Posted by Tom Grant on October 6, 2010
Obviously, as a regular blogger, I think social media are the cat's meow. However, when I use social media, I don't lapse into that blissed-out state that cats enjoy when they bust open a jar of catnip. Your experience may be different:
If you believe that Twitter is of net-benefit for the world, and only someone who hasn't used it much would say otherwise, then what's good for Twitter is good for the rest of us, too. Costolo's adventures with the last world-changing messaging system he [led] may have worked out better for himself than for the rest of us in the long run, but his work at Twitter so far has been key at building staying power for this new, more accessible way for people around the world to speak with each other.
That's the concluding paragraph from a ReadWriteWeb story about Twitter's new CEO. It's just the sort of gushy, overblown statement that plays well in the pocket universe of people with a vested interested in social media using social media to sign hosannas on the highest about social media. Outside the pocket universe, it's just the sort of hyperbolic prose that makes people who are on the fence about Twitter, who don't necessarily see it as good for the rest of us, nervous that anything sold that hard must not be as good as advertised. For people who still look at their email inbox with despair, Twitter may be one more channel of communication that they don't need.
It's exactly the mistake that people made, a decade or so ago, with knowledge management. At bottom, knowledge management was supposed to address a simple need: help me find content when I need it and find people who know something about that domain. An engineer in a car manufacturing company wants to find out if anyone has ever tried to design a steering column in a particular way. An analyst in an intelligence agency wants an easier way to organize and review an astounding amount of information that increases daily.
But then a small gang of knowledge management "experts" managed to turn these relatively simple requirements into a graduate seminar in philosophy. Take, for example, this tract from a knowledge management maven, who in a former life may have received writing lessons from Immanuel Kant:
We begin with data, which is just a meaningless point in space and time, without reference to either space or time. It is like an event out of context, a letter out of context, a word out of context. The key concept here being "out of context." And, since it is out of context, it is without a meaningful relation to anything else. When we encounter a piece of data, if it gets our attention at all, our first action is usually to attempt to find a way to attribute meaning to it...
Uhhh, OK. Can you point me to the person who can help us retain information, instead of losing it?
Social media has profoundly changed the world. We don't buy things the same way. We stay in contact with people who might have slipped away from us, and we make new contacts we might otherwise have not encountered. We talk back to companies with a much louder voice than we previously had. It took me four documents just to describe how social media has changed the requirements process, and in turn, the product management role. And that's just for starters.
But that's not an excuse for wishful thinking or blurring the lines between very different things. Twitter may have no effective competitor in micro-blogging, but it's not the same as micro-blogging. The new CEO of Twitter, Dick Costolo, may be a top-notch executive and a swell guy, but some of Twitter's challenges may require more than just a change of CEO to resolve.
It's also possible that Costolo is the wrong person for the CEO job. Perhaps tying tweets to advertising isn't the best way of turning Twitter into a profitable business. Maybe Costolo will spend too much time focused on Twitter's technical problems (outages, issues with the APIs, etc.), or too little. Maybe the COO who said that it's OK to operate without a business plan won't make the best CEO to impress a business plan on the company. There's no way of telling right now, which is why it's better to treat news like this as an exercise in "just the facts" business journalism than rosy speculation.