Hashtags as Social Networks

Today morning, after I came across Fred Wilson's post announcing his portfolio company Kik's launch, I went back to my older writings I had posted on #hashtag in my company's Yammer page. I had written,  
#hashtag is the contextual frame which liberates the message (or content) from its medium. I love twitter precisely for this reason because it skirts close to the mysterious ways in which we humans derive meaning from information. Sometimes, when you sit and observe the torrentuous streams of conversations happening about various topics, it fascinates me to see how a certain message which was enveloped in one context jumps onto a different plane of meaning altogether just because somebody has shifted the context using this innocuous symbol containing stack of sticks.
When Hashtags are seen from the lens of the contextual frames, Kik's idea of Hashtags-as-social networks makes complete sense. It adds the necessary bells and whistles needed for hashtags to lead an ephemeral social life thriving solely on the interest it generates among its users.

It was not long ago when Chris Messina wrote a blog post in 2007  suggesting using hashtags for the first time in Twitter. As Marshall McLuhan had rightly predicted long before, we began to use hashtags with behaviors we picked up unconsciously from the older media days. 

Reading their blog, it becomes clear ( for now) how the founders of Kik perceive hashtags. Unlike other social networks which let the users use hashtags as "mini-broadcasts",they want it to be, in their founder's words, "doorways to new conversations, of which you can be a real part — personal, intimate, social".

Can hashtags live ephemeral lives across social network silos? How can we reimagine hashtags as brokers of meaning? It will be worth exploring. 

Thus begins an attempt to write a blog post in one shot. Inchoate thoughts in one shot. 

David Weinberger on why knowing is more important than knowledge

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a small business fable titled, "How to save the world from Knowledge". It was interesting to see the responses it triggered. Among many other reasons behind writing this fable, one such was David Weinberger's fascinating book on the evolution of knowledge in the Internet Age, Too Big to Know. I enjoyed reading his exposition on how network remade knowledge in its own image.

I've always admired David Weinberger's works ever since I read the classic The Cluetrain Manifesto. So when I wrote an email to David Weinberger with a link to my blog post, I was extremely delighted to hear from him. Here is his response via email to my post, published with due permission.

How to save the world from knowledge? - A business fable



The day wasn't over yet. John glanced at his watch. It was 2:30 AM. He had just finished proofreading his presentation for later that day. He couldn't believe it took him this long. To hell with Parkinson's Law! He sat motionless in his desk, too exhausted to hit the bed. He badly wanted some fresh air. His hands sought no permission from him and clicked open the Tweet-deck App. He scrolled through the tweets gushing out of the window.

When he first saw the tweet, he choked. Was it meant to be a joke? He zoomed over to see if the tweet was still there just the way he read it few seconds ago.

How to get rid your MBA mind of bullshit taught in B-School?

Provocation has always been a rewarding tool for writers. Many writer-provocateurs have sold plenty of books & made millions out of it. I've often found it to be a crass spectacle of ignorance, strictly to be used to play to the gallery.

Last week, I deliberately went into my discomfort zone by writing a provocative piece on what I strongly felt about this whole MBA humbug business.

You can read it here. 

Regular readers of this blog would be able to spot various riffs of ideas explored in depth in my blog. The response was overwhelming, according to my standards. It was heartwarming to receive calls from strangers who felt so moved by the article and wanted to empathize with my thoughts and observations.

What I learned in this exercise were two things.
1) To provoke the readers over an emotive issue and offer grounded perspectives as an antidote is not really such a bad idea

2) The tighter you tether a problem with an emotion, the stronger you allow the readers to respond with empathy and enthusiasm.

Social Network 101: Communities Vs Social Network

We are living in the age of popcorn content. I was convinced of this when I recently came across this napkin illustration in LinkedIn's publishing platform, describing the differences between a social network and a community. It paints the differences in broad, simplistic strokes, reminding us how often we succumb to the temptations of a good-sounding narrative. Why bother probing into the dynamic nature of social networks when there is a convincing story to be told about how community is all about relationships and networks have to contend with only transactions?

Karma and Narratives

We are suckers for narratives. In Will Storr's beautiful meditation on life narratives, he eloquently explains why is it so. Storr writes,
The brain generates a narrative to make sense of the world around us, but also to make sense of ourselves. We think we’re captained by the part of us that’s self-conscious – the bit that we experience as our own living ‘me’, that collision of sense, memory and internal monologue at the centre of which sits the ‘I’. Yet there’s a silent, unconscious ‘I’ to which we have no access. It communicates with emotions, wordlessly coaxing us this way and that with its ceaseless blooms of disgust and fear and desire. It influences everything we think and do.
Exactly how much influence does this self have over our behaviour? Experts disagree. Some say its control is total: that the voice that speaks in the privacy of our heads might seem like it’s in charge, but really it’s just a babbling spin doctor, making excuses for the misdeeds of its boss. Others claim that our rational selves can play an executive role under certain, limited circumstances – but not much more than that. Either way, most of the time we feel that we’re autonomous only because the voice in our heads narrates all our actions, explaining why we’re doing what we’re doing at any given moment, even though it actually has no idea.
The West calls this story-making, "Confabulation". In the East, we instinctively recognize it as "Karma" - the narratives we tell ourselves and others concerning the vicissitudes of our life. 

Joseph Campbell on the role of storytelling in parenting

Here is an interesting excerpt on the impact of stories in a child's growth by Joseph Campbell in his book, The Hero's journey. 
"It is from innocent children that I learned what happens when a young soul is held away from the breadth and meaningful nuances of stories for too long. Little ones come to earth with a panoramic ability to hold in mind and heart literally thousands of ideas and images. The family and culture around them is supposed to place in those open channels the most beautiful, useful, deep and truthful, creative and spiritual ideas we know. But very many young ones nowadays are exposed almost exclusively to endless "crash and bash" cartoons and "smack 'em down" computer games devoid of any other thematic components. These fragmentary subjects offer the child no extensive depth of storyline.

In the yagna of modernity

Update- 6/6/14: Have included my interaction with Devdutt Pattnaik-popular mythologist and author - on the movie below. 

When I was seven years old, I was initiated into Brahminhood through the sacred upanayanam ceremony. The word sacred, I admit, finds its place here after a long, circuitous journey of introspection which taught me the true meaning of profundity through unconditional embrace of profanity. Back in those days, I was taught to respect what's  profound only by abhorring what's profaneI remember doing my sandyavandanam rituals religiously, until my hormones began to treat callously the traditions and values I bequeathed from my parents. Like many others in their teens, I began to question the traditions, especially the way it was presented to me, in its ossified form, enforced through parental authoritarianism. As I followed my way through the questions, I could only find reasons which appealed to my intellect. Along the way, I also witnessed the hypocrisy in which traditions, despite their high handedness, were appropriated as means to the entitlements defining the modern life - money, good job and a well settled life.