posted 26 Oct 2006 in Volume 10 Issue 2
Middle men are in for a hard time
By Euan Semple
People who pass on messages, ideas or even products are being disintermediated by the web. Whether it is print media, record companies, or retailers – for significant numbers of people they increasingly don’t add value. Thanks to forums, blogs, wikis and social networking websites we can get immediate access to views on everything from the ‘war on terror’ to which is the best camera to buy. And we can get this information from each other and not through the lens of any middle men.
We are also learning how to make the best use of this environment through RSS [really simple syndication] feeds, aggregators and value-add systems such as Digg, Del.icio.us and others. We are learning how to apply the ‘wisdom of crowds’, the principle that a large enough group of diverse and independent individuals can return better results than small groups or experts when you have a means of seeing their collective decisions.
We are learning how to rebuild trust. Or, in the words of JP Rangaswami:
“Trust used to be something that bound small groups together. Over time we tried to scale trust. It didn’t scale. And what happened instead was ‘big everything’. In an assembly-line meets broadcast world, ‘big everything’ broke trust. ‘Big media’ lied. ‘Big content producer’ reduced our choices. ‘Big pipe’ and ‘big device’ reduced it further. ‘Big firm’ wrongsized away. And big government did what it liked.”
We are learning to trust our own opinions. To state the obvious and realise that those voices in our heads asking, ‘who are you to say that?’ lingering from our childhood limit us and shackle our ability to change the world. We are learning to trust each other. To trust people on the other side of the world who we have never met but who we feel we ‘know’ in many instances better than people we have lived or worked with for years. And we are learning to trust our common views, to believe that we can create a shared understanding of the complex world around us and build new worlds on the basis of that shared understanding.
What if this starts happening in business? What if people start saying what they think and sharing what they really know inside the firewall? What if the centralised, managed messages generated by the corporate middle men start to ring hollow and we start to create our own shared understanding of what is happening in our businesses and why? What will happen when the MySpace generation starts working for you tomorrow?
Well, it already is.
Organisations such as the BBC, IBM, and investment bank Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein have embraced this fact, engaged with this new world and made it work for them rather than against them. The gains in innovation, effectiveness and shared understanding brought about by the internal use of forums, blogs and wikis are unlike anything business has seen before. It will eventually change the way we understand business and our respective roles in it – especially those of middle men!
Euan Semple is an independent consultant specialising in social computing technologies. He was formerly involved in the implementation of such systems at
the BBC, where his team was among the first to implement such KM tools as blogs and wikis. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and his blog can be read at http://theobvious.typepad.com/blog/
JP Rangaswami was quoted from Confused of Calcutta, http://confusedofcalcutta.com/