If the Web was a business, what would it’s culture be like?
The words "Web Neighborhood" in one of Jason Kottke’s posts got me thinking. David Weinberger posted the other day an apology to his friends because he was "unable to read all of their posts". I thought this was strange because he obviously would like to keep on top of everything his friends (in his "Web neighborhood") talk about but he can’t because he doesn’t have time to read all of their sites or RSS feeds. Yet I’m sure he would love to hear what they are talking about, especially if it relates to something he is talking about on his site.
So it dawned on me, why hasn’t anyone created a news aggregator that collates and groups news feeds based upon topics in the newsfeeds (I’m assuming determined by grabbing the keywords from the title or tags from the post or maybe even by looking at the links the post is pointing at like Technorati does?). For example, if there were a bunch of posts that had the word "Google OS" in them, couldn’t an aggregator gather those all under a similar heading? And even more so shouldn’t the aggregator be able to list these groupings in order from most items grouped to least so that in effect you get a "most talked about headlines of the day" at the top to "side stories of the day" at the bottom, almost like you get in a newspaper? I mean you could go farther from there even. If you had a lot of items under one grouping, couldn’t the aggregator grab the PageRank of the site for each post within that group and list them from highest to lowest, so theoretically you are seeing the best site for the topic listed first while the others are listed below (which of course may not always be the case and maybe you could sort the list in other different ways)?
What do you think of this? I mean I know aggregators can do this do somewhat right now in that you can put in your own tags to search for specific things from your feeds but why not let the feeds sort themselves out instead of having to manually enter and look for specific topic keywords? I mean wouldn’t it solves "David’s Dilemma" because then he could just look at the topics / headlines of the day in his RSS news/topic/tag aggregator and easily see if any of his friends in his "Web neighborhood" are talking about the same thing he is? Or is there a news aggregator that does this already that I’m not aware of?
Actually taking this to the next level would be actually embedding this topic feed list below a post on your own site. So if you were talking about "Web OS" then below your post would be a "Related Feeds" list of all the other people on your feed list talking about "Web OS" as well. That way as soon as you finished adding your post, it would immediately show who else was talking about the same topic as you in your "Web Neighborhood"!
More and more people always say that the Web is conversations about things that we care about. I wondered today what is the thing that we care about the most. My answer was that I thought that we cared about each other the most.
I found this quite ironic though considering how much we as a society are pushing each other apart. We all seem to be screaming for comfort and companionship from each other and yet, at the same time, we are yelling at each other to be left alone.
Tree -> Forest
Person -> World
Site -> Web
Walking through the UBC Endowment Lands today, I had a strange vision. Each tree in the forest in front of me was replaced by a person and all of those people together were the world. Immediately the vision changed again, instead of trees in the forest in front of me, I saw each tree as a website which together made up the Web. Everything seemed connected in small pieces loosely joined and yet this loose union enabled some pretty amazing things.
Hehe, ok this is hilarious because I found this bit of information off of a joke link on Boing Boing that said if you don’t like the content matter on their site then just go read Barbara Streisand’s news statements. Hilarious I know but I found this quote below by her which I found quite relevant to what I’m talking about.
I love information, but I’m afraid of the information age – too much information and not enough spiritual growth to handle it. I’m still afraid our technology is more advanced than our hearts. There’s something lacking now – this gap, this void between technology and compassion.
I’m hoping that our cultural values, the things that we care about the most, can hopefully change this and give our technology the heart it needs.
It’s strange. I’ve been thinking more about David Weinberger’s book title of Small Pieces Loosely Joined and its relationship to other things I’m observing and realizing. I’ve already mentioned that I think posting small pieces of thoughts loosely joined initially is a better approach to take in this journal because it keeps my thought flow going, whereas if I focused on organizing a solid idea it would take longer to structure properly and thus slow me down. It is interesting that a lot of writers today are also using this same approach very effectively (including David with his book).
Now here’s where it gets slightly strange. I’m noticing comparisions to other things that emulate this same approach. A person could be no better of an example of this. So many people today in social settings are asked what they do for a living and then others define that person by their job. This couldn’t be further from the truth. A person is defined by many things, not just their job. I think this causes stereotyping too much and yet it always interesting to see peoples shocked reaction when they notice a female store clerk reading The Prince by Machiavelli instead of reading People magazine. People are diverse beings. Never underestimate them and what they can offer you and the world.
Nature is another perfect example of small pieces loosely joined. Diversity is natures greatest attribute as it allows it to sustain itself and grow. I remember watching a show by David Suzuki where he stated that the areas of forest with more diversity of life (i.e. animal, plant, insect) within it always regrew faster after a fire compared to areas that were less diverse. It makes a lot of sense though as it follows the don’t put all your eggs in one basket approach. The more diverse your assets and abilities, the more likely you’ll survive and overcome obstacles that may come your way. It is kind of strange though that we avoid using our collective diversity as a way of overcoming the world’s problems though when it may actually be our greatest strength.
So how would a business work and act if its culture matched that of the Web? Let’s see if I can dump some of these ideas down.
Some people (aka “management”) decide to create a business to pursue an idea that they are passionate about. They look for other people (aka “employees”) who are as passionate as they are to help them achieve their vision. Everyone cares about everyone else in this endeavour because they are all passionate about the idea which unifies them.
People are found who are as passionate and have excellent ideas to pursue the idea. They are treated as equals and trusted because they share the same passion about the idea.
No matter what a person’s background or knowledge, everyone’s diverse input is valued and appreciated.
The business is the collective idea pursued by the people. The people represent the business idea instead of the business idea representing the people. Therefore, in communicating with the business, people talk to other people (not to the “business”). These people pursuing this idea have diverse backgrounds and interests just like you and me. People outside of the business see those inside of the business as real people and trust them because they have shared information with them as well. The business website just describes the collective idea that the people of the business are working upon. People outside of the business can discover more about these people by visiting their individual sites.
Each person pursuing this business idea may be pursuing other business ideas at the same time. Each person shares and helps not only each business idea they are pursuing but the entire world as well because they share their ideas with everyone. Therefore, no single business idea benefits at the expense of another or can be controlled. By sharing, all benefit together and all collectively “own” the idea so that others can experiment and build upon it.
More to come but going to take a break for a bit.
Feeling, Caring, Loving, Passionate, Open, Trusting, Flexible, Equal, Whole, Connected, Shared, Diverse
The Web is successful as a business because it is a system which workings are rarely seen. Instead what is seen is the people and their creations which make the business so successful. The Web is like a coach on the sidelines providing support to the team to help it achieve its goals. The collaborative effort of the people and their content, however, are what are seen the most. Most important of all though is that the realization that one cannot exist without the other. Leaders need followers just as much as followers need leaders. Both have a common vision, dream, or goal that they wish to achieve and by working together collaboratively as equals and trusting one another, they can achieve it.
Haha, I can’t believe this! I just realized something else in creating my last post. I was getting frustrated because I was having these other ideas but wanted to get my last post finished first before I continued on. This is very linear thinking and makes it difficult to progress before gathering and structuring your thoughts.
What I realized I was doing wrong though was that I was taking too big of a bite with regards to what I was talking about. Instead I realized, I should be focusing on and posting my thoughts as they happen, without expanding on different ideas. For example, my last post focused on three different groups of ideas. I really should have broken it down into three posts so that I could interject other posts in between them that deal with other topics. Instead though, I felt I had to finish all three posts before I could proceed.
In other words, smaller is better (i.e. baby steps). Or put in more relevant words, small bite-sized pieces of an idea can be loosely joined one after the other and then later organized into a more structured cohesive idea. Quite appropriate considering David Weinberger’s book of the same name.
Holy crap! I just discovered another article (via Asterisk) entitled What Business Can Learn From Open Source. Why I’m so excited is that this is SO CLOSE to what I’ve been searching for with regards to defining the culture of the Web. While the article talks about things from an open source perspective, what I found interesting was how often comparisons were made to how startups work. This got me very excited because I’ve realized a couple months back that I would prefer working for a startup company if I could get the chance. I wasn’t really sure why but after reading this article, everything makes perfect sense. It is the culture of startup that I crave so much because it fits in with what I desire and more importantly what I can offer (which is something that a normal company probably wouldn’t be interested in).
Feeling / Caring / Loving / Passionate
As I mentioned in my last post, I strongly believe that feeling emotional about something gives you a greater feeling of connectedness with others.
That’s why the business world was so surprised by one lesson from open source: that people working for love often surpass those working for money.
This has already been mentioned in numerous business magazines (i.e. Fast Company) as the golden key to the future of business. If you can obtain passionate employees who care about what they are doing, then you can achieve almost anything. There is one big obstacle to this though. The existing culture of the business. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen companies looking for “passionate dynamic creative people”, yet I just laugh my ass off because once they get inside the company that person will be put literally into a cubicle box with rules that state not to “step outside of it” if they want to be considered a “good employee”. Bullshit! Good employees are those who push the boundaries of the company because they do care about it. If they didn’t care about it then they wouldn’t say anything because they don’t care what happens to the company. Therefore, businesses that want passionate people need to be easy-going enough to let their employees be passionate.
Open / Trusting / Flexible / Equal
Trust is a crucial component in any relationship. If trust isn’t there, then more often than not the relation will never last that long. Once people trust someone, they let down their guard and be themselves. They open up about themselves and are more flexible with that person because every relationship has some give and take. If all you are doing is taking though, then once again, the relationship will probably not last that long.
Things are different in a startup. Often as not a startup begins in an apartment. Instead of matching beige cubicles they have an assortment of furniture they bought used. They work odd hours, wearing the most casual of clothing. They look at whatever they want online without worrying whether it’s “work safe.” The cheery, bland language of the office is replaced by wicked humor. And you know what? The company at this stage is probably the most productive it’s ever going to be.
This is so true! I remember when I first started working with the web firm that I used to work for. We worked in a slightly seedy part of town out of a long single-roomed apartment that we nicknamed the “submarine” because it was long and slightly dark with a set of windows at end. The feeling working within this environment was incredible! Since we were all in the same room, it gave this incredible feeling of togetherness. You could pretty much overhear any conversation going on and you could jump in if it interested you. Even more so, everyone helped out with what needed to be done and you never really thought about people’s titles since we really didn’t use them unless a client needed one. We were just a group of people who enjoyed working together creating things and solving problems. It was such an amazing experience that I even remembered commenting to one of the owners of the company that “I enjoy working so much here, that if I win millions in the lottery, I’m still going to show up for work.” Can you imagine the feeling I must have had to have said that? Can you imagine every single person who has a job today having that same sort of feeling? The productivity, creativity, and innovation that would be achieved in the world would be incredible.
Whole / Connected / Shared / Diverse
When I’m writing or hacking I spend as much time just thinking as I do actually typing. Half the time I’m sitting drinking a cup of tea, or walking around the neighborhood. This is a critical phase— this is where ideas come from— and yet I’d feel guilty doing this in most offices, with everyone else looking busy. Working in crappy informal spaces is one of the things startups do right without realizing it. As soon as you get into an office, work and life start to drift apart.
That is one of the key tenets of professionalism. Work and life are supposed to be separate. But that part, I’m convinced, is a mistake.
Again this makes perfect sense and it reveals a lot of why I’ve been so frustrated lately. I’ve been fooling around with various business ideas but everything I start working on doesn’t feel right, as though something is missing. I may come up with an interesting idea but it feel lifeless and disconnected in some way when I try to put it together. The same problem happens when I focus on a more personal site. Something feels like it is missing. Now I realize what it is. I am the missing ingredient! A person isn’t just their job and a person isn’t just their personal life. A person is like a gem with many faceted sides, all working together to create something unique and wonderful. The Web is the same way. It is owned by no one person, instead it is shared and collaborated upon by many. This complexity and diversity is what makes each person and the Web itself special.