I’ve now finished reading the whole essay and all the comments. Fascinating. Lanier says some very interesting things, as do his critics.
- I could regurgitate all the things said and summarise them for you, but that’s not my style.
- I could write a long impassioned response to the essay, pretending to be learned enough to join the luminaries that have already done so. But somehow that doesn’t grab me either.
- I could try rewriting Cluetrain within a single post, but that’s hard for a person whose precis at school was three times the length of the passage to be summarised :-( So I won’t do that.
What I can and will do is try and articulate why I find social software of value, both as an individual as well as when participating in a group, be it family and friends, firm, or even society…..And thereby seek to refute Lanier’s two main points: the apparent loss of valuable individualism and the risk of generating aggregated pap and then making decisions using the pap.
- As an overlay on the internet and the web, social software is first and foremost about connecting people. It allows you to connect to people you don’t know; with collaborative filtering, it allows you to connect to people with similar interests, but not necessarily similar views.
- This is very powerful, since you are able to converse with people who care about similar things; mutual admiration societies, while a risk, tend not to form, because the similarity is about the interests rather than the views held about those interests.
- Networks form as a result, networks bound by relationships between people.Â The conversations between connected individuals become micromarkets, a patchwork of distributed, often overlapping, groups. People participate in these markets because there is a strong sense of community, yet with individual freedoms retained, even enhanced.
- This communal bonhomie allows a number of very powerful things to happen; people give freely of their time and of their skill, with nothing to gain but respect and recognition from their micromarket, the peers whose approval they see as valuable; people help each other, work with each other; people teach each other, learn from each other.
- All this is about individuals working together. Not the technology. What the technology does is reduce the barriers to entry, reduce disenfranchisement;Â reduce the search costs and connection costs; allow the conversations to persist and be searchable and findable; provide a rich context; have low maintenance costs; where relevant, allow people to work in small groups bringing their communal, often amateur, expertise to bear on lots of small problems. Massively parallel meets EF Schumacher.
- As the people experiment with the technology, new processes emerge; many of these processes are necessarily lightweight and non-intrusive, in order to preserve the individual freedoms as well as the communal value.
- The distributed nature of all this also makes other things happen; it allows a community to respond faster to things as a result of three characteristics; small agile groups; networked non-hierarchical relationships; low barriers to entry.
- The people, the processes and the technology, taken together, are slowly forming a new culture. A culture where traditional governance models are inappropriate, where co-creation is common, where communal ownership is the norm.
- This is not just about Wikipedia or even just about the Blogosphere. Social software is about people and relationships and conversations and markets. Enfranchising people to do things they have never been able to do, some of which their forebears could do (but on much smaller scales).
- Social software is explicitly about the individual and about preserving the individual, but in the context of the groups that individual belongs to. The technology allows us to scale all this, and as a result we need to build better tools. Tools better at publishing, at searching and finding, at connecting, at aggregating, at filtering and even at visualising. Today’s tools are a good start, no more than that.
- The experimentation phase we are in has already paid great dividends, Wikipedia is a good example of that. And there will be a number of serendipitous communal finds as we continue to experiment. Finds that relate to rediscovery of communal arts and crafts, art and music, that relate to new ways of learning and teaching, that relate to new forms of creativity, new ways of being rewarded for individual and collective creativity. Finds that relate to better understanding of ourselves and our ability to look after ourselves, repair ourselves, enrich ourselves.
- We need to continue experimenting. And for that we need open minds, soft hands and a willingness to work together without seeking to polarise opinion through sensationalism.