Jan 20, 2011

Close(d) Together (EN)

W.F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody
Image by George Eastman House via Flickr

Many argue that with the advent of social media, the Internet finally becomes what it once was meant to be; a social platform. “The direct connection via media – for socializing or even for commerce – has been controlled by both governments and businesses for the past 600 years” The Internet should end this hegemony. Power would shift in favor of the individual consumer and end-user. Yet it took a decade before the social platform became visible (onset of Hyves, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and another few years to reach critical mass. Organizations embrace the Internet as a distribution platform. Organizations saw the Internet primarily as a means to do business more efficiently and effectively. The social component – direct communication with end users – was not taken into account.
Famous blogger Jeff Jarvis started to blog about his bad experiences with Computer manufacturer Dell (Dellhell), which soon resulted in a significant decline in sales and bad reputation of Dell. Also in The Netherlands major brands have experienced the power of the mass when it comes to complaining (Ziggo, UPC, KPN, NS and T-Mobile recently).

Powerless individuals have become articulate and well informed individuals. With the Internet, the influence of the individual became scalable. Companies gave birth to so-called webcare teams following and participating in online discussions about their brand. The concept of social marketing made its appearance: it is not about reach, but relevance! (Something so useful, surprising, funny or valuable, that people take the effort to make use of it or talk about it) The marketing dictionary was expanded with terms like “Earned Media” (activating, facilitating and pooling word-of-mouth conversations) and “Owned Media” (developing sustainable relationships through social media).

Yet many companies and governments struggle with the question how to use social media. Incorporating social media in their distribution paradigm (for example by pushing irrelevant advertising on your profile page), would be a big mistake. It’s not about telling and screaming (anymore). Within the social paradigm it’s about listening and being empathy with the end-user/consumer. We’re confronted daily with the lack of how businesses and governments give substance to this.

The Promised Land
Imagine the Internet as a vast continent, most countries have a government, businesses and citizens / consumers / end users, all living within the law and interacting with each other based on economic, social and emotional motives. Let’s call this the civilized region. Outside the civilized region is the Wild West – a destination for outlaws and adventurers. There are no laws, the central government has little or no influence, and most companies are present with billboards shouting that the civilized world is a better place to be (because their products are available here). But the Wild West area is tremendously attractive and considered as the ‘promised land’. An independent society with different values and norms constituting a kind of peer-to-peer economy in which many people are willing to give. The complexity of relationships is brought back to “you’re friend or follower.” All conversations are broadcasted live. This ‘amateur culture’ gives individuals the opportunity to develop themselves. There is hardly scarcity. This ‘new economy’ was the talk of the town, but not fully understood. Established companies and brands were in no time outdated by unknown newcomers. This newcomers made clever use of technology and were able to leverage the network effect (the value for the individual increases as more users have the same use). These exotic companies with ditto names grew exponentially. For some this new economy was real; Google, Facebook, Twitter, Groupon, Amazon.

History repeats in reverse!
The Wild West has not been conquered; the Wild West has conquered us. The technology-driven ideas and concepts are widely spread and accepted; blind trust in technology.
Technology manifests itself as a sort of layer cake; in which each layer continues to develop;

  • Information: from a readable web to a semantic web;
  • Communication: from asynchronous email to real-time tweets;
  • Relationships: from contact lists to social graph
  • Intentions: from explicit asking towards implicit receiving.

Technology journalist Doc Searls characterizes the transition to an intention economy.
The Intention Economy grows around buyers, not sellers. It leverages the simple fact that buyers are the first source of money, and that they come ready-made. You don’t need advertising to make them.”

And this is why I think that Facebook has more advertising value than Google. With Google you have to make your wishes explicit (entering a query in the search box), while Facebook already knows your preferences (by registering and monitoring your conversations and behavior). This enables an advertiser to make you an offer before you search. Another difference is that Google is primary based on financial currencies (the advertiser who pays more gets a better position/ranking). Facebook uses the currency of the Internet; privacy! The more you give, the more you receive (And than earning more money!). All the functionality that Facebook is introducing is to ensure that it is easier and more fun to share. Not only on Facebook, but also outside (the ‘like’ button).

Ultimately Facebook will become the synonym of the World Wide Web within a ‘World Wild Web’. A global centralized gated colony, believing that the world will be a better place if anonymity is not possible and with strict rules regarding content and behavior.

And they’ll live closed and happily forever
We want more openness and transparency, and yet we have a strong preference for closed systems. Consider the success of Microsoft (Windows) and Apple (iTunes). And the transition from Web to ‘closed’ apps we see today. This is due to our blind faith in technology; trust in the operations and processes that we do not know exactly understand. Because we do not understand exactly how things work is an important condition for this trust!
The actual working of things is hidden and closed using technology. Once something is hidden we can again present this in a form that we think is appropriate; the representation of the absent. We surround ourselves with smart design technological systems. We do this without really thinking about it, blind faith.

We surround us not only with technology – the reliance on technology has penetrated into our bodies. Devices that surround us day and night now affectionately called gadgets. The naming of these gadgets are more personal, as if it were a part of our identity (iPhone). Technology is not just something we carry with us, but we wear it in us! The false feeling of cellular phone vibrating in your pocket, even when the phone is not there (phone phantoms)

With the explosion of the mobile market, the web will move into our pocket, hence social media. We don’t have to check our mail and news; many streams constantly feed us.

How Technology works
Like all other living organisms, we are dependent beings. Technology is a necessary response to our original dependency and technology is dependent on us. As a society we make choices how to deal with this dependency;

Option 1: Adjust – recognition of dependence and from there develop a minimal technology (hunters, collectors).
Option 2: To reduce dependency by improving technology (agricultural society).
Option 3: Overcoming dependency (Western society).

The urge to overcome is an important driver of innovation. Current economic crises and environmental crises make us aware of, our increasingly vulnerable dependency on our ‘environment’. But for our survival we increasingly depend on technology. “Well, by that time the oil runs out, man has invented something new”. Our trust in technology has taken religious proportions. And like any religion, hence technology, what was supposed to give us more freedom, ironically has chained us more firmly.

This sophisticated ‘works of technology’ can be described as follows; Technology

  1. Leads to closure and removal (denial of truth);
  2. Represents a “different truth” (denial of absence);
  3. Is necessary for to reduce and overcome our human limitations (liberation).

How does this apply on Social Media, particularly Social Networks?
Denial of Truth: The presence and versatility of a human being is hidden/closed by the Social Network (in order to see this person you’ll have to join the same network, and to connect with this person you’ll have to become friends).
Denial of Absence: This ‘hidden’ person is re-presented by a profile page (in a for his/her desirable way).
Overcome: This person has been set free of his/her physical limitations of not being able to be anytime, anywhere and interacting with more other ‘hidden’ persons on a one-to-one basis simultaneously.

The better the representation, the less we worry about the truth; risk becomes chance, limitation becomes freedom. Welcome to the world where fiction and non-fiction have become reality.

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