We talk these days a lot about networks, platforms and technology, but what are we really talking about? Are we talking about Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube or are we talking about what goes on behind these networks?
Down by the river
I finally understood what these networks were all about after being on holiday in Dominica. Dominica is an island in the Caribbean where there are a reputed 365 rivers, one for each day of the year.
Let’s go back a few years when there was no running water, or washing machines and no cell phones and texting for sure. Let’s go back to when the river was the social network, when it was the meeting place for everyone. The women would go to do the washing there and meet everyday. They would talk, share stories and gossip. If you couldn’t go you would miss the news of what was going on, and risk being the centre of the gossip. The men would fish or go to meet the women there, and the children would play in the water. A complex social network developed where families and friends would meet and share. I am no anthropologist, I am giving you a very simplified story of what the rivers meant on Dominica and you could substitute a market place in Morocco or Paris or a village in Africa. Or let’s come closer to home to a front porch, a coffee shop, a church on Sunday, or the baseball diamond or hockey rink; when our extended families were not so extended and we lived in the same house, same neighborhood, or at least the same city.
When we met what did we do? We told stories. We told each other what had happened to us, what we thought was going to happen to us and what we hoped would happen to us. That started to change as we went away to school, we went away for jobs, we travelled more and we settled all over the world. The telephone helped keep us connected and then eventually the Internet and the World Wide Web.
Reach Out and Touch Someone
At first of course this thing called the World Wide Web was for transmitting data. Then those computer geeks started to talk to each other. Then they let us join in and we did. As computers and the Internet became more accessible, business started to see it as an opportunity to reach more people, make more money, market themselves. They took the same marketing materials they had always made and put it on the web; and it didn’t work. Products didn’t sell; people didn’t stay on their sites. They had to learn how to talk to us. We had to learn how to talk to each other again, and we did.
What did you say?
The social network started long before there was Facebook or any of the other networks we know today: YouTube, Twitter, Stumble, LinkedIn etc. What these social networks have done is bring us back to the river, to the market to the souk, to a family-get- together to each other. They bring us back to community. They bring us back together: period. These networks allow us to tell each other stories, to give and share and to inspire; to have conversations with each other again.
When do these networks work? When they allow us to tell stories and share conversations that are real, when there is meaning behind them and we know, see and feel that they are authentic. Everything works when there is a human network, and when that network is 10% of the solution and the people are the rest.