I guess you gotta be here

It’s pretty easy to understand Web 2.0 intellectually, but to really get it, you’ve gotta be there.  Here.  All sorts of things get missed when decisions are based on assumptions that are intellectual constructs, not built out of practice and experience. We know this already: there is a strong difference between hospitals directed by clinicians even when their administrators are professional managers, and those  hospitals directed by administrators or – even worse – by management consultants who are neither managers nor consultants.

Years ago I had a smug boyfriend who said to me

To know and not to act is not to know

It is apparently a Chinese proverb.

In the years since then I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve dealt with who understand the words used to discuss Web 2.0, but whose lives have not been affected by it.  No harm in that – I understand the words used to describe meditation, but I don’t meditate.  Each to our own, and all that.

The harm comes when these people make decisions about the use of Web 2.0. An example that is a few years old now, is the story of La Petite Anglaise, who was an Englishwoman working for the Pasis office of a boring and stuffy accountancy firm. Her employers fired her for bringing them into disrepute (hard, since her blog was anonymous), and that really DID bring them into disrepute.  They understood it, but they didn’t get it because they didn’t use it.

But blogging is so 2005, darlink.  The two more recent examples both come from the Twitterverse: the first is the story of Trafigura, and is summed up superbly by Colm, where the attempts to gag the Guardian turned out not to be a case of locking the stable door after the horse had bolted, so much as opening the  stable door and shooing a  self-replicating herd of wild mustangs out of the stable-yard and then announcing you’ve done so in great flashing neon lights which spooks the mustangs even more.  And the second is the 25,000 complaints to the Press Complaints Commission as a result of Jan Moir’s venomously homophobic article about Stephen Gately.  (Hetronormativity  – the acceptable face of homophobia).  In both cases people who should certainly have heard of Twitter fell foul of something they don’t understand because they don’t use it.

The place where this matters is where people are taking decisions about technology that they don’t use.  You can go to as many conferences you like and talk about people tweeting their comments from their mobiles, but unless you use it, you won’t get it.  You’ve gotta be in it to win it.

In fairness, while there’s a lot I do get about Web 2.0, there is stuff that I don’t get. I took a deliberate decision not to get involved in Second Life and I’m ambivalent about whether or not I regret it.  I also don’t yet get Twitter.  I use it, but I don’t yet get it.  Other than Colm’s excellent commentary about Twitter the other day, the most informative thing I’ve come across was in a Word Podcast.  (I like the Word Podcast – it’s conversational dad-dancing, conducted with a complacent lack of self-awareness which always brightens my day).

The “what will you give me for a box of flood-damaged Roogalator albums?” podcast

At minute 38 (if you care to listen) they start talking about Twitter, and at minute 44 or thereabouts they discuss the way in which Twitter is now the first place to go for news.  News: the new Olds .  Or possibly Google: the new Print Media.

What’s the take-away from this piece?  Just that in the words of Bob Dylan, “Don’t criticize what you can’t understand”.   And because you can’t beat a bit of Bob, here’s a clip,  and because it’s 2009 it’s from The Watchmen.

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28 responses to “I guess you gotta be here

  1. That Watchmen clip is lovely. It is perfectly cast, beautifully shot, well directed and brilliantly structured. It contextualises what follows perfectly. Except…

    Except it expects, assumes and requires a really quite extensive body of knowledge to appreciate, only about half of which require knowledge of the comic.

    I have to wonder how many people who watch that would recognise or connect the various appearances of the movie’s major characters (e.g. the young Comedian in the third shot, and later hefting a rifle on a grassy knoll, or a young Rorshach watching the procession of clients queuing for use of his mother.)

    Worse, how many 18 year olds (or anyone, for that matter) would recognise or be able to explain the significance of (in order):
    – the Enola Gay at 0:51
    – the subversion of an iconic photo from Times Square at 1:11 (in our universe, that nurse was kissed by a sailor, and the photo made the cover of Time magazine. You can see the sailor in the background…)
    – would they know who the guy shaking Dr. Manhattan’s hand at 2:28 is? Would they recognise his wife on the left?
    – the motion of that man’s head, back and to the left, and the significance of where the Comedian was shooting from?
    – At 3:11 – how many people could name Thic Quang Duc? (Incidentally my candidate for hardest b*****d who ever lived…)
    – Brezhnev and Castro at 3:50
    – The Kent State shootings at 4:00 (would they even realise such a thing actually happened, and was not invented for the movie?)
    – Andy Warhol at 4:12
    – Mick Jagger, David Bowie, The Village People and Divine
    – the constitutional change necessary for Nixon’s third term at 5:13
    – The Doomsday clock on the right at 5:16

    • I thought you’d like it – I assumed you knew it well already. I’m thinking a lot about how the web exposes cultural differences which were previously hidden by demographics, geography or language. I think you’ve just highlighted a whole load of them.


  2. Having said that what do you say to the role of the professionl Business Analsyt; the person who doesn’t use the system but makes many of the key decicions about what goes into it?

  3. I am here, and I feel I don’t understand the 2.0 world sometimes… Maybe because I’m sort of standing up to my knees in the water and holding onto a rope tied to the traditional media shoreline while I dabble?

    I don’t Twitter, for instance. I do know about the potentials of Twitter, though. Or do I? Do I really *know*? Interesting…

  4. I’ve got a Twitter account, but don’t use it enough to see the point of it. I’m conscious, from a little Twitter stalking I’ve done of others, that they seem to get a good deal out of it. Problem is, by its nature (i.e. the 140 char limit) those getting the most out of it are those most immersed in its jargon, which makes what they’re getting out of it quite opaque. It’s also apparent that quite a lot of people are accessing it using tools I don’t have (iPhone apps, for instance).

    I’m not a Luddite by any means, but I do question whether it’s worth bothering to learn more about Twitter. I gave a large portion of my life to a social networking website before they were fashionable. Then I joined Myspace, and used it a lot less, because nobody I knew used it much. Then I joined Facebook, and that achieved some sort of critical mass among people I know in the real world, so I use it.

    There are a fair few people I communicate with exclusively through FB. Twitter does not, fundamentally, seem to me to offer me anything that the “heavier” apps do not, other than portability – and that’s a function of hardware, and THAT is getting lighter all the time.

    Fundamentally, I remain to be convinced that Twitter is worth my time and effort, because (a) not enough people I care about use it and (b) I’m pretty sure that by the time I learn enough about it, it will have been supplanted by the Next Big Thing.

    • Which kinda proves my point… you gotta be there to get it. I’m not there so I don’t get it but I think the magic of Twitter is only revealed if you use a good dashboard. I do need to allocate some time to try out the various ones around and find out whatever I find out.

  5. And after all, that was your point – you have to be in it to win it.

    Twitter’s potential becomes apparent only once you are already addicted.

    Games of Late Arrivals at the Gardner’s Ball notwithstanding.

  6. Thanks for your comments, Ben!

    I’m not sure whether any of us know where Twitter is yet going to go. It could yet be the CB Radio of the Internet (didn’t some people once believe that the Internet was the CB Radio of the 90’s?) but it’s my guess that the technology may well find it’s niche over the longer term.

    The people who use Twitter habitually is likely to stay relatively microscopic compared to the general population. If my mum starts tweeting, it’s won, but this ain’t going to happen any time soon. There is however a sense of influence about Twitter that surpasses the raw numbers of people using it. More than likely it’s the type of people who are tweeting – the Fry’s and Glinners etc, who have made the medium so darned sticky. It’s going to be very cool to see how it evolves.

    • The very thing I like about Twitter is that element of surprise. I’ve been taking nostalgic dips into predictions written in the 1990s about the web and they got it right about e-Business and blogs, and weren’t far off about Napster and YouTube and even networking sites like FaceBook. But this wave of communication flowing around instantaneously, with open conversations flicking backwards and forwards ? Nope. Not a tweet. No-one predicted that.

  7. Twitter for me is a way of learning from other educators all over the world. I have learnt so much from them that in my school it has led to innovative ways of teaching and learning. Check out Prezi and Animoto for instance. Very powerful and they’re the kinds of things I have got from Twitter. The key is not just tweeting for the sake of it, ie just to make some kind of link with humans, but to do it with purpose.

  8. Having now read the earlier posts. There is no point in Twitter unless you have an aim, as in reason to use it. I have cultivated a PLN and so the only reason to read the posts is to learn.and enable people (teachers to learn from me). There is so much more than Twitter to Web 2.0 though, as you know. Not convinced about 3.0 yet.

    • I’m intrigued to know how you’ve been using Twitter, Jasmine. Tweeting with a purpose, eh? I can see I need to lose a weekend in the Twitterverse. Well, I haven’t any other plans for tomorrow…

  9. On the subject of “not getting it”, it seems as if Rupert Murdoch firmly falls into this camp. It would be great to see this move fail epically.


  10. Having done some thinking about Web 3.0, my main concern would be the elimination of serendipity. It sounds like a wonderful idea to have a personal digital assistant who watches what you search for, intuits your preferences and serves up what you want before you even know you want it. It sounds great to create a network of like-minded individuals who can share their ideas between themselves.


    I’m an inveterate browser, and the nature of browsing is coming upon, accidentally, that which you would never have come upon on purpose.

    Browsing a newspaper, I have to turn past pages of stuff I’m ostensibly not interested in, just to get to the stuff I want. It’s an inherent part of the process. Sometimes I see interesting stuff I’d never have looked at by choice.

    On a news website, however, there’s just a list of headlines and sections, and I can go straight to what interests me without ever seeing the other stuff. A filter would remove even the “uninteresting” headlines.

    Similarly, almost every positive creative decision I’m aware of, in my life and generally, has come about as a result of the intrusion of an external factor, a wildcard. Ever met someone, read a book, watched a film or heard a radio show and had them make you look at your life in a whole new way?

    Our tools seem more and more to be focussed on eliminating the wildcards from our experience. Monty Python’s Web 3.0 would be announced with the phrase “And now for something almost exactly the same.”

    What is the point of this observation?

    To counsel Web 2.0/3.0 users to actively seek out the wildcard, because thanks to all the whizzy new tools you’re using, you’re no longer dealing off a full deck.

    The truly groundbreaking Web 3.0 application would be the Paradoxical Digital Assistant. This would be something that analyses what you like, what you normally browse/watch/do, etc. – then actively ignores all that and shows you something else entirely from a completely different field. And 90% of the time it’ll be useless. And it will take discipline not to switch it off. But one time in ten, or a hundred, that thing it shows you will stimulate you in a way that nothing your like-minded friends and coddling search optimisers could ever do.

  11. Ye-es.

    It’s how you use it though, isn’t it? I heard a programme on Radio 4 suggesting that the joy of Radio 4 is the serendipity, the randomness of having the radio on and being astonished by the programme after the one you turned on for. Of being tripped up by really good radio. But I get tripped up by really good podcasts these days, and my listening is significantly more varied as a result.

    Web 3.0 could be an echo chamber, but only if you lock the door.

  12. I never know where you come up with the interesting bits and bobs of the Internet you share though. The last time I went looking for podcasts I found reams and reams of them, subscribed to them all and now I’m too afraid to plug my iPod into my computer because the downloading will take the rest of 2009 and it will probably explode before then anyway.

    On the other hand, I do have you to point me in the right direction, and I reckon on balance I’ve been exposed to more varied ideas and information and opinions than I would otherwise, although there’s probably much of that that is well within my comfort zone, topicwise. I’m slightly more likely to follow up a hare started by someone here though, simply because I’m more likely to think that something someone I’ve got some kind of relationship with thinks is important is important than some random jounalist in a paper.

    But I must say that I’ve always hated the idea of the sites that try to insist you type in your reading preferences and then feed you them. Because every now and then…

    I’m trying to decide if finding out what Twitter is for is worth the effort. At the moment I can’t think, but then I suspect I thought that about blogging before, and I know I thought that about Facebook before I used them. Which of course is the point.

  13. Checking the hot new tagged pages on Delicious (there’s your serendipity tap, SoRB) I found this:

    10 Ways You Can Use Twitter Lists


  14. Twitter in the classroom I can’t do yet as mobiles are banned in the classroom but they shouldn’t be. There is a fear about pupils texting each other etc but there has always been students passing notes. Twitter for me at the Twitter at the moment is about ME learning from other people in my field and has been amazingly powerful. Learnt loads. scared? Yes. If you aren’t using Googledocs, why? Googlewave? Not sure of it’s use yet but I have it after a long trawl. Jaz x

  15. Pingback: The Business Analyst: Facilitator or Designer? « Thinking about it…

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