‘Social’ Goes Hand In Hand With ‘Network’

    April 27, 2005

This morning, I was looking at some of the photos uploaded to Flickr by many of the 257 people who participated in Les Blogs.

Some great photos, and a pleasure to view them.

It isn’t so much the photos themselves that’s caught my attention, though. What did that is an amazing number – 1,200.

That’s how many photos there now are in Flickr that are tagged as ‘lesblogs’. (I just checked again before posting this entry: it’s now 1,228.) To me, that amazing number is a great way to illustrate what a phenomenal event Les Blogs has been as a live demonstration of the phrase ‘social network.’

In case you haven’t heard about Les Blogs, here’s a concise description. Les Blogs was a one-day conference about social networks, blogging, nanopublishing and where it’s all heading which took place at the French Senate in Paris on Monday. 257 people from 20 countries took part. The speaker lineup was really impressive (complete list on the event wiki).

Les Blogs was organized by Loic Le Meur and sponsored by Six Apart, VNU, Nokia, the French Senate, Canal Chat, PR Planet and 6nergies. The event attracted plenty of media attention, Loic says.

Those photos I mentioned should also attract plenty of attention. Some great photos there! But, I think it’s the amazing number and what it means that should be the real focus for attention.

Here you have a place on the net where any one of the 257 participants (300 or so, if you also count in the media) can place his or her personal visual expressions of a shared event in order to connect those visual expressions with those of other people who were at the event.

Add together all those individual expressions and interpretations of the event and you have broad, deep and highly personal interpretations that, collectively, represent a rich visual tapestry of a gathering of people.

Many of them have done precisely that. And any one else in the world with a net connection can also go to that place and see that tapestry. They, too, can then feel as if they are a part of that event. Indeed, if they leave comments to any of the images, that will create a further connection for them and for the owner of the image.

What all this means to me is that this is an extension of the event itself in the sense of how people are highly social creatures and want to connect with other people. What Les Blogs offered was a reason to do this and in ways that fit with how people readily use technology where it is an enabler of or catalyst for building more or stronger social relationships.

I don’t use the word ‘social’ to simply mean a dictionary definition, incidentally. To my mind, using a phrase such as ‘social network’ in the context in which I’m using it has a fuller meaning, embracing both the obvious social element of the definition as well as a business and professional angle.

Being social is just good for building business relationships.

During the event itself, everyone I saw certainly understood the value of that. People chatting to people everywhere you looked (and taking lots of photos). I did the same. I collected over 20 business cards.

This makes me wonder how soon someone will think up a far better notion for this ‘visiting card’ concept which has been around since at least Georgian times, and which today seems so distant from really connecting with people as the focus is purely on someone’s job title rather than any meaningful information about that person. Is that how people see themselves? Just described as a job title?

I don’t have a job title on my cards. Instead I have one of Hugh McLeod’s cartoons on the back that expresses a tongue-in-cheek view of the world as I see it. While that might be a bit too abstract for some people, it might tell them something about me that a job title never could. Plus it’s a great conversation starter.

Anyway, Les Blogs was a superb live demonstration of a real social network in action. But, I hear some of you cry, isn’t this the same as what happens at other events? People meet each other, they chat, exchange business cards, make connections. Surely the same thing?

Far from it, in my view. Other events – let’s call them ‘traditional’ events – are geared to the job title, status, hierarchies, etc. You exchange cards, then you might email that person or call them, pursue the traditional way of developing a connection.

Following Les Blogs, some of that will no doubt happen. But I bet you that many more collaborative, authentic and truthful relationships are built as a result of Les Blogs (see the Cluetrain for an idea of what I’m getting at).

It will be great to see how this has happened by the next Les Blogs. I bet Loic is already thinking about that. Or, at least, I bet lots of people are suggesting he organize another one. Say, September. Maybe in London this time.

That’s my suggestion, Loic!

Let’s get that Cluetrain out of the station!

Neville Hobson is the author of the popular NevilleHobson.com blog which focuses on business communication and technology.

Neville is currentlly the VP of New Marketing at Crayon. Visit Neville Hobson’s blog: NevilleHobson.com.