Posts about big

Behind the lines

CBS’ new blog bravely, transparently, and wisely invited Jay Rosen to write a guest post and he didn’t waste the opportunity to speak directly to the people of CBS News about Rathergate, a year later.

It’s a pity that the people of CBS News do not speak back.

I fear they’ll fear doing that — and also that they’ll look at the post and see that, unfortunately, trolls have moved into the comments and the discussion there is not deep. That is not helped by CBS’ inexplicable decision to put a 500-character limit on comments (this isn’t TV, folks: bits are not scarce) as well as its decision to shut off comments after 24 hours (time’s no longer scarce, either, guys). The discussion over at Jay’s blog, under the same essay, is much better: more substance, more intelligence, more relevance, more to chew on.

And that says a lot: Jay has built a community of conversation — around what we used to think of as a reputation, or even as a brand — and CBS has not yet done that on its blog (though it is a bit soon for that). But isn’t that interesting: The giant and allegedly venerated institution of professionalism has a tougher time getting a good conversation going than the lone prof with no tangible media assets.

Jay’s post is good but just as with Rathergate itself, the aftermath that’s just as interesting.

Commerce is conversation

Having read through the eBay-Skype PowerPoint justification, I guess I should be ashamed of myself that I didn’t get the deal before. It’s the Cluetrain, baby: If markets are conversations, then enabling the conversation enables the market and eBay is the new market. And if trust is king, then being able to talk to the person who’s trying to sell you something enhances trust and increases value. So I finally get the theory. The practice is another matter….

Recovery 2.0: The swarm ethic

Out of all the good efforts to use the internet to help Katrina’s victims, I’ve been thinking about the ethic of the swarm.

One thing the internet does well is bring people together around shared interests, needs, functions, and lines of communication. We swarm around standards and make them standard. We swarm around tags on Flickr or so we can find each other’s stuff. We swarm around applications — BitTorrent, IMs of various flavors, and so on — so we can all use them together. We swarm around news and decide what matters.

And when people don’t respect the swarm, others will bring them in line: If you go into a support forum and ask a question that’s in the FAQ, you’ll quickly be directed there because other people had the same question and we all shasre the answer.

The swarm is useful. It’s efficient. It’s good citizenship.

So I wonder whether we should discuss the swarm ethic in relation to recovery 2.0 efforts. Try this:

If you see a need, first look to see whether someone else is already trying to meet that need and doing it well. Then you have a three choices:
1. You can decide that incumbent efforts are lacking in some way that you can fix and you do so.
2. Or you can decide to throw your support — your work, your promotion, your links — behind that effort.
3. Or you can decide to work separately but around shared standards to allow you to work together.
And in any case, it would be a courtesy to communicate with the incumbent.

In the case of the missing boards after Katrina, it was quickly obvious that people could miss connections because there were so many separate repositories of names. One option is to swarm around just one, but I’m not saying that’s what should happen; that’s the 1.0 way to work, it’s antithetical to the distributed nature of the internet and to people’s inclination to gather around their own communities (some people will look for each other around their churches, for example).

That’s why we have efforts to compile the names in one place (the Katrina peoplefinder project), to search the names across where they are (see Yahoo’s search), and to create standards for tagging the names (the people finder interchange format).

These are efforts to help us swarm. Swarming is the way we capture not just the wisdom but also the work of the crowd.

This is one of the things I hope we discuss at the Recovery 2.0 meeting in San Francisco. I think all we really want to accomplish is to provide ways — wikis, email, blogs, you tell me — for people to more readily communicate their needs and solutions. We need help swarming.

Losing control to gain control

In a guest post at GigaOm, Robert Young reacts to this post and draws out a convincing argument for why corporate executives have to lose control to consumers — who aren’t customers but are the boss — so they can, in the end, gain control. Hard to summarize: Just go read.

It’s the relationship

If the uselessness of presses and broadcast towers in New Orleans is a demonstration that distribution is no longer king, here‘s a case in the argument that content is no longer king; relationships are: The Times wrote a feature about Cooking Light magazine holding supper parties, inspired by a reader who started this on her own (a la Meetups).

The gatherings, where readers cook meals using recipes from the magazine, then dine together, began in 1999 when Amy Fong, a reader in Alameda, Calif., organized the initial meetings on her own, without the magazine taking part.

Since 2000, when Cooking Light ran an article about the supper clubs, thousands of readers have formed hundreds of clubs, finding one another informally or using the message boards on the magazine’s Web site ( to connect. In addition to the ad hoc supper clubs, Cooking Light now plays host to more than a dozen formal events each year around the country, some of them sponsored with McCormick & Company, the maker of spices and seasonings, and all of them involving more than two dozen advertisers from A (Alaska seafood) to Z (the Zone Perfect diet plan).

The relationship the magazine has with readers — and, more important, that readers have with readers — is at least as valuable as the magazine’s content. That’s a lesson.