What do you need to know about how to reach people on the web? Really reach them?
Earlier this week Luis Suarez and I started to chat on Skype. Luis works for IBM Netherlands and telecommutes form the Canary Islands. I telecommute everywhere and I live on Prince Edward Island. We had never "met" and had never talked with each other before. But as we both anticipated - we both hit it off in a big way. I felt immediately that Luis was someone who could become important for me and I sensed that he did too.
We both cared a lot about the other. Somehow out of the millions on the web - we had found a match!
What had happened and what does this mean? How is it that the social web not only loosely connects us with ideas, music, issues and people who share these BUT ALSO connects us with people that we have a heart connection with as well?
I am going to explore this process in more detail in my upcoming interview with Susan Meyer at WOSU who is exploring how WOSU can learn from the Columbus Blogging Community how to get connected better in Columbus. But as a taste, here are some answers that Luis and I discovered for ourselves.
We both live in human scaled communities and have a vivid daily experience of what it is like to be in a space where you have to behave well.
Both of us live in small communities where when we pass people on the street, we tend to make eye contact. Often stop and say hello. Whatever you do or say in the Canaries or on PEI - people will know. So we have to govern what we do by the social rules of our society. There is no anonymity! This feels comfortable for us. There is also a human pace to what we do. We work at home and hence we have a lot of time that is ours. We spend a lot of time outside and we are affected by the weather. Work fits easily inside our day. We are rarely rushed.
But when we go to the big city - Luis Madrid me Toronto - we tend to be overwhelmed a bit. We note that most people have a lot of social armour on to protect themselves from all the social noise. With so much anonymity, people can can be rude and inconsiderate and don't even know that they are. People also seem to be very time stretched and in a rush.
We felt that this armor plating was a product not of poor character but of the scale itself and all the noise. We felt that no one would be immune. At a certain scale it was essential to have a full suit of armour on. Eyes down in the subway or elevator. iPods on as we walked in the street.
Our aha was that this natural social gradient also held up on the social web. What people really want, we think is to be back in the tribe/village that all primates feel best in. What we find is that we live in a huge mega city called the web. A place so big that most have a lot of armour on and can behave badly as if there were no consequences to being inconsiderate.
So here we are. Tribal Primates in a vast metropolis. A place were many think that they can reach us by using the same techniques as are used in the real big city.
Our aha is that if you want to reach us - find a way into my village.
Both of us have large web circles. Luis has a huge one. BUT we both noted that we both really paid attention to about 20 -30 at the most. If one person in this little village said "Hey look at this" we would. But we would rarely take the rest too seriously, especially if there was no context provided as well.
If you want to reach us, it is best to reach us by one of the village.
So how did we find each other in this huge mega city that is now the social web? A joint member of our two villages was the broker. Euan, a common friend introduced us. He told us both that we might enjoy each other's company.
This did not mean that we became friends. It meant that we began to pay attention to each other.
The earth did not move. There was no flash of lightening. What then happened was that we observed the other form a distance. We saw how we acted on the web. We discovered that we shared other friends. We saw glimpses of the other's private lives and struggles. Over time an accurate assessment of what the other might be like as a person emerged for both of us.
Having feeds from our blogs and most importantly having a Twitter feed enabled a granular appreciation to develop. An affection grew even without any direct contact. So, when we finally spoke, it was as if we had been old friends who had been separated for a long time.
This experience is rare but not unique for Luis and I.
I am sure that many of you have had this happen. My life has been enriched beyond measure by the handful of close friends that I have made this way. An introduction by a trusted member of my village has been the starting point.
I am nearly 60. Before I ventured into the 'sphere, I had really stopped making friends as I had at university. New friends were largely situational. We were co workers. Our kids were friends. Neighbours. As I got older it got harder. This though is like being back at university. There is this huge pool and there is the time to let the frindship grow naturally. We hang out a lot as we did when we were 20.
Luis and I agreed that what we wanted more than anything was the joy of being back home in the village again. The social web seesm to be able to enable this to happen. Our bet is that learning more about how this process works will unlock the real potential of the new web.
The bottom line for Luis and I is that the social rules of tribal/village seem to apply to the social web.
We most of all wish to live in a village - in a tribe - the web enables us to find the best village and tribe possible as it offers us the choice of the whole world to find the best matches rather than having to make the best of our blood and local pool.
It means that the social gradients of real life apply. We treat strangers with caution and we treat strangers who presume with even more caution. Some chap came onto Luis' site and said that it was the ugliest that he had ever seen. Imagine if I came into your house and said that?
It means that we can be proud to have say 1,000 followers on Twitter but that the risk is that you will have so much noise as to miss your real friends.
It means that we have to rethink the whole idea of "local". My village is made up of people who live all over the world. I have closer ties to them than to most that live 10 miles away from me.
It means that community as far as My Community cannot scale beyond a small town. Otherwise there is too much noise.
It means that those who wish to design for community would be advised to follow the rules of community in real life - In real life, we scale out from those that mean the most to us to the noise.
The harsh truth of "Friends" is that we can have only a few of them. Between 8 - 35? Then up to about 80. All the rest are outside the zone where we care a lot. So again all the vanity about how many FB "Friends" we have is just that - Vanity.
So if you worked for a TV or radio station and you accepted this realty - how would you approach connecting to your city?
Nest week Susan Meyer will offer up her opinion - I think you will find her views engrossing and very helpful.