An open to letter to anyone who's interested in the internet, but isn't sure how to start the ball rollin' Read more...
The internet is huge these days. It's ginormous. It gets sorta tricky when I think about how much it allows us to do. Before, the internet was interesting, but not a necessary part of a person's day-to-day life. Life before google, wikipedia, expedia, craigslist, and facebook was different. Writing an email was enough to make us say "wow." But now, the internet is part of everyone's vocabulary and everyone's daily interactions. The bank, the newspaper, the bookstore, the grocer - all have ways to interact with me over this computer I bought and hooked up to the web.
Here's the dilemma: The internet-age has supposedly arrived, and yet we're still in its infancy. Everyone - people, companies and organizations are struggling to fit in when it comes doing things online.
How do I participate? How am I supposed to start?
Let's say you're a little restaurant on queen west. Or you might be an NGO or a community center, you might be a busker with an iPhone or an intern at an art gallery. You might just be yourself. You could be in a cubicle, behind a desk, under a roof, or in a park. You could be anyone, as long as you're willing to take a risk. All you need is an internet connection, a purpose, and a little bit of time.
Maybe you heard about twitter from a friend and signed up two months ago - but you don't understand why there's only 12 people following you, and why most of them are insurance companies. You've been on facebook for a year now, but you really didn't get the newest redesign. Maybe you started a blogger account awhile back that has one post entitled "This is a test."
You signed up, but you didn't really jump in. Now, on top of the new york times and paying my bills online and looking up that recipe for that chicken casserole, you realize you don't have time for all these accounts, for all these services and all these different passwords and logins. And wait a second, you're not quite sure what this whole internet thing is about in the first place.
Maybe it's just creepy.
What was supposed to be simple turned out to be really confusing. Twitter is full of @'s and the RT's and the fancy desktop gizmos are cool but how does anyone get any work done? Who cares what quizzes your ex-coworker took on facebook, and what about my privacy? Egad, the internet is a pain in the ass. Chances are you just decided to forget about all those accounts you set up. And now you're bitter and you have a sour internet taste in your mouth. Twitter is for egomaniacs, facebook is for shut-ins, blogs are for basement wackos and disillusioned hipsters.
That's tough for us technologists to hear, because we work very hard to make useful, fun software. But honestly, it happens all the time, and we're all in this together. It's ok though Mr. Busker, I don't blame you for being suspicious. No prob Mr. Chef - I'd rather you spent more time cooking too. In fact, Mrs. NGO manager, I empathize with you, and I want to let you know that the internet doesn't have to be a brick in the face. Regardless of your scarred relationship with the internet, as much as you hate twitter and the rest, you still know that social media is happening with or without you.
So how do you get into the net without hating it and its applications?
If you're a bigger company, maybe you hired a social media analyst who filled your boardroom with words like "synergy," "collaboration," and "market conversations." Maybe you wanted to punch them in the kidneys. We don't suggest hiring analysts unless you have a real need for real research. In other words, if you're a fortune 500 company, skip this blog post (it probably looks weird in your browser anyway)...
But if you're a small company like a hotel or a restaurant, or if you're a musician, baker, restauranteur or clothing maker, or even if you're just yourself - then I have an idea that you can use. Toronto is home to an awesome community of web programmers, designers, interactions designers, database analysts, and other people with funny-sounding professional titles that make up the world of the web. We're your neighbors, your fellow dog-walkers, your sister's brother-in-law, we're all over the place these days, all you have to do is keep an eye out.
But we, the technology community, use the internet in a disproportionate amount compared to the average person. Of course, I have no concrete data to back up my claim, but I'm almost postive that it's true. And so therefore, technologists control a disproportionate amount of online promotional capital. We do most of the talking online, we check our twitter feeds before most people are out of bed, and if we find something interesting, the first place we turn to share it is across our online networks.
We care about what we say online. We manage our relationships using twitter and we talk with people we've never met in person on a daily basis. We hear about news before it breaks on television, and we always find the funniest websites that I know you love. We, the tech community, have gone so far off the deep end applying the web to our lives that most of us must come across as… weird.
The best part is we're nice people. In general terms, we love talking to people who don't belong to Internet Anonymous, because it helps put our work into perspective. And we love the challenge of explaining something as complex and confounding as twitter to someone who's never seen it before. Our day job, after all, is taking very complicated sets of information and making them simple and understandable for everyone. But most of all, we believe in the web so much that it would be our pleasure to help you get acquainted.
Hug a Nerd
Here's my advice: Make friends with the local nerds that hang out in your restaurant, in your bakery or in the park by your busking spot. Say hello, engage them, and ask them to show you a bit about what they do for a living. If you're a company, find a way to support your local development shops by outsourcing locally, sponsoring community events, and heading out to a pub night. You'll be amazed at how much the community can give back. And remember, if you can get us talking about your ideas, you can be sure they'll reach around the world, fast. The big point here is that you don't need an analyst, you need a friend to nerd-out with.
Remember you can share your thoughts with me anytime you feel at ease.