Monday, June 16, 2008

Here Comes Everybody

I just finished reading Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky (@clayshirky on Twitter). I took a bunch of notes and wanted to pull out some key things are really impact the development of social network and apply them to what I'm working on at Microsoft.

First up is the notion of "publish, then filter" - with the massive amounts of information being published today both online, broadcast and offline, filtering has become the real issue. As I think about my own ways of consuming information, it's the filters that are available to me that make big differences. For example, Tivo's search functionality, wish list/keywords and swivel search has revolutionized what I watch on TV. Similarly, I consume almost all of news and technology data via RSS feeds from a browser. I still read the NYTimes on Sunday, but I'm not convinced that I do it for any real reason other than I think I ought to.

Emerging platforms continue to accelerate the publish then filter trend - sites like Meetup.com allow users to "filter" by looking at participation. Interestingly, this means that publishers are going to fail a heck of a lot more than they are used to - there's just too much out there for groups, content, and information to succeed at the same rate they did in the past. This failure thing is going to be hard for lots of traditionally thinking companies - it's not in their DNA to embrace failure. I've seen this personally so much in my career in both the non-profit and for-profit sectors.

The open source movement provides a pretty good example of this in motion. Open source movements have no employees, no plan, no nothing really. It's not an organization, it's an ecosystem. The book points out in a blow my mind moment, that open source doesn't reduce the likelihood of failure, it reduces the cost of failure. This massive reduction in transaction costs (Coasan theory) is at the core of the book and is affecting companies across the board.

Shirky lays out a very compelling argument around how technology has enabled us to rapidly create new groups, and populate them with people who formerly would never be able to congregate (either offline or online). The top list of groups on meetup.com includes things like Pagans, Witches, Tori Amos and Slashdot. This, as Shirky puts it, is unlike any other group list, anywhere.

My favorite chapter of the book however is "Promise, Tool, Bargain." Shirky lays out a foundation for how to think about constructing communities. He's careful not to call this a recipe, because while every community needs a promise, tools and a bargain, the mix of interactions is simply too complex to prescribe anything other than a framework. That said, the order of promise, tool, bargain does matter.

The promise creates a basic desire to participate. In my case, the Microsoft CIO Network makes both an explicit and implicit promise to users that we'll connect our CIO's to each other, and give them new ways to access Microsoft insiders. Getting the promise right however is quite different than traditional marketers are used to. The distinction is that the marketing isn't done by us for them (our users), but is done with our users in collaboration. That's a trick you shouldn't try at home.

Tools are obviously what allow members to get involved. Here's where things get tricky (and interesting). CIO's aren't generation Y/millennials in how they use online technologies. While we do have a few members that blog and tweet, the majority just aren't contributors to online forums and spaces. We initially chose a message board/blog tool, but have recently started to add things like teleconference calls, interviews, audio podcasts and in-person events. I do believe we're breaking some new ground here in explicitly trying to build an online community of C-level execs - so we've got our work cut out for us.

Bargain is the implicit bargain among users - it's the culture and the expectation. In our case, I believe it's the humanization of Microsoft. That feels odd to say (and is a tricky subject), but I do believe that if we get this right, members will have an unprecedented doorway to us to help us craft products, deliver strategy and have a conversation with our customers. It's also why I took the job. The opportunity to help a company like Microsoft try something like this is a once-in-a-life opportunity.

There is so much more that I want to write about this book but for now, that's it. Get a copy and read it!

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