This post is about Twitter, and yet it’s not. I’m trying to deal with a bigger issue.
First, do take a look at these two posts: Phillie Casablanca’s Ten Commandments and Paul Downey’s Twit or Twerp? Both are excellent; I have the privilege of working with both these guys, and I’m delighted that we have people who really try and understand what’s happening with social media.
While the discussions in the post are primarily about Twitter, I think the issues they discuss extend further. It’s worth looking at three aspects of any such discussions:
1. Prescription. Phil talks about his discomfort with the word “commandment”, and how he looked at using “etiquette requests”, but felt that it didn’t have the requisite ring or zing. We need to be careful in positioning any of these statements as guidelines rather than diktats. There are many people using Twitter who wouldn’t necessarily have the faintest idea what IRC was, and wouldn’t know a microformat if it hit them in the face; this doesn’t make them bad or stupid. In fact one of the biggest attractions of contemporary social media is the lowering of historical barriers, and we have to make sure that we, collectively, concentrate on providing advice and assistance and best practice rather than prescription or diktat. We need to be heading towards a place where we can say “If you want to get the best value out of Twitter, and if you want to make it easy for others to obtain value from Twitter, then you should consider doing the following things, and not doing the following things”.Â That’s how I read the two posts, and I will strive to become more of a twit and less of a twerp.
2. Polarisation. For whatever reason, the industry I have found myself in just loves polarised debate. Everything, just about everything, is 0 or 1, black or white. Big-endians versus Little-endians. What’s happening right now is that our walls are coming down. “Vendor” power is shifting to the customer. “IT Department” power is shifting to the customer. “Standards Body” power is shifting to the customer. While we need new standards, we need to be sure that we don’t pave the cowpaths, create new sets of polarised standards “on behalf of the customer”; we need to be comfortable with letting the customer decide. Sometimes it’s going to feel like helping a child grow up and discover things for himself; as “parents” we cannot do the learning for them. [Reminds me of my favourite JSB quote: How long does it take for a five year old to become a six year old? One year]. For people like me, it’s about getting out of the way. For some of you, it may be about recognising the continuing existence of “grey”.
3. Personalisation. For many of the people playing with these tools for the first time, there are no rules. They will find ways of using the tools that the creators of the tools haven’t considered; they will find ways of making the tools their own. Whatever we advise, whatever good practices we suggest, whatever standards we come up with, we need to keep one perspective in mind. The newbie isn’t wrong. Just different. We need to encourage the newbies rather than reinvent the ivory towers and holy-of-holies of the past.
Lack of prescription. Avoidance of polarisation. Support for personalisation. These Ps are key, whatever else happens.
Along with passion. And patience. Lots of both.
We’re on the verge of a new golden age, centred around community and participation, as the underlying technology stabilises and becomes invisible. Let’s make sure we get there.