Adapting to the real world

I’ve spent the last week in a series of very interesting mind-sharing meetings. First, the American Association of Colleges & Universities flew me into Washington DC to discuss the future of assessment in higher education with education professionals as well as new techsphere friends like Silona Bonewald and Amber Case. Second, Michael Byrne from Harvard University’s Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations invited me to speak there about the open, social web, the notes for which I’ll write up and post here soon. A great big thank you to both organizations for inviting me; I’ve felt privileged to have such insightful and interesting conversations over the last few days.

It seems like the shift in innovation in social tools has gone from developing new and interesting technologies to developing interesting models that happen to use technologies. This is a big step, and in some ways represents the space coming of age. There’s still plenty of technological development and innovation to do, but the platform and concepts are at a point where they can be adapted into all manner of social collaborative spaces, business tools, social experiments, games, art projects, and combinations of those things. It’s becoming a very exciting field to work in.

That said, some adaptation needs to happen, and it’s important to realize that these ideas only work in an effective way when they’re made relevant to the outside world. The social web is extremely political: it imposes an opinion about how the world should be open and social, democratic and centered on individual preferences, but ironically doesn’t allow for differences in that point of view. That makes it very hard for late adopters, enterprises, governments and public organizations to feel the benefit.

Over on Persona Prime, Silona makes this point about technology-inspired government transparency:

Where is the change management?  We are doing some big stuff here and we are poised to make serious mistakes and I see no prelim work being done to prevent this.  Where are the best practices in open govt documents?  All I see are “I want” lists.  I have not seen us doing anything serious to ally [the fears of people who might be wary of transparency].

It would be cool if every Fortune 500 company wanted to be on Twitter, but the reality is that they don’t, and often for very legitimate reasons. If what we’re doing is establishing a new, global, decentralized way to create, share, disseminate and discover information, then we have to take into account the differences in all the decentralized nodes. Embracing different corporate cultures, and different opinions on how communication should be, is part of that. Compromising and addressing the fears of companies and late adopters will build a larger userbase for all our tools, and make the platform much more useful in the long run.


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