Tag Archives: tech gurus

I Am Not a Guru

“Nor do I play one online!”

The “I am not a ” phrase is often used as a disclaimer when one is giving advice. Especially in online contexts having to do with law, in which case the IANAL acronym can be used, and understood.
I’m not writing this to give advice. (Even though I could!) I’ve simply been thinking about social media a fair deal, recently, and thought I’d share a few thoughts.

I’ve been on the record as saying that I have a hard time selling my expertise. It’s not through lack of self-confidence (though I did have problems with this in the past), nor is it that my expertise is difficult to sell. It’s simply a matter of seeing myself as a friendly humanist, not as a brand to sell. To a certain extent, this post is an extension of the same line of thinking.

I’m also going back to my post about “the ‘social’ in ‘social media/marketing/web'” as I tend to position myself as an ethnographer and social scientist (I teach anthropology, sociology, and folkloristics). Simply put, I do participant-observation in social media spheres. Haven’t done formal research on the subject, nor have I taught in that field. But I did gain some insight in terms if what social media entails.

Again, I’m no guru. I’m just a social geek.

The direct prompt for this blogpost is a friend’s message in which he asked me for advice on the use of social media to market his creative work. Not that he framed his question in precisely those terms but the basic idea was there.

As he’s a friend, I answered him candidly, not trying to sell my social media expertise to him. But, after sending that message, I got to think about the fact that I’m not selling my social media expertise to anyone.

One reason is that I’m no salesman. Not only do I perceive myself as “too frank to be a salesman” (more on the assumptions later), but I simply do not have the skills to sell anything. Some people are so good at sales pitches that they could create needs where they is none (the joke about refrigerators and “Eskimos” is too much of an ethnic slur to be appropriate). I’ve been on the record saying that “I couldn’t sell bread for a penny” (to a rich yet starving person).

None of this means that I haven’t had any influence on any purchasing pattern. In fact, that long thread in which I confessed my lack of salesman skills was the impulse (direct or indirect) behind the purchase of a significant number of stovetop coffee devices and this “influence” has been addressed explicitly. It’s just that my influence tends to be more subtle, more “diffuse.” Influence based on participation in diverse groups. It’s one reason I keep talking about the “social butterfly effect.”

Coming back to social media and social marketing.

First, some working definitions. By “social media” I usually mean blogs, podcasts, social networking systems, and microblogs. My usage also involves any participatory use of the Internet and any alternative to “mainstream media” (MSM) which makes use of online contacts between human beings. “Social marketing” is, to me, the use of social media to market and sell a variety of things online, including “people as brands.” This notion connects directly to a specific meaning of “social capital” which, come to think of it, probably has more to do with Putnam than Bourdieu (PDF version of an atricle about both versions).

Other people, I admit, probably have much better ways to define those concepts. But those definitions are appropriate in the present context. I mostly wanted to talk about gurus.

Social Guru

I notice guru-like behaviour in the social media/marketing sphere.

I’m not targetting individuals, though the behaviour is adopted by specific people. Not every one is acting as a “social media guru” or “social marketing guru.” The guru-like behaviour is in fact quite specific and not as common as some would think.

Neither am I saying that guru-like behaviour is inappropriate. I’m not blaming anyone for acting like a guru. I’m mostly distancing myself from that behaviour. Trying to show that it’s one model for behaviour in the social media/marketing sphere.

It should go without saying: I’m not using the term “guru” in a literal sense it might have in South Asia. That kind of guru I might not distance myself from as quickly. Especially if we think about “teachers as personal trainers.” But I’m using “guru” in reference to an Anglo-American phenomenon having to do with expertise and prestige.

Guru-like behaviour, as noticed in the social media/marketing sphere, has to do with “portraying oneself as an expert holding a secret key which can open the doors to instant success.” Self-assurance is involved, of course. But there’s also a degree of mystification. And though this isn’t a rant against people who adopt this kind of behaviour, I must admit that I have negative reactions to any kind of mystification.

There’s a difference between mystery and mystification. Something that is mysterious is difficult to explain “by its very nature.” Mystification involves withholding information to prevent knowledge. As an academic, I have been trained to fight obscurantism of any kind. Mystification seems counterproductive. “Information Wants to be Free.”

This is not to say that I dislike ambiguity, double-entendres, or even secrets. In fact, I’m often using ambiguity in playful manner and, working with a freemasonry-like secret association, I do understand the value of the most restrictive knowledge management practises. But I find limited value in restricting information when knowledge can be beneficial to everyone. As in Eco’s The Name of the Rose, subversive ideas find their way out of attempts to hide them.

Another aspect of guru-like behaviour which tends to bother me is that I can’t help but find it empty. As some would say, “there needs to be a ‘there’ there.” With social media/marketing, the behaviour I’m alluding to seems to imply that there is, in fact, some “secret key to open all doors.” Yet, as I scratch beneath the surface, I find something hollow. (The image I have in mind is that of a chocolate Easter egg. But any kind of trompe-l’œil would work.)

Obviously, I’m not saying that there’s “nothing to” social media/marketing. Those who dismiss social media and/or social marketing sound to me like curmudgeons or naysayers. “There’s nothing new, here. It’s just the same thing as what it always was. Buy my book to read all about what nonsense this all is.” (A bit self-serving, don’t you think?)

And I’m not saying that I know what there is in social media and marketing which is worth using. That would not only be quite presumptuous but it would also represent social media and marketing in a more simplified manner than I feel it deserves.

I’m just saying that caution should be used with people who claim they know everything there is to know about social media and social marketing. In other words, “be careful when someone promises to make you succeed through the Internet.” Sounds obvious, but some people still fall prey to grandiose claims.

Having said this, I’ll keep on posting some of thoughts about social media and social marketing. I might be way off, so “don’t quote me on this.” (You can actually quote me but don’t give my ideas too much credit.)


Crazy Predictions: Amazon Kindle

 

Yeah, I tend to get overly enthusiastic about new devices. And so does a large part of the “tech press.” But, once in a while, a device comes which pretty much everyone predicts will fail. So, recently, I’ve been thinking about playing devil’s advocate with those predictions. Basically, stating that some device which seems to be doomed from the start (”a dud,” “another DOA product”) will in fact succeed. Kind of a creative exercise.Case in point, Amazon’s just released Kindle eBook reader:Amazon.com: Kindle: Amazon’s New Wireless Reading Device: Kindle StoreThe consensus opinion seems to be that it’s “too little, too late” or that the product doesn’t meet its set goals. In other words, a big “hype factor” (hyperbolic language surrounding its release) for something which isn’t that revolutionary.  Tech enthusiasts aren’t impressed. But they do get to think, yet again, about books from a technological standpoint.I happen to think that the Kindle will likely fail. But if it does eventually succeed, what will I need to rethink?

  1. Screen readability trumps everything else.
    • I tend to read a lot of things (including student assignments) on computer screens. But many people keep saying that they can’t read from a computer screen for a very long period of time. If E Ink is in fact so much more readable than a computer screen that it makes a real difference, maybe the Kindle is one of those things you adopt once you try them.
  2. The hardcover’s form factor can work.
    • Looks like the Kindle is too big to fit in a pocket. “Conventional wisdom” (and experience with Newton MessagePad devices) says that handheld devices should fit in pockets. So, if the Kindle works, it means that the form factor isn’t an issue. And, in this case, there’d be some logic to it. Compared to a hardcover book, the Kindle is relatively small. And it’s incredibly small when compared to the number of books it could replace. I tend not to like hardcovers because of their form factor but having a single hardcover to replace any number of books and magazines could make me change my mind.
  3. There’s room for single-function devices.
    • What is already discussed with the Kindle is that multipurpose devices (say, Apple’s iPhone) can serve the “book-reading function” to a certain extent. If it is the case, then people are unlikely to spend as much on a device which only does one thing than on a device which can do a number of things. Yet, “book-reading” is among the trickiest things computer-based technology can do and a case is often made for a device which “does one thing and does it well.”
  4. Free wireless access is a “killer app” and Sprint’s EVDO (used by Kindle) could do. For now.
    • I tend to think a lot about free wireless connectivity, these days. In my mind, the stage seems to be set for the true “wireless revolution.” So I imagine convenient devices which do all sorts of neat things thanks to ubiquitous wireless access, either from cellphone networks or from computer networks. In fact, I keep imagining some kind of “cross-technology mesh network device” which could get connectivity through WiFi/WiMax and/or cellphone 3G, and redistribute it to other devices. Partly the model used for the OLPC’s XO, but brought to an even broader concept. Speeds are sufficient at this point for simple use and there could be ways to alleviate some bandwidth problems.
  5. People are willing to pay for restricted content.
    • I’m a proponent of Open Access and I really think openness is the direction where most Internet-manageable content is headed. But it’s quite possible that people are passionate about some compelling content that they will be willing to pay for access to it regardless of what else is available. In other words, if people really want to read some specific books, they are going to pay for the privilege to read it when they want. That’s probably why some public libraries have fees on best-sellers. I still don’t understand why people would need to pay to access blog content, but maybe paying for blog content will make blogs more “important.”
  6. Not needing a computer is a cool feature.
    • Some people simply don’t have computers, others only have access to public computers, yet others would prefer to leave computer use as a part of their work life. It’s quite likely that, as a standalone device, the Kindle could win the hearts of many people who would otherwise not buy any portable device. In fact, I kind of wish that other handheld devices were less reliant on computers. For instance, even MP3 players with wireless capabilities usually need to be connected to computers on occasion (though Microsoft’s new Zune firmware does eliminate the need for a computer to synchronise podcasts). The difference can be huge in terms of “peace of mind.” Forgot to add new content to your device? Easy, you can fetch it from anywhere.
  7. Battery life matters.
    • At this point, most handheld devices have pretty decent battery life in that you only have to recharge the batteries once a day. But, if the Kindle really does get 30 hours of battery life, it could have an excellent “peace of mind” factor. Forgot to plug in your device, last night? That’s ok, you still have a long time to go before the battery is drained. When you’re travelling for a few days, this could be really useful as it’s often annoying to have to recharge your devices on a regular basis. There’s also something to be said about non-volatile memory (that’s one reason I miss my Newton MessagePad).
  8. Design style needs not be flashy.
    • The Kindle looks rather “clunky” from pictures but it seems that part of this might be on purpose. The device isn’t meant as a fashion statement. It’s supposed to be as “classy” as a book. Not sure the actual device really looks “classy” in anybody’s view but there’s something to be said about devices which “look serious.”
  9. People don’t need colour after all.
    • Grayscale displays have been replaced by colour displays in most handheld devices, including MP3 players and PDAs. But maybe colour isn’t that important for most people.
  10. Jeff Bezos is a neat fellow
    • Maybe the current incarnation of the Kindle is just a way to test the waters and Bezos has a broader strategy to take not only the book world but also all the “online content” world with the Kindle. So, maybe the next Kindle will do audio and/or video. And maybe, just maybe, it could become a full-fledged “Internet appliance.”

So… Just for fun, I’m predicting that the Kindle will be a huge success.