I am a hard bloggin' scientist. Read the Manifesto.Jan Schmidt, a hard blogging scientist, is a sociologist who has been looking at the impact and use of social media for a long time. I met him for the first time on the second ever BlogWalk in Nuremberg in 2004, the series of salons on social media that I used to organize with Lilia Efimova and Sebastian Fiedler.
On Next09 he presented findings from a 15 month study concluded only earlier this month, on social media behaviour of teenagers and adolescents. Given the nature of other presentations at Next09 Jan’s session seemed perhaps somewhat misplaced in the general flow of the conference, but I was glad it was part of the programme anyway. Especially as the results presented are very useful to me, and also seem to fit well with research I did myself into media behaviour of children in an age group just before the age groups Schmidt et al looked at.

The research project combined both quantitative and qualitative (focus groups, interviews) elements, allowing for a rich tapestry of results. (Project site in German, 20 page summary pdf in German)
An interesting starting point of Jan Schmidt’s presentations was the reason he thought the social web is a good fit with teenagers. The three practices that social media actively embrace match up with three important developmental aspects teenagers grapple with. Identity management (status updates, profiles, publishing vids) relates to the task of the development of self (who am I?), relationship management (friending online, commenting, following) chimes with the development of socialization (who/where am I in groups?), and information management (searching, tagging, rating) matches up with the developmental task of general orientation (who am I in the world?)
Among German youngsters Google, YouTube, Wikipedia and ICQ are the most widely used. (ICQ is the IM of choice in Germany, MSN is what the kids in the Netherlands use. I once heard a Dutch girl on the train explain to a friend that her German boyfriend used ICQ, calling it ‘the German MSN’.) Facebook is largely unheard of (ranking under 2% together with Second Life) under German young people, as they use StudiVZ, for students, and SchulerVZ, for high school kids, which combined cover 85%.
About 3/4 of those asked use social networking sites (matching nicely with 70% here in the Netherlands). Young people aren’t confused by the term ‘friend’, as most press coverage seems to always find problematic. Mostly they connect to people they have met face to face at some point, and mostly they do not think those contacts constitute close friendships. In short they know it’s a map and not the landscape. Schmidt concludes, one that I share and find important, that social networking sites make weak ties explicit. I would add that as these teenagers get older, it also preserves context, allowing you to keep in touch where normally you would drift apart as you move into different contexts. Jan Schmidt also holds that this makes a perfect training ground for teenage networking and social skills. During that discovery of networking skills slightly over a quarter of those asked say they encountered problematic usage (like bullying etc.), and 5% (girls) to 10% (boys) say they’ve done things on-line others protested against.
Schmidt also reported on the channels teenagers say they find appropiate for things like arranging meetings, flirting, chatting, meeting new people and breaking up. Ian Forrester of the BBC indicated during the Q&A that they got very different results when asking about actual behaviour. But to me this was interesting because it gives us a picture of the normative behaviour of these teenagers. And the conclusion is that, except (unsurprisingly) arranging meetings, face to face contact is still very much the norm, followed by synchronous communication such as phone and IM at increasing distance (and that snail mail has no future at all).
I find this significant, as it shows us digital media have become part of our daily diet, but at the same time there is no significant shift in values and norms it seems between them and our generations when it comes to human interaction. Behaviour is changing, but normative behaviour is not, and direct human face to face contact is still on top. It flies in the face of fear mongering adults thinking kids these days isolate themselves behind their screens and can’t see the difference between real and fake contact. That fear is something those adults project on their kids, and more a reflection of not wanting to deal with the new skills involved themselves, a case of monster killing. In reality new media channels mean primarily there are more options to communicate when face to face is not possible or not practical.
That social media have become a normal part of every day teenage life is further proven by the observation that terms like social media and Web2.0 are largely unknown to these age groups. Again these are terms we have made up to describe the difference compared to what we knew before. These kids know just this, the internet that is now. They don’t have to unlearn stuff like we do, they use what is there. Let’s stop projecting our notions on these kids, and like Schmidt et al, start observing more what they are really doing, saying and thinking. So that we can connect that to the values and notions we like to instill them with, so that we can give them an education and raising that is meaningful to them.

Video and slides:
Link: Jan Schmidt on Growing up with the social web

Disclosure: I was at the Next ’09 Conference in Hamburg on the invitation of the organizers as a blogger and did not have to pay for my conference ticket.

At Next09 last Wednesday my friend Lee Bryant presented on ‘User Driven Companies’.
Lee didn’t waste much time before digging below the surface of some examples of companies showing signs of being user driven. The same companies were mentioned as those held up by Jeff Jarvis and Umair Haque the day before as signs of change (Dell, Walkers Crisps) and consequently attacked by Andrew Keen as examples of the usual rampant free market power grab but now hiding under the cloak of innovation (quote). Lee Bryant did a much better job of feeding the debate (Andrew Keen’s stated interest) than Keen in full frontal attack mode, as he asked the question what it will take to embed ‘user driven’ and openness as a notion into general business culture. Taking it further, based on what still can be improved.
The short answer is that you cannot be ‘user driven’ and open on the outside and at the same time treat your own people like mere parts in the machinery. Your values need to be people focussed both inside and out, or you won’t succeed.
Companies need to ask themselves whether their goal is pure profit maximisation in the short-term, leading to pillage and plunder attitudes, or sustainable income by real value creation over the long term. If the latter, companies need to find balance between respect, social status and profit. If you opt for profit in the short-term it will cost you your respect and social status, which in turn will come back to hurt the company itself. Large companies as Unilever started out with social and profit goals. Banking was a respected profession serving communities until they descended to plunder (I think it started with the introduction of financial derivatives in the mid 1980’s, when financial investment products became completely disconnected from underlying companies and their value/values). Bankers may be rich now, but not respected or with highly regarded social status. Other models than pillage and plunder exist (as Umair Haque also discussed in his presentation on doing away with the war-metaphor for doing business), based on both cooperation and competition (like the Hanseatic trade league) or on profiting from making your customers profit (like Threadless)

All too often reality: We do not value you or your call

So user-driven companies need to start from within, letting their employees be human and be seen to be humans on the outside. Relationships are build between human beings. Between your employees and your customers. Dell maybe better at listening to their customers than before Jeff Jarvis unleashed Dell Hell, but as long as you are mostly talking to your customers through anonymous outsourced call centers it does not really change anything fundamental. Letting your people be human is a start, but needs to be augmented with having faith in your network as well as valuing your ecosystem. You need to recognize that your company is not a completely seperate entity, but merely a temporary clustering of people, relationships, values and production means (me in 2004), within the wider network around it. Managers and employees are not outside of that general network, they’re users, customers, clients, and human beings themselves as well. Acting within the context of an organisation however we often seem to forget that. Culture is the sum of individual behaviour within a group. To change business culture organisations need to allow their people to behave, and to be seen to behave, according to the company’s shared values and purpose.

The video of Lee’s presentation at Next09:

Link: next09 - User Driven Companies

Lee blogged his own presentation as well: User Driven Companies Should Start from Within

Disclosure: I was at the Next ’09 Conference in Hamburg on the invitation of the organizers as a blogger and did not have to pay for my conference ticket.

photo by Elmine
The well-known blogger Jeff Jarvis was the first key-note speaker on this full afternoon of key-notes at Next09 (weren’t key-notes meant to be the inspiring kick-offs for conversations at a conference? Here the first day of the programme is filled with key-notes only, and positioned as a pre-conference day)
He gave his What Would Google Do talk, that he did at the Next Web as well (slides below). A good presentation, with lots of fun quotes (see the Twitter next09 stream) but most of it right out of the book.

UPDATE: Video is now on-line. Jeff Jarvis starts at about 7:20 into the video.

Link: next 09 - Welcome The Great Restructuring

Disclosure: I am at the Next ’09 Conference in Hamburg on the invitation of the organizers as a blogger and did not have to pay for my conference ticket.