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Technology | Global Arab Network
More than just social networking
Global Arab Network - - Maha Karim
Whether you "tag", "poke" or "tweet", or prefer a more "delicious" "digging" or "flickering" online experience, you are engaging in something more than just social networking. You are part of an e-revolution that is changing many of our core beliefs, assumptions and behaviors.

The first comprehensive book written for a wide audience on the Web 2.0 revolution, "Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom" highlights how Web 2.0 is fundamentally changing the way we live and work. ictQATAR had this exclusive interview with INSEAD professor & the author of the book, Dr. Soumitra Dutta, who was also the first speaker for ictQATAR's Connected Speaker Series.

How did you get the idea for the book, and why did you choose that title?
As we all know, technology today is having a big impact on the world around us, and certainly social media is one of the bog movements in technology. So, what we [Soumitra and co-author Matthew Fraser] decided to study was how social media interacts and impacts organizations. We wanted to pick images from these two different worlds.

"Throwing sheep" is a Facebook application. You can throw sheep at someone, as a playful gesture, to capture his attention. And we took the boardroom as an image for the classical, vertical organization. So, we brought the two things together, and throwing sheep in the boardroom is our playful gesture at organizations to tell them 'look, something is happening out here. Take attention, take note on what's happening, and use it effectively for your own corporate purposes.

Who should read this book?

This book is written for a wide range of audience, it applies for business executives and also for educated citizens - both young and old. One of the book's basic premises is that change is applicable to everyone around us.

Status, power and identity are the backbone of the book. How did you choose these three topics, and how do social networks relate to them?
Identity, status and power are very fundamental elements of how we as individuals represent ourselves to the world around us, how we interact with each other and how we choose to influence others. Identity is how we represent ourselves, while status is how we seek recognition from the world around us or social capital, and power is how you exercise influence and how you get others to do what you want them to do. These three dimensions represent three core elements of how people think of themselves, relate to and work with each other. At the same time, these dimensions reflect some basic characteristics of human behavior.

You mentioned that there are some organizations that are reluctant to use Web 2.0 in the workplace. Why do you think that reluctance is taking place?
Partly, because a lot of organizations don't fully understand the power of Web 2.0, and are struggling to understand what technology ultimately is. Is it something for the younger generation or is it something that has a true impact from the business point of view? The truth is, that because the impact is so fundamental in how people deal and work with each other, Web 2.0 does in fact influence organizations.

With Generation V entering the workforce, how do you think social media can affect the relationship between the employee, the manager and the organization?
Generation V is a very interesting phenomena happening in organizations, it is not just a question of difference in values, it's also a question of difference in expectations. A lot of the younger people entering the workforce are used to a world which is much more global, open, transparent and interactive. They want to be able to participate and to give their views.

A lot of these basic principles have to be transferred to the working world, and that's not always easy because a lot of the working principles are not always aligned to meet these expectations. There has to be a re-alignment of some of the basic organizational principles plus we have to be able to use the power of Generation V to be able to involve them in re-designing some of the organizational processes and structural systems. What I suggest is that organizations can start some mentorship programs, in which younger people mentor some older, senior colleagues, in some critical areas of technology. In the process, younger people will also learn from the older colleagues.

In the beginning of the book, you spoke of false identities being created on social media. Can you elaborate on that?
Social media have a much higher degree of freedom. In the real world organizations there are usually fairly structured norms on the way you dress, talk and represent yourself. And because social media are a new phenomenon, they have much less well defined norms and guidelines. People are creating profiles, identities for themselves, and sometimes, these identities can be false and deceptive. That's the real danger because there is no way to easily guard against the creation of such false representations.

The ITU theme for this year is "Cyber Safety."" How do you think i social media is impacting the safety of youth online?
Social networks represent another dimension on which youth have to be much more careful when it comes to cyber security. There is an urgent demand for introducing more education in schools and universities on how can young adults can use these technologies, and the consequences of exposing private details on these internet platforms, and even simple elements such as how long can these profiles live, and how to use online information. Older citizens, as parents and teachers, also need to be educated on how to use technology in the right manner.

You mentioned that Web 2.0 would bring along Democracy 2.0, Enterprise 2.0 and Markets 2.0. What does this mean?
What we tried to argue for in the book is that because the impact of technology is so widespread, every aspect of society will get impacted, including the way we work and live. And that's the essence of what's happening in Markets 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0: the way you are able to engage with people inside a corporation is changing. IBM, for example, redefined the company values by involving more than 80,000 people across the company through online social media platforms. You are able to do things differently and that's creating Enterprise 2.0, either internally or externally with customers, with whom you can interact with more. The same is true for societies, and here is where Democracy 2.0 comes. Citizens are more able and willing to participate, give their ideas and contribute to society. The impact of social media thus transcends all aspects of how we organize ourselves.

One booming social medium is Wikipedia. Why do you think Wikipedia has achieved such immense success?
It's a fantastic success story of how normal citizens can come together to create an incredibly useful source of common knowledge. The studies on why people contribute to Wikipedia show that the prime reason is that it's fun! People like to share. It's as simple as that. Another factor is that all of us have something valuable to share. Knowledge is not just localized in a few experts - all of us have our own unique contributions and a knowledge source such as Wikipedia gives each of us this chance to contribute.

Finally, how do you envision social media in the next ten years?
If you look at technologies that have succeeded over the last several years, it is always the case that technologies that have enabled people to share, have been the most successful, like televisions, cell phones and, now, social media. So, clearly what I will think will happen in the future is that people will be able to contribute much more, whether in society, government and organizations, or where they work. You will hear the voice of the individual much more. That's a strength and a challenge - we need to benefit from the power of individuals. And it's a global phenomena If you are in Qatar, you can benefit from the expertise from people in China or Brazil. Think of the power of that: how can you leverage this global power of creative individuals around the world. And that's the beautiful and exciting part of the future.

* Exclusive Interview with "Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom" - ictQATAR

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