Net Culture

Tied to the tracks of the Cluetrain…

In which at midnight after a long day at the office, Tom attempts to explain why the transformative effect of the internet on society is not necessarily immediately transferable to business or culture…

So in a tiny room in the whitewashed lower-colon of London’s BBC Television Centre this evening I (and about ten or so other punters who work mostly on the BBC’s intranet) got to talk to and ask lots of questions of Chris Locke – of Cluetrain Manifesto / Rageboy infamy.
I have a whole raft of opinions about some of the stuff that was discussed this evening – some pertaining to my current job working with Greg Dyke’s culture-changers at the BBC – some pertaining to some of the casual references to honesty and complete openess in the workplace – and a lot to do with Chris Locke’s ideas about trusting people who work for you to work in the best way, letting the people who buy and use your products tell you what they’re for and what you’re doing wrong, actually empowering them and actually freeing them – because they’re going to be free soon enough anyway, and if you don’t get with the program, then someone else (the community itself) will. I have a nasty tense feeling down my spine that indicates that I’m horribly bastardising a lot of this. But it’s midnight and I’m tired.
Anyway – quite a lot of his ideas are based around the radical many-to-many communications and publishings of the internet that are resistant to hierarchy and let everyone have their say. But I think the sucesses of the internet that he describes develop specifically because it is a property of the internet that quality and usefulness self-promote. Good stuff is linked to. Good stuff is seen. Useful commentary is read.
This may seem like an obvious statement. But it’s really not. The hyperlink doesn’t only destroy hierarchy, it’s also the most profoundly powerful meme-spreading tool in existence. You have an idea – a concept – and suddenly anyone in the world can reference it. And if the meme is good and powerful, then it will replicate itself – it will self-propogate via a tiny mental tendril cyber-represented by a tiny piece of blue-underlined text. The idea in miniature, quasi-spreading. Anyway – the point is that such amazingly creative projects arise on the internet (and more importantly can be found on the internet) precisely because many many other projects are not as good. There is an immediate issue of quality of idea, quality of entertainment, quality of entertain- (or inform-) er.
This means the internet is immediately mediated and stratified. While everyone can communicate – everyone can say something, the interesting people rise to the top and form communities because they are good entertainers, meme spreaders, communicators etc. But the places where Chris is talking about introducing this culture don’t have a mechanism built into them which is as simple as the ‘hyperlink’, and they have additional communication abilities that can submerge interesting conversation, creative working, transformative processes under the person-to-person equivalents of trolling, spam and cracking. If such a transformative way of being is to emerge in the corporate culture space, then a gelling agent must be employed. A structural gelling agent. As ‘HTML’ is to the web, so the mechanisms of internal structure must frame free-wheeling experimentation and imaginative development.
In my experience on the net – as in business – there are a hell of a lot of people who haven’t got the slightest idea what they’re talking about and can’t even describe what it is they want to talk about that well. Listening to such people within your organisation voice their opinions doesn’t enhance your business any more than pretending to listen to them and nodding sagely and trying to make them feel valued would.
What’s needed is a mechanism that legitimately frees people from hierarchy by allowing the talented, skilled and imaginative operate as clump-formers – seed crystals that become impromptu centres of trust and creativity. Ideas of webs of trust, of individuals relating to one another and becoming friends of friends of friends, of creative enterprises which aren’t top-down governed or top-down selected – but are self-selecting for quality – these are the interesting ways to transform your business. And there’s an implicit structure there from the offset…
Appendix: Anyway right at the beginning of his talk, he said that there had been a reaction to something he said in one of his earlier lectures. And it was all about how to get webloggers involved in content creation for big companies like the BBC. And he mentioned that you could get in some of the better writers or people skilled in particular forms of content. And then he mentioned that they could be tremendously useful. And I sat there with a head full of questions – how would they be useful!? Which webloggers was he thinking of? But mostly I wondered if any weblogger really finds it easy to write in the same way in work as out. And I thought probably not – because when larger things are your responsibility other than the vague entertainment of twenty or so London-based-geeks, then you’ll probably get slightly more tense about how much of a fuckwit you look… Ends