Social Media

Thinking out loud here…

Chat last night on Twitter about cloud computing, the definition having been recently updated on Wikipedia by @bobgourley.  One gentle challenge was offered by @lewisshepherd:  By the simpler definition, a print server would be deemed cloud computing – is that what is meant?  

At one level, it is not altogether useful to have such broad definitions that the reader is unable to move from the definition to understanding what LinkedIn and Amazon Web Services have in common.  However, as a “specialist of the whole,” I was immediately seduced by the simplicity.  If a user can use distant computers to process local jobs, she is working with cloud computing.  (Cloud computering?)

Take this to another level.  In a most excellent book, Natural Born Cyborgs, Andy Clark wrote that we started offloading cognitive processes when we put on wristwatches.  When someone asks you if you have the time, you say yes – because you know you can look at the watch to get the current time. You likely don’t know it without checking, this may be why you’re asked if you “have” the time, rather than if you “know” the time.  

If someone asks for your phone number, you retrieve it from the wonderful wetware behind your eyes. (Some of us of a certain age eventually lose this information, “I don’t know, I never call it!”)

So what is the difference between looking up your phone number in your brain and checking your wristwatch?  Probably the reliance on previously unrelated variables – if the silly watch battery dies, I suddenly don’t know the time.

Somewhere around 1000 B.C., I suspect cave folk knew it was cold by walking outside and seeing the ice form.  Around 1617, the first thermoscopes were used to compare temperature changes.  As a child, I saw mercury thermometers on the house to tell me when it was freezing.  This morning, the Bride checked to find out our (somewhat) local temperature is 14 degrees F.  At what stage did we offload cognitive processes to “know” the local temperature?

Andy Clark is right, we are already cyborgs to a degree.  We have always involved technology to help us offload cognitive tasks.  As we consider the various definitions for “cloud computing,” it may be useful to consider it as the next logical step in moving from the cave to the hive mind.


Well, beyond technology – we have also used our social connections to better understand our environment.  “Is it cold out there” to “does anyone know any good new restaurants” is  logical progress.  One is shouted to your fellow cave-dweller, the other a question posed using social media.

So cloud cognition is the offloading of cognitive processes, but also the use of distributed sensors to better understand our habitat.  No man is an island, indeed.


I am seduced by the interest in yesterday’s post, which remains sloppy and in need of tightening.  There are many types I missed, so let me try to flesh this out a bit.  To review, these are observations, not completed analysis.  But through this first pass, we may glean some common characteristics.  To be serious about this, I would need a significant data sample – please do not imagine I have cut through thousands of twitter users to develop these types.

But I’d like to.

To recap, we have:

Incurious Celebrity – 1:60+ Augmenting value provided elsewhere, but not actively listening to Twitter. May respond to @ messages.  Poster girl: @breagrant.  Also a member: @anamariecox (1:122), whose messages are often worth printing off and framing.  Ms. Cox gained some fame by raising a substantial amount of money through Twitter and her blog in order to finish participating as part of the press gaggle for the McCain campaign.  She can rally support, but remains an Incurious Celebrity.

Curious Celebrity – 1:1  Augmenting value provided elsewhere, also engaging and listening to their followers.  May respond to @ messages, but also displays evidence they are proactively engaged. Poster guy @stephenfry (1:1)

Engaged Intellectual – (1:10) truly seeking to engage the people they follow, providing unique value online. Links to items they are reading or writing – and relies on feedback.  Would plotz without it. @cheeky_geeky (1:8) a poster guy here.

Balanced Invisible – (1:1), for small values of 1.  Engaged, but mainly followed by real life friends and Mom.  I’m trying to break out, I really am.  Sigh. 

Empty Suit – marketers, spammers, other folks who believe connecting with zero value is useful for anyone other than themselves.   Yesterday I provided an egregious example, today here’s “coach Judy,” someone whose ratio is (1:1). However, well, this graphic demonstrates an actual feed from a half hour out of her twitter life (the “free gift” is a blog posting).  She may be doing something really valuable to get all those followers, but her use of Twitter makes her an Empty Suit.

Twitter spam

You may think that a form of the Incurious Celebrity would be journalism outlets, such as @nytimes (1:425).  They satisfy the criteria: high ratio of followers to followed, and providing intrinsic value.  However, their twitter messages are a form of “corporate communications,” in that they use Twitter to augment their news delivery.  

Journalists need their own types.  

Here are a few:  @nytimes (1:425) is, sorry, Old Media.  Why?  They use twitter entirely to draw eyeballs to their existing media channel.  Their messages are entirely links to their web page offering.  However, they are offering original content, as they employ actual journalists. Old Media remains a source of valuable information. 

@breakingnewson (1:10), is a Resourceful Repackager.  Their ratio is based on fairly large numbers (969:10,375), and they aren’t just following other news outlets.  However, they are monitoring news through various media channels and pass on breaking news to Twitter. 

@ricksanchezcnn (1:2) is an example of Listening Media.  While primarily appearing on the unblinking eye of CNN, he incorporates edited Twitter streams into his newscast.  More importantly, he uses the Twitter community for “show prep.” This is an important step, rather than treat twitter users (only) as if we’re zoo creatures, Mr. Sanchez is also interacting and listening.

Full disclosure:  I stopped following Rick Sanchez in a snit after he posted a question during show prep one day about the increase in hate speech directed at Barack Obama.  It’s entirely possible I wrote him several messages asking (ok, demanding) him to explain the difference between news and incitement.  He ignored (or likely, didn’t see) the messages, and I unfollowed. I’m still snit-bound.


Interestingly CNN’s @andersoncooper (1:780), (who violates the ‘cnn’ suffix that is otherwise apparently a station norm), is profoundly Old Media.  Such a young hip guy, but his messages are all pointers to his area on, and his ratio is disturbing.  

Not only is he following only seven feeds, but the only human on that list is @jackcafferty (1:265).  Mr. Cafferty, whose job appears to consist entirely of provoking audience engagement through email, is remarkably also Old Media.  The only human on his list is, yes, @andersoncooper.  Someone get these guys telephones.  

Brief rant. Ok, Jack?  “If you didn’t see your email here, go to my blog where they’re all posted.”  So:  write you an email so that I may then go to your “blog” and read it?  Aren’t narcissists usually more resourceful?  

@fox5newsedge (1:1) is truly radical, and may be an example of Trusted Media.  Yes, I did say that out loud.  This is someone of the Listening Media type who also shares non-news insights.  He responds to listeners, their ideas inform his on-air presentations, he provides a “tease” to his broadcasts, and links to content, but uses follow-up (what he calls f/u) ideas to provide a more tailored broadcast. Finally, and most important, he shares his personal twitter account (@brianbolter (1:5)) from here – where I can assure you he is himself.  This local news broadcaster thanked me recently when I provided a cleaning solution idea to fix an unfortunate marriage between a decanter of red wine and his carpet.  

Mr. Bolter is building out a trust network by connecting in a meaningful way with his audience. This is nontrivial; Washington DC is a town where news is often made by people who “leak” information to trusted news sources.  What does it mean for a journalist who’s gaining trust among thousands of Washingtonians with very little effort?  Do I trust Mr. Bolter because he spills red wine, is witty, and is nervous about an upcoming laproscopic procedure?  Yes, because he is connecting on a human level.

This matters.   

I don’t know if this little exercise is useful, but it’s fun to ramble once in a while.

Just some initial scattered thoughts regarding Twitter – if you don’t use it, this will make little sense to you.  Perhaps.  

I’m noticing possible user typologies, from my admittedly small vantage point, that are proving fascinating, at least to me.  (All numbers are current as of 2 December 2008.)

What follows is tongue-in-cheek, as I am not a fan of categories.  I am jotting it down in response to a question from a new virtual friend.  If I decide to take this seriously, I’ll look at balancing the categories; for now I’m just spewing.  If someone else has already perfected the Twitter Archetypes, please accept my apology and send a link.

I (@jbordeaux) am following 262 feeds, and have somehow gained 258 who are following my feed.  (Some are no doubt spammers, who follow many in hopes of opening up a channel for their wares.  Twitter appears to be getting a handle on this nuisance, suspending accounts that demonstrate ‘suspicious activity.’)

For reasons unfathomable; I find myself following Brea Grant, a young actress on NBC’s Heroes.  This enterprising lady blogs frequently, promoting her show and charitable causes.  Ms. Grant follows 82 twitter users, and is followed by 4,282.  I confess to once offering a homeopathic remedy for her insomnia, and she immediately responded that it was on her list to try that evening.  This occurred while my Bride and I were watching the Heroes program.  I paused the show playback to mention that the attractive young spiky-haired character on the screen had just written to me.  I received a well-deserved glare in return, and quickly resumed the program.

Ms. Grant (1:52) is an Incurious Celebrity. That sounds unkind, she actually appears very curious – however she does not treat Twitter as a source of original information. I don’t know the ratio threshold, but being listened to by 4,282 people while only listening to 82 likely makes you an Incurious Celebrity.  It is important to note that Ms. Grant had no problem responding to a relevant comment I made to her directly – she was gracious, and not at all impolite. 

One of the magical things about Twitter is the opportunity to be contacted publicly by anyone – Ms. Grant does not follow my feed, but was alerted to my comment because I directed it to her.  Private comments are also possible, but only to people who have decided to follow you.  The folks at twitter paid attention during Sociology class.  

Brea Grant provides value in other channels, she entertains us using Old Media.  We follow her because she offers a behind-the-scenes look into, well, celebrity.

Another example is Matt Bacak (1:60) (no, I will not link to him in any way), who has 1,928 followers and only follows 32.  The amusing difference here is his recent vanity press release touting his triumph as a social media genius because of the number of his followers. (Those of you who do not use Twitter are laughing at this point.  So are the rest of us.) There is no discernible value associated with this gentleman, therefore no celebrity: while his ratio resembles Ms. Grant’s, he is apparently an Empty Suit.  (He has been called worse.)

So the ratio is augmented with Actual Value.  Need to work on quantifying that somehow.

Stephen Fry (1:1) is a Curious Celebrity.  This delightful gentleman is followed by 24,387 people, and follows 23,265 in return.  From his Flickr photos during a documentary shoot in Africa, to the many audio-video offerings on his eponymous website, to his quiet walks through NYC: he is a gentle treasure.  

Guy Kawasaki (1:1) is another Curious Celebrity, following 31,937 and followed by 31,567.  It is likely he automatically follows whoever follows him, but I can tell you from experience he also engages with them.  I have no idea how he does that, but it is (sorry) insanely great.

Some souls follow at many people as possible, but are not followed in return by any appreciable number. These appear to be, um, Quiet Followers.  They have little to say on their own, and their twitter feed consists almost entirely of replies to others.  Perhaps not surprisingly, the Empty Suits also have little to say aside from replies to others.  Another segment with similar numbers are Marketers and Spammers.  In every pond, some scum will grow.

Dr. Mark Drapeau (1:8) represents another segment, perhaps the Engaged Intellectual. He follows 204, and is followed by 1,659. While that seems out of balance, consider how he appears to be limiting himself to the bounds of social group dynamics – see Dunbar’s Number.  Unlike the Celebrities, he is hoping to have actual and meaningful exchanges with the people he follows.  If you are followed by him, he will chime in.  Unlike celebrities, he is watching.  His messages are an intriguing window into the convergence of government and social media.

Me (1:1)?  Well, with 262 followed, and 258 followers, I suppose I am a Balanced Invisible.  I’m dangerously close to promiscuity in my following behavior, but have yet to generate much interest.  While I have the same ratio as Mr. Fry, I am not – wait for it – in the same category.

There should be more thought here, but dinner beckons.  What am I missing?

Exhibit 1. A twitter fragment reflects the opinion that Organizational Theory ‘dictates mostly top-down’ while ‘Social Media is Chaos Theory.’

Conclusion. Organizational Theory is now obsolete.

Exhibit 2. A gentleman writes a blog, which quickly goes viral, regarding what he sees as a ‘generational war’ between Knowledge Management and Social Media.

Conclusion. Knowledge Management is now (thankfully) obsolete.

Exhibit 3. I knew there was water on Mars before you did. Chances are. Why? Because the Mars Phoenix whispered it to me back in June.

Conclusion. Typical approaches to Government are now obsolete.

All done in by Social Media. Huzzah.

There is something to be said for assertions in the presence of minimal context. I forget the precise saying, but everyone has one and they can stink. Permit me a few slightly contrarian viewpoints:

  1. What if, instead of ‘social media’ replacing approaches to How We Organize, it simply represents a new tool-set that reflects approaches to organizations that date back almost 60 years?
  2. What if Knowledge Management leaders actually embrace notions of complexity, natural science, and the distributed nature of organizational thought?
  3. And what if approaches to Government actually… actually, I’ll get to that one last. Because there is a pony in that pile.

I’ll offer some ideas on these over the next few undefined units of time.

First up:

Has social media slain organizational theory?

Organizational Theory Cliff Notes – A Selection of Thoughts

The study of organizational theory is the examination of how humans organize for a common objective. The forum is the firm, the organizational units devoted to business activities, and the common objective of greater wealth accumulation within a capitalist economy. The assumptions include freedom of mobility for labor, access to capital, and a market within which to trade products and services for remuneration. The central question for organizational theory: Why do people organize, and how can organizational objectives be effectively and efficiently attained, given the determinants of human behavior?

There has been a tension between a mechanical approach to organizational management – dating back to Taylor’s (1911) scientific management theory and Ford’s embracing of it – and an organic one, which emerged in the 1950s. The former presents humans as driven primarily by economic incentives. The employee is compensated, and this is considered sufficient to provide for his maximum prosperity – this characterization of the employee is referred to as the “economic man,” driven only by wages. Taylor’s framework for organization included a clear delineation of hierarchical authority, management by exception, and task specialization. The firm was seen as a machine, and by setting the right incentives and optimized processes in place, management would only have to maintain anomalies within the structure.

Henry Ford developed the principle of mass production by applying Taylor’s theory to an industry that had previously been one of craft production. By establishing task specialization and the innovation of the assembly line, Ford created the first miracle of U.S. production in the 20th century. His reaction to the resulting labor-friendly market, where workers could move between automakers easily due to a shortage of skilled labor, was to double the going wage to $5 per day. This was an effort to exploit the “efficiency wage”, which aimed to provide an incentive for the employee to stay with Ford – even if non-compensation issues were preferable elsewhere.

It’s important to stop here and note two truths.

  1. This is but one approach in the field of organizational theory.
  2. This particular approach has been relatively unpopular (outside of factory work) for a very long time.
  3. Bonus truth: Scientific management theory is one reason why “Six Sigma” makes sense to some managers, despite the evidence of great harm to natural work processes, innovation, creativity, etc.

A Few Challenges to Taylor and Scientific Management

The organic approach appeared soon after WWII, with explorations into systems science (sometimes called ‘soft systems methodologies’) and decision theory that together began to explore a more radical description of the nature of the firm. Yes, our friend chaos theory entered the scene way back in 1927, later popularized in 1963 when Edward Lorenz first noticed the possibility that minor changes to initial conditions could lead to enormous changes in weather prediction models. (Further popularized by Jeff Goldblum in 1993, but I digress.) It didn’t take long before chaos (and the parent field of complexity) found its way into organizational thinking – cementing the observation that human organizations also demonstrated non-linearity, co-evolution, emergent behaviors, etc. Chaos theory has actually been a part of organizational theory for longer than most social media evangelists have been alive.

In 1947’s Administrative Behavior, Nobel Prize winner Herbert Simon criticized the Taylor scientific management approach, by revisiting how we make decisions and exploring the limits of rationality. The economic man theory assumed the ‘man’ had access to perfect information and could therefore behave according to rational choice theory. Simon renamed the employee as “administrative man,” arguing that decisions are made with incomplete and imperfect information. How can you manage a workforce as if they had all the information they needed within the firm, and made decisions based on an economically rational assessment of their choices?

In 1960 Douglas McGregor developed alternative notions of employee motivation – beyond the efficiency wage – in his work on Theory X and Y (The Human Side of the Enterprise). Theory X, perhaps a direct reference to Taylor, relied on an authoritarian approach to management, while Theory Y he termed a participative management style. “The capacity to use a high degree of imagination, ingenuity and creativity in solving organizational problems is widely, not narrowly, distributed in the population.”

And so on. Recent work in value networks and organizational network analysis reveals that the organization obviously is more than the employees, and is best understood, examined, and managed as an ecosystem.

So-Social Media?

So if organizational theory has contained inside its hallowed halls the ideas that 1) people’s imperfect decision processes matter more than management edicts or high wages for success; and that 2) organizations are more ecologies than machines, so you’re better off gardening than engineering… what does this say about the effect of social media on organizational theory?

How about: social media represents an affirmation of the organization as ecosystem? It introduces diverse voices into the value network. Yes, it challenges the hierarchical delivery of information we use to manage our work lives – but that is a challenge to hierarchy, not to organizational theory. And before you declare the death of hierarchy, consider that this is an artifact of our sociology. It will take more than twitter to reverse the anthropological and sociological imperatives of hierarchy.


Social media is another in a series of challenges to hierarchy, not organizational theory. It also provides a remarkable tool for the detection of weak signals in a decision environment, while challenging our cognitive ability to pay attention – but I’ve run out of pixels for today.