Posts about davos07

Each his own Davos

When I was at Davos (OK, I’m place-dropping), I sat in on a brainstorming about how to keep the connections we make there alive the rest of the year. It’s hard. Davos is a safe world: Those who are invited there with you are there for a reason and so it’s much easier to strike up a conversation and exchange a business card than it is down off the mountain. It was hard to figure out how to extend that.

But lately it has occurred to me that Facebook gives us each our own Davos. We have control over or identities and communities. We befriend people we know. We use it to make new connections. It feels remarkably similar. Just without the snow. And Bono.

Davos07: My big conclusion

Perhaps the most important ‘ding’ moment I had at Davos was that the powerful are, no surprise, one step behind in their understanding of the true significance of the internet: They think it is all about individual action when, in truth, it’s about collective action. And so they don’t yet see that the internet will shift power even more than they realize.

The powerful at Davos are just starting to talk about the internet and individual empowerment; we heard that often up in the Alps from media (this has become editors’ cant), leaders in politics (like the U.K.’s Gordon Brown and the EU’s Viviane Reding), business (Bill Gates), and even technology (Gates, again). They are not alone; we have heard this for quite a while back down on earth. And it’s certainly true that the internet enables each of us to find the information that matters to us, to publish what we think, and do what we want. But that is only a step along the way to the fate of society after the internet.

The internet is more about collective action. It is about connections. It gives us the power to find each other, to join together, to coalesce around issues, ideas, products, desires, and activities as never before, leaping over all borders, real and cultural. That is the historic progression of power that we are witnessing. That is what we heard from the people who truly understand this mechanism because they are building it: Caterina Fake and Stuart Butterfield of Flickr, Chad Hurley of YouTube, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook. At Davos, these pioneers didn’t contradicted the machers when they said that the internet is about individualism; on that plane, they were talking past each other. But as I sat down to make my notes about what I learned at Davos, this is what hit me between the eyes.

In media terms, I said at Davos and here on the blog that we have seen a small-scale version of this progression:
1. First, big media let us interact with them, about their stuff.
2. Then big media beg us to give them our stuff.
3. Now we realize that our stuff is ours — not user-generated content for the big guys — and we expect them to come to us.

It’s a distributed world, but I also said at Davos and on the blog that that doesn’t just mean big media can distribute its stuff to us in new ways; it means that all our stuff makes up the corpus of media, that we have the means of creation (bless my Mac and WordPress), marketing (that is, linking), and now distribution (thank you, YouTube). So the wise media macher will figure out how to try to enable people to create and share their stuff, not just big media’s, how to get into the middle of the conversation that’s already occurring– and not just start those conversations, which they still think is their role.

In political and societal terms, this means that institutions themselves are — like media — disaggregated and protean. I sat next to a veteran magazine editor at a dinner one night as he lamented the loss of institutional power and feared the rise of anarchy. Ah, but that’s what you might conclude in the face of the internet if you think it’s all about individualism, about each of us going our own way. If you realize that the internet is, instead, about connections and collective actions, you come to see that institutions will reform, that they will become fluid and ad hoc, like the parliamentary system of multiple parties joining in coalitions to rule. Now we can form our own coalitions to reach the critical mass still needed to be heard and to act. (See my Guardian column about the political essence of the internet, inspired by the Euston Manifesto.)

This editor’s fear of individual anarchy is a corollary to the argument that some societies — China and the Middle East and parts of Africa and, not long ago, Latin America — are not ready for democracy because they will collapse into anarchy without the power of their paternal institutions. I find this deeply offensive, for I strongly believe that every individual on earth has the right to self-determination. And what that means is not murdering in the streets — as, indeed, we see in Iraq today. What that truly means is gathering together into a society if, yes, the conditions allow, if there is the means to assure the security that allows this to happen. Critical mass will rise and a just society — the kind of society we all want — will not allow the tyranny of a minority or, in the case of a dictator, the minority of one. Society is balance and the internet is a new balancer.

So we see a similar path as in media:
1. The powerful realize they have no choice but to let you speak (even in China and the Middle East).
2. The powerful are forced to listen.
3. The powerful will realize that this isn’t just about mutual discussion but mutual decision.
Gordon Brown made noises like that. Whether he means it, we will see when he comes to power. The same for Hillary Clinton and her talk about conversation as campaign.

In business terms, of course, the internet allows the customer to finally, truly be in charge. I’ve written about that often enough.

And in technology terms, I believe, the future is not about establishing social networks as walled playgrounds but instead realizing that the internet is the social network. And so the question is how to enable that, how — in Zuckerberg’s term — to find an elegant organization for what is happening there already.

That is the job of media, government, business, and technology: to enable us to make better connections, to set the conditions for our collaboration. But this will frighten them more than it has already. For individuals don’t seem threatening on their own. But coalitions? Now that’s scary for the powerful. And the powerful don’t yet realize what’s happening. As Jackie Ashley said in a Guardian column — with which I otherwise have a few disagreements — inspired by Brown et al’s embrace of bloggers at Davos:

So when politicians and tycoons excitedly echo one another in hailing the new democracy of the internet, and promise that it is upending the old order, a little scepticism is required. If they really thought they were about to be overthrown by bloggers, would they sound quite so cheerful about it?

Exactly. This is the best indication that they don’t yet comprehend the impact of the internet — they don’t, as we say, get it. Oh, they’ve come a distance from their old ways; they realize they can’t dictate to all of us anymore. They know they have to do a better job of at least appearing to listen. But the realization that the internet is really the means for us to gang up on them hasn’t fully dawned on them yet. In that sense, I’ll bet that my new Davos pal Michael Dell is ahead of the rest, for he faced the gang, the coalescing critical mass of connections that the internet enabled.

So let them think that interactivity and social networks are ways for us to amuse ourselves while they still wield the power. They will wake up one day and realize they no longer own the world and can no longer look down at it from the top of the mountain. See Alan Rusbridger on one of the Davos media sessions, where the head of what can still be called the most powerful journalistic voice in the world looked up to find himself facing a just-out-of-college kid who reportedly turned down $1.5 billion for his company and who understands this new world in his soul; it’s not the money that should make the moguls jealous but that understanding. Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook explained to the media moguls that the job of media — and, for that matter, government, business, and technology — is to bring people together to find distributed and elegant solutions to their problems. That is not web 3.0. That’s society 2.1. And we’ve only just begun.

Davos07: Conversation post mortem

A few personal thoughts on the Davos Conversation project I was involved in (I helped create it; Daylife produced it; I blogged for it).

It was a start.

Did this truly open up the conversation in Davos? No, of course not. Davos is still a mountain retreat for the privileged few (see Ben Hammersley quoted in the post below). But from what I can see, the gathering was more open this year than in prior years. How far will they go? Only time will tell. How far should it go?

There was a lot of talk about the conversation at Davos, about the internet and openness and shifting control. But the powerful of government, politics, business, and media must realize that they have to engage in a true conversation with their constituents, that they must act on behalf of and in collaboration with a public they can now hear. That is what the shifting power equation is about.

So the Davos Conversation is symbolic as a start, but it can and should be more real. The page brought together blog posts from the mountain (from Huffington Post, the Guardian, the BBC, me, and participants on the World Economic forum blog), blog posts from sea level (via Technorati and Daylife), and news coverage from around the world (via Daylife). We also asked people to submit video questions and comments so that responses should be gathered from participants. One of the commenters on my blog asked whether I was disappointed by the small number of videos. No. I expected few because it takes a lot more effort to record a video than to type a comment or post. But I wanted to see videos because they so clearly demonstrate the conversation: The WEF took these clips to the powerful and showed them people speaking and got responses on tape. It makes the conversation and the bridge it creates visible and audible: tangible. Yet this, too, was symbolic.

But clearly, if it is to be meaningful, the page and the conversation must be substantive, not merely symbolic. I hope that is the next step.

For me, the irony of working on the Davos Conversation was that I had too little time to engage in it myself. There are too many activities — and, indeed, conversations — at Davos (with too little power for my laptop), so I am still catching up both reading and writing in the conversation. There is a great deal of good talk there.

The Conversation Page will continue through the year and into next year. More on that later.

Davos07: Bloggers as a privileged class

Ben Hammersley of the Guardian — one of my roomies in the crowded lodgings of Davos — notes with a tinge of complaint that bloggers got better access than big media at Davos:

Still, all of this meant that the World Economic Forum gave some bloggers – Jeff Jarvis, Loic Le Meur, for example – greater access rights than the regular media. Bloggers with HD camcorders could wander anywhere in the building, while professional crews were restricted to the hallways and 30-minute bursts. Openness, it seems, is only for the amateur.

Well, ain’t that ironic?

Ben also notes (as I try to in a post that will soon follow) that the conversation had its limits:

The way the Davos attendees treated the web – as both the most important thing in the world, and the most trivial toy they could safely ignore – was telling. Mostly it was fear. You guys, blessed blog readers, scare the Davos attendees silly. The entire conference had the air of panic of a sort that reminded me of Marie Antoinette frantically kneading dough. Openness, conversation, the worldwide electronic harmony of man – all were talked about in the way that comment threads here on Cif go when columnists get thoughtful about their place in the world.

If we don’t open up, the organisation seemed to feel, we’ll die of irrelevance. It wasn’t just the meeting itself: Gordon Brown declared the end to “smoke-filled rooms”, and speaker after speaker declared their allegiance to openness and the way of the wiki. The biggest round of applause I heard all week was not for Blair, but for Jimmy Wales, creator of the Wikipedia – which, given the audience, was applause more from fear than hearty thanks for a much-loved site.

But the continual harping on about openness was obviously nonsense. That a meeting of a couple of thousand of the world’s richest and most powerful people might be something one could truly join, especially over the medium of comment threads, is either wishful thinking of the most surreal kind, or a cruel joke: a sop. . . .

But I wonder whether the original premise of giving bloggers access to Davos is true? After all you’ve read this past week, both here and on other blogs, do you feel that without the access that we could get this year the meeting would have been doomed to irrelevancy? Isn’t this just technophobic hysteria? Or is there a value to closed-door dealings? An unexamined life may be not worth living, but does it really need to be on show all the time? What don’t you want to know about? What don’t you want to comment on?

Davos07: On identity

One of the thin threads I saw cutting through much of my Davos experience was the notion of identity:

* We are what we make. Our YouTubed videos, Technoratied blogs, Flickred photos, Facebooked pages, Amazonned reviews, and iPodded podcasts and playlists altogether are an expression of us. There was a lot of hubbub at Davos about avatars: interviews with the players in Second Life (I wonder how many saw those sessions vs. read blog posts about the proceedings vs. read news accounts… vs. didn’t care). I remain skeptical about Second Life. I don’t need an avatar. What I put on the internet is my avatar. Our creations express us.

* Caterina Fake of Flickr gave the media people an elegant explanation of the value of “publicness” (they like to make up words at Flickr; see “interestingness“). She said that was what separated Flickr from his predecessors: the realization that people want to make what they make public; it is an expression of their identity.

* Often, creation is its own reward. At Davos, Chad Hurley revealed that the service will share revenue with producers. But he said he started YouTube without remuneration (and I suspect he couldn’t afford it on top of the bandwidth bill) because he didn’t want people running off to the next highest bidder. He wanted to give people a voice and build a place where they would share. Creation creates community.

* Anonymity is a virtue that can enable freer conversation, especially in repressive environments. But anonymity also cloaks the bad guys who spam and bot our internet or troll our blogs.

* Privacy is a concern. Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner of Information Society and Media, kept raising fears for the privacy of the individual online. And yes, there are concerns. But what the parental types don’t realize is that standards of privacy are changing rapidly: Privacy matters less to the children of the internet because you have to give up something of yourself to make connections with other people. You have to have an identity on the internet to find friends.

* Transparency is identity, too. You have to give up something of yourself for people to trust you. Journalists are having a terribly hard time understanding that; they keep thinking they should be trusted because of who they are (or whom they work for). But we don’t really know who they are.

* Every mogul wants a social network like Rupert’s; media people kept begging for clues about how to build social webs about and around their stuff. One of the young moguls at Davos said that media properties are not meant to be social networks. I’ll disagree somewhat: The sad thing is that old media don’t realize that if they had just opened up years ago, they’d have seen that they already had social networks. I tell magazine people that they have communities gathering around the good stuff they create or find that we all like; newspapers have local communities. But because they were closed castles that kept their communities outside, they didn’t realize this. And so the people outside have gone to build their own social structures — which they clearly always wanted — now that they can. Too late for the big, old guys? Maybe.

* All this opens up lots of opportunities in technology. I said to a couple of my fellow participants at Davos — a media mogul, an internet entrepreneur — and I will say it in another post here that I think the real opportunity is not to start a social network but to better enable the social network that the internet already is, to pull together our distributed identities and help us manage them and make the connections we want to make. That comes through the expression of our identities. We express that both with our content and our connections: We are the company we keep.

Davos07: Media discussion notes

Some notes on the media discussions at Davos:

* I remain concerned about the lack of innovation in the news business. Too much of the discussion was a rehash of what we’ve heard before: blogs v. msm, print v. online, falling news budgets, objectivity, professionalism in journalism. Insert scream sound-effect here. This was the year when big, old media realized there is no going back — in the year of the collapse of Knight Ridder and Tribune, they realize that there but for the grace of a stockholder or two so they go. But too many of them haven’t yet realized that the only path out of this is brave, bold, strategic innovation. They can’t even buy the new kids anymore because the kids are worth more than $1.5 billion. I still heard too much argument and depression when what we should be seeing is cooperation and optimism. If I had any message at Davos, that was it.

* There was a lot of talk about passion (no, not that kind). Arianna Huffington said that what separates bloggers is their passionate determination to dog a story; this is why she called Nick Kristof at The Times very bloggish because he has not let up on Darfur. She said that bloggers have obsessive-compulsive disorder while reporters (or more likely, their editors) have attention deficit disorder. Some editors resented this — ‘we have passion, too’ — and some agreed. I think the media determines much of this; for in scarce space on paper, you can’t afford to keep pushing a story few care about while online, you have unlimited space and the definition of ‘too few’ changes.

* I heard a lot of discussion of brands, especially from one magazine editor. The big media people believe that their brands are their power, and perhaps they’re right, but this editor also sees that the definition of their brands must expand to include their writers and their readers (that is, you are defined by who creates and who collects around you). Being a collection of brands vs. one big brands may be the way of the future: those brands rub off on the big guy as much as the big guy’s brand rubs on on the rest (which is how media has worked: you were hot because you worked at the Daily Blatt but soon the Daily Blatt may be hot because you work with it).

* I hear more talk about rewarding those amateurs out there who contribute news. Bild, the giant German tabloid, pays its “reader-reporters” (not a bad term, the more I think about it) and YouTube is getting ready to share revenue with its producers. I had a long talk with an entrepreneur about new distributed ad models to support the new media of the people.

* That damned objectivity fight came up a few times. I’m too tired of it to even bother recounting more of it. But I will quote one European editor who said that journalists should not consider what they want the world to be but instead to merely explain the world. That strikes me as another way to say “objective,” and I find it disingenuous, for reporters and editors crusade precisely because they do want to change the world and that is the basis for much of their editorial decision-making; now they simply need to admit it.

* We keep thinking of news as a product. John Battelle quoted someone (sorry, can’t remember who) saying that news people have the same problem Microsoft has had as it switches from a shrink-wrapped to a service business. Journalism is and always has been a service, only we made the mistake of defining it by its packaging.

* I also argue that journalism in the future isn’t a product but the product of a network: an ongoing, distributed service many contribute to. See a later post about Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg’s view of the elegant architecture of distributed information services.

Click on the ‘davos07‘ tag to see more reports on the media scene.

Davos07: Social entrepreneurship

One of the great things to see at Davos was the collection of social entrepreneurs there. I didn’t get to meet enough of them or blog about them; a regret. But Nick Kristof writes about them today (sadly, of course, behind the pay wall).

. . . .But perhaps the most remarkable people to attend aren’t the world leaders or other bigwigs.

Rather, they are the social entrepreneurs. Davos, which has always been uncanny in peeking just ahead of the curve to reflect the zeitgeist of the moment, swarmed with them. . . .

“The key with social entrepreneurs is their pragmatic approach,” said Pamela Hartigan of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, which is affiliated with the World Economic Forum. “They’re not out there with protest banners; they’re actually developing concrete solutions.”

When I travel around the world, I’m blown away by how these people are transforming lives. A growing number of the best and brightest university graduates in the U.S. and abroad are

Guardian column: The YouTube campaign

My Media Guardian column this week is about the YouTube campaign: the Presidential candidates (and their foes) using YouTube to fight for the White House. (Registration-free version here.) When I met YouTube founder Chad Hurley at Davos, I thanked him for changing the world — for putting the final piece into place to allow everyone to have a voice, bottom-up. I didn’t anticipate how quickly the powerful would also recognize the power of this medium, as they try to stop talking to-down and instead talk — and listen — eye-to-eye. I wrote about this on Buzzmachine about a week ago but because I’m cross-posting this on the Davos Conversation blog, I’m including the column here:

The revolution will not be televised. It will be YouTubed. The open TV of the people is already turning into a powerful instrument of politics – of communication, message, and image – in the next US presidential election. Witness: Democrats Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards; Republican Sam Brownback; and more candidates just announced their runs for the White House not in network-news interviews, nor in big, public events, but instead in their own online videos.

The advantages are many: the candidates may pick their settings – Edwards in front of a house being rebuilt in New Orleans; Clinton in a room that reminds one of the Oval Office. They control their message without pesky reporters’ questions – Edwards brought in the video-bloggers from Rocketboom.com to chat with him; Brownback, a religious conservative, invoked God and prayer often enough for a sermon; Clinton was able to say she wants to get out of Iraq the right way without having to define that way. They are made instantly cybercool – I’m told by the Huffington Post that liberal hopeful Rep. Dennis Kucinich is carrying around a tiny video camera so he can record messages in the halls of congress; and Democrat Christopher Dodd has links on his homepage to his MySpace, Facebook and Flickr sites, making him come off more like a college kid than a white-haired candidate. But most important, these politicians get to speak eye-to-eye with the voters.

Internet video is a medium of choice – you have to click to watch – and it is an intimate medium. That is how these candidates are trying to use it: to talk straight at voters, one at a time.

Clinton said she was launching a conversation as much as a campaign and wished she could visit all our living rooms, so she is using technology to do the next best thing, holding live video chats last week. Beats kissing babies.

Of course, this can also be the medium of your opposition. When former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney joined the race for the Republican nomination, conservative detractors dredged up video from a debate with Senator Ted Kennedy in which Romney espoused downright liberal stands on abortion and gay rights. They used YouTube as a powerful weapon. So Romney used YouTube to respond. He appeared on a podcast made by the powerful blog Instapundit and the campaign videotaped the exchange and put it up online, a story that was then picked up by major media.

But beware making a fool of yourself. This is also a medium ripe for ridicule. There is a hilarious viral video of John Edwards preparing for a TV appearance and primping like Paris Hilton, set to the tune of “I Feel Pretty”. Every campaign nervously awaits the embarrassing moment that will be captured and broadcast via some voter’s mobile phone; it was just such a moment that lost one senator his election and with it the Republican majority in 2006. Hours after Clinton YouTubed her video announcement, there were parody versions trying to remind us of the scandals of her husband’s administration. I, too, fired up my Mac and made a mashup comparing and contrasting Clinton’s and Brownback’s videos, counting her issues and his references to culture (read: religion), life (read: abortion), and family (read: gay marriage).

And there lies the real power of the YouTube election: candidates won’t be the only ones making use of this revolutionary new medium. Citizens will too. The Pew Internet & American Life Project has just released a survey revealing that much of the electorate is not just watching but is using the internet to influence politics: in the 2006 US election, 60 million Americans – almost half of internet users – were online gathering information and exchanging views, Pew said.

More than a third of voters under the age of 36 say the internet is their main source of political news – twice the score for newspapers.

More significantly, about 14 million Americans use the “read-write web,” in Pew’s words, to “contribute to political discussion and activity”, posting their opinions online, forwarding or posting others’ commentary, even creating and forwarding audio and video. They aren’t just consuming information, they are taking political action. And now that almost half of America is wired with broadband, they increasingly consider watching internet video to be watching TV. So the influence of YouTube will only grow.

We should only wish that this will diminish the negative influence of old TV with its battle and sports narratives of frontrunners and underdogs, with its simplistic soundbites (though there’ll be plenty of that on YouTube, too), and its nasty campaign commercials (though YouTube will have its dirt as well). But, hey, revolutions take time. And we are watching the seeds of one sprout right before our very eyes.