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The Third Place Manifesto


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Today we find ourselves confronted by an overwhelming frequency of radical transformation and information overload. Extracting meaning from this paradigm and accordingly, addressing opportunities and challenges arising through ubiquitous connection and socialisation, has become the conversation of our time. The Third Place Manifesto addresses this change with a view to 'rediscovering' context within persistently disruptive and emergent social ecosystems.

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The Third Place Manifesto

  1. 1. The ‘Third Place’ Manifesto: Discovery of Community, Value andContext within Persistently Disruptive, Emergent Social Ecosystems.OverviewOne of the most compelling aspects of emergent trends and the global super brainis that information is overflowing on a scale beyond that which we can physicallycomprehend. As technology fellow and evangelist Jason Silva surmises: “Theelectronic, collective, hive mind that we know as the Internet produces so muchinformation that organizing this data -- and extracting meaning from it -- has becomethe conversation of our time.”1Silva invokes Canadian-born architectural theorist and writer Sanford Kwinter’s FarFrom Equilibrium – a book that tackles everything from technology, to society, toarchitecture on the premise that “creativity, catharsis, transformation and progressivebreakthroughs occur far from equilibrium.”2This is where we find ourselves today – confronted by an overwhelming frequency ofradical transformation and information overload.Sanford asserts: “We accurately think of ourselves today not only as citizens of aninformation society, but literally as clusters of matter within anunbroken informational continuum: “We are all,” as the great composerKarlheinz Stockhausen once said, ‘transistors, in the literal sense. We send, receiveand organize [and] so long as we are vital, our principle work is to capture and artfullyincorporate the signals that surround us.”The evolution of ‘social capital’Let us examine these signals. In a few short years our online experience has shiftedbeyond mere two-way dialogue into a ‘social capital’ phase. Here, community hasbecome currency, exercising great power and influence over the way we build brands,innovate products and services, solve complex problems and manage or destroyreputations.These signals usher us toward a world where knowledge, power and productivecapability will be more dispersed than at any time in our history – a world where value                                                                                                                1  Silva,  J.,  ‘Connecting  All  The  Dots’,  (Imaginary  Foundation  blog,  2010)    2  Kwinter,  S.,  Far  From  Equilibrium  –  Essays  on  Technology  and  Design  Culture,  (Barcelona:  Actar,  2008)     1      
  2. 2. creation will be fast, fluid and persistently disruptive.To understand the nature of social capital and its impact on society, commerce andculture, we must return to the pre-Internet era. Can you remember how youresearched ideas before Google; garnered the support of friends and peers aroundimportant issues before social networks like Facebook existed? Many argue life wassimpler, whilst early adopters describe the ‘old world’ as one-dimensional;characterized by static, linear transaction where ideas were conceived, packaged,dispatched and consumed, often without interpretation or input.Consider that marketing in the early 21st century is dominated by two approaches,neither of which is visible to the naked eye. Firstly, “The use of data to define andshape human affairs into machine-readable form; and secondly, the effort to createand sustain ongoing two-way relationships with consumers. The former is arguablyone way in which human life is subjugated to the regime of the machine, whilst thelatter is a sign that the individual may one day emerge from within the dataverse.” 3These insights from social scientist and communications strategist, Len Ellis, suggest a“post-modern perspective is needed to reveal both the kaleidoscope of data and theraw immaterials of relationships.”Facebook’s partnership in 2009 with the World Economic Forum in Switzerlandsignaled that this post-modern future is upon us. The event transposed online thoughtand content once relegated to a small physical setting to a world stage, unencumberedby demography or geography, enabling delegates to poll random segments ofFacebook’s then 150 million user-base. The result was a real-time pulse of whatmillions of people around the world were thinking and feeling at that precise moment,directly connected to planetary level question of import.This act extols the ‘strength of weak ties’ – a theory first presented by MarkGranovetter in 1983, whereby networks of connected strangers can become a crucialbridge between clusters of strong ties (the people we know), thus highlighting howpeople react when healthy social reinforcement is in place. 4 It is a paradigm shifttoward community where everyone participates, everyone contributes -- everyonebelongs. Importantly, it reinforces the relevance and power of social networks toconnect people, resources and ideas to drive creativity and innovation forward. In                                                                                                                3  Ellis,  L.,  Marketing  in  the  In-­‐Between:  A  Post-­‐Modern  Turn  on  Madison  Avenue    (Booksurge,  2006)    4  Granovetter,  M.,  ‘The  Strength  of  Weak  Ties:  A  network  theory  revisited’,  Sociological  Theory,  Volume  1,  201-­‐233  (1983)     2      
  3. 3. many ways it is a declaration of interdependence.In 2008 Forrester’s Mary Beth Kemp challenged the advertising industry in herwhitepaper titled ‘The Connected Agency’, predicting that the survival of agencieswould be determined by their ability to evolve from “pushing advertising campaignsto nurturing communities of consumers and matchmaking them with brands.”5 Inwhat has largely been realised, Kemp hypothesised that the business of the future willhave “learned to connect itself” with defined communities of consumers and bycultivating insights into their behavior as they interact. Likewise, as social technologycontinues to advance, our transactional relationships with communities will evolve.Thus, the evolution of the Internet toward a more socialised experience gave rise to a‘second place’, forever changing the ways we engage, create and share online. Alongwith the many opportunities that followed, came challenges and questions. In a worldthat is no longer command-and-control but non-hierarchical -- more peer-to-peer --how do you orchestrate the right set of people and circumstances at the right momentto create value? What is its design? Is it static, or a continuum? And whattechnological and human skills are required to make things happen? CommunityEngine Product Manager and uber-comrade, Jim May, puts it perfectly: “when wemoved to the city, and the Internet, we lost the benefit of the village.”It presents us with an interesting dilemma. Is ‘being connected’ and havingconversation really enough? Whilst it is difficult to contest the half a billion people onFacebook, consider for a moment that its 600 million users reject commercialintrusions into a place they consider ‘very personal’. Thus, despite its ubiquitousbenefits, it fails to capture the overlapping, asymmetrical, semi-public nature of ‘reallife’ in our local community -- the community of our passions. Another way to distilthis argument is to ask where is the value in environments that serve us content basedon preferences and attributes of people to whom we have arbitrary connections, yetnothing in common?Another way – (re) discovering the ‘third place’It seems clear we are moving toward another sociological tipping point – one thatdemands context and meaning. It highlights the existence of a ‘third place’; anecosystem of overlapping communities of passion; a mix of social and commercialtransactions that is semi-public, semi-familiar and a different experience for everyone.The challenge and opportunity born of this environment is to understand thecapacity, emotions and activities of a situation (the context). It is real life, in real time– an acute relevance delivered through personalisation and location logic,                                                                                                                5  Kemp,  M.  &  Kim,  P.,  ‘The  Connected  Agency  –  Agencies  Who  Listen  Instead  of  Shout’  (Forrester  Research,  2008)   3      
  4. 4. progressively transforming our binary interactions with the social web. It is a contextthat beckons us to live our lives in a perpetual state of beta.Social technological advancement is therefore, in ways not possible before now,enabling us to become a value creator within context. It is an environment wherepersonal and professional participation culminate in a reconnection to what is timely,relevant, and authentic. I often refer to this ecosystem as a new lens through which tosee and experience our environment, where opportunity and innovation areinterdependent, presenting us with new paths and narrative. Thus, we are writing thefuture through and within this narrative, inspiring new stories and a sense ofbelonging to something bigger than us – an ecosystem where contextual value is thenatural byproduct of our participation.Understanding this fully is, in part, learning how we can authentically drive contentacross platforms to create new experiences. Harnessed appropriately, this shift canlead to seismic impact. It is learning how we can “transform from being contentproducers to context producers”6 as we imbue reconnection in our products, cultureand people. By doing so, we foster trusted networks as our interaction andconsumption become more authentic.The ‘third place’ ecosystem mirrors the inter-dependent actions of individuals likeyou and I, striving to improve meaning in our lives, personally and professionally.The result is a beautiful duality of shared and self-ownership which gives rise to niche,contextual community – a frontier where creative and strategic partnership plays outin a heroic celebration of the everyday, bound by a new currency that considers peoples’lives.As evidence of what this future holds, consider the sheer profundity of our ability togalvanise people of diverse culture, geography, passion, interest and opinion -- tocreate dynamic value and competitive advantage. This is more than an altruisticpipedream. Hence, the value of such an ecosystem is for those who partake: • Contextual reach: An ability to grow your consumer base through targeting, hyper virality, overlapping communities, attractive offers, socialised search and discovery • Engagement: a potent relationship channel which increases lifetime customer value through social and commercial transactional tools, and loyalty • Management: The ability to manage relationships and business operations with social CRM, contacts, followers, tiered customer loyalty management and                                                                                                                6  Tennø,  H.,  ‘Context,  Value  &  The  New  Marketing  Economy’  (Slideshare,  2010)   4      
  5. 5. transaction management • Commerce: The ability to monetize interactions and increase revenue with a range of transactional tools such as deals, membership, loyalty rewards and more, all managed in one placeSocial technology can -- and in many ways already is -- improving our humancondition by enabling contextually relevant, personal and commercial transaction.The ‘third place’ connects us to the information and communities we need the most.In conclusion, the words of lauded cognitive scientist Roger Schank, come to mind:“Humans are not really set up to hear logic. People, however, like to hear stories"7 Ifwe contemplate this it is not so difficult to imagine a narrative future consisting ofmore personal and more visceral social interactions which speak to us in unexpectedways. Raymond Kurzweil, Director of The Imaginary Foundation positions thiscontext poignantly: “We live in a society in which spurious realities are constructed by the media, by governments and by big corporations. We are bombarded with pseudo realities fabricated by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated mechanisms. Perhaps for many designers irony is the only possible response to a media space where it’s impossible to distinguish reality from manipulation. We need to be future-focused and explore what comes after the darkness; revel in the beauty on the other side of the looking glass. Living creatively and joyfully requires dismissing gloom, defeatism, and negativism. We acknowledge problems, but do not allow them to dominate our thinking and our direction. The opportunity is to be for rather than against, to create solutions rather than protest against what exists. There are things worth believing in; there are things worth being passionate about; and so our action must not be a reaction but a creation.”8                                                                                                                7  Advances  in  social  cognition:  Knowledge  and  memory:  the  real  story  (ed.  Wyer,  Roger  Schank  and  Robert  Abelson  (1995)    8  Kurzweil  ,  R.,  The  Singularity  is  Near:  When  Humans  Transcend  Biology  (Penguin,  2006)   5      
  6. 6. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Stephen Johnson Founder & CEO – Altitud3 @Huxley @Altitud3 LinkedIn Facebook Skype: altitud3 Mobile +61 407 569 537 Based in Melbourne, AustraliaStephen Johnson is the Founder & CEO Altitud3 – a decentralised digital agency andsocial business incubator established on crowd-sourcing principles. He has more than15 years experience as a brand architect and strategist advising global brands in theiruse of social media and emerging technologies for growth and innovation. Stephen’saccolades include Cannes Cyber Lion, AIMIA & Webby.A passionate advocate for collaborative innovation, Stephen’s expertise as amovement strategist is widely sought. His projects include the Alliance For ClimateProtection ‘Live Earth’ 2007; United Nations ‘Undercover’ insecticide-treatedmosquito net distribution movement; the California Public Utilities Commission; and One Girl’s, providingeducation scholarships to girls in Sierra Leone, West Africa.Stephen is an experienced keynote presenter and workshop facilitator. Events include#SWARM Conference 2012, #SXSWi 2011, The Internet Show 2010, Connect Now2010, 23rd Annual MEA Conference 2010 and London Festival Redesign 2006. 6