#c3t the Command & Control of Twitter – On a Socially Constructed Twitter & Applications of the Philosophy of Data

Here is the full text version of the paper co-authored with Brian Ballsun-Stanton and presented at the 5th ICCIT: 2010 International Conference on Computer Sciences and Convergence Information Technology.

#c3t the Command & Control of Twitter – On a Socially Constructed Twitter & Applications of the Philosophy …

Why the revolution might not be tweeted; or why Gladwell was right but for different reasons

Malcolm Gladwell obtained the ire of many social media folks when he argued Why the revolution will not be tweeted back in October 2010.
I thought he was wrong then, and I still think he’s wrong in his analysis. However, in the light of two recent events I think he might actually be right in his conclusion, but for entirely different reasons. The two events are:

  1. The editor-in-chief of The Australian accused a journalism academic of defaming him by her live tweets reporting what a third party said – this is being tracked on Twitter under the hashtag #twitdef.
  2. The release by Wikileaks of a large quantity of US diplomatic cables (their domain used to be http://wikileaks.org but this is unlikely to work any longer) – this is being tracked on Twitter under the hashtags #wikileaks and #cablegate.

Gladwell attributed the non-tweeting of the revolution to his notion that real revolutions only happen offline and that new recruits to activism are brought in solely by people they know in real life. He seems that believe that only offline interactions can build “strong tie” commitment required for “high risk activism”. Gladwell seems unaware that loose tie interactions, like those afforded by Twitter, can give rise to extremely strong ties offline. In my experience Twitter has led to the development of many “strong tie” relationships that commenced with the loose ties typical of social networks.

Why I now think he’s right in his conclusions, but for entirely different reasons, has to do with the two examples mentioned above.

For a few years now the world of web 2.0, social media and social networking have been a ferment of new ideas, new ways of connecting and new systems of almost utopian belief in a good and great future enabled by the web. But that was before the internet of web 2.0 (what I refer to as the ‘social web’) was big enough to matter. Now, with the Wikileaks cable release going global and the ongoing anti-Twitter activism of some mainstream news media organisations, we can see that the social web matters.

It matters enough now that state actors are likely behind the moves to cut Wikileaks off from web hosting, DNS, money, and thus removing from them the ability to communicate further information.

We have seen the organisations that power much of the social web (like Amazon or PayPal) suddenly reviewing their Terms of Service and deciding that Wikileaks is in breach thus requiring them to withdraw access to their services. For example:

PayPal statement regarding WikiLeaks
DECEMBER 3, 2010
PayPal has permanently restricted the account used by WikiLeaks due to a violation of the PayPal Acceptable Use Policy, which states that our payment service cannot be used for any activities that encourage, promote, facilitate or instruct others to engage in illegal activity. We’ve notified the account holder of this action.”

The other matter that grabbed my attention recently was the defamation claims by Chris Mitchell against Julie Posetti (Crikey is curating a list of references to #twitdef).

Here we see a traditional news media organisation fighting a rearguard action against new kinds of media, like Twitter. But we see many mainstream media organisations simultaneously arguing that Twitter is not publishing, nor is reporting of news possible by means of Twitter, yet they use Twitter for that very purpose. We are still evolving our ideas as a society as to what media like Twitter are; and Stilgherrian has summarised some of the tensions nicely on Crikey.

Another salient fact in my ruminations is a discovery today that trending topics on Twitter are not a simple first past the post system. Apparently they are managed by an algorithm that rivals Google’s in complexity. According to Angus Johnston, who asked the question Why Isn’t #Wikileaks Trending on Twitter, and Should We Care?:

“It turns out it’s tougher than you’d think to put together a trending topics list that really means anything. If you just go by the raw frequency with which words appear, you’re going to wind up with stuff like “the,” “and,” and “RT” at the top of the charts forever. And even if you exclude words like those, you’re still going to wind up with “lunch” trending every lunchtime and Glee trending every Tuesday. “

It all starts to come together for me. The social web is going mainstream, that means that incumbent media players are finding that their power base is shifting (along with their revenue base); and that they’re not happy about this.

In most businesses and startups distribution is one of the key challenges to be overcome. And for the social web distribution remains the challenge. The social web is dependent upon cloud providers for hosting, DNS, payments etc. Thus producers of content do not really own the means of production AND distribution in the same way that people could in the past (e.g. where they could purchase and setup their own printing press – it’s worth noting that this model tended to have distribution constraints). Modern content producers are reliant on third-parties who, based on the Wikileaks experience, might not always be there to distribute their content.

Further, the enormous quantity of data flying around the social web means that, even with the best will in the world, we might not be able to find out about something significant. Thus the case of Twitter trending topics and #wikileaks and #cablegate it appears that, without any particular malice, the algorithm does not find these hashtags interesting enough to include as trends.

It seems to me that the convergence of these trends might mean that it is quite possible that the revolution will not be tweeted.

#c3t An Agreeable Swarm: Twitter, the Democratization of Media & Non-localized Proximity

My co-author, Brian Ballsun-Stanton, presented this at the 5th ICCIT: 2010 International Conference on Computer Sciences and Convergence Information Technology in Seoul earlier today:

You can view a full text pdf version of this paper here
#c3t #ICCIT_10

New initiative: the Digital Revolution and Government #gov2 #gov2au

One of my great passions is the digital revolution and how it is affecting society. A key area of our life that the digital revolution is changing is government and governance. Revolutionary thinkers like Clay Shirky and others have even posited the notion of a kind of digital direct democracy.

Exploring these ideas and finding actionable insights is important for Australia and its people, and today Craig Thomler and I have launched a  Government 2.0 Futures project with a new site about Australia’s Government 2.0 future:

“… to provide public sector policy-makers, practitioners and academics with a collection of views on Australia’s Government 2.0 future.

Through Gov2au.net we are asking Australian and international Gov 2.0 experts, commentators and practitioners – and the Australian community – to reflect and contribute their views on three questions:

  • What does Government 2.0 mean for Australia’s governance?
  • How will Government 2.0 change the culture and practice of Australia’s public servants and governments?
  • What will Australia’s Government 2.0 future look like?

We hope to release a selection of these contributions under Creative Commons next year as a free ebook. We also hope to release a paper version to sell in bookstores and online. Any profits from the sale of this book will go to support Government 2.0 initiatives from not-for-profit organisations in Australia.

We invite you to be part of Australia’s Government 2.0 future by contributing your viewsideas and suggestions via the website.”

Source: eGov AU

The starship, Enterprise: social business – opportunity and risk

Navigating the tangled web of Enterprise 2.0 enabled platforms is indeed an opportunity “to explore strange new worlds” in business…

Enterprise 2.0 has been defined as “the application of Web 2.0 technologies to workers using network software within an organisation or business” (Dion Hinchliffe, 2006). There has been much discussion over recent years about Enterprise 2.0 and how it is revolutionising business. Yet, much of the promise remains unfulfilled, especially for large and complex organisations.

The general approach to Enterprise 2.0 has been much like the approach for earlier knowledge management and collaboration initiatives. It has been largely a mechanistic approach. Simply install the tools, train the people, do a bit of change management and leave them to it.

The challenge for organisations
A big challenge for larger organisations remains getting teams to work more effectively across team and organisational boundaries.

Recent discussions with people in Australian banks indicate it is clear that there is no lack of Enterprise 2.0 enabled technology. Rather, there is a great deal of it already in place. For example, one contact in a ‘Big Four’ Bank reported that his organisation has 11 “quite different intranets”. The complexity of navigating these is so high that they have implemented “a fully-federated search that spans them all” that provides “Google-like search with page ranking/indexing and the equivalent of sponsored/suggested links to help staff find critical information faster based on an identified keyword”.

Thus, the implementation of Enterprise 2.0 enabled platforms has resulted in issues of findability, usability and relevance of the information. The answer to these problems is not simply to acquire additional technology, instead it is important to take a step back from the technology and consider the business design. Using social business design approaches are important to enable effective use of collaboration technologies.

The social business solution
Since business is an inherently social process, it is worth exploring how we can redesign business operations and processes to leverage social tools more effectively. All too often, collaboration tools are implemented as yet another piece of technology without the support of social business design to ensure that return on the investment is achieved.

We have already seen the effectiveness of consumer oriented social tools, such as Facebook and Twitter, in breaking down barriers between people. And now social networking and social media is reaching into and across organisational boundaries. Businesses are under increasing pressure to incorporate these external social networks into internal collaboration systems (for example, through the application of social CRM tools). Social business design principles enable this same capability to assist people in working across organisational boundaries and engage each other more effectively for business purposes.

With social tools we have the opportunity to reshape our business architecture so that it better creates value between the participants. No longer do our people need to conform to the way the software needs them to act or behave. Instead, we can more easily tailor the Enterprise 2.0 systems to meet the needs of the people – staff and customers – that they are meant to serve.

Social tools like Facebook are re-educating our workforce and customers in the ways of online collaboration. Further, the success of online collaboration and socially calibrated activities can readily be monitored and evaluated. Social business design enables an evolutionary approach to business practices. It is not a set-and-forget approach like old style knowledge management; rather it is a plan-do-check-act cycle.

Risk of missed opportunities
Another key challenge for businesses in effective implementation of Enterprise 2.0 using the social business design approach is filtering the firehose of information coming into the organisation via so many sources. No longer do companies receive hard copies of media results, now they receive vast amounts of information from diverse sources. That information is about their operations, competitors, customers and industry trends. The opportunity for businesses is to create real-time listening posts that filter and categorise information.

If companies do not find a way to filter and analyse this firehose of information, then they risk missing opportunities. The answer is no longer to create expensive and complex data marts to manage this largely ephemeral information and to turn it into useful information. Enterprise 2.0 technology enables the creation of listening posts that filter and sift this firehose of information and can turn it into actionable insights.

It is possible to leverage the Enterprise 2.0 platforms that already exist within many large organisations. However, key to effectiveness is adopting a social business approach to re-imagining the business architecture. And the use of real-time social listening posts creates opportunities for businesses to reassess and recalibrate their activities based on real-time feedback.

Note: This piece was originally published in Online Banking Review on 21 October 2010

The future of shopping is social

These are some thoughts that I presented at the AMP Social Media Cafe in Sydney on 11 November 2010, the slides and references follow below.

The future of shopping is social. But that is nothing new – shopping has always been social. The difference is that now we are seeing social interaction on a hyperconnected scale and the emergence of new competitors. It is still shopping, but social shopping is on steroids.

Firstly I want to give you a sense of the broader shopping landscape in the digital age.

There is a growing body of empirical research on retail effectiveness and the statistics are quite scary. As Sorenson notes “The shopper comes to the store to buy things. The retailer creates stores to sell things. Manufacturers create products to sell. Yet most of the shopper’s time in the store is spent not buying.”  And he notes further that “a single item in a store might attract only 300 seconds [of attention] from all shoppers in an entire week, about five minutes [in total]”.

This means that not only are shopping centres fighting to get and maintain traffic, but also that the traffic is not necessarily being well used by the retailers to sell products effectively. And this leaves each of them vulnerable to competition.

Yet the work we have been doing in the shopping business over the years can summarised quite nicely by this diagram by Robert Kozimets. And the model works equally well for retailers or for shopping malls. We have been building spaces for brands that cluster around either the transactional (think supermarkets) or the iconic (think of one of the new high fashion shopping centres).

But all of this is happening in a broader context. The economy is changing around us. We are moving into what I have come to call the engagement economy. But there are so many competitors how for a share of that attention ( as well as for a share of wallet) that it is important to be able to grab attention and then to drive ongoing engagement.

We’ve had social shopping for a long time – since commerce began. But the nature of competitors is changing. Before it was the other mall or the retailer down the road that we had to worry about. Now competitors include farmers’ markets in grocery and fresh food; virtual goods like digital video and music from iTunes; large online aggregators like Amazon (who perform many of the functions of a department store and are often cheaper); and new entrants such as online shopping clubs (of which more later).

This competitive landscape has evolved very fast – just look at this timeline from Sean Carton to see how fast. Two and a half thousand years ago we were writing on clay tablets and in the last decade the digital revolution has changed our lives. Many of us cannot imagine a world without the internet anymore.

Also media has been changed by this digital revolution too. Marketing and advertising are being reborn in this new digital world; while many newspapers around the globe cling tenuously to existence. This diagram by David Armano illustrates this phenomenon very well.  He nicely illustrates the fact that we are moving from lower engagement traditional media to higher engagement online social media.  After all not many people check their newspaper first thing in the morning, but some recent research indicated that many people check Facebook (or Twitter) before they go to the loo or brush their teeth in the morning.

And the tools of the digital revolution – web 2.0, social media, social networking and mobile devices – have changed the way people interact with each other and with brands.

Facebook is probably the best example of this change (although there are other similar services such as Twitter that are gaining ground). Facebook is important because it is changing what real people are doing with real time and attention every day all around the world.

But now hold that thought for a little while as we consider some other trends.

Let’s have a brief look at the evolution of shopping in the digital age.

There are a number of trends here:

  • Rise of mobile devices
  • Word of mouth via social networks
  • Social shopping
  • Collaborative shopping
  • Geo-social services (location based)
  • Putting geo-social into perspective

Social and collaborative shopping is reshaping the power relations between consumers and sellers.  New intermediaries are arising, ones who aggregate consumer demand via shopping clubs.  The fight for better value by consumers is shifting onto new territory.  And this shift will begin to manifest as changes in share of wallet for traditional retail channels.

The growing role of mobile devices also means that the shopping dynamic is changing.  Consumers can share realtime information and collaborate while they are on the move.  In the past we had to connect online via fixed PCs,but now the devices are always on and in our pockets and handbags.

Sites like Facebook are picking up on this trend with their adoption of Places – a geo-social application that enables users to share their physical location with friends (there are other contenders in the geo-social space too). And now the interesting thing is that we are seeing the merging of online and offline social activities with shopping and the integration of micropayments.  For example Facebook’s relatively recent addition of Buxter to enable peer to peer payments between friends.

It is very early days yet. We do not know where these trends are heading in particular. However, it is clear that geo-social applications have the potential to close the loop between online social networks and real world activity, especially when these are connected by online micropayment capabilities.

What we do know is that consumers are:

  • Going mobile
  • Sharing information via social networks
  • Collaborating via social networks
  • Shopping for virtual goods
  • Starting to use augmented reality

Future of shopping is social

References
Sorensen, Herb, Inside the mind of the shopper: the science of retailing,  Safari Tech Books (ISBN: 0131366130), 2009
Lowrey, Tina, Brick & Mortar Shopping in the 21st Century (ISBN: 9781410618252), Psychology Press, 2007
Report: Consumer Shopping Experiences, Preferences, and Behaviors, Oct 2010, Art Technology Group, Inc. , http://www.atg.com/resource-library/white-papers/atg-online-shopping-study.pdf

Privacy! Who the hell ever had privacy?

One question that I am often asked when speaking to groups about the digital revolution is “what about privacy?” This is usually in relation to social media and social networking.  Privacy comes from the Latin word privatus:

In Roman law, the Latin adjective privatus makes a legal distinction between that which is “private” and that which is publicus, “public” in the sense of pertaining to the Roman people (populus Romanus).
Source: Wikipedia

This question fascinates me.  Privacy is such a recent invention and many people seem to be unaware of this. Also there is an important distinction to be made between privacy and confidentiality.  Since time immemorial societies have acknowledged that some kinds of information are confidential.  A good historical example of this is the Catholic Church keeping the revelations made during their rite of confession confidential.

However, until very recent times – during the late twentieth century – privacy was an aberration.  Anchorites had privacy, but most people lived cheek by jowl with others for their entire lives.  This is important because privacy is predicated on separation. It is predicated on a physical separation between people – it is enabled by the spaces in between individuals.  If there are no spaces between individuals then privacy is very hard to achieve (or even to conceive).

In the past even the most wealthy and most exalted personages did not experience privacy.  Kings and queens lived surrounded day and night by their courtiers.  In the days before genetic testing even queens gave birth in front of their court to ensure veracity.

Historically nobles were attended, bathed and dressed by their servants.  The servants lived together in crowded quarters.  Secrets were very hard to keep in such a world.

For the poor, there was no separation even between people and their livestock.  And, if there was no separate room for the livestock, nor was there a separate room for any of the people.  Entire families were conceived, born, lived and died within shared physical spaces.

Even in cities people lived  a village-like existence (London is a good example).  Without transport to move easily from place to place people stayed within the confines of their local village.  Neither rich nor poor city dwellers experienced privacy.

Nor did the generations of the early twentieth century experience privacy.  During the first half of the century poverty meant that most people could not afford the luxury of privacy.  And during that same period the wealthy still lived with domestic staffs who cared for their needs (and continued to ensure little privacy).

Privacy for most of us only became possible with the advent of the post World War II economic and population boom.  The growth of tract housing in suburbs meant that nuclear families could live in large houses with separate rooms for most family members.  Thus it was in this period that people could assume that they had a right to privacy.

Thus a brief flowering of privacy in the latter part of the twentieth century allowed many people to assume that this was how things had always been.  It also allowed many to assume that this would continue.  However, with the advent of the hyperconnected world of the early twenty-first century we are seeing digital villages remove the spaces between individuals once again.

Perhaps the only thing that enabled privacy to blossom was the increased physical space between people and lack of communications technology during the late twentieth century? And perhaps it is now time to farewell privacy once more?

Some resources for thinking about privacy follow:

Rethinking organisations: the digital revolution, social and convergence

An interesting question came up last Friday in a discussion with a group of Marketing and Communications folks from McDonald’s. It was about how social media might be situated and used differently depending upon whether you approached it from either a Marketing or a Communications team perspective. Also the question of who should “own” social media within the organisation was raised.

These are good questions and they got me thinking.

One of the things I often speak about is how technology is converging. How computers, televisions, mobile phones and broadband are converging together to give us new kinds of devices that call into being new kinds of content. As a result we are seeing the mashing up of media from diverse sources and its remixing. The much loved Hitler Downfall Parodies are a great example of this.

The convergence of technology is also being influenced by new kinds of software. Social software that is so easy to use that non-technical people can create and use it without needing to track down geek assistance. Software like Facebook and Flickr are great examples of this trend.

However, another trend associated with this change in technology is the skills and capabilities that businesses need to thrive in this new environment.

In the past, under bureaucratic systems that arose during the last two hundred years in the industrial revolution, specialised silos were created to enable businesses to scale effectively.

Bureaucracy has become a value laden term these days and it is generally used in a negative sense. However, bureaucracy was an essential way to organise people on a grand scale in an age before realtime digital communications. But now that there is almost ubiquitous realtime digital communications we are undergoing a digital revolution.

Our business structures, skills and organisation have not yet adapted to this new world. I can see the need for convergence of skills and activities to enable businesses to take advantage of the digital revolution. Thus I’m starting to see the need for a convergence of many roles and functions. We need to start thinking about how to totally remap the organisation to integrate digital functions effectively.

For example, in the areas of marketing and communications the boundaries start to blur already. The real task of these areas is to communicate with people, either inside our outside of the organisation. And, increasingly, their role is to converse and collaborate with their stakeholders. These functions are merging towards creation of collaborative communities as the audience morphs into participants rather than passive recipients.

The kinds of ideas that need to inform our thinking about how to reshape our organisations for the digital revolution include:

  • Networks: both human and technology networks are key, working out how to enable each of these inside and outside of the organisation is critical.
  • Amplification: understanding how these new human and technology networks amplify messages is imperative; defining cultural practices that embrace this idea is important.
  • Connected: determining how to manage people and business in an age where everything is connected – both people and things – as is how to use this power for business and social good.
  • Personal: the blurring of the boundaries between business and personal or between private and public is already occurring. We need to develop cultural and organisational practices that understand and enable us to manage this blurring of boundaries.
  • Social: human beings are social animals.  The Taylorist world view that has coloured much management thinking in the twentieth century needs to change and reflect this truth.  Humans are not interchangeable widgets and we are not machines.  It is time business leaders and structures change to reflect the social nature of human and business interactions.

We need to find ways to move away from hierarchy and silos. We need to find ways to move towards meshes and webs of relationships.  These are more like the way human beings relate in nature anyway.  The entire bureaucratic venture has been an unnatural way of being for humans. Humans need to find a way to make business more human and less machine like.

It seems that social computing and hardware convergence could be the catalyst for us to change our ways of running businesses so that they better meet human needs and map to human social needs, while continuing to make profits.