Howard Rheingold on the state of the WELL

Howard Rheingold’s written a good short piece for the Atlantic explaining why the WELL is historically important, and how the WELL exemplified online community (and was probably the first). He also mentions the WELL’s importance in influencing the evolution of the World wide Web of today, something I suggested in an earlier post.

Here’s Howard talking about the WELL, also featuring John “Tex” Coate:

Just busy

Been working on a number of projects, especially getting Social Web Strategies launched and working on the Plutopia-produced EFF-Austin party, possibly the biggest party at SXSW this year. Also revived EFF-Austin, ramped up Austin350.org, created a new Bootstrap subgroup focused on community… I’ve been pretty busy. This is by way of apology for starving the blog. Getting back to it now, just days before SXSW Interactive kicks off. I’ve organized a panel called “Using the New Digital Social Media to Accelerate Sustainability.” I should be working on slides for that now, and not blogging.

Social media for breakfast

Cross-posted from Social Web Strategies:

Peter Kim, who describes himself as a traditional marketing professional, gave an interesting talk at this morning’s Social Media Breakfast. He says at his site that he’s working on an enterprise social technology company, along with Kate Niederhoffer, who was also at the SMB, and my pal Doug Rushkoff, who’s “not from around here.” I’m mulling this over: he says he’s a traditional marketer but he’s helping build a social tech company, so there might be a contradiction here, especially given his talk, wherein he questioned whether social media really works for marketing. Actually, he led by questioning whether negative social media experiences (like fake blogs) had any impact on companies like Wal-Mart and Comcast… it’s not like their stock went south based on blogosphere or videosphere bad buzz. I pointed out, though, that the companies had done far worse without taking a huge hit. It’s a complicated world, and social media makes it even more so.

Another question Kim was asking was whether companies could scale their use of social media so that it could make a difference for them in a positive way, as part of their marketing efforts. Why are companies still spending three million on superbowl ads if social media can be effective? As always happens with new forms of media, at least early on the new doesn’t replace the old, it’s just another way of communicating. I think most of us who’ve been at this for quite a while suspect we’re seeing a revolution, the new converged media will be truly transformative, more and more so over time. I suspect Peter Kim sees that more clearly than he let on.

The talk got me thinking. Social media is complex, it’s niche, it’s political, it involves all sorts of personalities and personal quirks; user generated content requires monitoring or moderation or some kind of oversight, so there’s very real and possibly expensive social overhead. Some companies are jumping in and others are interested, but a social web strategy requires a lot of thought, and perception from new angles, flexing new brain muscles you didn’t know you had as you think your way into it. And you can’t own it in the same way you could own a top-down marketing campaign. In a sense, it owns you, and requires that you be authentic…

My friend Mike Chapman said at one point that “there are no rules. When you try to put rules around it, you break it.”