On Thursday and Friday I attended some Social Media Week events in New York. It was an amazing experience—not just because of the great topics and smart speakers, but because we practiced what was being preached. A fair number of audience members used laptops, iPads or smart phones during the presentations, live tweeting what was being said on stage and their own responses. Some speakers addressed questions posed via Twitter while on stage, while others took more conventional routes such as hand-raising and comments written on index cards.
One year ago this week, on January 12, 2010, two extraordinarily important things happened. Google announced its intention to close their office in China and shut down Google.cn, their Chinese-language search engine site. Half-way around the world, an earthquake shook Port au Prince, Haiti, to its core, killing over 220,000 people. Aside from happening on the same day, the two events share a deeper theme: they demonstrate the strengths and weaknesses of information and communications technology (ICT) in the world at the beginning of the 21st century.
The reason Google left China was more complicated than an altruistic support for human rights and free speech. Yes, Sergey Brin’s family had lived in the Soviet Union before immigrating to the United States when Brin was six years old, and Brin has spoken out for freedom of speech on other occasions; but as many pointed out, China’s population of over a million is an enormous potential audience. The right to search for terms such as “Dalai Lama,” “Falun Gong,” or “Tienanmen Square” alone is not enough to make a corporation pull out of the world’s most populous nation. That debate had gone on since 2006.
Recently there was a stink on the Internet about a woman named Clarabelle Rodriguez who tried to purchase a pair of designer eyeglasses online and got ripped off by an unscrupulous vendor. When she complained that the glasses were knock-offs and demanded her money back, the vendor not only refused to issue a refund but threatened her.
Somehow, Google got blamed. Poor Google! Life can be hard when your name becomes a verb meaning “find everything in the world.”
“If you build it he will come.”
Hearing those words, the fictional Ray Kinsella (as opposed to the author of the same name) decided to build a baseball diamond in his corn field. His baseball heroes did indeed come, and Kinsella found himself losing control of the situation. Some years later, after Field of Dreams had been made into a movie, the farmer who allowed his corn field to be used for the filming was overrun with tourists and movie fans.
As we begin the holiday season it’s easy to see how communities establish traditions. Thanksgiving turkey, stuffing, cranberries… the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade… football games. Followed by Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Red kettles and bell ringers on street corners collecting donations for charity. Trees, decorated windows, menorahs, carols, Scrooge and the Grinch… Leading to “Auld Lang Syne” and popping corks at the stroke of midnight. In my family the rule was that if we did something once and people liked it, it became a “tradition.”
Apple Computer is an example of a company that has built a strong community of enthusiastic product users. To those of us who don’t own a Macintosh computer, Apple’s most loyal fans can seem a bit too evangelical. (Just ask a question in an online forum about anti-virus software and the Apple disciples will tell you to buy a Mac and not worry.)