Who would you name?
We all say we despise those lists that get created to showcase influencers and hotshots in our field. But secretly, (a) we wish we were on them, (b) they didn’t pick the same small group of people all the time, and (c) we all know that people love lists, or else we wouldn’t keep making them. So, how can we break out of ruts that naming-games create?
We’ll create a new game.
There is no such thing as a pure meritocracy.
Every few months, it seems like, when the Internet gets its big knickers on and does something righteous, invariably, someone somewhere gets up on a stage and declares that anyone, if the idea is good enough, can be successful on the Internet. Whether that’s a business plan, a political campaign or a cultural meme: you, too, can make it big. It’s our American rugged individualism, intertwined with what looks like an open digital frontier, all packaged up into an utopian bliss for the new century.
What’s true is that more people than ever have access to information, tools and networks that make things happen. And while the news often covers the darker sides of connective technologies like the Internet and mobile devices becoming mainstream, there’s plenty of good to celebrate. Look at just this past week in Internet do-gooding: A video showing a school bus monitor being gut-wrenchingly harassed by 13-year-old boys until she cried sparked a fundraising campaign for her, one that’s now reached over $650,000.
Where things go awry in the analysis of these kinds of situations is two-fold: one, that there is a secret to making something “go viral” (short answer: there isn’t), and two, anyone can create explosive story at any time if the story has merit. If you’re good enough and smart enough, doggone it, people will like you. And you will win the Internet.
In case you’ll be at SXSW Interactive this weekend, and in case you want to see me and some pretty amazing folks doing some killer speaking and workshopping… Monday is the Day o’ DZ:
Last night I was poking around the socnets before going to bed, and saw that Beth Kanter had posted a link to Fast Company’s “Influence Project.” I’m keenly interested in ways to measure influence as part of the research fellowship I have with the Center for Social Media at American University, so naturally I was intrigued and signed up. It took me a while to suss out what they’re actually doing. While they recognize that influence isn’t about numbers of followers or fans, this is how they measure:
The scale of your influence, and therefore the size of your photo, is based on two measures.
1. The number of people who directly click on your unique URL link. This is the primary measure of your influence, pure and simple.
2. You will receive partial “credit” for subsequent clicks generated by those who register as a result of your URL. In other words, anyone who comes to the site through your link and registers for their own account will be spreading your influence while they spread theirs. That way, you get some benefit from influencing people who are influential themselves. We will give a diminishing, fractional credit (1/2, ¼, 1/8 etc ) for clicks generated up to six degrees away from your original link.
What I find problematic: It’s still in many ways a popularity contest. Someone with a lot of time on their hands could launch a campaign to focus on generating as many clicks as possible, which would certainly skew the measurements of that person’s true influence– if they’re not actively campaigning, how much are people actually clicking on their links?
Plus there’s the problem of the power law in this case–early popular adopters are going to rise to the top faster than later adopters and benefit the most from the Amway-like pyramid scheme of click benefits.
There’s no good measurement for influence right now. Part of that’s because there’s a Pandora’s box of factors to consider. I may be influential in recommending information about social networks or dog behavior, but completely ineffectual at recommending solid information on the cultures of Lower Slobbovia. Which measure of influence is important? Do we take a mean number of some kind to represent my overall influence in the world? If we did, how much weight should my recommendations on Lower Slobbovia play?
I know people are desperate to have quantitative metrics when it comes to social media, especially when thinking about ROI. I don’t want to see us falling back on paradigms that we’re used to, though, because they’re now becoming outdated and useless. Here’s a smidge of how I address this in Share This!, from the section “Avoiding the Newest Numbers Trap” in Chapter 4:
Someday, maybe even while this book is being printed, my dream of having an application that shows me “interestingness” in the social network sphere will come true. Flickr has this for photographs: There is an algorithm based on “[w]here the click-throughs are coming from; who comments on it and when; who marks it as a favorite; its tags and many more things which are constantly changing.” The best part? Interestingness itself, then, is constantly changing, based on these shifting variables, so there’s a good chance of finding both something new and something surprising when one goes spelunking through Flickr’s massive collection of interesting photos.
I’m not going to lie to you: This great shift in authority isn’t the easiest part of social networking’s brave new world to navigate. The tools give us tremendous power to change the culture around us, but they’re new, and our behavior and impressions are still based on operating within a hyper-capitalist-focused, hierarchical mindset. We have a lot of work to do on freeing our minds before the rest of our bits will follow.
Surprisingly, though, the uncertainty of the future of social networking tools is also the good news: Things are still shaking out, and we’re in a position to determine whether the reordering of authority will benefit people who previously did not have the access or the means to make their voices heard. Armed with a fundamental understanding of what’s taking place (by, ahem, reading good books on the subject), you’re primed to make the most of change.
Though it’s been eight months since I actually launched the crowdfunding for my book (and then wrote about how it was going), it seems to have kicked up a new firestorm of discussion over the past weekend. Much of it began on Twitter; then a few people wrote up blog posts covering it. I only discovered the discussion after it was well underway (evidently I’m difficult to track down online, and not much of a conversationalist anyways, heh), so the last few days have been spent correcting factual errors and offering catch-up insight as to why I believe so deeply in this model. I’m hoping now to sum up a few of the arguments I’ve made elsewhere, but moreso I’d like to pull back and look at some big picture issues.
For background, here are the series of posts that sum up the first discussions on Twitter, and subsequent responses:
There seem to be two sets of argument made against crowdfunding in much of the discussion I’ve seen: one, it reveals the funding seeker as a shameless self-promoter and snake-oil salesperson; two, it destroys the ethos of publishing either by allowing publishers to never have to produce advances again, or by allowing just any ol’ work to be produced without blood/sweat/tears.
This was shot in June 2009 in Toronto for GetInvolved. It was a really fun conversation with the producers… I talk about free-for-all organizing, how influence is changing, the importance of authenticity–and I start the first Twitter Anon meeting, to boot.