Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Ultimate Mashup

If you wonder where I've been the past few days ...and what happened to my post-a-day plan, well I've been Twitterized. I have been learning everything I can about Twitter and I've found that there is a quantum growth effect occurring. There is so much data on Twitter that it has become a destination of choice for all sorts of opportunists. Over the past few days, we've even seen Twitter become a vehicle for malware attacks.

But what is most intriguing isn't that those seeking to exploit are showing up; it's what is being done for good with the data. "Data?" you say. "I thought Twitter was social media." No, Twitter is a social engine. Consider what Clay Shirkey had to say at Ted recently:

Shirkey is the author of the book "Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations."

Clay makes a really important point in the video. Innovation really begins after we learn to use the tools and stop being enamored with them. The same is true of design. Some of you remember the early days of PageMaker. Remember when non-designers first got their hands on multiple fonts? Been there; got the t-shirt. You know, like when you got your first credit card and couldn't stop using all that free money--same thing as the bailout, only smaller and more personally painful (we hope).

Clay goes on to identify four key (revolutionary) events in the history of media: the invention of the printing press; telegraph & telephone; recorded media (photos, sound, and movies); television and radio. The irony is that the Internet on a whole is a sort of mashup of these technologies....and now we're mashing the mashup. The result is that we now have these dynamic ways to have real-time conversations irrespective of place.

The next wave is real-time collaboration. We have seen a number of incremental steps in this direction: file sharing, content management systems, real-time document collaboration, and the new kid in the collaboration hash: Google Wave. In my opinion, this (paradigm) will change everything.

A Formula for Innovation

Whenever you're up against a tough problem, whether you're designing visual information, social networks, or interactive learning, you'll find that these simple rules apply universally:

1. Don't fall in love with the's just a tool and someday you'll move on.
2. Don't fall in love with a single design. Everything has a time and a place.
3. Spend quality brain energy looking at the problem and be sure you understand it; validate that with others.
4. Ask others for input on how to solve the problem.
5. Listen intently. Ask questions as needed.
6. Make sure you hear what people are saying (listen for the patterns).
7. Put it all out of your mind long enough to take a nap.

I'm a firm believer that our brain organizes the stuff in our heads while we sleep. If you let me "sleep on it," oftimes, I can give you an answer in the morning. (If you followed the last link, do you see the irony? Meatloaf's micro-opera was all about a social contract.)

Problem solving and innovation are highly relevant to the conversation. They are the new social skills that we must bring to the table. We are, suddenly thrust into a world where our abilities matter more than our pedigree, our social status, our funding, or our location. It is here. We are used to it. Adapt.

The Twitter Social Engine doesn't need all of its parts to move for new realities to be effected. As these diagrams illustrate, there are many ways to look at the Twitterverse.

Today, about 17 minutes after it was first reported, I knew that Michael Jackson had been taken to the hospital. That's the viral effect of Twitter. Within a few more minutes, I saw the first tweet that he had died of cardiac arrest...then it snowed RTs. I probably knew before my local news station did. Real-time, in-your-face pop culture.

Now, I've never had star fever, so it matters less to me that Michael Jackson died today than if I learned that my neighbor's mean dog got out. One has immediate relevance. The difference is, unless one of my neighbors tweets it, I may not know about the mean dog's escape until I go outside.

Twitter is a sleeping giant. We are at a crucial juncture, when the novelty is wearing off and the wolfs are beginning to circle. Data is valuable and powerful, but it can be used for good or for evil.

Choose wisely.