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Dawn of the Social Age

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Social Networking and the Social Age

In our consideration of the Social Age, Roosevelt’s example is also instructive. Roosevelt found that the best method of effective organization was to speak to the largest number of people possible over the least expensive medium. He was leveraging the social aspect of radio to create an unprecedented sense of unity in the country and support for the war. As Roosevelt demonstrated, and as we’ve seen repeatedly in the Social Age, the greatest value of low-cost communication is its capability to enhance the effectiveness of crowds and organizational efforts across a wider range of communities.

The radio also dramatically compressed the time required for news to be distributed, and at a much lower cost than newspapers or other traditional methods. The invention of the television followed with even greater communication power. In fewer than 30 years—from 1950 to 1978—households owning televisions in the United States rose from 9 percent to 98 percent.11 Television is a prime example of the way communication cost has steadily decreased in the modern era, as illustrated in Figure 1.3.

Figure 1.3

Figure 1.3 Decreasing cost of communication in each modern historical era.

Although television was an early step in the Information Age, the advent of computers—particularly personal computers—marked the high point of the Information Age and laid the foundation for the Social Age. Beginning in 2000, we entered the transition from the Information Age to the Social Age as fully enabled and “smart” electronic networks were rapidly becoming populated with social services and tools such as Classmates and YouTube. Mass communication up to that time was essentially a unidirectional medium. But now, for the first time, meaningful two-way communication was possible on the Web, using Web 2.0-enabling technology that arrived on the scene around that time.

The Semantic Web

Social networking tools such as wikis and blogs are possible only because of a bidirectional communications technology known as the Semantic Web. The Semantic Web created the concept of a smart document that is aware of its own content via Extensible Markup Language (XML) tags. A host of technologies support this trend including Resource Description Framework (RDF), Web Ontology Language (OWL), and other XML extensions. For example, if you update a page that is content-aware, the update will be reflected in other related sites. Simply put, when someone changes something on a content-aware Web site “A,” Web sites “B,” “C,” and “D” have their content dynamically updated as well.

The Semantic Web innovations, combined with two-way communication-capable web pages, such as wikis, blogs, and other social networking tools, created a completely new way to get organized, provide information, and collaborate. In turn these changes created even greater efficiencies and propelled social tools to broad acceptance by the general public.

These changes are also happening inside the protected environment of the corporate firewall. For the first time, lower-cost Internet communication and two-way web technologies have enabled businesses to collaborate and leverage large and diverse internal and external communities through social networking services.

Social networking is a critical long-term shift of the Internet revolution and is the primary catalyst of the Social Age. Suddenly, smart content and two-way communication empowers the individual to be heard in a meaningful way. Each person’s opinion carries the same weight as fellow collaborators. Everyone’s credibility is enhanced and his or her opinion is important. Particularly in decision making, the opinion of the crowd is now vital to final outcomes.

As social networking tools gained popularity, the world became increasingly instrumented. Through radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, and other technologies, the previously insensate world suddenly got “smart.” New two-way communication devices can sense human activity, monitor supply chain workflow for bottlenecks, and even analyze weather patterns, making our world smarter and more efficient.

In comments to the Council on Foreign Relations in November 2008, IBM’s CEO Sam Palmisano picked up on this theme. “The world will continue to become smaller, flatter...and smarter,” he said. “We are moving into the age of the globally integrated and intelligent economy, society and planet.” He concluded with a challenge: “The question is what we are going to do with that?”12

This is certainly a question we do well to ask ourselves, and one we address in more detail in Chapter 2, “Social Age Organizations.”

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