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    From the Chairman: Social networking for the generationally challenged

    By Ed Friedrichs

    I admit, I’m of a generation that grew up and spent the early part of my career without a computer, to say nothing of the Internet, e-mail or Facebook. Every time I read about how many people are following Ashton Kutcher’s tweets, two thoughts occur to me: first, who has time to follow all of this stuff?, and second, who cares? So I took Chris Parsons of Knowledge Architecture, clearly part of a generation or two removed from mine, to lunch the other day to find out.

    I finally feel enlightened and thought I’d try to pierce through the hype about social networking by telling you how Chris shifted my stubborn, stuck-in-its-ways brain to reveal where the value lies.

    Having long been a strong advocate of old fashioned, human-to-human social networks, I doubted that electronic media could accomplish the same thing. Seemed like sound bites on steroids, but no depth. “Where’s the beef?” I asked. Chris referred me to Steven Johnson’s excellent book, Where Good Ideas Come From (and animated talk on YouTube: www.youtube.com/watch?v=NugRZGDbPFU) with a statement from the book, “Chance favors the connected mind.”

    Chris said he follows the tweets of people he finds interesting (maybe 18 in total and not one of them is a politician or lives in Hollywood). Each shows admirable restraint (unlike starlets and teenagers who find it important to share their every movement, bodily and otherwise, during the day). In fact, he said, if someone he’s following starts tweeting too frequently, even though he may think the person is quite bright and capable of brilliance, he’ll drop him or her.

    So, he’s following ideas, not people’s activities. What he finds most beneficial is a tweet that contains a reference to a blog, a web site, or a person that builds on the thread of the idea the person he’s following is working on. This allows him to dive deeper or actually contact and speak with a human being for contextual information on the subject at hand. This finally solved the mystery for me. Twitter could be much more than random twaddle and actually put you in touch with an interesting person— real human-to-human conversation after all. Twitter can be a streamlined way of helping me to follow an idea to reach deeper meaning in something that interests me or, more importantly, is helpful to the work I’m doing.

    Chris used the long tail concept to make his point.

    The left side of the above graph is like the old days of television— three network channels that everyone watched. That’s all you needed to know to talk to your friends the next day but it certainly didn’t allow you to deep dive into a subject. The entire graph is like TV or the Internet today— lots of information with the stuff on the right side of it highly specialized and of only marginal interest to anyone without a passion for that specific subject. The problem is, it’s terribly difficult to get at things on the right end of the graph. The stuff you want is there somewhere like that special channel among the 500-plus that are beamed down to you through your satellite dish, but how do you find it? Especially if you want to talk to a live human being who knows something that would help you?

    So, back to Twitter. If you find someone who is thinking about your topic and you follow their tweets, they may help you find others to track until you’ve zoomed in on your expert knowledge base, your own “Two Degrees of Separation” network (see my article titled “Accessing Expert Knowledge” in The Zweig Letter, issue 887, Nov. 15, 2010).

    Chris further enlightened me on Facebook (great for friends and family stuff but he doesn’t use it for business) and LinkedIn (great for connecting with people— who do I know that knows someone I want an introduction to? Or a LinkedIn business page that shares a chain of ideas and connects me to the people who put them there).

    So, there you have it. Social networking translated for the generationally challenged. Thanks, Chris. I get it now.

    Ed Friedrichs is a frequent (and a favorite!) feature in the The Zweig LetterWant to read more of Ed?

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