Is the social web about merit or is it morphing into the same old?

Spinning Web 2.0

As I browse my RSS feeds and listen in on conversations on Twitter I am seeing a theme emerge where what appears to be rewarded is the same old school connections, packaged in a new media ribbon. The social web was supposed to break down the gates and allow new voices (and genders or colours) to emerge based solely on merit, but if you look closely at conference line ups, those participating on certain blogs, and who gets responses to which conversations it is easy to see where this promise is failing. The same voices are dominant no matter what they are discussing and rarely are they seriously challenged by those outside their close knit circle lest one fall out of favour with the “in club”.

People clamor to be invited to the hip new launch and, as evidenced by the recent New York Times piece: Spinning the Web, it’s not necessarily about the value of a product but who your connections are and how big of a party you can throw, what clubs you belong to, how many names you can drop, or how many times you can send someone a gift to remain top-of-mind. Having been around the Web 1.0 bubble where money and good times were thrown around without regard to business model I fear for where this is all heading. Also having worked at an ad agency where it was forbidden to “buy your clients affection” I know business can be done without constantly throwing money around. There is nothing inherently classy about trying to secure business by attempting to purchase it vs. earning it based on your ideas. Of course people like getting the special treatment, it makes them feel good, and important. Although this is human nature, it’s nothing to be proud of in the grand scheme of things.

The beauty of the social sphere for me is precisely to find and cultivate genuine relationships with people who aren’t trying to buy their way in, but are sharing their ideas and their unique perspectives. I want to hear from people who disagree with me, regardless of how many (or who) follow me on Twitter and what my perceived influence is. Of course I like hearing from people who agree with me as well, but no one should feel they *have* to agree with me or host lavish parties to earn my respect. In fact there is no quicker way to lose my respect than to contribute nothing of substance or continuous empty platitudes.

How about you? What is the value of the social web to you? Is it about fame and fortune or bringing new perspectives into your life?

[photo credit: ViaMoi via Flickr]

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Comments (3) to “Is the social web about merit or is it morphing into the same old?”

  1. What the social web is doing that is different than previous is that every voice can be heard on an equal level. Rainn Wilson can have as much weight on my Twitter stream as someone I just met. Each voice, and their insight, is valuable.

    And some, perhaps, can gravitate to the same old, same old patterns. Millions found Twitter because of Oprah and Ashton Kutcher. But what was true before that moment, and what remains true now, is that it’s the underlying framework of community (perhaps not as visible to the inquiring eyes) is what keeps this all going.

    The star followers are going to go after the next shiny thing, or the people they perceive with power.

    What is different this time is that it is we, the community at large, that actually HAVE the power this time.

  2. I think you bring up some great points, Tamera. I agree that it’s important to integrate new voices into the conversation. I wonder if that just takes some time, in the same way that getting to know and trust people takes time. (I hope that’s what it is.)

    I have to say that I was of two minds when I read the NYTimes article. First, I was really pleased that PR got such prominence. But it felt that it focused on the same old publicity machine, veiled in a social cloak. Hopefully, we can get beyond that (it will take work) toward real two-way interactions.

    One of the things I like best about social media is the number of people/voices I have been able to interact with, the fresh perspectives, the ideas and offbeat links. To me, that’s one of its greatest values.

  3. I see Social Media like many other big power shifts in history (printing press, agrarian revolution, industrial revolution, etc.) It has the potential to re-distribute things, but that doesn’t mean it actually will. Or more specifically, it seems that the old-boys slowly die-off only to be followed by the young bucks who quickly turn into a new old boys club.

    These shifts in power have periods of chaos that allow new voices to emerge (i.e. Tech Crunch, Perez, etc.) that might not have under other circumstances. And any social media participant at least has the potential to create a big splash through insightful, valuable or just plain outrageous methods. Previously they would have been required to be “discovered” by a major content producer.

    Is it a case of:
    Meet the new boss.
    Same as the old boss?

    Not sure, I think we need a little more time before one can say.

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