Please may we have a social Social Network?
I have written before of Facebook’s fundamental problems – interoperability is coming way before this Calif. corporation is permitted to become the new
global comms everything. Before then, it will go the way of Yahoo and MySpace as barriers to entry keep collapsing. And what was once cool is already becoming infested with grandparents. In general, the more digital a company’s biz model, the faster it will age.
But this is a separate issue, and it would have been perfectly possible for a Facebook-like-entity to emerge run by people deeply imbued with the social idea. Hard to say this, as their guy demands enormous admiration and has mine, but in today’s corporate America MZ is a leader in anti-social as well as old-style board (or rather non-board) governance. In a world of growing alignment, this is 180 territory.
So the news that Facebook’s rather curious experiment with democracy has, through the democratic process itself, as it were, been abandoned, is a joke wrapped in a joke. And Facebook’s protestations to the contrary (see the great article below from Gigaom) just make it worse. There is an indefinite number of better ways in which Fb could have arranged its entry into the world of democratic societies. The approach they have taken lies somewhere between Napoleon and pre-Arab spring MENA.
Which raises a question that is much more interesting: when shall we see the emergence of corporate entities operating in the “social” space – a space that we know will define our relationships social, cultural, commercial, political, from now on – that both understand and choose to act in alignment with the social idea?
My sense is that while this may not be true of corporations delivering business in other sectors – some of which are slowly being attuned to the social idea – for social media enterprises there is no way around a governance structure that is aligned with social and therefore that cannot simply replicate the IPO-driven start-up culture or indeed any conventional model in which the users (who, of course, may or may not be the paying customers) are fundamentally distinguished from the owners of capital and their agents in management. That is, we need innovative approaches to corporate financing and governance that align with the social model.
At one level, this is hardly revolutionary. One of the most interesting features of C19th industrial revolution societies was the emergence of mutual models. In the UK the co-operative societies, still successful wholesale/retail businesses, and building societies, which demutualized into commercial banks during the past 30 years. In the US, credit unions remain. I’m not proposing these as templates. But one can readily understand why Facebook could tolerate the democratic principle only so far as the market would permit the BOD to hand responsibility to groups of users. Hence the ridiculously high voter turnout required, hundreds of millions of people to address technical issues of privacy, which has given the whole effort a pantomime character. And (sorry, but this is true) made democracy look like tomfoolery at a time when respect for democracy as culture and not simply narrow process lies at the core of the global crisis of government and legitimacy, from Russia to China to the Middle East.
So: I’m waiting for a social social network. It may be too much to hope for Twitter to take the lead, though what a superb example it could offer. Aside from social biz approaches to financing, or old-style mutualization (all active tweeters after two years get X shares . . .), perhaps the Gates Foundation will buy it out and establish a user-run governance model (and users include names like Dell, Murdoch, and Branson; the top business brains on the planet hold this network in affection and find serious value here).
Point is: We need social social networks. Facebook is pre-eminently not that. Which is one of several reasons why its future is not all that bright.
- Unsocial Networks (futureofbiz.org)