Exiting The Babble Phase?

(Originally posted 2011-03-23.)

… or "The Nightmare That Never Ends". 🙂

The concept of a babble phase comes from Child Development: When children are learning to talk they start by making sounds they think might get them somewhere. (Some might say that’s a phase they never leave.) 🙂 Such a developmental stage is called "the babble phase". (The term has been borrowed by Artificial Intelligence researchers – and I expect Watson went through that at some point.)

I’d like to think I was an earlier adopter – and I get frustrated when I realise I’m not. But I think it safe to say I was fairly early in adopting a number of Social Networking tools: One of the earlier bloggers on IBM’s internal BlogCentral, one of the earlier users of Twitter (and thanks to Ben Hardill – who responded to my challenge – an early adopter of BlueTwit, the internal analogue). And a fairly early adopter of LinkedIn and FourSquare. The jury’s still out on Quora but I’m there, albeit not that active.

The point about this post – in case you’re still reading – is the stance to take on personal adoption of technology. I’d like to think the sooner you adopt a technology the sooner you exit the babble phase. And then you’re onto the next one. 🙂 Early adoption actually means you make the mistakes before many people are around to notice (particularly the ones you’d seek to hide such mistakes from). 🙂 So, in the words of Bill and Ted’s "they do get better" applies here. 🙂  It also means you can exit early – if a technology doesn’t work out.

One other thing early adoption does for you is to give you a body of experience you can use to help others. If you’re like me (and it’s highly likely you aren’t) 🙂 what works for me might work for you. On the other hand, if you see me doing something that you think is not for you, that’s probably useful, too. I wouldn’t want to spend my life as a walking talking antipattern, though.

Seriously, my experiences as a customer-facing early adopter led me to participate in drafting and revising IBM’s Social Computing Guidelines. I’m one of the people who drafted the "customer" elements of it. And I’m one of the people who injected some thoughts on Geolocation into the current version. (It’s fairly obvious stuff, of which Heisenberg might’ve been proud: Don’t give away your location and the matter-in-hand in a way that would damage or embarrass a customer.)

Did you spot the "Watson" reference a few paragraphs back? It’s all wrong of course: It doesn’t contain a hyperlink, it isn’t the "party line" but it is my way of thinking about it: An "authentic voice" on the matter (but possibly not a useful one). 🙂

I’ve been caused to think over the past few weeks "why am I doing Social Networking?" Now, it’s not any kind of reticence or realisation I’ve been wasting my time. 🙂 Far from it. But I feel comfortable sharing with you my motivations:

  • "If it feels good do it" is probably the underlying motivation. It really does feel good communicating with people (or maybe at people). That’s why I do it, not through any sense of self-aggrandisement.
  • I think I have stuff to say. Now, I’m aware that with a single online identity (through whichever tool we’re talking about) I’m writing stuff that only a subset of my audience will latch onto. Hopefully each reader gets enough from me to make it worthwhile – and I know you’ll vote with your "feet" if that isn’t so. Fair enough.
  • I think I can help. You don’t get to spend this long on the planet, and this long trying to become a Subject Matter Expert (SME in the parlance (which reminds me of Red Dwarf for some reason) 🙂 ) without having knowledge you can share with others.
  • But I’m not trying to sell anything (other than the notion that some of the things I’m interested in are interesting).
  • People might remember me when they see me. This is the nearest thing to a commercial or selfish reason I can think of.

So, you won’t find my Social Networking presence optimised to garner millions of links or generate lots of sales. You also won’t find me pretending to be someone I’m not. (You may well find some of what I have to say stuff you disagree with.)

Which brings us back to Watson. While I will admit I’m impressed by Watson I really don’t have a detailed knowledge of its inner workings, nor do I think I need to. But it is a big advance in Artificial Intelligence and so is a reasonably topical thing to link to "babble phase" in a joke. And that’s my authentic voice speaking.

I think "authentic voice" is terribly important: It has to be real people speaking. I’d like you to read this post – if you already know me – and be able to say "yup, that’s Martin alright". I’d like you to be able to trust me and what I’m saying. (And I’d like to earn that trust.)

Now that authentic voice plays out in how I use the tools:

  • Twitter is my natural arena: I hope what I have to say is worth 140 characters or fewer. 🙂 It’s not a force fit at all.
  • I used to blog a lot. I went away from it for a while – thinking the effort of a long-form piece too much for the payload. But I’m now thinking that rather than lighten the wrapping I should beef up the payload. I do think I have stuff that’s worth much more than 140 characters. And I’d invite (perhaps rashly) you to suggest things I should write on. Just understand some things I won’t be able to write about and others will need a good deal of research.
  • FourSquare feels right, too. I’m very pleased to see a wide diversity of customers – in lots of arenas of varying intimacy and formality. (But note the bit above about protecting customers.)
  • My artistic skills are shockingly poor. Which is why you don’t see many pictures.
  • Podcasting feels like too much of an effort. But having heard some awfully-produced ones recently I think maybe I could do better than that. Maybe I will. (And I’m trying not to be suckered into big-budget effects, having just seen Stormtroopers In Stilettos). 🙂
  • Newsgroups are great too. (In fact I’ve been participating since the VM FORUMs in the mid-1980s.) They often cause me to research stuff and I learn a lot from them as well.

So I think each medium has a different role to play – and differently for each of us. (Both as a deliverer and as a victim consumer.) 🙂

What’s also interesting is the fact that each medium is linked: So Twitter feeds Facebook and LinkedIn, FourSquare feeds Twitter. And, of course, I tend to link to new blog entries from Twitter (including this one).

In summary, I’ve found there’s tremendous (personal) value in Social Networking. I’d urge people to take a "fast forward into the future" approach – as we’ll all benefit from more, authentic voices. (I nearly left it at "more authentic" 🙂 but inserted the comma instead. Well, it made me giggle a little.) 🙂

"Publish and be damned" can be taken in at least two ways as well. 🙂

And "fast forward" for the reasons I’ve articulated: Mentoring, exiting the babble phase ahead of the pack, etc. I also think it enables you to evaluate new tools that much quicker.

Of course, like many nightmares you can appear to wake up. But often you’re still in the dream, just somewhere else. So, to answer the question in the title: "no, not really, and I wouldn’t have it any other way". 🙂

One final thought: If, as William Gibson says, "The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed" then I’m extraordinarily lucky how much of it has come my way. If some comes your way, grasp it with both hands.

Published by Martin Packer

I'm a mainframe performance guy and have been for the past 35 years. But I play with lots of other technologies as well.

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