Politics of Social – Social Media Week Sydney 2014

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As part of Social Media Week Sydney 2014 I was honoured to host a panel discussion about the Politics of Social.

The panel made for a lively and interesting chat – wish we could have had more time as there was much more to discuss!

Panel Members

  • Ariadne Vromen – Associate Professor, The University of Sydney
  • Alex Greenwich – Independent Member for Sydney, Parliament of NSW
  • Stilgherrian – Journalist, Commentator, Producer, Podcaster
  • Steph Harmon – Managing Editor , Junkee at The Sound Alliance

Ariadne Vromen  Alex Greenwich
Stilgherrian Steph Harmon.

Here’s the video of our discussion…

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What will change the world? Welcome to the hive mind of Twitter.

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One of the things I love about Twitter is the way it enables serendipity on a grand scale.  Recently, I can’t remember how, I ran across @blogbrevity (a.k.a Angela Dunn) whose Twitter feed resonated with me and we followed each other.

On June 9th she invited me to join #Ideachat – Twitter Chat & Salon for Twitter Thinkers About “Ideas”. The topic for discussion was “What is the one long-term trend that will change the world?“. As food for thought Angela shared an interview with trend expert and curator Cecile Poignant of TrendTablet.

This topic fascinates me and it aligns nicely with other interests, like Social Innovation Sydney. Also the more that people start to talk and think about things like this then the more likely we are to take action.

The chat was dynamic and thought provoking.  And it got me thinking.

One of the recurring ideas was collective action, and some of the themes are nicely summed up in these tweets:


I started to realise that the big trend is something that enables the self organizing of co-creation. The big trend is the evolution of the hive mind.  It is only with social communication platforms like Twitter that something akin to a hive mind can emerge.

The always on and ambiently connected nature of Twitter is ideal for the emergence of a hive mind.  We begin to shed our privacy and to live within the omnipresent gaze of the group. We are connected into the minutiae of other people’s lives in ways that were not possible before.  We are connected to people in distant places and to the events that occur in their orbit as well as in our own.

Here the very minutiae of chats on Twitter, that so many disparage mindlessly, are important in creating the connections of the hive mind.

Once one becomes accustomed to the continual connection, to knowing the news before it makes the news media, to finding answers to questions faster and better than a search engine, then the connection to the hive mind comes to seem normal.

Then from the connection to the hive mind, one begins to sift out those individuals and groups who hold similar ideas and beliefs.  And from that pool of people the self organization and co-creation can begin.

Some people will try to tell us that feeling weird and strangely out of touch when disconnected from the hive mind is a kind of psychopathology. But they have not yet understood or experienced the new reality of constant ambient connection to the hive mind.

Nor have they seen the results of loose ties in action, network amplification of communication, the reciprocal knowledge engine, and the power of a hive mind working together to co-create change. I suspect that this is just over the horizon.

UPDATE 15 June 2012


Following are a few recent posts that have informed my thinking on this topic:

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A tech revolution that changes the way we organize work & the danger of digital serfdom

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The old style company, that is the company circa 1880-2000, had firm boundaries and fixed hierarchies in order to function efficiently. But with the advent of digital technology and the consumer social computing revolution there is a seismic shift in how technology is used within companies. There are also significant changes in worker expectations and, as a corollary, companies are changing their demands upon workers. Huge power shifts are underway and it is important that we start analyzing them now.

The Past

The technology that enabled communication and control of large and dispersed groups of workers was inefficient and required supplementation by human resources in the form a supervisory and managerial hierarchy. Computer resources were initially tightly held by a few individuals within an organisation due to their high capital cost to acquire. And companies had access to much better technology resources than the average individual could ever hope to acquire.

For example, in 1956 a 5MB hard drive from IBM cost US$50,000, and in 1981 a 5MB Apple hard drive cost US$3,500. At prices like these the average person had little opportunity to acquire such technology.

It was this technology asymmetry that also contributed to the non-porous boundaries of the firm. Information stayed inside the firm and was not easy to share. Instead companies were in charge of their information and shared it only on their own terms. And usually that sharing of information occurred through bought or earned media and through ‘official’ news media channels.

The Present and Near Future

Today companies are grappling with the huge shifts in communications. Newspapers and other news media no longer hold the preeminent position they once held. Corporate communications are no longer about faxing out a press release.  Companies are developing their owned media resources and learning to use the diverse earned media opportunities available now via the internet.

Increasingly companies are requiring workers to develop their own social media and social networking personas on behalf of the company.   Also workers are being required to manage corporate social media channels as part of their jobs.  One challenge with this shift in work to social media channels is that they often need tending 24×7. Thus other workers are beginning to feel the operational demands of 24x7x365 operations that those of us in the IT department have felt for many years now.

Another shift is the control over technology within an organisation. In the past centralized control of technology resources was easy due to high cost and complexity to implement. But now with cloud computing as a commoditized service we see the real risk that other departments can go around centralized procurement and IT to implement whatever takes their fancy.

Gartner has just released their vision for 2012 and note that in 2012 we can expect more cloud and consumerization, less IT control.

Increasingly we are seeing workers bringing their own technology into the workplace – smart phones, tablets, and social computing. And articles directed at CIOs are saying: IT’s future: Bring your own PC-tablet-phone to work.

Thus we are at the beginning of a technology revolution in the office that will see the centralized control that was necessary to achieve economies of scale in the last century wane.

Instead we will see the growth of decentralization driven by cost and user demand pressures.  We will also see increased attempts to control behaviour through data and  monitoring due to the growth in the panopticon as I’ve discussed previously.

The Dangers of Digital Serfdom

My buddy Ray Wang posted recently on the right to be offline. We are facing a world of hyperconnectedness in which we can evolve into digital serfs tethered by our digital devices and an un-free as a slave in ancient times.

The risk is that the boundaries between work and personal time become so blurred that they cease to exist. The risk is that employers consider that, with a wage, they have bought our time as and when they choose to consume it any time of the day or night.

The moves to remove penalty rates for IT workers and others also support this trend. Once the unit cost of a worker is standardized an employer does not care what time of day or night they work.

I cannot articulate the concern we should have for retaining this right to be offline any better than Ray:

“There is one thing that I am very worried about actually, is I think it is of the uttermost importance that we preserve the right to be offline. If we don’t preserve that we’ll loose all our freedoms. It starts with ability to be able to escape … of being offline. And so we can be punished for not being offline. For not being online we cannot be punished. It’s happening right now. We are recreating Skynet, we are recreating Matrix, we are recreating all the things that we would fear on our own. And if we can’t protect that basic right of being able to be offline, and being able to conduct a life offline, we’re in trouble. We are in big trouble.”

I commend Ray’s thoughts to you, check out his video:

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It's not content that matters, it's the stories

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When I checked on a major search engine the other day there were 247,000,000 results for the term “content is king”. Many people have said it to me over the past few years, and I admit to having said it myself on occasion. It seems that Bill Gates was saying it way back in 1996 (thanks to Craig Bailey for tracking it down)

But I’ve been thinking about this saying a bit lately. In particular I’ve been pondering what really matters online. This question arose because I’ve been doing research in recent times and the sheer amount of dross on the internet is truly remarkable.

It is clear that people on the internet are so busy creating, stealing, replicating and sharing content that many of us are too busy to tell stories. This includes those upon whom we have relied to tell our stories as a society, that is, the professional writers who are employed by newspapers and magazines.

Compelling narratives help to bring ideas to life and call us to action. And it is these that we are willing to invest our time and money to hear.

Many of our traditional newspapers are losing the art of sharing those compelling narratives, instead opting for cutting and pasting AP, AAP or Reuters news feeds. Thus they are losing their ability to tell stories in the rush to create content rather than stories.

It means that we end up with sites like Huffington Post that are finely calibrated search engine optimised content repositories. And, while there is a need and place for these kind of online publishers, it also means that we are at risk of losing the stories that do not fit into the immediacy of the search engine optimised advertising revenue generating model.

Once stories in newspapers (in the days when we had newspapers of record) and magazines were subsidised by the so-called ‘rivers of gold’ from advertising. Nothing has appeared to replace those rivers of gold to enable the continued production of stories on the previous scale (as opposed to the growing practice of regurgitating paid news feeds).

If the *business model (and cross-subsidization) that made it possible to create stories is broken then it is up to the amateurs to tell our stories. Bloggers have already begun to fill this gap, and have incurred the wrath of the establishment writers from the mainstream media organisations as a result.

Rearguard sniping and condescension from the ‘professional’ writers towards the ‘amateurs’ is amusing given the likelihood that most writers of stories will be unpaid by organisations in the not to distant future. Instead the few remaining paid jobs will be for analysts to populate the search engine optimised advertising driven sites. And that is only likely until they can find a machine to undertake that somewhat mechanical task.

It’s going to be interesting to see where our stories go in this brave new world.

* The only exception I can see to this is organisations that are either government funded or which have independent funding like The Guardian. The big risk for government funded organisations is that increasing economic constraints are likely to constrain their operations in turn.

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Enterprise 2.0 is making me cranky again

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Enterprise 2.0 is one of those terms that’s been going around business circles for the past few years. I’m not sure it ever really meant anything sensible and I’m not sure it is a meaningful way to approach a very real problem in business.

The big problem we face in business is that of communication. We face challenges in communicating with each other, with our consumers, our staff and with other stakeholders such as boards, the general public and government.

If communication is the problem then I don’t really understand how enterprise 2.0 is the answer. Rarely has the answer to an actual business problem been to throw another layer of technology at it.

The people, like Dion Hinchcliffe, who are approaching this problem from the angle of social business design seem to have more relevance and more insight to offer.

But if one more person suggests that simply installing YASMT (Yet Another Social Media Tool) as the solution to the problems of internal or external communication in business I will probably throw something (possibly a crying tantrum on the floor).

If anyone seriously wants to tell me that installing something like Yammer or Jive (both tools I’m a real fan of) or the latest trendy thing will miraculously transform a company into a happy tribe singing kumbuya around a campfire I’ve got some reality to introduce them to.

Success in changing how people behave in organisations rarely happens from randomly throwing tools into the workplace without a plan. I’ve been re-visiting Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (inspired by the MEGA NSW program) and these remind me of some important things that are also useful to consider when creating change within organisations.

  • Habit 1: Be Proactive
  • Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind
  • Habit 3: Put First Things First
  • Habit 4: Think Win-Win
  • Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, then to be understood
  • Habit 6: Synergize
  • Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw

These are all good points to keep in mind when embarking on an effort to change the way people behave. And behavioural change is the intended outcome of most enterprise 2.0 efforts.

Typically I see enterprise 2.0 programs rolled out in a big bang way, with little appreciation for the need to start small and to use an iterative approach based on results and feedback to improve and extend the program.

Alternatively I see the approach where an executive within the organisation notes that they already own product ‘x’ and just install it and call enterprise 2.0 done.

Each of these approaches has the seeds of its own failure built-in. Take up rates can be low, user behaviour may not be that desired by management without effective rules of engagement spelled out, results might be hard to measure if metrics were not part of the design.

In an ideal world people would think about the end they seek to create and determine a path towards it. The tools would be among the last considerations in this instance.

Instead the key considerations are people, how they behave now and any barriers to changing their behaviour. Also key is understanding why people might agree to change. Then last of all comes the technology that might assist in delivering the desired change.

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Science communication and social media #media140au

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Attending the Media 140 Conference in Brisbane today. The tag line for this conference is “exploring the impact of social technologies on science communication” and it explores some of the issues and challenges facing science communication today.

There’s been a great line-up of speakers so far, with:

  • Bernie Hobbs, ABC Science (who’s doing an excellent job as Conference host)
  • Dr Andrew Maynard, Director of the University of Michigan Risk Science Center and the Charles and Rita Gelman Risk Science Professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.
  • Natasha Mitchell , ABC presenter of All In The Mind.
  • Wilson da Silva , Editor-in-Chief of COSMOS
  • Elena McMaster , Nanotechnology Project for Friends of the Earth Australia
  • Craig Thomler , Gov 2.0 advocate
  • Dr Craig Cormick , Manager of Public Awareness and Community Engagement for the Australian Government’s Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research
  • Dr Kristen Lyons, Senior lecturer in Sociology at the University of Queensland

Dr Andrew Maynard’s keynote on Social media and science communication – a load of Jackson Pollocks? was interesting and he noted his top three issues to consider for science communication:

  • Hubris – disregarding the medium because you don’t understand it. Assumed authority – old model does not work, and Control – “rather misguided theory that we can control conversations”.
  • Creating value – behaving like rockstars does not give us credibility as science communicators – remember cause & effect. Trying to mimic viral videos and blogs is not the answer need to have the good content that creates value.
  • Uncivil behaviour – feeling that we can “tell people forcefully what is right until the get the message” – ends up alienating people we need to connect with.

And a fascinating panel session on Web 2.0 or Web too far? chaired by Natash Mitchell. The panel discussed topics as varied as:

  • Online democratisation and/or demonization.
  • How to manage when the web is used to distort, misinform and distribute propaganda.
  • How anti-science ideologies and commercial agendas use the web, and how we should use social media to democratise scientific knowledge.

Media 140 Brisbane - Science Communication

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Sometimes a tweet is not enough

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In the olden days when I was very young it was the custom, upon receipt of a kindness from someone, to write them a thank-you note. This note took the form of a missive, hand-written, on personal stationery or a note card. The note was then taken to the post office and sent via that which we now call snail-mail.

Someone did me a kindness very recently. That is, they went out of their way to do something nice for me. And it seemed that just sending a tweet that said something like “hey thx that was gr8” did not truly express how touching I found their action.

With the advent of modern telecommunications such as email, and the subsequent growth of micro-format communications like Twitter, we have lost idea of sending a tangible token of our gratitude.

So today, for the first time in many years, I sat down and wrote a thank-you note using pen and paper. Then Trotsky and I walked up to the post office to send it off via snail-mail (using two stamps because I’m not sure how much it costs these days).

To send a tangible token of thanks rather than a digital one enables the recipient to perceive it with their various physical senses. For example, they can put the physical token on their desk or bookshelf, or pop it into their wallet and carry it around with them. These are things we cannot yet do reliably with our electronic communications at present.

Clearly since so much of our interaction these days is online it is often the best, fastest and most relevant way to communicate with people. But sometimes a tweet is not enough and this idea of sending thank-you notes might just be a new (but old) way of doing things?

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Presenting with power means PowerPoint must not be a crutch

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We are currently planning the next Social Innovation BarCamp for 6 Nov 2010 in Sydney and I’ve just written a post about it called 4 Principles and 2 Laws of Social Innovation BarCamp.

Thinking about the state of conferences over the past few years I have become enamoured of unconferences. In the case of Social Innovation BarCamp, the sessions are facilitated conversations. That is, there is no speaker at the front of a room in a traditional sense, nor is there an audience per se.

Instead there is a facilitator or session leader who frames and encourages a conversation about the topic that they have proposed. Participants come along ready to get involved and not just sit back as an audience.

This is similar to the process Dave Winer outlines as used at the well-known BloggerCon and updates it here:

“…there is no audience, there are no speakers. There is a discussion leader, a person responsible for the flow of the discussion.”

I have concluded that the old conference model with experts out front and a passive audience is no longer sufficient to grapple with the big ideas that we must confront in business and society today. The old conference model harnesses only a small fraction of the brainpower, passion and intelligence in the room.

Further, I have come to realise that many of us are not focused on communication any longer . Instead we tend to  focus on the presentation itself. This is because the presentation tools we use – things like PowerPoint, Keynote or Prezi – tend to conform our communications to their own patterns.

I realised how much of a communications crutch that PowerPoint had become for me while delivering a talk at Parliament House earlier in the year.  At the last minute I discovered that it was not possible to use my carefully prepared PowerPoint slides.  It was a cathartic experience in many ways.  It also led me to define the following law for the next Social Innovation BarCamp:

“The Law of No PowerPoint, which states simply, we know you’re used to the crutch of PowerPoint (or Keynote or Prezi, etc) but you need to leave it behind for the day. Instead use other forms of communication (perhaps draw a poster or write on a whiteboard?) to help get your message across.”
Source: Kate Carruthers

It’s going to be interesting to see what happens without the comfort of a data projector and slideshow. Now is as good a time as any to re-discover the joys of communication without relying on technology to mediate our ideas.

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