Thursday, June 26, 2008

Volunteer to be Successful

The openness of your own future, depends on YOU. Your ability to VOLUNTEER to do new things and to take on new ideas is the key to your future. So have you volunteered to be part of an online social network? Having done so, what did you do then?

Sadly, 90% of those who join a social network, are unsure why they did so, and are reluctant to participate. The opportunity to connect to other people is there, but the connections are not made. For instance, of the 20 million members of LinkedIn about 10 million have fewer than FIVE connections and most have not completed their profiles.

Be a Taker from the Useful Common:
You come to online social networks, with a real world network already in place. The online world, list serv's, web sites, search engines, groups and social networks enlarge and extend the "useful common". There is far more content and value in the useful common than you can possibly absorb. So, drink all you choose, but drink with discipline; you can drown in content. Try to find what you need "just in time" a little bit every day. Take the opportunity to build the strength and value of the useful common you have access to. At first you will be a taker. Later when your confidence grows you'll become a giver.

Join a Social Network – Write About Yourself:
In the beginning, writing an interesting page about yourself is a difficult but necessary task. It's impossible to write a perfect page about “yourself” because you can never capture the fullness of your life. Be content with what you can write today. (I actually recommend joining TWO networks, LinkedIn, and one other of your choice, any place where they have interesting forums. You need to read and eventually to write, to get the best our of this process.)

Build the Number of Contacts you have:
I'm one of those who was online early, and I've built a large network, but along the way I've also met and been influenced by some amazing people. You need to grow you own network. Begin by reading the discussion forums. Find out who's here. Visit the profile pages of the people who have useful things to say, find out more about them. Tell them by dropping a note, or filling in a guest book, that you liked what they wrote. Quietly, build the list of people you know. Once you have 30 or 40 connections, your network will begin to grow with less effort. Thus far, building your network is bringing together people of like mind, who didn't previously know each other.

I've built a large network, on several different platforms, but I don't recommend that to everyone. You'll know, if for some reason you need a large network, for the rest of you, somewhere between 100 and 500 connections should be very useful. More important than building more connections is to engage a small number of your online contacts in regular discussions. I've been experimenting with that. It's not easy. The conversation keeps running dry, and you have to re-boot it again. It takes two people to keep a conversation going. You know the sound of one hand clapping. If it's too hard to sustain, that relationship dies. If you can find in 100 connections four new people that you enjoy talking to across the world, if you can talk to people who don't exist in the same cultural bubble as yourself, you will discover value.

You need to be proactive to succeed online. That means you need to volunteer, to put yourself forward. If today you don't have the courage to do that, join a group, and spend time in the forums. Drink deep on what other people are saying. Learn. One day you'll feel the courage to participate yourself. Step by step, that's how we get there.

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

Friday, June 13, 2008

Are we Ready Yet? - Some of Us Perhaps.

The Cluetrain Manifesto makes the claim that, “we are getting smarter, more informed and more organised.” Of course Howard Rheingold probably originated the idea of "smart mobs".

There are aspects of the Internet that certainly prove that point. One clear example is the success of Wikipedia, and another is the use of spare capacity on people’s machines and off the network to transfer files, particularly music and video files. (A downside is the success of the Internet as a means of distributing pornography.) Also remarkable is the growth of online dating, and the high satisfaction expressed by most of the people who have tried to do that. Online dating is interesting because you have to “put yourself on the line” and people are very reluctant to do that. So of course there are a few “fake ID’s” but that entirely defeats the purpose. Those people are quickly exposed online. The general experience is that people are excessively genuine and helpful and even honest about themselves.

People who don’t know, often laugh at the idea of Wikipedia. How can a site which anyone can edit be credible? I can only say try it. Not only will you find pages for thousands of topics that would never rate a mention in any printed encyclopedia, but even on the most obscure topics there’s usually been some basic quality check. For instance a page that’s poorly developed is likely to be tagged with a statement saying that the page doesn’t meet the basic standards of Wikipedia and inviting people to verify the statements and to provide references. The English language version if printed like an encyclopedia would currently run to 787 volumes. Prof. Clay Shirky, estimates that Wikipedia represents the accumulation of over 100 million hours of human thought and effort. But this is a tiny amount of time really, given that TV viewers in the USA spend that much time every week, just watching advertising. Of all the users of Wikipedia, only some small number, ever edit a page.

Another way we get smarter is by joining groups of people who share our interests. When I first began to work on the Internet this was mostly achieved by joining a “listserv” and the best listserv’s were run by universities. Later there were sites like Yahoo Groups and several commercial competitors. It’s very hard work to build and sustain an active list. Hence lists come and go, but the best of them are very active and enormously valuable to their members.

In the last eight years web based social networks have become common. Each social network requires you join a “special group” and you have to go to a special place to get group mail, or to read about group activities. Because we all have limited time we can only be active in one or two places like this. So the idea that the Internet makes it possible to “connect to everyone” is a nonsense. However, there is a demand for each person to have a single identity and login that’s common to different networks. One day that will happen. Inside a network like this, it’s possible to “meet” the same person over and over in different discussions. So you “get to know” who these people are even if you live on the other side of the globe. In the process you get to understand more about how people are different, and how they are the same. You will also find that if you participate in the discussion that you develop an identity, that you “become someone” and the way other people respond to that, teaches you a lot about your own strengths and weaknesses.

However, the Cluetrain Manifesto was wrong if the word “we” was intended to include all Internet users. I’ve been disappointed for at least 10 years now at the low level of understanding and participation by most people who are “online”. Those who are “getting smarter” are in my view only about 10% of those who are online. The rest lack the confidence to join groups and to get involved. If you don’t join groups, and give your participation some time to develop, you can’t begin to benefit as a member. Prof. Clay Shirky has called his new book, “Here Comes Everybody” and like the writers of the Cluetrain Manifesto he’s making the claim of online benefits for “everybody”. That’s a claim that will prove false. There is a new digital divide, even in households where there is good Internet access, between those who participate and those who don’t.

Those who are engaged on the Internet are involved in a multi-person conversation that requires the development of new skills in navigation, in keyboarding, in understanding cultural and religious differences, in expressing one’s views clearly, in learning about the things other people are interested in. If this is your life, your learning rate is accelerated. If this is not what you do with your time, the chances are that you watch TV, each night becoming more and more switched off, more and more indoctrinated, less and less informed.

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

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Cluetrain Manifesto at 10 Years

This blog is for people who are finding their way into social networking and personal learning online. Much of the Cluetrain Manifesto addresses the same issues. They say that networked users of the Internet support each other and know more than the "experts" on almost every topic. They say clearly, "we are getting smarter, more informed and more organised". In 10 years that reality has been demonstrated over and over, but sadly 80% of all the Internet users who should be an active part of this communication revolution are reluctant to be engaged.

Rick Levine,  Christopher Locke,  Doc Searls and  David Weinberger published the Cluetrain Manifesto ten years ago. When I first found that text some six months later, I was amazed and deeply inspired. The text seemed to speak to me.

Since that time I've always had a page in my site that promotes the Cluetrain Manifesto, a page like this one, An Introduction to the Cluetrain Manifesto. I've invited hundreds of people to consider the value of the text, but it frightens people, and they back away. That's sad, because the writers of the Cluetrain Manifesto had the message mostly right, and the last 10 years have vindicated their optimism about the power of all of us together.

My own research tells me that while 80% of people in the developed world have access to the Internet, only a tiny number of people use the Internet in a way that makes an important difference to their lives. That's a problem, a new digital divide between confident Internet users and poorly informed users. Read previous posts in this blog to learn more about that. (See networking principles,  Internet literacy and joining  social networks)

With the benefit of hindsight, I've discovered in the rather repetitive 95 Theses, three general themes that concern people who are new to the Internet. They are:

Networking and Network Groups. The Internet allows people to speak to each other in ways that were never before possible. But to have access to these other people we need to JOIN online networks or social groups. Back in the previous posts on this blog there is lots of help on the process of joining groups and social networks. NOTHING is more important to enhance your ability to do things online. When you are a member you can ask questions and get answers that make sense to you that are not contaminated by propaganda. Together we know a great deal about almost everything. The power of the Internet to make group forming easy is one of the keys to it's success. Your ability to find the right groups to join, is one of the keys to your own success. To find out more about that you need to join some groups; become a member.

The Power of a Human Voice. In real conversations people speak with a human voice and in language we can all understand. When you join social networks or become engaged with list mail, you'll discover that people have learned to talk quite naturally to each other. Such conversations encourage trust and honesty and an open sharing of our time and our knowledge. By the sound of the human voice we recognise other "members" of our community. There may also be outbursts of angry language, tirades we used to call "flaming". Thankfully today such behaviour is very rare. It's amazing to me how disciplined people are, even when the level of disagreement is very sharp. The human voice is normally very respectful of other people.

The Value of Conversation. Conversations cannot be forced to continue. The glue that holds a conversation together is a genuine sharing of points of view about a topic of mutual interest. Conversations are remarkable because nobody can control the direction of the dialogue. Whoever speaks next can take the discussion to some different domain. The other participants ca then choose to follow that lead, or to return to the previous topic. Conversations occur between peers, none of whom have the power to control what comes next.

There is a revolution going on. A quiet insistent progressive shift in the quality of what we all know. Too often this knowledge starkly contradicts what leading government officials and professional advisers tell us. So who do we believe? Our online experience tells us that our friends may not have PhD's or high office, but they do tell us the truth as best they know it. The track record of people in social networks getting the message right isn't perfect, but it is still by far the most reliable guide.

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