Emergence – Part 3 – The Rules

Once before, at a time of great change – the Ending of the Ice Age – Mankind used Emergence to not only come through but to take a new place on the planet. Don’t we face the same kind of challenge today? Is not Emergence our best chance?

We have so little time that if we are to face our challenges directly and use Emergence as a process, that we have to know what to do. We have to know the science and hence the predictable rules?

Because we know the rules for electromagnetism, we can use them to change our world. My bet is that we we know the rules for how best to use the social energy of people, amplified by social media, we may change the world even more than when we first amplified our group potential when we acquired complex language.

Then we created consciousness.

We were able to discuss novelty into being – the very essence of Emergence. And for most of this time, all of this happened like this – face to face in small groups.

SCA-campfire

What might happen, if we can expand our circle from face to face to a global conversation but with the same intimacy? If the result 60,000 years ago was so momentous then – what might be our destiny now?

With our place in the world in such jeopardy, global warming, resource shortages, peak oil, political logjams – we don’t seem to be making any progress with our current way of “seeing” and “acting”. I wonder if our only hope to “see” our place more clearly and to “discover” solution that will work is to press for a larger process of Emergence. If we could harness a global conversation, what might be the result.

In parts 1 and parts 2 – I have done my best to offer a directional approach to this voyage of discovery.

Now we come to the hard part. What are the rules. For if social energy is as real as electro-magnetism, it will have rules.

That once we know them, we can make a break from mere speculation, techno babble and kumbya and design in the full power of social media to make this great link up that it offers. Then we can get to work.

media_httpwwwbreakoutoftheboxcomproactivejpg_iDCymvcIwEqkwlq.jpg.scaled500

In the prior posts, I have talked about the utility of this way of seeing the preconditions for human emergence.

We need a Container – the Circle of Concern. We need inside this a boiling mass of many connected points – the Circle of Influence.

We need to know what are the rules to produce the best container and the best circle of influence within it.

The Rules for the Container – What makes containers more powerful than others?

The container is a force multiplier. Like a boiler – the more pressure the more force and hence work. The ideal container is then an energetic multiplier that brings into play the full energy of human beings. All of them and every part of them.  It creates complete alignment and hence the full energetic force becomes available. So what does our observation tell us about when is their an event that brings all of people and all people together as one? Usually it is when we are at war – in a war of survival – like WWII.

Observation reminds us that Tribal Survival is the ultimate Circle of Concern.

So what in the modern era is Tribal? I don’t think that it is a group of sports fans. They are bonded by a conformity and by identifying with what others do. In a way sports fans may be people who would like more of a cause but have no other choice in the drab world we live in. It’s not the work force of a traditional organization. There is not enough equality in the rewards or risks. Also there is too much conformity demanded in most traditional organizations.

For we can also see that conformity is death to emergence. It was the added diversity that made up the gains in the last months of the Netflix prize. Really new ideas are by nature disruptive. Too much conformity hates disruption.

It can’t just be the folks on the web we feel most comfort with as well – for the same reasons of diversity. The Echo Chamber is where we get stuck in a repeating loop. We know that most disruptive ideas are mergers of other views and ideas.

A real tribe is much more complex and diverse. Diversity is the critical ingredient. So the challenge is how do you get people who are so different to work with each other?

Shared risk seems to be one way.

Designing social groups so that the risk is real and shared is how many older societies enabled this diversity to have its full power. You can see it in the Shield Wall or the Phalanx. All male citizens were in them. All ranks of society, all professions, all sets of personal values, all shapes and sizes. They were united by a shared danger. They relied on each other to get through this. And behind them stood their wives, their children. Behind them stood their culture and their identity as a group. All were at risk. All had to be contributors.

If you wish to feel this energy – here is a link to the defining moment of the South, as Lew Armistead gives the orders for his Brigade to begin Pickett’s charge. They fight not for slavery but for all they have. For “Virginia” known as “Our country”. In the scene preceding he shows the British officer the diverse nature of the men there that day – from aristocrat to farm boy – all points of view – all sorts – united as brothers “All Virginia is here” Armistead says.

I think that such a mix – diverse – contributing/participative – high stakes for all – makes the most powerful containers for human emergence. Don’t we live at a time now when this is again true? For if we don’t do the right thing, is not all at risk?

Tribal Issues defined like this make the best containers – the more that the threat is immediate, widespread and dangerous, the more power it has to produce the preconditions for emergence. The more that people can see that they can and should act themselves, the more that this energy is maximized.

The more the issue is truly life or death for the Tribe – the more contextual and rooted in the soul of the people  – the more that the solutions are participative the more powerful the container.

We don’t have to go to war to find this energy. What about people living in Detroit now? What about California? I am seeing that there is a group of people, with their backs to the wall, who have stopped looking “out there” for help. Who will not run. Who are going to create something themselves. They are banding together into a circle of concern that is “Their Country”.

I was in a meeting last week with some people who were telling of colleagues who were tired of the low risk route. “I want to die on a hill” said one. I don’t think he really wanted to die – but he did want to be connected with people in that way. Don’t most of us long for this kind of commitment. With it, trust is so high that emergence is possible.

Trust – real trust – comes from shared risk and shred experience in risk. With very high trust comes openness and with enough mass and enough openness comes emergence.

In summary here appear to be the rules for the optimal “Container” or “Circle of Concern”

  • Tribal survival – where all are at risk and all can be rewarded – this then goes on to allow
  • High levels of Trust – this goes on to allow
  • Maximum Diversity – this then sets the conditions for
  • Emergence

So now what might be the rules for the Circle of Influence?

The Rules for the Circle of Influence – What makes influence more powerful?

scale free networks

We know what the Circle of Influence has to look like – It has to look like this.

For emergence occurs in scale free networks and this is what they look like. So we have a check point – if your Circle of Influence does not look like this – it is not optimal.

Note that they have hubs of major concentration of “influence” (All these great slides come from Ricard V Sole’s – ICREA-Complex Systems Lab, UPF, Barcelona & Santa Fe Institute, USA talk at ECCS at Jerusalem Sept 2008). So we can expect our human energy networks to have this pattern.

The Circle of Influence is not an undifferentiated mass of people and connections. It will be made up of fractal clumps of “cells” that will lean towards being optimal in influential power. So it will not be about having 5,000 Twitter Followers but it will be about what is the ideal number to have to maximize influence.

Not this- You and masses of “friends”

ego_netsimple

But this – You and a a few close friends connected to other close friends in a huge scale free network

ego99_net

Another view of Scale Free – Thanks to Valdis Krebs

So the pattern is clear. It is lots of small networks hyper linked to others. We also know from the brain that the more links the better. Linking is good. More is better. Best is the most possible.

But what about the detail – how big are these cells and what are they like inside?

The answer to how big is not very big. We know how big is ideal and we know why as well.  All these little sub-networks are ideally bounded by the Magic Numbers of Fibonacci. Here is the most complete review of this new science of the nature of ideal human connections that I have been able to assemble

Here is Chris Allen’s research into group satisfaction:

groupsatisfaction

Here is his observation about Guild sizes in WOW

uoguildhistogram

We know what groups work best and under what circumstances. 8 is the ideal group where we find the tightest connection in the largest group. 144 is the maximum – likely that the power of the connection is much weaker at 144. Where is the most leverage? Likely at 34. This may be where the connection is tightest versus the reach. 2 – 3 – 5 may be too tight and too close?

Across all militaries the ideal unit sizes are:

  • 8 – Squad/Section
  • 35 – Platoon
  • 150 – Company

There are thousands of years of experimentation involved in these numbers. They are not made up they have emerged!

So these numbers seem very small to all those that have 15,000 Twitter followers and think that they are connected. How do such small groups have the power to have massive influence?

I think the key rule here is “Influence”. Not Malcolm Gladwell’s idea of a few people who have a lot more influence that the rest of us – though I still know there to be merit in that.

I think that we come back to Trust again. If you are a real friend of mine and you ask me to look at something or to do some thing, it is a good bet that I will say yes. The rule then is to find the sweet spot between reach – total numbers – and influence – how much we trust each other.

Even small groups have a lot of total influence. H\here is an example of the reach if we assume that each of our “friends” has 4 friends

2 – 16

3 – 82

5 – 625

8 – 4,096

13 – 28,561

34 – 1,336,336

55 – 9,150, 625

89 – 62, 742,241

144 – 429, 981, 696

With 34 I can reach 1.3 million with a lot of power of influence. With 144 I can reach 429 million but I have doubts about the power of the influence.

Even with 8 I can reach 4,000 and be assured that I will have a lot of influence.

With a scale free network, it may be better to think small but to work to ensure that we have the best connections.

So here we come to the biggest challenge – Emergence demands diversity as well as connections. We can only trust people like us. If all our “friends” are in the echo chamber, we lose the chance. How do we make connections to other cells out there who are not like us? Even harder, how do we make Trusted connections to people not like us?

For true diversity is not about race or color but about values. Way out geeks or creative people don’t care much for money or efficiency. Hey many don’t even know what day it is. Those who need to win look at nurturers with contempt. Those who care about how things work and about people are mystified by people who don’t.

This is I think the most challenging part of the “Rules” and fortunately, my pal Stuart Baker may have found the answer here as well.

scalefree architecture

If we have a true survival situation, then we tend to get alignment. But what about a less do or die situation? Also even in a do or die situation how do we reduce the friction of the essential diversity.

Our bodies are very diverse and full of many separate and even opposing processes and entities. But there is a design that regulates the system to trend to homeostasis. Not a God – not a parent – not a CEO – but a simple regulating process that BALANCES the system.

In genetics, P53 is the “governor” of the system – it is the mechanism where the system defaults to homeostasis – it “moderates” or “facilitates” the interactions.

We have to find the “Governor” that will enable the different parts of the human soup get comfortable getting connected. Stuart Baker starts with an extremely simple model of what the gross differences are in the human mindset that makes up the full diverse human experience. It looks like this:

stuatbaker model

Humans can be grouped into 3 realms of mindset. Of course this is a very simple view but this is how science works we have to start here with simple. I will confine myself to the positive – there are shadow sides to these archetypes as well.

Pioneers – a few of us love ideas more than anything – no guesses as to who I am. We live in our heads. We would rather work for free if it meant that we could do more thinking and exploring. Organizations find us hard to “manage” – we tend to be quite fragile emotionally. We tend not to think enough about how people feel. We are intellectual – in that our minds are where we spend most of our best time. We look to the new. Creating the new is our most important thing. We hate the mundane routines of life. Often found in academia.

Nurturers – there are lots of us here – my wife is one thank goodness for me. We look out for others as a priority. We defend the hearth – many soldiers are here! We do for others – this is not just emoting. We are pragmatic in our care. We want to help people become all they can be. (The dark side is that we want to make people dependent on us)We are relational – in that we spend most of our energy on relationships. We are traditionally conservative. The new scares us. Protecting is the most important thing. Often found in government.

Providers – We bring home the bacon. We are very action orientated. We take care of business. We tend not to be very empathic. We tend to be transactional. We find most thinkers too airy fairy and we find many nurturers too whiny. We are active – we need to WIN. We don’t think much about the future and we need to get our information in simple chunks that we can act on right away. We spend most of our time competing. Winning is the most important thing. Often found in business.

Do you see yourself here? You can also see why it is so hard to get out of the Echo Chamber. What Pioneer feels good with the typical no sayer of the Nurturing type or the trivial mindless focus on winning today of the Provider? You can see my bais but please insert your own back – that is my point – this is a hard mix to bring together.

This is why survival is one of the ways of doing that.

But what about day to day life? How can we bridge and balance these opposing groups?

sbmodel2

Here is Stuart’s huge insight. That this pattern is of course Fractal.

Inside each of us is a fractal of the whole. Like atom forming into molecules, we can see the linking and the bridging points.

In the Pioneer realm there are Pioneers whose tendency is either to Nurture or Provide. In the Nurturer and Provider realms there are those who tend to the other realms.

So then there is one more step to optimize the balance in this system.

rorybakermodelgovernance

This is a model of a client of mine – the PEI BioAlliance. A Cluster/Emergence Making Network of “cells” with a Circle of Concern of using research into how nature works to improve the economy and society that is PEI.

What we discovered was that we had to add the equivalent of P53 to the mix. The BioAlliance Inc – that lives in the Nurturer Realm – is a small 3 person organization that “facilitates the balance of the system. It Holds the Space. Its director is not the CEO – he is the Facilitator. He is responsible for maintaining trusted links and for creating the habit of trust based on the continual experience of its value in the day to day interactions of the group.

If you wish to know more here is a link to the story of the early trials and failures and the ultimate success of this venture.

In the centre is a board made up of all the parts and all the realms. Here issues of trust are worked out and here is where the larger value of the whole is often realized.

So ideally a p53 – a system facilitator ideally should be designed into a network that seeks emergence. This is what allows the most important aspect of all – there must be the full diversity of being human in play for the best emergent results. All 3 realms must be aligned.

orientastionchet1

Here is how Dr Chet Richards – John Boyd’s St Paul illustrates the challenge.

We have to use facilitation to get heree:

alignment chet

Whew! This is a long post and I have only really scratched the surface. So let’s close now with a summary.

  • The optimal Circle of Concern will be about Tribal Survival – all must be in the zone of risk and reward
  • The Circle of Influence – has to be a scale free network – no other design replicates nature’s precondition
  • The Circle of Influence ideal cell size is small and relies on the links to scale – there is a design of reach and pull to optimize here – it will be found in the Fibonacci sequence
  • The Circle of Influence must be diverse – we have to get out of the echo chamber – ideally all three realms must be balanced and included – this is very hard to do
  • To get the best alignment/balance – we need a balancing agent/facilitating agent/p53 – this lives in the Nurturing Realm and must be very small – it is an agent not a CEO
  • The live blood of an optimized system is Trust

I am going to take a break and then talk more about how this might be put in place. I will use 2 case studies and Stuart and Rory Francis and I are starting to make some short films about this too.

Emergence – Part 2

First of all – if the concept of Emergence is new for you – that extremely complex outcomes such as life itself, flocking by birds or winning the Netflix Prize – are not the product of a God, a Plan, a CEO but emerge from a Container (An optimal environment for that growth) and a simple Set of Rules – then here is a great short video from Nova that in 4 minutes will give you a sound introduction.

In my first post in this series I proposed that if we use the ideas of Emergence we might find the larger opportunity in Social Software – that it may help us solve many of our intractable problems.

That Social Software – if used properly – might have the same explosive impact on human society and our connection to the rest of the planet that the acquisition of complex language did 60,000 years ago.

If you are still with me – let’s remind ourselves of what drives emergence generally and then see if we can find the model for humans and then how Social Media may fit. What would using Social Software “Properly” mean?

To have Emergence you need 3 elements:

  • You need some kind of “Container” – An Environment that is optimal for the Emergence in question. This can be physical such as the ideal environment for an Acorn to reach its potential as a tree Or it can be physical and energetic such as the physical and the social environment needed for a baby to be set on her way to reach her potential.
  • You need a lot of “Optimal Contact Points – Emergence is all about patterns. To have patterns you need many points of connection.Computers are not able to become conscious because they don’t have enough synaptic connections. They have a few hundred – the human brain has billions. A Human with too small a social world cannot reach her potential. 3 birds cannot make a flock. A few breezes don’t make a hurricane. A few stars do not make a galaxy. No flow in water and you cannot have a vortex. When man had no complex language, he could not communicate widely enough to make much technical progress. He could not create patterns. A father might show his son how to carve a hand ax but an emergent breakthrough like a throwing stick or a bow and arrow would be beyond them. For without complex language enabling abstractions and enabling a large circle of participants the creation of patterns – abstract thinking and design cannot happen. For then, if it could not be seen and copied it could not happen
  • You need a few rules that both shape the pattern and also keep it coherent. As we learn more about complexity, we are astounded by how few the rules are and how often they are so simple. With computers it is easy to model bird flocking now. But, to get the pattern, we also need the process of iteration and we need a computer to do the math. But to model, we need to know the rules. Nature always has rules. Nature’s rules always have a mathematical base. We now know the rules of Electro Magnetism. There will be rules for Social Energy as well. They will be few. They will be fractal. They will need to be iterated. This is not Kumbya – there will be a science here.

So can we posit what the essence of these 3 requirements may be to offer us a chance of seeing the true workings and the real potential for Social Software? I think we can. In this remaining part of this post, I will point directionally to where I see the answers. In the next post I am going to speculate about the details.

So stripped back to the essentials I think that we can see the Container and the Connections in the following single picture. This model is from BreakOuttheBox

media_httpwwwbreakoutoftheboxcomproactivejpg_iDCymvcIwEqkwlq.jpg.scaled500

I see this as a “Sun”. I think that the “Container” is the Circle of Concern. Inside the Container is the “Mass” the boiling energy of the interactions of people that are connected around the Circle of Concern or as I think it is better put – The Intent. Not its mission – its Intent – it should move naturally and energetically to the Intent.

So what then is the energy that shines out of the container and grips the hearts and minds of the people?

There is surely a gradient here. Cubs fans are energized by their team. Employees of a well know brand enjoy being connected to it.  But would they die for it?

Many parents will die for their kids. Men in combat will die for their small circle of mates.

So if this is the gradient, is there a sweet spot?

I think that there must be.  I suspect that most of us want more than to work for shareholder value or for the abstraction of a bureaucracy. We long for a real cause. I suspect that many of us are sports fans because we long to belong to a cause that is larger than ourselves but cannot find it in our day to day life.

Does our past and our nature offer us a clue for the rule here?

In tribal times there was no separation between work and life and play. There was no separation between family and work. There was no separation between the people involved and the collective reward.

But today we are so splintered. Only parts of us parent, partner, work, play. Our energy is fragmented.

My bet is that the ideal is to re-align most of us back as a whole. For example, in the really depressed cities in America such as Cleveland or Detroit, all could get together to “Re-invent” their city to provide all with a livelihood and a future.

The answer to the ideal Intent or Circle of Concern is that it will include most of our total needs and our identity. It will help us align our energy more fully.

A great sun has also to have Mass. So what might this be in human and social terms? What is the Circle of Influence?

We can see this in two simple examples. A single mum or a single acorn has a very slim chance. They don’t have enough mass. A Tribal Family and an Oak Forest do have the optimal mass. They offer a very good chance of continuing life and expanding complexity – emergence.

But while the container has to have some scale and mass, in human terms, the scale has to be made up in fractal segments that are still small enough to keep the human connections viable. Healthy cities are really collections of villages or neighborhoods. Prison and large high schools are not healthy because they don’t have human scale subsets. Most traditional organizations are not healthy because they are not made up of tribes and or neighborhoods. Departments are not tribes!

Also there must be diversity. An oak forest is made up of many living things – it is the opposite of a monoculture. In Permaculture, no plant is planted on its own. They are planted in “Guilds” – natural diverse groupings that support each other in complex ways – adding nutrients – keeping predators away etc. Permaculture is an intentional way of replicating the optimal design of nature.

So following this rule, a modern family – 2 parents or less and children is not diverse enough to offer the kids a broad enough world view. School is often a monoculture as are most workplaces. Diversity in not about race or disability etc. We have got distracted by our post modern view of the world. Human diversity is about world view and POV.  Are you out going or shy? Are you a natural Early Adopter or maybe even a Laggard? Are you an ideas person or a pragmatist? Are you a warrior of a nurturer? This is our true diversity. A healthy group contains all of these types.

For Emergence depends on the synthesis of difference. As we all know, connecting a lot of this kind of difference productively is a major major challenge. I will have a lot to say about how we might do this in the next post for this is an area where we need more than good intentions. We need good process.

So the Mass part of the human ideal container needs an ideal scale for humans and it needs the maximum world view diversity.

Bottom line – the ideal Container has an Intent that can fulfill most of what we need to make us whole as a person. The ideal Mass inside the Container is a network of fractal units of people that are very diverse but united by the Intent and are highly connected. Like a brain!

In the last post in this series, I will share with you work that helps us know what the rules are for the ideal human fractal components will be and also how to make connections that work across the barriers of human diversity.

What is the ideal scale of influence? What will naturally help say the warrior, the geek and the nurturer connect productively?

Part 3 is here

Emergence – How it works – Part 1

Beyond disrupting organizations and value as we know it, what is going to be the deep result of the use of Social Media? Many of us see it as at least making organizations more effective – faster, more informed etc. But I wonder. My growing feeling is that the widespread use of Social Media might soon enable us to gain the benefit of “Emergence”.

What you might ask is “Emergence”. Here is an example of how each of us as humans acquire the scale free use of language:

languageemergence

Let me explain – I have a one year old grand daughter now so I am re living all of this. At around 9 -12 months, the child starts to make sounds – it is training the muscles. At about 12 – 18 months, it starts to use single words – Dada is usually first – so unfair but easier to say than Mama. It starts to use simple connectors such as “It” “a” “. 18 months – 24, the child adds a few direct verbs and qualifiers such as “more”. Then, as if by magic Emergence!. The child starts speaking in whole sentences – the full acquisition of the structure of language has been achieved. In some cases children are all but silent until this point and one day they can speak full sentences.

How does this happen? The child needs a few simple but essential environmental factors to be in place. I will come to these at the end of this post becuase they are directly related to what may be needed to have Social Media offer us this opportunity for Emergence as well.

One more example.

acorn

An oak tree produces many acorns. Only a very small number grow to become a tree. All the potential of the tree is inside this tiny thing. To have Emergence so that it can become a tree, there has to be a number of environmental factors that offer the acorn, the best shot at reaching this potential. You can imagine with me as to what some of these might be. Not get eaten by a squirrel – falling far enough away from the parent or being dropped by a squirrel – the right soil/moisture – not being eaten by a deer – not being mowed by me etc. If enough of the factors are in place, then the acorn will become a tree.

Now here is a vital insight, once it gets to a certain size, it gets very robust and only man cutting it down with a saw or a big fire will prevent it from growing further and living a long time. It is vulnerable only for a relatively short time at the front end.

There is more. An acorn has more potential than a tree alone.

LiveOakForest

Under the right environmental circumstances, one tree will lead to another until there is a small wood. With a small wood in place, more Emergence! The wood bursts into a complex forest that not only has more trees but a huge supporting other ecosystem that itself depends on and supports the oak first. Such a forest is tremendously complex and long lasting and offers all its normal inhabitants the optimal environment for more scale and less risk.

So Emergence leads to more complexity and to more resiliency.  The resiliency is the reinforcement of the environmental factors that support the inhabitants of the system in reaching their full potential.

I am not clear about the ideal factors for Oak Trees. But the ideal factors for allowing children to reach their full potential are now known. My bet is that what works for infants works for all people. If we can be clear about what these few factors are, then we can see how Social Media might be used by us to go way beyond where are are right now.

acornboy

An irony is that this little boy’s name is Acorn.

The link will take you to the research that has captured what Acorn and all of us need as human babies to set off on the pathway to our full potential or not. For if we don’t get the key factors we stall – stall for life.

Here are the key factors for our optimal development in simple form – as I list them, think of how your work place lines up or not to them. For this is what we all need all the time to be at our best as primates and humans.

  • Culture is the most important environmental factor – The family culturehas to offer the child a mix of clear boundaries of what is not allowed and yet also the child must be allowed a lot of room to explore inside these boundaries. It is Boundaries and Freedom. The child must be listened to and must have “conversations” with her parents. Very authoritarian parenting – all orders and all rules and all about the use of power over – is a huge shut down. All permissive – you choose baby is very unsafe and also leads to trouble in development.
  • Emergence is all about Patterns connecting to scale free – so how many words a child years by 2 is the last factor – Kids whose development cannot be stopped have heard up to 50 million words by 2. Kids who will  never develop fully will only have heard 10 million by the same age. They can never catch up

What we do know about Emergence is that it is Fractal. The key factors that support “Growth” do not change for scale. And also, that the chances of the key factors being in place, rise when there is a critical mass. An Oak forest offers the best shot for all who rely on its factors versus an acorn, a squirrel, a hawk, a truffle and a pig on their own.

When I saw the first slide in this post the other day – a light bulb went off for me. If this is how we acquire language and the optimal path for our own growth as a human, then the power of these connections inside the right social container could lead to something really special. The Netflix Prize story got me even more excited – for this showed how groups of people being connected had a major result as a consequence of the properties of Emergence.

If I am right, then we surely stand on the edge of a great awakening? Something like this happened 60,000 years ago, when humans acquired complex language itself. What might this mean for us? I can’t know. But we do know what happened 60,000 years ago. Human development exploded as did our ability to manipulate our world. Until then we were simply one of the species.

Now I fear that our reductive mindset based I think on our reliance on engineering rather than on Growth as the main process for getting more is putting us at risk as a species. Our only chance I think is to work with nature. If we as humans can find the best social container, we may have a chance.

So what container and how might social software help?

In the next post, I will get more specific about how we might translate these factors and Social Software into ideas about what the opportunity is. In the 3rd post in the series, I will share with you some brilliant supporting work that reveals how we might make better connections between us as a very diverse population. How we might solve the challenge of how to connect the geeks to the bureaucrats and to the business people – all of who have a very different world view.

Part 2 is here

Part 3 is here

NPR at the Tipping Point

With the launch this weekend of the new NPR Mobile App, I can look back over the last 4 years and see a pattern emerge that tells me that NPR is poised to be the first major new organization to break through into the new Media Reality.

That’s a bold statement so let me try and back it up.

First of all, NPR and the public radio system have got something that no other media has in America – Growth in audience.

Nprrelativeaudiencesize

Why? I suspect that a large part of the answer is to be found in one word – “Trust”. As our world becomes more uncertain, it is also clear that much of the media was either complicit in hiding the truth about what was going on or that they just missed it. The non profit aspect of NPR and its system, I suspect helps keep it more trusted. The second point is just good journalism. As all other sources of media have retrenched on their staff, NPR and its stations have continued to invest in great staff.

But there is more going on here than the core journalism – NPR – like no other organizations except the BBC – is there a pattern here too? – Has made a decisive push to make the web work for it, for the stations and for the audience.

Here is the “Story” as revealed in a “Power Curve”.

NPR Growth story.002

This suggests that NPR is at the Tipping Point. Why? Because we can see both the acceleration and also the growth of the supporting system that will facilitate the growth.

We see a long gestation period from 2005 – 2007. Podcasting began then – greatly facilitated by iTunes.

It is in 2008 that we see progress begin to accelerate. In 2009, NPR is positively rocking.

How did this happen when so many other media organizations are merely hiding behind the castle walls?

I think the answer is in the New Realities Process that NPR undertook at the end of 2005 – May 2006. Over 800 people were involved in “Exploring” what the web might mean to NPR and the system of stations.

This was the basic problem presented to all.

NPR Growth storyquestion.003

Please let me explain. Remember this was done in early 2006. The core assumption was that by 2009, the web would be ubiquitous. NPR’s relative position versus the web at the time was that tiny black line.

The question was this – How did we get to scale on the web in time AND still not piss off the audience AND the Stations?

Looking back, the time line we posed was correct and it seems that we have solved the key question.

So how did this process of mutual exploration help NPR and the stations do this? My answer is this – It gave everyone a real voice. ALL the issues were on the table. A real common view emerged.

NPR Growth story.003

In every meeting, groups came up with the same big idea. That we had to be able to offer the audience what we did “Their Way”. This appears to have been an underlying idea that has been realized by the Mobile App – many groups even envisaged a device like the iPhone that would enable this.

Surely this is no small thing? Most media organizations still insist controlling everything.

NPR Growth story.005

The underlying constraint was what would be the role of NPR and of each station? At the time, many believed that NPR had a “secret plan” to go it alone. In truth many at NPR also did not know what to do. They talked about working with the stations but were uncertain.

A major result of the process is that the senior NPR folks realized that they HAD to work with the stations. It has taken years for much of the fear that NPR would go it alone to dissipate but it is. NPR have proved by their actions that they are in this together.

NPR Growth story.004

For another common theme that kept coming up again and again was this. That the end game would look like this – a REAL NETWORK based on Natural Systems. This was the systems’ great hidden strength.

This idea of a large natural system is now even bigger than anyone envisaged in 2006. For the CPB has been making major investments in creating a Public Radio AND TV system. The Facing the Mortgage Crisis project is one of these investments where radio and Tv stations in 32 markets are working together. NPR and the NewsHour are working together to offer the best news service in the nation. Key local stations are creating local news hubs.

All this is going to come together in late 2009 early 2010.

2010 will be I think THE year. The product will be unparalleled. The Web approach will be ideal. The resources will be all that such a network can supply.

With the audience, with the engagement and with the web fully supporting the air all that is left is this..

NPR Growth story.006

I think that with the underlying audience, engagement and a network – it should be possible to make the money and the system work – don’t you?

So in closing I return to the question of our time. How do large organizations make the changes that they have to? How do they do this when the New is often the opposite of what they are and what they do today?

I think that the answer for NPR and Public radio is that they overcame the huge natural resistance by investing in a shared and deep exploration of what confronted them. What they have done since has come from the genuine emergence of ideas and of a language that they created for themselves.

It has not been easy. I admit to being in despair in 2007 when I could see no visible progress. But in retrospect I was naive. The laws of nature demand a period of gestation. 2007 was that time.

What is remarkable now is that NPR and the system has fully met the challenge set out in the starting question of the process. They have kept their audience, kept the system together AND become a leader in the web.

Now they have to turn this into revenue. I think that they are up to this.

Dominos Pizza – The Rubicon of PR – When you had to get involved (+United & guitars)

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The Dominos “YouTube Adventure” last week  – when a couple made a disgusting video of what they did in making a Dominos Sub – is I think a “Rubicon” moment.  Not just for Dominos, who had already put their toe into the river of Social Media but for every enterprise. (Excellent revue here  by Frederic Lardinois from Read Write Web on what happened + Stats + Dominos response + an analysis)

All your customers, voters, members, suppliers – the public are now linked. Newsworthy events that are good and bad will spread like wildfire. Look at the “Good” event of Susan Boyle – as of this date 20 million views in less than a week!

The Rubicon is that – whether you like it or not – the public are now linked so well, that anything said about you will now spread everywhere and very quickly. This linkage, and hence the speed and immediacy of the spread, can only get wider and faster. Maybe, in a few months, events that affect you will spread instantly to everyone. What will spread the fastest of course will be the bad things.

So the new reality is that it is what others say that will matter not what you say. So your reputation – your brand – the trust you have – is now not longer easily or directly controlled by you.

You have to be swimming in this river to have any chance of protecting your name.

As with Dominos – using the new social media tools is not enough. You will have to understand and become a master of how to live and do well in thus new world.

Compared to many today, Dominos were somewhat ready. But even then – I think because they had only installed the tools but not the culture – they were awkward. They were late in catching their problem. Late in a their response. Stilted in their response – they did not understand that a scripted response is not going to help much.

They were still operating the new tools with the old culture.

They gave their CEO a script. He read from the prompter and did not make emotional contact with the audience. But Dominos still did well compared maybe to you! For do you even have the tools?

But of course it is not just about the tools. The issue is that you can no longer control. So their new plan is of course the old plan – “let’s control the store”. Their key response is to ban video cameras from their stores! This means a ban on cell phones really and how practical can that be?

The only effective response will be to get into the river with everyone else and get really good at how to behave in this new river. It will be to become so engaged that the conversation can be affected or shaped. You have to be a trusted part of the conversation to do this. You cannot just barge in.

Dominos and you will have to unlearn and put away all of what made old PR work. For all of PR up to now has used “Message” – a tightly controlled and scripted response where the text is key. Now you have to use “Presence” – an emotional message where the authenticity of the humanity of the “speaker” carries the point. Volts versus Amps.

This River will soon operate at the speed of light. To protect your name, you have to be a major presence in the river now. You have to merge with the river so that your nervous system is acutely attuned to the slightest hint of trouble. The leverage is Trust. Only a trusted player in the river will have any chance of settling down the ripples.

To have the Trust, you need to be known. To be known, you have to be a person and not an institution.The people that represent you in this river have to be free people who can be trusted. They have to have won the trust of the river. If trouble occurs, they have to respond immediately without a script. They have to be empathic and not controlled.

This role is foreign to institutions who are all about control. The answer are not the tools but the culture.

The error is to see your participation in Social Media as having the right Tools. “We use Twitter!” is a meaningless statement. Hey you can give me all the tools I would need to fix a car and I still will not be able to fix a car. Worse you can give me an airplane to fly and I will crash every time. The people who work for you in this field have to be the real deal. You would not hire a CFO who did not know her stuff?

Why simply tell your existing PR folks who know nothing about this – in fact who hate it – to take over? All of how PR, Research and Marketing has been done until now will have to be unlearned. Traditional PR, Research and Marketing folks will feel very uncomfortable and will do what all prior paradigm leaders do when confronted with the real future. They will undermine and fight it. They have to. For this is their nemesis.

The context for this decision is that the old world is dying. Here is how Coke is responding:

ATLANTA: Coca-Cola has created a new office of digital communications and social media within its public affairs and communications department. Clyde Tuggle, SVP of corporate affairs and productivity at Coke, noted “mass media is declining in importance,” when introducing the new department in a memo to staff, which the beverage manufacturer shared with PRWeek.

“Our future success depends on our continued ability to connect people to our brands and our Company all around the world, one person at a time,” Tuggle wrote. “Our new office of digital communications and social media will help us become even more comfortable and effective in these new spaces.”

The new unit will work in collaboration with global interactive marketing, IT, and consumer affairs, as well as legal and strategic security.

Adam Brown, digital communications director, and Anne Carelli, digital communications manager, will have oversight of corporate digital and social media communications efforts. Both Brown and Carelli will continue ongoing training programs, such as “Training Byte” online videos, in addition to “more robust” programs through its new PAC Institute.

The ideas in the new world that will have to be learned anew include these:

  • Listen before you Speak – The New Tools allow you to hear the slightest tremor. Last week I Tweeted that I had done my taxes and that I had used QuickTax. Within minutes QuickTax had responded with a thank you. A week earlier I Tweeted that I had had a problem with accessing Ning. Within minutes a customer service person from Ning contacted me and worked over the weekend to solve my problem. If you cannot do this – you are not in the game. In future, most of your research will operate in real time without you having to ask any questions. Your new job will be to listen minute by minute and to have tools and people that can make sense of the stream. Not only to make sense of what you hear but also to shape the stream. QuickTax is responding to every mention good or bad. An early and a personal response, can settle a problem that could become a crisis. Such a strategy dramatically reduces your costs in research and brand management. Such a strategy dramatically increases your effectiveness and reduces your risks. More for less.
  • Participate not Pontificate – To be heard, you have to participate. To speak, you have to lose your corporate voice. You have to lose the official tone of voice. You have to regain a human voice. This can only be done if you allow your social media staff to be themselves. They cannot be the highly controlled drones that are the standard in the corporate or bureaucratic world – many people in your organization will not be able to lose this voice. They even use it at home. Simply training old staff will not be enough. For how can you have trained people in the Shetl to be Americans?  You have to live in the New World to become a citizen. To have the new voice is to be a native of the new culture that is the very opposite of the norms of the old country. As with immigrants, it will be the kids who will get it first and they will train the others. But the Bubbies will never get it. This aspect of having the new strategy work or not is the most challenging part of all of this. In the end it means, that the old culture has to die too. Maybe in the interim, you set your unit up apart from the rest and have it report to the CEO for protection. Clayton Christenson has a lot to say about this problem. For to respond to this new reality demands that you disrupt your culture. The most difficult of all acts for a leader.
  • Importance – Life or Death: This is not an add on or a side show as Newspapers found – This is all about whether you are going to live or die – As the Coke folks say but more gently than I – Mass Media is dying. So then is the entire Mass Media approach to PR and Broadcast – the God-like Voice and Moses with the Text of God from on high does not work. So how important is your reputation? How important is your business or enterprise? Adopting this new way is one of the most important decisions you will make. So also having the RIGHT PEOPLE to do this for you is the second decision you will make after deciding to cross the River. Ideally you have to have them report to the CEO. Ideally the CEO needs to become immersed as well. If I can do this, aged 59 and having spent most of my working life in institutions. Then so can you. The only issue is will. Do you have the will as a CEO to move into the future?

juliuscaesar

Caesar made the call by crossing the Rubicon to end the Republic and to begin the Empire. He had the will to stake it all. There was then no going back.

Actually it is society that has crossed the Rubicon. The new interactive and participative world is now here.

Will you cross too? This is a life or death decision for you. It’s also a winning choice. Many will not be able to make this choice. Their own culture will be too powerful. If you can, you have the advantage. The earlier you move, the better you will get at this.

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Mumbai – Confirmation of Social Media as the way to cover breaking news

Twitter, Blogging and Wikpedia have offered the world the best – fastest updating, most human and most comprehensive account of how the Mumbai events unfolded.

If there was ever proof that this combination has taken its place in the forefront of breaking news – this is it.

Here is a link to JP’s excellent post on this topic – that shows you graphically what I mean.

Here is Dina’s summary of many of the online resources.

Now networks such as CNN go to people like Dina for insight

As Newspapers and the Networks slowly die, their replacement gets stronger.

Here is the Daily Telegraph’s acknowledgement of this.

Indeed, many mainstream media outlets, including CNN, used video footage and photos sent in from people on the ground in Mumbai to illustrate their reports, and many television stations, radio stations and newspapers were also keeping a close eye on Twitter and the blogosphere in the hope of finding out more information.

Despite the obvious value and immediacy of these eyewitness accounts, there are signs that the blogosphere is struggling to know what to do for the best when these sort of incidents occur.

While Twitter is a powerful social medium for spreading news and information, some government agencies fear it could also be used by terrorists as a tool for communication. Last month, the US military warned that terrorist groups could use free, internet-based services, such as Twitter, as a means of communicating covertly across a medium that is difficult for authorities to trace and track.

In fact, it is alleged that at the height of the Mumbai terrorist attacks, the Indian government tried to shut down the Twitter stream people were using to spread news and information, amid fears that it could be used by the terrorists to help them evade capture.

While Twitter and other social media are not yet in a position to replace the mainstream media, there can be no doubt that they provide a powerful communication platform. Last night, the social web came of age.

Here is the New York Times adding their support to this idea of Twitter & Social Media coming of age:

From his terrace on Colaba Causeway in south Mumbai, Arun Shanbhag saw the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower Hotel burn. He saw ambulances leave the Nariman House. And he recorded every move on the Internet.

Mr. Shanbhag, who lives in Boston but happened to be in Mumbai when the attacks began on Wednesday, described the gunfire on his Twitter feed — the “thud, thud, thud” of shotguns and the short bursts of automatic weapons — and uploaded photos to his personal blog.

Mr. Shanbhag, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, said he had not heard the term citizen journalism until Thursday, but now he knows that is exactly what he was doing. “I felt I had a responsibility to share my view with the outside world,” Mr. Shanbhag said in an e-mail message on Saturday morning.

The attacks in India served as another case study in how technology is transforming people into potential reporters, adding a new dimension to the news media.

At the peak of the violence, more than one message per second with the word “Mumbai” in it was being posted onto Twitter, a short-message service that has evolved from an oddity to a full-fledged news platform in just two years.

Those descriptions and others on Web sites and photo-sharing sites served as a chaotic but critically important link among people across the world — whether they be Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn tracking the fate of a rabbi held hostage at the Nariman House or students in Britain with loved ones back in India or people hanging on every twist and turn in the standoff while visiting relatives for Thanksgiving dinner.

Convening Community to solve bog complex problems – Future of Pub Media?

Social Media for what? As the shadows lengthen, I am seeing that the new role for public media is not simply to bring you Jane Austen on Sundays – though that is worthy – but to use the trust evoked in a generation public TV and radio to help us as citizens help each other face terrible times.

The mortgage crisis is now clearly not just about a few people who should have known better, as many like to see it, but is a crisis so deep and wide that it has the power to doom not only individuals but cities. As houses fall, so do streets, the blocks then neighborhoods and then entire cities. Loss of taxes will shutter schools, loss of taxes will neuter governments, loss of mobility and loss of value will shut down people. So the financial cancer spreads until maybe America comes to a halt.

So what to do? This is where social media will I think play it’s most important role – that of empowering people to come together and to help each other. This is I think where the history books will tell the story – not that Facebook or My Space were cool, not that business finally got it. No I think the story will be that Social Media enabled the rise of Community Power and that it was Community Power that helped America through these times. That it was Community Power that replaced machine Democracy and restored the Republic.

Big claim! So here are some early signs – you can see this great power stir before your eyes

 

KETC, a client of mine, the Public TV Channel in St Louis, has been chosen by CPB to test how well a public TV station can be in Convening the wider community of its city to come together and help each other cope with a giant crisis. Here is a link to the background.

I am writing today to offer up an early report. This week we held the first on air/web town hall meeting.

For the first time St Louisans could see that they were not alone. The room was full of all sorts of people. St Louisans could see the enormous amount of help that was there for them. They could hear stories of all the things that could happen for bad or good. They could feel hope.

The show (links part 1 – part 2 – part 3 – part 4) was masterful. First of all it set the context – it gave the whole story. Then the full range of risks and remedies were explored.

As I watched this show, I felt as I had after Robin’s cancer diagnosis when we met the wonderful team of people who saved her life. I felt that while the situation was dire, that I might lose not my home but my wife, that we had the benefit of a great team and of the best that medicine could offer – we knew what we were up against. We knew that we had a chance. We had hope whereas before we had only fear.

I thought that I knew it all before the show. But I didn’t. In an hour, Ruth had covered the full story. No sound bites here. The full story!

The last segment was for me the most gripping. Here the show is opened up to the audience, to callers and those on the web. Here the voice of the community spoke. The dignity of the people and the panel was something to behold. The barriers between the helpers and the helped were eliminated. Something important happened.

The full impact was also revealed.

This is much more than a person losing their home. This is about the ripple effect that kills blocks, kills communities and in the end can doom the city. The ripple effect affects us all.

Next week we have a second show. This time we will focus on the the ripple effect – how can St Louisans work together to protect their communities? How can the people save their city?

Of course what you see on TV is merely the surface. If you look at the video, you will see The Swan – You will see the show but behind the scenes the feet are paddling hard under the surface.

The guys at KETC are paddling like fury all over the city and the state connecting people to help and more important connecting the help to the help. Have a look at the credits at the end of part 4.

This is the hard graft – many organizations, I call them Nodes of Trust, are meeting each other for the first time and seeing how much they can do to help each other do a better job.

Many are also seeing that the mortgage crisis itself is only part of a much more dangerous threat, the Ripple, that has the power to take the entire city down.

This is why I make the claim I do. I can think of only one way to dig our way out of this mess – to connect the people so that they can take charge themselves. Social Media and stations like KETC are the way to make these connections.

Many are starting to see that many who got caught were not foolish but unfortunate or worse exploited.

St Louisan are starting to feel that they might have a chance of beating this – a chance not because of false hope or exhortation but hope drawn from meeting other good men and women and seeing that together they can make an impact. Seeing that they are not helpless.

I think that KETC is on its way to prove out the hopes of CPB – that Public Media can be seen as a powerful force for good in their community. For who else can do this work? Who else can act as the convenor in these tough times?

Hybrids Don’t Work in Media – you have to go all they way

It was announced this weekend that NPR will have to cancel their new News program The Bryant Park Project for cost reasons. The NYT story is here. The BPP site with comments on the closing of the show is here. You can see that I was not the only fan nor am I the only one who is upset!

Laura called me this morning for an interview on how I felt. Obviously I am very sad. But she also asked me for what I thought might be some reasons. It is only day 1 – but I do have some ideas. They are only mine and they are my immediate reactions. As I have promoted the show and its apporach to the web so much, I think that I owe you some reasons as well.

I think a couple of things are becoming more clear to me. The show was seen as a Radio show with a strong social web element. This is I think the key error that drove the costs and the expectations. If you want to do the new today – you have to break away from the costs of the machine – if a paper, no press and no paper! I would have launched BPP as a web show with a bit of radio. No small distinction.

So much of what BPP did on the web – the use of Twitter to build community – the use of Facebook to give us a weekly review. The use of video on the blog. All this broke down the barriers of power/distance and time. Many of us felt part of the show. Our ideas were heard and acted upon. We even went on the show now and then.

A lot of what pulled us in was the personal. We learned about the food obsessions, the drilling, we chatted 24/7 with the staff and with each other. We met and made new friends.

The NYT mentioned that in April and May they had a million unique visitors on the web. This is brilliant.

As a web based show you can build the audience until you have enough momentum to add more radio. I would also have made it easy for “members” to donate to BPP. What about the stations? I would have had a split. Try the new economics for real all the way.

So what went wrong? The show was conceived as Radio!

In St Louis, many of the best staff of the Dispatch left the paper and started a new one. The one thing they did not consider was using paper!

This is a picture of the pride of the RN in 1860. Called HMS Inflexible, she looks modern. She has a “website”. She is made of steel. She is driven by steam. She has big guns in turrets. But she was not modern. Because, she was set up to fight as Nelson’s wooden ships were. The culture was to engage closely. The culture was that those dirty engineers had to stay away from command roles.

HMS Inflexible was a hybrid. Looked new but was in reality based on the rules and the culture of 1805.

This is HMS Dreadnought.

Launched in 1906, she was the complete vision of the new in its reality. She was designed to fight at 10 miles. She was designed to be led by people who understood engineering. She had the power to sink the entire German Fleet at the time. In launching her, Admiral Fisher knew that he had made all the RN’s fleet of Hybrids obsolete overnight. But he could not afford not to go to the new. His concern was that Germany or America would beat him to it.

I think that this where we are in media on this sad July morning.

It’s all the way or not at all. Just as the presses and the paper is a cost that is killing the Newspapers, so the transmitters are killing TV and Radio.

All that can remain for a while are the established shows such as ME and ATC.

But if you want some thing new that will scale and make you money – it’s the web all the way. Look back at what BPP did so well there and know that they paved the way for you.

Can Public Media use Social Software to help with complex problems such as the Mortgage Crisis?

How would you feel today, if you stood to lose your house and all around you the media were labeling you as stupid and deserving of being put on the street?

How would you feel if you were struggling to save your house, but all around you those  who said that they were there to help you, were really just jackals waiting to prey on your carcass?

How would you feel if you have lots of what you thought was equity in your house, if 20% of the houses in your community were being sold at auction for a few thousand dollars?

What kind of city or place will you live in if say 20% of the people there have learned that they have been fooled, betrayed and abandoned by their society?

This is a graph of how the SARS epidemic spread. This is how all social epidemics spread. This is the risk before us!

I think that if lots of people feel this way that there is going to be hell to pay. For I think that the real threat of the subprime crisis is social.

The science behind the Tipping Point tells us that if there is momentum and and if the “Chasm” of about 15% is crossed the system Tips. If 15-20% of the people in your city feel that they have no support or hope, then there is a good chance that your city will Tip.I am saying that if you think that you are OK while large swathes of your city become ghost towns – watch out for the Zombies and watch out for your tax base, your own equity, crime and your way of life.

I am not saying that the “Cure” is to save every person’s house. I am saying that if people affected cannot get Trusted help and in the end trusted support, they will not only lose their house but get very angry. This is when the pitchforks and torches come into town.

So why am I posting this in a blog where the focus is Social Media? Because at its core the subprime mortgage problem is no longer merely financial nor is it confined to a few people. It is now becoming a social problem – it is largely now about isolation, abandonment and and soon it will be about betrayal.

People who are affected directly find it exceptionally difficult to find help that they can trust. People who are directly affected are often in shock too and hence are shut down and will not trust official help – after all it was the system that told them that borrowing was going to be OK. People who are directly affected feel shame and feel shamed. Many must feel like many returning vets from Vietnam. The are being told that the subprime crisis is all their fault. The commercial media are telling them that we do not care about them.

Many others are smug. I am OK. This is not about about me. My nice middle class or upper class area is safe. But of course it’s not and nor will it be as the ripple spreads

Others see the business opportunity. Facebook and the web are full of people now lining up to exploit the crisis. Houses can be bought at auction for hundreds of dollars. The same forces that put millions in jeopardy are now fighting over the scraps.

Here is the overview by region.

Here is an overview by house price change.

All our research tells us is that this is not the end but the beginning.

As I see it, the issue is larger than a person losing their home. The real risk is that too many people in a city will give up on being a citizen. They will give up not simply because they lost their home but because they think that they have been betrayed. They went for the Dream and they were taken for a ride.

So what can we do? Can we save every home? Should we save every home? Can we save every home?

I think the answer is no to all of those questions. But I think we can do this:

  • If we can find real help that can be trusted – we can help those that can be helped to save their house
  • If we can connect people in trouble to each other, they can maybe help others save their homes and ALSO get the emotional support that they need
  • If we can show to the larger community that we are all involved, then we can end the blame and the shame and we can mobilize the entire community – as we are seeing in the Iowa Floods – for this is a collective disaster.
  • If we can show that people are no longer helpless then hope will return
  • At worst, if we can show that you can lose your home and still be OK, then we will really achieved something for what we will have done is shown that there is a community and that it does care about you. That the Dream is not dead.

A public TV station that has no ax to grind may have the essential trust to take up this work. A Public TV station that does its best to learn how to use Social Media might have a chance.

KETC, Channel 9, in St Louis has been chosen by CPB to develop a template and a set of tools for Public TV that will have a real shot at ensuring that that we might be able to do this. We have until the end of August to make a difference.

We are going to need your help.

I will do my best to tell you what we are doing – as we try stuff. Please let me know what you think.

As a start I need to find some well connected bloggers in St Louis. If you are one or know one please let me know in the comments.

The China Quake – The day that Twitter became THE Breaking News tool

From “From the Frontline“:

The BBCs Rory Cellan-Jones wonders whether Twitter has come of age with the earthquake that struck Sichuan province in China this morning,

Let’s see, as this story unfolds, whether this is the moment when Twitter comes of age as a platform which can bring faster coverage of a major news event than traditional media, while allowing participants and onlookers to share their experiences. link

I didn’t know anything about the earthquake until I picked up on a (private) tweet from Rebecca Mackinnon in Hong Kong. A quick blast through Twitter using Tweetscan and it soon became clear the Tweetsphere was abuzz with chatter and information sharing about the earthquake. It also became clear news was coming out quicker on Twitter than by more established means. Some pictures appeared on Flickr within an hour of the quake. Meanwhile Robin Hamman points me to a tool that automatically translateswhat Chinese Twitterers are saying about the earthquake.

There is more – Here is Reuters telling the story of how Dave Winer broke the Virginia earthquake story on twitter.

At about 1:37 pm, software developer Dave Winer asked the Twitterverse: “Explosion in Falls Church, VA?” (Perhaps not coincidentally, Winer is a well-known blogger and podcasting evangelist). A flurry of posts, or “tweets,” followed, as users reported rumbles as far away as Alexandria.

The mainstream media entered the fray at 2:33 pm, with radio stationWTOP reporting ground rumblings throughout Northern Virginia, citing a possible earthquake. Officials also told the radio station that the rumblings were part of construction blasts at nearby Ft. Belvoir, which had been scheduled for later in the afternoon as part of a new building for theNational Geospatial Intelligence Agency.

Twitter users continued to pile on, pointing out data from the Maryland Geological Survey and adding their own commentary. Twitterer DataGwrote: “After the ‘Falls Church explosion’ event that was covered on Twitter, I saw the value in having a Twitter account at-the-ready.”

By 2:56 pm — nearly 90 minutes after Winer’s initial alert — WTOP had the official word from the U.S. Geological Survey: A not-exactly-massive 1.8 magnitude earthquake with an epicenter near Annandale, VA.

The “Falls Church Incident” was earthshaking only in the most literal sense, but it is an interesting proof of concept that news can be broken on Twitter. Reuters is looking at ways to use Twitter in the newsroom, althoughour feed is currently under renovation.

Twitter – the new AP – no cost – high impact (Thanks to Scoble for the links)