People 2.0

By Joe Shepley posted 12-30-2010 10:41


Right now, I’m in the middle of a series of posts that started with my seven core beliefs about E2.0 and is working through each of them in turn to explore their implications for E2.0 strategy and practice.

Continuing in that vein, in this post I’ll be looking at my fourth core belief: E2.0 is not fundamentally about the relationship of technology to people but about the relationship of people to people.

The chicken and the egg

At first glance, this belief seems at odds with the spirit of E2.0, which on the surface appears to have so much to do with technology. After all, it was precisely the introduction and widespread adoption of technologies like Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and that laid the foundations for E2.0, right? What would E2.0 be without microblogging, presence awareness, RSS feeds, buzz aggregators, community spaces, user tagging, and all the rest?

I would turn the question around and ask instead, how successful would social networking sites have been if as a society we didn’t have deep-seated, nearly-ubiquitous needs already in place that they were able to meet? Why would organizations even think about investing the time, effort, and money to adapt social networking functionality to the enterprise unless there were already business needs in place that this functionality could meet?

Pull, not push

The way I see it, the need for these technologies drove their creation and widespread adoption, not the other way around. History is littered with examples of technological advances and discoveries that were “ahead of their time” and flopped. In large part this was because either the technology didn’t yet exist to make them practical or society wasn’t ready to understand or accept them.

I came across a great quote about this phenomenon from an interview with Kevin Kelly in the October 2010 issue of Wired:

I think there are a lot of ideas today that are ahead of their time. Human cloning, autopilot cars, patent-free law—all are close technically but too many steps ahead culturally. Innovating is about more than just having the idea yourself; you also have to bring everyone else to where your idea is. And that becomes really difficult if you’re too many steps ahead.

One important way you can be “too many steps ahead” is when there isn’t a big enough need out in the world for your new idea, i.e., you’re not helping people do a job that they want done.

In both the consumer and business realms, there was a huge, unmet demand for tools to facilitate better collaboration.

  • Facebook didn’t create the need to stay in touch with geographically dispersed social groups, but it did make that task easier and more fun
  • LinkedIn didn’t create the need to network with professional peers, but it did make that task easier and more effective
  • Flickr didn’t create the need to share photos with large groups of friends and family, but it made that task easier and less expensive

Without these (and other) unmet demands, not only would social networking tools have been unsuccessful, but there would have been far fewer of them created in the first place.

The final word

In the end, the unmet need for more effective, efficient, and inexpensive people-to-people collaboration is at the heart of E2.0, not a set of groundbreaking technologies.

Of course, without these technologies, E2.0 would look very different; but without the need for better collaboration, all these technologies would simply be a scattered collection of interesting tools, not the transformative movement that E2.0 has become.

In the next post, we’ll talk a bit about why organizations should make the E2.0 plunge, but in the meantime, jump in with comments, thoughts, questions, or feedback—I’d love to get the conversation started!

#E20 #Wired #KevinKelly