Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Seeking Hypercycles

In our industry we have used the carrot and the stick quite evenly as tools for getting attention, − both internally and externally − and perhaps at times we have been guilty of over-hyping both threats and the opportunities in order to gain the respect of the habitually complacent.

These days our carrot and stick cellars are being liberally replenished by a subtle shift in the dominant metaphor of Web usage: figuratively speaking, over the past ten years websites have gone from being interactive documents to virtual spaces and now social entities.

I've been giving some thought to one would go about locating and mapping out the most catalytic relationship clusters within social media. Forklifting a term coined by the Nobel prize-winning Chemist Manfred Eigen, I'm going to call these the social media hypercycles. (Although they are probably not as straightforwardly cyclical as the subjects of Eigen's research, the positive feedback effect is similar.)

A word or two of caution though I'd actually be surprised if hypercycles can yet be said to represent the average higher-level properties of the social media as a whole. The blogosphere still isn't (and may never become) one big closed loop busy developing and amplifying meanings and messages all by itself, whose individual participants are all fit to be described with adjectives like disruptive or unfettered.

Indeed, a good many bloggers are themselves wet-around-the-ears, wannabe communicators, and often (involuntarily or not) fetter themselves to attitudes and behaviours that are surprisingly similar to those of traditional journalists.

As a result there is still a great deal of (rather unsophisticated) one-to many publishing going on in there. For example, in recent exercises carried out on behalf of clients, I have been surprised how many times the content of a given press release has been copied word for word by individual bloggers: and these are young, non-professional topic enthusiasts, not the jaded hacks said to hang around in the space where the MSM meets PR.

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