The other day Nelson Ruest sent me an email from a session he and his wife Danielle attended by Sean O’Driscoll on Web 2.0, social network sites and community. I asked him if I could post it here as it was an interesting discussion and they agreed. Afterall this is a community site and you all most likely participate in one or more social network sites or online communities.
For the past few months, Sean O’Driscoll has been going around talking up Web 2.0. He does so through a presentation called Social Media and Online Communities: Business and Social Transformation. Sean is General Manager of Customer Support Services at Microsoft and by that fact, head of the MVP program, but many of you might remember him better as “the guy from Microsoft who complained against T-Mobile customer service” (see his blog posting Customer Service Hell!! T-Mobile…Hot Spot? NOT!!!).
What is most surprising about his discourse is the topic, which is about as far removed from Microsoft technology as you can get and still talk about information technology. His topic is Web 2.0. Many people have different definitions of Web 2.0 and as Sean points out, many of these involve lots of technological components, but Sean approaches it from a fresh perspective. In fact, his discussion doesn’t include any technology at all. Oh sure, he provides links and screen shots of Web pages that demonstrate what he is talking about, but that’s about as technical as the discussion gets. According to Sean, Web 2.0 is much more of a social revolution than anything else. Yes, it relies on new Web-based technologies—community sites, personal exposure through social Web pages, search aggregation technologies, and much more—but it is the effect these technologies have on humans as a species that impacts the way these technologies are changing the Web as a whole.
According to Sean, one of the first places we can see this change is in the way we buy things. Even just a few years ago, we would all focus on expert advice to figure out the best item to buy. If we wanted to buy a camera, we would look to photo magazines and Web sites to see which camera was the best rated on the market and which, of course, would fit into our pocket book. Today, you can go online and look up the item on a Web site like Amazon.com and just read user’s own comments and ratings for the product. This peer review has much more impact than any expert advice because according to Sean, the best selling tool in any marketplace is word of mouth. Customer opinion is now costing manufacturers millions, especially if they don’t get it right. Sean states that this means that manufacturers such as Microsoft will have to be more transparent in the way they do business. Now that will be a change. Microsoft is a massive organization. Getting everyone to agree to do the same thing is quite an undertaking. Just look at what happened to the Common Engineering Criteria. Does anyone even remember what that was? Does anyone even know where it stands today? Sean definitely has his work cut out for him.
But, what does this mean to you? Sean says that it means that times are changing and that you need to be careful how you ‘present’ yourself online. Join any social networking Web site, Facebook.com for example, and you’ll soon have a large community of ‘friends’. But who are these friends? In life, we have true friends but more often, we have acquaintances, people whom we know, but with whom we might not want to spend an entire evening. On the Web, social networking sites haven’t made this distinction yet. Friends are friends and that’s it.
In addition, many of these sites just ask too much information about you. Sure, one site will ask for your birth date, others your sex, the color of your hair and eyes, and much more. No one site has all of the information that makes up who you are, but you must consider just how secure these information repositories are. If credit card holding companies can have their records stolen and they have a stake in security, then just how secure do you think your local radio station’s database containing information about you is? It is in fact, fairly easy for malicious users to break into these various repositories of information, then aggregate the information about you into something much more useful. Our advice to you: people just want too much personal information, be careful what you do share when you become involved in Web 2.0.
Having information about yourself on the ‘Net’ is not all bad. That’s how you build your Web reputation. The best way to see what your Web reputation looks like is to use your favorite search engine to look up your own name. If someone posted a video of how you behaved at the last MVP party, then you just might be in a spot of trouble the next time you’re looking for a job or if you’re a consultant, the next time you try to get a contract. Few hiring managers won’t take the time to look you up on the Web before they hire you and few contracting managers won’t do the same. Social networking is all well and fine, but you must maintain your aplomb and ensure your Web reputation is as clean as it should be. Good, sound advice from Sean.
In short, Sean’s approach is very stimulating. We’ve been to a lot of Microsoft talks and presentations as we’re sure you have too and we’ve never, ever seen a Microsoft executive talk about technology in such a non-Microsoft way. It is refreshing and provides a very inspiring look at what we will see in the future as the social aspect of Web 2.0 continues to evolve. Good points all, Sean, keep up the good work!