[Chris Shipley at DEMO 07. Photo by Shel]
If Chris Shipley had been an investor over the past 11 years, instead of executive producer of the bellwether DEMO conferences, she would probably have one of the most successful venture funds in history. Over the past decade, she has talked to thousands of entrepreneurs to pick the 60-70 companies that present at her two conferences. As co-founder of Guidewire Group, a global market intelligence firm focusing exclusively on early stage IT companies, she is becoming respected globally as an analyst who has clear vision about what is on technology's edge. Shipley and I have an interesting relationship. I have known her more than 20 years and she is a personal friend. As editor of Conferenza Premium Reports, I reviewed her conferences and was not always a cheerleader. I was part of the team that produced the first BlogOn, the first business blogging conference. I asked her to answer questions for the SAP Global Survey because she has the clearest vision of anyone I know at what occurs at the intersection of technology and users.
1. Did you invent the term "social media?" When was that and what did you mean by it when you first coined the phrase?
Some people say I did. Mike Sigal and I began using the term as we sat around a dining room table talking about the ways in which community changed the nature of information publishing. We dubbed Guidewire Group a "social media" company and we used the term when we put together the first BlogOn event in 2004.
By social media, I meant that community would play a fundamental role in shaping content. At that point, we thought that content might be seeded by writers/editors, but that the community voice would ultimately speak louder than that of the original writer. We saw the role of the media company as a facilitator of the conversation, not the producer/editor/arbiter of news and information.
2. You have been around long enough to have witnessed more than a few waves of tech adoption. Do you believe with those who feel that social media is the largest and most significant wave so far? Why or why not?
"Largest and most significant?" That's hard to measure. Each wave builds upon the last, so which is most significant, the foundation first wave or the successor waves?
I do think that the rapid and broad dissipation of power/influence/control that is at the core of social media (Web 2.0?) is as fundamental a shift as from mainframe to mini and mini to PC. When power moves from central control out to the edges, things change dramatically and forever. This Genie isn't going back into the bottle.
(By the by, and not to make pitch here, but this is the primary theme and focus of DEMOfall next month).
3. How has social media changed the world so far? How do you think it will change the world moving forward?
I've been giving a talk this summer that I call "Everything 2.0." The basic premise - social engagement with information changes everything. It's about a power shift and it will redistribute wealth, authority, status. When more people have more access to information, when they can share their perspectives/stories, when they can tell their "truths," they are empowered. In past generations, those who controlled the message controlled
the wealth, authority, and by extension the populace.
That control of information and influence has now shifted, in large part, to the populace, and once empowered, they won't easily give it up. (Something, by the way, that many folks empowered by social media would do well to remember-- it's heady to be "powerful" and "influential." But, just as bloggers, for example, took power from other media outlets, that power can be taken from them. Power is fleeting and requires great responsibility to hold on to it.)
I think we'll see that social media has a major impact on this next presidential election. ... and for the most part, politicians at every level don't get it. They're still looking at the Web as a fund raising tool. They are going to be really surprised when they discover that social media demands that they *talk with* their constituents rather than *talk at them. Social media may well be the thing that returns democracy to the electorate broadly. But we're all going to have to learn how to use that power.
4. You meet entrepreneurs from all over the world. Tell me, what percentage of them are focused on developing social media companies? Are these trends different or the same worldwide?
I could argue that they all are [social media companies]. Fundamentally social media evolves from "media" to "information" or something larger than our typical understanding of media. It's about directly engaging with customers and community - whether you intend to or not.
5. There are social media companies. Then there are companies who use social media. What trends do you see among tech and more traditional companies regarding the use of social media.
Can I just repeat answer 4?
Tech companies are moving faster, perhaps, but every company will feel the impact.
6. This survey is being conducted on behalf of SAP, a global software company. What strategic advice do you have for SAP on the emergence of social media?
Recognize that the customer is now in control. Sounds simple, but this is the biggest challenge for large IT vendors. They will need to design products that embrace/leverage/amplify the social dynamic, and they can only do that by putting their legacy behind them and opening up to more and louder voices of the marketplace.
7. What social media tools do you think will serve businesses? Is this the same or different worldwide?
I don't think it's a tools question, it's an engagement question - businesses will be served by letting go, by listening, by rapidly iterating.
What's very different here, though, is that social media is both a tool set, a distribution model, and a power shift. This change isn't just about extending your software to a new platform, it's about embracing the ideas and ideals of collaboration, communication, and individual influence, among others. Companies who see this change only in terms of software design will miss the mark.
The technology industry lost many venerable companies in the shift from centralized "glass house" computing to personalized desktop computing.
Let's not be surprised when we lose a few in this transition as well.
8. What factors are culture and language in the emergence of social media?
Social media - and more importantly - global connectivity create the condition for greater cultural understanding. Maybe that accelerates learning and tolerance and engagement but it doesn't fundamentally change the human dynamics that allow cultures to divide us. Social media isn't a magic bullet that brings world peace, ends hunger, and cures cancer. We have to use these tools to build bridges and create understanding. Or we use them to amplify anger and distrust and prejudice. You - everyone of "you" - get to decide.
9. Additional Comments?
I'll be very interested to see what you come up with from this survey.