Exploring the world of social media

Archive for February, 2010

WEEKLY #3: A Bill of Rights for the Social Web

I love Google.Yeah, I know … they seem to be taking over the world, but I can’t help but to love them.

I can’t live without my Gmail, Google calendar, Google groups, Google docs, Google analytics, Gchat, and now my Google Reader (thanks Garrett and Mike!). And let’s not forget the all powerful Google search.

So when Google introduced it’s latest product, Buzz, I imagined the potential for another feature I just couldn’t get enough of. I completed my Buzz registration, linked my Twitter and Flickr accounts, and set up my profile. And then I waited to be amazed by the awesomeness of the Buzz.

That feeling never really came to me (in fact, I swear my Buzz is broken), but what I did stumble across almost immediately was an article about Google Buzz’s major privacy flaw. The article explained how because Buzz automatically created public follower lists based on who users email and chat with the most, people would be able to see who you communicate with most frequently. GASP! Why in the world had I not thought of this when I signed up for Buzz?! I didn’t want people to know who I talk to most often (although I admittedly was curious to find out this information about a few other people). I immediately went back into Buzz and changed my profile settings.

I would suspect that a lot of people were like me in that they didn’t really consider the privacy issue when they first signed up for Buzz. We’ve become so comfortable with seeing our information used in various ways, without our explicit consent. Gmail ads are related to the content of our emails. Facebook ads are related to our relationship status. Plaxo suggests people you might know, even without you visiting its site.  And the list goes on.

As the social Web is only used more widely, it’s important to establish some guidelines for this medium.

Founding Father Thomas Jefferson once said, “[A] bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular, and what no just government should refuse.” — December 20, 1787.

What is a bill of rights? In simple terms, it’s a guarantee or promise. And in the case of the U.S. government, it was a reassurance to individual citizens that the larger system of government would never infringe upon basic freedoms and rights.

Does the social Web require its own bill of rights? A guarantee, of sorts, for the millions of people using social media tools each day? While it’s hard to identify one central governing system for all of the social Web, as we can do with the U.S. government, pushing for a commonly accepted set of rights for social Web users sounds like a pretty good idea to me. After all, social media — with its amazing tools for creation, publishing, and collaborating — is a platform that allows us to share personal information with an unlimited number of others. We own this personal information, and as such, we have an undeniable right to decide how our personal information “property” is shared and used.

In September 2007, Joseph Smarr, Marc Canter, Robert Scoble, and Michael Arrington authored the Bill of Rights for Users of the Social Web. Below are the key tenets of the the declaration:

  1. Ownership of our own personal information.
  2. Control of whether and how such personal information is used.
  3. Freedom to grant persistent access to our personal info.

These points are well-done and seek to create controls in a internet world that often seems pretty chaotic. But based on my experience with Google Buzz, I might suggest one more addition: “Ask users for permission first.” It’s obvious that social media platforms want to grow their networks, but they do so at the cost of publishing personal information that doesn’t belong to them.

Google has been forced to update its privacy policy and incorporate more transparency, which ultimately is what the social Web needs.


WEEKLY #2: And the first blogger award goes to…

Since 2002, the popular blog search engine, Technorati, has indexed more than 133 million blogs.  And each day, an average of 900,000 new blog posts are added to the Web (The Future Buzz). Blogging has broken its way into mainstream culture, and the content created through blogs has an undeniable impact on society.

In thinking about this significant impact, and blogging’s rise to prominence, it’s worth asking the question: Who deserves credit for being the first real blogger?

Scott Rosenberg’s book “Say Everything” chronicles the evolution of blogging and describes a number of people who played key roles in making blogging what it is today. His book begins by introducing readers to Justin Hall, a guy who maintained a candid Web site with daily postings about his life back in January 1996. There’s also David Winer, whose DaveNet generated online discussion as early as 1994. And there’s Jorn Barger who actually coined the term “weblog,” which was later shortened to “blog” by Peter Merholz in 1999.

All of these people, along with others, played a role in the creation of blogging and can be considered candidates for the prize of “first real blogger.”

But alas — as “Say Everything” states, “The efforts to identify a ‘first blog’ are comical, and ultimately futile, because blogging was not invented; it evolved” (Rosenberg, p. 81) Trying to pinpoint the exact moment and specific individual that created blogging is impossible. No one person can be said to have had an idea to create blogs — personal sites with links and commentary in reverse chronological order. Instead, blogs and the art of blogging as we know them today are a result of contributions made by multiple people and communities. They are a result of various experiments with the Web and different ways to share and organize information, ideas, and experiences.

And so, the first real blogger award goes to….

….no one.

WEEKLY #1: I counted 10

Sure, the number 10 is a nice round number. But I didn’t plan it that way. After reading and re-reading The Cluetrain Manifesto’s 95 Theses, I’ve concluded that 10 is the “actual” number of theses.

Below is the list I chose and an explanation for why each one is important.

1. Markets are conversations.
While companies have often thought of their target markets in terms of demographics, psychographics, and purchasing decisions, at a very basic level, markets are conversations — or exchanges between buyers and sellers.

3. Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice and aren’t contrived.
In the world of social networking, nothing can take the place of a real human voice. It’s powerful and has the ability to transform the way consumers relate to businesses, their employees, and others in a shared community.

6. The Internet is enabling conversations among human beings that were simply not possible in the era of mass media.
In the era of mass media, companies used a one-way model to communicate with their consumers. The Internet has opened the door to multiple layers of communication between consumers, companies, and employees.

9. These networked conversations are enabling powerful new forms of social organization and knowledge exchange to emerge.
With the power of these social networks comes a lot of information sharing. People are sharing their thoughts as well as important facts about companies.

10. Markets are getting smarter, more informed, more organized.
As consumers gain more knowledge, they also gain more power. Gone are the days when a company could fully control its message and expect its consumers to buy in to those messages without question. Consumers now control the message.

14. Corporations do not speak in the same voice as these new networked conversations. To their intended online audiences, companies sound hollow, flat, literally inhuman.
Consumers can recognize a company’s lack of human voice. And consumers don’t respond to what they deem as “corporate speak.”

34. To speak with a human voice, companies must share the concerns of their communities.
Speaking with a human voice is not about insert humor or slang. It’s more about listening and understanding what consumers are looking for, and then engaging them in conversations about those things.

47. [Companies] need to resist the urge to “improve” or control these networked conversations.
It requires a shift in mentality for companies to not try to control these conversations and the messages created as a result of them. But the true value of these conversations rests in their authenticity.

60. Markets want to talk to companies.
While consumers can and will carry on these conversations on their own, they really do want to engage with companies. They want to hear a company’s human voice.

89. We have real power and we know it. If you don’t quite see the light, some other outfit will come along that’s more attentive, more interesting, more fun to play with.
Consumers have the power, and companies need to recognize it. Those companies that do will be in a better position to engage with their consumers.