Leveraging Communities for Good

One of the developing trends I have been noticing is the big rise in uber-connected people leveraging their social and business networks for a common cause. I support this but wonder if some of the media ripples from the all of this activity are being somewhat discounted?

communityThis used to be called cause-based marketing but the “m” word has slipped into the background a bit as many now just assume that Facebook, Twitter, Ning and all the other social media tools are part of the scenery.

In the early days on LinkedIn there was a kind of magic number for most people around 250 connections beyond which the social coherence became a bit misty. What I mean, is that the noise to signal ratio gets way out of kilter and a natural re-balancing starts to occur.

An endless stream of consciousness type “pulse” stream as it is called on Plaxo can be very annoying. Something I was reminded of when I connected my Twitter account to a Pulse stream for testing purposes and forgot about it resulting in far too much noise for sensible enjoyment.

Twitter is just the latest example of the arms style race for big numbers.

It used to be MySpace or StumbleUpon that had the big numbers and soaring traffic flows now its Twitter, FriendFeed and Ping.fm. There is something slightly disconcerting about all of this though. A kind of constant reinvention of channels where people shout at each other when that kind of thing only gets so far.

I heard the LongNow foundation described as kind of Slow food for Thinkers in a post called Slow Thinking and Fast Tweeting. I think (no pun intended) it  should have said Fast Thinking and Slow Tweeting 🙂

I can just hear one of my first employers favourite refrain at this point saying “What’s the action Point here. ” Words into deeds and all that.

Then later on – learning that action is no substitute for direction and vision and how to make sense of all the activity that passes for action. They are not the same things.

Vanitis vanatatum or Vanitas vanitatum omnia vanitas is putting is a bit too strongly but using a network to amplify communications does not amplify the sincerity or purpose of what we are about. 

The Long Now Foundation, which fosters long-term thinking and responsibility in the framework of the next 10,000 years. The Long Now is like the slow food movement for thinkers. It’s about thinking about the long term, and it’s also about slower, better thinking. Obviously they intend to be around for a long time.

They’ve got a bunch of interesting projects and wide-ranging seminars, including the option to place bets and vote on predictions about the future. At the moment, it’s Kevin Kelly’s prediction that “By 2060 the total population of humans on earth will be less than it is today.”

CEO Evan Williams of Twitter made these comment in response to a thoughtful post over at RRW. Titled:How Twitter’s Staff Uses Twitter (And Why It Could Cause Problems) This is under the section subtitled “What Does Twitter HQ Have to Say About This?”

“As you know, there are lots of different ways to use Twitter. Many people fall into the trap that you should follow all or most people back out of a sense of politeness or so-called engagement with the community.

But the fact is, having more followers does not give you more time in the day* (as much as I’d like to sell that). At a certain point, you’re not actually reading any more tweets by following more people — you’re just dipping into the stream somewhat randomly and missing a whole lot of what people say.

That’s fine, but I believe people will generally get more value out of Twitter by dropping the symmetrical relationship expectation and simply curating their following list based on the information and people they want to tune in to.

I follow almost 1,000 accounts.”

* my emphasis

Social data dipping, conversation mining  or random data mining may be useful for trend spotting and I’ve been using Nambu‘s tag fields to see what appears in the tag cloud styled rear window view.

And there is no doubt that exponential number stacking is far to watch but how does it really help with leveraging communities for social purposes besides gossip and chit-chat.

One idea I rather like is The NZ Centre for Social innovation uses WordPress (and Ning) to “bring together public, private and community partners to create new solutions to New Zealand’s most pressing social needs.”

The NZ Centre for Social Innovation programme also uses a Camp concept to leverage web technology over an extended period for social good projects.

“We’re bringing together a mix of social entrepreneurs, web developers, business specialists and creatives to propose and vote on our top 3 ideas to innovate out of recession.

Later in the year we’ll hold a full weekend SI Camp to develop the top ideas into working web prototypes, with prizes including cash, mentoring and web development assistance.”

Way back in the early days of MIS (what we called IT back in early ’80’s) there was a progression idea for leveraging systems through 3 stages.

  • Stage 1 was Simple transaction processing. The part where people scramble to get technology that works.
  • Stage 2 – Reporting and Analysis which leads to process mapping and re-engineering
  • Stage 3 – Competitive Advantage. Better practices over time as the insights are leveraged into better outputs.

I’m probably mis- remembering this esp. stage 2 (hat tip to Grant Furley.)  I’m sure there are other cycle or learning curve metaphors that could also describe this journey.

The point is in the early days its all about getting the basics right. Then absorbing the learning and adapting overall to new paradigms or Not (in some cases.)

Humans love patterns and we should relish the opportunity to drink from the firehouse of the internet but there is no substitute for actually getting together in person to solve problems over a cup of tea or other beverages.

I applaud the work of the Centre for Social Innovation in starting to move to the third circle / 3rd stage by extending the social networking tools to incubate and develop useful outputs for communities.

I also declare an interest here in helping to seed and develop dozens of blogs and online networks mostly by assisting with my WordPress expertise including WordCampNZ in Wellington on August 8th and 9th.

Very much looking forward to meeting some of the online collaborators who are indeed leveraging communities for good.