Continuing to muse about Facebook and enfranchisement

This is a very provisional post; even as I write it, I have this sense of having to tread barefoot very gingerly across a landscape strewn with broken glass. Not sure why. But sometimes that’s what blogging’s for. To expose what you’re thinking to other people so that you can learn from their comments, an open-ended peer review.

So here goes. You have been warned.

In most enterprises, there is a Same-Old-Faces feel to the early adopter set for pretty much anything; a small proportion of the populace are sufficiently risk-hungry, open-minded, bored, curious or just plain nosy enough to get involved in anything and everything.

Not so with Web 2.0. I’ve had the privilege of being able to watch “Enterprise 2.0”, as it now gets called, experimented with, made a fad off, written off, subverted, faced off to and rounded up by lynch mobs a few times now, and this is the strangest observation I can make.

The people who get involved in Web 2.0 are Not The Same Old Faces. And that made me think. Why is it? What makes this group of Unlikely Lads get involved? My hunch was that it had something to do with lowering of the barriers to entry, a democratisation of access. But I wasn’t sure.

While all this was going through my mind, I was also learning from my children. Finding out little bits of what made Generation M tick(if you prefer, replace Generation M with Generation Y, it’s the same thing). How come they’re so comfortable with Mobile, Multitasking, Multimedia, Massively MultiPlayer, and whatever other things we can make M stand for.  This time around, I thought it had something to do with generational needs for tribal badges, badges that stood for the way they discovered and explored their boundaries. Badges of rebellion, like every generation before them.  Or so I thought.

And then something strange began to happen. Generation M began to enter the workplace. Now I had a new problem: The Not-The-Same-Old-Faces people were mingling freely with the Generation M entrants. And they were living happily ever after.

And that made me think. Maybe there’s something different going on here. Let me see what the two groups have in common. Maybe it’s about not being able to participate, and then being able to participate. If anything, my lowering-barriers-to-entry hunch was getting stronger.

But I couldn’t freeze frame or time-shift, everything continued to move along. Social networks came and blossomed, and I watched the way these two groups took to the new phenomena. And it was nothing like Plaxo or Spoke or even LinkedIn, these people didn’t have two business cards to rub together. Didn’t have one business card to rub together. And didn’t care either. It wasn’t about “I know someone who does”. It wasn’t about Little Black Book. It wasn’t about Degrees Of Separation.

So what was it about? Speaking strictly from an enterprise perspective, I wasn’t sure. So I kept watching. When CyWorld came along it didn’t scratch the enterprise surface. When MySpace and Bebo entered the scene, there was barely a dent. Flickr and YouTube did make a dent, but only in the most control-freak environments. [The early anti-Flickr stuff was a bit like being told you shouldn’t use the toilet if you had a bladder problem, because that constitute disproportionate use of a common utility].

After Facebook entered the enterprise scene, everything changed. And continues to change. And I think it has something to do with enfranchisement.

It is just possible that we’re seeing the advent of Union 2.0, or maybe I should call it Workr. All past models of collective action were based primarily in the manufacturing and services sectors, but the model didn’t travel well. So when it came to the knowledge worker, collective action was not possible. The organisation structures and management styles and financial processes and HR policies were all descended from the Assembly Line Ape. And the knowledge worker didn’t fit that evolutionary process.

Web 1.0 tools began the process of empowering the individual; Web 2.0 took it further, transforming tools of personal consumption into tools of personal production. But this power could be divided and conquered by The Enterprise Man, because there were some things missing.

There wasn’t a community. There wasn’t a meeting place. There wasn’t a reason to meet. There weren’t rituals and rites of passage. People didn’t know who else was around. Search costs to find like-minded members were prohibitive. While smart mobs existed, they only roamed in the free spaces between the walled gardens that Enterprise represented. And and and.

But fire walls do not a prison make. So over time, these marauding smart mobs made it into the enterprise. Much worse, they’ve found allies inside the enterprise walls. Even worse than that, they’ve found allies amongst their customers and their partners and their supply chains.

We’ve been speaking about “The Extended Enterprise” for so long that we shouldn’t get het up when it finally turns up. The trouble is, it’s turned up in a nonhierarchical beyond-the-firewall way, and this scares many people.

Enough rambling. You get my drift.

What Facebook represents is a collective, many collectives, overlapping collectives. The 21st century Trades Union movement for knowledge workers. No longer held hostage by a single trade or profession or company, switching roles between employee and partner and customer. Individual and collective.

There’s a long way to go, but I’m excited. Because of the potential this holds. The potential to give voice to people who haven’t been heard, who don’t have a voice. The potential for the collective to address the “disenfranchisement long tail”, empowering a plethora of people who have hitherto been subsumed into the enterprise fabric…. if they managed to make it in in the first place.

We have the potential to re-enfranchise people who have been left out for a variety of reasons, ranging from the physical through the emotional and even financial to the downright scoundrellous political. Yes, it’s re-enfranchise, not just enfranchise.

In a more formal and less provisional post I shall try and address how something like Facebook in the Enterprise can make a positive impact on enfranchisement and diversity and corporate social responsibility. In the meantime, do tell me why I’m wrong, why this post is so much horseshit, why you disagree. I am interested, and want to flesh out my arguments in a more reasoned manner by the time I get to write Facebook and the Enterprise: Part 8: Re-enfranchisement.

Flame away.

16 thoughts on “Continuing to muse about Facebook and enfranchisement”

  1. JP, I think the key weakness (I am not even sure I would call it a flaw) in what you are trying to say derives from where we were back at the beginning of this month when we were discussing the concept of wasting time:

    This was actually the discussion that really got be harping about normative behavior because I do not think we even have any vague and sloppy ideas about what “knowledge workers” are SUPPOSED to be doing (other than obeying that long-abandoned IBM motto “THINK”)! In such a state of confusion (your favorite word), I am not sure I can wrap my mind around ANY principles that would substantiate what a “Trades Union for knowledge workers” should (or, for that matter, could) do.

    This ground is not unfamiliar for me. If you have been following my own blog, I hope you read my critique of the proposal for a “Union of Bloggers” at the YearlyKos Convention:

    What I tried to illustrate was that this discussion boiled down to a lot of sloppy messing around with concepts that were poorly understood by those debating them with the most energy. Like it or not, Web 2.0 is not that different; and when major enterprise decisions are made on the basis of poorly-understood concepts, there is usually hell to pay. Furthermore, when those decisions are about IT, it is usually someone at the CIO (or related) level who gets stuck paying. So, forgive me for being blunt, JP; but how thick is your wallet?

  2. JP

    I wonder if you and Andrew McAfee are channeling each other. Did you see his piece on the democratizing of information ?

    The Great Decoupling

    I think this is another piece of the puzzle.

    As to Stephen’s point I think your correct in that this isn’t a Union. And it is a lot of people loosely joined with some interesting potential. The asymmetric nature of information in organizations can be changed by these tools.


  3. Its not horse shit! But I don’t see “Enterprise Facebook” as a worker’s union I see it almost as a marketplace – the potential to virtualize the corporation, rather than extend it. Along the way disbanding many self-serving corporate departments in favor of more needs-driven virtual components.

    However, its not all smooth sailing, we also need to be aware of the danger of potential disenfranchisement through this form of networking, as we invite our friends to join and our contact networks become our own “country club” of people we want to work with, or worse, feel comfortable with. A little of what you don’t like also does you good! I would wager that a large number of the answers to critical problems facing enterprises are already known to people working there – they just don’t get asked.

    We can’t just give these people the IT tools and call it enfranchisement – we need to learn how to get beyond our friends and involve a wider community, how to embrace different points of view and objectively evaluate them. You soon begin to realize the scale of mindset and social change needed for this technology to reach its full potential. I am not sure if our generation is up to it, but I know the next is.

    My 15 year old son’s network of contacts online represents all sexes, races, IQ levels etc. I know that this network will be invaluable to him and to any future employer as he will be able to lean on these people to gain perspective on any problem he is handed (and visa versa). He at 15 already has a broader network than I have and could ever hope to get.

    So, I am excited about the future, but also a little disappointed. What we do in IT and communications may enable this massive cultural change, but we will probably not be able to take part in it as fully as he will – not because we lack the technology, we just lack the social mobility of children, and they have an unassailable head start.

  4. JP, I think I agree with everything in your post except perhaps the terminology. At least to my capitalist ears, “Union 2.0” overly portrays this trend as a reaction to managerial control. I prefer to see it as something more tribal and relational — even primitive/religious! — which re-enfranchises as a *side effect*.

    Still, I agree with you: this future can’t come fast enough!

    – E. Prabhakar

  5. I’m just a fascinated amateur onlooker, but “collective” makes more sense to me than “community”, because it’s about action (what kind of action, time will tell)- and it seems to me that human beings only really grow their relationships anyway by sharing in important purposeful activities (sharing your favourite records via apps etc is a nice way of communicating, but not a meaningful goal that bonds people together.)

  6. Welcome to the conversation, Phil, Ernie. Nice to see you dropping by, Alice.this principle of “group” is very important to me as well, not just in this context, but also in the context of identity.

  7. I’d love to see some kind of break down on who is active in the network and what they consume (in terms of abstract concepts like “belonging, social connectedness” etc. Perhaps some hint of what may be going on is form of market efficiency. Who am I most likely to get my next job from? Someone I’ve worked with before? Who am I likely to get an introduction to the opposite sex from? again, someone I know. Perhaps thinking about it as an “ambient social signalling and messaging space” is closer than the workr concept? Finally, not sure of the source on this one, but wasn’t there some piece of research that said that if someone updated their CV on LinkedIn they were announcing a new job 3 months later? Democratisation of opportunity flow may be key here….

  8. Here, on the interent for the first time, is my idea for democritizing knowledge and opening up the world:

    Imagine you know Fireworks (or any application for that matter). Imagine creating a user-based, online, incentivized market by leveraging already proven technologies such as can be found in applications like Placeware, GoToMeeting and WebEx.

    Specifically, I’m thinking of an application that would include conferencing capabilities to allow the efficient sharing of human knowledge and expertise. It would be open to everyone with a computer and an internet connection. Someone who wanted to learn Fireworks could learn it from anyone willing to teach it. Expertise would be self-described, and would also be based on a user rating system. There would also be an option to capture a particular session. Once archived and described (by users), it would then be available as a ready-made tutorial for a lesser fee. Here’s the critical part of the idea: some portion of the revenue generated from the archived tutorials would be split between all participants. Users would also be allowed to create their own didactic material and charge for it whatever they wish.

    Since what people endeavor to learn is by definition what they are interested in, you would have the seeds also of a very powerful social networking platform. I might, for example, be interested to know about other people in my town who were also endeavoring to learn Fireworks.

    Such an application would also be useful for solving episodic problems (like trying to figure out an Excel formula at 2 a.m. for an early morning presentation the next day). Someone in the world has the solution to your problem. Currently, there is no efficient way to find that person.

    Therefore, it might also include a referral system so that the right person finds the right problem. The referrer might earn a fraction of the transacted revenue. It will probably important to include such functionality so that someone who doesn’t know the solution to a particular problem won’t be tempted to delay or fake. Knowing who has the solution to a problem also happens to be an extremely valuable knowledge set all by itself, and you would thus have a way to encourage and develop this.

    David Weinberger had these comments:

    “I don’t understand who pays whom for what. When at the end
    you say people get paid to ask questions, I was taken by surprise.”

    To which I responded:

    “ou would pay whoever was helping you or teaching you. That could be anyone. Price would be determined by the market. Each of these didactic sessions would be done using something like WebEx or GoToMeeting. By using such a tool, sessions could be captured and archived. Site visitors would then have a choice: 1) pay for live help; 2) find what they were looking for in the archive. Using the archives would cost less compared to live help but a portion of the revenue generated would be split between the solution seeker and the solution presenter. That’s why it might be possible to earn money simply by asking questions. People would also be free to add professional tutorial sessions.

    The bottom line is this. If I know Fireworks or whatever else, this imagined application would allow people to find me, and I them (the whole idea of market). The price that I would pay someone to teach me would simply be determined in the same way a hand of bananas is determined at the local supermarket. Right now it probably costs at least $10 an hour to hire a private tutor to learn such a thing. I’m guessing the price would fall rather dramatically if you open it up to the world. If it doesn’t, there will be a lot of people endeavoring to learn Fireworks.

    This imagined application would allow someone to easily hold classes of up to 5 or 10 students, maybe more, again using conferencing technology like GoToMeeting. This would be open to anyone with a pc and an internet connection.

    One could also use such a service to find help with episodic problems like trying to figure out an Excel formula at 2 am for a presentation the next day at 9 am.

    Prospective students could assess the expertise of any particular teacher four ways: 1) by viewing samples of prior didactic sessions; 2) by viewing portfolio material; 3) teacher’s self-description (resume, if you like); and 4) ratings of prior students. ”

    Others of note seemed to have liked the idea. I wonder why this couldn’t be possible. I certainly think it would be prfoundly less frivilous than all of the SN ideas I’ve seen so far. Of course, I would think that.

  9. Alice, for an “amateur onlooker” you are doing a damned good job of homing in on the most basic nuts and bolts of social theory! The very problem of simply trying to classify the “types” of motivated actions (“purposeful activities” in your language) was one of the significant occupations in the pioneering work of Max Weber. Probably the best place to read about it is in the introductory material that Hans H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills prepared for their anthology, FROM MAX WEBER: ESSAYS IN SOCIOLOGY. I suspect that this sentence from that introduction might appeal to you:

    It has correctly been observed that the basic types of social structure that Weber uses—’society,’ ‘association,’ and ‘community’—correspond closely with his ‘types of action’—the ‘rationally expedient,’ the ‘affective,’ and the ‘traditionalist.’

    As Habermas pointed out in his own analysis of Weber in THE THEORY OF COMMUNICATIVE ACTION, the “rationally expedient” can be further broken down into two kinds of rationality: purposive (i.e. goal directed) and value-based (as in how our personal sense of values guides the actions we take, possibly without any goal-oriented view of consequences). Since several of my previous comments have dealt with the problem of sloppy use of language, think of this as an exercise in terminological hygiene! More on the Habermas approach (hopefully more amenable than his oblique prose) can be found at:

  10. dan, what concerns me the most is that the sort of “user rating system” that serves me very well what I am buying books on Amazon Marketplace is probably not going to serve me anywhere near as well if I need to learn about something (like using Fireworks). I can support my case from a book I am currently reading, Eunmi Shim’s new book about Lennie Tristano. To this day Tristano is remembered as one of the best teachers of jazz improvisation that ever walked this earth; but there were plenty of jazz musicians who could never really “fit” with his approach to pedagogy. This idea of “fit” between “the one who knows” and “the one who needs to know” is just as important for learning new software, understanding what an eigenvalue is, or making sense out of a poem by T. S. Eliot. So, before you deep-end on setting the price, I suspect you need a better sense of just what it is you are marketing!

  11. Stephen,

    You make a valid point about needing to find someone whose approach to pedagogy is compatible with your own, but I’m at a loss to understand why your logic wouldn’t apply to the user ratings on Amazon. Just because someone likes a book or even a lot of people do doesn’t mean that you are going to find the author’s prose compelling and pellucid. Additionally, in the absence of an absolute guarantee of quality, relevance, etc. people still buy books from Amazon, and they are sometimes disappointed.

    Also, I would draw a distinction between different types of subject matter. Learning something as difficult as improvisational jazz at the highest levels from a brilliant master can hardly be compared to learning Fireworks 101. You make a rather pedantic case that there is no difference, but I do not find your argument to be in the least way convincing.

    By the way, I’m not suggesting either that a user rating system would by itself enable someone to find the best possible teacher. I’m merely suggesting that it would offer some usefulness. Of course it is easy to imagine other ways one might be assisted in determining value: 1) Expert’s self-description; 2) preview of archived material; 3) introductory session, etc., and it would be the all of these ways combined that would ensure a reasonable and adequate degree of reliability.

    Further, it seems as if you have decided to focus on one mote, while skirting the main thrust of the idea. Am I to believe that you think the whole idea is bad simply because you think the user ratings would not be effective in this context? Is there anything you like about the idea, or does the whole thing belong in the dumpster as far as you’re concerned?

  12. dan, the one advantage that Amazon offers is the ability to sample the author’s prose before buying the book. I find this a very powerful asset. Furthermore, even if the book in question is not one with the Amazon “Look Inside” feature, your odds of finding at least one useful sample of an author’s writing on the Internet are now pretty high.

    As to “the main thrust of the idea,” my argument is that, where learning about anything is concerned, simple or complex, user ratings run the gamut from ineffective to deleterious. Social engagement lies at the heart of any learning experience, and user ratings are just too coarse to tell you anything useful about the nature of that experience. Think of it as applying the AMERICAN IDOL methodology to finding a good teacher. Is that REALLY what you want to do?!? :-)

Let me know what you think