Sunday, February 03, 2008

Be the Master of Your Online Activity

New Zealand is a "small place" with only 4.5 million people. We are used to knowing each other fairly well on a face to face basis. Rebels are rare here, and they stand out from the crowd very easily. We have a way of bringing into line people who stand out too much, or who try to rise too tall; it's called tall poppy syndrome. It was New Zealand that prosecuted "The Last Western Heretic".

I've been confused for the last five years by the FACT that among the general public, the Internet has hardly caused a ripple. "I love the Internet" they say; because that's the expected response, but then they say, "But I seldom use it." I know that this is not the accepted view but I've actually sat with people and watched them use the Internet. I've asked them to demonstrate what they usually do. The fact is, "not much".

15 years ago New Zealand users of the Internet, and many NZ developers of software and web sites were doing leading edge stuff. Along with Norway and Sweden, New Zealand was proving that countries "on the edge" were enthusiastic about the Internet and how it would change their economic and social opportunities. Following closely behind Canada the NZ government promised us the NZ Digital Strategy to make the age of digital information a key driver of the NZ economy. There have been results that I applaud, but just a few. Government web sites are easy to use, and sometimes informative. The software industry in NZ continues to develop, but it's operating in a little bubble of it's own, disconnected. That's dangerous in a global world.

My interviews with NZ Internet users show me that usually they DON'T JOIN email lists and social networks. When they do join, they are seldom, real that as almost NEVER, active participants. There are THREE active email forums (non-technical) for the public in New Zealand. There have been many others but the all fold for lack of interest. The most successful by far is Canterbury Issues, a relatively new forum using Online Groups.

It can be argued, and I would agree that lack of participation is a world wide issue. The "long tail" of non-participating members of every online social network is well understood. But the situation in NZ is more severe I'm sure. Non-participation on two networks where I'm an active member is about 85%, and the top 5% generate and get 50% of all the attention in the network. In New Zealand I'm comfortable with saying that non-participation is close to 95%. For instance I'm the most highly connected person in NZ, on LinkedIn. I'm very easy to find and get a message to. Only ONE person in NZ has ever been proactive and asked me to join their network. I live in Christchurch. I've tried to build my Christchurch connections, but frankly, it's hard work.

At Christchurch Airport, I met a young Italian man, a geologist by training, who has been working to collect seabed data off the coast, south of NZ. We were discussing social networks, facebook in particular, when he mentioned that he was a member of LinkedIn. That makes sense for a young professional man. His University Professor recommended that he join. Once again that is good news, University Professors should be leading the way in that practical manner. So the young man and I are now connected on LinkedIn and he now has 18 connections. Sadly his Professor only has 8.

When I look at the 600 LinkedIn members in Christchurch, representation for Lincoln University and the University of Canterbury is sparse. Moreover, they are also notable of not bothering to develop their networks.

The Universities will of course counter that they have their own well developed academic lists and forums, regular conferences and departmental meetings. Researchers in any field often know each other both by their publications and by face to face meetings. I accept that. But the University needs to connect with it's community, and social networks would help to make that connection. When a University is talking about downgrading or closing courses, that community connection is even more relevant. There are 80 staff of the University of Canterbury who are LinkedIn members, only 6 of whom have more than 30 connections, the minimal number in my view to begin to have a successful LinkedIn network.

So there is work to do. If you live in New Zealand, here are some places to get in touch online.

Yahoo: New Zealand: (439 Members)

Canterbury Issues: (Discussion about Christchurch and Canterbury only)

Virtual Handshake NZ: (57 Members)

Kiwi Scrum: A NEW approved group for LinkedIn (58 members)

In the process of searching for links for this Blog entry I discovered this very optimistic video about the Tuhoe Digital Journey facilitated by Paul Reynolds. I'm thrilled to represent it here.

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

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