Goodbye and Good Luck

I think I get it now. Social software isn’t just about getting in touch with people you used to go to school with and looking at the ads on the sidebar that are tailored to your browsing behaviour. It’s not just about broadcasting yourself to the world, or collecting pictures of pretty/funny/interesting things you have found. It isn’t even just about conducting social interactions with people who are geographically distant from you. Social software is about amplifying our existence. Its about letting us do the things we want to (and have always wanted to) do in ways that are faster and more convenient than they have ever been.

Is it ironic that many people don’t know the names of their neighbours but spend hours developing online communities? I’m not sure. A few years ago, my brother moved from a small town in Northland to Brisbane. He was telling me recently about a group of people who congregate in a park across the road from his house to fight each other with big foam swords. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but it pings their thing. If someone who lived in a small town was interested in battle re-enactments with foam swords, they might have a hard time finding a critical mass of participants, but because there are more people altogether in a city, the interest groups have enough members to form sub communities. I guess web2.0 has made the internet into a really big city, and enabled lots of little subcultures.

Have I enjoyed writing this blog? Sometimes. Will I do it again? Probably not. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I like my conversations to have a face attached to them. I like my productive time to be spent producing something that I perceive to be useful, which to be honest this blog really isn’t! The exercise has helped to consolidate my understanding of a few Social Media concepts, but I think my next ‘study session’ will involve a few friends and a bottle of wine.



Social Media in the workplace

I caught this issue being discussed on TVNZ’s Breakfast (click to watch) this morning. It seemed very topical. Most of the comments on Breakfast’s FB page seemed to say that it was only a social activity so shouldn’t be used at work. What do we think?

Is Trademe Social Media?


I freely admit that I have a bit of a problem when it comes to Trademe. I check my watchlist far more often than I check my Facebook page. One of the things I do to relax is scrolling through pages of random auctions, just to know what’s there. My wardrobe is about 25% Trademe, my furniture probably a bit more. I have developed a terrible habit when I’m out shopping of delaying purchases until I can compare prices with Trademe.

It seems I’m not alone though. Trademe has about 2.4m members, compared to 2.1m New Zealand Facebook members. According to O’Reilly and Battelle’s classification system in our textbook, Trademe is a level 3 Web2.0 application “derived from the human connections and network effects – and growing in power the more people use them”Image

An enormous light bulb has just gone on in my head! I had been thinking about social networks in a relational sense but had missed the transactional aspect. This is how social software has changed the world! This is the open market in its purest sense, people who have something to sell connecting directly with people who want to buy something. This is the threat to traditional business models.

I’ve been reading a series of blogs called The Trademe Manifesto by Rowan Simpson, a software developer involved in the growth of Trademe from membership of 10,000 to 100,000 in 18 months. It seems to me that the success of Trademe has been not making it about themselves. They have given users the ability to buy and sell in a trusted environment and let them get on with it. They haven’t focussed on marketing, knowing that the best way to increase their membership is through word of mouth referrals from existing members who are happy with their product.

Conversations in Area A

Much of the literature around the impact and opportunity of social software within an organisation focuses on hierarchy and control. The argument goes that social software subverts traditional hierarchies by providing an open communication platform in which all members of an organisation can communicate directly with the market.

In short, the traditional roles of consumer, employee, citizen, taxpayer and shareholder have all become blurred and intertwined, stripped back to what they really are: people (Cook, 2008)

As profound as this may sound, especially when it’s printed in a textbook, isn’t that just common sense? Organisations have always been about people. Markets have always been about people. Technology has always been about people. Businesses who have forgotten that have done so at their peril.

The idea that shared decision-making leads to increased engagement is not new to me. As a teacher, I had the great privilege of being involved with the Te Kotahitanga Project, which is aimed at raising the educational achievement of Maori students by increasing their engagement. Teachers were coached through the process of ‘repositioning’ by changing their practice from traditional discursive methods (teacher decides what students need to know and imparts knowledge to them) to facilitation methods where students co-construct knowledge. Student engagement improved. Student achievement improved. The world did not become flat. Although one tier of the hierarchy changed, hierarchical structures within the school remained the same, and the school was still bound by the constraints of the Ministry of Education.

Working in an environment with a more positive culture and greater engagement is fantastic, but it doesn’t make the world flat. Someone always has to be in charge, but the way they do their job will largely determine the culture of the organisation, and therefore, the nature of the conversations inside area A.

Should organisations fear the publication of the conversations from area A? I don’t think so. A business is as good as the people it employs. Listening to these people is as important as listening to its customers. If new technologies facilitate these conversations, all the better.

Weapons of Mass Collaboration

Chapter 1 of “Wikinomics – How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything” begins with a case study of the “Goldcorp Challenge”, where a failing mining company publicised 50 years worth of geological data in an internet based competition, offering $575,000 worth of prizes to whoever could offer the best methods and estimates for extraction of gold deposits from the company’s 55,000 acre property.

“Within weeks, submissions from around the world came flooding in to Goldcorp headquarters. As expected, geologists got involved. But entries came from surprising sources, including graduate students, consultants, mathematicians, and military officers, all seeking a piece of the action.”
Needless to say, the story has a happy ending. Share prices increased by 2900% from 1993 to 2006. Goldcorp was transformed from a “100 million company into a $9 billion juggernaut”. Proof, according to the author, that mass collaboration is where it’s at. Or is it?

I always thought that collaboration involved people working together on a problem or project. I don’t see that here, I see a competition model where the solutions are suggested by a field of entrants (individuals working concurrently but independently) and evaluated by Goldcorp. All parties are self-interested. It seems to me that this is a large scale version of competitions such as Wellington Zoo’s name the BolivianSquirrel Monkey competition, or Bluebird’s competition to find a new chip flavour. Yes, these competitions give organisations access to a much greater creative pool, but they are not examples of mass collaboration, nor are they proof of the Internet changing the world.

 So let’s see if we can find some better examples of web-enabled collaborative projects. What about Wikipedia? Or Linux? These are both the result of interested parties putting their own time and expertise into developing products…that pretty much already existed, didn’t they?  My computer came with an operating system, so unless I was pretty far up the geek spectrum why would I want another one? I don’t know about you, but I have never sat and leafed through an encyclopaedia. So why is it necessary to have the conglomeration of knowledge that is already on the web brought together in one site called Wikipedia? I hope I’m kicking a hornet’s nest here. I want to believe that we can harness the Internet to make a better world; I just haven’t seen it yet. What do you think?

The Porous Membrane

This is what my brain has decided a porous membrane looks like

 As a visual learner, the term ‘The Porous Membrane’ has made quite an impression.   In reference to Social Media, it encapsulates the idea that conversations exist within an organisation and within that organisation’s market, and that these conversations are separated by a ‘membrane’.

The more porous your membrane, the easier it is for the internal conversation to inform and align with the external conversation, and vice versa.(

My definition, and understanding, of Social Media has broadened dramatically since the start of this semester. It would have been hard not to notice the trends toward self-broadcast and web based relationships enabled by sites like Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, and various blog platforms. It is obvious that marketing strategies have adapted to capitalise on these trends. What I hadn’t thought about, and what is making my brain pop at the moment, is the confidence of commentators like Niall Cook and Don Tapscott that social networking will change the world as we know it. So in order to share my brain buzz with you, I’m going to base my next however many posts around this idea, and then we can decide for ourselves if we agree with them or not.

Indecent Exposure

Indecent Exposure

When I was younger I regularly dreamed that I was sitting on a toilet with no door, or that I was in a public place wearing my pyjamas… or sometimes, nothing at all. Dipping my toe into the social media pool has rekindled those old insecurities. Yes, I am a member of Facebook, but my friends list and privacy settings are limited to sharing with people who I actually know. The idea of having my ‘stuff’ out there for strangers to see and judge, with or without my knowledge, sends me into a cold sweat. I feel exposed!

The first mission for my adventures in Blogland was to find out what it’s all about. So after familiarizing myself with my new surroundings, here are the conclusions I’ve reached about blogging that will shape my future posts

  1. There is no one size fits all. Blogs will generally appeal to a niche audience. There is no point trying to be everything to everyone. Be yourself.
  2. Quantity≠Quality. Our attention spans aren’t what they used to be. Make your point. Quickly.
  3. It’s like a conversation. The whole point of Web 2.0 technologies is the interaction. Comment forums turn a blog from a monologue into a friendly chat.
  4. Make it pretty. Images grab attention. Whole pages of text are a put off.
  5. Keep it current. Your content becomes fish&chip wrappers in no time. Regular updates are a way to respond to followers and establish their loyalty.

This novice blogger would love to hear your thoughts. What keeps you coming back? What is an instant unfollow?