Ego 2.0 and the tragedy of the shrinking digital commons

A down to earth voice from a previous era sounds a warning about overconfident posturing around how to do things by those who rarely have, and lack of respect for those who actually get business done
Written by Oliver Marks, Contributor on

We're at an interesting juncture as various digital worlds converge, but the promise of the digital commons is again undermined by a commercial world which values consumer digital channels over the 'content' they contain and which is increasingly hard to trace back to and attribute to its originators. 

over grazing

The seeds of the Read/Write web 2.0 world were beginning to flower ten years ago, as sites like Wikipedia rapidly gained momentum, technology conferences began to take on human social concerns and traits and the memories of the painful dot com bust began to slowly recede.

Today we've arguably come full circle: after the brief awakening to fresh digital interactions and possibilities was badly hurt by the 2008 credit collapse, it was replaced by an increasingly cynical and dot com bubble like commercial world served up for our ever more digitally connected and tracked world.

Enterprise technology companies were initially fearful of the threat networked employees posed to the command and control, system of record world they had designed their systems around, and conservative to the positive possibilities of empowering knowledge workers.

After the first wave of Enterprise 2.0 productivity technologies had established a beachhead in companies (albeit mostly as 'shadow IT') the big vendors slowly began to  acknowledge the digital personality mutations of increasing numbers of  their 'users'. 

Alive to the ease of personal shopping, customer service and not least the findability of just about anything on the web, employees and their work colleagues and partners increasingly found a voice. 

Internal wikis and discussion forums had primed the pump internally, while broadband wifi and smartphones, led by 2007's transformative iPhone launch, made the qwerty world of cubicles, digital filing systems and obscured org charts seem increasingly anachronistic for some.

Today that stark juxtaposition of last century working together tools with more dynamic modern possibilities has been mostly subverted by the large hi tech vendors, who have 'embraced and extended' the new world to work with their old one.

'Social' has been rolled up as a feature into countless work software tools and stacks, with Twitter like activity streams and 2.0 user interfaces baked into just about everything you can click on and cosy cliques of software vendors, analyst companies and vendor focused bloggers coalesced into old boy networks that collaborate to tell the world how the future will look.

Meanwhile, on the open internet  

"....Social media sharers can make all the noise they want but…real wealth and clout...concentrate ever more on the shrinking island occupied by elites who run the most powerful computers." 

Claims Jaron Lanier in a post titled 'Free information, as great as it sounds, will enslave us all

The digital world changes so fast it outpaces the speed at which you can write and publish a book about even aspects of it, but we are definitely again in the grip of  tightly controlled digital tool vendor messaging, making technology agnostic advice ever more valuable.

The following 'ten commandments' could have been written by any one of countless 'Ten ways to…' style bloggers and commentators in the social business space, but there's a world of difference between talking abut what you could do (or the tools you could use to do things) and actually doing them….

1. Commit to your business.
2. Share your profits with your associates and treat them like your partners.
3. Energize your colleagues.
4. Communicate everything you possibly can to your partners.
5. Appreciate everything your associates do for the business.
6. Celebrate your success.
7. Listen to everyone in your company.
8. Exceed your customers' expectations.
9. Control your expenses better than your competition.
10. Blaze your own path.

Actually doing things is much harder and more complex than putting pictures of what others have done in digital scrapbooking (currently valued at a billion dollars by Yahoo with their Tumblr purchase), curating and presenting examples of how people have solved their business problems while taking on the persona of expert, or merely republishing or 'sharing' other people's work, often without attribution. (Facebook et al)

Somewhere in the digital soup of the last few years some have lost sight of the simple truth of how successful creative work actually gets done, and as the author of the  ten commandments above noted in this very contemporary feeling sound bite

"There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else".

Even as digital tool vendors prefer to put on their own events instead of acknowledging their competitors, and conferences are again increasingly successions of vendor infomercials wrapped up as thought leadership, the reality is that lack of open comparison and dialog stifles interest.

Meanwhile even as vendors believe their own marketing hype, not least because their wages depend on it, competitors inevitably emerge to challenge the status quo.

Kmart and Woolco launched city discount retail stores at scale in 1962, and a similar single store opened in rural Arkansas that same year. By 1985 its founder was the richest man in America, having revolutionized America's service economy by pioneering the shift of power from manufacturer dictat to consumer choice. 

Sam Walton is the author of the quotes above and personifies the practical spirit that is arguably missing from much of the posturing around digital possibilities today...


Image: Desertification Global Prep

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