Exciting or Scary? Rise of Social Media Swarms

Today, we are on the verge of a massive shift in the way we communicate and inspire action. Social media is creating a new kind of communications fluidity, a fully immersive experience enabling conversations to be hijacked in ways unimaginable in decades past.

Up until the 1980s, totalitarian governments, superpowers, media cartels, and leading brands had dominant control over national and even global dialogues because of superior resources and a monopoly over communications channels. A message could be easily disseminated through one-way communications processes without any competition from an opposing product or viewpoint.

By the 1990s, computer power and the Internet were inundating people with more information than ever before, ending communications monopolies and monologues. Communications strategists quickly switched to two-way communications processes and began relying on dialogues with audience segments (about their opinions, feelings, needs, and wants as well as the benefits or barriers they perceived to change) to identify ways to influence and motivate them.

Today, a self-directed communications swarm flowing in infinite directions and loops—but in a synchronized way—is emerging as a new communications paradigm.

Thanks to Web 2.0, ideas are now swarming in patterns similar to bees. Bees use their “humming” to instinctively move in coordinated synchronous swarms when they are building a new nest or hive. These self-organized swarms use a bottom-up approach where very simple interactions between individuals develop into complex group movements.

Mobile technology combined with real-time web applications, such as Twitter, Facebook, and Foursquare, creates a buzz similar to the humming of these swarms. This buzz empowers people to align around a common interest, become inspired, and take action—nearly instantaneously and in unison without prior planning or forethought.

Here’s a telling quote out of an article on Twitter’s role in the Bangkok conflict in The Globe and Mail:

Never before has a social media website played the kind of role in a conflict that Twitter has played in Thailand’s nine-week-old anti-government uprising, keeping people informed even as it amplified the hate on both sides of the country’s divide.

Some say Twitter—or rather its users—may have even saved lives as fighting consumed the streets of Bangkok.

More clearly, it was used by propagandists on both sides to get their message out, and by ordinary Thais to express their frustrations at the situation and to warn each other about which areas of Bangkok to avoid as the city descended into urban warfare.

With many websites censored and Thailand’s traditional media deeply divided into pro- and anti-government camps, it arguably became the only forum where you could get a clear picture of what was really going on.

The use of communications swarms is only in its infancy, and it will be fascinating to watch it evolve. Its powerful impact appears to be both beneficial and destructive. Swarms have been used to organize peaceful political rallies, pressure companies to change their policies, report election fraud, and orchestrate disaster relief services. But as The Globe and Mail article points out, social media’s cloak of near-anonymity can lead to vitriolic, often hateful, speech and actions:

Each hateful comment seemed to provoke an even nastier response, and by the time the nine-week-old protest came to an end, each side was cheering acts of violence against the other.

Indeed, Web 2.0 is ushering in an exciting—but sometimes scary—new communications order. Since we can’t bury our heads in the sand and stop technological progess, our only choice is to embrace the chaos and prepare to adapt along with it.

What do you think? Are you tracking or joining swarms? Are you excited or scared? Let us hear from you.

My Membership in ‘Exclusive Club’ Ends

My membership in the “exclusive” Google Wave club is over. Google announced yesterday that it is making the invite-only, real-time communication tool available to everyone, including Google Apps users, at wave.google.com. Like last year’s Google Wave introduction, the announcement took place at the Google I/O Conference.

With Google Wave, collaborators share—in real time or over time—e-mail, instant messaging, wikis, and social networking merged into topical waves. Waves are kind of a cross between chatting and threaded discussions on a blog. 

I got my invite last November, two months after Google started rolling them out in September. I wasn’t able to use Google Wave for any real-life business collaboration, so after playing around a little the first month or two, I didn’t really do much with my “exclusive” club membership. Others did, however, and their comments during the preview stage product resulted in Google making a number of important tweaks, including e-mail notifications, read-only wave access and undo/redo options.

Google also announced yesterday it is opening up much of Google Wave’s underlying architecture. That means organizations will be able to use Google Wave to develop their own real-time business tools and services—creating all kinds of possibilities for Google Wave to swell into a technological tsunami.

Have you been able to use Google Wave for real-life business collaboration? Please let me know about your experiences in the comments section below.

YouTube Celebrates Fifth Birthday

YouTube turns five years old this year. The domain name YouTube.com was registered on Feb. 14, 2005, and the website launched in beta form that May. Here’s one of the videos the company has made to celebrate the milestone and its influence on early users—in this case, Federic Alvarez, a 30-year-old filmmaker from Uruguay behind the YouTube smash sci-fi short, Panic Attack:

Super Shock! Non-Profit Client’s Domain Stolen

I was in for a shock last week when I visited the website of a non-profit whose website I recently redesigned in WordPress.

Instead of seeing the non-profit’s website, I found a page full of ads reading at the top, “This page is parked free courtesy of [a different web hosting firm than the one the non-profit uses].” Using Network Solution’s WHOIS behind that domain? page, I discovered the non-profit’s domain registration information had been deleted, causing it to be cancelled under Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) policy against incomplete or false registration data.

It turns out a third party had been tapped to register the non-profit’s domain name several years back. When the non-profit moved away from an HTML website with a monthly maintenance fee to a more modern but free WordPress site, some feathers were ruffled, spurring the person to delete the registration information and refuse to take any action to restore it. Since the person was the domain’s owner plus administrative and billing contact, nothing can be done to get the domain back (short of hiring an attorney at great expense).

The lesson learned here is if you work for a small non-profit (or any type of organization of any size) make sure your domain name is registered to your organization and not a third party. You also should:

  • Make sure your domain owner contact is one of the highest members of your organization
  • Make sure you list a second contact for site administration who is equally one of the highest members of your organization
  • Use one firm to register your domain name and a second firm for web hosting so the people who maintain your website cannot change your domain registration information if they become disgruntled
  • Review and update your domain registration information (e.g., contact names, e-mail addresses, telephone numbers, etc.) every year

My story does have a happy ending. The non-profit went ahead and registered a new domain name (which is actually more appropriate than the old one) and transferred the website to the new address. Thanks to Twitter’s live search results, search engines are already picking up the domain name change.

Has anything similar happened to you? Please share your experiences in the comments section below.

Video Clip of the Month: Chris Brogan Interview

My May 2010 video clip of the month is an interview Chris Brogan gave for the LikeMinds conference in the United Kingdom. Brogan, arguably one of the top social media experts in the world, discusses his vision for social media’s future.  Here’s the YouTube video: