What the White House rickroll (kind of) means

The book Cluetrain Manifesto is often regarded as an early vision (from 1999) of informal and authentic communication between human beings online. It contrasts that with the often insincere brochure-speak beloved of corporations and institutions.

Now, I’m sure this will be misinterpreted by humourless columnists and equally derided on forums for even being a bit passé. But I like it: on Tuesday the person given legitimate control of the White House Twitter account rickrolled somebody. That is, he did a little prank which you can read about in the news item. It’s a little glimpse of humanity at work.

Is it a sign that the Cluetrain lessons and practices have truly reached trusted staff, at least over in the USA?

I can’t imagine any public organisation or council doing something like this in Wales just yet, where often there are attempts by management to block social media platforms like Twitter.

It’s not that I”m asking for a big rickrolling craze to start in the public sector. That would be boring. And I’m not asking for a bunch of press coverage around some ‘cheeky’ branding campaign that’s been constructed in detail. This is for everyone, not just about whoever’s responsible for PR, publicity, branding and marketing, although it’s relevant for them.

The point I’m trying to make is: are people in your organisation allowed to use whatever tools they want or need to use, to enjoy their work and to communicate with people outside the building without having to adopt a false, guarded corporate tone? In other words can they converse online they way they’re inclined to talk anyway, like human beings? If they’re not, what is stopping them?

Cafe-shaped conversations – for the rest of us

Tom and I meet a lot of people asking:

“OK, so what’s this social web all about?”
“Is it all a bunch of hype?”
“What about software tool or gadget abc or xyz…?”
“I don’t need to know about it! Isn’t it just for nerds and tech whiz kids?”

This blog post for Pop!Tech by Chris Brogan is an instant classic. Mass communication through TV and the like is a fairly new idea in the history of humanity but we can’t let it constrain us in how we converse with people. He gives some potted examples from the nascent social web across business, charity… and the unseen world of virtual graffiti.

Here’s the key paragraph for me.

Business at the speed of the web is now a human game. I’m not Googling these relationships. I’m finding them online in social spaces. Facebook and LinkedIn and Twitter aren’t just marketing channels. They aren’t places to swap resumes. Instead, these new tools empower rapid connection, and allow people to feel heard.

I recommend reading the whole thing. His analogy with a French cafe holds well.

Additionally, I find it interesting how a lot of the technological innovation that supports these shifts is coming from USA, specifically California. (The history and culture of California and how it relates to these issues is a whole different blog post – which I’ll leave to someone else.) Although of course it’s not uniformly the case that USA is driving these shifts. Nevertheless this is insightful:

In America, everything is big, everything is repeatable, everything works on the “it looks like the one in my town, so I know how it will operate” perspective. We know how to order at any McDonalds. We understand how the Wall Street Journal will look from day to day, no matter where we pick it up or on what day. In other countries, small and personalized businesses are more obvious.

As much as I’m a fan of American culture in all its forms, having earlier had my lunch in a local independent cafe instead of a chain, I love this.

If you live in Wales like me, you will instinctively understand this and grasp hold of it.

Substitute UK, Europe or “outside the USA” into that last sentence if you want. Although I’ve lived in Wales a long time. It’s March and we’ve just recently had our national day, St. David’s Day. He was the one who popularised the slogan Gwnewch y pethau bychain mewn bywyd (Do the little things in life). That’s another hypothetical blog post, where in among the hard observations I might risk indulging in some blatant sentimentality!

The focus on “doing the little things” is not to say we don’t try to build our projects to make big successes. It just means that we’re tuned into to the subtleties, nuances, eccentricities and character traits that make up individuals. That is increasingly the future of how we will approach working as well.

The Inauguration of Barack Obama – Online Perspectives

Barack Obama’s inauguration as President of the USA takes place on Tuesday 20th January.

Techcrunch have a wideranging list of a plethora of online sites and applications related to the event. These cover where to watch it, where to respond to it, approval ratings and more.

My favourite is probably the Obameter which tracks the status of 500 promises made by Obama during the USA election campaign.

I’ve previously mentioned Obama’s use of social media to gather supporters and communicate. If you’d like to read about that, here’s a good start.

So online media can assist politicians in gathering supporters. Can online media assist the electorate in holding politicians to account – and thereby improve the democratic process as a whole? It’s a huge question, I know. We can but hope. Actually it’s not just about hope – people have to USE these tools.

I hope you find these links useful. Although Native is based in Cardiff, Wales, I’m very guilty in this blog of being US-centric in my link recommendations. Although I will continue to reference useful US-based pages where relevant, I’ll also make an effort to redress the balance from now on!

In the meantime, if you’re interested in online tools related to politics and democracy in the UK then check out the various projects of mySociety. Game-changing stuff.