has vowed to buildup BusinessWeek, improving the content. The cloud of massive layoffs appears to be breaking up. The fact that Bloomberg is a candidate for reelection also seems to be a motivation to build rather than dissect.
The new entity is likely to be called Bloomberg BusinessWeek, according to NPR. It is a good name. It merges two brands that are respected in business sectors. Whie plans are currently to maintain the paper format, the owners roots are on computer networks, not large printing presses in the basement and fleets of delivery trucks. We shall see.
I have said this many times: the world will not be a better, smarter freer place if traditional news organizations perish leaving bloggers and tweeters to fill the void. We don't get to attend many White House news conferences. No one assigns us to cover wars or earthquakes. We don't have editors demanding we find second sources and check our facts. We are mostly amateurs who just happen to be there when news breaks.
I am hoping to see a resurgence of what is now BusinessWeek--perhaps as something new called Bloomberg BusinessWeek. I hope the new magazine has the wisdom and vision to braid social media into a resurgent new entity.
[Janis Krums takes & makes his shot for the Florida Lakewood Ranchers , an amateur league team. He also took another kind of shot in January 2009, which you probably saw. photo by Angie Tyler Jula]
It's one of my favorite stories in Twittterville. In January 2009, Janis Krums, the a 23-year-old entrepreneur from Sarasota, Florida was on a ferry crossing the Hudson River when US Air Flight 1549 careened from the skies, skidding to a halt on the river about 200 yards from the ferry and immediately began to sink as passengers poured out onto the wings.
Janis whipped out his iPhone and took the photo below, which you have probably seen. He handed the phone to another passenger and then assisted in the rescue of a flight attendant who had broken both her legs and needed assistance getting off the plane.
Helping the attendant to safety, Krums got his iPhone back. It was ringing and when he picked up he was surprised to find he was talking to MSNBC and his voice was being carried live on national TV. Viewers were looking at the photo he had taken less than 30 minutes earlier.
In Twitterville, I argued that the incident changed the relationship between professional and amateur journalists; that it has begun to braid the two together on social media venues. I predicted that braided journalism is how most people will consume news in the near future.
It also has changed Janis Krums. The following is an update on what he has been up to since that unintended moment on the Hudson River. He is simultaneously starting two business in two separate categories, one of which has been a passion for years. The second, something called InboxAlarm would probably have not happened had he not happened to be crossing a river at a specific moment in time; and if my favorite social media platform not been victimized by a DDOS attack that rendered it inoperable for several days in early summer.
Please see my recent interview with him below.
Q. How has the incident changed your life?
I am associated with an event that changed the perception of citizen journalism and the evolution of news and media. The coolest part is to see that my one tweet changed the way that CNN, Fox News, and others interact with their viewers. They are actively engaged with viewers now, and seek the opinions in realtime from all the available resources.
Plus, I have a great story to tell at parties!
Q. How active were you in social media before the "Hudson River Miracle"
incident? How many follower/following did you have going in to that day? How
many do you have now? How much time did you spend on social media before the
incident. How much now?
Before the incident I was exploring all the different services and seeing which one made sense for me. I had about 170 followers before the incident. Now I have almost 5,800. Before the incident, I was spending maybe 20 minutes a day on updates. I think right after I was spending a lot of time. Now I have learned some tricks and services (su.pr, tweetdeck, tweetie 2) that I use to monitor and use the different sites more efficiently.
Q. When I interviewed you for Twitterville, you were planning working on Elementz a nutritional enhancement drink for professional athletes. How long have you been working on it? How is it doing?
We started a year ago with the idea of what we wanted to do. At this point we have finalized 5 custom formulations and are finalizing the paperwork to produce the first two products, Vanilla and Chocolate Whey Protein. We have some very influential people on board and will be making some really cool announcements in the near future. You can check out our Facebook page for the latest news.
7. More recently, you announced InboxAlarm.com. Can you tell me what it does and how you got the idea for it?
InboxAlarm is burglar alarm for your email inbox. You are able to create decoy emails that can be as simple as fake password information or custom emails that cater to your specific security concern. After creating an email, you send it to one of your personal emails addresses, open it once, and then forget about it. It sits in your archives until someone opens it. Once opened, you are instantly notified by a text message that there has been a breach.
We got the idea after the Twitter breach happened. In that case the hacker had days to gather information and was able to go from one employee's email account all the way up to the CEO's.
We thought that there should be a way for you to protect yourself in the case someone breaks into your inbox. There are other high profile examples; Sarah Palin getting hacked; the latest phishing attack, and countless others that don't make national news.
8. Is InboxAlarm potentially a new business for you, or is it just a one-off from Elementz Nutrition?
InboxAlarm has the potential to be a new business for Eric and I. It is too early to tell how it will go, but the initial reaction has been very positive.
Q. How have sales gone since you announced InboxAlarm?
We have steady sales up to this point. We got some initial press from PCmag.com and BNET, which helped the site's exposure. As well as local Sarasota coverage ) We will be focusing on a major marketing push in the coming weeks.
Q. You have previously told me your two passions are health and social media. Can you compare and contrast starting businesses serving in the two industries? For example how are the the process and time-to-market similar or different? o
It's been very interesting to see the evolution of both Elementz Nutrition and InboxAlarm. For Elementz we had the concept few years ago, but only last year said, lets start the process and develop supplements that we can be proud to stand behind.
We were very naive in our projected timeline to get the products out into the market. We thought that it would take few months to research, develop, test, etc the formulations. That estimate was way off, it took us around a year to finalize the formulas. Right now we are finalizing everything with our manufacturer.
However, with InboxAlarm, we had the idea in July and were able to launch the initial site during the second week of September. We had the core functionality thought out in the first day and after that just kept refining until we thought it was good enough to be released to the public. I agree with Reid Hoffman's observation: "If you're not somewhat embarrassed by your 1.0 product launch, then you've released too late."
We wanted to get it out as soon as possible and then see what the customers did and didn't
like. We've improved the sign-up process and have couple of
other improvements that are directly linked to the feedback from our
No matter how different the market, at the end of the day it's about selling and getting the word out about your product. It doesn't matter what industry you are in, if you don't move product, you will not be around for too long.
I am pleased and flattered that Forrester Principal Analyst Josh Bernoff, co-author [with Charlene Li] of Groundswell, the seminal corporate social media book has asked to interview me for his Groundswell blog. It is fitting that he suggested we do this on Twitter itself. We are set to go at 9 a.m. Pacific this Friday morning.
Josh has the details here. A good way to follow will be to use our hashtag: #tville.
So far, I've done one previous "twinterview" live on Twitter as well as two "tweach-ins" in which we used Twitter as the conversational venue. The first two went great, but a couple of weeks ago when I was talking to students in Mihaela Vorvorreanu's graduate student class at Purdue, a few people started to jump in with questions of their own.
While I had posted that this was a chance for people to observe the conversation, it was apparently not sufficient to cause confusion.
Using Twitter in this fashion is experimental. Both Josh and I--as well as students in two universities see some unique advantages and I hope this time it works better, so that the focus is our conversation--rather than our choice of venue.
From 9-9:30 Pacific, Josh will interview me. If you ask questions Josh will keep them on hold until 9:30 am at which he will then open it up. As he says on his post--it's like a panel talk at a conference that gets opened up to the floor.
I hope you join in. I hope that this experiment proves both useful and interesting. Either way, I hope that when it is completed you will give us your feedback.
Yes, the world loves him and his words and approaches and his apparent high-roaded intentions, but I have to admit the world does not seem a more peaceful place since he has taken office. The US is meandering out of a troop investment in one war whose purpose is confusing into another one whose goals seem to me to be equally unclear.
Yes the most people in the world seem to admire the US more under his administration than under the previous guy, but let's face it: George Bush is an easy act to follow. He was arguably the most disliked and distrusted president in history.
“The question we have to ask is who has done the most in the previous year to enhance peace in the world,” the Nobel committee chairman, Thorbjorn Jagland, was quoted as saying in the New York Times yesterday, “And who has done more than Barack Obama?”
That question has had me thinking yesterday and today. Selecting Obama, was clearly a statement of hope more than achievement as critics have charged. And they have a point. But who has done more for world peace in the last year than he has.Perhaps it was just a bad year for wold peace and no one stood out.It would seem better to award the Nobel to someone who seems to be trying than no one else.
Who more than Obama?
Well, I came up with one name, someone who until June of this year we had never heard of and someone who was no longer with us by the end of the year: Neda Agha-Solton, the 27-year-old student gunned down during the unrest that followed Iran's highly tainted June 12 election. The video [below] of her assassination has been seen by millions of people all over the world. If you have seen it, you probably will not forget it. It is a moment that that is etched in the minds of all sorts of people everywhere.
But so what? Why suggest her worthiness for the Peace Prize? Freedom protesters have been slaughtered by the score in every year of the planet's history. In her part of the world, children are being raised and prepared to blow their own bodies in the name of a God that taught peace, yet has disciples who believe in killing on his behalf.
First, because we saw. Social media has not been present before when such atrocities have occurred. Such slaughters have not even made paragraphs of copy in newspapers, because until social media and handheld devices and students who understood technology better than their governments could not spread the word of what was happening like they can today.
Governments, like Iran's can kick out the free press; but they cannot silence people anymore. Now when they use Gestapo tactics on the people they are supposed to serve, the world will be watching. People will know. Neda did not give her life willingly as a warning to oppressive regime. She was just as student on the street who thought her vote should count. Yet because of the horror of her extermination, governments are now forewarned that the world will see what they do and may think twice about such action.
Second is the issue of many children of the Muslim world; children being raised see Iran's theocracy as a role model; as the type of government worth fighting for, worth killing for; worth dying for. And now,because of Neda, they have witnessed what young people of Iran think of that role model government and how that role model government treats its own young people.
The esteemed Nobel chairman asked, who has done more for peace this year than Barack Obama. I think perhaps Neda has and she has sacrificed far more than he has as well.
Jack Kennedy was president when I entered college. Like Obama today, he had a great impact on the hearts and minds of young people. In Kennedy's case, he introduced a concept of volunteerism through programs like VISTA [Volunteers in Service to America] and the Peace Corps. The attitude that we can do something to make a difference for a good cause or people in need has stayed with many of us through our lives.
When I met Jessica Evans in Vancouver last month, I was reminded of that volunteer attitude when she told me the story of Timeraiser where she has donated over 100 hours of her time in a little more than a year and how she has helped the organization expand into social media.
Timeraiser is a Canadian organization formed by the Framework Foundation. It gets corporate sponsors finance their acquisition of selected works by local artists. Then it holds a silent auction, where mostly people, mostly in their 20s and 30s, bid their time--instead of money--to acquire a piece of art. The funding sponsors display the art in their offices for a year or so, while the volunteer works off the time pledged.
Most of the volunteer work is focused on using the professional skills of the volunteers, rather than ladling soup in food bank kitchens.
Since it started in 2004, Timeraiser has held these auctions in all major Canadian cities and has generated more than 45,000 volunteer hours for more than 250 nonprofits and has supported local artists to the tune of over $300,000.
Jessica Evans, 30 is one of those 45,000 volunteers, she is an IT professional at a Vancouver-based software company by day and has boundless energy for other activities. It was literally a rocky road she traveled that took her to both Vancouver and Timeraiser.
She tells her story in this interview:
Q. You spend much of your free time in outdoor physical activities such as bike riding and something called "bouldering." Just what is that, and when and how did you get into it?
Bouldering is a style of rock climbing – literally climbing on large boulders without a rope. Your landing is protected by “bouldering pads”- high-density foam mats similar to those used in gymnastics. It’s a great way to climb completely free and push your limits.
I started climbing in 2001 - yes, I think you could say I’ve traveled extensively to boulder. At the height of job dissatisfaction and restlessness when I lived in Toronto, I called myself out on my dream to live on the road and climb. I blogged the entire experience from the inception of the idea where I used up my health benefits before giving my notice, through the emotional challenges and steep learning curve while living on the road. There’s also advice on the art of living on a few dollars a day.
It was an amazing experience and
one of unexpected personal growth. I lasted
almost 6 months, living on the road camping and climbing by myself.
I think you could say that bouldering chose me. When I was on My Big Roadtrip, I had my gear for rope climbing too but found that it was easier to boulder since you don’t need to search for a dedicated partner. In roped climbing, you literally place your life in the hands of the other person. I found that not knowing my climbing partner well enough to fully trust them made it tough to focus. I ended up bouldering more and more, either by myself or trying to get in with a group that was out. By the end of the trip I found that I was a "boulderer," and now I very rarely rope up to climb.
Sure, I traveled alone and I’ve gone on some solo bouldering trips since. There’s a bit of teamwork involved – the energy of the group really affects if you’re able to focus on the moves. It’s so much better, and even a bit easier, if there’s a good group of people.Q. When, how and why did you discover Timeraiser?
I crash landed in Vancouver after the road trip and when I heard about the Timeraiser in 2008, I saw it as a way to get more involved in the community of the city I had settled in and had grown to love. Besides, I thought it sounded cool. I like art, especially by local artists, and I had been meaning to volunteer.
It’s a mashup of silent art auction and volunteer fair – there are representatives from local nonprofit agencies, and about 25 pieces of local artwork. The bidding opens for an hour and participants bid with a pledge of volunteer hours instead of money. Too cool.Q. What appealed to you about Timeraiser, since there are so many other options where you can volunteer your time?
One of the featured agencies at the Vancouver Timeraiser was Big Sisters. Being a Big Sister was something on my life to-do list, and it was just so easy to go to the Timeraiser event and talk to a representative in person. After talking to someone face-to-face, there was a more natural commitment to follow up.
You could say that I fell in love with the concept at the Timeraiser event. It was far cooler than I had expected. Bidding on artwork gave me a taste of a society I may never be a part of – but the concept of Timeraiser makes it fun and easy to get involved.Q. Can you walk me through the process in which you volunteered through the the Timeraiser silent auction for Big Sisters and how you obtained the photo?
After talking to the agencies at Timeraiser, I was pretty excited at all the volunteer opportunities that suited my skills. I ended up getting the winning bid on a photograph by a local artist [Miklos LeGrady] and I fulfilled my pledge over the following year by volunteering as a Big Sister. Donating time goes so far and you can see the impact you’re having on the community. It’s more fulfilling than, say, writing a check, though if you can afford that, go for it!
We volunteers are given a full year to complete our pledges. At this year's Timeraiser, I received my artwork.
Last spring, Timeraiser sent out a message needing volunteers for planning the next two Timeraiser events in Vancouver. You could say I was getting hooked on volunteering and was happy to spread the word.
I applied for the position of Media & Awareness Leadership and my pitch was all social media. How can we reach our target demographic? Well, I’m a member of the target demographic and I’m always online. I could see the need to leverage Twitter as well as Facebook fan pages.
We’re getting to a point on the
Web these days where people search Twitter to connect with a business entity,
and Timeraiser needed to represent. I also brought us onto LinkedIn and worked
with Timeraiser employees to implement the Facebook fan page.
The entire “Tweeting for Charity” experience has been interesting. I’ve been online since the local BBS days back in the mid-90s. Twitter is the online vehicle to reconnect with people locally and in person, or globally due to our common interests. I’m not looking to network or promote myself as a climber or a Project Manager, so getting out there to talk about something I feel so passionately about – Timeraiser – feels quite natural.
One constant I’ve experienced while engaging in social media for charity is that when I explain the concept of Timeraiser to people, if they’re interested, they’re excited like me and eager to help. It’s important to reach as many people as possible to build the network of eager excited people.
I have to say it was powerful to watch the word spread and excitement grow along with the network. We ended up selling the event out, which was an incredible accomplishment. A CBC reporter saw a retweet about the Vancouver Timeraiser and picked up our story the day before the event. Members of the blogging community posted up about the Timeraiser and some had tickets to give away via their sites. I think everyone worked together – Team Twitter.
Q. How has social media changed Timeraiser? What additional potential do you see?
It was very valuable to tap into the local, grassroots media in Vancouver. Getting the word out via local bloggers is the way to go. Civic Footprint (Timeraiser's sister nonprofit) is now working on social media strategies for other Timeraiser cities, to connect via Twitter and social media.
In the Spring, I’ll be leveraging Twitter again to connect with the local art community. Artists selected for the Timeraiser are paid market value for their work. In 2009, 20 of the 25 selected artists were from BC. In 2010, I’d like to see that extend to 25/25.
Also, it would be great if we could get a participant to blog their experience fulfilling their pledge, so we can all follow along. I’ll see if I can put that into place. @Timeraiser_couv is still the only account dedicated to the Timeraiser, but I hope to see the other cities follow suit. I’m excited to see how next year unfolds, since I can incorporate what I learned this year.
Q. I understand that you found romance on Twitter. Can you tell me just what happened and how has it worked out so far?
That’s quite the bonus, I know! The first networking event I attended as @Timeraiser_couv was a Meetup and I was looking for others with @ Twitter IDs on their name badges. I ended up clicking with a guy there – I remember that I could read him quite well and found him intriguing. We talked about cycling and I sent him an @ from my personal account, not Timeraiser! When I got home, he had sent me a DM to request a coffee to “learn more about that charity stuff you do.” We’ve been hanging out since. You could say we get along quite well.
Q. Additional comments.
I’m not climbing as much as I used to and it’s amusing because I made the move out to BC to climb full-time. Dreams change over time, and I got to see my 2009 dream of selling out the Vancouver Timeraiser come true.Timeraiser helped me Commit to Vancouver, and now I’ll never leave.
Life on the road always meeting new people prepped me for this.