Sunday, February 20, 2011

Does the web change everything? (3)

When the Internet generally began to be available in New Zealand, I thought there was an opportunity for me to start a business. I'd kept a journal for about 20 years at that stage. My journal was in recent times chock full of the best knowledge I could find on what the digital revolution would mean, and how it would develop.

We knew nothing about what we were doing, but we felt secure in our "knowledge". We had a "vision", and that was enough. We talked about the digital super-highway and the knowledge society. In our view, the Internet would become an open platform for publishing community information, and it would be financed by banner advertising. Our heads were still in paper space. We were publishing "pages" and page design seemed to be an important topic. We didn't understand what we were attempting.

In late 1995 I began to build a web site called NZDances, which was supposed to unite the dance community in New Zealand. The site serviced over 20 types of dancing, there were "pages" allocated for all the major towns and districts in New Zealand. I was surprised. 80% of the traffic was international and very soon the site was catering for international dance too.

NZDances grew to be the most used regional dance site in the world. After five years, it was something like the 5th or 8th most popular dance site on the Internet. In the process I had built a network of over 700 people who helped me build the site. The early Internet was populated with pioneers, people who were always willing to share with fellow travellers, highly cooperative, very honest, and completely uncommercial. They helped me build very large and active letters forum, divided into topics. These people enriched my life, with knowledge and friendship, and that was my first experience of building an extensive online network.

Despite lots of success, it was impossible to find financial support for the web site. In 2000, I closed it down.

I was confused. What was happening here that I didn't understand? How was the Internet we were building, different from the Internet I had imagined five years earlier? I spent a couple of years licking my wounds. In the process I had become one of the people with a solid knowledge of the change that was happening. But, I was like an embedded journalist in a war zone, too close to the battle to understand it in the context of the larger world. I needed time. I wrote quite a lot on the Adapt to Experience web site, especially about Using the Internet, and later about Networking.

In 2002, I was invited to join Ryze, one of the first successful social networks. I looked, thought it would be a complete waste of time and didn't see the opportunity. This is the sort of mistake we all make. Ryze was to become very important to me for about six years. The discussion forums on Ryze were excellent. Over the period of six years the personal development and increase in confidence of people who contributed regularly was remarkable. I was one of many who benefited. Like anything else, you get out of it what you contribute. You become good at doing the things you practise doing.

My use of Online Social Networks has changed the way I keep my journal. I write a lot less in my journal, and much more in the social networks. The value in doing that, is the feedback you might get from others.

Not wanting to make the same mistake twice, I became active on LinkedIn when it opened, and I built a very large network there with the intention of using it for business purposes. I also joined about 20 other social networks. All of them are doing similar work in slightly different ways. You learn though that there's no point in being thinly spread in lots of places.

To what extent has the web changed everything?

No matter how much you think you know, you've probably still got it wrong. That's the beginning of wisdom. Being online is an immersion process. You learn slowly, but surely as much from the example of the people you communicate with, as from anything in particular they say. You'll find both quality and the lack of it everywhere. Choose to join groups, stay connected to those groups where the quality of conversation is high. What happens on any list or group, over time comes to reflect the qualities of the leader. The Internet needs a million quality leaders. Immerse yourself today; one day you will be one of those leaders. Play your part.

You "know" a great deal that you don't fully understand. It takes years to learn new things, especially if you need to unlearn some old entrenched indoctrination first. In the process of discussion with other people, slowly a better understanding develops. If you are doing practical things yourself, to develop a new concept or ability, the learning is quicker. Join groups, which are committed to a similar direction, to the one you need to travel.

The Useful Common, is a river we all use. It's impossible to see what's coming down from upstream. Take what you need as the river passes. Take responsibility for the little part of the river you are creating. Put that into the river as your gift to the world. Share the bounty of the river with others. Do what you can to build the Useful Common.

Facebook is the killer application of the moment, but Facebook too will pass into history. For most people in New Zealand Facebook is a tool for connecting Grandma with the grandchildren, even the adult grandchildren overseas. For most of us Facebook is a family focused network.

There are people who desperately need Facebook to serve some other purpose. Businesses that are trying to use Facebook to drive sales, or artists who are seeking to increase their public profile. I may be wrong, but I see that as a misuse of Facebook and that activity will potentially kill the platform.

Thank you to the Facebook generation of young Egyptians

On the other hand, the use of Facebook by people who are organising groups to educate themselves and to form organisations and to campaign for issues of vital importance opens another side of a versatile platform. In Egypt the "Facebook generation" was instrumental in the transformation of public attitudes and reorganizing the expected future. Facebook may not have been the ideal platform to do that, but you use what you have.

Being involved on the Internet changes everything, as it has for me, or nothing, depending on what you choose to do. If you choose to immerse yourself, you begin a spiral of activity that includes finding other people, exchanging ideas, doing new things, and evaluating what's happening. This is a continually expanding spiral of learning, that is never quite under control. If you expect to get instant wisdom or instant riches, you'll be disappointed, but if you take the ten year journey, you'll be pleased with the depth of your new knowledge and enriched by the friends you've made.

John Stephen Veitch
The Network Ambassador
Open Future Limited - You may comment privately to John S Veitch here:

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1 comment:

Charlie said...

Hello John..I'm very concerned about the welfare of you and yours. Did you suffer any damage in the recent earthquake?
Charles Ferguson