Consensus in a 24/7 global glasshouse 1 of 4

1 of 4: Introduction

This article is actually a (relatively short) essay on consensus.

As I wrote before, and with other articles, what matters is inspiring further ideas.

And, considering the subject- some issues are shared, but most have to related to the unique blend of your context, cultural background (i.e. for both you and your audience), motivation, and available means- without forgetting long-term consistency with your own “brand”- personal or organizational.

Yes, because also if you are an iconoclast, you raise expectations from your audience- and in a 24/7 global glass house, you cannot expect people to read everything you write: therefore, write what you mean the first time.

Anyway, despite its relative short length (if compared with some of my 20-pages articles), this article is divided in four easily digestible sections- introduction, reporting, model, ideas.

The purpose of this blog is sharing experience and ideas- therefore, you should not expect the usual essay/report structure to be respected.

Nonetheless, you have to pay homage to true-and-tried approaches- if nothing, to ensure that a familiar pattern would guide through the subject.

This first introductory section is a mini-essay in itself: so that I can let you think if you, the reader, see it worthwhile to read the next three sections- or, even, pick up your keyboard, and drop a line.

We all have read over the last couple of decades about the forthcoming “knowledge economy”- but most of the commentary focuses on “doing something new”, as innovation in human affairs was but a parallel thread to our technological innovation.

It is almost compulsive: as if our society were to follow the Moore’s law

No, we do not double our neurons every two years- and we are still following social rules that would be familiar to our grand-grand-grand-parents.

Consensus building in online social networks is actually re-inventing the pre-technological past, instead of just evolving our mass-media into cyberspace: back to the future..

Yes, my thesis is that we have to look to the past to get into the future- with a twist: consensus in the past involved a face-to-face element, and the associated arts.

If you want: you were winning each member of the audience directly- and then, through word-of-mouth.

In the end, research of consensus through mass-media did not remove the word-of-mouth element, but the repetition through mass-media was a key tool in reinforcing the message- and its credibility.

Consensus online is increasingly recovering really old “press the flesh” methods- albeit, in our consumerist “innovation obsessed” world, often this is presented as something really new- with new words invented to give a technological, trendy face to what was already a common practice in Ancient Greece or Ancient Rome.

New words? Just a small sample: groundswelling, buyology, wikinomics…

Yes, the speed and ease of access require something more: adding to rhetorical skills some knowledge of epidemiology and, why not, replacing Machiavelli with Sun Tzu.

But I think that there are way too many books and articles (with the associated gurus) trying to “explain” what happened with a fancy new theory- sometimes, with a really limited relationship between reality and the supposedly explanatory framework.

Now it would be the time to present my own definition of consensus building in online social networks.

Instead, following what some of my online (and, in the past, offline) customers and friends called “my social experiments”, I designed an experiment.

And I will explain in the third section how rhetoric, epidemiology, Sun Tzu are getting into the picture.

I believe that any theory should derive from the observation of facts as they are- not just a convenient selective access to facts ex-post.

Therefore, over the last few years I did observe how knowledge derived from pre-Internet consensus building evolved, few minimal tests, and, for the sake of this article, designed a small experiment, released online to observe its evolution.

This first section of the article, beside presenting the thesis, documents the experiment; the results and preliminary discussion: in the next section.

The experiment

It was actually composed of two parts: an online publication, while monitoring the way the (relatively captive) audience interacted.

Channels? An extensive status update on, a short blog post on, and the usual 140 characters on; I did not use other channels where I have my profile- to compare the feed-back.

As I posted in my original “call for input” on 2010-12-11 (on Facebook and Draugiem):

I am writing an essay on consensus building in online social networks- any ideas to contribute- I will add a link to the FB profile of those whose remarks (also if I disagree with them) I will include :).

and, on Twitter.Com

writing an essay on consensus building in online social networks- ideas? I will add the link to your FB 🙂

Online, such a call can be used as an ongoing collection of “expressions of interest”- the typical use as a “signpost”, to represent a specific position (or to “spam” about your product or service).

Or something that you open up, keep online for a relatively significant amount of time, and then remove (akin to fishing with a net).

Yes, idea fishing- in this case, I chose the latter course: to avoid the “bandwagon effect”, i.e. people that, instead of contributing what comes first to their mind, try to outsmart what has already been posted online.

I will get back on this point while discussing, in a later section, the management of online consensus building.

Now, how many answers would you expect that are needed to cover most of the typical elements?

If you guessed in the thousands, or a smaller one based on Jung (see here for a summary article on various taxonomies to classify people and their personality)- with less than five answers I had enough material.

What matters is not the volume- but the form, content, timing, source: as the purpose was to collect samples of behavior that would actually represent ideas.

And approaches on how to express and support consensus online.

As for the timing- beside closing it down, I did something that is often forgotten by aspiring online consensus builders- removing, at least on my source, the information.

While, of course, using the closing to relaunch the next step, through a further post (in Facebook, as a note; in Draugiem, as a comment to the original post- customizing by channel).

In this case, adding also a small “short-circuit” on Twitter, linking explicitly to the further post:

consensus 🙂 (DM if you have ideas about the subject) #online #communication

Before reading the next section, presenting the feed-back and introducing more generic principles, I have few questions for you:

  1. think about consensus building as if Internet did not exist: how does it work?
  2. now, add Internet within the picture: what do you think that will need to change?
  3. how would you interact with dissent on a 24/7 global glasshouse?
  4. last but not least: what will represent success in consensus building?

Suggestion: have a look to few newspapers online after your first answers… and think again!


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