Social Media – Part II – The Long Tail

(Cross Posted at edSocialMedia)

The Long Tail was first coined by Chris Anderson in an October 2004 Wired magazine article to describe the niche strategy of businesses, such as Amazon.com or Netflix, that sell a large number of unique items, each in relatively small quantities.” (Wikipedia)

The Long Tail became relevant to me as I connected with education 2-15-2009 11-37-40 PM (WinCE)technologists around the world through my blog and Bloglines RSS blog reader.  We were the sliver on The Long Tail that was interested in education and technology — a small distributed group with a niche interest.  The Internet allowed us to connect to a global network of educators.  I soon found myself listening to a number of educational technology podcasts.

My first podcasts were conference presentations by Alan November and John Palmfrey at the NEIT conference in 2005.  Then, I found Wes Freyer’s blog where he produces some of the most amazing podcasts from conferences around the country.  Next, I found EdTechTalkJeff Lebow and Dave Cormier hosted a weekly live webcast with a text chat room to participate in the back channel where they interviewed people from the EdTech world.  The live broadcasts with a chat room for listeners to participate created real community around their show.  All shows were archived as poscasts with chat transcripts as part of the post.

blue-with-headphones (WinCE) After listening to a number of EdTechTalk podcasts, Jeff and Dave begin speaking about Webcast Academy, a way to learn how to Webcast.  I thought, “this has to be full and I’ll never get a spot”.  Then, “Is this really free?  Who is funding these guys?  Who else is participating in Webcast Academy?” Jeff and Dave answered these questions and more in their Back to Basics episode.  I signed up for Webcast Academy and arvind grover agreed to be my co-host.  We learned to webcast though a series of podcasts and then a series of screencasts.

After 5 webcasts on Webcast Academy, Jeff and Dave asked us to make the jump over the EdTechTalk.  Our first interview on EdTechTalk was Chris Lehmann, during his planning year for Science Leadership Academy. Over the past three years, we produced 95 shows and have grown a great deal as webcasters.  The EdTechTalk network has grown to over 11 weekly and bi-weekly webcasts.  Webcast Academy continues to graduate classes of webcasters to EdTechtalk.

So why tell this story?  Why do I think it is amazing?  As I said in my last post, social media is all about participating in the conversation.  EdTechTalk allowed arvind and me to be part of a global conversation around education and technology.  We found The Long Tail of educators interested in technology.  A few short years ago, this was not possible.  After 95 webcasts, we learn new tools and techniques each week as we continue to build our network of educators who are pushing the boundaries of learning with technology.

Image 1: http://flickr.com/photos/arvindgrover/770886287
Image 2: http://flickr.com/photos/alexragone/3283792900/

Wrapping My Head Around Social Media – Part 1

(Cross posed at edSocial Media) As I begin to blog here at edSocialMedia, I’m going to show how I began to start to wrap my head around Social Media. 

I’m the Director of Technology at a K-12 Independent School.  Part of my job is to keep up with current trends in technology and apply them to education.  Pre-2005, most of the time I did this through magazines, books, listservs, and our local NYC Technology Educators (NYCIST). 

Then I saw Will Richardson speak at our yearly New York State Association of Independent Schools (NYSAIS) Technology Educators Conference.  I had published a static web site since 1998 for professional and personal use, but this was the first time I realized that there were a lot of other people out there who were doing the same through blogs, and I could learn from them.

cluetrain-ook-midIn 2005, I started reading Will’s blog, and adding blogs to my bloglines account.  I found Stephen Downes’ OL Daily through Will and found a link to this presentation: On Being Radical.  In Downes’ presentation, he described the web site and then book, The Cluetrain Manifesto.  I immediately surfed over to Amazon.com and bought it. 

I remember to this day reading the first chapter of The Cluetrain Manifesto, Internet Apocalypso.  I got off the subway at 79th street and kept reading as I walked the few blocks to school — I could not put it down. I felt as though the lens from which I viewed the world was shifting.  Here are a few paragraphs at the end from that first chapter that I read that day:

In fact, the news gets better from here on out. And the first bit of news is that this isn’t about us and them. It’s about us. Them don’t exist. Not really. Corporations are legal fictions, willing suspensions of disbelief. Pry the roof off any company and what do you find inside? The Cracker Jack prize is ourselves, just ordinary people. We come in all flavors: funny, cantankerous, neurotic, compassionate, avaricious, generous, scheming, lackadaisical, brilliant, and a million other things. It’s true that the higher up the food chain you go, the more likely you are to encounter the arrogant and self-deluded, but even top management types are mostly harmless when you get to know them. Given lots of love, some even make good pets.

Inside companies, outside companies, there are only people. All of us work for organizations of some sort, or we’re peddling something. All of us pay the mortgage or the rent. We all buy shoes and books and food and time online, plus the occasional Beanie Baby for the kid. More important, all of us are finding our voices once again. Learning how to talk to one another. Slowly recovering from a near-fatal brush with zombification after watching Night of the Living Sponsor reruns all our lives.

Inside, outside, there’s a conversation going on today that wasn’t happening at all five years ago and hasn’t been very much in evidence since the Industrial Revolution began. Now, spanning the planet via Internet and World Wide Web, this conversation is so vast, so multifaceted, that trying to figure what it’s about is futile. It’s about a billion years of pent-up hopes and fears and dreams coded in serpentine double helixes, the collective flashback déjà vu of our strange perplexing species. Something ancient, elemental, sacred, something very very funny that’s broken loose in the pipes and wires of the twenty-first century.

Every time I read that again I sit back and think, wow,  I wish I could communicate ideas like that.   The role of the Internet as the medium providing human to human communications again.   Communication that is two way.  The age of mass media control is over. 

If you have never read it, I highly recommend taking a look at The Cluetrain Manifesto.  It predicted the social media revolution in 1999. 

What was the first time you really saw social media changing the world around you?

* Photo from Momentary Glimpse on Flickr