Posts Tagged ‘Robert Scoble’

What do a liberal blogger and a Republican campaign operative have in common?

June 25, 2008

Well…yea…about as much as you would expect ideologically – what’s great though is that the social web is doing everything I had hoped it would to facilitate an honest debate of ideas.

I have always enjoyed spirited exchanges of ideas – 9 different schools from  K – 12th grade, brought on by a move approximately ever 2.5 years growing up tends to blunt one’s willingness to disassociate with someone because they don’t see eye-to-eye with you. Even so, we tend to congregate with like-minded individuals and eye dissenters warily making it difficult for us to meaningfully interact with a truly broad range of opinions.

Enter social media.

To say that the Twitter and FriendFeed landscapes are dominated by those with a left-of-center mindset would be an understatement. As a result I wasn’t the least bit surprised when my attempts to widen the nozzle on my information stream brought with them a slew of interactions with other users who looked at Republicans the same way Jaguar Paw looked at the strange wooden objects coming ashore at the end of Apocalypto. This is to be expected, its human nature – the less we have in common with or understand about another person, the more likely we are to distrust them and jump to hasty conclusions about them.

The power of social media is that it allows us to find and interact with one another based on common interests. The Twitter and FriendFeed communities are largely made up of social media types – some who work in social media and others, like myself, who are drawn to the new avenues of communication it opens up. Either way there is a common bond that allows us to build a relationship based on a mutual understanding.

Want an example of how powerful this is? Tech blogger Robert Scoble posted a message on his FriendFeed account that Republican Congressman John Culberson uses Twitter sparking a flurry of excited reponses, many of which indicated they would now follow the Texas Congressman as well. I can guarantee you that many of them are not predisposed to enthusiasm over anything that has to do with Republicans – especially when they come in the form of Republicans in Congress. Had Scoble posted something about Representative Culberson’s stance on an issue the comments would have very likely been dominated by generalizations disparaging Republicans but since a common interest was shared Representative Culberson just found scores of new friends on Twitter.

This past Sunday I received an IM from HuffPo/BlogHer/MOMocrat blogger, Queen of Spain asking if I was interested in jumping on her web show later that evening to discuss current political topics including the FISA re-authorization. She runs in a different world than I. A few months ago I didn’t even know she existed (and vise versa) but through our interactions on Twitter we were able to prove to one another that, despite completely different ideological approaches, we both wanted the same thing: to make the world a better place.

I joined her that night and had a blast trying to convince the shows participants that my views (or conservative views in general) were not the result of some nefarious desire to wreak havoc on the lives of others – who knows if I succeeded. What I do know is that, like many voters, I have grown tired of a climate that prevents me from expressing my reasoning for holding a certain position or hearing the reasoning of someone who disagrees. I am thrilled to see that social media is doing exactly what I hoped it would: restoring our ability to disagree without being disagreeable (sound familiar?).

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…but don’t get lost in there

June 4, 2008

I wanted to briefly follow up on yesterday’s post because I get the feeling sometimes that the people instigating and taking part in the social media debates that have become ubiquitous on FriendFeed are unaware of exactly what it is they are participating in.

It is a rare thing to be able to watch a large group change, grow and work through a concept in real time. Many times paradigm shifts can occur at such a slow rate that it is only after they have taken hold that you realize what just took place. I believe we are in the midst of such a shift right now.

It is unlikely that the general public has ever heard of any of the key players. It is also unlikely that they realize that one of the central characteristics of the change underway is that anyone can become part of the process anytime they wish, from anywhere.

Unfortunately, it will not always be this way – but that doesn’t matter. In fact, I would go so far as to say that, technically, services like FriendFeed or Twitter don’t matter either. In my eyes it’s not the interface that is going to impact our world in such a dramatic way, it’s the foundational concepts they are built on. (I am going to follow this post up with some thoughts about why those concepts are so revolutionary, what benefits they will bring and what we will lose along the way)

The eventual death of unfiltered, unfettered social media as we know it right now has been predicted clearly through thoughtful posts like this and this. As much as I wish it were untrue they are right, human nature dictates that a service like FriendFeed will never be widely adopted in its current form.

In a few years, with rare exception, very few of the individuals who are currently central players in many of the discussions taking place on FriendFeed or Twitter will have gained any wide notoriety than they have today (Maybe Scoble will have become the web’s official talk show host by then – sorry couldn’t resist). Social media applications will be scaled down, repackaged and users will enjoy the ability to instantly share and communicate with a vastly smaller universe of individuals with similar interests.

In the meantime I plan on enjoying the ability to interact with an unfiltered universe of individuals who, whether they know it or not, share one thing in common: they are all, in some way great or small, helping shape one of the most powerful shifts in communication in all of history.

Dear “tech elites” We Need You to Continue Navel-Gazing

June 3, 2008

Updated: Original title misspelled “navel” as “naval” leading some to wonder why I thought they needed to keep their eyes fixed on the high seas. I’m still laughing with at myself for that one…

Alexander van Elsas recently posted his navel-gazing induced thoughts on why he believes many of us are attracted to FriendFeeds “always on” conversation stream and, more importantly, why many of those reasons are built on faulty foundations. In Alexander’s mind many of the discussions in FriendFeed regarding “noise” levels, the need for filtering and social media’s ability to bring “enlightenment and salvation” to the masses are the myopic considerations of a community who has forgotten that there is a larger, much different world of people around them who live their lives in much different ways.

While I would agree that the world at-large is not spending a nanosecond trying to figure out how they could share and access an unlimited stream of information anytime, anywhere, I humbly submit for consideration the idea that Alexander and others immersed in social media with similar opinions just might be falling prey to the very thing that causes them to diminish the importance of the conversations currently underway.

What I don’t think many of the tech and social media types understand – from Scoble and Arrington to individuals like myself who are little more than observers to the madness – is that they are all, right now, in every conversation they have, helping to shape the philosophical and practical applications of these services for the world at large.

I recently added one of Twitter’s luminaries to my LinkedIn account. After scanning her contacts I wrote to her laughing at the fact that at NO point did our contacts intersect.

The fact that I am not a techie-type or social media insider is the very reason I began to emerge myself in the worlds of Twitter and FriendFeed. It is also the reason that I view and filter what is currently happening from atop a somewhat detached perch.

One thing that has become abundantly clear to me is that the bulk of FriendFeed’s current user base are an amalgamation of uber-early adopters, tech vanguards and other PR and marketing types who seek to offer their clients unprecedented knowledge and analysis of new developments in social media. Oh, that and navel gazing is the order of the day in social media land.

Now, navel-gazing could easily be construed as a pejorative so allow me to clarify. In a previous post I posited that classical philosophers would have loved the forums for idea exchange that services like Twitter and FriendFeed create – that was a misstatement on my part. I realized this after another FriendFeed user (Louis Gray natch!) shared the story and one of the comments said that I should better illuminate the connections between each philosophers ideas and Twitter and FriendFeed. What I should have said is that the followers of Plato, Aristotle and Socrates would have loved these services.

On one hand social media services are merely an extension of a movement that has spanned all of time, driven by nothing less than human nature itself. On the other hand these services are so immensely different from anything we are used to that they are completely disrupting virtually every aspect of our lives.

The Historical Drive for the Diffusion of Information

I am not a historian but as I look back over time I see a consistent pattern of the development of tools to diffuse information faster and more efficiently. The innovations seem to be borne of the same innate human desire to share information.

I touched on this a little in the Plato post but each new technology has been developed with the specific intention of broadening the reach of information. From the creation of written language, to the development of ink and parchment, to the printing press, the moveable-type printing press, the telephone, the radio, the television, mobile phones and finally the internet humans have never stopped looking for new ways to broaden the reach of information.

Today’s technologies – call them social media, web2.0, whatever you want – are not only a natural extension of what appears to be a prime human directive but an exponential increase that eclipses all previous attempts because as amazing as all of these previous methods of communication have been they have largely lacked one thing: the ability to facilitate instantaneous mass interaction.

Disruption on a Massive Scale

As I stated before I agree with Alexander’s assertion that the world at large is largely unaware (even uninterested) of applications like FriendFeed. The development and adoption of the mobile phone (and subsequently mobile devices providing email and web service) was jarring enough. “I have a phone at home, I even have an answering machine, why the hell would I need to be able to talk to anyone, anywhere at anytime?” was a common refrain when mobile phones first came out. Try living without one today. (Note: We are all aware that there are still millions of people who, by choice, or due to economic restraints, still don’t use mobile phones. It would be impossible to discuss any of these new technologies without focusing on how they relate directly to the segments of the world’s population that can and do use these kinds of technologies)

In much the same way individuals look at something like FriendFeed and think “I have email, I even have a Delicious account, why would I need to be able to instantly share information or interact with others?” This is the question that the “tech elite,” as Alexander calls them, are debating day in and day out. Whether they know it or not their points and conclusions will continue to shape the ways in which these technologies are eventually presented to and adopted by the public.

I was recently describing why applications like FriendFeed are so important to our society to a skeptical friend who happens to be an attorney. I asked him to name the individual he believed to be the preeminent legal authority alive today. I then asked him if he had a relationship with that individual that allowed him to shadow this great thinker for an entire year, not only seeing what he read but hearing his thoughts about the things he had just read – what he agreed with, where the author was wrong, etc – if he thought that he would be a better attorney because of it. My friend’s response was obvious: “of course.”

That to me is the power of these new technologies.

In my opinion services like FriendFeed and Twitter are only the tip of the iceberg. Their existence reshapes the way we function and communicate and in turn will give rise to the cross-application of the core concepts of these applications to other areas of communication.

I was driving home the other day and listening to my ipod – a song came on and I instinctively reached for a button so I could immediately share the fact that I loved this song with my social network. It wasn’t there.

Later I was watching a fascinating documentary on our nation’s complete history of nuclear weapon testing. Again I instinctively grabbed the remote to send the show to friends I knew would enjoy it. It wasn’t there. I also found myself wanting to be able to interact with others on-screen through my tv, to look up more details on the web and share them, to engage in discussions about what I was seeing. Those buttons weren’t there either.

But they could be and they will.

The services that some of us are using to view and comment on a constant stream of information from a constantly expanding social network is unlike just about anything we have ever experienced. Although it utilizes the same web technologies it is such a drastic departure from the web capabilities we are used to that it makes the web in its previous form seem like a stone tablet with pictures. As a result it is going to take the public a while before they can wrap their heads around something that, once again, completely changes the way in which they interact and communicate. The conversations currently taking place on FriedFeed and elsewhere will be one of the largest contributors to whatever form these applications finally take to facilitate mass adoption so navel-gaze on dear tech-elite.