Sunday, January 29, 2012

Clarifying Sheryl Sandberg on three trends

First a food for thoughts from Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook.  She recently spoke at Digital-LIfe-Design  Conference about three trends driving social media.  It's worth a watch:

Sheryl talks about three trends:

  1. From anonymity to real identity
  2. From wisdom of crowd to wisdom of friends
  3. From receivers to broadcasters
I agree with her overall theme.  Internet is changing everything, and every incumbents are feeling its disruptive force in the market.  Publishers and booksellers are disrupted by Amazon's zero-cost self publishing and digital bookstore.  Search engines are disrupted by Facebook where information flows through social graph instead of mass search.  Media are disrupted by YouTube where everyone can has a chance to reach millions of viewers around the world.  It's also true that three trends that she cited are in fact happening, or some might argue it already has happened.

But I think there are important points that she did not clarify in her talk.

Introduction of real identity does not mean everyone will use real identity at all times.  That is, anonymity and pseudonymity will remain because of digital nature of Internet.  Using real identity to do all internet activity does not make sense.  It's because using real identity all the time on the net means you are allowing all your activities to be tracked and monitored.

This is different from you using your real name when ordering your favorite coffee from your local Starbucks.  First of all, the Starbucks barista won't likely remember your first name.  Even if she did, she won't know whether you've just picked up Wall Street Journal on your way in and tweeted to your friend about the need to reduce caffeine to get a better night of sleep.  But online it's different.  If I were to do all these online with my real identity, that means someone, someone that I don't even know the name of, will have access to all these information and will be able to track and monitor all my move (in fact, that's what Google is dreaming of now with their new privacy statement).

Don't get me wrong.  Real identity is important, and it's a step forward from total anonymity.  But I don't see real identity replacing anonymity.  They will and must co-exist.

Shifting to wisdom of friends mean trust and relationship based information search and sharing.  The key here is trust and relationship.  It used to evaluate a website's trustworthiness by looking at their home page design, whether it's been updated recently, and whether it is easy to do things that I'm looking for.  In social networking age, it's now different.  We evaluate a website by number of Facebook fan base, sample of recent tweets made from official Twitter handle, and check out reviews from Yelp or Amazon if it's a product site.  Why?  Because when we are dealing with something that we don't know, we want to find a trustworthy information source.  And that happened to be the friend.  But it doesn't have to be.

For example, if you hired anyone, one thing that you all do (I learned this the hard way) is to check the references.  Because you don't know the candidate employee, you want to talk to other people who the candidate worked with earlier to find out about the person.  What's implicit here is that you'll get trustworthy information even if there are some bias from each individual reference.  If there is no trust, this will be a futile exercise.  What would be even better is to find a candidate that your friend can be a reference; hence the success of LinkedIn Recruiter.

In most cases, however, trust takes time to build, and it's built on top of social relationship.  Having a relationship and knowing someone means you know how much you can trust that person.  This is the key to the next generation search, and that's why Google jumped in with their both feet into social networking scene.

What did you think about Sheryl Sandberg's three trends talk?

1 comment:

  1. This is an interesting article to present to our web development company sydney. I do agree that internet changes everything. I just hope that positive change outweighs the negative ones.