Sociology of Google, Facebook and Twitter’s success – and what’s next

molehills by h3_six via FlickrOur utilities have changed beyond recognition

In the last five or is it six or seven years, our lives have been transformed.  In a year or two, we might count banking crises and revolutions and seismic activity in the change.  Right now, I am talking about Google, Facebook and Twitter who have crept into contemporary live as assuredly as TV, running water and phones.

The ubiquity of new internet services and their ready availability to everyone – rich or poor, powerful or disposed – gives them the status of institutions. Google is now a verb.  “Google it!” Facebook is a noun.  “I am a bad Facebooker.”  Twitter has its own vocabulary. “RT” = “retweet”.

The very ubiquity of internet services worry us. They seem to have taken over our lives.

The characteristics of new institutions

But of course, they have taken over our lives.  New utilities scare us because they reflect deep changes in society and our status relative to each other.  That is the point.

New institutions have three characteristics.

  • They bring us together in a forum – in a talking shop – on a massive scale.
  • They provide a “complete world” where everyone and every interest is invited.
  • They allow us to take part in history – indeed they allow us to make history.

Are we about to see even more new institutions emerge?

I have a deep sense that we are going to see changes in these central apps – not necessarily in technology but in whom they serve.

If we want to foresee change, indeed if we want the heady experience of being part of history, we have to  look at the world historically and socially with a keen eye.  Who is included in the “complete world” as of today?  And who is on the sidelines waiting to join in?

When we add a wider range of pressing interests to the mix, where will we see new institutions germinating and sprouting because people are looking for a forum where they can connect ever more widely to make history.

It is not the disaffected that matter so much in the emergence of institutions.  It is who wants to connect more widely.  Who wants to connect where they couldn’t connect before?  Who is genuinely interested in listening to other people who aren’t part of their current existence?

Further reading on the birth of institutions

Barbara Czarniawska.  (2009). Emerging Institutions: Pyramids or Anthills.  Organization Studies 30(4). pp 423-441. (History of the London School of Economics) [Download the full paper following link highlighted in yellow in the middle column]

Social Media needs to work harder to show people its potential

Dear 2010 – phishing, scams and poor service from corporates

My first task of the New Year was to block any possible damage from a phishing exercise.  I received an email from “Virgin Media” saying my direct debit had bounced and that I should login to their ebilling to sort it out. I did.  But didn’t reset my details.  I went first to my bank site to check what was happening then looked at the email more closely.  I followed up an odd looking html address marking the place of a blocked picture and discovered this was a scam.  The owner of the website address had posted the details on 30 December 2009.  I was disappointed that Virgin hadn’t warned its customers and set about changing my passwords.  What a mission. I’ve still to drive to the next town to change the passwords at my global bank, locally.   You know who I am talking about.  The local branch is good but their global IT sucks.  What would happen if I was 1000 miles away from the local branch as in my last billet?

Social Media: at least we acknowledge #So.ME

With this dismal start to 2010, I calmed down with a cup of coffee and read blog posts with a jaded eye.  Straw men.  Blither and blather. Eventually, I got my head in order and replied to a post on Made in Many.  I think my reply will be incomprehensible to them but it may make perfect sense to people from turbulent places.

  • Social Media is a revolution.
  • It perhaps was not a deliberate revolution but those who wanted social change are chortling.
  • The old guard and the old guard who have got left behind are fretting.
  • The old guard who are fretting are wishing away the changes to communication and pecking orders.

So far, so ordinary or so “dittohead” to use Social Media slang.  This is where experience of living in a place that changed rapidly and often helps.

Social Media and Wars of Liberation

There are plenty of times in life when change is discontinuous.  We may have seen the change coming. We may not.  But discontinuous change is by definition abrupt and more importantly changes who are the winners and losers in life.

We are quite happy with change when we are winning.  We are obviously distressed when we are losing.

What do we do with people who are distressed by change?

First, let me tell you what does happen.

  • They “get it” and join in
  • They resent it and try to use their residual status to negotiate the change away (they try to blackmail us).
  • They resent it and “go underground”
  • They exit or withdraw
  • They are ejected.

We notice the second group and we are eventually bitten by third.  The fourth and fifth might cost us through their loss.

Let’s deal with the second group, as they were the subject of the Made by Many post.

If this had been a War of Liberation, we would have deliberately set out to change the pecking order. We would have had little sympathy for the losers but might have pragmatically included them in a policy of reconciliation ~ not because we loved them, you understand but to mitigate the cost of groups 2 to 5.

The parallels between social media and Wars of Liberation

Social Media was not a deliberate War of Liberation but it has similar revolutionary effects.  The old guard is being displaced. They could join in but for the most part they refuse.  Should we just ignore them?  Should we chide them for their surliness?

I don’t think so.

What should we do about people with high status who are trying to “wish away” change?

I think there is no going back. Social media has introduced a more democratic world.  Not a perfectly democratic world but a more democratic world.

I won’t be blackmailed by the old guard who refuse to use social media and use their old positions to try to block change.

But I will lay out a clear road map and tell them

  • How to take part
  • How they will benefit
  • Make them feel welcome

The issue is inclusion

I won’t be blackmailed. But I will put myself out to welcome them ~ because that is the issue. They have to come to terms with the new pecking order.  That is unavoidable.  And they will do that faster when they feel welcomed and accepted.

But there will, sadly, be those who persist in undermining or feel they have to “leave”.  We can only regard each of those as our failure to show them possibilities.  We can only regard each as a failure to show them possibilities.

Social change is never pretty.  And those who lead it should budget for side-effects.  They don’t have to put up with blackmail. They do have to budget for showing people the way (or spending money on defense).

You see, this is a common story. It’s happening as we speak in other arena too.

Social media is a peaceful revolution. But it is a revolution.  We have choices.  Go with history. Or don’t.  Lead others. Or don’t.  When we confront history we get hurt.  When don’t help confused people understand, we get hurt.

Social Media needs to do the work of bringing people into the fold

We need to get organized.  We cannot leave people behind.  Yes, it is their choice how they use social media but have we truly shown them how and assured them of their welcome.  Not their old status but the freedom to interact on the same terms as everyone else.

It is too expensive to leave people behind. We have to try again. And again. And when we are tired. Let someone else try. Maybe that is all that is needed to let the light burn in their eyes.

The tsunami follows the financial crisis. Leave the beach. Walk. Don’t look back

A tsunami is on its way but we are sleeping through it

I’ve done that actually, slept through a tsunami warning, but I am not talking about waves here. I am talking about the massive changes taking place in the world.  The financial crisis is just the beginning.  The financial crisis is the tremor under deep water that sets off a tsunami of social change.

Intuitive people “get it” first

I have a good intuitive brain.  Many times in my life, I’ve realized that something is all wrong.  But I have stopped to persuade others rather than just “get out”.  I am happy that I am a team player and I am happy that I am loyal and generous.  Sometimes in this life though, patient explanations are not going to “do it”.

There are two important reasons why people don’t listen to warnings from *N**

  • When we stop to explain, we signal to people that we don’t mean what wesay.  People read body language more than they listen to words.  When we stay, they stay.  Sadly, they don’t read our actions as solidarity.  They hear our words as hot air.
  • People who are *S**, rather than *N** [Myers-Briggs], attend to “what is” not “what may be”.  They look around and they don’t see that their comfortable life is about to disappear.  They see a comfortable life.   Our sense of the future is contradicted by tangible facts and frankly we look like fools.  To communicate with *S**, who usually outnumber *N**, we must show concrete proof.  We must find a way of turning out intuitions into something they can smell, feel, touch, taste.

What to do when a tsunami is approaching

When we sense a tsunami is approaching, I’m afraid there is no point in hanging about the beach telling people to get dressed and head for the hills.  What we have to do is

  • Get up
  • Pack up very visibly
  • Head to the hills

We mustn’t slink off.  We must be visible.  But we mustn’t stop to debate or explain.  We must simply walk the talk.  Say briefly and clearly, “A tsunami is coming.  I am going to high ground.”  If they look interested, say “Carry this!”  Whatever you do, don’t give them something essential.  Give them something useful that you could leave behind if they dither and don’t start walking.   Don’t stop.  Don’t look back!   If your best friends stay to continue the party, that’s a shame, but ultimately their choice.  Walk, and keep walking.  Now!

Why I am talking? The tsunami is coming!

Head for higher ground!

As a rule of thumb, if the place you are in is all too easy, all too lazy, all “too right”,  and most importantly “all too exclusive”, you are on the beach!  Head for higher ground!

Imagine the place where the tsunami will not reach.  Imagine who and what is not going to move.  That will be beach.  Leave that beach, now!

Imagine the higher ground, pack up visibly and walk.  Don’t look back.

Hat-tip:  This post was inspired by this very long post by Graeme Codrington.  It is dedicated to all the *N** of the world and particularly those who work as strategic planners for large corporations.

The secret of an un-junked life is your own filter

Do you remember the days when you needed a ‘big man’ to present you to the world?

I barely remember, yet it was not so long ago that we had to find a patron, if we wanted to be heard.

  • If we wrote a book, we needed a publisher.
  • If we were into politics, we joined a political party.
  • If we kept counted the beans in business, we found ourselves an employer.

Some of these ‘big men’ were indeed patrons of quality

When we wanted information and advice of quality, we went to the same ‘big men’.  People of quality gathered around them.  We could randomly pick anyone of them. They would probably be OK.

Clay Shirky explains why we needed ‘big men’

Taking newspapers as an example – printing on paper was expensive.  Journalists couldn’t invest in the prohibitively expensive printing presses and distribution networks.  And newspapers proprietors wanted to be sure their printed papers would sell.  So newspaper owners had a vested interest in promoting quality and they become the arbiters and promoters of journalistic quality.

The internet has broken the ‘big man’ model

The internet has made publishing cheap and easy.  Working together has got cheaper and easier.  In short, the internet allows us to present ourselves to the world without going through a ‘big man’.

Every man and his dog has a story up on the internet and we feel drowned in a deluge of material – unfiltered and of indifferent quality. Junk food, junk mail, junk bonds, more junk.

The flip-side of everyone being their own ‘big man’ is that refereeing quality, and promoting quality, has become our job – perhaps our only job.

The secret of an un-junked life is our own filter.  And as the art of speaking is the art of being heard, for the first time we are faced with the task of truly understanding how other people filter.  We cannot rely entirely on ‘big men’ to do it for us.  Too much is going around and past them.

How do we filter the deluge of junk?

#1 Work with the ‘big men’ who remain

Political scientist, Matthew Hindman, reminds us that the old patronage systems are still up and running.

In so far as these systems provide a quality filter, there is no harm in using them.  We still go to university.  We read good books.  We even watch good TV programs!

What we have to get our heads-around is that as little as five years ago, the ‘big men’ provided the only channels, and the only filters. We lived with their definition of quality – like it or not.

Today, we do have a choice.  And we find ourselves having to judge the quality of the ‘big men’.  Do the filters that we’ve used for so long have the quality they promise?   Sadly, the alternatives, even the alternatives produced by amateurs, are exposing many ‘clay feet’.

#2 Actively reconstruct our filters on a regular basis

The power, and responsibility, for judging quality has shifted to us.  Our next step, fortunately seems to come quite easily.  We figure out what matters in the world.

Much of what happens is not worth reacting to.  I loved President Obama talking about racist responses to his initiatives.  Looking utterly relaxed on the Letterman show, he began, as if to make a serious point, then with good timing, reminded us he was black before the election.   It is true, he reminded the audience, with mock insistence.  How long have you been black? said Letterman.  Our mental models have become important. It doesn’t do any more to borrow from the great and the good.  We must have mental models of our own.

Julius Solaris, intrepid London networker, also wrote today of pruning his huge networks, much like my neighbors pruning their roses. A healthy network is free of dead wood and dead heads.  And for that matter, free of ‘dittoheads’ as they have become to be known on Twitter.

But do other people actively filter? Will they hear us among the deluge of junk arriving on their screens?

I count 5 ways to understand how information reaches, and doesn’t reach people.

#1 Old forms of patronage count

We shouldn’t dismiss the power of old establishments.  They might not fully comprehend the loss of their old monopoly, but they will defend their territory, and they will use the weight of their considerable resources to defend their position.

Be wise and take the back road to the high ground.

#2 Recommendations of friends still matter

Though many people are incredibly trusting of the old filters, they still trust their friends more.

Old fashioned communication systems remain influential.

Get close to the people who matter to you and be in touch – literally.

#3 Understand Google

How do we find information on the internet?  We can put up a website but does anyone ever look at it other than us?  Understanding the algorithm used by Google is part our our new literacy.

#4 Join social networks

Our lives are now lived virtually as well as on the street.  Join up to major social networking sites and take part.  To be off the network today would have been like refusing to read newspapers in the 1960’s.  Odd to say the least.

#5 Become a respected filter

Build your own web presence as a filter that other people can rely on.  Let people see the world through your eyes.

If you are a fan of junk food, then yay, the world can discover junk food in your wake.  If you have an understanding of the deep structure that underlies good food, like Daniel Young, then show that to the world.

Working consistently on our web presence helps us understand our own filters.

Using the many statistics packages available (like Google Analytics) helps us track what other people respond to and deepens our awareness of their filters.

Sometimes this is deeply depressing – but hey, knowledge is power. If people come to this site to find out if they are good looking (told you it gets depressing), or at other extreme, how to do HR in the recession (deeply depressing), it tells me a lot about them. And it tells me a lot about how I manage my relationship with the world’s cybermediary, Google.

It is a brave new world. The deluge of junk can get overwhelming.

This is no time to be lazy.  Our job in this age is to define how the world works, to gather quality information around us, to digest it, and to put our understanding back out there for the next person to use.

Can you imagine doing anything less? If you can, I would like to know.

Because the quality of our filters seems both to preserve our sanity and be the basis of our earning power.

What comes after business as usual?

Where were you in February 1999?

Mmm, that was three countries and four cities away.  I had to go through my backups to remind myself of the hopes, dreams, goals and uncertainities that swirled around me then.

Why didn’t we see this coming?

The ClueTrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual was published TEN years ago, would you believe?  Here is a modern day slideshow that helps you skim the 95 theses in comfort.

What was I doing then?  Why didn’t I read the Manifesto and pay attention?

Well I was busy.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!  What were you doing then?

So what comes next?

What do you think the world will look like in 2019?

What are the trends that are emerging and that will be sustained by our common interest and agreement?

What do we trust each other absolutely and entirely to do?

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