Friday, November 20, 2009

Awaiting Igon Valuation

In Steven Pinker’s eloquent review of Gladwell’s new collection of essays, he coins a new calamity - “the Igon Value Problem,” mocking Gladwell for his misunderstanding/ misspelling of the term “eigenvalue” as igon value. The Problem, as defined by Pinker is,
when a writer’s education on a topic consists in interviewing an expert, he is apt to offer generalizations that are banal, obtuse or flat wrong.
Now, I’m laughing all the way home, believe me, but I’m concerned that our industry is one that is fueled by Igon Valuation. Is it not true that there’s a deep hunger for sweeping generalizations in lay speak? A thirst for buzzy buzz words to capture compelling psychological constructs? Isn’t that essentially what industry analysts are lionized for?

My concern is that this Problem is keeping answers at bay. There are solutions available to some of today’s more complex business problems, but they’re waiting to be "Igon-valued" before catching on. Take the measurement of social technology usage, for example.

Meanwhile, academics are often brought on to firms with fear-- left in the back room, lest they promise to dumb down everything they’re thinking of uttering client-side.

I too have criticized Gladwell for his banal generalizations, for his cursory foray into psychology and statistics, for somehow stealing the credit for entire literatures-- but I'm constantly reminded that Gladwell is hailed as a business guru! His books are on the business best seller lists for months, years. 

I’ve come to the conclusion that business wants things Igon Valued. In a recent embarrassment at Web 2.0. Expo NYC, danah boyd was publicly humiliated for speaking too densely, quickly, and smartly... I used to think it was compelling stories about data that were lacking, but I’ve now decided banal generalizations are more effective. Please tell me I’m wrong.

I think the essence of business problems are waiting to be solved by a combination of social network analysis (SNA), text analysis, and some good, old-fashioned, proper attention to human beings-- not all things that have been here all along, but things that are readily accessible now.

By measuring connections through SNA, we can identify things like:
  • who’s connected to whom in an organization, however informal those connections are. 
  • the roles people play in communication and collaboration - whether they’re information brokers, originators, or hoarders (alas, a potential opportunity to make blatant generalizations!)
Through text analysis, we can determine things like:
  • the nature of signals exchanged-- when work is really getting done as opposed to socialization!
  • how honest or emotional colleagues are with one another
Through asking the right questions on surveys, we can:
  • explore perceptions of trust, motivation, awareness, competition 
  • help validate the root cause of any given problem
Compare today's business intelligence to what Dr. Dena Rifkin wrote recently of how our medical interventions -- our attention to “benchmarks and checkboxes” are failing the patients:
As a profession, we are paying attention to the details of medical errors — to ambiguous chart abbreviations, to vaccination practices and hand-washing and many other important, or at least quantifiable, matters.
This too is true in business-- we’re paying attention to quantifiable units because they’re there, buzzy concepts because we want to keep up with the Jones’.  

Be wary of buzz words. Certainly there are outliers, flukes, and things you can accomplish without methodical, long-winded statistical pattern analysis or reasoning, but for the most part, some depth is necessary. Furthermore, means to the depth already exists -- we’re not waiting for it to be figured out, just waiting for it to be popularized.

Also posted on Dachis Group Collaboratory which you can subscribe to here

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Three masquerades of metrics

Below is an excerpt of a post I wrote for our Collaboratory today. Curious to hear readers' thoughts on measurement flaws and opportunities in the social space. Please find the full post here

[There are three major opportunities that could help unlock the value of conversations and other social interactions. But first, we have to overcome some very basic human tendencies:
  • the ease of counts 
  • the shine of the surface 
  • the convenience of snapshots. 
We need to abandon some traditional standards and stop forcing social data into shapes and sizes that work for other media measurement. Tomorrow is about patterns, depth, and dynamic metrics.]

Monday, October 19, 2009

Reflections on Reflections on Working in Public

When we launched our Collaboratory, I mentioned that it's part web presence, part social business experiment. For now, the most experimental part is the window on our work-- a live stream of communication acts our team engages in, offering up varying degrees of information from having shared an unnamed file on a particular platform to emailing someone at a certain domain to tweeting specific, visible content. 

There are massive individual differences in comfort with transparency. As my team has spent the past few weeks sussing out the comfort zone with the public now privy to the stream, we've reflected on, discussed, and critiqued our perceptions. We're very curious what it's like on the other side of the window... What do you think about our transparency? Too much? Not really that much? Want more? 

Transparency can have a profound effect on behavior. Perhaps not a universal effect. Ironically, the psych study that comes to mind is an old great of Ken Gergen's: Deviance in the Dark (Gergen, Gergen, & Barton, 1973). Gergen was exploring the effect of darkness on behavior. He had students enter a dark room one-by-one, to get to know each other. He provided very few instructions. They chatted, talked more heatedly, and then... eventually the study was called off because it led to some scandalous and unexpectedly affectionate behaviors! Not aggressive ones, as might have been expected. 

I bring this up because of what we know from this and several other studies on deindividuation, or not being able to see or pay attention to individuals as individuals (the opposite of transparency). Deindividuation doesn't necessarily make you aggressive or affectionate, it's a powerful force in making people conform to a perceived norm. This has really interesting implications for transparency in the workplace, especially for leaders and norm-setters. Transparency may not have a single effect - be it competition or collaboration; authenticity or artifice. Read how it's affected my colleagues over the past few weeks and let us know what you think.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Dachis Group Social Business Technology Alliances

Another week, another announcement: today, about our Social Business Technology Alliance program

With such a wide spectrum of social business needs, it's important to have the flexibility to solve the problem at hand and not shoe-horn an organization into an uncomfortable platform. It should be clear by now that at Dachis Group, we believe technology is part of the overall solution; I typically write about the necessary culture and process-related changes we believe in and practice. Today, we're excited to welcome our technology partners to our ecosystem to help deliver comprehensive solutions.

Our technology and integrator partners include:
  • Atlassian Confluence - Wiki-based collaboration
  • CoTweet - Twitter for business
  • IBM Lotus Connections - Enterprise social networking tools
  • Telligent - Customer and enterprise facing communities
  • ThoughtFarmer - Social intranet software
  • SocialWare - Social Media risk management
  • Socialcast - Enterprise microblogging and social networking platform
  • Photon Infotech - Open Source Development
  • Bamboo Networks - Custom application development and rehabilitation
  • Starpoint Solutions - Application implementation and integration
Read the official release on our Collaboratory

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Social should imply specificity

[This was originally posted on the Dachis Group Collaboratory]  

There’s an inherent problem with the word social. Not “social media” or “social business.” Just social. The problem is, it doesn’t incorporate any sense of specificity to it. People are left to think that all things social are massive connectivity festivals. Really, being social is about connecting with sensible, specific others, typically, for specific reasons.

It’s great to open things up and give people freedom, but specificity-- that is, some focus or structure- is what really unleashes talent. Specificity comes in many forms of social systems. As Tom Malone et al. point out, the “genome” of collective intelligence can be broken down into Who (staffing), What (goal), Why (incentives), and How (process). Each of these "genes" demand specificity.

Take the Netflix Challenge, for one: its success as a crowdsourced effort was attributed to connecting the right people only after some jockeying happened. It was not a result of all participants being connected, helter-skelter. Often throwing too many people into the mix leads to hasty and irrational outcomes due to groupthink or lazy free-loading, as a result of social loafing -- not to mention pluralistic ignorance where we incorrectly assume acceptance of a given norm.

A less oft-cited method of making a social system work has less to do with who is connected and more to do with what you ask of those connections. This is a critical focus as researchers migrate from surveys as our mainstay methodology. Good questions are the currency of social systems that flow between the focused connections discussed above.

The other day I noticed Rypple made an important change in this direction with its “Power of One” initiative. Rypple, as you might know, lets you give and receive feedback online (anonymously), to and from select others. All humans lack an inherent sense of psychometrics, so it’s hard to know precisely what to ask, especially when the stakes are high. That is, you’re asking *specific* trusted others for self-related feedback. The inclination is to ask open-ended questions. Logic being similar to the above: connect everyone // ask people to tell you anything and any number of things. Turns out, lack of specificity leads to confusion, and in most cases non-response. Rypple is alleviating this problem by encouraging users to ask “what’s *one thing* I can do to improve.”

It’s usually one question that makes or breaks a given finding. Gallup’s one question, “Do you have a best friend at work” is the biggest predictor of workplace engagement. Other research shows that one question self-assessments of health are better predictors of mortality than an extensive battery of objective health data. Reicheld told us six years ago that your Net Promoter score is “The One Number you Need to Grow.

My point is not about measurement error and response bias, it’s about specificity. Being direct in order to make social systems effective. Finding the signal amidst the noise.

We can't go on idly talking about "social" initiatives. We must be focused in order to make social systems effective. This pertains to who is in your ecosystem, how they are connected, why they are connected, and how you measure those connections.

Being social is not necessarily complex. If you apply a lens of specificity, you can systematically simplify the situation.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Lab, Sweet Home(page)

Today we launch our laboratory on social business design: The Collaboratory.

It’s a work in progress, and today is the first step. When you arrive, you’ll notice a window on our world of work: a live stream of our communication-- sharing files, yamming, tweeting, and yes, emailing, since no one is perfect yet.

The Collaboratory moonlights as our web presence, offering more information about our company, curating readings about social business design, and eventually inviting clients to engage with us in social business. Rather than making it a static repository of knowledge, we’re testing out new ways to make it more dynamic and blur the lines of transparency and other notions, previously standards of how business has been done.

My favorite aspect of it is its experimental nature, so please participate and help us turn it into something really interesting. We've also posted our first piece of thought leadership, available for download. I hope this stimulates millions of questions from you, particularly about the interface of social science and business; I encourage you to engage, question, critique, comment. We've been thinking about these concepts for just over a year now and are excited to open our doors and engage with our ecosystem.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Think culture change, not brainwashing...

You might laugh, but as I’ve been thinking about the culture change associated with social business design, I’m reminded of the literature on coercive persuasion, aka brainwashing, in its ugliest form.

Only brainwashing has such negative connotations. Abandon those. The part I’m thinking about, the systematic methodology to get people to change their attitudes to drastically different ones, is not necessarily evil. 

I know it seems strong - or wrong - to compare culture change to brainwashing, but building the new collaborative culture we’re talking about takes a lot of work. Unless, of course you’re just asking people to use social technologies and not genuinely change their ways, their attitudes, their business processes. 

Most people aren’t-- they’re asking how we get hierarchical, silo-d, and competitive cultures to change to more democratic, participative, or hiveminded ones.

Enter “thought reform” methodology from reputable psychologists like Edgar Schein or Robert Jay Lifton, as deduced from extreme situations like American POWs in the Korean war. Of course, it requires slight adaptation to be more relevant to an organizational setting. 

The POW brainwashing tactics were complex, but there are three major phases that  are typically identified. Keep in mind, in the case of the POWs, which I don’t for a second endorse a direct analog to employees of corporate life, it was all about breaking down identity through abuse, starvation, isolation, sleep deprivation, etc.. Rather than breaking down who you are, I’ve adapted the process to be about how you work. I’ve also removed the need for undue conditions (managers take note). 

A loose adaptation: simplified steps to "induce" culture change:

Break it down. 
  • While you don’t need to begin by attacking “wrong,” or unsocial ways, question current definitions and ways of working. Get all assumptions and beliefs on the table. In the coercive settings, here's where captors figure out what they're working with and build a foundation for change. Use caution here-- the emphasis is on questioning old ways, not mandating new ones. The anxiety you can provoke here could backfire if you aren't supportive and consistent. 

Provide a glimmer of hope
  • As people, we’re full of biases that limit us to seeing and using things in the usual, traditional ways. Offer alternatives. Start with seemingly innocent pilots-- nothing back-breaking. Talk about the purpose behind the ways of old so you can rebuild strategically and not just address features. One of the more effective tactics used in POW coercion was to put newbies in groups with others who were more advanced, or further down the road in the desired change. They offered a comfortable model of tactical next steps.

Rebuild the new, social employee. 
  • With a blank slate to work from, here’s where the vision comes in. The key here is introducing a new belief system, not just a new feature set. In coercive version, here’s where "the right way" is introduced, and is radically different from ways of old [Note: here's where it's introduced, not in stage 1, but in the final stage]. The trick here is to provide a completely new framework. Recall how easy it is to fall back on what we know; here, you have to go out of your way to offer up new ways to think about things.

Again, drastically oversimplified, but in my mind, remarkably instructive when thinking about genuine change. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Dachis Group Ecosystem Expansion

Social Business Design
As my readers will agree, when you hear someone talking about successful strategies to share hidden data and drive collective intelligence, you can’t help but be endeared. Throw a picture of Madonna into the same presentation (re: adoption challenges) and your interest skyrockets, no? Such was the case when I first heard Lee Bryant eloquently present on transition strategies for E2.0 adoption. 

Lee is the co-founder and director of Headshift, a company that we, the Dachis Group, excitedly announce today we have acquired. Headshift is a leader in the space who understands that social business is a new way of working, not just the use of new technology. Headshift, like us, realizes that organizations today need socially calibrated ideas and tools, and most importantly, strong strategy to implement them.

We believe global organizations will evolve their participation in social media into social business. When this happens, integration, scale, and adoption will become complex issues that can only be solved with a solid strategic foundation: social business design. Social business design is a systematic, comprehensive approach that spans three core areas: optimization, workforce collaboration and customer participation

These three areas of business present ripe opportunities for improved outcomes such as cost savings, new product/service innovations, and increased revenue streams. These outcomes occur when organizations connect and expand their ecosystems, evolve toward a more open culture, and empower employees, business partners and customers to actively participate in their business.  

Our acquisition of Headshift will allow us to service the increasing demand for global organizations to become social businesses. It will also allow us to attract the best talent internationally, create our own global, collaborative culture and do the absolute best work in this space. Headshift has done extensive work in Professional and Legal Services, Consumer Products, Media and Publishing, Health Care, and Government; and, worked with global companies including AXA, British Petroleum, and the BBC. 

I’m excited to expand our ecosystem to include Headshift as collaborators to help global organizations (and organisations) become social businesses. I’m also particularly eager to drink virtual tea with my new colleagues overseas. Welcome, Headshift!

For more information: 

  • The official press release for this news can be found here.
  • For more on the Dachis Group and our services, visit our company site and follow us on Twitter.
My colleagues' perspectives on our expansion can be found on their blogs:

Monday, August 24, 2009

marking your social media territory

The other night, at Parents' night, the teacher explained how 2-3 year-old kids are really into the idea of "guarding." He proceeded to give me a handful of pebbles my son had asked him to "guard" that very day. Of course, after a brief moment of inexplicable pride, my immediate instinct was to question how I've raised him to be so territorial.

Then I realized he's far from alone; he's probably a social media maven in-the-making. 

Our social media behavior obviates how territorial we all are. Take hashtags on Twitter. What better way to say "guard this idea"? RT-ing, in this vein, is yet another defense mechanism-- that is, defending your intellectual territory. It's a way to show your association with an idea, if not partially own it. What about the race to pagerank? It's all about marking territory. Is oversharing yet another tactic? Increasing the probability that you'll be rewarded with authority, influence, and other forms of credit for any number of potential memes...

To me, hashtags on Twitter epitomize the idea of territory-marking. They seem inherently different from tags in other media, e.g. blogs. I have a feeling our hashtagging motivations go deeper than the universal need to classify and develop a taxonomy. There's something subversive and blatant about the ownership motive there. Maybe the ephemeral nature of Twitter encourages us to hoard more intensely than a longer-form, more enduring medium. 

Could the sheer scale and fast-growing nature of social media bring out this territorial instinct in all of us? It reminds me of the drastically different behavior we show when primed with mortality salience. I remember one study where men rated wholesome women to be more attractive than promiscuous ones when primed with their own mortality. I wonder if we use more hashtags when Twitter volume is particularly high-- as a strategy to manage the noise. This would be a nice microcosm of the increased territory-marking that seems to be going on as communication - messages and media -- proliferates. 

We've long known that unpredictability and lack of control compel us to make our mark. When my son asks his teacher to guard things, he clearly perceives risk in losing them. Preservation and ownership claims make sense for the uncertainty that is life at age 2. If we, however, perceive a loss of control in social media, we might need to conjure up better strategies to establish order. 

Photo credit: Mrs. Logic on Flickr

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

SXSWi: voting is live

My hockey coach once told me you should always vote for yourself. If you have any hesitation, you shouldn't play, run for leadership positions, or in this case, submit ideas. 

In light of his sage advice, I wanted to ever so unhumbly show you what my team has submitted to SXSWi 2010, each of which I've confidently voted for. Take a look and see what you think. There are many, many other (2k+) great-looking submissions well worth checking out prior to September 4th. 

We'd appreciate your consideration.  

Social Business By Design (David Armano)

  • Description:  The hype around social media has become deafening. Organizations are feeling pressured to "join the conversation” or risk being irrelevant. However, a “social business” has to be designed from the ground up and the top down in order to achieve transformation which scales. Are we ready to move beyond lip service?

  • Will address:  What is "social business design"? Why is this important to me? What implications does social business design have for my organization? Why do I need a "social business strategy"? What technologies are relevant? How will this help me with my current social business initiatives? What should I be measuring? Why is this different from what I'm doing now? How will advancements in cloud computing, open source, and mobile factor? Where do I start?

Sponsored Conversations: Good Strategy or Spam? (Peter Kim)

  • Description: Does sponsored social media content work? When it comes to pay-for-play, many bloggers see no issue with “sponsored conversations” and point out that it’s happened for years. Others decry this practice as payola and challenge the credibility of those who accept payments. Who’s right?

  • Will address:  Should marketers support sponsored conversations? Do bloggers undermine their credibility by accepting payments? Will the FTC ruling have a material impact on this practice? How are large consultancies advising their blue chip clients on this issue? How do well-known bloggers see an impact on their approach? What standards should bloggers adhere to, especially vis-a-vis journalists? Can paying for conversation deliver unbiased content? Does this work as a form of advertising? From those who have participated, what's the ROI of sponsored conversations? Is this an inevitable trend, as Forrester claims? If so, how big will it get?

Stop the Insanity: Making Sense of the Social Web (me)

  • Description:  As social technologies become woven into our lives, our breadcrumbs become more varied and dimensional. Making sense of this information is challenging- for users and marketers. Methods from social and personality psychology are potential antidotes. Enough with pages views to demonstrate value. How can analysis account for the rich depth of data?

  • Will address:  How, besides traditional web analytics, can you demonstrate the value of social technology? Why is everyone obsessed with Influence and Engagement-- does either construct have any merit? What is a good framework to use when thinking about data available through social technology? Which constructs matter when you're "listening" online? As users, how can we make sense of the information we give and receive about ourselves everyday? Are there better ways to present myself online? Quicker ways to perceive others? What can you really know about someone based on their profile, blog, or tweets? What do marketers currently know about us, based on our online communication? What can social scientists tell us about social media? Are there any ways for marketers to go beyond buzz levels and sentiment?

  • Potential panelists: Jonathan Carson - co-founder, BuzzMetrics; President International, Nielsen Online; Daniel Debow - co-founder, co-CEO Rypple; Sam Gosling - University of Teaxas at Austin Personality psychologist and author of Snoop: What your stuff says about you

Hopefully see you in Austin soon. And if we do get in, be sure to Tweet precisely!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Slow down: you appear to have a Socially Transmitted Disease

Peter Kim, coiner of terms such as the headfake and other online gems asked me about STDs: Socially Transmitted Diseases. 

We seem to all have different strands (memes?) of these STDs. My Sunday Styles folk will recall this is why Michael Malice developed Protocols, "fighting against this whole idea that everything people do has to be constantly chronicled."

But there's more to it. It's cliche to suggest we're excessively social because we can be. Insert stale joke here about someone blogging while you're disclosing a deep, dark secret, tweeting while they're eating breakfast, or Jeff Jarvising your customer service... STDs are multidimensional beasts. Gone are the days where attention, narcissism, or reputation-management drove our online behavior.

We're addicted to accruing followers and engaging with that community so much so that 2-hours of down-time on Twitter leads to fearful outcries that "social media is standing still" 

We're reinforced by the ability to cleanse our stream, for example getting huge rushes of adrenaline when you tap into the new ease of hiding irrelevant, yet active-sharers on Facebook. 

Dare I intervene with catchy labels for these STDs Engagamydia? Signaliasis?

Pete reminded me of the depression of unconfirmed friend requests and the exhilarating "whoosh" of sending an email on Mac Mail. Amazing how these new behaviors are toying with our brain chemistry... 

Sometimes we need to remember that social technology is actually enabling our organic, social instincts, not transforming us into a new breed of monsters. Remember: we're social animals. We strive to get along and get ahead, it's only natural to get excited about the increased amplification of our signals.

But like a pretty girl in college, take your time to develop and manage your ecosystem. Social media is a vehicle for social behavior, more Sedan than DeLorean. 

Monday, June 22, 2009

Social Business Design: a social psychologist's take

If a social psychologist were to design a business, as an experiment of course, she would take all the information she knows about a) person b) environment and c) their interaction and design a system to account for it all.

Aware of people's fundamental need to belong, she might conceive of the organization as a vast network of groups; understanding differences in culture, and cultural perceptions, she might afford a more collective orientation by priming team goals and rewarding participation; knowledgeable about interpersonal dynamics she might enable real-time communication and meta-communication to promote team awareness and smooth interactions; lastly, with a deep knowledge of statistics as the backbone of social science, she would empower participants with individual methods of making sense of information and would constantly measure any changes.

With good Gestalt, the sum of these parts would equal greater than the whole. That is, each one of those four maneuvers would lead to incremental differences, leveraging more people to communicate more fluidly. Together, these would lead to emergent outcomes - new ideas, new directions, unexpected, unforeseen results.

For the past nine months plus, my colleagues and I have been building a business not too dissimilar from this. Specifically we've been figuring out what it takes to design a social business.

In the image above, you'll start to get a sense of the four cornerstones, or archetypes of Social Business Design:
  • Ecosystem - a community of connections
  • Hivemind - the socially calibrated mindset of individuals
  • Dynamic Signal - the constant multi-faceted means of collaboration
  • Metafilter- a method of finding signals in vast amounts of noise
Social Business Design, although new terminology, is rooted in much of the classic thinking about how naturally social we are. It's newly possible because of advances in technology that now support our social ways. It's timely, given changes in work and society, like globalization and our expectations to be intimately involved in various business decisions.

I'm part of a team that's building a social business of our own, to help others design theirs. We've developed consultative and technology implementation services to do so.

We've been working with a few clients already, helping them solve pieces of the overall social business equation. We've also been sharing pieces of our vision over the past few months: Jeff, here; Pete, here; Jevon, here; David, here; and I do, here; although we haven't officially launched or named ourselves yet.

Today, each of my colleagues and I are sharing our perspectives on the gestalt: Social Business Design:
If you want to know more, tune into our panels this week at Enterprise 2.0, livestreamed, with chat. If you're in Boston for E 2.0 and want to talk more about Social Business Design, especially the measurement side of things, shoot me an email or leave a comment below.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

consistency, connectivity, and consequences

When consistency and connectivity are at odds, it seems particularly paradoxical.

A while back, the NY Times ran an article about taking advantage of the anonymity of text messaging to help teens get sex education. One of the sex ed volunteers interviewed pointed out the importance of consistency.
"In offering this service to teenagers, he said, “you can’t say ‘I’ll be honest except or until.’ ” That’s often what happens with parents, he added, “when the child brings up something shocking, the parents tend to shut down.”
This is often what happens in business, actually. Particularly when it comes to connectivity: You can connect in this way (e.g. Outlook), but not this way (e.g. Facebook)…

Ironically, the article concluded with the idea that help, as offered through this service, stops at connectivity.
"I don’t want them to feel connected to me,” she said, “because I’m never going to be real to them. I’m a texter. I want them to find someone real to talk to.”
It makes me question the more literal sense of connection people have through technology and whether its dependent on the possibility of “real” connections.

Beyond services like or which have explicit goals of live connections, we know virtual worlds can be deeply emotional, whether or not you go to the Second Life Community Convention. I’ve experienced firsthand how certain flow applications can give you an awareness of your team you can’t have in the office. Neither of these happen in anticipation of live communication.

But then time and again you read about virtual relationships coming to fruition – the fulfillment, closure, and surprises.

Sandy Pentland’s research illustrates the differential value of face-to-face vs. email communication. Whereas email is optimized for brainstorming, face to face is required for integration and decision-making. Is this another way of saying connectivity without live consequence leads to limited intimacy?

Can we fully achieve the leverage of mass connectivity without a sense of consequence? Does consequence better afford consistency?

Friday, May 22, 2009


Despite an unruly travel schedule, I was refreshed by my brief visit at ICWSM (International Conference on Weblogs and Social Media) where Sam Gosling and I gave a workshop on The Psychology of Social Media. Sam introduced me as someone who straddles psychological research and applied social media, hence the title of my post.

ICWSM, is exceptional in being able to use the term social media sans baggage. That alone was refreshing; as was the unique mix of people at the conference, all with hands on various vectors of social media, if you will. As Matt Hurst says,
These include: text mining, artificial intelligence (especially NLP/CompLing), psychology, graph algorithms, social network theory, data visualization/UI design and data mining. One of the major roles and purposes of the conference is to bring these areas together to better model, support and leverage social media.

Sam and I framed the workshop with the question: "What can psychology tell us about the production and consumption of social media?"

Our talk began with the idea that all social media is created and consumed by psychological beings, beings with "psychologies" that evolved long ago. Naturally then, successful social media should tap into these basic needs. Businesses too, I would argue.

Whenever people talk about psychological needs, they immediately think Maslow. While his hierarchy is intuitively appealing, empirically it hasn't exactly panned out. It's always interesting to me what has and has not leaked out of psychology. Gladwell aside, could good visualizations be predictive? 

The framework of needs Sam and I chose to talk about comes from Robert Hogan, a personality psychologist whose ideas are rooted in evolutionary adaptation. You've heard about our "Stone Age minds' before... Gist is: we've always lived in groups and our groups have always had status hierarchies. So, our main psychological motivations are (a) to get along and (b) t0 get ahead. This results in us:
Wanting to know others; and, 
Wanting to be known by others (as Sam's research shows, sometimes).
Sam discussed his research on personality perception based on Facebook profiles, websites, bedrooms, and offices; and I talked about my research defining personality with everyday behaviors and language. We both agree, one of the more interesting questions that stems from all this research is what do you need to know in order to really know someone? And now, how much of this do we get in social media? Is anything systematically missing?

Understanding psychological needs is important in designing a system, well beyond the UX. Thanks to groups like ICWSM, we can advance in applying information about how psychological information is conveyed and made sense of, at a systemic level- whether we're designing an application or a business.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Culture: subject to change

It's hard to change.

But not impossible.

I'm reacting late, but vehemently to the idea that "there is no such thing as culture change." I readily acknowledge the subtleties clarified in the ensuing commentary, but I feel strongly that talking about "the people" and the complementary or, in my mind, superordinate class of change that accompanies shifts toward social technology in the enterprise is tangible and important to address systematically.

I like Susan Scrupsi's comment:
The technology is liberating, but unless every vested member in the org chart is willing to be freed from industrial age convention, it’s unlikely change will come soon. These are corporate culture issues and they’re pervasive in the adoption story.

It's not lazy thinking to call it out, as Venkat suggests. Instead, it's that we 'the people' - not the catalysts of social media adoption, but the people per se - are lazy. Routined. Tied to our ways, or perhaps so much as addicted, leaning on technology, processes, and beliefs like crutches.

The more I read the commentary, the more nuances I find. I admit, genuine structural issues in different sized organizations loom large. But I propose enterprise size acts as an important moderating variable in what would be our systematic address of attitude and behavior change.

Let me be clear: individuals are capable of making drastic changes.

For enduring change, we tend to change our thinking, and then our behaviors align (in time). Sometimes, we witness behavior change preceding attitude change, usually rooted in self-justification.

Changing our ways takes courage, commitment, and the very effortful ability to take alternative views of data (or situations), and then the foresight that a given, alternate, perspective has merit.

One way to parse the snake oil out of a 'culture-enthusiast' is to think about measurement - measuring the abstract culture, and then the efficacy of any culture-change program. For those who are interested, I refer you to a classic paper in psychology (Smith & Glass, 1977), largely credited for starting the trend of comparing outcomes of different types of psychotherapy. I think there are many lessons to be learned there-- not only about the ability to change behavior (efficacy), but the ability to measure and compare outcomes.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Ph.D., schmee-H-D

As I handed my web 2.0 co-presenter, Marc Smith, my new business card, I realized I had forgotten to include “Ph.D.” next to my name. My hard-earned qualifier that I was so proud to display on all previous business cards, all of a sudden invisible, even to me… I suggested it was probably better that way; Marc was shocked (horrified?). My justification—so often people see/hear Ph.D. and fear you’re going to be too theoretical; full of hot air:

…that your sense of time is warped; your awareness of the bottom line, null.

Ironically, one of the questions that came up at our session (echoed below in a comment from Neil Beam) was “Do you need a Ph.D. to heed [our] advice on going beyond buzz. Can a practitioner go it alone?” (paraphrased)

My answer: No you don’t; Yes you can!

By no means do I want to downplay my own background or denigrate the blood, sweat, tears, qualifying exams, torturous peer review process, or any other aspect of the training involved in earning a Ph.D., but in the same way you don’t need an MBA to be a CEO, or ‘do strategy’, a Ph.D. isn’t necessary to analyze a conversation.

You need a framework (a sound foundation), an open mind (open to letting the data speak), and a willingness to explore the depth of data.

As we discussed in our presentation, analyzing a conversation is about appreciating the context – realizing that there are several layers (As Marc would say, micro-meso-macro) to analyze for a comprehensive understanding:
  1. Signal – Finding the right means of detecting relevance
  2. Person – Digging deep into attributes/orientation of the individual producing the signal
  3. Role – Identifying, through patterns of communication, which role an individual plays in a community
  4. Ecosystem – Cultivating the appropriate balance of relationships, which form the structure of your network(s)
I don't mean to suggest this as the gold standard in frameworks for online conversation analysis-- it is simply one you can use systematically, that has some empirical support behind it. 

I would love to hear others and am open to feedback on this one. One area we toyed with including spoke more to the flow or dynamic of a conversation- a different take on the interaction between person and environment (now Role). I know Lithium has an impressive, empirical approach to Community Health in which they assess Liveliness within a community - this might fit in here. 

Please find our slides here and keep Marc's NodeXL tool in mind as you get started.

Thanks to everyone who came to our talk and especially to Jen Pahlka for coordinating the event and allowing us to make a few key last minute changes. 

Monday, March 30, 2009

measuring socially

On Wednesday (4.01.09), Marc Smith and I are talking about social science in social media and the enterprise at the Web 2.0 Expo in SF. Drop by - we have an exciting story to tell. Beyond Buzz: On measuring a Conversation, 10:50am. 

People often confuse social psychology (my background) and sociology (Marc's) but we both approach the study of people quite differently. Whereas I'm interested in an individual's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and how they are affected by the presence (or implied presence) of others, Marc is interested in people's behaviors, en masse - groups within the context of even larger groups and social structures. We do, however, have a strong common thread of "things social" and above all, an intense focus on what to measure and how.

Social media are overflowing with opportunities for each of our goals and methods. Our talk proposes going beyond buzz-- getting people away from the flat and limited paradigms paradoxically used today in the rich, interactive context social technology affords. 

We'll be focusing on:
  • Honing the signal amidst all the noise
  • Knowing more about the individuals producing the signal
  • Identifying the roles individuals play in communities
  • Exploring the aggregated relationships that create a conversation ecosystem

Marc also is the pioneer of NodeXL, a free social network analysis tool, so you can leave our session empowered to proceed immediately.

We'll be showing some interesting data tying our perspectives together and, we think, pointing toward the future of measurement in the enterprise.

Let me know if there's a certain angle you're eager for us to pursue.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Twitter: help or hinder, our fleeting memories

I can't help but take the contrarian POV.

Twittering during SXSWi is the norm. In fact, for 2 years now, people have claimed the backchannel is where the action really is-- and I’m not making a snarky reference to the Lacy-Zuckerberg fiasco of ’08. Search #SXSW and you’ll find a pretty robust meta-conference-- quotes, comments, critiques, questions on all sessions.

But, in response to Peter Kim’s summary of SXSWi ’09, consensus is that the Twittering was "out of control."

Howlvenice comments:
“I found that the tweeting was voracious. i intentionally did not twitter and took notes instead at each of the important panels. i chose to absorb the information rather than react to it in real time. now some of the tweeters are asking for my notes.”
Is absorbing really at odds with reacting; listening vs. Tweeting? Why do people assume we can't seamlessly Tweet and take-in?

I’m the first to acknowledge multi-tasking is a competition of limited cognitive resources, but there are 3 things we know from the basic study of memory that lead me to believe that Twitter could actually help us better encode our experiences.

We’re more likely to remember things when:
  1. we expend more cognitive effort (think: writing vs. reading)
  2. information is self-relevant (think: adding your own 2 cents)
  3. we doodle! (think: translating into something visual)
I used to lecture about memory tips in Intro Psych and went through numerous studies showing that depth of processing leads to better memory. Is Twittering not a means of deeper processing?

I’m not assuming that all Tweets were on-topic, or that Twitterers' motivations were committing content to memory. However, the process of documenting while listening and the personalized digital breadcrumbs left behind are, arguably, advantageous.

My issue was efficiency-- the signal in the noise more than the noise per se. To be most effective, I think the solution to 'out of control tweeting' is a system that tags not just the particular panel within the conference, but whether the tweet, for example, is a question (#q), rebroadcast (#rb), or relevant thought (#t). Because I was on-site, I was only interested in original thinking and builds, not redundent content. It would be great to see an empirical breakdown of the types of tweets that exist so we could create a useful taxonomy for future conferences.

In hopes of making presenters feel more comfortable with a Twittering audience, Olivia Mitchell (on Laura Pistachio's blog), does a nice job aggregating additional benefits to the audience, as well as tips for the presenters to cope!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

measuring the immeasurable: cues from basketball

I've been keeping a running list of things that have been traditionally hard to measure that have witnessed recent breakthroughs. Some of my favorites include:

- Valuing intangible assets
- Assessing the merit of scholarships
- Measuring love
- Quantifying a restaurant's success

I added basketball a few weeks ago, after reading Michael Lewis' article about Shane Battier, the new age of statistical analysis in the NBA and the challenge to "measure the right things."
For most of its history basketball has measured not so much what is important as what is easy to measure - points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocked shots-- and these measurements have warped perceptions of the game.
Sound familiar? Reminds me of the warped perception of the value of visitors and page views; Influence via followers.

This 'new age of statistical analysis', which, in the article, you see has transformed all major sports, foreshadows social business: everything that can be measured will be.

Thus begins the quest for true indicators of success. More than ever, we have the opportunity to move beyond the black box or to use a sports analogy, box score, to measure the right things- that really lead to coordination and success.

One critical difference is a shift from individual influencers (superstars) to team efficacy, as Mark Cuban points out,
...these numbers don’t reflect necessarily the best players in the league, but what they do reflect is the players that are being best put in a position to succeed and are delivering.
It's funny the extent to which this mirrors the Gladwell vs. Watts meme. I couldn't be more ready for the Influence influenza to be over.

So how do we move beyond points, rebounds, and assists?

Peter Kim talked about the 4 parts of social business transformation:
  • Systems thinking and design
  • Human Resource management
  • Process re-engineering
  • Technology infrastructure
This offers a nice framework from which to begin measuring the enterprise; one that's consistent with the basketball analogy:
  • System - Business goals. In business as in basketball, the score of the game will never cease to be important.
  • People - Participation and social awareness. In a team sport, your awareness of the additional players on the field/court is vital. The best team players are praised for their court vision.
  • Process- Dynamic, ongoing communication. Sean Bottier is said to talk to his teammates a lot more than anyone else on the court. Constant communication helps teammates anticipate plays and mutually benefit from each individual's work.
  • Technology - Connections. Reciprocal, one-way, maintained communication... In basketball, this would have to be the medium itself: the court. An invisible, but critical conduit.
Social constructs have been hard to both articulate and measure in the enterprise, but this framework should offer some help figuring out what to measure and how.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Twitter tea leaves

People are like liquid, always yearning for containers. I'm not saying we want to be pigeonholed, but it's validating to be neatly placed into fitting containers. It's why people love horoscopes. It makes the world make a little more sense.

So before we all follow Samantha Bee over to Gruntr, here are a few shortcuts to help you contain yourself - and others-- analyzing the language in Tweets, blogs, and status updates.

Do you tweet like a man or woman?
  • Men are more concrete than process-oriented: they use a lot of articles (a, the) and few verbs. Women are just the opposite, and use more social words (talk, share, friends, family). In other words, it would be far less likely for a female to try to reduce the world into two types of people; we're too busy talking about all people (women love pronouns).

Are you a social butterfly?
  • You'd expect people who are socially oriented to talk about socializing, but it's actually introverts who use social words like party, socialize, talk! Introverts talk about whether or not they interact with others, while extroverts focus on different ways of relating (independent, selfish, loving). Extroverts subtly show their social orientation by using a whole array of pronouns - I, you, he, she, we, they: constantly taking different perspectives on the same story.

Are you working through some issues?
  • People who are depressed focus inward and use a lot of "I," "me," and "my" along with negative emotion words (upset, angry); as expected, not so many positive emotions (happy, laugh). When you're working through things in your head, you tend to use more causal (because, effect) and insight words (think, realize) in addition to words like should, would, could.

Are you power-hungry?
  • High status people tend to use more "we," less "I" and often command that "you" do something. Ever heard of the "royal we"? Interestingly, if you're trying to suppress your need for power, like others who inhibit their behaviors, you probably use a lot of negations (not, never). "It's not that I want to tell you what to do..."
Let me know if it fits.

Note: all research stems from findings in James Pennebaker's lab.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

control, participation, transparency

On a tangent, while speaking at AWT's Austin Women's Business conference on Friday, I mentioned that the female hormone oxytocin leads women to "tend and befriend" under stress more than the well-known "fight or flight." This was clear at the conference-- lots of friendly support, even without stress to trigger said response. I've never presented to an all-female audience; it was tangibly different.

I talked about the changing nature of work with Jenn Deering-Davis, a doctoral student at UT Austin and also co-founder of Appozite. Jenn has a unique data set of interviews exploring the impact of continuous connectivity through "information and communication technologies" (e.g. iPhone, Blackberry, email, Twitter, etc.). Jenn talked about changes with respect to 'the individual'; I addressed 'the collective' (workplace) and provided a social psychological framework to unify our ideas.

Our gist was: technology--and our philosophy of using technology-- has reshaped how, when, and where we work, altering our notions of:

  1. Control
  2. Participation; and
  3. Transparency

Specifically, control -- in terms of our fundamental need to predict and control in order to make sense of the world and our relationships; participation - in terms of belongingness and our need to be connected, whether through active or passive involvement; and, transparency, our desire to be seen as we see ourselves-- or rather to figure out how we see ourselves, through the blurring lines of time and self (work vs. personal).

I know this framework holds, given its empircal roots in social psychology. However, I proposed that while these needs and desires endure, they will - and are already starting to- take on new meaning; ironically, more social meaning.

For example, as we leave behind static repositories to manage information (e.g. email), we see ourselves managing information in dynamic streams that we selectively engage in, telling us who's doing what (e.g. Facebook). We engage in belongingness as business, strengthening relationships with co-workers, competitors, brands, and anonymous others with whom we share interests in various memes. Regarding transparency, we're constantly blurring previously concrete boundaries around ourselves-- for example, shifting from an individual to a relational self (see diagram below from Aaron, Aaron, Smollan, 1992). We see a lot of this on Twitter right now, as individuals identify the balance between their professional and personal lives (e.g. JetBlue vs. LionelatDell vs. Jeremiah Owyang).

It was a fun talk - Jenn's data is rich and her evolving interpretation, insightful. Let me know if you're interested in hearing more about our talk.

Monday, February 2, 2009

blackboxing communities

The current discussion of ROI on online communities is a conversation about blackboxing.

People are trying to put something in a community ("investment") and get something out ("return") without any sense of the complexity and richness in between. Early psychologists felt the same way about the human mind - 'avoid this subjective experience nonsense'! Stimulus, response.

As a result, empty metrics are passing for ROI. Page views, photos uploaded, unique visitors are used as proxies for dollar amounts. People are confusing value and return. Beyond the fact that ROI needs to reflect money gained/lost vs. money invested, there's social value not being captured in a very social medium.

Now this doesn't mean we all need to chase the illusory grail of engagement... lest we prove it a sound construct. My point is, the innards should not be ignored, even if they chalk up to "soft," intangible value that doesn't enter your ROI calculation. Often, there are emergent outcomes.

Philosopher/Scientist Bruno Latour discussed why it's a problem to blackbox:
"When a machine runs efficiently, when a matter of fact is settled, one need focus only on its inputs and outputs and not on its internal complexity. Thus, paradoxically, the more science and technology succeed, the more opaque and obscure they become."
Our intuitive sense that a community is running smoothly could paradoxically lead us to ignore what makes it tick. Let's not make this mistake. Web 2.0, by any name, stands for the opposite of black box thinking. It's about exposing and creating value from the inner components; glass box thinking.

Lastly, let's not misunderstand this argument: Again, the metrics that tap into the depth of members' immersion in a community are not ROI per se. I recommend measuring something social; use that to predict your business goal (e.g. Retention, Satisfaction). Then, calculate your ROI ratio.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

It's social media. Measure something social.

I'm doing a webinar with Aaron Strout of Powered today, also featuring Bill Johnston (Chief Community Officer, Forum One) and Rob Harles (SVP, Sears Holding Company; creator of sk-YOU). The title is Building a Business Case for Social Marketing-- I'm talking about the importance of measurement in online communities. Please join us, it's free.

As I've said several times here, there is no gold standard for measuring success in a community. In my opinion, the trick is to embrace the ambiguity and remember to tie metrics directly to your business goals. As creatures of parsimony, we're compelled to want a simple formula for "healthy" communities. Most likely your answer will not be in page views. Likewise, it's not embedded in the illusory grail of "engagement."

I'll go into more detail on the webinar; for now, a few things to keep in mind as you seek to quantify your efforts online:

1. All social media create rich social networks; don't ignore social constructs. Think connectedness, reciprocated communication, resonance...

2. Adding things together may seem fancy, but really it's Noisy and messy. You've heard it before: don't measure something simply because it's there to be measured.

3. The metrics that tap into the depth of members' immersion in a community are not ROI per se. First measure something social; then use it to predict your business goal (e.g. Retention, Satisfaction). Then, calculate your ROI ratio.

Remember, having a measurement strategy is not about having a belt of metrics, but a framework within which you can measure your success toward a specific business goal.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Business design for social animals

Some interesting themes have emerged from Peter Kim's Proclamation of Transformation and the lively, ensuing conversation over the past 2 weeks.

Critics might find it ironic that I - Pete's colleague - would echo the meme, part of which shudders at the reverb... My goal is to add some depth by offering my social psychological perspective. Hopefully, some fresh, authentic thinking.

It's funny that people point out the divide between people who talk about “social media” and those that engage in Web/Enterprise 2.0 (or social software to transform the enterprise). The biggest chasm, more surprising to me, is between social psychologists and this broader, living and breathing conversation.

Hopefully, over time, my blog will pull other social psychologists out of the woodwork to contribute to our collective discussion about designing businesses on fundamentally social principles: connecting with people, interdependent cultures, purposeful collaboration, and effective communication, to name a few.

I’m not suggesting the chasm doesn’t make sense. Social psychologists don't necessarily know about the bottom line. Few have the privilege of using "real world" data to see what increases profits, enhances workplace productivity and mitigates risk. But they know a heck of a lot about the paths towards those goals. In the most postmodern sense, a collaboration would be ideal…

So here are a few things I believe in, along with some misconceptions that have jumped out at me as we’ve introduced our ideas on transforming business:

1. Socializing the enterprise is a fluid articulation of how we work, as social animals.
Misconception: We're making assumptions about what people want. Not everyone wants to actively share, be part of a community, or be informed about others’ every move.

2. The future of the enterprise is not a battle of Technology vs. Culture. Both are integral, and interdependent.

Misconception: Pick your poison, it’s one vs. the other. Either technology is an agent of change, or the organizational culture relinquishes its hierarchical control and walks the walk.

3. Everyone is ready; anyone can be receptive – whether you Twitter or grew up in a Stone Age society, see my first point. Designing a social business is the Gestalt. New social technologies are the parts, not independent precursors.

Misconception: Wait! There are early adopters who blog and Tweet and then the naïve masses who need to set up at least 15 accounts before joining the movement and really 'getting it'.

Look, it is early. I’m not denying that. I’m proposing that we are social animals and can organically embrace these ideas with some hard work to free ourselves from path dependence. Balance will be key across each point: We need to find the nuanced sweet spots between public and private; technology and culture; old and new. And that's what we're working on.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Measuring Communities: Protocols, not Algorithms

With the recent release of The Forrester Wave on Community Platforms, there's a lot of discussion about communities from a Product angle. But technology alone does not create value. Nor do traffic, buzz levels, or Authority scores demonstrate it.

I keep coming back to a line in Steven Pinker's piece on consumer genetics this past weekend in the NY Times.
To study something scientifically, you first have to measure it, and psychologists have developed tests for many mental traits. And contrary to popular opinion, the tests work pretty well: they give a similar measurement of a person every time they are administered, and they statistically predict life outcomes like school and job performance, psychiatric diagnoses and marital stability.
It was reaffirming to read this statement... not that I'm in the business of measuring mental traits (anymore), but the process of test construction and validation is a well-worn path. It's one that lends several hints toward creating frameworks to measure meaningful dimensions of social interactions, the currency of communities and collaboration.

The late Peter Kollock was a pioneer of social relationships. He studied, from a sociological perspective, which features contribute to the success and failure of online communities: cooperation and conflict. He wrote about things like the importance of "identity persistence," internal economies, and archives of information as design principles for online communities. But importantly, he concluded, "there is no algorithm for community."

Tying these two ideas together offers an important lesson in measuring value in communities. There are sophisticated methods and approaches to measurement, but no golden rules about what your scores should be. We can readily capture value in communities - with reliability and validity, but it's not going to look the same for everyone.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

re-tweeting altruism: also altruistic?

Twitter changed last night.

If you briefly scan through the minutia discussed in the past 24 hours, some of it now appears particularly minutia-like, with the exception of one particularly profound meme: #daniela.

For those of you out-of-network, David Armano has (at the time of posting) raised over 12k for a friend in need of an apartment. In particular, the friend is a victim of domestic violence and has 3 children to support, one with Down's Syndrome, on the money made cleaning houses.

Laura "Pistachio" Fitton also demonstrated the prosocial behavior unleashed in the Twitter community through what the Huffington Post referred to as frictionless online giving for charity: water (#wellwishes).

Examples like these seem to negate the old Bystander Effect, where people are less likely to provide help in groups than alone. Is there something about the link trail that decreases the diffusion of responsibility previously held accountable? Clearly, transparent, traceable involvement increases the likelihood to engage in socially desirable behavior.

Psychologists continue to debate whether altruism exists-- pure unselfish behavior without self-benefit. Examples are rare. Armano's actions are emblematic.

What about the others who have become part of this movement-- RT-ing, Re-blogging, digging, commenting? Equally altruistic?

It's important to recognize that propagating the original request is often a diluted act of altruism. There could be an additional selfish motivation: strengthening your connection to a rising star. In my opinion, the ripple surrounding the altruism also involves a cry for Authority.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Twitter's Group Mind - echo chamber or gestalt?

I really liked Daniel Tunkelang's summation of excessive Twitter following as the attention economy's equivalent of a Ponzi Scheme.

Being efficient in Twitter is really a study in transactive memory-- figuring out who knows what and making the connections we can depend on to complement our own knowledge. In other words, it's about identifying who knows certain information, not necessarily investing in learning/encoding the information itself. Of course that assumes your goal is using Twitter as a means of information-seeking...

Regardless, a transactive memory system is an interesting framework to understand our interconnections (why we follow and are followed). Dan Wegner is the brilliant psychologist who devoted much of his time in the mid-80's to crack the code on transactive memory -- transforming people's perception of a "group mind" from a term associated with blind herd mentality to one that takes into account the complex gestalt of a group.

Another way of thinking about this is whether the group mind of Twitter is an echo chamber of bandwagoning or a rich social network that, in Wegner's words "transcends [such] uniform agreement."

The question goes back to your motivation for following. Do you depend on communication with the people you follow to gain access to information, or store expertise you lack? For presumed reciprocity in order to broadcast your message further, yield more 'influence'? To validate our own opinions and beliefs? How similar vs. diverse are the individuals that make up our networks?

Friday, January 2, 2009

The end of restraint: addiction to feedback

Rypple makes a ton of sense and I couldn't be more supportive of the idea. Everyone wants to give and get good, honest feedback. Right? It's anonymous, you can track progress over time (read: puts metrics in our own hands) - it satisfies needs to express ourselves, better ourselves, and potentially help out others. 

The Economist introduces Rypple in it's Jan 1 issue like this: 

"One defining characteristic of the Net Generation is that it thrives on feedback."

It made me think about the role of feedback in social media at large... Does self-verification drive engagement in social media, or is it simply condoned narcissism, as someone challenged me yesterday? 

I think there is a fundamental need for validation that's satisfied in blogging, Tweeting, Facebooking, etc. as well as in the consumption of metadata (e.g. blog traffic, # following, # friends, # friend requests). Sure, there's some narcissism (read: ego traps), but there are more diluted goals related to being verified in your social network. You want your network to know you and understand you for who you think you are (your beliefs, actions, and feelings). You want to know your impact on them as well - think footprint, perception, not Authority. 

Or maybe that's just genuine participation

The problem that I foresee is that we're becoming addicted to feedback and resisting introspection. Sorry, Socrates. 

Is this conditioned narcissism?