Power to the People?

Now like never before, transparency is allowing for a shift of power from corporations to the people.

SXSW Agenda

What a crock of shit… if anything the regulatory actions that were supposed to lead to more transparency have only created more opaqueness.

Has SarbOx created more financial transparency or reduced the prevalence of corporate fraud? Hardly, in fact the financial meltdown that began in 2008 has proven to be dramatically larger in scope than the last bubble collapse, in spite of SarbOx. Looked at corporate financials lately… can you really say that these filings are an indicator of corporate health?

How about financial services companies… are we feeling transparent yet? Fannie and Freddie are financial black holes precisely because of the deliberate efforts to rebuff calls for transparency. Want to feel good about transparency in action… check out MERS.

GM and Chrysler… how has transparency worked there? The government screwed bondholders out of billions of dollars to the benefit of union pension funds and both companies are back to their old tricks, sucking on the exhaust pipe of trucks and SUVS while stuffing their dealer channels with far more vehicles than can be sold.

Insurance companies lobbied the Congress and White House to get healthcare reform passed and not because it is good for you and me but because this legislation mandates that every person buy their product. Transparency.

Airlines tack on fees for every imaginable flying essential… like fuel and food, yet do they lower fares when fuel prices decline? Transparency.

My local trash hauling company raised their rates 18% in one year, citing the new recycling center, yet do they disclose how much revenue they generate from all the recycling they collect. If so, news to me.

Shifting of power from corporations to the people… yeah right. I am a capitalist in the truest sense of the word, I believe governments pervert the free market and ultimately restrict access to markets (exhibit A: the FCC… how many telecommunication companies do we have these days?). Having said that, the current state of affairs insofar as corporate accountability to shareholders and the citizenry is at an all time low and far from there being more transparency in the business world, the opposite is true.

I also believe that government regulators end up getting gamed by the industries they are chartered with regulating because of the revolving door nature of jobs on each side of the table, and the result of this gaming is that the incumbents in any industry have far more power than if competitive market forces were allowed to prevail.

Power to the people…. right.

Done with my rant, back to regular programming…

The Shift from Creating to Liking

Cross posted at Social Studies

Yesterday the NYTimes came out with a story outlining how younger generations are moving away from blogging to social networks such as Twitter.

The Internet and American Life Project at the Pew Research Center found that from 2006 to 2009, blogging among children ages 12 to 17 fell by half; now 14 percent of children those ages who use the Internet have blogs. Among 18-to-33-year-olds, the project said in a report last year, blogging dropped two percentage points in 2010 from two years earlier.

I don’t question the conclusions that the Times piece makes, in fact I think there is a great amount of fact and truth to them but that doesn’t tell the entire story.

At it’s core blogging is about sharing… sharing is another form of publishing. With advent of social fill_in_the_blank technology in recent years the ability to shift content among audiences has never been easier and with it a broad cultural shift has developed, some would say generational shift that is based in a newfound comfort with associating oneself with content that the sharer did not produce.

Matt Mullenweg said it best in a rebuttal to the Times piece, and while he clearly has a horse in the race this does not diminish his observation.

Blogging has legs — it’s been growing now for more than a decade, but it’s not a “new thing” anymore. Underneath the data in the article there’s an interesting super-trend that the Times misses: people of all ages are becoming more and more comfortable publishing online.

This is the core element of this story; people are more comfortable publishing online to an audience that may be comprised entirely of strangers. How can any rational person look at the facts and not come to the same conclusion, whether it be Twitter’s amazing growth or the fact that Facebook has more than 30 billion pieces of content shared each month? 30 BILLION.

It’s too bad that Mullenweg took a defensive tone in his post because the rise of social networks compliments and fulfills the mission that blogging platforms originally took on, which was to enable anyone to be a publisher. Twitter and Facebook combine elements of publishing with powerful distribution capabilities that far exceed what any blogging platform or search engine alone could achieve but that doesn’t suggest that blogs have declined as a result. Text content is amazingly pliable when it comes to republishing through alternate channels or being transformed on different platforms.

Blogging has always existed in a continuum that spanned creation and sharing but originally sharing took the form of trackbacks and backlinking. Today sharing has expanded to include tweeting and Like’ing, which have the effect of insinuating content into activity streams. It is the notion of activity streams and expressed interests that will create opportunity and value for companies attempting to connect with people through online channels.

It is this sharing behavior that is particularly interesting for companies to take advantage of because unlike all the traditional forms of interacting with a market, where a company broadcasts a message to a constituency, online communities offer a compelling and very unique capability, which is that they enable consumers to talk with other consumers. In fact, we aren’t even talking about consumer behaviors anymore… we’ve gone way more primary in that we are measuring human behaviors now.

If sharing is just another form of publishing then activity streams are another form of publication, with incredibly powerful social graph powered capabilities that are just now being mined. At no point in human history have capabilities for publishing and promoting content to a truly global audience been so readily available to literally anyone. With each successive generation we discover new behaviors that are a result of increasing comfort with personal publishing this trend shows no sign of slowdown.

The Times is right and wrong, younger generations are using microblogging more broadly than blogging but the distinction them is narrow and ultimately the sharing culture that has taken hold will redefine how companies and groups of all types interact with the people they court.