The US Air Force may seem an unlikely source for good guidance on blogging - but they have come up with something thoughtful, well organised and on one piece of paper, which are attributes not to be sneezed at.
Universal McCann has published a study of 17,000 internet users from 29 countries. It's not about everybody, it's about people who use the internet every day or every other day. And it's about how people influence and are influenced by each other. Two key conclusions are that everybody is an influencer and that social influencing has dramatically changed how people make decisions about buying products and services.
People trust each other more than they trust organisations. Company websites score 4.33 (out of 10) for trust, while blogs written by people you know score 4.89 and emails from a friend or colleague come in at 5.77. As the report notes, the top four trusted forms of recommendation are all direct conversation - and two of the four are online.
The full report is available here. eGov AU has a helpful summary of some of the key numbers. The same company produced a similar report a year ago on portable technology and 'the rise of the connected generation - Anytime, Anyplace.
I presented some analysis we commissioned from Forrester on how young people are using the internet, social media and social networking services - it led to an interesting discussion about issues of gender, and how we design for the social aspect of using the internet with friends (as opposed to a solitary experience) and recognise the challenge of media fragmentation and continuous partial attention.
Steph has put his slides online, and they make very interesting reading. To some extent they confirm what you might have guessed - younger people are more likely to use social media, and their use of the internet is itself more likely to be social - but confirmation is better than speculation, and some of the detail is well worth reflecting on.
What this material doesn't show - and can't show, given the nature of the sample from which the data was drawn - is much about the variation either within this group or between users and non-users (and there are a couple of points where the wording of the slides tempts you to forget that this is a sample of users). And because this is an analysis of a much bigger survey, the numbers involved for the teenage groups are pretty small. The precision of the numbers isn't really the issue, though: this is important insight into the next generation of people needing to influence and interact with government.
danah boyd has been using the launch of the new iPhone as a prompt to reflect on cluster effects -'the cool things that people do when all of their friends can do the same things'. The crucial thing about that definition is that it is not about mass adoption as such, it is about reaching the critical mass of adoption within a particular social group.
Right now, a phone is primarily a 1-1 communication device and, if you're lucky, an information access device and a portal to the web. Interesting things can happen when the mobile is a platform itself. In other words, when you can assume that everyone around you has the same tool, you can start doing networked activities that don't rely on a website. Cluster effects in mobile will be what happens when the LCD is not texting. From there, you can innovate. Sure, we're going to see a plethora of mobile social network sites and mobile location friend services and mobile dating and mobile media sharing communities. The first wave will always be a translation of the web. But once you have cluster effects, you can also start innovating and finding new services and tools that allow people to connect in meaningful way. New games can emerge. New social services. Innovation in this space will be iterative - it will involve throwing things out to the market and seeing what consumers do and do not do. It will require iterating based on their practices and not trying to shove those curvy creatures into square holes. But there's no point in leaving the starting block until cluster effects are underway because, sadly, iterating in imagination land inevitably leads to techno-utopian fantasies instead of meaningful applications.
Of course she is talking about a particular demographic: iphones are not much in evidence among the customers of my organisation. Texting remains the HCF as well as the LCD - and for many, even that is exotic and unfamiliar. But despite that, putting it together with three other pointers drives out some powerful conclusions:
The first is that the biggest impact of the iphone will come after the smart people have moved on to the next thing - following Yogi Berra's famous principle that, 'Nobody goes there no more, it's too crowded'. As I noted a while back, the iphone is a symbol of the future, even if that future is still several years away for many, and won't be called the iphone when they get there.
The second is that the increasing elegance and power of the gadgets is reinforced by the growing power of mobility. As Vint Cerf is cited as saying early last year:
The future growth of the Internet lies in the hands of mobile phone users, not computers
He was primarily drawing a first world/third world contrast, but the point is just as forceful looking at gaps and patterns within societies. The era of the landline is beginning to slip, displaced by the social and economic context of mobile phones (no contract, no risk of debt, unaffected by changes of address) as well as by their utility.
The third is danah's last point. We won't know what all that will be good for until it becomes clearer what it is good for. The waiting doesn't have to be passive, though. We can attempt to understand what people might want to do independently of our current ability to support their doing it - which is fine up to a point, so long as we understand that that point is quite limited. That's partly the result of the general chaos effects which afflict weather forecasts, but it is also more specifically a result of our not yet having even thought about how the way the world works is affected by the universal and ubiquitous use of powerful but pocket sized network devices.
Government doesn't find conversation easy. Its communication models tend to be predominantly one to many and it finds the megaphone more comfortable than the ear trumpet. No news in that of course, and the principle of trying to do better, of trying to be more conversational, is a long-standing one. It was much less noticeable, though, for as long as that was the predominant model of discourse in other areas too - the mass in mass media always used to be about the size of the audience, not about the number of voices speaking.
But all of that is changing, and changing rapidly, with serious arguments being advanced that the significance of change is comparable with the invention of movable type - and that, as then, the social consequences will lag significantly behind the technological change. So we are in a world where the technology, a few have adapted, but most of us are still struggling to work out and apply the social norms which will govern the new world.
One part of that is in the use of social media. Government is in a simple position here: with some very honourableexceptions, it ignores them. That at least means that the direction of travel is unambiguous, but leaves open the question of how far we have come and how far we have got to go. We could simply apply the Kübler-Ross model on which we would pretty clearly be on step one of five - and if the approach is good enough for All That Jazz, who are we to quibble?
Often, when I meet companies for the first time, I try to find out which of the following questions that they are answering, as it determines their level of sophistication.
As one might expect, brands in tech, media, and some consumer goods are more advanced, and finance, insurance, and sometimes government are trying to answer the first questions.
The reasons for that are no doubt many and varied, but one which rings true is a function of the immaturity of this: much of it doesn't work, not in a technical sense (that clearly works pretty well) but in a social or organisational sense, as Suw Charman notes in reflecting on the importance of pigheadedness:
Every now and again I'll be talking to a client or a journalist or some random person at a conference, and they'll ask me if I think that social software is a fad. Invariably they'll have anecdotal evidence of some company, somewhere, who tried to start up blogs or a wiki inside their business, and it failed. That, they say, is proof that social software has nothing to offer business, and that if we give it a few more years it will just go away. Quod erat demonstrandum.
The problem with this interpretation is that these failures - which are common, but largely unexamined and unpublished because no one likes to admit they failed - are part and parcel of the process of negotiating how we can use these new tools in business. They are inevitable and, were they discussed in public, I'd even call them necessary as they would allow us to learn what does and doesn't work. Sadly, we don't often get a glimpse inside failed projects so we end up making the same mistakes over and over until someone, somewhere sees enough bits of the jigsaw to start putting them together.
There is a lot of failure in the use of social software in business, on the web, in civic society, but we need to see this as a part of the cycle, a step along on the learning curve. We can't afford to stop experimenting, just because something failed once, or because it didn't work out for someone else. And we can't afford to take part in the Great Race To Be Second, either, because if you're waiting to see how other businesses succeed (or fail) before you leave the starting line, you're not going to be second, you're going to be last.
Be credible: Be accurate, fair, thorough and transparent.
Be consistent: Encourage constructive criticism and deliberation. Be cordial, honest and professional at all times.
Be responsive: When you gain insight, share it where appropriate.
Be integrated: Wherever possible, align online participation with other offline communications.
Be a civil servant: Remember that you are an ambassador for your organisation. Wherever possible, disclose your position as a representative of your department or agency.
The word cloud takes those words and the explanatory paragraphs which go with them, with size proportionate to frequency. It's rather reassuring that ‘partcipation’ comes out as the dominant word. Whether they will support the embrace of failure, as Suw Charman suggests, is another question - as is that of how many civil servants will get to access social networking sites which are currently blocked to them, which is a fairly essential precondition for participation. But it's a good first step, well worth watching for what it unlocks.
For the most part, government is not being done in recognizably different ways and certainly not ways that, in any reasonable interpretation of the word, would count as ‘transformation’ . Underlying structures and systems remain largely unchanged. It’s even harder to discern much real shift in underlying culture and behaviour. The compelling and provocative insights of the kind of world that Charles Leadbeater sketches in his new book We Think (as just one example of many analysts and writers) - open, collaborative, subject to new forms of collective intelligence, breaking down the silos etc - are notable too often for their absence in the settled and intractable world of public policy and public management.
Am I being unfair?
I think the short answer is ‘yes’. It is unfair, because there is an unspoken switch of focus in the comparison. No, there isn't yet much shift in underlying culture and behaviour in public policy and management. But that is surely because the public sector largely reflects the wider society of which it is part, not because it fails to. Most organisations do not live in a web 2.0 world. People reading blogs are a small minority, people writing them are a small minority of that minority, and the conversations we have among ourselves are not representative of how the rest of the world thinks about and does things. For the most part, business is not being done in recognisably different ways - or at least, it is instructive to think about where it is and isn't.
Take the level of resistance and incomprehension shown by the film and music industries. The signals for change have been clearer, the potential rewards for change much greater, alternative models far more obvious and key parts of the market much more ready to change than is true for most public service providers. Napster showed the big labels what the future looked like in 1999: they chose to look resolutely in the other direction. Mark Cuban dared to challenge the idea that DVDs should come out months after cinema releases and later suggested that the best thing to do with film soundtracks was to give them away - and is treated as an idiot by the rest of the industry.
Those are interesting examples for a couple of reasons. The first is that both industries are inherently digital, so might be thought to be more likely than others to recognise and respond to the challenge of the changing environment. The second is that in both cases they have embraced changes in the means and methods of production while resisting changes to the means of distribution: the dynamics of the back end and the front end have been very different.
Government is, of course, about more than production and distribution. It is about engagement and participation too. Most of us are free riders there, just as we are with wikipedia and linux. Amazon and Netflix will use their customers' actions and opinions to improve the recommendations they make - and in a delightfully recursive way, Netflix is using the wisdom of the crowd to improve the way it uses the wisdom of the crowd - but they don't want us to talk back. I am struggling to think of a mainstream commercial service where the principles of marketing as conversation are really at the heart of the approach.
That leaves social media. It's pretty self-evident that government is not much like Facebook. But in many ways it would be odd if it were: government is not about democracy, it is the thing to which we apply democracy. Facebook is more a substitute for an evening at the pub than it is likely to be for an evening at Conway Hall. It is a good thing that No10 is playing with twitter, but right now that's on the margins of the margin, and it is probably more important that Patient Opinion is doing what it does - which of course is not a government service at all.
Governments are as vulnerable to the innovator's dilemma as anyone, so it is not altogether surprising that this should be so. And it is made more difficult again by the fact that it is rarely if ever straightforward to innovate in government services without the consent and participation of government - which is essentially the point Tom Steinberg is reported as making in Martin's follow up post - so reducing the power of the disruptive newcomers to replace conservative incumbents by innovating round them.
So is government slow to change and to embrace the new opportunities created by its changing environment? No argument there. Is there greater shielding from the effects of that environmental change in government than in other sectors? Yes, probably (though that needs to be a description, not an excuse). But is all that a sign that government is operating in some different and more antique world than other large, long-established organisations? That's much less clear. As I have reflected on before, there are reasons for change in government being slow which aren't intrinsic to its being government.
Anybody who has spent any time working in the public sector will have got used to being told how much better everything is in the private sector, and will probably also have learned to brush such comments aside without taking too much notice of them. That's good because such comments are often ill-informed, but very bad because sometimes they aren't.
Personally I suspect that all large organisations are “slow to change”
if that means “adopt the path the leaders of the organisation have
decided to move forward on”. In fact, this applies even to small
organisations or dare I say it individuals. Certainly when I make a
decision to try to change my own behaviour, I do sometimes experience
difficulty in “driving through change”!
As one whose job is to drive change in a public sector organisation, I have to say that change does feel like a very slow process (though even that is heavily dependent on what kind of change you are thinking about). But I often wonder whether organisational size really is the key factor it is often assumed to be.
Another candidate is longevity. As the authors ofBuilt to Lastdemonstrated, most companies prove not to be. Government - both central and local - may change names and configurations, but the machine continues. The idea of a government start up - a little group of fanatics battling with cold pizza and an uncaring world to bring a better mousetrap (or a better regulatory framework for mousetraps) into being - is not one of the founding myths of public officials for the very good reason that that is not how life is like for them.
That thought was reinforced strongly for me when I visited the Cabinet War Rooms a couple of weeks ago - for the first time, despite having been working in and around Whitehall for a great deal longer than I feel comfortable remembering. Apart from the overwhelming thought about how on earth anyone fought, never mind won, a world war using little more than a few telephones, a couple of maps and a large box of pins, the two things which struck me most forcibly were the chairs in the cabinet room itself and the hole punch in the typing pool. Why? Well because the design, functionality and daily use of those things remained essentially unchanged in the civil service of half a century later. I have sat in just such chairs wielding just such a hole punch.
There is, despite popular perception, a lot which has changed and is changing in how government operates. Nobody joining the civil service today will have the start of recognition I experienced from the ghosts of my predecessors. But there are few, if any, real discontinuities in that change - at least in its cultural aspects. The pace of change, and the skills necessary to engineer it, are very different in such an environment than in one where the phoenix of organisational change burns up and is born again over months and years rather than decades and centuries.
Michael Wesch, who produced the Information R/evolution featured in the last post, first came to widespread fame (well, four million views on YouTube, which isn't far short of the same thing) with The Machine is Us/ing Us.
This one does Web 2.0 in under five minutes. Some of the examples assume a basic knowledge of geekness, but the rollercoaster ride gets across some important messages.
Some of the smart people in the provisional wing of Cisco have been developing the idea of the "connected republic" for a couple of years - applying the power of networks not just to how public services get delivered, but also to how government works.
Now they have launched the Connected Republic 2.0 - both as a white paper and as an online community. Both are well worth looking at, and although the blog and the forum are in their very early days, the quality of the people involved pretty much guarantees that they will be worth following.
There is just one small oddity. The two leading lights, Paul Johnston and Martin Stewart-Weeks are, respectively, British and Australian (though Martin may still be claiming to be from Yorkshire). That makes both of them subjects of the Crown - though perhaps they felt that Connected Monarchy didn't have quite the same ring to it - even with 2.0 (or should it be II) tagged on the end.