If you (re)build it they will come

I’ve been doing some thinking. [It’s OK, Malc, I am still taking the tablets :-) ]

I was thinking about Doc’s piece on Markets Without Marketing, Hugh’s response and Tara’s response.

I was thinking about Nick Lemann’s piece on Amateur Hour in the New York Times, Mitch Ratcliffe’s response and Jay Rosen’s response, as also Steven Johnson’s related piece and Doc’s follow-up comments. [Thanks for the links and pointers, Doc.]

And I was also thinking about something Dylan Tweney said/asked a little while ago: Who’s wagging the long tail? In his piece Dylan also refers to John Cassidy’s review of Chris Anderson’s Long Tail. Here’s a quote from Dylan’s post:

The “long tail” implies that the Internet is ushering in an age when micro-niches will dominate, at the expense of mass-culture monoliths. Sure, the Net makes it easier for us all to find the bizarre fetishes and tiny cliques that we are longing for. But one thing has always bugged me about this theory: How do you make a business out of that, unless you’re a big aggregator?

I read that, and somewhere in my head a bulb fused. Or maybe it lit up. Pretty much every serious argument we’re having, every conversation we need to continue, is about some form of Big versus some form of Small. Blefuscu versus Lilliput. And we use concepts like expertise and authenticity and reliability and affordability and freedom and choice to try and win the arguments. And the concepts we use land up polarising the debates. Which made me think….
…..It’s all about trust.

The Cluetrain markets-are-conversations-are-relationships is about trust.

Hugh’s microbrands are about trust.

Tara’s It’s-Not-An-Us-Versus-Them is about trust.

The journalist-versus-blogger debates are all about trust.

Trust used to be something that bound small groups together. Over time we tried to scale trust. It didn’t scale. And what happened instead was Big Everything. In an Assembly-Line meets Broadcast world.
Big Everything broke trust. Big Media lied. Big Content Producer reduced our choices. Big Pipe and Big Device reduced it further. Big Firm wrongsized away. And Big Government did what it liked.

Trust broke.

Now, with the web and with communities and with social software and with the inheritance of Moore and Metcalfe, we’ve had a chance to rebuild trust.

And we’re rebuilding trust. Slowly. Putting the shattered pieces together. Disaggregation, to be followed by reaggregation over time. The new groupings are different, because the trust relationships are working across geographies and timezones and belief systems and cultures and ages and genders.
Yes, some forms of new Big will emerge. But only those forms who can grow while retaining their newly acquired trust.

Trust that personal freedom and choice is being preserved, trust that mistakes when made are honest mistakes, trust that such mistakes get corrected soon after they occur, trust that commonly held values are adhered to. Trust.

Trust that elections are fair and decisions to go to war or peace are just; trust that public appointments are objectively made and business models are transparent. Trust that laws are for all. Trust.
If you (re)build it they will come.

Think about Google. They are probably the first company I can think of who grew up on a New Trust basis. And then think about the times they have faced significant pressure from the public at large. Every time, it has been a situation where someone says “I thought you guys said Do No Evil? What gives?”

It’s all about trust. (And no, I don’t mean confidence, I mean trust).

A coda. This is a very provisional post. Taking a leaf out of Dan Gillmor’s book, my readers know more than I do. The people I read know more than I do as well. The blogosphere gives me a chance to learn more about these things I don’t know about. And posts like these are where I put something forward to see if it makes sense.

Flame away.

17 thoughts on “If you (re)build it they will come”

  1. Hi JP, I remembered the “Cobbler’s Diary” you started in Indian Finance to discuss small industries, and your explanation cobbler= “shoe-maker”= small is beautiful! Best, chutki

  2. I think the “we” is all of us, having conversations like this one. This is by no means the only place where such conversations are taking place, there are many “bigger” and better places.

    The conversations have surfaced before, but I think we are at a special time, where the social aspects of information a la Seely Brown come to the fore.

    We is by definition all of us rather than yet another polarisation process.

  3. This is a fascinating step forward for the contract v covenant post you made on June 12th. At the risk of getting even more high level than my comment on that post I’m wondering if trust can be traced through history in the following way?

    Pre-industrial revolution – people lived in small communities, did the same thing as each other, (i.e. had common interests) and didn’t move about – trust was prevalent as a result of these four factors

    Last 200 years – as you describe above everything got BIG and these four factors disappeared.

    Now and going forward – people use the internet to organise themselves into small communities of common interest which they might stay in for a long time. See where I’m going with this??

    A couple of observations though:
    1) Last time people were only in one community – this time they will be in many so some notion of reputation porting might be important
    2) I am not a naive believer in PROGRESS but this has all come about because of increased choice. Whilst the disappearance of trust is a concern it is the flip side of some very positive developments.
    3) Could this be the end of Marxism as a philosophy? Internet communities eliminate alienation (and hence the inherent contradiction of capitalism) by giving people a way to find trust and meaning.

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  5. [Could this be the end of Marxism as a philosophy? Internet communities eliminate alienation (and hence the inherent contradiction of capitalism) by giving people a way to find trust and meaning.]

    Certainly heading towards a post-capitalist reality where what you want and need are more closely aligned, also post marxist in the sense that it becomes possible to uncover solutions for every need that are organic instead of mandating a state structure, which has merged with the corporate anyhow for all practical purposes (isn’t that the technical definition of fascism?) at any rate, self organizing groups are just about to realize their power in the real world. Evolution doesn’t look like A /or/ B, it’s more like C=A+B+?, but C would definitely survive without A or B. That’s scary. It feel slike chaos. But we’re already in the middle of this transition. People are speaking, sharing ideas and opinions. It is becoming a race to get to those without connections before the sweatshop does. The developing world has valuable insight into how to live a full and productive life with relative comfort and joy.

    As ‘developed’ nations see the truth of national policies and speak out individually, it becomes easier to aggregate their sentiments and the obvious question arises, “who’s doing something about it?” it will be interesting to see the US public reaction when they discover, en masse, that it has been individuals and private activity working towards solutions battling mightily against the efforts of state sponsored manipulation.

    The web enables individuals to trust one another on an individual basis yet discover through that association large bodies of ‘trustable’ people comprising a group. It is no longer a matter of asking for trust, but getting back to your point about blogging, trusting yourself enough to put that out there honestly and wait for the bees to come to your honey. It is no wonder so many CEO’s here are asking themselves serious questions like :You mean I have to be a *person* ? Can’t we just hire a guy to say nice things? If I look weak (willing to change) nobody will respect me, right? Witness the rise of benevolent commerce.

    It is generational and not some result of cities vs farmers. Feudalism never wins in the long run and dies quickly in the face of information flow.

    ~ahem.. stepping down from soap box…~

  6. This is in reply to Nic’s point. I think we are moving towards the same place. In a strange way an open internet with open access reduces the capacity for corruption in capitalism.

    The portable trust point is something I am still pondering. Where networks were isolated islands, you could live schizophrenically in different ones in parallel. Now I think it is more about simple universal identity (along with its trust and behavioural attributes) across all networks, even ones you don’t belong to. You define yourself by what you belong to; this definition is usable by things you don’t belong to. Am I making sense?

  7. Excellent post and I concur. I’ve been thinking about trust a long time, but your paragraph about “Big this” and “Big that” hit the nail on the head big time.

    I also addressed this in my post 3 sources of trusted information:http://wanderingstan.com/2006-07-25/three_sources_of_trusted_information

    As I see it, right now we are forced into a choice beteen direct specific trust (as when you subscribe to one particular blog) and totally diffused aggregate trust (as when you look at the overall ratings of a book on amazon. In the real world, if you use your social network to fill in the in between gaps. This piece is missing from the online world.

  8. My company is building a product specifically to address the problem of trust. JP, I would love to have you in our beta test. Please send me an email if you’d like to participate. (And anyone else reading too…just give me a good excuse to put you in. :) )

  9. I’ve been thinking about trust for hours today. Trying to get my head around the ties that bind our sentiment to our level of trust. How we feel about an organization is related to our level of trust. Now that we have so much information available to use to form our opinions, it becomes exceedingly difficult for the consumer to NOT be jaded. But that said, there are industries who are fairing well. Technology (as an industry) has an 81% trust rating in the 2011 Edelman Trust Barometer. Whereas, say, Financial Services…well, you could take a swag at it but I’ll tell you it’s at 50%. Globally. So, I’d wager potentially a fair bit lower for the US.


    Anyway, it’s a fascinating conundrum: I believe we (the collective) want to trust, but there is so much information readily available that when attempting to perform your due diligence, you’ll likely encounter disparate opinions – some set up to look like opposing facts. With power comes responsibility. More now than ever, the responsibility of the consumer, the constituent, the benefactor, the investor, etc. is to learn all you can by casting a reasonably wide net. And to simply consider the source without fail.

    Thanks for the post!

Let me know what you think