Archive for February, 2010

In 1789, James Madison authored the United States Bill of Rights to set limits on what the government can and cannot do in regards to personal liberties. On December 15, 1971, this Bill of Rights was ratified.  In 2007, Joseph Smarr, Marc Canter, Robert Scoble, and Michael Arrington authored a Bill of Rights for Users of the Social Web to set limits on what social media sites can and cannot do in regards to ownership and control of users’ personal information. In a world where social media sites like Twitter are integrating with search engines like Yahoo, should this second Bill of Rights be ratified? In other words, are social media sites equivalent to the federal government of the United States?

 No way! Ratifying a Bill of Rights for Users of the Social Web would convey social media sites’ sovereignty over users. This is not the case. Unlike the government, social media sites are not in charge of users, and they do not make and enforce rules for users. Rather, as a whole, social media sites have given users the power to create and share. They have erased the rules of who can publish what and how one can gain an audience. Social media sites do not owe users certain rights- they have already given us complete freedom to evolve culturally.

And in using social media sites, we have indeed evolved towards a culture in which yesterday’s TMI (too much information) is now the norm. While we may not love the idea of losing control of the personal content that we generate and share on social media sites, most of us choose generating and sharing over the alternative of not doing so at all. We have already become so addicted to social media sites that we would rather adapt to our loss of ownership and control of personal information than shut down our accounts. For most of us, losing access to our accounts is in fact scarier than losing ownership and control of our personal information. Who is to say that personal information is even that personal in this day and age when everyone is connected?

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Two things that you should know about me: I am a big lover of learning, and I absolutely HATE change. Two things I’ve figured out since graduating from W&L last June: life after college gives you lots of opportunities to learn about yourself, and life after college presents you with lots of major changes. Sounds like I have a real love/hate relationship with my new grown-up life, right? Sometimes. But I’ve been able to come to better terms with my new life since a close friend introduced me to a popular, intuitive learning model that sheds light on why learning requires change.  The Conscious Competence Ladder may seem slightly obvious after you read it, but hindsight is always 20/20.

According to the Conscious Competence Ladder explanation, consciousness is the first step towards learning a new skill. To gain knowledge, you need to be conscious of what you do and do not know, or what your ability level is with regards to the task at hand. The idea is that as you grow proficient in a new area, you move from “unconscious incompetence” to “conscious incompetence” and then to “conscious competence”, finally reaching “unconscious competence.” 

The life changes that I SO hate typically occur between unconscious incompetence and conscious incompetence. During unconscious incompetence, you are blissfully ignorant because you are unaware of your lack of knowledge and skills in the subject in question. Often, it takes a major life change to make you recognize your incompetence in an area. Other times, a life change actually forces you to gain knowledge in a new area. Either way, when you move to conscious incompetence as a result of this change, you go through an uncomfortable, chaotic period. Your confidence drops as you realize that your ability is limited. You may wish that the life change had never occurred and that you were still blissfully ignorant. But if you stick out this uncomfortable time, you WILL learn the skills you need to succeed. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed during conscious incompetence, but everyone must go through this period to learn new things. Embrace the chaos, and try to recognize where you are on the ladder during the process!

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While there is no technical definition of a blog, three characteristics should be present in this type of new media. Blogs must be written in reverse-chronological order, take a semi-personal tone, and include ways to continue or extend the conversation. In his blogging history Say Everything, Scott Rosenberg asserts that “blogging was not invented; it evolved” (p.81). Similarly, bloggers’ purposes for communicating have also evolved from a compulsion to talk to an aspiration to truly converse.

By 1998, bloggers had been writing in reverse-chronological order, using a more casual, unedited human voice, and sharing links for several years, but their focus was always “inward on personal experience” (Rosenberg, p.87), and their communications were one-way. For example, Justin Hall wrote his blog as a personal diary. Dave Winer used his blog to spread the truth as he saw it, even though he didn’t expect any audience to actually listen to him. Jorn Barger, filterer of the Web, was more interested in “collecting his own treasures and laying them out for you to admire” (Rosenberg, p.82) than he was in narrowing his link topics to reach out to a more targeted audience and initiating the conversation.  Jesse James Garrett became the first true blogger by understanding that blogging should be a “dynamic medium” (Rosenberg, p.88) in which one starts a two-way conversation between himself/herself and the world.

Today’s blogging experts admit that the success of a blog often depends on its audience size. And as we know from The Cluetrain Manifesto, to attract and maintain and audience, you must have a conversation with them, not talk to them.  Along these lines, Garrett recognized that blogging is not about “pushing an object into the world, it’s about opening a channel between yourself and the world (Rosenberg, p.88). While the first “bloggers” were only comfortable using their unedited voices to write about themselves and their interests, Garrett tried to spark interest among readers and increase their conversations’ relevance by focusing them “outward toward information on the wider Web” (p.87). Markets are conversations, and Garrett’s mentality towards blogging set the stage for markets rallying around this new conversational medium.

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Back in 1999, Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger crafted The Cluetrain Manifesto to draw attention to the newly-connected markets made possible by the Internet. As a reference to Martin Luther’s historic manifesto, they began this work with 95 theses examining the Internet’s impact on the relationships between markets, businesses, and stakeholders. However, the authors certainly didn’t need all 95 theses to get their points across. The meat of their manifesto can be boiled down into the 32 theses that follow. The first assertion that “markets are conversations” sets the stage for a story about the notions of humanity and the Internet, the intrinsic value of real conversations, and the reshaping of the power dynamic between businesses and marketplaces. Do you think their decade-old predictions ring true today?

  1. Markets are conversations.
  2. Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.
  3. Conversations between human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.
  4. Whether delivering information, opinions, perspectives, arguments or humorous asides, the human voice is typically open, natural, uncontrived.
  5. People recognize each other as such from the sound of this voice.
  6. The Internet is enabling conversations among human beings that were simply not possible in the era of mass media.
  7. In both internetworked markets and among intranetworked employees, people are speaking to each other in a powerful new way.
  8. These networked conversations are enabling powerful new forms of social organization and knowledge exchange to emerge.
  9. As a result, markets are getting smarter, more informed, more organized. Participation in a networked market changes people fundamentally.
  10. People in networked markets have figured out that they get far better information and support from one another than from vendors.
  11. There are no secrets. The networked market knows more than companies do about their own products. And whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone.
  12. What’s happening to markets is also happening among employees. A metaphysical construct called “The Company” is the only thing standing between the two.
  13. Corporations do not speak in the same voice as these new networked conversations. To their intended online audiences, companies sound hollow, flat, literally inhuman.
  14. Companies that don’t realize their markets are now networked person-to-person, getting smarter as a result and deeply joined in conversation are missing their best opportunity.
  15. Companies can now communicate with their markets directly. If they blow it, it could be their last chance.
  16. Smart markets will find suppliers who speak their language.
  17. To speak with a human voice, companies must share the concerns of their communities.
  18. But first, they must belong to a community.
  19. Human communities are based on discourse- on human speech about human concerns.
  20. Companies that do not belong to a community of discourse will die.
  21. As with networked markets, people are also talking to each other directly inside the company- and not just about rules and regulations, boardroom directives, bottom lines.
  22. When corporate intranets are not constrained by fear and logistical rules, the type of conversation they encourage sounds remarkably like the conversation of the networked marketplace.
  23. Command-and-control management styles both derive from and reinforce bureaucracy, power tripping, and an overall culture of paranoia.
  24. There are two conversations going on. One inside the company. One with the market.
  25. In most cases, neither conversation is going very well. Almost invariably, the cause of failure can be traced to obsolete notions of command and control.
  26. These two conversations want to talk to each other. They are speaking the same language. They recognize each other’s voices.
  27. Smart companies will get out of the way and help the inevitable to happen sooner.
  28. As markets, as workers, we wonder why you’re not listening. You seem to be speaking a different language.
  29. We have better things to do than worry about whether you’ll change in time to get our business. Business is only a part of our lives. It seems to be all of yours. Think about it: who needs whom?
  30. We’re both inside companies and outside them. The boundaries that separate our conversations look like the Berlin Wall today, but they’re really just an annoyance. We know they’re coming down. We’re going to work from both sides to take them down.
  31. To traditional corporations, networked conversations may appear confused, may sound confusing. But we’re organizing faster than they are. We have better tools, more ideas, no rules to slow us down.
  32. We are waking up and linking to each other. We are watching. But we are not waiting.

From these 32 theses, you should have learned three main points. First, the human voice has a distinct “sound”, and humans have an instinctive ability to recognize each other through this voice. Humans want to talk with other humans, and right now, businesses don’t talk like humans. To engage consumers in conversation, businesses must change the way they talk. And since markets are conversations, this change is necessary.

Second, the Internet enables humans to talk directly with one another. Businesses can no longer make excuses for failing to foster these “human” conversations within the company and with outside stakeholders. And outside stakeholders have wised up. They don’t care only about their conversations with each other; now, they also want to know about these “within the company” conversations. In fact, outside stakeholders can now choose to trust only those companies who share this “within the company” human conversation with them.

Finally, information gleaned from these human conversations with companies give stakeholders power. Because businesses depend on trust from their employees, investors, and consumers, they must change the ways they talk, and they must allow ALL stakeholders to converse together. And time is of the essence. Now that humans have the Internet, they won’t wait for businesses to catch up.

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