Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Information Super-Highway Isn't Used

In 1995 New Zealand was like several other small fringe nations, very active on the Internet.  This was driven, in my view, by the isolation we felt, by a need to connect to some imagined centre where better information and expertise might be found.  Connecting to the world was important, at least it was for me.  The Internet was commonly spoken about as the Information Super-Highway, but most of the imagined benefits of that have not been realized.

Both government and business leaders seem focused on the poor quality of NZ broadband. The NZ Digital Strategy has become very narrow compared with the original vision.  I agree that much faster and more reliable broadband would be desirable, but I recognize a different and deeper problem. 

Prof. Lloyd Geering on TVNZ last Saturday spoke about his acceptance of whatever his teachers told him, and of his acceptance of what people in authority said.  Do you remember those days?  I certainly do.  That was me too.  We suffered from an inferiority complex, looking to "Home" or England for people with expertise, we were unwilling to accept the knowledge and expertise of our own people, preferring to buy from overseas people who supposedly had experience that NZ couldn't provide.  Too often New Zealanders could not be recognized as successful at home until they had proven themselves overseas.  We did not understand who we were. 

The social climate in NZ was excessively focused on finding the one source of authority that could be relied upon.  Missing from my early training was the concept of mentors, and the idea of networking.  I had bosses, who could have been mentors, who might have tried to be mentors, but the concept wasn't in my mind.  I developed a journal that I've kept for 35 years, which was my way to find mentors, hundreds of them, most of whom have no knowledge that they helped me.  In New Zealand, probably because of our small population, where everyone knows everyone, there was no great emphasis on networking, nothing like what we can see overseas.  I've recognized these failings in my own life in the last 15 years, with my connection to the Internet, particularly on Ryze, providing the mirror that has allowed me to see myself in a new way.  People on Ryze saw in me, knowledge and expertise that I couldn't clearly see in myself.  That was a gift, that can never be fully repaid. 

When I was first introduced to Ryze by Bala Pillai, it made no sense to me at all.  I didn't join.  Six months later I recognized what a big mistake I had made.  I've been an enthusiastic paying member ever since.  But efforts to encourage other New Zealanders to join Ryze have fallen on deaf ears.  There are perhaps three New Zealanders with successful histories on Ryze. 

My experience on LinkedIn follows that pattern.  When Introduced to LinkedIn I joined immediately, (I try not to repeat my mistakes) but for a long time it was just a directory service.  Ryze was so much better for talking to people.  In comparison the people on LinkedIn seemed shallow and inexperienced.  But networks change, the services any network offers are likely to improve, membership grows and the experience of the members develops.  In the five years I'm talking about Ryze went from 200,000 to 350,000 members, and LinkedIn from nothing to 19 million.

There are 730 NZ members of Ryze.  In contrast there are about 8000 NZ members of LinkedIn, but of those only a tiny number are active.  People understand enough to join, but having joined, they didn't know intuitively how to use it.  That was exactly the situation I found myself in.  It was my connection to Bill Vick on Ryze that forced me to look seriously at LinkedIn. Bill Vick is the author of "LinkedIn For Recruiting" and lives in Dallas.  Des Walsh of Tweed Heads, NSW, Australia also on Ryze invited me to join a LinkedIn discussion list on Yahoo.  Slowly I was educated about some of the ways people were finding LinkedIn a practical and useful business tool.  Today I'm an enthusiastic advocate. 

Of the 8000 NZ Members of LinkedIn only 18 people have more than 500 connections.  550 have in excess of 100 connections.  But the mean number of connections over all NZ members is a number less than FIVE.  For people with only 5 connections, LinkedIn is not going to be an effective tool.  Even with as many as 30 connections LinkedIn is only beginning to be useful.  Restrictions on what LinkedIn will let me see (Limit 500 entries) prevent me from producing better NZ data. 

I can however produce more detail about Christchurch, my home town.  Christchurch members of LinkedIn are now about 500.  The median number of connections is closer the THREE than four.  12 people have more than 100 connections.  If we take 30 connections as the beginning of LinkedIn being useful as a tool, another 39 are able to experience that.  For the 250+ people who have fewer than 4 connections, "the benefits of LinkedIn membership" remains a meaningless statement. 

The problem behind to poor success rate on social networks is not in Ryze, Xing, Facebook or LinkedIn, it's in our own heads and in the community.  There is a lack of social permission in the community to be strongly involved in these networks.  People don't appreciate why anyone would need to do that.  To make any social network an effective tool in your life you need to learn some skills that are not widely distributed in New Zealand.  For instance of the 18 people on LinkedIn with 500+ connections, 8 were born and educated overseas, 3 have considerable work experience overseas, two completed their academic education overseas.  I'm one of the other 5.  My reason for being in this company is the first web site I built, New Zealand Dances, dating from 1995.  To build that site, I relied on networking with dancers all over the world, over 700 of whom contributed to the site.  Long before good search engines and before social networking became popular I was enjoying a cooperative and helpful Internet experience.  The business failure of NZDances was a great loss to the dance industry here.  Few people understand what they lost.  There were over 700 pages in the site at it's best.  There are more than 62 pages on the Way-Back Machine.  (search for

John Stephen Veitch
Open Future Limited - You may comment privately to John S Veitch using this form.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Learning by Using the Internet

How do we learn anything? We learn on the playing field, we learn by doing it, we learn from our friends and associates. So YOU learn about the Internet by using it and often by trying out new things your friends told you about.

How does your BUSINESS learn about the Internet? Too often it's by employing someone with a very technical disposition, someone with a precise sort of mind, to take care of the details. So she/he builds a website, an Intranet and a perhaps some databases for "company knowledge". This is a fair bit of work, but it usually achieves very little and sometimes nothing at all. While the company is "on the Internet" company knowledge of the Internet is close to nil. While the company has an Intranet, it's badly supported, disorganised and employees try to avoid it rather than use it. As for the "Knowledge Base", it's cost a lot of money and is drives nothing at all.

What's wrong here? Essentially the people who work for the company are not in the picture. Executive staff are left out, supervisory staff are left out, and the people at the coal face have no part to play. What is the company learning? Where are your companies ambassadors? Where are the connections to new ideas and knowledge that will drive future innovation? Where is the ongoing learning for each staff member? In a global economy, where are your companies connections to the world?

The MAJOR failure is that both companies and government have neglected the learning opportunity that the Information Super-Highway was supposed to bring us. I've been a severe critic of the NZ Government Digital Strategy. Nothing changes with the "Dec 2007 Refresh" A focus on broadband and on software development, won't do anything to help New Zealanders overcome their dismal failure to use the Internet effectively. What's missing is a social and educational programme that's well funded, that I was calling for 5 years ago. There have however been some successes. Maori have a presence on the Internet, and generally the quality and functionality of government web sites is excellent. (Would somebody tell site designers that ALL URL's should be very close to permanent. We forever go to government sites to see "This item has been moved". Why?)

It is my hope that this Blog and the Open Future web site and my connections with colleagues in New Zealand and across the world can help bring the value of the Internet into the business world.

John Stephen Veitch
Open Future Limited - You may comment privately to John S Veitch using this form.