We marvel at the cluelessness of well-paid Internet “strategists,” the ingénues who interpret the Web for other ingénues. Like white middle-class youth, they are always the last to know. Or second-last, just ahead of their clients.
Reputed ballbusting megalomaniac Don Tapscott has made a breathtaking discovery: “Self-organizing communities.” They come as a revelation to executives whose entire knowledge of the Web dates back to 1997 and revolves around Microsoft MSN Hotmail, Microsoft Internet Explorer, and Microsoft Outlook. To this clientele, the only Internet is the corporate Internet. The only sites they know are those subject to extensive ad campaigns and regular coverage on CNN, which indeed is now the proprietor or competitor of nearly all such corporate sites.
It astounds these ignoramuses that “consumers,” the only audience they could imagine for any Web site, would dare defy the instructions of marketing and read what they want without being herded. What are these people, Australian?
The “self-organizing communities” Tapscott deigns to recognize all somehow do the kind of work a corporate executive could understand – evaluating mutual funds, producing new applications for a corporate Lego product. “This is more than a few dozen people gathered around a kitchen table, or another on-line chat room for stock traders.” And where, after all, is the percentage in those?
“Companies can’t afford to take self-organized communities for granted. In the United States, volunteers who have monitored message boards and provided other services to America Online Inc. have filed a class-action lawsuit against the company, arguing they deserve to be paid. Forbes ASAP estimates volunteers have saved AOL almost $1 billion (U.S.) in expenses since 1992.” Aren’t these merely “a few dozen people gathered around a kitchen table”? Is this example notable because a dollar figure is attached?
Our digital savant seems to forget that his corporate clients do nothing but persecute “self-organizing communities,” like Britney Spears fan sites, Volvo admiration homepages, Harry Potter fans, and of course music lovers (NUblogs passim). The priority for the corporate Web is absolute control; the model is dictatorial. “Self-organizing communities” are the opposite; the model is the kibbutz.
You know where we’re going with this. Before there was a Web there was Usenet, a forest of “self-organizing communities.” Before there was Usenet there were mailing lists. After Usenet came chat. Now there are Weblogs, and, admittedly, corporate-sponsored collaboration sites like Yahoo Clubs, the haven for every porn fetish there is. (Which clubs do we subscribe to?)
“Self-organizing communities,” as a many-to-many medium, stand shoulder-to-shoulder with E-mail, a one-to-one or one-to-many medium, as the essential substructure of Internet communication. They predate everything an ad manager at DoubleClick ever encountered online or ever dreamed of. It is corporate sites that are the anomalous arrivistes. They are the ones who have something to prove, like their reason for existence.
The kicker? Tapscott: “These self-organizing communities are growing while the Internet is in its infancy.” He really means “Web” and not “Internet,” of course, but, uh, newsflash, Digital Capitalist: “Self-organizing communities” are all growed up already. But thank you for finally noticing. Whether we want to turn a profit for your clients is our business.
Posted on 2001-03-31