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Archive for the ‘Networked Audience’ Category

Note: I have not verified the list of the Mumbai victims referenced here nor do I take a stand on its authenticity, accuracy or morality. I think its a very interesting example of how a networked audience behaves differently than an non-networked audience.

The mention of the increasing intelligence of a networked audience is what really struck me about the 95 theses at cluetrain.com. Mass calloboration, a way to deliberately request help from an audience is talked about in more detail in James Surowiecki’s Wisdom of the Crowds and emerging intelligence from networked audiences in Howard Rheingold’s Smart Mobs. The premise in the 95 theses is that once the early free flowing social media sites got started we were permanently on the path to more networked audiences. And that the networked audiences behaved differently and according to cluetrain, more ‘intelligently’ than the former broadcast centered audiences. This is very appealing, but is it true? I decided to do a series of posts trying to understand this in depth.

So is this a networked audience more intelligent? It’s not hard to get consensus that it is definitely different. The problem with intelligence is there are so many definitions. At our last workshop I cited the google doc which listed the injured and dead from the recent Mumbai tragedy. This appeared on my twitter feed while the terrorist attack was still ongoing. While I don’t know for certain who was responsible for the list, it seemed to be created by netizens not journalists nor government officials. Before we go on I want to acknowledge the 2 big objections usually rise to this sort of unofficial information:
1. Is it accurate? Probably not 100%.
2. Is this how such sensitive information should be disseminated? I am not sure there is a good answer to that. It probably is different for each family member and the entire answer might turn on whether it is accurate.

My point in talking about the list is that it is unarguably a different type of audience behavior during a terrorist attack than we are accustomed to seeing. As to intelligence, the information which was sent sped through the network very quickly and was believed. So to the extent the networked vetted it for authenticity which is the intelligence process we seek out from the official news media, this could be perceived as a type of intelligence.

The list was disseminated around the world within hours, then was apparently reported on by one of the biggest news agencies on the planet as a source of highly relevant information. (I have heard a report that this list and twitter was referenced by the BBC during the early reporting (unconfirmed). ) I would argue it was the most personally relevant information during the attack which is why is flew through twitter.

So regardless of whether the list should be posted, I think no one can question, that the posting and dissemination of a victim list during a terrorist attack is a significantly different behavior made possible and largely due to the fact that the audience is networked.

I trusted the Mumbai list to be authentic and mostly accurate even though I only received it from a single source and only heard mention of the BBC reference only much later. And while I had only heard about it from one source, I had reason to believe it was being tweeted by many twitterers.

One reason for the trust that I gave the list is that the community through which it flowed is preestablished and highly active. I received the link from Shashi (Social Media Swami) at Network Solutions and he is a very active twitterer. I know he must have believed and probably received it from sources which he has heard from before. So length of time can be offset by trust in the community before this event and how well the audience members value their reputation. The social technology and community itself can affect how well one values the reputation. Twitterers value a large following and usually their goal is to achieve it. They can loose that following very quickly, because it is easy to start unfollowing someone. Of course if it is highly valuable to them to disseminate the message, then it is more likely they will risk reputation.

The message also plays a role in whether it is likely to be believed. The more detailed a message is and the more ways it allows verification, the more authentic it sounds. The Mumbai list quickly reached over 200 names, so it seemed to be authentic and verifiable. Also we hope that someone who would attempt to release false information about such an emotionally charged subject, would not be a part of our community.

There was a presumably false piece of information which flowed through twitter at the same time as the victim list. Apparently a college student in Boston originated a message asking people to stop twittering about Mumbai while the attack was still going on and claimed to be part of the Indian police or government. It is likely that this person thought they would be doing good by disseminating this message. Initially probably a lot of people accepted this statement to be coming from the Indian government, but it was within hours reported on Twitter as being inauthentic.

It would hard to imagine much value in disseminating the Mumbai list and it would be a very high risk to reputations if it was false. It traveled through a network which can punish false messages quickly but it is highly emotionally relevant would also make it go through the network quickly as well. It also provided ways to verify itself eventually, though not immediately. These seem to be the elements which helped it to be accepted as true.

So elements which would made this message seem more authentic are:
1. Pre-established Community
2. Valuing of reputations.
3. Flowing through the community through multiple pathways.
4. Detailed information which could be verified later.

Elements which made it more likely that a message would go quickly and not be carefully verified
1. Timeliness on the importance of delivering the message.
2. Highly emotionally relevant.

So do these combined components make the audience more intelligent by trusting it to be a lie detector?
Of course lie detection is not the only type of intelligence we want to see in a crowdsourced or collaborative activity. We want original ideas which solve real problems or at least original ways to send information in a more relevant fashion (i.e. better marketing).

By the Surowiecki analysis, it seems this kind of event comes up short in a number of ways. Independence of contributors is definitely a problem in online social networks. Surowiecki himself questions how collborative the blogosphere is in a Ted talk.

Aggregation is also a bit tricky, its hard to see if the networked really aggregated the list or it was merely passing already aggregated information and people assumed it was organized by individuals?

Certainly there was a strong focus on a common goals of getting important information spread quickly and discovering more facts.

Well.. I still believe the list is real….Am I part of the problem?