Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Social Web Reaches Critical Mass

The cultural shift online has reached critical mass, the revolution is here.

Here in Ann Arbor, our local newspaper's demise was the wake-up call. Yeah, some folks still think it has something to do with the economy, and God knows, a lot of what's going on in Michigan does.

But not this. The Ann Arbor News is a casualty of a broken business model.

And the first of many to come. Down the road about 45 miles, trade magazine publisher Crain Communications (where I worked for 10 years in the 1990s) is also laying off workers and closing books. And, for once, it's not the economy, stupid. Not really.

I'm also noticing critical mass on Facebook... within the last 3 weeks, I've reconnected with several old school friends and coworkers, all of us... ahem... of a certain age. And all of a sudden my Facebook account matters to me, and it's a place where I check in every day.

Although by no means a social media early adopter by the standards of most people reading this, I have been active on twitter for a year or so. Suddenly I am getting a steady stream of new followers, several a day. Which is remarkable, considering I'm not a power tweeter with follows in the thousands. I've always kept it to about 100 mutual follows, give or take. But in just the last couple weeks my follower count has more than doubled.

It's just because there are so many new users on twitter.

There's a great video that made the rounds, [We're Living in] Exponential Times. It's pretty amazing.

And consider that even geometric progressions can be staggeringly rapid: it feels as if we're at the point where 50 percent is poised to double... and then it's all over. It's happened. A done deal.

Clay Shirky's great blog post, Newspapers: Thinking the Unthinkable, compares the enormous cultural changes triggered by Gutenberg's invention to what's happening right now. Just as technology that allows anybody to publish changes things irrevocably, so does technology that allows everybody to publish.