of relationships, conversations and transactions

Being Indian, and having lived there for half my life, I’m used to people chatting for a while before getting down to business, as it were.

Relationships first. Then conversations as a result of relationships. And finally, only where necessary, transactions.

Cluetrain. Markets are conversations. (Doc has a Nigerian pastor story that shows how universal this structure is. I will link to it when I have something more than a BlackBerry to use as my internet connection.)

A few hours ago, I read that Facebook now has more “transactions” per day than eBay does. Given that eBay has 8 times the number of participants, this is a fascinating trend.

Normally I would expect conversations to be a multiple of relationships, and transactions to be a subset of conversations.

And that would suggest that the community with more members will have more transactions, especially if they were a birds of a feather community.

Why is this not the case with facebook? Is it driven by the relative youth of the community and their perceived free time? Is it because the marketplace is open and free? Is it because of the high graphic content as a result of the sheer number of photographs? Is it because you don’t need a credit card or a paypal account? Is it because it is easier to use? Cooler? More fun?

Worth thinking about. More later.

10 thoughts on “of relationships, conversations and transactions”

  1. JP, let me try to think through this, because now I seem to be the confused one! As I see it, there are two ways to read your text (unless I end up editing this Monty-Python-style as I undertake my enumeration). Let me deal with each in turn.

    One is that “chatting” is distinct from “conversation,” where the latter noun only applies to “getting down to business.” I have no experiences in India; but those I dealt with in Singapore would probably find it very odd to sort out socialization from business as distinct and separable phases. I prefer to use the noun “conversation” to denote the inextricable mesh of speech acts that deal with both socialization and business. If you object to my carving the world along those particular ontological joints, please let me know why!

    The second involves the proposition that relationships are prior to conversations. Here I side with Goffman in asserting that “interaction rituals” constitute the foundation of all face-to-face behavior. Goffman, of course, only investigated the physical world; but I believe that his results can inform both our understanding and conduct of behavior in the virtual world. Reflecting back on my first point, these rituals accommodate our need to interact (through both speech acts and other, “paralinguistic,” actions) in both the social and the business worlds. Like our texts the rituals need not try to tease out boundaries between the two worlds, just honor both of them.

    Guess what? I did not come up with a third point while writing this! I really DO seem to have had only two ways of reading your text!

  2. Stephen, guess I could have expressed myself better. Let me try again. 1. Everything begins with relationship. 2. Within a relationship, you have conversations. Many conversations.
    3. Some of those conversations lead to transactions.

    Chatting is conversation. We go through many rituals and mating dances while we chat, for a variety of reasons. Some of them turn out to be business reasons.

    I think Gladwell spoke of some of these conversations as weak interactions. We have all experienced “friends” who seek to exploit relationships via pyramid selling schemes or whatever, those are not weak interactions, they would be classified by me as attempted transactions. Make any sense?

  3. If you add Cluetrain to Daniel Pink, Facebook makes even more sense. We don’t want more. We need more. We have an abundance of people talking at us.

    Something quieter, more elegant, where the conversation can actually make sense is incredibly appealing.

    Being able to form a thought complete and to open a space that allows more than a frivolous answer is satisfying in the way that only learning and growing can be. There’s amazing respect in listening.

    True conversation build relationships from that respect giving. Those relationships grow into experiences, explorations, discoveries, and actions or transactions that never would have been imagined. We have incredible power. When talk and listen to each other.

    What Facebook has done is stepped out of the way.

  4. JP, your latest “move” was definitely productive. Let me now take a crack at defining my Goffman-based position in similar terms: 1. Everything begins with our capacity for interaction, sometimes called “socialization.” That capacity is acquired from our earliest (probably neonatal) experiences. Much (but certainly not all) of it is embodied in ritualistic patterns. 2. Most of the interactions we experience are brief and usually forgotten. Those interactions that endure over a longer time scale mature into relationships. 3. Relationships, in turn, mature through remembered experiences. These remembered experiences include conversations, business transactions, and all sorts of other things (such as, for just one example, competitive games).

    Stripped of all of its hype, the original “knowledge management problem” tries to address the question of how all of our remembered experiences inform our ability to conduct business. This question quickly got lost in the fog of preoccupations with technologies, such as databases. However, the question is still with us today and is likely to always be with us, just because human behavior will always be in flux.

    From this point of view, I am afraid I fail to see the productivity of the assertion that markets are conversations. As a matter of fact, in light of your recent insight, that assertion is just too noun-based. What really matters is our “patterns of behavior” (i.e. interaction rituals) in the marketplace and (to repeat the above point) how that behavior is informed by memories of experiences.

    That is “my move;” does IT make any sense?

  5. “patterns of behaviour” and “memories of experiences” have, as phrases, more words and fewer verbs than the sentence “markets are conversations”. So why are you so hung up about disagreeing with Cluetrain? Don’t understand.

  6. (Heavy sigh!) Apparently, my “move” did NOT make any sense; but I was hoping that you could give me a better argument than a lexical census! Ironically, in the current thinking about “wet brain behavior,” while the words may be nouns, both patterns and memories appear to arise (and recede) as dynamic processes of neural activity. Those processes are still barely understood but bear little resemblance to the store-and-retrieve models of just about all IT systems. “Experience” is a nice word because it serves us as both noun and verb: the noun-sense of experience is an attempt to capture that which we experience (in the verb-sense). The noun “behavior” exhibits the same relation to the verb “behave;” but they do not exhibit the homonymy of “experience.”

    Yes, there are too many words there. They are all tricky words, and they play subtle games with each other. Isn’t that they way things are in the conduct of business (or, for that matter, the rest of life)? I remain to be convinced (in spite of all those theses) that “markets are conversations” is more than a shallow motto!

  7. comment:
    Ebay transactions directly relate to revenue, facebook transactions are indirect:
    Ebay transactions are mostly one time events; ie: i bid, i pay, i buy, i sell, i ship…
    facebook transactions are more interactions

  8. Dear Sir,

    I am senior copy-editor for the CIO magazine (India). My editor liked a piece written about you by Diann Daniel, from CIO US. The piece was called Web 2.0 for the Suits: One Visionary’s Take. We would like to re-print it, but needed high-resolution pictures of you. I was wondering if you could send us a 5X6 inches picture at 300 DPI.

    Since such a large image might be rejected by the office’s filter, I was wondering if you could also send it to [email protected].

    Tthank you,

    Warm regards,

    Sunil Shah

  9. Be interested to know where the facebook data comes from, and what it refers to. Many facebook transactions are the ack/nack of conversations.

  10. JP, I think the nature of ‘transactions’ in facebook are quite different to the type of transaction that follows conversation which follows relationship.

    Over the past few weeks I have found myself constantly staring at the ‘News Feed’ section of facebook – watching the ‘transactions’ that occur between people in my ‘network’. I find myself copying behavior that looks ‘cool’ or ‘fashionable’ (like adding applications that people I admire have added). I feel important when an action or trend that I initiate propagates through my network. It strikes me that there is something profound going on here.

    Fang – Mike Seyfang

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