Friday, October 14, 2011

About W2e : the technology to change the world ?

The Web2.0Expo is a wrap. And as I start to look back on the speakers, start-ups and attendees I met, it strikes me that, for all the great announcements, innovations and ideas, technology is taking back-stage. 

Do not get me wrong: technology was impressive all along, but the real focus was on using it to change the world. 

Changing corporations
The IBM survey of CMOs and Melissa Parrish from Forrester pointed out that corporations are not ready for these new social technologies. CMOs (and leaders at large, it would seem) are yet to develop their awareness of the changes that have taken place and understand what the new technological (and social) environment, and mainly social technologies and data imply for their corporation. And let me be specific : what it implies for their organization, for their value chains and for their strategies. 
That view, though, is only the higher, hierarchy-focused view. Because in listening to the speakers and practicioners, you get the notion that social technology is mainstream now as are the practices to adopt it and make the most of it. It was interesting to hear Peter Kim present what he calls social media mythbusters : 
  • Consumers in control ? No ! Consumers are not in control, you, as a company, set the stage for their experience of your company’s services, and you should take responsibility for it. This idea of responsibility kept coming back during the conference. I loved the way in which Siobhann Quinn closed her speach about the five Laws of Engagement: "with those laws come responsibility, do not cheat on us, try to make us better people, better consumers, better contributors".
  • Social Media as obvious ? No ! Social media is not straightforward, you do need a strategy and even an advanced social media architecture as Joshua Ross defended. Seen from my prospective as a practitioner, indeed there is such a thing as a social media architecture, and I would argue that each corporation needs to design its own , adapted social media architecture. Indeed, your social media architecture won’t reach its potential if you haven't developed you own internal Collaborative Way. And you should know that, in developing your collaborative way and then building your social media architecture, the focus should not be on conceiving a great system but on engaging your managers and your employees to iteratively build it with you. Or, in the way Phin Barnes elegantly puts it, you need to design your organization for design

Face your responsibility, develop your collaborative way and your social media architecture ... but also, of course, learn and keep learning about each platform inner workings. There were great presentations about Facebook from Michael Lazerow and Ruben Quinones, and about Google+ from Adria Richards. It was even more interesting to listen about other platforms such as YouTube or from Dina Kaplan and their potential impact on internal communications.

Last of these speakers about the impact of social technologies and evolving mindsets on the corporations, Christina Gagner gave an overview of where the regulation is going. Self-regulation was the key word, as regulators are still playing catch-up and not necessarely from the most adapted viewpoint. Europe, a regulatory leader, would have some lessons for America.

Summary about the corporations then: the technology, the strategy, the managerial practices that are needed by our corporations have already been developed. The race is on to adopt them, and, believe me, no one will talk about a mere nice to have new social media.

Changing the Economy & Society
Social technology is also making its way towards changing society. One of the showcased start-ups,, aims at helping Newyorkers learn to eat again ! So it’s technology, yes, but used to diminish waste, to save time, and to learn old and forgotten key social and family traditions like the family dinner. 

Great presentation also from Nora Abousteit about how technology can change fashion and community, but also, most interestingly, about how all the achievements in technology should bring us reconsider the educational power of making.

Shelley Bernstein talked about how technology helped her engage the Brooklyn Museum visitors, and, as a result, collectively transform their experience of the Museum.

It was Carlota Perez that helped us make sense of these social ventures. We are in the fifth industrial revolution (after the first one, the second with the steam engine, the third with heavy industry and the fourth with mass production) and we are entering the deployment phase of this information revolution. Today, "what's good for IT is good for the world, and what's good for the world is good for IT". A very interesting perspective on why leaders are lost as they look on the existing conditions with their common sense (read what Duncan Watts has to say about the myth of common sense) and a call to action for all those that, as the examples above show, having understood technology are out and using it to change the world.

Changing democracy ?
But my ah-ha moment came during the Start-up showcase, when the founders of ElectNext introduced me to their beta version. ElectNext later became one of the two choices of the Expo for most interesting start-ups. How these choices were made says a lot about the organizers own sense of responsibility. It was not about winners and loosers, it was about starting the most meaningful conversations. And their two choices were start-ups that are transformational to society and to democracy.
But let me come back to ElectNext: using basic social technology and business model (online dating) to improve the voting experience. When I think about it, is it not a great way to educate voters, that usually have no time to delve into how the candidates voted (and not only what they have to say) and most often rely on their common sense when participating to political choices ?

I have been arguing these past few years that social technologies were an opportunity for corporations to reinvent their social value, their role in society. Would you not say that mastering these three dimensions are key milestones on a roadmap to renewed leadership ?

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