Whocasting?

(Originally posted 2012-03-22.)

Don’t reach for your dictionary to look up the single word in the title: I just made it up. 🙂 But I hope it’ll make sense as a term once you’ve read this post.

Once in a while I like to post on Social Media. Looking back it seems to be about every 6-9 months. Some recent examples are:

In this post I want to talk about what I’ll call "communities". You might prefer the term "consituencies". So I’ll use them interchangeably. Take a look at the following graphic. It’s a pair of Venn diagrams. It’s a gross oversimplification but I hope it illustrates a point or two.

Let’s continue but from a different standpoint: Why is it that what I say only sometimes resonates with you? (I’m doing well if most of what I say hits home.) 🙂

This question and the Venn diagrams are related:

You’ll see I’m in all the purple sets and you’re in one of them. And conversely with the green ones: You’re in all of them and I’m in only one.

Each set represents a community. So you might be in my "school friends" constituency – and the converse is probably true. When I talk about z/OS and SMF that probably won’t resonate with you. And when you talk about skateboarding it probably won’t resonate very strongly with me – as I’m not a skateboarder. But each of these topics undoubtedly resonates with several people – because they are in the appropriate community. It’s a happy accident if both "z/OS and SMF" and "skateboarding" resonate with the same person.

Which brings me on to some interesting points about the diagram:

  • It doesn’t describe all our contacts – otherwise it would be impossibly crowded.
  • It doesn’t – as drawn – admit to the possibility of us being in multiple communities we’re both members of. But that’s just because I chose to keep it simple.
  • As I mentioned before, it’s possible for communities (topologists would perhaps call them "neighbourhoods"1) of 2 different people to unexpectedly interest a third person. That’s, of course, very common. When it happens it’s magic, I think.

So far so "ho hum": We all know this stuff. And it’s really laying the groundwork for what I really want to talk about: Who we communicate with and why. Hence the "whocasting" neologism.

It’s actually my friend Bill Seubert who prompted me (perhaps unwittingly) to write this post: He talks a lot about interactions between communities, often disjoint or worse. At least that’s my "take home" of some of what he says.

I think it’s a fairly common experience to have someone say "I didn’t understand a word of that last post". I think we all get feedback somewhat along those lines. (I also think we get quite a lot of "I liked the way you put that".) I’m sure it’s not just me and (perhaps defensively) I claim it’s not (always) 🙂 just a complaint about obscurity: I think it’s a fact of life when you have so many constituencies.

If I start thinking about all the constituencies I have it’s quite a long list. Some would be: Family, School Friends, College Friends (and a subset The Pi Collective), IBM Training Stream Friends, Mainframers, Social Media Fellow Conspirators :-), and so on. That’s pretty diverse. And, again, I’m sure that’s not just me.

I think sometimes it’s fun to figure out exactly for whom a message is created. Sometimes it’s only one person. Sometimes it’s a well defined group. Sometimes it’s an ill-defined group. And, my favourite, sometimes it’s just tossed into the void to see who bites / giggles / reacts / whatever. While it might be "narrowcasting" or "broadcasting" it often isn’t either of these. The "whocasting" relates to the game of figuring it out.

Let’s talk about constituencies / communities some more:

For a start you don’t see my communities as sharply as I do. And vice versa. (I’ll leave the debate as to whether a community really has sharp boundaries out of this post, for brevity2.) If that’s true then that might making the game of spotting which community someone else is communicating with a whole lot trickier.

What’s very interesting to me is the dynamics between communities:

  • Groups of communities can "triangulate" on you. If you were now in a community whose position were opposite to that of a community you grew up in that would be interesting, wouldn’t it? 🙂
  • If those two communities got to fighting with each other – and I’ve seen it happen to other people – that might be stressful and destructive. I’d sell ringside tickets to that one. 🙂 If one were conciliatory one might exclaim "couldn’t we all just get a bong?"3 🙂
  • If two communities came together through their common member(s) that’d be really good to see.

The fact that these inter-community effects are real and happen quite often reinforces my view that there’s nowhere to hide. All you can do is be yourself and speak with your "authentic voice". This is very much like a good party: There are lots of conversations going on and it’s really rather noisy. You can duck in and out of the conversations and generally nobody much minds if you invite yourself into a conversation. If there is a difference it might be in who can overhear the conversations: I’d say it’s easier to overhear in Social Media than in many parties. We’ve even got tools that help us do that.

So, as I said, there’s really nowhere to hide. But that’s, in my opinion, really very nice. Yes, there are a few awkward moments, but generally it’s good. I was at one point going to call this post "Not Afraid"4 but I think I’ve said that already. What might I be afraid of? I suppose criticism and looking like a fool. I think I can learn from the former and it’s perhaps too late for the latter: Living openly means looking like a fool is inevitable and learning is usually the result. Oh, and fear itself. 🙂

To sum up, it’s important in Social Media to consider your constituencies and keep track of which communities you’re in, centred on each contact. And to use this information to cultivate what flows from it. But when I say that, like so many things in Social Media, it’s very easy to over-track and analyse. Perhaps, in this post, I’ve done just that (but without the tracking). Oh well. 🙂


1 The allusion here is that in topology neighbourhoods are always neighbourhoods of an element. (I won’t stretch the analogy to consider the other parts of the definition of a neighbourhood as it’s perhaps not useful here.)

2 "For brevity" is about as credible as when a mathematician says "clearly". 🙂

3 An old joke which will make some people giggle, some get annoyed, and some just fail to understand it. Which rather makes my point, doesn’t it?

4 I realise a reference to Eminem will get up some noses. If it does I’d invite you to look beyond the (potential) offensiveness and see the deftness with which he operates and to consider that much of his bile is directed at himself. I also realise he isn’t cool and doesn’t make me look cool. 🙂 Anyway, the reference is to this song (lyrics here.) In particular I think it’s the line "Holla if you feel you’ve been down the same road" that resonates with this post.

Published by Martin Packer

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