Watching the government fall in Egypt felt a lot like the Berlin Wall coming down. Brian Williams interrupted the Today Show with a special report that left no doubt what had happened before Williams said a word. You could say they wanted a revolution, but this time was different.
The difference was real time, as embodied by Twitter and Facebook and the rubric social media. The way it was handled, as part of the story Williams intoned as he announced Mubarek’s resignation, came close to rolling up the Twitter trigger as a central element of the event. Yet as with the birth of Twitter, the rush of FriendFeed to real time, and the occupation of computing by the iPad, we almost don’t see the completeness with which social mobile has only just begun to flex its muscles.
On the Gillmor Gang, I recalled that moment when Gabe Rivera suggested I log into Twitter. Then came the year where I posted nothing, followed by the gaming of Track, the FailWhale, and a lot of noise about how social media and the enterprise didn’t have a thing in common. Of course, they were wrong, and Marc Benioff proved us right. Chatter.com was announced at the Super Bowl, and now millions are slowly moving down the runway toward takeoff.
Chatter rolled out @mentions and Likes this Sunday, and we heard the same old noises about applying social signals to business processes. Fellow Gangster John Taschek and I have been experimenting with @mentions for some time now on Twitter. Together with direct messages, the two signals have provided a key tool for communicating what we want publicly, and what we want to keep private. Email can kiss its lack of the @sign goodbye. And along with it, the malignant hierarchical constraints that choke serendipity and calcify progress.
Email creates the fame monster of who’s in charge, who’s starting the conversation, who’s managing the flow. In a stream architecture, relevance and authority are earned by the subtle observation of cloud dynamics. Not just what you say but what you don’t. Not just when you contribute but when you ratify by laying out. Not just what you earn with each comment, but what you put away for a rainy day through an accumulation of signal, rhythm, silence, humor.
Email is a fire drill. Here’s what we’re talking about, when we’re expecting it, why you’re going to do it. The answers are turned into commitments, performance criteria, weights and balances in calculating your value to the enterprise. But the tools of such arbitrage are to:, cc:, and blindcc:. This message is for you, and fyi for them. And secretly fyi but just listen, don’t jump in. The bcc: carries with it an implicit agreement that the very fact of the bcc: is not to be shared.
Tweets, @mentions, and DMs can handle most of those email patterns, but add an additional layer of signal to the conversation. A tweet or retweet tells not only what you should learn but who are the presumed listeners. A retweet is essentially an @mention without the overt cc: signal, providing velocity to a stream of ideas, alerts, or items. @mentions add the element of shared experience, the water cooler opportunity, not just for the current item but for future and even past examination. The direct message feels like an email to: with its tunnel from you to them, but it also carries an affinity with its realtime insertion into the push notification stream.
Because it shares that alert visibility with @mentions, it unifies the citations that frequent both types into a stream of notifications rich with context and timeliness. But it makes no demands on you to continue the form of the originating message. Often I will respect the privacy of a direct message in thinking about who to pass it along to, but stripped of the commentary to the core citation the message can be shared in open or additional direct channels. Thinking across the public/private axis produces a layer of abstraction about the metadata surrounding the citation and the cloud to which the citation itself can be pushed.
Gabe Rivera was reticent to discuss his mix of signals and how they are orchestrated to produce Techmeme, but in general his recent experiments with adding social signals not just as indicators of authority but also as content themselves speak to this same abstraction of the elements of the broader conversation. By whitelisting authoritative nodes, he is adding cloud dynamics to the area between blog posts and micromessages in a way similar to what @mentions and dms do to the area between public and private domains. It’s a blend of institutional memory and actionable discovery that proves both valuable and highly authoritative when switched on.
With these tools, we can now reinvent work, politics, the notion of expertise, and what constitutes leadership skills. In my own work, the velocity of @mentions and streaming video feeds back on itself to accelerate the progress we can make, which then provides fodder for the streams we produce externally as well as internally. It’s much like a self-fulfilling prophecy, where the act of imagining leads to the economy of citation and the velocity of humor to reach the target and the beginning of the cycle simultaneously.
The message of Will.i.am’s Chatter.com films at halftime was one of transformation, of imagining the world as we intuit it could be, of discovering rather than preaching. If we’re wondering what Chatter.com is supposed to be, that’s because we intuit what that is going to be. As I reminded Gabe, I had no idea what Twitter was good for, but what it could become? I had a feeling, that’s for sure. I’ve still got that feeling. @mention me and do two things: tell me what you think, and give a clue to what you’ll think next.
It sounds simplistic, like Scoble publishing his phone number on his blog. But @mentions require just enough work to over time filter the stream to those most invested in the dynamics of the particular cloud. The signals derived from association, of the cumulative nature of @mentions, the dynamics of the conversation, the two-way assent of direct messages. When I want to bring Kevin Marks into the conversation on the Gang, I bait him with some aspersions about the emptiness of the open model, and boom, he’s there. It’s an @kevinmarks informed by the cumulative stream, and those who seek to game it or inflict insult will eventually tire of the sport.
Remember when we got the Twitter religion, when Friendfeed went real time in a big way, when Jobs sat on the couch with the iPad. In the age of too much of nothing, as Bob Dylan wrote, our brains are choking on the stuff in the middle. Short term, we got it covered pretty much: gotta take out the recycling, check Techmeme, oh look, Mubarek quit after all, answer email, rinse, repeat. Long term, somehow we have plenty of room for all those years ago, for the big thoughts, the petty grudges, the songs that carried our dreams along. But middle term, we’re screwed. The kids will say it’s age, old man, but I see it everywhere: the hunt for the right word, the blank look about something that happened last week or the grunt of frustration at remembering too late what I forgot to do. It’s the memory that slips quietly from short to not long enough ago.
Soon we’ll master the multitasking of push notification, harness the now, corral the middle into a shared memory where we get reinforcement about the value of savoring our success with change. You could see it in the eyes of the Egyptians, in the chorus of their yearning. They just used this moment of social media to stand as a group and through the force of their cloud bring about change. They know better than us how difficult the road ahead is, but they know that turning away is worse. ‘Don’t you know that you can count me out… in.’
@gaberivera @scobleizer @kevinmarks @jtaschek @stevegillmor