Posted by Hindol Datta
Democracy is defined as a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system. This abstraction goes back to the old Greek states that spontaneously emerged and coalesced to form one of the greatest civilizations in world history. This was further refined by the great English political philosophers and more importantly, put to test in the pamphlets that led to the founding of the United States of America. The debates that reverberated in the pages of the Federalist Papers still continue to be amplified over the years into the political theater today … and more importantly; it plays a big role in the technology theater.
I have, over the years, found it a fascinating exercise to connect the dots. It is my firm belief that learning can be ported from many different and seemingly discrete and distant disciplines … to connect them is not a Nietzschian leap or a metamorphosis from a man to superman thinking. It is forging creativity, introducing dialogue between the wedges, creating an infrastructure and support system to promote association and free thought … and the abstractions would thus reduce to more concrete and practical rules for the advancement in daily living. Thus, despite being in finance, I have kept my sensibilities open to a plethora of fuzzy possibilities that may affect my realm, as much as explore the fuzzy stretches of finance that may affect the concrete realities in other areas … either in or outside of the corporate environment. I am enamored of the intellectual elasticity that has become a generational bar that the open society has enabled through technology.
So as we enter the domain of technology and mesh it with the advances in our understanding of an idyllic society with fine workings of democracy, we have to keep a few things in mind. These few things are important enough to understand in order to build out product and service solutions that are injected into mass gatherings and conversations, albeit in the virtual space. They are as follows:
1) Privacy: Man is a social animal. That being said, we crave for society but we seek solace in ourselves. Hence, science and religion coexist happily. There is never so much of each to drive the other out, since the final questions that one ultimately asks is meta-scientific. In seeking our silent spaces, the proxy in a social network is privacy. We impute value to this quaint notion which has different magnitudes across different cultures … however, my contention is that a true democratic system will allow its citizenry to preserve their spaces and enforce property rights upon such spaces. If a social network is a microcosm … an experiment playing out in the petri dish of events in our world, the network will have to embrace the democratic ideals and ensure privacy. The privacy can be protected through statutory means, business rules implemented in the system, technical do’s and don’ts, self-governing protocols, etiquettes for mutual understanding etc. These are the attributes that the right network will imbibe in the framing and final design of its own emergence.
2) Ease of Use: It is upon the network to enable the participants to speak and quickly adopt to common practices, learn new languages, adapt to changes, and to be wooed by the beauty of minimalism and simplicity. Urban planning is a lot different today than it was a 100 years ago. The good old times were not really the good old times … we live today in the best of times, and it will only get better. We are dealing with the consequences of advances in medical sciences, disaster recovery, and a general increase in income, et al… all of these translating into a burgeoning global population. Despite this and the adverse impact on the environment and having aptly defined the gloom and doom prophecy of Rome diatribe – we are not under the shadow of a Tower of Babel, lost in a litany of tongues. Rather, we are happily skewed toward embracing the common denominator, the ultimate leveler, the common theme, a grand platform. This de facto standardization of diverse orientations is making us more proficient in people finding greater meaning in their lives. The virtual network exist to allow such meaning, if the participants use it accordingly and most importantly … be able to step back and reflect upon the dialogues that they see or participate in. So the network must appeal in a manner to advance the common parlance … the global village is less a village … it is a megapolis of spontaneous evolution of innovation and knowledge. The pace of innovation in the next 10 years will outpace innovation over the last 100 years.
3) Mass Psychology – When I read Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, I recall thinking that indeed … years of experience can effectively shortcut a process to arrive at conclusions that may be correct. Arriving to a meaningfully correct judgment happens despite one not working through heaps and layers of data, analysis, observations etc. Thereafter, I read Crowdsourcing by Howe and that opened up another world … there indeed is this wisdom of the crowds. I have, as you recall, referred to Hayek who had always been optimistic toward an aggregate marketplace of opinions … Crowdsourcing empirically confirmed that theses. So now one need not necessary get to Blink when there are infrastructures setup to crowd source reference points to get you meaningfully within a safe distance from a “blink” conclusion, the latter fermented over years of experience. A great network is the one that enables such crowdsourcing to occur… functionally and aesthetically. It takes years out of the equation; it advances knowledge at stupendous pace. Somewhere I read that innovation in the next 10 years will outpace innovation over the last 100 years … I imagine that the network of connections, social or otherwise, across a standard operational platform is enabling this effusion of ideas and innovation that is and will continue to permeate our daily living.
4) Communication Channels: Finally, the virtual network must create a flurry of communication channels. I am abstracting communication to a higher level … to a plane wherein the underlying meaning is to exchange messages that drive people to act toward something. Communication is not passive; even it would engender a dialogue as commonplace or existential as “Who am I”. The value-based virtual network ought to be responsible for parsing all the touch points that impact the sensibilities of a user. These sensibilities constitute the perennial target … but unfortunately it is a moving target since new contexts emerge rapidly and may change the underlying value from which the sensibilities are wrought.
So the networks that we know today – the big elephants in the room: FB, LinkedIn, Twitter have to reinvent themselves to go deeper into capturing the intrinsic value of the participant. Or it may serve the system of surfacing the extrinsic and articulated needs of the participants … thus leaving open the possibility of ushering a new generation of niche networks that can tap into the god and the devil within us. As long as it proscribes to the four rules outlined above, I am optimistic that these cocktails will advance us sooner to the better and more productive lives in the future.
Posted by Hindol Datta
Social networking, as we understand it today, comprises three major elements:
The cross product of all of the above three lends to the gravitas of the social network and its effective reach into many aspects of the daily routine of a user.
What has transpired over the last few years is the thought that social networks should be free. The fundamental presumption is that a free network would generate activity that would gain traction and sufficient critical mass to justify its zero price value. Once the network has been able to successfully capture meaningful mind share, the next big thing would be to harness the network for revenue opportunities in order to later add quality content and greater expanse … and the cycle would be a positively self-perpetuating cycle that would theoretically know no bounds.
All of the above is fine and dandy. To reiterate, this has been the traditional model and it has continued to be overtly championed so much so that a significant number of such networks still embrace this concept. But have we stepped back and reflected upon this thought that have crystallized as a de facto model over the last few years!
I think we have, and the market is responding accordingly. I am a firm believer in the market system, as I have been steeped in the traditional compositions of Hayek, Schumpeter, Mises and the Austrian school of thought: their thesis being that the price mechanism is the big leveler. Price is not simply that numerical tag on a good or service that I am just referring to: rather, it is the abstraction of the definition that has significantly huge relevance in the economics of social networks and long-term virality and sustainability. Price is the measure of value determined by the laws of demand and supply. It is the spontaneous emergence of value created across several ecosystems that one may be immediately or indirectly connected to … but no one could or would have enough information to gauge or for that matter guide the whole toward a directed end. The value that is imputed in the price quotient changes: that much is obvious! It is governed by what Keynes had called once – the animal spirits. That fact still holds true and these “spirits” can advance or collapse societies in short notice. So what are the implications, if you will, of this short diatribe of economic thought upon social networks and the urban myth of FREE?
Free is good. Yet, Milton Friedman harangued at that word – He said, “There is no such thing as a free lunch”. But we still believe that free is the price that is most acceptable to consumers, since it would create monetizable opportunities on pure volume. Freemium became the order of the day. Get the barbarians into the gate and then cross-sell and up-sell to your heart’s content. But all along that strain of logic, we have forgotten the Friedman adage – for indeed, the barbarians at the gate are paying a price – time, energy, their conversations, their rants and rave, their hopes, their dreams – all potential fodder in the “free” social network ecosystem. What we are doing is that our technologies are creating a petri dish for guinea pigs and the enablers are forcing themselves upon the sensibilities of these “barbarians”. The common thinking – We want them in but once in, we can then strafe their sensibilities with what we determine are contextual ads and offers and relevant value parameters that they would appreciate. But all of a sudden the market has caught on to that. The house is falling down with too many barbarians through the gate; and these “barbarians” care less and less. They become cliques and guilds in a closed environment; they become oblivious to the big brother; they revolt with their attention; they shut their minds, their hearts, and yes … they shut their wallets. Yet they are there for the simple price of being part of small but meaningful conversations … a psychological need to belong, a sense of loyalty to their immediate virtual neighbors. But the noise around is overwhelming and it drowns the tidbits of conversation … so a need emerges wherein there these folks will pay for silence. The conversations will continue; conversations which have the added value of cultural diversity fuelled by the dissolution of geographical boundaries … the conversations are weighed by meaning and gravitas; a modus operandi of respect and mutual understanding … it is my contention that people are willing to pay a price for the silence in order to avert white noise and create more meaning.
So now emerges the niche networks! They offer the insulation from irrelevance: people want to be relevant; they want their conversations to be heard. They would want to reduce it to fireside chats and they measure the meaning over sips of coffee. Information and conversations are balkanized; the quality is enhanced and generally uniformed but quality ensues. The patterns of conversation become the springboard for native monetization. So we will focus on natively monetizing the buzz between connections; we will inspect the patterns of exchange and giving; we will attribute a value and we believe that a small fee will do justice to the calculus of consent.