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November 20, 2007

The cult of immediacy versus the unstoppable groundswell

by Josh Bernoff

When it comes to blogging, faster is often perceived to be better. GigaOm and TechCrunch are all over the trends, covering the same announcements, often within minutes of each other. I've become even more aware of this as I've spent some time with Jeremiah Owyang, our new analyst, who produces posts at a prodigious rate, not just on events, but on whatever's happening with him, complete with photos and videos. And this stuff is interesting.

It's also distracting.

Through Twitter and rapid blogging you can now have 30 or 300 perspectives on anything that happens, opinions and comments bouncing off each other like superballs in a trash compactor.

I don't know how many people have gone back to those "in the moment" posts to see just how swept away they were by the moment. Even amidst these events we are simultaneously at a time in which a broad, sweeping change is happening, and we can mark its progress by every event and announcement, like Facebook's advertising and Open Social. But the significance of these events is only visible over the long view.

I think bubble thinking is driven by the swirl of events in this frenzied cult of immediacy. It's hard to think straight when your head is buzzing with the cocaine high of whatever happened ten minutes ago. Steve Rubel, quoting Brian Reich, called it out as "Shiny Object Syndrome." Behind this bubble is a reality driving forward, an unstoppable groundswell. Stuff that builds with that trend will matter. The rest will be swept away.

Maybe it's because I just finished work on a book -- that archetype of slow-cooked slow thinking that needs to last -- and maybe it's just cause I'm a lot older than 25, but I am trying to fill a different niche. Let's face it, instant analysis isn't deep, and deep analysis isn't instantaneous.

The reason this matters -- and I'm sure I'll get strafed for saying this -- is not just the activity of people, but of companies.

You may think corporations don't get it, but they do, eventually -- they just move more slowly and carefully. I've now spoken with dozens -- they're spending real money, moving forward with projects, making mistakes, learning, and mobilizing. They have lots of money and big brands. As the mass of regular people absorbs these social phenomenon, many of those companies will be there to meet them, and laugh if you want, but they are not all clueless -- not any more.

That's a long-term business trend with money behind it, one that has staying power. And it won't be swept away with yesterday's press releases, either.

When your family asks you this Thankgiving what's really going on with this social "stuff" you're working on, try telling them that. It's not revolutionary, but it's making the future happen right now.

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David Berkowitz

Amen. This is what I'm seeing with our clients too. While it's easy to find fault with what they're doing and how they're doing it, they're for the most part putting real manpower and money and, dare I say it, heart in adapting to these changes, and at times they're even taking leadership roles in their industries. They don't get enough credit.

Jeremiah Owyang

Josh, great perspective from a truly great analytical mind. I'm glad we're becoming friends, as there's a lot I'm going to learn from you.

I see our industry (or any for that matter) often like a mountain, and depending on your place on the slope, your viewpoint and insight changes.

Here's a perspective: In the eyes of some who are sharing and discussing what's on the edge, it's not just about throwing down a stake and saying "I'm here first". For me, I'm using these tools as conversation and collaboration tools. As much as I share my ideas, I get responses and opinions back in near real time that shape my thoughts --and ultimately my final analysis.

An example: this last week, there's been great concern about privacy with the features Facebook has released. Within Twitter (rubber ball trash compactor) my peers and I are discussing the Terms of Service Facebook has put forth.


Some of these are our clients, and some are thought leaders like Citizen Journalist leader Dan Gillmor. (Who supports the UC Berkeley Innovation Journalism program). In the end, I get to hear many perspectives, pro and con.

You are right about some blogger networks serving different needs. There are some that break news (or just expose rumors), there are some that echo, and those who provide analysis or unique insight or perspective. At first glance, these could appear to be a single type of publisher, but as you get closer, you'll see it fragment into those different types of content. I can clearly see who fits which archetypes, and GigaOm and Techcrunch are in two different buckets. Some just blog whatever is new –without adding much value—perhaps so they can get on Techmeme, drive up their SEO, and be a centralized source of breaking news. May not be universally useful, but gossip rags serve a purpose in every industry.

In the end, we're going to need a combination of both 'in the moment' conversations which will ultimately fuel the 'aha' insights needed for longer term opinions and trends. Minutia (as it may appear from far) may be specific conversations that give birth to bigger ideas, which become memes and eventually trends.

We’re going to need the viewpoints of those at the top of the mountain and the many pebbles holding it up, thus having a view of the whole vista.

Brian Hayashi

There's a great desire to get involved, the price is right with lots of great tools, and the value equation is starting to be made.

But in our conversations, it's going to take a lot of trial and error to get consumers and businesses - not online, but bricks and mortar - involved in this. In the meantime, privacy gaffes and blind insistence that people won't mistake GPS for Big Brother don't help the cause. All this dazzle makes it hard to get to nuanced analysis.

"Shiny object syndrome", indeed. "Push", anyone?

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