Calming Up

For some months now, the proto-blogger of the blogosphere has been focusing on two subject areas: Twitter and the presidential campaign. Dave Winer correctly anticipated the power and growth of the real time messaging platform, building several applications around the Twitter API and its identity namespace. And his political analysis has jumped from Scripting News to Huffington Post to a series of Sunday morning interview podcasts that capture and harness the pulse of the new real time network.

I say "new" because social media has rapidly advanced from a metadata honey pot to the nexus of such signals and a microchunk form of content creation. As Net celebrities such as Robert Scoble and Jason Calacanis move their brands from blog posts to short bursts of text and video, the resultant youtubing of the A List has set off a feeding frenzy. Before we dismiss the relevance of this trend as navel-gazing, we should pause to remember that much of the rest of the world is just now incorporating the blogging wave into business, family, and the living history of this time.

But the argument over the differences between blogging, podcasting, and professional media has grown stale as we focus more on the stories being told than the tools used to deliver them. When the top stories on blogging's Techmeme Top 40 charts these last weeks were about the business of blogging, the natural conclusion was that nothing was going on - that the purity of the citizen revolution was giving way to the lure of the easy buck and the clarion call of the click.

Sorry, but it just ain't so. We're living in one of the most disruptive and ongoing storms of innovation we've ever not fully comprehended in realtime, and you only have to watch the fear and emotion spilling all over the highway to get a sense of the power of what is going on just off-stage. Twitter may appear to be a solution in search of a problem, or an eyeball machine with no business model, or just the latest rendering of high school for the techno-elite - but the panic you can smell means something.

Panic is the Bear Stearns buyout, the Yahoo emasculation after the last board meeting, the acceleration of the Swiftboating of the campaign from late August in the last two campaigns to early March this time. Google's rush to announce a Google Gears off line solution in its Google Docs word processor suggests the threat of Microsoft's Silverlight has moved the production schedule up the only way it can be done - by dribbling Gears out one App at a time in a rolling update from read to read/write.

Do the math. If you're in corporate IT or a Wall Street analyst or a VC or a consultant, what does this portend? What does panic mean to those lying in wait for the fundamental shift in the marketplace? Sell or buy? Is social media ready to step up, or is this a sucker's game, a carny runway where nothing is revealed while your pocket is picked as you stumble to the parking lot.

Or sit down at the soothsayer's table and summon up the huddles behind closed doors where strategies are being baked into action. Is this tumult really about modeling friendship, or molding startups and careers, or the digital equivalent of Legos where you pipe services into an increasingly aggressive filter of real time messages and pointers into competitive intelligence?

Yes, it is. Twitter represents the uber-network of actionable signals, with immature but relentless tools for rapid information triage unmatched by other services. It's not an accident that the most powerful client is Google Talk with its track mechanism, or that pointing out the inefficiencies of the Twitter alert system (@Replies) provokes anger, attacks on the motive of the chronicler, and anxiety about comprehension of a system commonly derided as a consumptive waste of time.

We're in a crescendo of information overload profiling, crouched in the curve of the wave as it breaks over the blog/news media coalition and moves to the realtime transaction flow of the information terminal. The evidence is all around us: Social media hives that form, engage, stratify, atrophy, and are succeeded by new formulas that allow rebooting without insulting or hipping the culled to their fate. No wonder the panic.

Let's step back from the fear and marshal the opportunities of this transition. Social networks are not toys. They are powerful frameworks that sit atop a liquid sea of signals, more and more attuned to the sypathetic vibrations of the aware, call them customers or children eager for knowledge - it makes little difference. When our children look at us, what do they want to see? Bravado, anger at the questions being asked? Or the gathering of their eyes toward ours, the wink of humor at the impossibility of catching up instead of the despair of fatigue before the first coffee break.

Twitter is not killing blogging, nor the A List, nor the move toward commerce. Radio never died, TV is not dead, especially not the podcast. We're awash in a symphony of music, but only when we stop being afraid of the absolute enormity of its possibilities can we begin to embrace them. Becoming an adult means learning to respect the child in each of us, for surely we are the only ones who can calm ourselves.