Taking Private Conversations Public

Last week, Lisa Hickey wrote a piece in which she mused on some of the societal effects of social media. She makes a number of good points, but one in particular stood out for me — the relationship between online and in-person conversations when it comes to trust.

Think about all the times you’ve had a conversation with someone, who later asks you, “you’re not going to post this on Facebook, are you?” They’re anxious that something they see as private and personal (a face-to-face conversation with you) will become public. That’s a fair concern, and sensitive people who are devotees of social media need to be mindful of it.

However, I see a divide between the assumptions of people who are users of social media and those who are not. They are in conflict — most social media types assume that conversations are open for sharing unless they are specifically asked not to. But most people who do not use social media see it the opposite way.

As I have been experimenting with video lately, I started a thread on the issue at the video-conversation site Seesmic. Here it is (though I had to shift the video to YouTube for technical reasons):

The full Seesmic conversation thread can be found here, if you would like to see responses and join in.

What do you think? Where do you draw the line? Where do you think society at large will draw it?

What Will We Say About Now?

My friend Peter Levine, in an article that examines ways to look at the question of “whether President Obama is trying to do too much too fast,” mentions an analogy Bill Galston makes to Jimmy Carter’s early days in office.

In Peter’s view, those days are not at all comparable to where we are now. In making his case, Peter encapsulates the overal shift rightward that was occurring as the 70’s ended as well as I have seen anyone:

[T]he Zeitgeist was against poor old Jimmy Carter, as we can tell now that the Owl of Minerva has taken flight. Most of the industrialized countries moved substantially right after 1970. Liberals had already enacted the popular parts of the welfare state. They had consolidated prosperity for a majority of their populations, who were decreasingly generous toward the remaining poor. Keynsian policy couldn’t seem to handle stagflation. Liberal coalitions had shattered on the shoals of controversial social issues. Conservatives offered law-and-order and lower taxes, and that was a winning package. The only reason Carter was elected was that Richard Nixon had administered a deadly wound to his own party that took eight years to heal. It was hardly time for an ambitious liberal agenda.

What interests me is Peter’s perspective on that pivotal time, and the language he uses, spoken with the benefit of hindsight.

It seems evident that we are now in a similar shift, only moving the other way. When we look back, fifteen years and more later, what kind of language will we use? What tectonic factors will be relevant, and which will be just static?

That, of course, is a thought experiment and unanswerable. But it is worth thinking about, if only to gain perspective on the now.

Agents, Come Out Of The Shadows

Seth Godin wrote recently about the plight of agents. Literary agents, travel agents, stock brokers, real estate agents — all either extinct or becoming so. Why? Anonymity:

The problem with being a helpful, efficient but largely anonymous middleman is pretty obvious. Someone can come along who is cheaper, faster and more efficient. And that someone might be the customer aided by a computer. . . .

Middlemen add value when they bring taste or judgment or trust to bear on a transaction that isn’t transparent. . . . Key point: anonymous agents are interchangeable and virtually worthless. Agents that don’t do anything but help one side find the other side in a human approximation of Google aren’t so helpful any more.

Does that mean the business of being an agent is dead? No! It means it’s time to make sure you’re not anonymous. Add value that can’t be added otherwise — and that is where discernment comes in. Agents can provide a powerful filtering (or editing) function.

But, in order to provide this function, agents need to say “no,” perhaps as often or more than they say “yes.” This means they need to brand their own identity as someone who is a helpful nexus of good content, be that content a steady stream of well-priced homes, a stable of awesome authors, or a collection of well-performing startups.

This may mean there is room for fewer agents in the world, but it also means that the ones who are left can play a more important role.

Seven Steps To Happy Volunteers

My friend Cindy (who also collaborates with me on Rockville Central), is a formidable community volunteer, both in her work and in her personal life. She’s been on both sides of the volunteer aisle — being a volunteer, and leading other volunteers. Together, we formed the leadership team at the helm of a local Cub Scout pack, and that went quite well.

Cindy just finished up a very successful, and volunteer-intensive event, and this has got her thinking about what it takes to motivate volunteers and keep them effective.

I wish I knew her seven keys long ago, as they are excellent:

1.) The cause has to be meaningful. If a volunteer is not familiar with your organization, you need to introduce them. . . .

2.) A volunteer has to have support from others in their personal life. A parent praising the work or a friend already volunteering make a big difference. . . .

3.) The experience needs to be fun. . . . The task doesn’t matter but the interpersonal relationships do. . . .

4.) You need to make sure the volunteer winds up having the time to get the job done. We only have so much time and sometimes our jobs or commitments change. . . .

5.) Your expectations need to be reasonable. . . .

6.) Make sure the volunteer job is a good fit. . . .

7.) Volunteers should grow either professionally or personally. . . . Volunteering can create safe environments to improve or discover hidden strengths.

These are edited down. Read the whole article here — it’s worth it.

Astroturf On Twitter

In organizing circles, “astroturf” refers to the practice of creating the simulation of a grassroots groundswell through robo calls, highly choreographed postcard campaigns, etc. People on Capitol Hill can tell it’s happening when they suddenly get pounds of mail that’s identical.

My friend Jed Miller raises some interesting (related) questions about using Twitter as a lobbying tool. Seems the Sunlight Foundation is urging people to press the seventeen Twitter-using US senators to sign onto a particular bill.

Jed asks:

Twitter’s peer-to-peer, right? Do we really want to single out the decision-makers in the virtual room? If we tweet-mob @JohnCornyn and @Barbara_Boxer don’t we hasten the blown-vein moment that grassroots email to Congress has reached? Where what was once more intimate access is just another crowd to be herded via retractable rope-barriers and CRM filters?

I think this could turn advocacy tweets from nightingales into woodpeckers. I hope I’m overreacting.

(He’s not alone, of course, if you look at the comments on Sunlight’s blog post.)

Jed, I don’t think you’re overreacting, I think you are raising important cautions.

There are new tools — we need to develop new norms for how to use them.