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.Â 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.Â 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.