July 20, 2015
The spur for this conversation was my recent article in The Atlantic, “The Net that Was (and Still Could Be).”
July 20, 2015
The spur for this conversation was my recent article in The Atlantic, “The Net that Was (and Still Could Be).”
July 3, 2015
Reddit is in flames. I can only see one way out of it that preserves the site’s unique value.
I say this as an old man who loves Reddit despite being way outside its main demographic. Of course there are outrageously objectionable subreddits—topical discussion boards—but you don’t have to visit those. Reddit at its best is wonderful. Inspiring, even. It is a self-regulated set of communities that is capable of great collective insight, humor, and kindness. (At its worst, it is one of the nightmares of the Internet.)
Because Reddit is so large, with 169M unique visitors each month, it is impossible to generalize accurately about what went on yesterday and is continuing today. Nevertheless, the precipitating cause was the termination of the employment of Victoria Taylor for reasons Reddit and she have not disclosed. Victoria was not only the wildly popular enabler of Reddit’s wildly popular AMA‘s (“Ask Me Anything”), she was the only Reddit employee visible to most redditors (Reddit users).
Victoria’s sudden dismissal was taken by many as a sign of the increasing misalignment of Reddit’s business goals and the culture of its communities. Reddit, it is feared, is going commercial. The volunteer moderators (“mods”) of some of the large subreddits have also complained that their requests for support over the past months have gone unanswered.
In protest, many of the large subreddits and a long list of smaller ones have gone private and are thus dark to most of the world. This will have some financial effect on Reddit, but it is better understood as a political protest, applying the technique used successfully in 2012 when Reddit, Wikipedia, and other major sites went dark to protest the SOPA/PIPA bills that would have limited Internet freedom. It is an assertion-by-deprivation of the cultural value of these subreddits.
It is, I believe, a mistake to view this uproar primarily in terms of economics or business. This is an attempt by a community to stay a community despite perceived attempts by the business underneath it to commercialize it. Up until now, Reddit the Company has understood the importance of accepting and promoting its community’s values. Advertising is unobtrusive, some of which lets users comment on the ad itself. Reddit makes money also from its users buying “Reddit gold” to bestow upon comments they find particularly valuable. Reddit gold has no monetary value, so users are consciously paying Reddit money for the privilege of paying another user a visible compliment. And Reddit has sternly defended the free speech of its users even when that speech is, well, horrible—although the management did controversially shut down some shaming and hating sites a few weeks ago.
Reddit is in bad shape today. The meme-making forces of sarcasm it’s famous for have been turned inwards.The most loyal users are feeling betrayed. Some of the communities that have driven Reddit forward as a cultural force are feeling abused. It’s hard to come back from that.
A big part of the problem is that Victoria, the face of Reddit to its own community, was accepted as “One of us! One of us!” as redditors sometime self-mockingly invoke the movie Freaks. Indeed, she embodied many of the virtues of Reddit at its best: curious, accepting, welcoming, helpful, funny. Many redditors saw themselves reflected in her.
Victoria was thereby an important part of Reddit’s support of what I call “The Gettysburg Principles“: She helped Reddit seem to be by, for, and of us. Now the face of Reddit is Ellen Pao, the interim CEO who is largely derided and detested at Reddit because she seems to be “One of them! One of them!”— a Silicon Valley player.
If we view this first and foremost as a problem in maintaining a community rather than strictly as a revenue issue, then I can only see one way forward: Pao should get off her executive horse, engage with the community in public, and show that she’s a redditor too. Alexis Ohanian, the co-founder, also should step forward with his best redditor face on. Alexis when free of corporate pressures is a redditor through and through.
There is still an opportunity for Reddit to show that it understands the source of all its value: communities trusted to run themselves, and a strong sense of shared cultures.
Categories: business, cluetrain, culture Tagged with: cluetrain • reddit • social media
Date: July 3rd, 2015 dw
January 8, 2015
The clues are designed as an open source publishing project: The text is in the public domain, and we’re making the clues available at Github in various computer-friendly formats, including JSON, OPML and XML.
We launched this morning and a happy hell has broken loose. So I’m just going to posts some links for now. In fact, I’m copying and pasting from an email by Doc:
Categories: business, cluetrain, copyright, culture, egov, free culture, internet, journalism, marketing, media, net neutrality, open access, peace, politics, social media, whines Tagged with: cluetrain • newclues
Date: January 8th, 2015 dw
December 13, 2014
The Harvard Business School Digital Initiative [twitter:digHBS] — led by none other than Berkman‘s Dr. Colin Maclay — has launched its blog. The Digital Initiative is about helping HBS explore the many ways the Net is affecting (or not affecting) business. From my point of view, it’s also an opportunity to represent, and advocate for, Net values within HBS. (Disclosure: I am officially affiliated with the Initiative as an unremunerated advisor. Colin is a dear friend.)
The new blog is off to a good start:
I also have a post there titled “Generative Business and the Power of What We Ignore.” Here’s how it starts:
 I understand that the Net doesn’t really have values. It’s shorthand.
Categories: business, cluetrain, culture, too big to know Tagged with: 2b2k • blogs • cluetrain • dighbs • hbs
Date: December 13th, 2014 dw
November 5, 2014
I’m at a lunchtime talk by the Harvard Business School Digital Initiative (led by Colin Maclay) by CV Harquail. (I’m an advisor to the DigInit.) CV says she is a academic and am enthusiast of “something going on out there” that she calls “generative business.”
CV defines generativity as the ability to create things that didn’t exist before. Generativity as a term comes out of a few spaces. It’s used in the world of tech innovation and platforms. (See Jonathan Zittrain.) If you’re a systems thinker, you think about generativity as the source of emergence. But on other sides such as the positive organization studies group, which CV identifies with, or feminist organizing, generativity shows up differently. The phrase itself comes from Erik Erikson‘s theory of adult development; it’s the moment of “Holy crap! What am I leaving behind when I go?” CV is particularly interested in how organizations can have an effect outside of themselves, particularly on other businesses.
Generative business practices: how we can create opportunities for other businesses to grow, by tweaking what we do anyway? Maybe with a small change we can create some generativity.
She looks to the Internet bubble in 1999. We could see that the Net was giving rise to many new ways of being together, including B2B. What can we do with it beyond the usual? The network technology “enables a network mindset.” She points to four areas where this mindset manifests itself:
So, she asks, what is happening?
People are tweaking what they normally do in order to create opportunities for other people, throwing off extra value.
Why care? Because it creates an environment that is more resource-rich for everyone, including the generative firm. Also, it is a “leadership” opportunity for the generative company; it makes them influential in lots of different ways. “The more generative they are, the more influence they have on institutions around them.” They can guide new practices, promulgate their organizational values, and become beloved by those in their circle.
E.g., CV went to a Buffer meetup. A hundred people showed up because it was advertised on the Buffer Facebook page, and because people wanted to meet “the Buffer guys.”
CV doesn’t want to argue that your business should be generative in order to make more money because it diminishes the generative impulse. But it often does have that effect.
Generative practices come from:
She notes that many of these practices come from people who are kind, generous, and loving…and their companies reflect that. (She notes that this is a Dale Carnegie idea.)
Generative practices with products include building products that help others, or that are generate when used. Also, consider enabling co-creating by opening up some APIs. [woohoo!]
Our basic model of a business model is that our company should extract the max value from our employees and customers. But we can create generative business models:
Generative practices in relationships: She points especially to cultivating the commons (or network citizenship). And social keiretsu: multiple companies creating a safe environment for someone to experiment.
Q: Do you see bad actors?
A: Yes. And I ignore them. That’s my conscious decision.
Q: Is this a governance issue? How do the generative companies discipline bad actors?
Q: Elinor Ostrum‘s commons talk about how they are maintained. Often the biggest sanction is exclusion.
Q: [me] There are plenty of bad actors in what you say because these generative pockets are often carve-outs from nests of vipers.
Q: Are you making an assumption that generative business models open the business to everyone? Does generativity imply that sort of openness. E.g., curate models: you deal with the bad actors upfront by excluding them.
A: I don’t assume generativity implies open for all. Some generative organizations are extremely choosy about who they partner with.
Q: Is Anonymous a generative organization?
A: I’ll ask Gabriella Coleman. [laughter]
Q: Generativity need not be used positively.
Q: Why aren’t more businesses adopting this?
A: The bottom line is a fiction because we don’t think about externalities, which are just costs we’re ignoring.
CV looks at two examples: Etsy.com and Buffer.
Etsy is “the marketplace we make together.” They have an engineering blog called Code as Craft, and a Code as Craft initiative that employs generative learning practices: open workshops at which they invite their heroes, and livestreaming them. They have hacker schools, hackathons, an API developers program, GitHub open repositories, and each of the 150 engineers is expected to give two presentations a year outside their company.
Underneath this are Etsy’s engineering values and philosophies. They have a “learn to fail” culture, etc. [I’m not keeping up] Generosity of spirit is a “core Etsy Engineering principle.” It’s a whole bundle of practices related to learning.
Buffer has about 25 employees. With Buffer, you can highlight a line you like, and it gets put out into social media spread out over time. Buffer uses who it is and what it believes in to inform and inspire and influence other organizations. People underestimate the value of walking the walk. Buffer and Etsy are happy to amplify the good things that others do. Buffer is shifting to “gift-mindedness. They posted nine values at Slideshare. Other companies are picking up on those values.
Some of buffer’s practices for generative transpaarency:
Q: Could AT&T adopt these values and reap the same kind of benefits?
A: No mattter how much they try, they have a PR legacy.
CV says that last year Buffer got hacked. A week alter they shared all the data about the effect on their company of the hacking. E.g., they lost 8% of their customers. (They recovered most of them.)
Q: [me] This seems like the company saying that they’re on our side. But it doesn’t seem particularly generative, unlike an open API.
A: It’s generative in the longer term.
Last Tuesday they announced they’re raising $3.5M…and they published their term sheet and why they’re doing it.
Q: Is transparency is always a good thing? E.g., there’s some thought that the lack of a private space keeps politicians from being able to compromise.
A: Don’t be transparent about anything that would kill your business. Or if there are people in the process uncomfortable with it, don’t do it. You could be transparent about being a crummy organization and I don’t know if that’s generative. (She mentions that at Buffer they all wear FitBits and share their sleep data.)
CV says that this sort of transparency is generative in that it tells other companies about new possibilities.
Q: Don Tapscott says that the increased transparency will force people to be more like Buffer.
Q: But this might be a selection effect: the company is attracting people who agree with its values, but the companies that don’t support these values therefore won’t be affected by what more open companies do.
Q: Buffer’s product is trust.
A: They’re selling a different way of running a startup, and they’re funding it with their Twitter scheduling tool. [Nice way of putting it!]
So, how does this create opportunities for people? People respond and tell Buffer how powerful it’s been for them. It may influence those people’s practice in the future.
Generative practices let us be more like the people we want to be. “People and companies blossom into these opportunities.”
Q: It sounds like Us vs. Them. If everyone does this, where will the selfish people work? [laughter] It’s nice to carve out a space for us nice people, but what about generativity can apply beyond the Us?
A: I will think about that. I’m trying to call attention to, and articulate, alternatives. I’m articulating ideas, and we together will discuss them and see what becomes of them. This is a generative conversation.
Q: Mob programming is a step beyond agile programming. When there’s an intractable problem, ten people spend a day working on it, with two screens. People say it’s the best way to tackle difficult problems.
Q: [karim lakhani] When you were describing Etsy, it sounded like Bell Labs. The ideal university is based on the same ideas. An hypothesis: Generativity won’t work commercially without subsidies.
A: Interesting. There are no completely generative organizations.
Q: [me] Gaming industry is hugely generative. Modders can sell their mods.
Q: [karim] But only because Steam allows them and takes their cut. [Me [unexpressed because I’d talked too much]: But it’s the game companies that are the example of generative entities here, not Steam as a platform.]
Q: Your examples all are about sharing information. It’s harder for humans to share physical goods that are in limited supply.
[Quite a generative discussion! CV walks the walk.]
Categories: business, cluetrain, marketing Tagged with: cluetrain • marketing
Date: November 5th, 2014 dw
June 22, 2014
On Friday I was part of the This Week in Law vidcast, hosted by my it’s-been-too-long friend Denise Howell [twitter: dhowell], along with Nina Paley [twitter: gorgeous + righteous. You must see it. That is an order.) It was a non-lawyerly discussion, which I was relieved to find out not because I dislike lawyers but because I could not have participated except by intermittently interjecting, “I object! On the grounds of say what now?”
Anyway, I can’t remember everything we talked about, except I know there was stuff about the effficacy of online advertising, the emerging norms for privacy, Amazon’s weaponized drones, Google Real-Death Bumper Cars, and nude photos of Robert Scoble.
You can get the vidcast/audiocast here. It’s a 1:35 long, where the first digit represents HOURS.
A Nina sample:
December 12, 2013
Reddit shows us how to introduce changes in a site’s user agreement. The agreement itself is admirably minimally jargony, but the discussion with the community is a model of honesty and respect.
Categories: cluetrain, marketing Tagged with: cluetrain • reddit • transparency
Date: December 12th, 2013 dw
September 27, 2013
Popular Science has announced that it’s shutting down comments on its articles. The post by Suzanne LeBarre says this is because ” trolls and spambots” have overwhelmed the useful comments. But what I hear instead is: “We don’t know how to run a comment board, so shut up.”
Suzanne cites research that suggests that negative comments on an article reduce the credibility of the article, even if those negative comments are entirely unfounded. Thus, the trolls don’t just ruin the conversation, they hurt the cause of science.
Ok, let’s accept that. Scientific American cited the same research but came to a different decision. Rather than shut down its comments, it decided to moderate them using some sensible rules designed to encourage useful conversation. Their idea of a “useful conversation” is likely quite similar to Popular Science’s: not only no spam, but the discourse must be within the norms of science. So, it doesn’t matter how loudly Jesus told you that there is no climate change going on, your message is going to be removed if it doesn’t argue for your views within the evidentiary rules of science.
You may not like this restriction at Scientific American. Tough. You have lots of others places you can talk about Jesus’ beliefs about climate change. I posted at length about the Scientific American decision at the time, and especially about why this makes clear problems with the “echo chamber” meme, but I fundamentally agree with it.
If comments aren’t working on your site, then it’s your fault. Fix your site.
[Tip o’ the hat to Joshua Beckerman for pointing out the PopSci post.]
Categories: cluetrain, science Tagged with: 2b2k • cluetrain • comments • science
Date: September 27th, 2013 dw
September 4, 2013
April 20, 2013
I’m a sucker for ads that comment on the dishonesty of ads. For example, I laughed at this one from Newcastle Brown Ale:
I also really liked this one as well:
I do have a duck-rabbit disagreement with Piper Hoffman’s reading of it at BlogHer. I took the ad as a direct comment on the sexism of beer ads: if you’re not an attractive woman, beer companies won’t include you. But Piper raises an interesting point. [SPOILER ALERT] She’s right that if the pronoun had been “she,” the point would have been less ambiguous. But it also would have been a bit crueler, since the ad would have had Newcastle calling their brewmistress unattractive, and it also could have been taken as Newcastle agreeing that only attractive women should ever be shown on in an ad.
While I enjoy a meta-ad like this (at least as I take it), I also feel a bit meta-fooled: What does that have to do with whether their beer is any good? I’m not looking to be friends with a beer.
I get more enjoyment from viewers subverting ads. For example, I saw an ad for KFC about some new boneless chicken product.
I wasn’t paying attention, in part because it was a commercial, and in part because I haven’t eaten anything from KFC since I became a vegetarian 1979 but I have not forgotten the sensation of eating chicken that’s been so close to liquefied that it’s held together only by a layer of deep-fried cholesterol. But I saw the hashtag #iAteTheBones and checked it out on Twitter.
Bunches of the tweets praise the commercial as amusing. (It was directed by David O.Russell, who also directed the Oscar-winning Silver Linings Playbook.) But prominent in the list is this:
Well, not as far as I can tell. But the tweet made me look.
And a heavily-favorited tweet is quite savage:
Someone in the KFC Marketing Department has already written an email to senior management explaining why this is a good thing for KFC. But, um, it’s not.
Neither is this:
Categories: cluetrain, marketing Tagged with: advertising • cluetrain • marketing • social media
Date: April 20th, 2013 dw