Where have all the iconoclasts gone?

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Or how do we escape the ‘experts‘ in the echo chamber? Inspired by @jeffjarvis, whose recent post on TEDxNYed: This is bullshit got me thinking about this whole ‘expertise‘ thing again.

Iconoclasts are the people who tear down the idols of faith. Traditionally this has been a religious activity, but the growth of a secular society has seen the development of secular idols of faith. And social computing has already developed many of the trappings of a religion, with its own priesthood and idols.

But one of the big learnings of recent times is that experts don’t always have all the answers and that we can learn a great deal from engaging in sharing of knowledge for general benefit.

Admittedly, in some cases, only an expert will do. Some examples: if I’m having brain surgery a group of opinionated and gifted amateurs is not who I want on the case; nor do I want my accountant or lawyer to be inexpert.

But in the case of emerging applications for social computing there are not really any experts. There are people who know enough to give a perspective of the technology, the affordances of that technology, and possibilities inherent in it. But once that is out of the way there is a lot more value in shared discourse than in monologue.

I often facilitate sessions with educators and we discuss how social computing is changing the landscape for both teachers and students. And I always come away from those sessions humbled by the amount that I learn.  Not because these people know more.  Rather it is because they are inquiring and asking questions.  It is in the questions and attempts at solving real world problems that we uncover new approaches.

Real people sharing experiences, prompting new ideas and the connecting of dots drives experimentation and adoption of new ideas and new ways of doing things in social computing.  This is no clearer than in the various coffee mornings (e.g. NSCM) around Sydney, where people sit and talk over coffee.  They share ideas and experience and many come away energised and buzzing with new ideas to try.

But missing from the equation in social computing (or what some people call social media or new media) are the people who are willing to identify the secular sacred cows and call bullshit.

Too many of us are sitting at the feet of the experts (or gurus, ninjas, rockstars, gods and goddesses) waiting for them to deliver the answers from on high (possibly on the new HP tablets if not stone tablets).

Perhaps it’s time for some more social media iconoclasts?

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Not just Twitter, most conversation is meaningless babble

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It’s not really meaningless babble anyway! And this is not necessarily a bad thing.

Most conversation is not important for the words we speak. Instead it is the act of being present to the other person and giving attention that gives most conversations their true value. Some experts term this social grooming.

It also enables the growth of social bonds by means of the time spent in relatively trivial communications.  These seemingly unimportant communications are what makes dealing with bigger issues between individuals and groups easier.

How much easier is it to ask for help from someone you’ve known socially for a while than a stranger? How much easier is it to know the best way to phrase a suggestion or request to someone if you’ve chatted with them before?

The important thing that social networking tools like Twitter or Facebook  (or newer tools like Google’s Buzz) enable is non-localised proximity. No longer do you need to run into a person in the office kitchen each day to build up informal social ties.  Now we can do it from half a world away in real-time.

It’s also worth checking out Dunbar on this kind of thing.

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Twitter 2009 retrospective

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For me 2009 goes down as the year other people discovered Twitter. It went from a small and fairly intimate place to hangout to a busy bustling intersection of information, commerce and conversations.

It felt almost like moving from a small town to a big and somewhat impersonal city.

Some of the events of 2009 in which Twitter played a big part for me included:

#media140
#futuresummit
#cccsyd
#poltech
#toto
#usnowsydney
and the various BarCamps in Sydney & Canberra.

The growth of community in real life that was enabled by Twitter continues to amaze me – STUB, Silicon Beach, the various Sydney Coffee Mornings (e.g. NSCM), & SHTBOX in Sydney and countless informal meetups.  A big thank-you to all the kind and lovely people that I met on Twitter and at the various meetups – wishing you all a wonderful 2010.

Twitter also played a different part in reporting the news.  No longer did I rely upon news agencies for breaking news. Instead people on Twitter broke the news and it was left to the traditional news agencies to verify and follow up on the stories.

It was also interesting to look back on my Twitter year by means of a Wordle:
@kcarruthers 2009 twitter wordle

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Future of the Web | The Scoop

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Recently I had the honour of joining Mark Pesce & Ross Dawson on Mark Jones’ podcast The Scoop where we discussed the The future of the Web.

It was a fascinating discussion – so many interesting ideas to consider:

What happens when our real and virtual worlds collide? And how will we live in this hyper-connected world? In part three of our “Future of” series, The Scoop is joined by Mark Pesce, futurist and ABC New Inventors judge; Kate Carruthers, a business and technology strategist; and Ross Dawson, futurist, author, speaker and chairman of Advanced Human Technologies.

You can check out the podcast here

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Web and the reshaping of IT

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I always like to keep up with what Dion Hinchcliffe’s thinking and recently he’s been talking about How the Web OS has begun to reshape IT and business, and particularly about how businesses are driving the change almost by accident, in spite of the IT department.

For example:

These days in the halls of IT departments around the world there is a growing realization that the next wave of outsourcing, things like cloud computing and crowdsourcing, are going to require responses that will forever change the trajectory of their current relationship with the business, or finally cause them to be relegated as a primarily administrative, keep-the-lights-on function.

What Dion describes really aligns with what I’m seeing in lots of companies and their IT departments. For many IT departments there seems to be a feeling of “if we just ignore it, ban it, or block it then it will all go away”.

The issue of what I tend to refer to as the shadow IT department is beginning to loom large.  This shadow department offers many of the IT department’s capabilities, but they are accessible by ordinary business users outside of the normal IT and procurement channels.

Once upon a time the IT department were the custodians of technology. Selection, implementation of new systems and access to them was like joining a mystery cult. New users were indoctrinated into special language and special ways of making things work. The IT department staff were the high priests of the cult and they controlled access very strictly.

All this was reinforced by the high cost and complexity of IT systems.

But now technology has undergone a revolution. And it is a revolution akin to those of the Russians back in 1917. We are living through a sudden change in accessibility of technology. With web 2.0 and social computing ordinary users now have access to the same kind of technology that was once the province of the high priests of the IT department.

Everything you need is at your fingertips, for example:

  • Want a scalable web platform? Amazon S3 is there.
  • Want to reach out and find your customers? Try Facebook or Twitter.
  • Want a CRM to track all those customers? How about Salesforce?
  • Need a finance application? How about Saasu?

Each of those examples is readily available to the average person who can use a web browser & who has a credit card. No more seeking the advice (even if it might help) of the IT specialist. Just notice the need and get a solution right away.

I wonder how all of this fits into our fine Enterprise Architecture models?

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On our way to a networked society.

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In an earlier generation all computer networks were for business or the military. That is, they were point-to-point connections between large organisations and were vastly expensive to setup and run. But the invention of TCP/IP and the modern internet changed all that. Now networks are between ordinary people using simple and easy to operate equipment (like their mobile phones or netbooks).

And now as we move from the society of the book into a networked society there are some important influences working to shape the future.

Amplification is important in that it enables ordinary people’s opinions to have reach via social networks (like Twitter or Facebook). In the past I could stand in Sydney amongst my friends at the pub and complain about a bookstore moving certain kinds of books to a dark corner in the back of the store. And nobody but the people at the pub, or perhaps a few of their friends, heard about it. But when Amazon recently did the same thing with gay and lesbian books, social networks around the world went crazy with the news. Suddenly an ordinary person can have the same kind of reach which was previously possible only through mass media.

Amplification is working together with each of the other items under discussion here. Each item amplifies and is amplified by the others. This is systems theory in action, with feedback loops driving change. Thus, with the recent Amazon problem, mainstream broadcast media picked up the issue from the social networks, amplified it, and fed it back into the social networks.

Many people misunderstand the nature of communities that are developing now. Simply because the communities that are growing are mediated by technology does mean that are not genuine communities. I am fascinated by the number of groups of people who’ve met online via Twitter and have subsequently formed real life relationships, such as attending trivia nights together, attending music festivals, or various kinds of tweetups. For example: STUB, MTUB, PTUB, BTUB, CTUB demonstrate this kind of crossover of online relationships into daily life (here’s some pictures of a recent tweetup in Sydney).

There are also some ‘laws’ that are useful in thinking about the development of a networked society. That is not to take these as legislative imperatives but rather as heuristics to inform our thinking.

Metcalfe’s Law is helpful, not because it is necessarily directly applicable as originally proposed back in 1980. It is helpful because it gets us thinking about how networks create new relationships, and how those relationships can amplify the power of the network. Metcalfe was considering small hardware networks and posited that “the value of a network increases proportionately with the square of the number of its devices”. The principle that a network (even a social one) can grow exponentially depends upon a number of variables. These variables would include things like actions taken or affinities developed or destroyed by members of the network, since unlike devices, people can act of their own volition. These social networks create feedback loops and amplify both positive and negative effects across the primary network, and even reach out into other loosely connected networks.

Gilmore’s Law is also very useful in thinking about the growth of a networked society. The funny thing is that people often mistake modern networks as being only about the technology. But this is not the sum total of our modern networks. Instead a network’s value is in the real human beings with substantive relationships. The technology merely mediates the relationship. Since it is about relationships between people, blockages in the network that impact upon those relationships are perceived as an organic threat. People don’t like to have their relationships interrupted. And when there is some kind of blockage in the technology that mediates those relationships then the people will find ways to route around it. Thus even political interference in the network will merely be interpreted as damage to relationship management channels.

The degree of connectedness available to us in a networked society is far higher than at any time since most of us lived in small villages. And, more than anything else, the networked society seems to be like a village. But more on that another time.

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Connection – desire and distaste

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A buddy, Iggy Pintado, has just published a book called Connection Generation which talks about how connection determines our place in society and business.

It’s an interesting idea and ties in nicely to my idea that the new digital divide is not between age cohorts, nor is it between the geeks and others. Rather the new digital divide is about our willingness to be connected.

The digital divide is not really about access to technology any more, except possibly for the poorest in our society. And, with the growth in social networking and the ease with which ordinary people can use it, individuals are now confronting a choice about how connected they really want to be.

People who have avoided any consideration about how connected they are to friends, family and businesses are now being forced to confront this issue.

Changes in technology, like the iPhone, are driving this change in people’s behaviour.  But still we are seeing people of every age choosing not to connect with social networks, mobile phones, email or the internet.  While others are embracing this new connectedness and integrating it into their lives.

Are you part of the connected generation? Check out this Facebook application if you want to find what kind of connector you are.

A really big question is what impact does the degree of connection an individual chooses have on their personal or professional lives? How will our desire or distaste for being connected determine our future?

BTW: I know Facebook has gone mainstream because my Auntie Doreen sent me a friend request earlier today.

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The coming integration of IT and biotechnology …

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I just saw Susan Greenfield – a.k.a. Baroness Professor Susan Greenfield – on a television chat show. She is a pioneering scientist, entrepreneur, communicator of science, policy adviser, and an extremely interesting presenter of complex ideas. She seems to be intelligent, vivacious and wears makeup and nice clothes. All of this must really annoy many of her peers amongst the male scientists in the UK (especially the grumpy older ones).

Her most recent book is Tomorrow’s People (ISBN: 0713996315 ), and in it she warns that the coming integration of IT and biotechnology will have such a profound effect on the way we think and live that “we are standing on the brink of a mind makeover more cataclysmic that anything in our history.”

This is an area that will confront each of us in the near future. The technology to integrate bio-technology into human beings already exists and is near to commercialisation. We are already microchipping our pets, how long until someone says we should do it for children? It will seem like a good idea at the time. But it really is the thin end of the wedge. Prof. Greenfield is right, we do need to give serious consideration to how we want to use this technology. Otherwise it will change our lives profoundly in ways we may not like.

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