Duck! and Gather

Social Media as the End of History?

Posted on: June 8, 2010

Let’s try starting this in Tweet-sized chunks:

  • Rethinking my duckandgather blog. Maybe we won’t have to “duck”.
  • Social media will save us from the need to duck, and history will end.
  • Social media will kill Google, and bring the Corporations to heel.
  • Social media is driven by we the People; not by management.
  • Nobody dies. Crisis averted. We all live happily ever after.

Yeah, Twitter is good for some stuff. But deep analysis ain’t among them.

Another way to start is the following: As part of my day job, I deeply analyze the social media landscape (e.g. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter). Today, in the middle of that work, I had an epiphany: Could the emergence of this dynamic hearken the end of history as we know it?

Let’s start the analysis with my purpose in starting this blog back in late 2003. Basically, I had read two politically opposite books in 2003 — both of which seemed true to me. Assuming their truth, I looked for their intersection. And what I found in there was surprising to me. I found that these books seemed to be predicting that America was heading for an existential crisis, and that crisis would take the form People vs. Corporations.

With this thought in mind, I spun out a number of  bold predictions for George Bush’s second term. More than a few hit the mark.

Since Obama won in 2008 (as I predicted in 2006), I’ve been sort of holding my breath, waiting for the collapse. Well, not waiting passively. As I’ve mentioned previously, I live in the hills surrounding Silicon Valley and, with my wife, have created a reasonably self-sufficient life — one that could support us and a few others for a few years without having to go “down the hill” into the Valley.

Hey, I’d have refashioned my life in this way even if I hadn’t come to the “doomsday” ideas above. The fact is, I like chopping wood, raising vegetables, and purifying mountain spring water, to name a few regular practices of mine.

But you know what? Today, on June 8, 2010 — 7 years after I read those two books, drew my conclusions, and watched as history seemed to validate them — I’m reversing course. My epiphany is that Facebook and Twitter and their ilk will save us from ourselves.

I mean, I still believe the greatest single threat that faces this great nation of ours is the Corporate threat. I think that belief of mine, which was fringe in 2003, is quickly becoming mainstream. However, I must confess I’m a little dismayed that the loudest political organization embodying this idea is the reactionary, not-so-closeted-racist Tea Party.

Maybe the Tea Party is why I haven’t blogged much since Obama took office. I mean, it just doesn’t feel right ragging on the fellow for being too soft on the Corporations when the Tea Party is wielding  that notion like a sword.

But maybe it’s good I haven’t blogged much. Because maybe the crisis will be averted after all. Back in 2003, I was bummed when I “learned” that People vs. Corporations would be the next American battle for survival. This bummed me out because: (1) that battle doesn’t make any sense (i.e. “Corporations” are a legal fiction); and (2) self-reliance of we the People is kryptonite to Corporations.

#2 means that no war is needed for defetaing the Corporations. All that is needed is that we People become self-reliant.

But in 2003, when television was the dominant medium, and was dominated by the Corporations, and dominated the consciousness of the nation, it seemed impossible to imagine how we People would even receive this self-reliance message, never mind heeding it.

But in 2010, social media rules the day. I was reading today how Facebook is going to kill Google. Basically, Google is funded by paid search, which is a form of direct/performance advertising. But the big advertising pie that hasn’t yet migrated to the web is brand advertising. Google has been trying for years to crack the brand advertising nut. With little to show for it.

But as of 2010, it’s looking like Facebook will be the first to crack this nut. Followed by Twitter.

Two “duck and gather” things interested me about this dynamic. First, Google is about to be run over by Facebook? Google was founded in September 1998. Ten years later, after conquering the world, the writing was already visible on their tombstone. (Indeed, for you techies, that writing could already be seen in 2008 when Facebook released Cassandra to Apache, and credited Google’s BigTable for inspiration.)

Google had gotten so big so fast that rumblings were starting to come from the U.S. government anti-trust division (the same division that went after Microsoft in 2000 just as that behemoth was about to fall off the cliff).

Alright, this post has already gotten too long. To be continued …

7 Responses to "Social Media as the End of History?"

i’m looking forward to the second half of this analysis. the battle between google and facebook is very interesting. i’m skeptical about including facebook as a tool to save us from ourselves. my experience is that it subverts community and collective intelligence. my opinion is that facebook does this deliberately because how can you advertise to people if they are becoming self-sufficient?

Thanks Tom. I have a Facebook account. But I’m not a regular user. How does Facebook subvert community and collective intelligence

i’ll try to summarize what you can fill the grand canyon with. 🙂 the restrictive architecture that serves facebook’s purpose of spreading like a virus and giving advertisers a target audience is in conflict with the needs of a community or the process of collective intelligence.

1. collective intelligence. henry jenkins has said “What holds a collective intelligence together is not the possession of knowledge…but the social process of acquiring knowledge – which is dynamic and participatory, continually testing and reaffirming the group’s social ties.” a problem is that the “friends” i have on facebook each have their own interests that i don’t necessarily care about. all of this noise is weighted equally to things i do care about. if talking about meaningful things might alienate or scare even 2% of my “friends”, then i generally won’t bother. my experience is that myself and people i know on facebook, who are otherwise very intelligent, are reduced to 3rd grade like behavior.

2. community – community depends on identity and identity and reputation is a function of what other say about us and it is a function of our environment. we often don’t leave our town because our identity is there. i’m afraid people feel the same way about facebook, but real communities of people in the real world must react to contingencies and develop their own protocols and practices. facebook unilaterally dictates these. for instance, zuckerberg’s priceless “we decided that these would be the social norms now and we just went for it.” what if my community has people who are not members of facebook because they don’t feel safe on the site or because they are troubled about the blatant ethical violations? if i organize the event on facebook, those people are excluded from the event details and from conversations regarding the event. however, people often just assume that facebook is the best way for them to organize things because its “the most convenient way” and “everyone is already there.” this kind of thinking falls under the biggest threat kaliya hamlin and bob blakely have identified:

I think the biggest threat to our identities today is that as a society we might fall into the trap of reversing this relationship, and come to believe (or at least act as if we believe) that our status as persons derives from possessing an electronic “identity” – that is, a record in a database.

If this happened we’d be in danger of becoming “unpersons” whenever someone erased our identity record in the database.

Very interesting take, Tom. Thanks for writing it up.

Sounds to me, however, that the points come down to the choice of the user, rather than anything Facebook is doing.

From #1: “if talking about meaningful things might alienate or scare even 2% of my “friends”, then i generally won’t bother.”

From #2: “I think the biggest threat to our identities today is that as a society we might fall into the trap of reversing this relationship, and come to believe (or at least act as if we believe) that our status as persons derives from possessing an electronic “identity” – that is, a record in a database.”

I mean, if we’re planning an event, we could use Facebook for our friends that use that, and use email and phone for the rest.

Maybe if I start using Facebook regularly, my views will change.

the choice of the user has been restricted by the architecture of the system. it’s like a trick my friend who does comedy juggling performances does. he can engage with an audience member and there’s the illusion that it’s a spontaneous interaction, but he already knows how the audience member is going to respond and he already has a punchline prepared. facebook similarly knows how to manipulate it’s audience.

logically, it would make sense to use multiple tools to organize events. but in reality, people often do not, and i don’t think that is the main problem. my experience has been, when they restrict their event planning to facebook, people don’t care as much about the event. it’s like the lack of intimacy you experience when you receive a form letter from someone during the holidays.

[…] About Social Media as the End of History? […]

Ok. Point taken Tom. But even if so, as I concluded the second part of the analysis, if Facebook screws up enough, somebody else will pop up, just like Facebook replaced MySpace which replaced Friendster.

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for the money has gone too far

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