Sunday, July 25, 2004

Report from the BlogOn 2004 Conference: Defining Social Media

As reported, I spent all day Friday in Berkeley for the BlogON 2004 Conference.

First, I will say this: this conference had a higher complement of female attendees and speakers than any I have attended in a long, long time. It was heartening to not be the only woman sitting in a row of the auditorium, let alone in the auditorium as a whole. The crowd was diverse as far as gender and age, less so in other respects. I think it's part of what created the Silicon Valley phenomenon actually. The young may be the genesis of many great new technologies and industries, but we have a population of people who continue to be fascinated by change and innovation as they the Valley has a combination of new thinking and valuable experience at our disposal.

Although the name of the conference implies it's mostly blog-related, in fact the tag line of the conference was "The Business of Social Media."

What is Social Media? Good question, and one they spent the initial panel trying to answer. They defined it roughly as those applications and activities online that are about facilitating expression and connection. This encompasses participatory media, such as blogging, wikis and the like, and social networking sites, such as LinkedIn, Spoke and the like.

To me there was a real dichotomy between the natural inclination of an early adopter crowd thinking they're doing something completely revolutionary and the circling business types looking for ways to (buzz word alert) monetize the phenomenon.

The opening panel spent a lot of time telling us what we already knew about how this particular technology segment has developed and how it's changing traditional media, traditional journalism, traditional ways of doing business. This was the "blah, blah, blah" part of the conference, although they tried to forestall up front any such description by referencing that post, and in fact pointing out the author of it in the crowd.

I was struck more by, therefore, and recorded, statements made that I found counter-intuitive:

James Currier of Tickle/Monster: People get up in the morning and think about themselves. then the second thing they think about is themselves. Then they get around to thinking about the people they know.

Actually, if that were true, there would be little market indeed for any of the social media were were discussing at the Conference. The truth is people do an awful lot to avoid just thinking about themselves. They're constantly searching for something new, something cool, something interesting. True surfers are led from one site, to the next blog, to the next...looking not just for things they already know or think about, but things they don't know or think about.

Jim Spohrer, PhD, IBM Almaden Research Center: In a face-to-face meeting, he finds himself wishing it was a tele-conference, because in person he looses the "tools" to understand who he was with. And he feels like this conference was the "most inefficient" way to cover the topic at hand.

I found this statement almost frightening in its ramifications. The next panel (and my next blog entry) was about "The Dark Side of Social Media", and while that panel focused on certain Known Issues not new to social media, but generally Internet-related, this statement illustrated the dark side of social media to me perfectly.

More on that in the next entry...

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