I just paid for the unlimited plan for Buffer. Why? Because I jump online in 15-30 minute burns and tend to flood out my followers — Buffer allows me to spread my passion and interest — and sharing — over the next couple days. Took me a while to grok it but I am all grokked up.
I have been really learning and enjoying all the posts about Twitter today coming through my newsreader, including one from Stephen Collins of AcidLabs, Is it brandjacking if you come in late and don’t ask nicely? While the post is about Brandjacking, which is interesting, I responded to this little excerpt:
With all the attention now surrounding Twitter, it seems that every brand and celebrity under the sun suddenly is or wants to be represented on it and every other social network. It seems as if the business world has finally read Cluetrain and wants to be in the bazaar engaging in the conversation.
But the fact is that while some brands have been engaging in the conversation for quite some time – Zappos, Dell, Comcast and others come to mind – others have only recently realised that this conversation even exists. And worse, they don’t seem to realise that there are a few rules that define how you engage in that conversation.
That was awesome — that is awesome! I have been a fan of The Cluetrain Manifesto and also The Cathedral and the Bazaar for for a decade and I think it is really important to return all of this Twitter hype back to basics. Here are the first 6 theses of 99 of the Cluetrain Manifesto:
- Markets are conversations.
- Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.
- Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.
- Whether delivering information, opinions, perspectives, dissenting arguments or humorous asides, the human voice is typically open, natural, uncontrived.
- People recognize each other as such from the sound of this voice.
- The Internet is enabling conversations among human beings that were simply not possible in the era of mass media.
My CEO, Mark Harrison, downloaded and installed a new 3D virtual world called Twinity, based in Berlin, that will recreate the world’s coolest cities, starting with Berlin. Mark loves Berlin more than anything, so he tried exploring his #1 home from his #2 home, Mauritius, and here is his story, as reported in an email to his Berlin posse, I think I committed suicide in Twinity:
Mark Harrison – Mauritius – 22 February 2008, 14:05 — After over a week of trying – endless module and update loading, and countless crashes - I finally got logged into Twinity.com, a 3D virtual world, a la Second Life, but set in renderings of real cities. The first of these Twinity cities is Berlin, my favorite city in the world, and my summertime home (and apparently the best-mapped city in the world, as well as the home to Twinity’s headquarters).
I was incarnated as a completely physically average white guy in his late 30′s – quite accurate in many respects except for the color and quantity of hair, and the hue of my eyes. The statistically average white guy, even in Germany – counter to stereotypes – has brown hair and brown eyes. Average Guy Mark was dropped into existence at Hackischer Markt, which is a good place to come into the world, since it is essentially the center of the universe, if your universe consists of only Berlin, you are a wired hipster type, and you are a provincial just arrived in this big, big city and instantly lose your bearings if you can’t see the TV tower on Alexanderplatz.
I decided to walk home – to my apartment in Moabit – and take the path along the Spree river that I take on almost a daily basis in my real-life Berlin when I am there. I walked over to Monbijou park (eventually figuring out how to run by holding down the shift key, which reduced my impatience a bit), bouncing off a few trees, but successfully oozing straight through a pissoir. I walked over to the railing at the edge of the river, looked around, then took one more step. To my surprise, I found can walk through railings just as effectively as I can walk through pissoirs.
I fell a couple meters and found myself standing knee-deep in the Spree – not very realistic at that point in the Spree, considering that it’s a major shipping channel, but convenient for me as an avatar in the river. I could still walk.
I walked along the river a bit, thinking I could perhaps just walk all the way home in the river, maybe climbing up one of the stone staircases I knew should be coming up along the way, if Twinity’s mapping of Berlin is indeed that comprehensive. After a few steps I came to what I assume was the end of the universe… a wall of beige halfway through Monbijou Park, cutting across the river, and t-ing into the riverside wall of the Boda Museum. The end-of-the-universe wall was insurmountable, as was the vertical, stone wall bank of the river. I didn’t really want to spend the rest of my virtual life knee-deep in a fetid central European river, so I hit the “map” button, assuming that there could well be a way to fly, or teleport or something like in Second Life.
This hubris clearly angered the gods. I guess I should have accepted my humaness and walked back up the river looking for a ladder or something rather than thinking I might game the laws of the universe and escape the limitations of my corporal form. My world was wiped from existence with a cold Windows dialog box announcing that Twinity was no longer responding to anything I might ask it to do. Then Vista went looking for Answers as to the Reason for this caprice of the gods, and unfortunately came back, giving me only more questions. Quite realistic, that part of Twinity.
A restart of the program, and a surprisingly quick login process later (considering logging in took me a week of trying and failing, then a good 10 minutes when it finally worked today), I was again granted a view of my Twinity existence.
I think I am dead.
I have only a setting sun in a golden sky, adorned with a few evening clouds and the pregnant belly of a pale, twilight three-quarter moon. I have a 360 degree view of my heavens, and when I spin on my axis – my only remaining mobility in my gentle, but solitary, god-forsaken purgatory – the clouds tremble as if in silent horror at the eternity of loneliness I have been damned to by my unforgivable, cardinal sin of suicide (is self-murder through clumsiness officially suicide? Anyone know a theologian?) in the murky virtual waters of my beloved Berlin.
Life is so short. So meaningless. So incomprehensible.
The future of Social Network Services (SNS) can be discovered on High School and College campuses. I believe that topic-specific “vertical” SNS’s are very important, but I also think that the model needs to be University-like – a modularized SNS. There needs to be a campus “brand” (or University) within which the topic-specific “clubs,” “houses,” “fraternities,” “dorms,” and “interest groups” can interact – somewhere where crossovers, cross-fertilization, and aggregation are encouraged – no, needs – to happen. I hate SNS sites like boompa.com – a site devoted to your favorite cars – because I am not JUST a car guy.
I am a car guy for sure but I am also interested in rowing, in biking, in Thomas Pynchon, and in talk radio – Boompa might be successful in the short term, but in the long-term, the real power would come from creating a open, creative, resource-rich platform/campus/university/high school and maybe create a school of engineering, a liberal arts school, a law school, a dining hall, and so forth, but then allow the SNS to find itself.
To allow the SNS and its members to find their own voice, their own interests, and their own passions – which may well be very different from what is first assumed by the creator. Google gets this, though not yet within the construct of the SNS’s. What Google did do successfully was to buy USENET – the original newsgroups – and then build an superstructure on top of that – make it modern, sustainable, durable, and more readable.
Google returned USENET to relevance in a world that considered newsgroups and IRC to be dead or dying. Each and every one of communities on USENET is amazingly vertical, but they could all back up and back out to the larger USENET community – to the equivalent of the “welcome new students??? meetings and gatherings colleges offer to entering Freshmen.
Communities that are too vertical tend to shoe horn the “general topics??? conversations into hidden “off topic??? eddies. That is just the opposite of what should be done. The conversation should be general, cross-pollinating, and then move, after a conversation starts, into another room.
Start with an amazing platform, collect users, listen and watch them to see how they’re playing with the software application objects, widgets, and tools (are they playing with the toy or the box?), and then build for the users base, withholding judgment. Digg is a case study for this: start small, grow organically, and allow your members to find themselves.
The developers of Digg realized that after initial vertical growth based on the general members of Slashdot (techie, geeky, teens, boys), digg would suffer from the same sort of vulnerabilities that Slashdot suffered when Slashdot didn’t evolve and grow and broaden itself.
People love talking about Linux, but when happens when the Dow drops or the elections come? Where will the conversation happen? Where is the “kitchen??? at the party where every eventually goes to just talk about general interest stuff? Unless there are opportunities to express and share so-called “off-topic??? conversation right there, within the community in which members are already committed, with members to whom they’re already committed, then they are bound to go elsewhere.
Starting small and allowing the community to design itself is much different than starting big and losing one’s focus. Other mistakes happen when community builders make assumptions as to what participants, members, and lurkers want. Another mistake is putting a wall up around the community so that non-members cannot get a full feeling for the community from without.
The best SNS’s, virtual worlds, and online communities are honeypots. By honeypot, I am not suggesting, “a server that is configured to detect an intruder by mirroring a real production system. It appears as an ordinary server doing work, but all the data and transactions are phony. Located either in or outside the firewall, the honeypot is used to learn about an intruder’s techniques as well as determine vulnerabilities in the real system.” Although I am, sort of. The best SNS needs to be appealing, attractive, sweet, and compelling. Community-builders and SNS ASP developers need to be willing learn about member techniques, interests, processes, and needs, as well as determine “vulnerabilities” in the SNS platform that may repel, turn off, or limit the evolution and growth of the community.
To channel Chauncey Gardener for a second, one must do whatever one must to make sure that the earth in the garden is moist and well fed, one must seed well and completely, one must keep the garden in sun and water, one must encourage the garden to grow as it will for only in its growth will the garden be successful, and then, after rigorous growth, pruning and weeding must be done, only in order to allow the garden to be healthy, not to turn the garden into topiary. Okay, I am done.
Digg allows all of these things. Digg is perfectly useful and compelling even as an alien, but it is way more fun and interesting when you’re a citizen, that’s for sure. An SNS community needs to be as attractive as possible because exclusivity is no longer essential or even valuable. What is valuable is “useful,??? “interesting,??? and “authentic.??? They also have to have community buy-in and the best enjoy a certain fanatical devotion. Just like the best Universities and Colleges.
And Digg allowed its member to tell it when it was time to evolve past tech and geek news. Digg did not limit its scope or define itself too tightly with being “gear for geeks??? or “news for nerds.??? That would have ultimately been the death of Digg.
What the best Universities (such as Yale) understand is that it is not the student who is blessed and honored by being accepted by a top college (Yale College) but rather it is the college that should be blessed and honored (and should be grateful) that such a quality student is accepting its offers and actually attending – choosing – their particular school: Yale instead of Princeton, Brown, Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge, Dartmouth, Stanford, Columbia, Berkeley, etc…
Harvard, too, is aware that although in the short-term Harvard makes the Harvard Man, over the long term, it is Harvard Men who made Harvard and continue to make Harvard. “Who have you graduated recently???? Unless the quality and character of its students and alumni remain top-drawer, Harvard is not guaranteed its position as “top three??? in USA Today alongside Princeton and Yale. No matter how grand its endowment.
So, Harvard and Yale spoil their students rotten! My friends who attended Harvard or Yale college swoon over those 4 years like I swoon over my first love.
Likewise, SNS’s, virtual worlds, and virtual communities need to realize that at any one point, their brand is only as good as the collective that is manifest in the users, the members, the lurkers, the stewards, and the alumni of the property.
This isn’t only true in SNS’s. The same thing can be said of the most successful message boards and online communities. The most important distinction, I think, is that all of these “rooms” and all of these “clubs” and all of these spaces where (and are) defined and created by the communities themselves. Sui generis. And this sort of ownership – “for us by us,??? as the slogan goes over as Howard Rheingold’s Brainstorms community – should never be underestimated.
The Well has Howard Rheingold as a member and alumnus, for example, and the credibility of all that he has made and done; over time, more and more virtual communities, virtual worlds, and SNS will be known for their members as well: who studies, who studied, and who wants to join.
“What’s in it for me??? (WIIFM) and the concept of pride of ownership are important – essential – ingredients of a sustainable, deep, thriving, and healthy community. The success of MySpace and of Facebook is that the verticals are not (were not) defined for them by their grand architects – they are self-creating, self-forming, and also self-destructing. They form, reform, mutate and disperse after they hit a limit of general conversation and then either break off and reform into an “interest group” or “club” or they self-check and work to “get back on topic.”
SNS’s and communities in general tend to be formed in one of two ways: like Paris or like London. Intelligence Design (architecture) or Emergent Design. The later never looks very beautiful or the way people – or the creators, investors, and architects – expect (or want) it to look, because investors and designers tend to not be able to control it – and when they do try to impost order, often in a heavy-handed way, they also tend to scare off all of their members, too.
This organic revolution has proven its success online time and time again. The Internet does not respond (well or at all) to command and control. The smartest Web 2.0 platforms allow the “masses of asses” (yes, the customer; yes, us) to define the platform and the experience – their own and collective environment and experience.
MySpace does this amazingly well and so does Facebook. Until recently, Friendster suffered from a vision and used command and control tactics to try to coerce its users that “it didn’t really want to do things that way??? and Friendster members abandoned in droves to platforms and experiences not so monitored by “mom and dad.???
A command and control grand vision doesn’t work when you develop an environment that needs to be truly both attractive and compelling much more than it needs to be informational or instructional. An SNS needs to be attractive, diversional, compelling, amusing, and entertaining – never limiting.
My analogy of college and high school never mentioned classrooms or classes for training or learning. People do enough of that at school and at work. An SNS needs to give its users a university campus without any expectations or concepts of dropping out, getting judged, doing homework, or being held accountable for anything.
A good SNS should be all late-night wine-influenced discussions of Descartes and Plato and the summer afternoons on the quad and the time playing Xbox with your roommates.
When I go onto my long-term online communities, the Well, The Meta Network, USENET, and Brainstorms, there are many very deep and very vertical communities, discussing things as frivolous as fashion and video games and as deep as how to survive cancer, how to get a post doc grant, and very deep discussions on “spirit,” “chaos theory,” and “world politics.”
What makes this amazing and sustainable is that there are an infinite number of ways to get along, to move into a space of intense conversation, and then to pull back into common areas, just to see who’s around. In a university setting, this could be the dining hall, the quad, the commons, etc. These spaces are very important.
If you think about all of this in terms of evolution, then we can think about the way things evolve in the most perverse ways when isolated from others of its kinds. So, if there are impervious walls – gaps or voids, mountains or ridges – between these vertical markets, SNS’s, and communities, then there may be an initial success, but there can also be a terrible volatility. One plague or drought can decimate a population completely.
Having a commons allows members and visitors to have a place to meet new people, have new experiences, and learn of new clubs, new opportunities, and new places – inbreeding versus crossbreeding. Ultimately, a diversity of visitors helps build a more resilient, invested, and self-identifing community. They will become “students for life??? at best and proud alums at worst. They will carry the brand awareness, even if their lives become too busy to participate any more.
They will become life long brand ambassadors for your community. Proud alumni.
And, in terms of “viral marketing,” it is also important when it comes to a member of an SNS “inviting his friends” – not all of my friends have the same vertical interests that I do… They could have very different interests – but as I explore the “commons” of an SNS, I can note that there are things happening online that “friend x” and “friend y” would love, and that would be my incentive to invite them on board.
Boompa? I am the only person I know in my entire community – that is not true, my buddy has an Audi S4 – who is into cars. My buddy is an Audi driver and I am a BMW driver. Does that mean we’re both drivers? Does that mean we love cars or our particular car? Do we cross over on performance sedans? On German cars? On luxury cars?
You have to offer the tools to allow the market to choose for itself, otherwise, you might never find out that the SNS needs all three, or none at all.
A “Modularized SNS” should be neutral like a university (unlike MySpace, which is pretty pre-defined as to what the demographic is), and there are lots of “vertical niche SNS’s” (e.g. car enthusiasts, gourmet cooking, travel, Rolex fans, Republican politicos, etc.) That way, everyone can form a SNS experience that actually fits them by modularly assembling the groups of people who have similar interests, (not just friends-in-common!)
It is just the time of year when The Fresh Air Fund begins preparing for the summer full of summer camps filled with happy faces and lots and lots of kids from the cities who get to spend their summer vacation out of the city and in the country. It is also a very important time for finding and hiring camp counselors for the summer as well as locating, vetting, and securing host families as well. All of this information is collected on a little informational web site you can check out, but I will excerpt some of this below.
You love working with children, and that’s probably what we like most about you. Running across the ball field, washing off the glitter glue, or swimming in the lake – with your cabin group laughing around you – you’ll be in your element.
Are you going to be the counselor the children learn to paint with? The one they play soccer with? The one they want to hang out with? Or perhaps the one they read a bed-time story with? Whatever your role becomes, you’ll thrive on the challenge and commit yourself to the cause.
You’ve got to be 18 or over by June 20th to apply, and you’ll usually have completed at least one year of college by the summer. Any previous work with children should always be included on your application.
The experience you’re about to apply for will be like no other, and it’s going to take patience, flexibility, creativity, and a whole lot of self-motivation. But the rewards will be great… overcoming challenges, meeting new friends, playing games in the sun, jumping into the cool lake, painting face masks, hitting a home run, telling stories around a camp fire…
…and then seeing that smile brighten a child’s face.
We’re looking for counselors and program staff for all five of our summer camps – but places fill fast, so get your application in today.
We are now accepting applications for the 2009 season.
What I think the fine people at Fresh Air Fund are looking for Camp Counselors right now, so if you’re interested in applying to become a Fresh Air Fund camp counselor, please apply here. And, if you are on the fence, be sure to check out the below video, see through the eyes of some Fresh Air Fund counselors: