The old next big thing

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I can recall when both Twitter & Friendfeed were talked about as the next big thing. But that was a long time in the distant past (almost 12 months ago) and an aeon in internet terms.

Thomas Hawk shared an interesting chart showing the growth of these two products over the past 12 months.

friendfeed.com v. twitter.com

It is interesting to ponder why one is taking off and the other is languishing. Friendfeed seems easier to use and allows richer interaction. While Twitter is fairly primitive to interact with and all the funkiness is provided by other applications.

This last seems significant. Twitter just offers a basic web interface and users are free to write their own or use other people’s applications to create a richer experience. Even the #hashtag in Twitter was invented and adopted by the users almost in spite of Twitter. And this has enabled search to become a key Twitter feature – check out the cool search stuff that PeopleBrowsr does with Twitter to get an idea of the possibilities.

And it is this phenomenon that encapsulates the trend for the web. Grass roots co-option of applications and platforms. We’re on the cusp of something big and the platform doesn’t really matter anymore. Twitter, Friendfeed and their fellow travelers are all ephemeral. The new next big thing will come along soon.

What will remain is the grassroots empowerment of users to co-opt the technology and to use it in unexpected ways.

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BarCamp Sydney in retrospect

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In spite of having to stay in online contact with work last Saturday I still made it to BarCamp # 5 in Sydney. It was a great day and the new venue – the Australian Technology Park Innovation Centre – was ideal (if slightly chilly in the Atrium).

Again I am struck by how much progress we have made in building a real community amongst geeks, start-up people,  entrepreneurs, technologists, thinkers, activists and web folks in Sydney. Community & collaboration based events like this bring us all together to share ideas and enthusiasm.

We are getting to the stage where many of us know each other both online and in real life.  Between @STUB tweetups, Silicon Beach Sydney drinks and BarCamp the sense of familiarity and friendly community has definitely grown.

A really nice feature of the day was the number of families who attended & the very cool kids who presented sessions. The sessions branched out from pure technology or business focus to include whimsy such as origami and paper aeroplane creation. Check out the pictures below.

I really came away from BarCamp energised and enthusiastic about the future of technology in Australia. Funnily enough I also won a prize (a nice bottle of scotch) for something too (there’s a long story about that – but too long to go into here).

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BarCampSydney5

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Do not forget that BarCampSydney5 (#bcs5), the recession edition, is on Saturday 27 June 2009.

BarCamp is an ad-hoc unconference born from the desire for people to share and learn in an open environment”. BarCamp is an intense community event with discussions, demos and interaction from attendees. Anyone with something to contribute or with the desire to learn is welcome and invited to participate.

The BarCamp motto is: No spectators, only participants.

According to Jodie Miners, one of the un-organisers, there’s over 170 people registered to attend, lots of great sponsors and a great new venue.

Apparently Jodie’s planning a talk on her current passion, Google Wave, & is hoping that a bunch of people will get together to do a super session on Google Wave.

I’m thinking of doing something about Twitter Apps – the good, bad & indifferent or maybe something else (depends how I feel).

There’s lots more – come along and check it out.

For more info on BarCampSydney5 see www.barcampsydney.org or search twitter for #bcs5.

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Is social computing just increasing our anxiety?

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Since the early days of the internet revolution and web 2.0 I’ve been watching & participating in various ways.

And over the past few years I’ve seen its powerful properties of network amplification working in practice. My friend and colleague Mark Pesce has recently discussed these properties in his Big Ideas talk.

But with all of this I’ve also observed how the internet has amplified our anxiety as well as amplifying goodness.

For example, on Twitter over the past 12 months, it has morphed from a casual communication and community platform into a sales and spruiking platform, with increasingly desperate multi level marketing or affiliate schemes.

It seems to me that much of what we do as humans merely seeks to assuage anxiety, and the internet is the latest place to manifest that anxiety.

So much of the activity that I see online now reeks of desperation and striving to sell, be successful and rich. But it seems that we have the opportunity to create a different kind of world with this technology and its ability to connect people beyond borders and barriers.

Never before have we had technology that supports openness, collaboration and sharing on such a broad scale.  We have the opportunity to use this technology to do good & creative things – like Action Aid’s Project TOTO that I’ve mentioned before, or the recent Live Local Challenge.

Perhaps one way to assuage this anxiety is to use up our personal energy (and use the technology) to change the world for the better in little, local ways every day?  We could choose openness over constriction, expansiveness over constraint, collaboration over competition, sustainability over wanton waste.

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Too much passion in business?

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We are often exhorted to be passionate about things, especially at work. But I’m not sure that is really what we need in the modern workplace.

Passion has become a synonym for other words that are potentially more accurate. Passion is a very excitable emotion. It narrows the focus, and it causes people to zoom in on the objects of that emotion.  However, it does not seem to be an emotion that leads us to be open to new ideas, it does not prepare an individual to work effectively with other people who do not share that emotion, nor does it  open up horizons to different futures.

The definition of passion on Dictionary.com includes the following if we leave out the religious meanings:

“(1) any powerful or compelling emotion or feeling, as love or hate. (2) strong amorous feeling or desire; love; ardor. (3) strong sexual desire; lust. (4) an instance or experience of strong love or sexual desire. (5) a person toward whom one feels strong love or sexual desire. (6) a strong or extravagant fondness, enthusiasm, or desire for anything: a passion for music. (7) the object of such a fondness or desire: Accuracy became a passion with him. (8) an outburst of strong emotion or feeling: He suddenly broke into a passion of bitter words. (9) violent anger. (10) the state of being acted upon or affected by something external, esp. something alien to one’s nature or one’s customary behavior (contrasted with action ). “

While emotions have a part to play in the workplace, passion (as defined above) does not seem to be helpful in a business context. As defined it seems to describe ways of being that encompass taking positions, holding onto ideas, not listening to other perspectives, or closing down options on a personal level.

What we need in a business context is a combination of enthusiasm, commitment, persistence, dedication, competency, purposeful action. We also need better ways of working together. In many ways passion makes working together difficult unless all parties are passionate to the same degree and about the same things.

We need to find new ways of doing business that enable effective collaboration across organisational boundaries. We need to find ways of harnessing the energy and commitment of our people to achieve goals. We need to embrace new ways of working made possible by new technologies such as social computing. Recently Nick Hodge has been talking about hypersharing – perhaps that’s part of the answer?

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Collaboration, collective creation & getting things done

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With their un-organised approach to management and decision making Quakers are the poster children for collaboration, collective creation and getting things done.

Quakers do not have a formal hierarchy and have no single person in control of their society. It is an approach to getting things done that aligns to the spirit of modern BarCamps and other un-organised collective activities popularised in the web 2.0 & open source communities.

One of the most interesting, & almost forgotten, pieces of history is the importance of Quaker businesses in the development of Anglo-Capitalism in the 18th and 19th centuries. These businesses became some of the most successful capitalist enterprises of their time, yet they were based on their own particular brand of Christian principles.

An important part of this is the idea of working together to reach consensus and working cooperatively. And some of the principles that guided their action include:

  • simplicity
  • egalitarianism
  • integrity

Thinking about some of the business practices that have led to the global financial crisis, perhaps it is time for business leaders to reconsider a return to the kinds of principles that made many companies great in the past?

BarCamps and other collaborative efforts, like open source software, show how collective action by individuals directed towards a common goal can be a highly effective way of getting things done.

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