Revolutions

13 Jan
2009

After spending the holidays with my parents, my dad and I somehow got into a discussion on revolutions. My dad, who is the smartest person I know, and is also a walking encyclopedia of jokes, anecdotes and quotes, told me the following quote from Otto Von Bismark: “Revolutions are conceived by intellectuals, executed by fanatics, and the fruits of their labor are used by freeloaders.”

Wow, these words ring so true as I reminisce about my (albeit poor) knowledge of world history, thinking of famous revolutions,  such as the Russian Revolution, the French Revolution and others. It also got me thinking about the revolution in which we are now, which is the social web revolution. With the advent of blogging, commenting, microblogging and social networking tools, everyone now has a voice, the web has become a two-way conversation and much more democratic than ever before. There is no doubt in my mind that this is a true revolution, albeit a non-violent one (which is always a good thing in my book).  In a true revolutionary sense, it has altered, and in some cases, upended and disrupted current companies, business models and even industries.  For example, traditional journalism has had to change to accommodate a new brand of citizen journalism. Shareability and streamability of web music engines like Last.fm,  is making the once insulated music labels of yesteryear feel nervous.

So if we were to apply Bismarck’s wisdom to our current digital revolution, what cycle would we place ourselves in? Are we at the stage of  conception (thought of  by intellectuals), the execution (carried out by fanatics,) or the mainstream use (used by freeloaders)? Or do these stages even apply anymore? I am inclined to think they do. I am also leaning towards evaluating our stage as late fanaticism to early freeloader mainstream cycle. Just like in the dot-com bubble at the turn of the century, during which web companies without real business models got created and funded, a whole slew of me-too social networks and other wanna-be’s have been dominating an impending Web 2.0 bubble.

Remaining winners who are left standing at the end of this inevitable bubble, will go mainstream (arguably Facebook has already gone mainstream long ago) and “cross the Chasm.” As they do so, the temptation will be for  (mostly corporate) users to to “bastardize” this method of communication. Without really understanding the authenticiy and the comaraderie that characterizes the contributors and consumers of social media, companies will start jumping in (already started, by the way) head first into social technologies and using them the same way they have been using TV advertising: as a one-way talking platform, used to talk at consumers, not with consumers. We must realize that this new style of communication must come with a very different conversation style. Or else become inauthentic “freeloaders” who have hijacked the platform and thus altered the initial intent of an authentic two-way conversation and relationship building.

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  • http://www.KaraokeTraveler.com Michelle Davis

    Interesting assessment Maria. When I read your “revolution” metaphor, I quickly thought of how that parallels with the traditional business cycle; Where nascent businesses are conceptualized by entreprenuers (the equivalent of Bismark’s intellectuals) and the “fanatic” stage is chracterized by R&D and early adopters of the product or service as the original “idea” blossoms into a “growth business.” And finally, as revenues flatten out and it has survived new market entrants, it becomes a “cash cow” bringing in predictable revenue, but with no innovation; it has now become “tradtional,” and no doubt by now GE or some other behemonth (the mainstream freeloader) has bought it to add to its own portfolio and ensure that any new ideas will cease.

    I think your most important point though is that traditional business has to understand that this new media is about “2 way” interaction with potential customers, it is simply not an extension of the marketplace, or another place to slap up an ad. That is the approach I am taking with my website. I am using Web 2.0, not to simply broadcast that I am there, but to offer service and value to people on an individual basis. Its not so much about brand “awareness” as it is about Brand “interaction.” So instead of ranting about my latest article on Twitter, I watch tweets and when someone wonders out loud where they should go to karaoke tonite, I simply ask them where they are and give them suggestions within a minutes. That’s service.

    I do wonder however, about how to deal with that delicate balance between having a quality web product and letting users interact. For instance, there is a big difference between professionally researched and written content and user-generated content, and it is hard to balance your committment to quality / accurate information with your committment to that “2-way” conversation.

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