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I just got access to Twitter Lists – the feature where you can create and publish lists of people to follow. The obvious thing for me to do is to make a Tuttle list, innit? But I’m not, and I can’t and here’s why:
You’re a member of Tuttle if and when you decide you are, it’s nothing to do with me. Now if you really misbehave and hurt people in the group or something (it’s never happened yet) I might ask you to leave and not come back (it’s never happened yet) but that remains a hypothetical case.
So I don’t know who should be on the list, and I can’t and I shouldn’t – that’s what decentralized power means, it’s none of it up to me, it’s up to you. If I made a list, I can guarantee you two things: 1) I would miss someone out and 2) I’d put someone on there that someone else doesn’t think belongs (say they came only came once and you didn’t see them) and every week I’d have a god-awful job of asking new people if they wanted to go on the list or something. Blaaah. No. Not going to happen.
So now I’m pondering what it means about Twitter (the company) and their attitude to centralisation, personal choice, list-making and popularity contests. But it’s time for bed.
It’s very easy to get paralysed at the moment. Either stuck in the headlights of the juggernaut coming to crush your industry or befuddled by the sheer number of possibilities, choices, opportunities.
One thing I hope that I do for people is to give them some thinking space by saying “Hey yes, it’s all quite uncertain and generally a bit scary, but I’m willing to hold up the ceiling that seems to be crumbling and about to crush you all, while you finish your conversation”. OK so it’s not always that dramatic. You should know by now that I’m prone to melodrama, but you get the idea.
Many people tell me they value Tuttle for that reason, that it gives them time out from worrying about what they’re going to do next, time to think but also time to look around and see what’s really going on.
Someone once told me that when they were recruiting creatives, they knew they’d struck gold when they found someone willing to hold uncertainty for themselves and others.
The consulting work we did together last week (which continues tomorrow) felt a bit like that too. It seems to be something people value and something that people find hard to do for themselves.
So. y’know. yeah.
#kebab was interesting in what it brought out in people when they were given the opportunity to run something themselves. It certainly showed the appetite, particularly among the British contingent to do something different – the only problem was that everyone wanted a different sort of different. It also showed up the difference between UK & US cultures – one I want to explore more, I think there’s something to do to try and build bridges.
The Texas Tuttle went well on Sunday , lots of people packed onto the stand and I got to meet some new people plus Justin Souter who I’d only chatted to on the phone before. Big thanks to Sam and Emily for making us so welcome and arranging the catering. Which reminds me that I need to give a special Tuttle merit badge to Dougald for courage in the face of US customs, risking a full body search by entering the States with PG Tips in his luggage.
The regional whuffie panel put an interesting perspective on coworking and social capital building as a means to raise the social capital of a city or location as well as to that of individuals. junto.org looks an interesting event. Tony Bacigalupo put together this list of links to all the people on the panel and their various activities and endeavours. I came out able to say the word whuffie without dying of embarrassment. The single most important thing I’ve got from attending SXSWi has been the inspiration and motivation to pick up the coworking element of Tuttle again and make sure that we’ve got something to talk about with these folks, this time next year.
We like to talk, don’t we? At least some of the time. Chatting, telling stories over and over in different ways and with different embellishments, all the while helping us to work out who we are and who we’re not, what we might choose to be or do next. But also who we’ve been, who did what, what’s been done (or tried) what’s been talked about before and so what’s fun to talk about again.
I’ve found this history bit interesting in online communities. It’s not as important to some people as it is to others but I often find myself playing the role of reminding groups of what was said before and why, as a reminder of where we’ve been together, why we took certain decisions together or else to help out a newcomer who’s repeating the mistakes of the past, going down a real blind alley.
I was reminded of it when coming into contact with some of the “old-time” seesmicers at LeWeb. It’s only a year since the peak of seesmic for me, but a lot of what we were talking about is lost. And I noticed this at the time that as the community grew quickly there were a set of first behaviours or topics that were obvious when yu were new. But because seesmic didn’t have an inherent way of recording what we’d learned, the understanding and the rituals and traditions that came about could only stay alive as lng as the people there were willing to keep talking about them and reminding each other of them. The traditions were loosely held, it only took a few people to make up a new tradition and for a few people to leave for a once fiercely guarded tradition to be discarded.
There were many reasons why my seesmic activity tailed off, but one of them was that a greater proportion of my time was spent on watching new people go through the initial phases and I was left either waiting for them to catch up or spending my time helping them to catch up more quickly. Less time for me to be creative and just enjoy the flow.
There sees to be a difference for example between talking to people at Tuttle about how it all started and what I think of it all, between that and the tangible stuff on the web that you might find if you were bothered to research it. Does that mean I need to write down more of what I say to new people every week? Or has the saying f it been enough, are there enough people who know the story in rder for it survive without any other effort? Or might that lead to a distorted story? Is it important? Is it valuable? What would be lost if it were forgotten? And what is the definitive story anyway? Is there one? Or is it that my version is dominant because of my role and repeated attendance?
One seems to be: Big is beautiful (or at least successful) ie in order for an event to be considered a success, you have to have loads of people there. I disagree. I look at Tuttle and shudder at the idea of there regularly being 100 people there. I find it’s pushing the format to have more than 50. New people seem to expect me to be disappointed if there are fewer people this week than last week. I keep telling them that it’s OK, I’ve experienced nobody turning up to something I’ve arranged, and it didn’t kill me. I think that I’m going to always represent an extreme of Tuttle attendee, if anyone’s going to make sure they meet everyone in the room then it’s going to be me. And meeting 40 people in 3 hours is a lot, fairly comfortable, but nearing the maximum.
Now that’s not to say that I don’t think big events are any good. I enjoyed Web2.0 and I’m sure I’ll enjoy LeWeb08 which is going to be huge. What I’m trying to say is that I don’t think size is a sign of success, it’s just a sign of, well, how big something is…
Another side of this is the feeling that everyone’s got to go to everything. OK, so it’s not that bad, but I do see people feeling like they are seriously missing out by not getting to go to things. And I know that’s how I’ve felt as well. We tell ourselves that we know that no-one can go to everything and surely no-one can be that interested in everything, and if you spent all your time going to things, you wouldn’t get anything done. But still, it would be just my luck that it will be this event that I’m not going to where something brilliant and amazing and paradigm-shifting will happen, something that the attendees will remember for ever and tell their grandchildren about, and level of awesome that will never be repeated in our lifetimes.
I think we’re going to be doing more and more of these meetups, scaling from 4 or 5 right up to the thousands and recognising that we don’t need to go to everything just because it’s there, any more than we can buy, listen to and enjoy every CD available on Amazon.
In fact I’m personally going to be choosing to attend things that are the 4 or 5 right people to talk about a very niche, specific subject – I still love 40 people on a Friday, but next I want to add in some smaller, more focused things. Note, that the “right” people doesn’t necessarily imply the best, brightest, coolest, sexiest, funniest or any of those things. It just means, if anything at all, the most appropriate.
Thanks to Tim Davies in the comments of “No to Quotas” for helping me see why I’m getting worked up about this one.
Where is the problem that we’re trying to solve here?
The problem with Innovation Edge wasn’t that the wrong people turned up. It wasn’t that certain groups or parts of society weren’t represented in the whole. It was that hundreds of super smart people did turn up and then were strapped into their seats and lectured to by a very small group of super smart people. It wasn’t a diversity problem – it was a power problem.
No matter which event we’re talking about, what I’m interested in participating in is a shift in designing gatherings in terms of the form and the rules of engagement, the way that a wide multiplicity of views and opinion can be expressed and worked through in conversation rather than meddling with the composition of the group.
Too late on a Sunday to be writing any more, but there is more to say.
There have been a couple of times in the last week or so when quotas have been suggested for solving a problem of “fairness”. They were brought up at the Tuttle discussion about Amplified08 in the context of deciding which networks should be represented at this network of networks forum and again during the panel I contributed to at Web2.0 on gender issues – suggesting that perhaps there should be quotas of, for example, women represented on the boards of companies.
I think that both are wrong, and I said so at the time, but didn’t have a chance to explain properly why I think that quotas are inappropriate.
Don’t tell me what to do.
I see quotas in contexts like these as the imposition of the will of one (usually very small) part of the community on another part. This attempts to make things fair by being unfair – in the 80s we called it “positive discrimination” it wasn’t very positive but it was definitely still discrimination. The situations for which it is being suggested, involve a desired or desirable state which for some reason seems unlikely to come about either organically or else quickly enough. The introduction of a quota says we cannot trust people to do the right thing (ie what we want them to do), so we will force them to. Yeuck! Isn’t this the same patronising paternalism we’re trying to be rid of? In my experience, introducing this kind of bias leads on the one hand to a feeling of disempowerment in those who are supposed to be given an advantage, a fear that the benefit given so arbitrarily could just as easily be taken away and on the other hand to resentment among those who were formerly in a majority, leading to a more entrenched determination that no further ground be given. Much better, in my view, to extract myself from what other people should do and simply for me to be vocal in my rejection of discrimination in any form and to demonstrate that in all my actions.
Quotas work in a hierarchy.
Quota-thinking is hierarchy thinking. Aren’t we moving to a world where the dominant form of organisation is a flatter network? My presentation at Web2.0 tried to show that in a networked world, of itself, the network is gender-agnostic although in practice a networked system tends to favour women who play to their strengths of building rich relationships. How do you impose a quota in a network? Especially one that is almost completely free to join? I can see that in a hierarchical model, there are gatekeepers to the centres of power and authority and that if these are biased that leads to a bias throughout the system. So have a quota for unbiased gatekeepers and you ‘solve’ the problem (unintended consequences aside). But as hyperlinks continue to subvert hierarchy, as we come to see that the shadow-side network is as important as any bureacracy and that unintended consequence can not be brushed aside, why cling on to tools that no longer work?
In the case of the “network of networks” the suggestion that we should ensure that each network is adequately represented at the table displays a complete misunderstanding of the nature of these networks. They have no clear boundaries, very low barriers to membership and very flat structures (if they have any at all) Most of all, they are not mutually exclusive. How do you decide who’s representing what and how? Let’s take the Tuttle Club as an example (just because I know it well) Say we had 30 places at Amplified08. How would we decide who’s going or not? Well, perhaps we’d have to say, those people who aren’t members of other networks need to be prioritised because they have no other chances to get in. But are these really the people we want to be representing us? The one’s who are otherwise unconnected? So let’s go for those who have the most memberships. Ooops – memberships? What does that mean? Or how about the 30 who’ve attended the most number of friday morning meetups. Gosh darnit Lloyd, what do you mean, you don’t keep neat and orderly records of who’s attended?!? And do all of these groups have common ideas of what it means to be a member? Attendance at one meeting, 20% of meetings, contribution to online activity gaaah it’s so silly! Why get into this ridiculous conversation? There’s a solution that already works for each of the networks individually – first come, first served – I don’t get why this can’t work for the bigger group too.
Clearly I’m a muddle-headed white, straight, middle-class, university-educated man who’s never had to deal with discrimination in any form and therefore doesn’t understand this stuff. What a good job I’ve got a blog and don’t have to depend on anyone else to decide whether my thoughts are worth publishing.