Social Media is NOT an Innovation

Way back in 1999, the man who invented the World Wide Web, Al Gore Tim Berners-Lee, wrote a book about how he created the Web, called “Weaving the Web: The Ulitmate Destiny of the World Wide Web by its Inventor“. I have the original, hard cover edition of this book. I’m not sure if it’s been updated in the newer editions or not. Here’s the most striking quote from the whole thing:

The Web is more a social creation than a technical one. I designed it for a social effect – to help people work together – and not as a technical toy. The ultimate goal of the Web is to support and improve our weblike existence in the world. We clump into families, associations, and companies. We develop trust across the miles and distrust around the corner. What we believe, endorse, agree with, and depend on is representable and, increasingly represented on the Web. We all have to ensure that the society we build with the Web is of the sort we intend.

— Tim Berners-Lee, Weaving the Web

Wow.

Berners-Lee wrote this in ’99, and if you read the book, it turns out he’s been thinking about this concept of a worldwide social web since sometime in the 1970’s.

1999. It was the infancy of Google. It was pre-Wordpress blogs. Definitely pre-Twitter, podcasting, Digg, Delicious, and StumbleUpon, and any of the other many tools that we use in this space we call “social media”. Back in a time when a web page was not much more than plain text on a screen and even before that, Berners-Lee had incredible foresight. It’s a common misconception that Berners-Lee invented the Web for computer programmers and scientists. In fact, he invented it for everyone.

He actually had to jump through a lot of hoops at CERN where he worked. He snuck around, trying out his project on people, all while making it “look” like he was building something that only physicists could make use of. All the while, he was building a tool that would allow for sharing, communication and collaboration by everyone, anywhere in the world.

Skip forward to 2008 and we now have what many consider a real innovation called “social media”.  Well, I’ve got news for you. Social media is not an innovation. It’s the raison d’etre for the Web. Social media is merely the buzzword we’ve decided to attach to what was the original point of Berners-Lee’s invention. It’s the evolution of what he described as the ultimate goal, “to support and improve our weblike existence in the world”.

Case in point: Imagine if suddenly, Twitter was gone. Vanished. A permanent Fail Whale sort of gone. Imagine if suddenly, your blog disappeared, or the blog of your favourite blogger ceased to exist. Imagine a world with no Stumbleupon, or Digg, or YouTube, or Delicious. Whatever would we do?

I know what we’d do. We’d find another way to connect. Someone would build another tool, and we’d all head over there. Or maybe we’d actually meet in person where feasible, and connect that way. What I do know is, resourceful as we are, we’d find a way to still carry on the conversation that we’ve started here. We’d still have our weblike existence, because that’s how the Web is set up.

In the end, whether something is labeled as “social media” or not might be a moot point. This has become more and more apparent to me in recent weeks. There’s a shift happening. Maybe you’ve felt it too, depending on how involved you are in your networks and what you’ve been reading. The focus is starting to move away from the latest new tools, gadgets and technical creations, and more towards what Berners-Lee envisioned as a “social creation”.

More and more of the conversations I’m reading and having are about the social marvel that is the Web itself …not the marvel that is “social media”. This is a really, really good thing. It means that we are starting to move beyond the latest craze/gadget/guru phase. The environment is maturing. Communication, collaboration and communities are starting to become the mainstream ways in which people are using the Web. The social Web is no longer just for the “social media crowd”. I suspect, over the next 6 months, that this is going to become even more prevalent. I also suspect, that over the next little while, our label of “social media” is going to, if not go away, at least change.

10 years ago, people saw the Web was a place to get information. Today, more and more people are seeing it as a place to connect. Therein lies the difference. The shift to this thinking in the mainstream is going to be the next big revolution on the Web. It’s going to be the realization of Berners-Lees’  incredible vision. As he says, the “Web society” is forming before our eyes. We are ultimately all responsible for how this new society takes shape.

How do you think things will shape up?

Well Lookie Here…I’m on Alltop

Alltop, all the cool kids (and me)

So I thought I might as well try to get listed somewhere on Alltop.com. I sent off my request and wouldn’t you know it – they’ve listed me in the social media section!

Not really sure what it all means, but I have noticed I’m getting a lot more hits all of a sudden.

Guess I’d better make sure I keep crankin’ out some decent content around here, eh?

Thanks Alltop! You rock!

Twitter Takeaways

First of all, many thanks to Mack Collier for being my inspiration for this post. We had a great conversation on Twitter last night, which started when he asked the Twitterverse:

mack

I replied to Mack that I think that I actually blog more because of Twitter, that what I read on Twitter inspires me. Then I realized something.

Twitter is my input. Blogging is my output. Let me explain.

Depending on what I’m working on and whether I need really focused time or not, I usually have Tweetdeck running in the background on my screen. I keep one eyeball on it, and if something catches my eye I’ll take a look. It’s kind of akin to the days when I used to work in the cube farm at the giant corporation. I would be working away, and I’d hear snippets of conversations all around me as I worked. Sometimes I’d listen more closely, if the subject was related to me or something I was interested in. Sometimes I’d stand up over the edge of my cubicle and contribute if I thought it would be helpful. Good thing about Twitter is, it’s far more colourful than those grey cubicle walls I suffered behind for all those years.

My point is, Twitter is one of my primary inputs of information. The conversations on there lead me to all sorts of things. It’s my newspaper, my radio, my TV, and my water cooler all in one.

I spend a good majority of my days writing. If I’m ever at a loss for inspiration, a particular word, or a way to phrase something, I take a few minutes and peruse Twitter. Sometimes I contribute, other times I just watch. Often I will find what I need just by watching.

When it comes to my blog, I probably get more ideas from Twitter than from anywhere else. Sure, it may be indirect (someone provides a link from their Twitter feed to a blog post or news story) but Twitter is still the source.

My blog is the primary output of all this stuff that comes in and then proceeds to fly around in my head. People often ask me how I get my blog ideas. I don’t really have a formula, which is probably why I don’t post every day. Things just come to me and then I need to write about them. I don’t have a massive list of posts I need to write. I have a few scribbles in the “Notes” application on my iPhone. I blog about what I see and experience around me, and that immediacy is what I like about it. I don’t heavily edit things either. I write stream of consciousness for the most part, then tweak.

As Mack said last night, after I mentioned I’d be posting about our conversation in the morning:

mack2

Mack and I have never met, and we live in different countries. Yet, we were able to make a connection, have a conversation, and be inspired to think about things a little more deeply. And, he brought me the input that was required in order for me to have this output here. Doesn’t that just blow your mind? It blows mine all the time.

One More Twitter Takeaway

Here’s a tip, something I just thought of this morning. I was visiting my brother and sister in law yesterday and we got to talking about Twitter. They both have accounts that they don’t really use, and I got the usual “I don’t really get it” response from them. I tried to give the typical explanations, and my sis-in-law did seem a bit more intrigued by those. But today, I have discovered the thing that is going to get her to see the value.

You see, she’s into wine in a big way, and has some pretty interesting opinions about the wine industry, particularly as it relates to the business side of things. So this morning I did a few searches on Twitter Search around wine and business, and I think that the results I got will be very exciting to her. I do believe that now, she will immediately see how she can benefit, when she sees how many other people are talking about the same things she is passionate about. If you are trying to show someone the value of Twitter, show them a couple of Twitter Searches on topics of interest to them. I think they may start to see things differently.

How to Shape YOUR Online Experience

I saw a cool post this morning on Social Media Today from guest blogger Lena West of xynoMedia. She talks about how she personally deals with social media in her own workflow, and points out that “last time I checked, we each set the rules for how we interact with other people. Social media is no different.”

Lena is so right. We spend a lot of time talking about the most effective way to use social media tools, to get the best results, the biggest ROI and so on. But really, at the end of the day, it’s about creating your OWN experience. There’s no perfect fit that works for everyone.

We all use the Internet in different ways. I thought it would be great for us to share some of the ways we use the Web’s bountiful offerings, for the benefit of anyone who might be seeking some more information about what’s what and different ways people shape their online experience.

I’ll start, then you provide your own tips in the comments, okay?

Email. I am working on tackling my email differently. I have three email accounts – my work email, my personal email, and my college email. I get upwards of 20 emails a week from students (doesn’t seem like much until you realize that they are mostly questions that require some sort of acknowledgement or response). I get countless work emails per day, and then my personal stuff, most of which is generated from friends or from my social networks. I use Gmail to catch all of my email in one place. I use labels and filters to pre-sort my college email (which I only check twice a week). I recently discovered AwayFind thanks to this guy and although I’ve yet to receive an urgent contact, I have the peace of mind knowing that I can step away from my email for several hours and not worry about missing something critical. (My AwayFind review is coming soon, BTW).

Twitter. I’m a power user of Twitter. It’s network central for me. I have many forms of communication on Twitter. I use it to talk about random things. I use it to post links to interesting content I’ve discovered or to re-post (a.k.a. re-tweet) others’ interesting info. I use it to post links to my own blog posts (in moderation). I use it to have conversations with people, and I’ve even used it to edit a video (through direct messages). TweetDeck is my tool of choice on my desktop computer, because it allows me to manage my feed, my replies and my direct messages. I use TwitterFon on my iPhone because I like the interface.

Delicious. I get a ton of use out of my Delicious account. Delicious is a social bookmarking tool but what I like is it allows me to tag groups of bookmarks for different purposes. I collect bookmarks for use in my classes, bookmarks that I share out to my students, and I even have the demo reel for our company bookmarked through delicious. It’s super easy, whenever a new project goes online somewhere, I just bookmark it, tag it, and voila! I also have my “Other Writings” column over on the right there done through delicious. I just tag any links to other online writing I’ve done and boom! It shows up in that column. Pretty neat!

Those are just three of the tools I use online to help me shape my experience. I do have others but I want to hear your take. Post in the comments what tools you use and how you use them. Hopefully we can pass on some valuable info to others, and they can take what they need from our collective advice and use it to shape their own experience.

Bursting the Bubble

I just had an eye opening experience with one of the people who works on our TV show. My co-producer has asked him to write a blog post for the blog we are launching soon. Thing is, he’s a general contractor. He spends his day on the job site, not on a computer. The concept of writing a blog post is pretty foreign to him. So needless to say, he’s a little unsure about how to go about it. About as unsure as I am about how to build a 2 storey addition.

We live in such a bubble with all this social media stuff. I don’t have to step too far into my circle of friends, family and colleagues to get to a place where social media doesn’t exist beyond Facebook (and only one step beyond that are those I know who only use the web for Googling and email).

Those of us engrossed in social media know the power of this new medium to share, communicate, collaborate. We spend countless hours talking about it. To each other.

There are hundreds, if not thousands of people out there who call themselves “social media consultants”. They are knocking on the doors of businesses and marketers, trying to teach them how to get the most bang for their buck in this online world. That’s all fine and well, but what if we took a different approach?

Start With the Regular Joe
Instead of spending so much time yammering on with a bunch of people who are saying the same things back to us, maybe we should spend a little more time talking to the people who aren’t talking about this stuff (i.e. most people). Look at my contractor buddy. We took the time to explain to him what a blog post is all about in terms that make sense to him. He immediately saw the value in doing it – after all, he runs a business. He knows that people will see his post and that it will help him promote his business. For us, we get to expand the stories of the characters on our show and provide additional, valuable content to our viewers. Everybody wins. We’re not selling him social media…we’re providing him an opportunity to make a connection with his customers. And being a smart businessman, that’s something that he totally gets.

Educate
Instead of trying to ram social media down people’s throats, let’s find ways incorporate it as an extension to what already exists. This requires education. The kind of education I’m talking about here is not educating clients. It’s educating the web developers, content developers, designers, PR and marketing specialists of tomorrow.

In the new year I am going to be teaching what is one of the first courses on social media to be taught at the community college level (at least at the college where I’m working). I am going to have the undivided attention of 2nd year web designers and developers for 11 weeks. It’s a tremendous opportunity. These young people (most of them are under the age of 25) going to be working in the Web industry in the very near future. They need to be armed with a knowledge and understanding not only of the tools that exist, but of how to use this medium to build relationships, share information, collaborate, help others, and build communities.

Wouldn’t you rather hire someone who already incorporates social media as a fundamental part of the way they create web sites? Wouldn’t you rather hire someone to whom interacting in online communities comes naturally? Wouldn’t that help you to integrate this medium into your development more easily? I think yes. Educate the Web workers of tomorrow, today. Let them be the ones to help you work the magic.

Get Your Other Networks in the Loop
I’m not talking about telling your Grandma to get on Twitter. I’m talking about showing people the value FOR THEM. What I define as value in social media is entirely different than what my Dad defines as value. He gets his value from being able to subscribe to read a few blogs he likes. He gets value from using WordPress to run his Square Dancing troupe’s web site. He gets value from watching his grandkids in the videos my brother posts on Facebook. I get my value from being part of a bunch of networks to do with my industry and with my interests outside work, from working on my blog, and from being a power user of Twitter. Everyone’s perfect fit is different. The key is, show the people around you where they can find value and they will find their own ways to get engaged.

What about you? Do you think we are living in a social media bubble? How do you intend to help burst it?

Social Media’s Secret Sauce

Every time I go to a Podcamp, I come away with so many new things to think about and explore. Yesterday’s Podcamp Ottawa was no exception. Our group was smaller than most Podcamp groups (about 30 I think), but the discussion was compelling. I always have one big takeaway from the day. Yesterday’s take away was a pretty big one for me.

We talked about all sorts of things, from building relationships to writing books to the dreaded “M” word…monetization.

I get a bit persnickety when people start talking about monetization. I tend to lose my usual cheerful nature a bit. It’s not because I’m against monetization. I am an entrepreneur, after all…I do like to make money. What gets my knickers in a knot is the attitude that anyone can make quick buck shilling social media. I had several discussions with other Podcampers yesterday about this. And here’s what I’ve concluded.

Social media is not a product that can be sold.

I know I might be stating the obvious here, but I really do feel as if there’s a lot of misconception out there about how social media is actually making people REAL money. Sure, some people have super popular blogs and podcasts and tons of advertisers and yes they are carving out a decent living. But in my estimation, those people are the exception, not the rule. And frankly, I’m not the least bit interested in making a pile of money off just blogging or just having a podcast. To me, it just seems like too much work to make any real money at it. So what’s the secret? I think it’s this:

Share Share Share Share and then Share Some More
Jeff Parks from I.A. Consultants has a great business philosophy…”Share everything”. What he means is, if you find a place where you can provide value, then just provide that value. Seize the opportunities that come your way through the relationships you built, even if it means no immediate monetary benefit. Jeff, in his session yesterday morning at Podcamp, talked about how he gets invited to various conferences so he can interview the big thinkers in his industry (information architecture and user experience design) and produce podcasts, and how he doesn’t make a penny doing it.

So why does he do it? Because he gets the opportunity to travel around to various conferences and interview the big thinkers in his industry. He gets to spend time with people he may not otherwise ever get to meet. He gets to learn and grow and get better at what he does for a living, so when he gets back to his office he is in a better position to succeed with the money-paying clients he does have. The experience he is gaining, the relationships he’s building by attending these conferences and talking to these people far outweigh any monetary compensation he could get for doing the same.

Social Media’s Secret Sauce
My point is, social media is extraordinarily powerful when it’s used in the right way. Social media, as a tool, allows people to build relationships, share information, and succeed. We all know that. But are we actually doing it? I appreciate that over the past several months I have started to build a larger and larger audience on this blog. I said yesterday during one of the sessions that I have no intention of making any money off my blog, and that’s true. Why? Because I don’t think the amount of work I’d have to do to make any REAL money (I mean mortgage-paying money, not beer money) would be worth it. What IS worth it to me is the connections I’m able to make by blogging, being on Twitter, and going to meet ups and Podcamps (yes, I believe that these latter, in-person human contact events are social media tools as well) are far more valuable than making a quick buck off what I’m doing in these places. Sharing my thoughts with you here costs me nothing. You indulge me, and for that I am infinitely grateful.

Sharing ideas is social media’s secret sauce. The truth is, you don’t make money off of sharing ideas. You don’t make money off of social media. Social media is just the vehicle by which you are able to share. You make money off of the opportunities that arise out of that sharing.

What do you think? Am I way off base on this? What’s in your secret sauce?

In Case You Were Wondering…

In case you were wondering what all this social media business is all about, let me give you an example. Last night, I was hanging around on Twitter and this question appeared from master woodworker and Twitter afficionado Keith Burtis:

inspire1

I thought for a minute, then responded:

respond

And then Keith made this video.

This is what social media is. It’s real interactions, between real people. It’s about seizing the opportunities and inspirations that are laid out for you in this space. It’s collaboration, communication, and creation.

This is powerful stuff.

How has social media changed how you interact? How has it changed how you are inspired?