#Occupy clustering and coping

Micah Sifry writes that “Rapid growth is going to stress the #OWS [Occupy Wall Street] movement,” and he talks about similar stresses on the Students for a Democratic Society in the 60s. He notes that core bonds of trust weren’t sustained as the movement grew. He says “social media may save #OWS from that fate, or just produce other, equally challenging problems of growing a movement to scale while keeping its core ethos.”

Steven Johnson, writing about the Howard Dean campaign, writes about two aspects of emergent political movements, clustering and coping. Steve says

Some simpler emergent systems are good at forming crowds; other, more complex ones, are good at regulating the overall state of the system, adapting to new challenges, evolving in response to opportunities. Sometimes, I suspect, it’s helpful to blur the distinctions between clustering and coping for simplicity’s sake. But when you subject them to the intense scrutiny and pressure of a national political campaign, the fault lines inevitably appear. Right now, emergent politics is brilliant at clustering, but clustering is not enough to get a national candidate elected. In fact, without the right coping mechanisms in place, clustering can sometimes work against your interests. You need crowds to get elected to public office, but without more complex forms of self-regulation, crowds can quickly turn into riots. And riots don’t win elections.

Johnson’s analysis was about a national presidential campaign, but I think it’s applicable to a potential movement like #OccupyWallStreet (or #OccupyWherever). So far, Occupy is about clustering, but to be really effective it should evolve as an organized movement. Does it have, or will it have, the right coping mechanisms in place? Johnson talks about two essentials of coping: “a relatively complex semiotic code to communicate between agents” and “metainformation about the state of the collective.” Those two mechanisms sound very much like what you could achieve through the use of social media for coordination. The so-far sophisticated and effective use of social media by Occupy may be the right sauce.

Photo by Adrian Kinloch

The manifesto that made my day

Earlier today I listened to a Buddhist Geeks talk with Stephen Batchelor, who said he was pretty sure there is no god… but then Chris Carfi sent a link to an email list we’re on that aligned so completely with where my life has been going that I thumbed my nose at Batchelor. There clearly is a god, and he made sure that I saw Maureen Johnson’s manifesto today: I AM NOT A BRAND. Have you read it? If not, stop now, go read it, then come back and we’ll talk.

“We can, if we group together, fight off the weenuses and hosebags who want to turn the Internet into a giant commercial…”

The rest of this is about me, and who cares? But I do want to download a bit and make a point.

All I’ve wanted to do for the last couple of decades is help people have meaningful conversations and solve problems together, i.e. build communities and organize effective collaborations. I’ve been in conversatoins about this with all sorts of people, including conversations in the early 2000s about social software and online social networks and how the web that was evolving – conversations captured to some extent in the collaborative paper “Emergent Democracy” that I had worked on with Joi Ito and others, and the post by Tim O’Reilly and Dale Daugherty that described “web 2.0.” I spent a lot of time thinking about political uses of the technology, with the Howard Dean campaign as a laboratory, and co-edited a book about social technology and politics called Extreme Democracy. About four years ago I was working on a consulting methodology that would help people leverage their physical and online social networks more effectively, and while I was working on this people started talking about social media. Specifically social media marketing.

I understand social technology and I get why the social web is attractive and compelling and starting to get all the mindshare we formerly committed to television. Clay Shirky talks about this in Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age: maybe we really wanted, needed, to have two way conversations all along, and broadcast television was just an alternative we had to accept until we got the technology we have now.

Television has confused us, it makes us think that media is (are?_ a vehicle for commercial messages, and without ads and persistent selling, a medium is broken. (This makes me remmber Lance Rose’s contention more than a decade ago that THE INTERNET IS NOT A MEDIUM, it’s an environment, and that’s probably another conversation we should be having.)

I’ve tried to establish my social media cred, but in a world where social media, as a profession, is supposed to be about marketing and selling, I don’t completely fit. It’s not that I’m against selling, but it’s not really what my life’s about, and I’ve never been attracted to the world of sales and marketing, even less so when I found myself in the middle of it.

But I love the idea of building relationships – that businesses can build symmetrical relationships with their customers, and vice versa. Is that the new marketing? Time will tell. I was raving supporter of the ideas in The Cluetrain Manifesto: 10th Anniversary Edition, and I’ve been edging my way into a conversation started by one of its authors, Doc Searls, labeled Project VRM. Doc recently posted a piece called “Manage relationships, not each other,” that makes the point:

During the Industrial Age, the power asymmetry between vendor and customer got so steep that vendors got to talking about customers as if the latter were cattle or slaves. Customers became “targets” that vendors “captured,” “acquired,” “locked in” and “managed.” As the Information Age dawned, however, customers gradually became more independent. So, midway into the second decade of the new millennium, customers were no longer the ones being managed. Nor, however, were vendors. Instead, relationship itself was managed by both parties.

This perspective lines up pretty well with Maureen Johnson’s manifest. “I am not a target” is not unlike “I am not a brand.”

Every person I meet is a universe of experience and intelligence and spectacular complexity. I’m learning to appreciate this point, I can no longer easily and readily reduce someone to a statistic or a line of text or a bald concept bouncing around in my brain… there’s too much. We need more respect and reverence in our lives, and less of the reduction and dehumanization that we’ve somehow fallen into, no doubt driven by old media and mass marketing conceptual shorthand.

So this is where I have to quote, in full, the “I am not a brand” manifesto:

The Internet is made of people. People matter. This includes you. Stop trying to sell everything about yourself to everyone. Don’t just hammer away and repeat and talk at people -— talk TO people. It’s organic. Make stuff for the Internet that matters to you, even if it seems stupid. Do it because it’s good and feels important. Put up more cat pictures. Make more songs. Show your doodles. Give things away and take things that are free. Look at what other people are doing, not to compete, imitate, or compare . . . but because you enjoy looking at the things other people make. Don’t shove yourself into that tiny, airless box called a brand -— tiny, airless boxes are for trinkets and dead people.