Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had a few people ask me why my blog is called Dark Matter Matters, and since I haven’t told that story in a while, I thought I’d share an excerpt from The Ad-Free Brand explaining it (and appending some more recent information). Here goes:
In late 2008, I was struggling mightily with the question of how you measure and quantify the value of brand-related activities. As someone whose father is an amateur astronomer, I’d long been intrigued by the concept of dark matter in the universe. If dark matter is new to you, Wikipedia describes it as “matter that neither emits nor scatters light or other electromagnetic radiation, and so cannot be directly detected via optical or radio astronomy.”
In other words, it is matter out there in the universe that is incredibly difficult to see, basically invisible, but that has a large gravitational effect. What’s particularly interesting about dark matter is that, apparently, there is a lot of it. Again according to Wikipedia:
“Dark matter accounts for 23% of the mass-energy density of the observable universe. In comparison, ordinary matter accounts for only 4.6% of the mass-energy density of the observable universe, with the remainder being attributable to dark energy. From these figures, dark matter constitutes 83% of the matter in the universe, whereas ordinary matter makes up only 17%.”
I find this fascinating.
And dark matter is still a theoretical concept. Again from the Wikipedia entry: “As important as dark matter is believed to be in the cosmos, direct evidence of its existence and a concrete understanding of its nature have remained elusive.”
But it was actually reading about all the problems with the Large Hadron Collider in 2008 (at the very same time I was having my own problems figuring out how to measure the value of brand-related work) that helped me make the connection between what I do for a living and this concept of dark matter.
The Large Hadron Collider is the world’s largest particle accelerator. It was built on the border of France and Switzerland and is about 17 miles wide. One of the things that particle physicists hope to prove with this enormous project is the existence of dark matter.
I’m no physicist, but as I understand it, the accelerator shoots protons at super-high speeds around the collider, and, if these scientists are lucky, the collisions eventually might produce a few particles that will exist for only a few milliseconds and then disappear again. And these particles might prove that dark matter isn’t just a theory.
Might being the key word. In fact, noted physicist Stephen Hawking bet $100 that they won’t find anything (a bet which he may soon win). The cost of building a collider to maybe prove the existence of dark matter? About $9 billion dollars. (And as of this post, written in September 2011, three years since its was first fired up, we are still looking for evidence.)
Another attempt to prove the existence of dark matter used the Hubble Space Telescope. This image below (which I also used for the header of the blog) was taken by Hubble and first shown by NASA in May, 2007.
In this picture, you are looking at many galaxies a really, really long way away. But you can also see fuzzy gray areas all over that look like clouds. When the astronomers first looked at this photo, they thought the fuzzy areas were a problem with the image. But after analyzing it for over a year, they realized that the fuzziness might actually be evidence of dark matter.
Their reasoning? The fuzziness is actually a gravitational distortion of the light rays from distant galaxies that are being bent by dark matter on their way to Earth. The effect you see is kind of like looking at the bottom of a pond that is being distorted by ripples on the surface.
So finally, scientists had discovered some real visual evidence of dark matter.
I believe the type of activities I talk about in the book and on this blog—those related to building brand, culture, and community—are the dark matter within organizations. Often brand, culture, and community are extremely difficult to measure well, and sometimes accurate measurement is simply impossible.
That’s not to say we don’t try anyway. I’ve seen and even tried many formulas, processes, and products that attempt to measure the value of brand, community, and culture-related efforts. Some of them can provide valuable information.
Others, not so much.
Yet here’s the kicker: brand, community, and culture are having a huge impact on your organization, whether you can effectively and cost-effectively measure that impact or not.
Just as dark matter is a strong gravitational force within the universe even though it is notoriously hard to see and measure, so are many of the things that will lead to the long-term success of ad-free brands.
So that’s how the blog got the name.
One last thing: I’ve been toying with the idea of changing the name at some point down the road, perhaps re-naming it The Ad-Free Brand and simplifying things. If you have any thoughts on that, or if you like the dark matter analogy and think I should keep it, I’d love your opinion. Feel free to comment below or send me an email at chris(at)newkind.com.
Polly LaBarre wrote a nice piece that was published on the Harvard Business Review blog today in which she highlighted the story that Philippe Beaudette, Eugene Eric Kim, and I wrote for the Management Innovation Exchange about the Wikimedia Foundation strategic planning project.
Basically, Eugene and Philippe organized and ran a strategic planning project that democratized what is usually a fairly aristocratic process, involving a community of 1000+ Wikimedia volunteers in helping craft strategy for the next five years.
Their story blew my mind when I first heard about it, and I hope it blows your mind too (but in a good way).
You can read Polly’s post here, then go check out the full story on the MIX.
I’m always looking for interesting new communities to highlight on opensource.com. Over the past year, I’ve covered everything from Wikipedia to OpenIDEO to The White House and am, frankly, overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of new community-building efforts going on out there.
Seems like every day I get an email or see something on Twitter or Facebook about a new community that sounds interesting and innovative. I’ve found some amazing people and visionary ideas. I hope to continue to highlight the best of these new communities here on the business channel.
But at the risk of sounding like a hater, I must admit I’m getting a touch of new-community fatigue.
I think I went over the edge a few weeks back when ex-advertising industry celebrity Alex Bogusky (yes, the same guy who did all of those weird chicken ads for Burger King and famously tried to make Microsoft cool) announced his new “Collaborative Community/Brand For Social Entrepreneurs.” He calls it Common. No offense to Alex, but when the advertising agency folks are hopping on the community brand bus, you have to wonder whether the seats are starting to get a tad bit full…
I also wonder if there is a bit too much Tom Sawyer-fence-painting going on in some of these new communities. In case it’s been a while since you read Tom Sawyer, here’s how Wikipedia summarizes the story of Tom Sawyer and the fence:
Over the past few weeks, the world has been consuming the newest set of revelations via WikiLeaks. The uproar caused by the release of the first set of diplomatic cables from a batch of 251,000 in WikiLeaks’ possession is enough to take your breath away.
A disclaimer: in this post it is not my intention to analyze the positive or negative consequences of the actions of the WikiLeaks organization—there is plenty of that coverage, just check your favorite news reader every five minutes or so to see the latest.
Instead, I want to explore the impact that the WikiLeaks brand name is having/will have on brands closely identifying with the word “wiki”, and analyze whether WikiLeaks will impact the acceptance of collaboration and transparency initiatives within corporations.
My feeling? These are potentially dangerous days for wikis, collaboration, and transparency in the corporate world.
What makes this case particularly interesting is that, according to Wikipedia (of course), as of this month the WikiLeaks website isn’t even based on a wiki anymore.
[Read more of this post on opensource.com]
On occasion I get the opportunity to speak publicly about some of the things I’ve learned over the years applying the open source way in organizations.
In almost every case, when the Q&A session arrives, I’m greeted with at least one question from a poor soul who loves the idea of applying the open source way to management and culture, but doesn’t think it would ever work in his/her specific organization. Usually the comment is accompanied by some horror story about an evil co-worker, hierarchical boss, crappy HR policy, or some other impediment that would cause the open source way to fail.
And the sad truth? These folks are probably right. Many of these concepts wouldn’t work in their organizations.
So why do I waste my time talking about things that may not work in many organizations? Two reasons:
2) the wind
Let me be honest. I’ve never run into a perfect model of the open source way in practice (if you have, please point it out to me!).
There are clearly some organizations that have figured out how to build open source principles into their DNA better than others. Wikipedia is a good example. The Fedora Project is another. Still, my guess is the people who are deeply involved in those projects on a daily basis would probably be able to show you some warts, places where old-skool practices are still evident.
We’ve set our company New Kind up as a corporate lab for the open source way. But we can’t make a case for perfection here either. We are still learning and prototyping.
So why not be more realistic? Why not give up and accept that some of these principles work better in theory than they do in practice?
Simple: I have hope.
What gives me hope? Two things. First, I have seen first-hand many examples of great things that happen when open source principles are applied within organizations. From the collaboratively-designed mission of Red Hat to the work of Fedora marketing team, I’ve personally witnessed the power of open source principles in action.
Second, I believe in the pursuit of perfection. Why not aspire to create better companies than we have today? What do we have to lose? I don’t know that we will ever see a perfect open source company. But by pursuing perfection, we are likely to get a heck of a lot closer than where we are today.
[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]
In my day job at New Kind, I spend quite a bit of my time working on brand-related assignments, particularly for organizations interested in community-based approaches to building their brands.
When marrying the art of community building to the art of brand building, it’s hard not to talk about building “brand communities.” It’s a convenient term, and brand experts love to trot out examples like Harley Davidson and Apple as examples of thriving communities built around brands.
The term “brand community” even has its own Wikipedia page (definition: “a community formed on the basis of attachment to a product or marque”). Harvard Business Review writes about brand communities. Guy Kawasaki writes about brand communities.
Yet almost every article I’ve read about building “brand communities” shares a common trait:
They are all written by brand people for brand people.
The result? Articles focusing on what’s in it for the brands (and the companies behind them), not what’s in it for the communities. Learn how to build a brand community so your company will succeed, not so a community will succeed.
Typical corporate thinking.
What if we turned things on their heads for a second and changed the words around? What if, instead of “brand community,” the phrase du jour was “community brand?”
[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]
I’ve always been a fan of the Mozilla Foundation, and not just because of the Firefox web browser. As catalyst for some of the great communities in the open source world, Mozilla is something of a recipe factory for what to do right when it comes to building community. As it turns out, Mozilla’s Director of Developer Relations, Chris Blizzard, is a long time friend of mine.
In fact, this is not the first time I’ve interviewed him– my first Blizzard interview experience was back in 2002 when Mozilla 1.0 came out and he and I both worked for Red Hat.
I spent some time with Chris to discuss his experiences and learn more about community-building the Mozilla way.
1. When I first met you ten years ago, you were a Red Hat employee with a day job keeping the redhat.com website up and running, and, even then, you were hacking on Mozilla for fun in your spare time. Now you run developer relations for Mozilla, and you’ve had some other amazing experiences, including working on the One Laptop Per Child project, along the way.
It strikes me that you are a great case study of someone who has achieved success in the meritocracy of open source by doing good work. Knowing what you know now, if you were starting from ground zero as a community contributor, how would you get started?
That’s kind of a tough question because I don’t have that perspective anymore. I know too much about how these communities operate to be able to answer that with the fresh face of someone new to a project. But, honestly, I think that that if I were to guess I would say find something that you’re passionate about and just start working on it. My own case is instructive.
[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]
Last week, my friend Greg DeKoenigsberg posted an article about Jaron Lanier’s negative comments regarding open textbooks. At almost very same time, I happened to stumble upon an article Jaron wrote back in 2006 criticizing Wikipedia.
The common theme is Jaron taking issue with what he calls “online collectivism,” “the hive mind,” and even “digital Maoism” (ouch!). You might call this same concept “crowdsourcing” or “the wisdom of crowds.” It’s all in the eye of the beholder, but the guy clearly does not have much love for wikis or the works of collective wisdom they create.
So I had to ask myself: Why so negative, Jaron?
Is Jaron really a hater of free culture, as Greg claims in his article? Is he an enemy of the open source way? Or is he just a smart dude warning us about the risks of taking the wisdom-of-crowds concept too far?
Fortunately for us, Jaron published a book earlier this year entitled You Are Not A Gadget. So I took a few hours and read it last week to see if I could answer some of these questions.
At times, the book is scary smart, with precise analysis from a man who clearly questions everything, and is in a better intellectual position to do so than most (the section on social media and its redefinition of friendship is especially interesting).
At other times it read like a college philosophy term paper. And occassionally, especially toward then end, it devolved into nearly unintelligeble (at least by me) ravings about things like “postsymbolic communication” and “bachelardian neoteny” (Michael Agger’s review in Slate calls him out for this too).
But wait! Right near the beginning of the book, I found this paragraph:
“Emphasizing the crowd means deemphasizing individual humans in the design of society, and when you ask people not to be people, they revert to bad, moblike behaviors.”
Hey… I kinda agree with that…
[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]
Earlier this week I wrote a post about some of the cultural challenges Wikipedia is facing as its contribution rate has slowed. The comments you made were fantastic, including one by Dr. Ed H Chi (the PARC scientist who published the study I referred to in the post) linking to a prototype dashboard his team created to showcase who is editing each Wikipedia page (totally fascinating—you have to go try it!)
Another interesting comment was made by my good friend Paul Salazar, who pointed us to this page where the Wikimedia Foundation (the parent organization that runs Wikipedia, among other projects) is showcasing their exhaustive, happening-as-we-speak strategic planning process in all of its transparent, open glory.
From the main page, you can read the entire strategy memo that was presented to the Wikimedia Foundation board just last month. The memo itself is stunningly smart. Google must have thought so too, because they made a $2 million donation to the Wikimedia Foundation, announced a few weeks ago.
But it doesn’t stop at high-level strategy for the eyes of muckety-mucks. From this page you can find proposals (hundreds were submitted, and just like on Wikipedia, anyone could contribute), background research, and task forces that have come together to discuss some of the major strategic challenges outlined in the initial strategic plan.
[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]
Last fall, a group of researchers at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) released a study showing an abrupt leveling off in the number of editors and edits to Wikipedia, starting in about 2007.
There is a great summation of the findings in a set of posts by Dr. Ed H Chi, Lead Scientist at the PARC Augmented Social Cognition group here, here, here, and here.
I’ve been thinking a lot over the past few months about what might be causing the slowing rate of contributions, as have many others. I particularly liked Niel Robertson’s post last week on the Enterprise Irregulars site.
Niel’s thesis is that Wikipedia has failed to continue to develop innovative ways to motivate its community, falling behind as other communities and companies have implemented more creative new techniques. Niel goes on to identify seven types of motivation for crowdsourcing (yes, I still dislike that word) efforts, of which he says Wikipedia is only using a couple.
I think he is on to something. But Wikipedia is operating at a scale that dwarfs almost every other crowdsourcing effort in history. It takes a massive bureaucracy of editors and administrators to keep the whole thing going.
And if traditional bureaucracies (like those in governments and large companies) tend to stifle innovation, what happens in a bureaucracy where the bureaucrats aren’t getting paid and aren’t getting any recognition for their efforts?
From my point of view, this is Wikipedia’s next great challenge:
How does it convince the world to love and recognize its contributors?
[Read the rest of this article on opensource.com]