I want to paint a quick picture of what I believe we will see emerge over the next five to ten years, as the impacts of real-time social tools and the emerging web culture trickle through into business. Today we are only that the start, one side of a bridge leading over to a dramatically different way of doing business.
In voluntary and open social networks, the individual has replaced the group as the basic, irreducible particle. In these contexts, our rights and responsibilities do not derive from membership in groups: they are unalienable. Of course, individuals in social networks immediately begin to create relationships -- based on the nature of what the social tools allow. This is why I have characterized social tools for over the past 10 years as ‘tools that shape culture.’ And it is through other people that we are made human.
The social business will be much more a village than an army. They aren’t really structured to conquer other village s, and they won’t operate like football teams. Mostly, businesses will be more fluid and less solid, with people cooperating and competing for resources, making deals and agreements, exchanging goods and services, dating, raising families, building and tearing things down, and lots of comings and goings. And bigger businesses can scale from this social scale belonging. But it’s a fractal sort of scaling, where the same sorts of organizational principles are at work in the large and in the small, which is how most bottom-up things work. As in a village, professional reputation will be more important than titles, connections more important than rank, and authority will be derived from connections not control. This is based on the maxim that I am made greater by the sum of my connections, and so are my connections.
The salient attribute of real-time conversations is that they are brand spanking new: the new ones were typed moments ago. The interesting thing about real-time isn’t that what’s important is fleeting. No, the salient attribute is that what’s breaking is brand spanking new: the newest Tweets were typed moments ago. At the beginning of some rising trend (critical to some business) is a single tweet, and a small number of followers who read it and then pass it on. The point where the pebble hits the surface of the pond, and the ripples start to spread. We are trying hard to hear the earliest whispers of things that are critical. Small talk is big again.
Abundance economics means that we won’t rely on search: search is based on scarcity. Imagine that all critical information is available, publicly, and the most important breaking news is a few seconds (at most) away. In this world the problem won’t be finding what you want, but minimizing the torrent so that you have a small number of things to look at. This is as true inside of a 1000 person company as in the open web. Increasingly, we will switch to a social connection mode to filter and find for us. Our networks will become engines of meaning, as Bruce Sterling said. Everything we want to find has been found, and will find us through our social connections. Like head colds and happiness.
We are not sharing space online, although it the conventional wisdom says we are. We are sharing time. Time has become a shared resource. Our time is increasingly not our own, in a good way, as we move into a streamed model of connection. Individual time becomes less of a reality, and a shared thread of time will become the norm -- shared with those that are most important to you and those that reciprocate. This will change the basic structure of work. Time is increasingly less linear, less mechanical; but more subjective and plastic. Individuals will choose to trade personal productivity for connectedness, as voices in the stream ask for help, pointers, and introduction. Connectedness will trump other obligations, specifically timeliness.
The real-time flow of social tools like Twitter, and the myriad vertical apps that will adopt the open follower model, will become the bloodstream of social business. The flow is where everything critical appears first, and where everyone will congregate. Flow will become the dominant motif of all important social tools in this next era of the Web. This will be the ‘still point of a turning world’: paradoxically, the place where the stream runs hardest will be where we are most at rest. The nexus for all the imploded bits of the previous web of pages, where the flotsom of links, messages, pats on the back, questions and alerts all jumble together. That’s where we’ll be. We will be the engines of meaning, sorting, passing things along, choosing who to follow and who to forget, transmitting ideas, decisions, and recommendations. This is where business will be done, plots will be hatched, and deals will be done. This will be the center of everything.
Building this won’t be easy. But we are moving into a new, post-industrial world, and new ways will have to be designed so that business can thrive. This is like pressures that drive us to build new infrastructure in the real world, or the societal pressures that lead us to make basic changes: like universal suffrage, the abolition of slavery, and child labor laws. Whatever else social business comes to be, it has to be based on how people operate when they feel most free, most creative, most engaged, and most needed. We have to build a way of working where the people doing the work matter as much as the work. Whatever else, social business must be that.
Announcement: Jeff Pulver and I are announcing today that we are partnering to do a ‘symposium on social business’ in the Spring in NYC. More news to follow.
1. Social Business Stowe Boyd (@stoweboyd) http://www.flickr. http://www.flickr.com/photos/chanc/1016886822
2. The Individual Is The New Group http://www.flickr.com/photos/neilsingapore/3155141893
3. A Village, Not An Army http://www.flickr.com/photos/eustaquio/3211540017
4. Small Talk Is Big Again http://www.flickr.com/photos/jackiespix/52618120
5. Meaning Is The New Search http://www.flickr.com/photos/ccgd/19937583
6. Time Is The New Space http://www.flickr.com/photos/paraflyer/508055535
7. Flow Is The New Center http://www.flickr.com/photos/tonivc/489609841