What Happened to the Value of Being Well Read?

There was a time, and it doesn’t seem all that long ago, that people valued the company of those who were well read. We used to seek out those who were more than knowledgeable, more than conversant in this topic or that, but those who had the ability to discuss a wide variety of topics intelligently. Today they might find the evolution of the media interesting, tomorrow it may be the path toward energy sustainability. We enjoyed the conversation precisely because they were not limited to a single topic, field of study or discipline. It was the ability to draw the connections between physics and fatherhood, computer science and carpentry, Moore’s law and music that we valued.

It seems, however, that we are shifting. We now collect information we care about through authority models. The people we converse with now are one dimensional authorities, well versed in a single discipline. They are because they have to be. AllTop, TechMeme, PageRank, etc. force the intelligent to be one dimensional. While you may exist within their authority models in multiple disciplines it is all but impossible to maintain standing (consistent high placement) without a continuous stream of content related to a single discipline.

This shift has implications. Innovation is the first casualty. When we live in a box we think in a box. Innovation requires the kind of non-linear connections one can only make by being well read. It is the application of one field of study to another that yields our greatest innovations. Conversely, it is the immersion in a single field of study that is the biggest barrier to innovation. Practical proof of this can be found in every IT department in the world. We’ve created a generation of IT specialists that have little or no interest in the business they support. They’ve been trained to think about the technology to the exception of everything else. We’ve even trained them that they simply receive requirements and execute.

The second casualty is education. When we create incentives (economic or otherwise) for people to be one dimensional we tacitly encourage our educators – particularly in higher education – to focus on the specialty and not the person. Which means we will devote more credit hours to “core” coursework to the exception of general study. In effect we turn our universities into career training centers.

The sad part about this is that many of the a-list types who do manage to elevate themselves to high standing on AllTop, TechMeme, etc. are in fact well read – we just do not create incentives for them to share it. All of the incentives are stacked toward being one dimensional.

This is why I decry the emergence of the idea that the social graph is simply a tool for developing more robust authority models. When we understand that we no longer need authority models because your social graph is your authority model we may see a true revolution in information distribution, discovery and consumption. A revolution that is really a throw-back – the simple idea that you should surround yourself with the well read – and that by doing so good information will find you.

With that understanding you will be much more selective about who you follow – because your ability to discover quality information in multiple (and often unknown and unexpected) disciplines is directly related to your ability to effectively choose your follows. With that understanding you will quickly realize that being popular is interesting, but not particularly important. Winning is not having the most followers – it is being the most well read.

You may think that the best strategy is to follow the “experts” – our one dimensional a-listers – Scoble and Arrington for Tech, Rosen for Press, Kawasaki for PR, Brogan for Social Media. And while I don’t dissuade you from doing so (because I do) I would suggest that the people you really want to follow are those who digest the expert opinion and (being well read themselves) are able to provide the unexpected – the cross-discipline connections that encourage thinking beyond what is to what might be.

That is what I have to say about that. I fully expect this post to receive maybe 20 page views – but that isn’t the point, because it isn’t about being popular. This post isn’t SEO friendly, the title isn’t link bait, and I haven’t included pictures or other media to make it consumption friendly. It is too long, too dense and requires thought. So we know it will not work for AllTop or TechMeme. I only have one question… when did that become the point?

Why is the Real-Time Web Community Shooting Itself in the Foot?

2008 was supposed to be the year we began to see real-time web take shape. And while Twitter and FriendFeed have begun to show us some bits of what a real-time web might look like mostly it has been a year of discontent.

While I hate year end/beginning “predictions” (what am I Nostradamus?) I’m predicting 2009 won’t be much better. Why? Well that is the interesting part.


I’ll let you in on a secret (shhh, this is just between you and me). Real-time services on the “web” are nothing new. We have a pretty good idea how they work (and don’t work). We know what the challenges are – and to a large degree how to architect/engineer the solutions. The problem is we aren’t leveraging the work that has already been done.

More after the jump…

Continue reading “Why is the Real-Time Web Community Shooting Itself in the Foot?”

Same as it ever was… Word of Mouth still rules.

The revolution of Web 2.0 (everyone as a content creator) begot the Social Media revolution (discussion as content)…

Social Media is in the process of birthing a PR/Marketing and Branding revolution (click here for google results if you don’t believe me).

And that is a good thing… but there is a secret buried in there…

The secret, of course, is that word of mouth was always the best PR, Marketing and Branding. What has changed isn’t which mechanism is better – the traditional PR/Marketing megaphone or word of mouth – it is the relative power of the platform.

When word of mouth was limited to the small group of people any individual customer could interact with over a given period of time you knew, with absolute certainty, that the power of the Megaphone would win. Why? Because your message – clear, repetitive, and powerful – would overwhelm the disjointed, contradictory, and often biased word of mouth.

The reality was that it didn’t matter if a large segment of your customers didn’t like your product or service. The reality was that 15% of your customers being dissatisfied wasn’t a big deal – because you had the megaphone… and they didn’t. You were in control of your brand, you decided what your brand was and how it would be messaged.

As an example of the megaphone:

The megaphone gave you the ability to control the conversation and the perception. Your dissatisfied customers could tell friends, co-workers and family, but their reach was limited and the message was disjointed.

Social Media effectively neutralizes the megaphone – simply by providing every dissatisfied customer with access to a megaphone equal in size and capability to yours. Ten years ago, no customer could afford a 30 second TV spot or half page print ad – today they can all create YouTube video, blog or Twitter account from which they can tell everyone what they think of your product or service.

Perhaps most importantly these messages, while lacking in production quality, are 100% authentic. They are not carefully crafted, on message, or chock full of reassuring language – but they are how your customers talk to one another:

This is the new word of mouth. This is Social Media. This is you no longer being able to control the conversation.

The irony of this is that for years companies have yearned to tap into their positive word of mouth. And – to be sure – there are voices evangelizing your company, products and services in Social Media. These are the same customers who provided you testimonials before – the only difference is they no longer need your megaphone to be heard.

The new reality is conversational. Your brand reality is the current state of the conversation. Your PR and Marketing efforts are simply a part of the larger conversation.

The real question you need to be asking yourself is – am I in the conversation in a relevant way? Am I engaged, empathetic, and listening – or am I attempting to shout down my critics?

Any effective Social Media branding/marketing strategy has to include your company engaging in the conversation. You can’t control it, you can only influence it – and the only way to do that is to engage in a meaningful way.

Social Media is about Aggregation – Not Publishing/Networks

I’ve been using FriendFeed for several months now. As a matter of fact, with the addition of real-time FriendFeed is now my primary Social Media interface. Why? Because the critical attribute which makes Social Media useful (yep, I’m banging on the adding value drum again) is aggregation, not publishing or networks. Publishing and networks are required – but they quickly become commoditized. An example – Twitter gets popular and up pops Laconica, Yammer, OpenMicroBlogging, identi.ca, …

Social Networks are no different. How many social networks do you have to check every day to keep up? What are the odds that all of your friends (or co-workers) are on the same network?

Social Bookmarking – no different. Friends across multiple networks.

The result is that you – in order to actually use Social Media in a useful way (information discovery) – have to jump through hoop after hoop after hoop to attempt to discover anything.

That is why aggregation is so powerful – and why I was never all that impressed with Twitter’s Track feature (which caused so much angst when turned off). Track was only interesting if you assume all the relevant information was/is on Twitter. In other words – the network drives value, not the information – and that completely misses the point.

FriendFeed gets it. The value is in the information – and providing aggregation of that information and useful tools to locate, consume and re-share that information is the key to providing value. With the introduction of Real-Time FriendFeed completely changes the real-time information discovery game.

FriendFeed allows a user to aggregate all the places they view, track, share, and create information. When you follow a person you follow all of their information – regardless of what network it is generated on. That – to me – is the point of a “follow” – I want to know what you find interesting, because if you find it interesting I might too. I really don’t care how you share the information… and I certainly don’t want to follow you around the inter-webs joining every cool new network to get access to the information you view, track, share, and create. When you join a new service (a.k.a., network) you add it to FriendFeed and viola! I can see what you share there as well…

The introduction of real-time (while admittedly imperfect) is a sea change for real-time information discovery. It transforms it from a network (service) based activity (e.g., I can see what happens on Facebook in real-time in Facebook – I can see what happens in Twitter real-time in Twitter – etc) to person based activity – I see, in real-time – what you share, without the limitations of network/service.

The only thing missing from FriendFeed today is aggregation based on topic. That is, the ability to specify a group (e.g., everyone, my friends, a room, etc) and a topic search (e.g., debate, google, pretty cat pictures, etc) and see only information which satisfies both criteria.

At the end of the day – the aggregation of information a person shares, and the ability of others to “follow” that information stream is Social Media. The social graph is interesting, but it doesn’t add value to people’s lives in any meaningful way (granted it creates a highly valuable advertising platform). Efficient sharing of information and information discovery does. Aggregation is the secret sauce.

JQuery adopted by Microsoft and Nokia

I posted earlier this month about JQuery – and how it can help you write less JavaScript code and get more done. The JQuery team today announced via their blog that both Microsoft and Nokia have adopted JQuery as part of their application development platform:

We have two pieces of fantastic, albeit serendipitous, news today: Both Microsoft and Nokia are taking the major step of adopting jQuery as part of their official application development platform. Not only will they be using it for their corporate development but they will be providing it as a core piece of their platform for developers to build with.

Microsoft is looking to make jQuery part of their official development platform. Their JavaScript offering today includes the ASP.NET Ajax Framework and they’re looking to expand it with the use of jQuery. This means that jQuery will be distributed with Visual Studio (which will include jQuery intellisense, snippets, examples, and documentation).

Additionally Microsoft will be developing additional controls, or widgets, to run on top of jQuery that will be easily deployable within your .NET applications. jQuery helpers will also be included in the server-side portion of .NET development (in addition to the existing helpers) providing complementary functions to existing ASP.NET AJAX capabilities.

Nokia is looking to use jQuery to develop applications for their WebKit-based Web Run-Time. The run-time is a stripped-down browser rendering engine that allows for easy, but powerful, application development. This means that jQuery will be distributed on all Nokia phones that include the web run-time.

You can find the full post here.

This is both great news for JQuery and for developers – and here is why. This will enable significant growth of the JQuery ecosystem – particularly where mobile browsers are concerned. Safari – on the iPhone – already cleanly supports JQuery – and this move indicates that Pocket IE and the Symbian browser will also cleanly support JQuery. This will make JQuery the dominant JavaScript framework for mobile devices.

If you haven’t tried JQuery – you should.


Microsoft goes all Gordon Gekko and offers 44.6 billion for Yahoo.

CNN Money writer Paul R. Monica thinks this will kick off merger mania.

The New York Times Saul Hansell calls this an offer Yahoo can’t refuse.

I’m left wondering how this merger helps either company. Let’s face it folks… the bigger, more dominant the company the less likely that company is to innovate – and innovation is what will (eventually) cause Google to lose market share.

While the combined Micro-hoo will undoubtably garner economies of scale and be more efficient that the two companies as separate entities – I’m not sure that is the best path to taking market share back from Google.

The deal will result in a massive #2 in online search and ad-revenues, but at the same time will solidify Google and Micro-hoo as the “dominant platform” (see this post on innovation and dominant platforms) in online search and ad-revenues. This should lead to another advance in the usefulness of – what us geeks call – SEO.

My only question is – are Google and Micro-hoo good enough that the market is ready to shift innovation away from the platform? I’m not completely sold.