WWW – The World Wide WE

Dave Winer says that we need to “drop the B” in Web 2.0, and make is “WE 2.0.” I agree with commenter Monty, who says “It’s not people that need an upgrade to fit technology, it’s technology that needs an upgrade to fit people.”

So, Dave…right idea, wrong “B.”

Here’s my thought: What we’re really doing is turning the World Wide Web into the World Wide WE.

The “World Wide WE”…I like that.

The Familiar Stranger

The ever-cogent Christopher Allen brought the idea of the “Familiar Stranger” to my attention in a comment on yesterday’s “Werewolves…” post. Chris writes:

“One concept related to progressive trust that you might be interested in is the “familiar stranger”. When you see someone in the hall that you’ve seen before, maybe nodded to, but don’t actually know, that is a “familiar stranger”. Our sense of comfort in social situations is often bounded by the percentage of people that are familiar strangers, as well as our sense of safety in our communities. There is quite a bit of interesting research on this topic.

How it relates to progressive trust is that even before you get to the point where you are consciously moving forward on gaining mutual trust, you may have already established some by already being a familiar stranger. You are also more likely to default trust someone more if there are lots of familar strangers around.”

The folks at Intel Research @ Berkeley bring us this further definition:

“The Familiar Stranger is a social phenomenon first addressed by the psychologist Stanley Milgram in his 1972 essay on the subject. Familiar Strangers are individuals that we regularly observe but do not interact with. By definition a Familiar Stranger (1) must be observed, (2) repeatedly, and (3) without any interaction. The claim is that the relationship we have with these Familiar Strangers is indeed a real relationship in which both parties agree to mutually ignore each other, without any implications of hostility. A good example is a person that one sees on the subway every morning. If that person fails to appear, we notice.

Familiar Strangers form a border zone between people we know and the completely unknown strangers we encounter once and never see again. While we are bound to the people we know by a circle of social reciprocity, no such bond exists between us and complete strangers. Familiar Strangers buffer the middle ground between these two relationships. Because we encounter them regularly in familiar settings, they establish our connection to individual places.”

I love this concept of the “familiar stranger,” especially when it’s linked up with Kathy Sierra’s recent thoughts (she calls it “the-guy-from-the-train phenomenon“). Kathy writes:

“You know the story: you take the same train to work every day. One Saturday afternoon you’re in a cafe when you spot a familiar face at the next table. “Hey, it’s the guy from the train!” you think, with a smile. Then the guy from the train notices you, and his eyes light up. You start a lively conversation moving from weather to espresso to geopolitical forces. You exchange URLs.

The thing is, you took the train with this guy for the last 18 months and never gave him a moment’s thought…until you saw him at the cafe.

That’s the power of unexpected context.”

Not only does the familiar stranger bring trust to a public place, but placing the familiar stranger in an out-of-context environment may be the catalyst that converts the “familiar stranger” into a friend and catalyzes the trust relationship between two individuals.

I like the symmetry in that.

(photo credit: toronto_lex)

The People ARE The Brand

Three choice tidbits from Mike Manuel’s recent post: “Real Brand Engagement”

“People don’t want to engage with brands, they want to engage with the people behind the brands. ” – Mike Manuel

“Scream marketing fails because, all too often, it is just that, and if we are not in the mood to be screamed at, it fails or – worse – turns us off completely. The most powerful brand relationship is personal but with people who have akin values.” – David Philips

“In an ideal world, the people ARE the brand.” – Jarrett Nixon

Rock on.

(This is why Haystack exists.)

Werewolves In The Office

Your boss is a werewolf.

That person you always see in the elevator? Another one.

You’re one, too. Probably.

We are all many-faceted. Yet, the facets we show are very different at different times, depending on the context of the situations in which we find ourselves. At the office, dressed in Dockers and a button-down, we are expected to be “professional.” Here, we describe ourselves in terms of our experience and education, perhaps with a perfunctory snippet on two or three “safe” outside interests that are guaranteed not to raise any eyebrows.

This compartmentalization is not limited to the office. At a function with extended family, we are expected to be friendly and compassionate, and we describe ourselves in terms of where we sit in the patriarchy/matriarchy of our clan. With new friends, perhaps we describe ourselves based a little bit on “what we do,” perhaps a bit more on where we went to school, but we stay away from truly “personal” topics.

In any given situation, we are presented with a set of cultural expectations of how we should act and dress, what topics are acceptable for conversation, and what set of situational mores are in effect. Yet, with old friends, we are “ourselves.” The guard comes down, the drawbridges are lowered, and the connections are natural.

Inside The Werewolf, We Find A Russian Doll

This bicameral struggle becomes even more apparent when one has one or more online personae. Much has been made over the past few months about how “naked” one should get online, not in the carnal sense, but rather with respect to the personal and emotional, and how those aspects intersect with a “professional” personality.

Jory DesJardins
writes “[Blogging] is fun because it has allowed me such freedom to express myself but it hasn’t been all fun and games. Authenticity is not tantamount to irresponsibility. I’ve had to practice the art of diplomacy and learn to take myself a lot less seriously. I’ve had to clean up my relationships offline and enlist their support; I’ve had to maintain a degree of professionalism and discretion; and I had to define by personal blogging policy: what was off-limits (not much, apparently), what was my focus (basically anything pertaining to ME), and whose comments I would allow (basically anyone’s, provided they weren’t spamming me).

“Every blogger has to make these decisions for herself. It ain’t easy–it’s a constant re-defining of oneself. But once you get to your most accurate definition of your blogging self, your best ‘stuff’ comes out.”

This internal bridging of the personal and professional and resolution of the social conflict between the two is a significant leap, insurmountable for some. But, as DesJardins writes, it’s a necessary step on the path to letting one’s “best stuff” emerge. Only after the internal Rubicon has been crossed can the connections begin to be extended beyond the self and into one’s external community.

Progressively Taming The Werewolf

In order to span the gaps that exist between ourselves and our colleagues, to really span it and not just play-act yet another persona, we need to be able to connect, based on shared affinities and understanding. But we can’t get there all at once.

Progressive trust” and its counterpart “progressive disclosure” are required to build the external bridges. Both terms have their roots in systems design, and are nearly self-explanatory. “Progressive trust” refers to an increasing level of trust that can be built between parties based on prior levels of trust being successfully achieved, and “progressive disclosure” simply means to introduce (disclose) new information over time, at the point the recipient of the information is ready to accept and understand such information in context.

(Ever hear the phrase “TMI,” or “too much information?” That’s what happens when one tries to shortcut the progressive trust and progressive disclosure processes.)

Both progressive trust and progressive disclosure are the fundamental construction techniques required in order to achieve this goal of actual, non-superficial connection. They are the tools that allow us to take the internal and make it public, at a rate and in a manner that enables impedance matching with the others with whom we’re trying to connect.

Why Bother?

Why does it matter if we act differently at the office than we do at home? What does it matter if we don’t really connect with the people with whom we’re spending a third of our lives? Well, in addition to the personal thrashing that is required to keep all these personae in check, there’s also a body of research to indicate that business interactions are actually more profitable when individuals can connect the professional side of themselves with their personal affinities. This kind of connection has measurable benefit for all parties involved.

Perhaps the cornerstone of recent work in this area was done by Lichtenthal and Tellefsen, and is called “Toward a Theory of Buyer-Seller Similarity.” Lichetenthal and Tellefsen write, “These findings suggest that internal similarity [perceptions, attitudes, and values] can increase a business buyer’s willingness to trust a salesperson and follow the salesperson’s guidance, and therefore, increase the industrial salesperson’s effectiveness. In contrast, the literature also indicates that, under most circumstances, observable similarity [physical attributes and behavior] will exert a negligible influence on a business buyer’s perceptions or a salesperson’s effectiveness. Thus, the key finding is that it is more important for buyers and sellers to ‘think alike’ than ‘look alike’.”


Tools to enable these personal bridges are appearing with increasing frequency in the media, not only via blogging, but with services such as Pandora (shared music, http://www.pandora.com), 43Things (shared goal-setting, http://www.43things.com) and host of both personal and enterprise social networking services. In fact, Howard Greenstein has written “Contact is King” (supplanting the old saw that “Content is King”), and it’s true.

With these changes, not only in technology but more importantly in the increased social acceptance of looking at individuals truly as individuals and not interchangeable cogs playing a predefined, scripted role, there will be an increasing ability to bridge the various aspects of ourselves into a cohesive whole and to connect, really connect, with our peers and colleagues, our friends and families.

And to tame the werewolves once and for all.

(note: thanks to ethan for the nudge)

Portland, You’re In The Top 10 With A Bullet

Spent last weekend in Portland with a group of old friends. Had never visited that fine city previously, and…I have to admit…I am smitten.


  • A very real, laid-back vibe and no-nonsense attitude
  • Rogue (not only do they have the dead guy, but they have bacon as an appetizer on the menu, fercryinoutloud!)
  • Gorgeous natural surroundings
  • Public art that actually engages
  • A killer public transportation system
  • Coffee…everywhere


  • Um, nothing. Loved the place.

While there, Leif and I had a chance to spend an afternoon quaffing java with Aric Wood from XPlane. (If you’ve ever seen any of the cool and useful information graphics in magazines like Business 2.0, they were done by XPlane.) The key insight from the discussion:

“Time-to-understanding” in a conversation can be used as a competitive advantage.

In other words, if you (and, by proxy, your organization) can communicate and connect with a customer more quickly and more richly than the other guy, you have a significant lead in the race. How to do this? A “Top Five” list of do’s and don’ts:

1) Do use multiple modes of communication (written, verbal, visual, experiential) in order to communicate
2) Do look for common experiences and past shared reference points to which novel concepts can be tied
3) Do use the appopriate technology as a medium
4) Don’t use PowerPoint when a note card will do
5) Don’t bury the customer with loads of jargon and acronyms

Bonus: Don’t make things more complex than they really are

Portland, I’ll be back.

(photo credit: drewish)

Your Attention, Please

John Hagel led an interesting session on Attention. (This was at a much higher level the Steve Gillmor’s Attention conversations.) The pitch:

Old scarce resource: Shelf space
New scarce resource: Time and attention

In this context, Hagel gave his “Three A’s” of Attention:

  • Attract – have customers seek you out
  • Assist – how do you assist customers, pre and post purchase?
  • Affiliate – mobilize complementary resources to deliver more value

The winners, Hagel argues, are the organizations that have the ability to orchestrate large array of resources.

He also argued the “brand promise” change that is occurring:

  • Old brand promise: “We have a great product,” or “We are a great vendor”
  • New brand promise: “I know you, better than anyone else. You can trust me, and us.

A very interesting insight…customers have an attention deficit as well. In other words, attention cuts both ways. Not only does the vendor desire the customer’s attention, but it’s critical that the customer can get the vendor’s attention as well. (Case in point? Think about the last time you tried to “pound out” of an interactive voicemail system and wanted the attention of a real person…)

I was fortunate enough to facilitate a session as part of the talk, and our group came up with four key insights:

1) We discussed the Edelman Trust Barometer, and that the most trusted person is “a person like me.” Attention is given to those who are trusted. Ergo…determining affinity between vendor and customer, or members of a customer community, is a critical precondition in gaining trust. Those who are trusted get the attention.

2) Scarcity and exclusivity may focus attention. (Think about the “red velvet rope” at the trendy club of your choice.) The flipside of this is that exclusivity, especially fake exclusivity, is fashion and the attention fades once the bloom is off the rose.

3) There may be cases where attention is contextual (John Winsor said this very well during the session). The degree of a attention given to a particular vendor, customer or situation will also be affected by the competing alternatives for that attention at that moment in time.

4) The biggest “a-ha!” that our group arrived at was that attention between vendor and customer is not always symmetric. In other words, there are times when a customer is giving a great deal of attention to the vendor (“I have a critical issue and need to fix this right now!”) and the vendor is giving little or no human attention to the customer (“Thank you for your call…your call is very important to us…your average wait time is ’10’ minutes…fade to Girl from Ipanema…”).

Based on (4), above, we hit on the big idea of the day. Our group hypothesized that when there is an attention gap between the attention being given by the customer to the vendor vs. the attention being given by the vendor to the customer, the customer gets frustrated and becomes dissatisfied with the relationship.

Does your organization give as much attention to its customers as they give to it?

Related: On Time, Attention and Marketing

Social Currency

Just finished the first session at the Innovation Marketing Conference, which was a presentation by Russ Klein, the CMO of Burger King. Short presentation, about 30 minutes or so, with a couple of key themes. The biggest “a-ha” that came out of the session was the idea of “social currency.” Rushkoff defines “social currency” thusly:

“Social currency is like a good joke. When a bunch of friends sit around and tell jokes, what are they really doing? Entertaining one another? Sure, for a start. But they are also using content — mostly unoriginal content that they’ve heard elsewhere — in order to lubricate a social occasion. And what are most of us doing when we listen to a joke? Trying to memorize it so that we can bring it somewhere else. The joke itself is social currency. “Invite Harry. He tells good jokes. He’s the life of the party.”

Think of this the next time you curse that onslaught of email jokes cluttering up your inbox. The senders think they’ve given you a gift, but all they really want is an excuse to interact with you. If the joke is good enough, this means the currency is valuable enough to earn them a response.

That’s why the most successful TV shows, web sites, and music recordings are generally the ones that offer the most valuable forms of social currency to their fans. Sometimes, like with mainstream media, the value is its universality. In the US right now, the quiz show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” is enjoying tremendous ratings because it gives its viewers something to talk about with one another the next day. It’s a form of mass spectacle. And, not coincidentally, what is the object of the game? To demonstrate one’s facility with a variety of forms of social currency! Contestants who can answer a long stream of questions about everything from sports and movies to science and history, are rewarded with a million dollars. They are social currency champions.”

It is currency, like the greenback, that we exchange with those around us as part of our everyday interactions. In other words, “social currency” is the stuff we talk about with our friends, and colleagues, and family.

Burger King’s Klein centered his presentation around this idea of social currency. (It was, in fact, a central them of BK’s investor road show as part of their IPO.) Is is the core of how they market. In his words, the reason BK markets is invoke the “Did you see that?!?!” factor around the water cooler. They see their marketing as a means to add BK memes to the “social currency” supply.

What other organizations do you think are very accomplished at adding “social currency” to the environment? Who gives us things to talk about?

Bonus question: In particular, do you agree with Klein’s assertion that Burger King is accomplishing its goal in this area?