Folks keep asking me for my honest opinion on last evening’s MIT/Stanford Venture Lab panel and i keep avoiding this, but peer pressure works so well.
First, one must dissect the purpose of people’s attendance. In theory, the goal is to see a panel of experts talk about the business issues around the “social networking space” (even if some panelists want to pretend as though there is no “space”). I may not have an MBA or any entrepeneurial experience, but i’m not so naive as to think that there is any expert on the business end of this phenomenon. Everyone is riding on theories; there are no success stories to say how this is going to work, how this is going to make money. Since everyone’s bank rides on their theories, suddenly there are experts because when you lack data, you need to back your ideas with confidence so as to encourage others to do so as well, thereby increasing your likelihood of succeeding (business is a strange world to me).
Thus, we had a panel of five people who have a lot invested in making this work, and particularly in making this work for them.
Now.. let’s look at the audience. Why on earth would you pay $30 to hear a panel of people who have a lot invested banter about something that has yet to pan out? One of the audience members answered this reflection when she turned to the audience, asked how many grad students were in the room and whether or not they would pay $5 more to get a list of who was attending. The room was filled with people who also wanted to see and be seen. Of course, to be seen, you must also be heard, so most questions were also about being seen, not reflecting on what one was hearing.
[Of course, i’m a part of this absurdist drama as well since i went to watch and analyze and to show face given that i’ve been dreadfully busy. Plus, i wanted to get a sense of what was missing in preparation for the remake of this play on Sunday.]
Unfortunately, very little of the panel got into the content of the topic. Instead, it was a pure dance that would’ve made Goffman proud. The interaction ritual between panelists was full of snide remarks and ego cutting (or soothing); it was like watching a geek version of a wrestling match… (of course, i wonder whether it was more like the WWF than a set of professional wrestlers… performed or realistic spite?) I will say that Jonathan has become much better at responding to sarcastic cuts in kind and even better at dodging the opponents.
I should note that prior to the panel’s dance, Reid gave a 20 minute talk with interesting data for those who might know the space. In the talk, he had one nugget that got me thinking. He noted that Jonathan believed that people have one social network; Reid countered that they have multiple.
Perhaps those of you who know me know that their disagreement brings up one of my buzzwords in a flash: faceted. (Yes, yes, don’t roll your eyes.) People maintain a coherent social network. The multiple contexts in which we interact create facets in our social network that we know how to maintain quite meaningfully. We certainly reach out to different people for dates than we do for jobs, but that is not a segmentation of our network into convenient chunks. Instead, we manage what is appropriate when. We don’t want to maintain multiple networks; we want to maintain one network that we can facet as we see fit. This is a trick that no one in this “space” has figured out yet. This means that we don’t always want a public network, because we’re not always willing to collapse those facets. (More to come on this topic, i’m sure…)
Anyhow, as you can see, i quite enjoyed myself, but i always do enjoy good entertainment full of outrageous actors and an interactive audience.
Oh, and in case you want to actually know more about the content, Stewart Butterfield is far more concrete than i have been.
Other versions of commentary:
– Marc Canter (with shameful pictures of moi)
– Ross Mayfield
– CBS Marketplace