Take it easy, Doc

I'm behind on my reed feading (so what else is new) - flat out for the last few days, getting our big groovy Sharp event done and a ton of other stuff, so I missed the fact that my friend Doc Searls was in hospital with a blood clot in his lung. He's out now, and seems to be well on the mend. Scary stuff though.

Comments and good wishes piling up for Doc in his comments, email and voicemail - many of us offering a consistent message: take it easy for a while there, Doc.

Doc is pretty much an international treasure, as far as I'm concerned, and still has so much to contribute to our understanding of what's happening in the general online and social media worlds. Project VRM is only just getting the steam going - that one project alone is way too important to lose its founding father at this early stage. Rest, Doc - we need you.

Just this morning, before I even knew Doc was under the doc, as 'twere, I left an audio comment in response to the latest InsidePR podcast, pointing people to one of the most important things Doc has ever written.

The most recent InsidePR episode featured a terrific panel session, recorded in front of a live audience at Third Tuesday Toronto. One of the best and most engaging IPR sessions I've heard in a while.

Listening to it on the tube this morning got me going, though - I took exception to the central question of the debate: "Who owns social media?" - a question that turned on the hypothesis that some group (whether ad agencies, PR folk, digital firms, or others) has more of a claim to the social media space than any other group.

This whole question just annoys me. Over the course of the recording - with some good comments from both panellists and audience participants - they approached what I think is a sensible outcome, but listening to the audience questions I know I'm not the only one who found the entire premise of the discussion flawed and, dare I say it, almost arrogant.

Social media - insofar as it's a thing that can be labelled, categorized, defined, or owned at all - is not the province of any one group. Even formulating the notion that it's worth asking who owns it is wrong-headed, web 1.0 thinking - a concept entirely in conflict with the nature of the darn thing.

We're naturally competitive, of course - and it's perfectly understandable that us PR folk would want to lay claim to being more conversational, more focused on relationship- and community-building, more inclined towards engagement and dialogue than our fellow travellers and confreres in other parts of the marketing mix. One could just as successfully build the counter argument, though. Neither position would be entirely wrong, nor wholly right.

As I listened to the podcast, I felt like the right thought was on the tip of everyone's tongue. The participants, to give them their due, sailed achingly close to epiphany a couple of times, but no one quite said what I was really hoping they'd say:

Nobody owns it.

Simple. To me, at least, that's the plain and evident fact. Plain truths rarely need elaboration, but there are a couple of inextricably related points that also need to be made here. The good news is that Doc, in a piece co-authored with the wonderful David Weinberger, has already made those points - succinctly, elegantly, and memorably.

Inscribe these words on the inside of your eyelids, oh ye social media mavens:
No one owns it.
Everyone can use it.
Anyone can improve it.
Doc and David crafted this simple cascade in a terrific piece that not enough people have read, dammit. It's five years since they put up the World of Ends site, and people - even really smart people - are still getting this stuff wrong. I don't mean the people at that IPR taping - they're a bunch of pretty clueful folk who actually do get this stuff; they just started from the wrong place with a bit of a silly question and then tripped over themselves a lot as they were fighting towards the light.

The people who are really getting this all wrong are the telcos, the DRM supporters, those opposed to the ideas of Net Neutrality (the "non-Neutrality" camp), the Net isolationists who want to build giant firewalls around their countries, and all those dinosaurs still dragging their tails through the boardrooms of the broadcast and recording industries.


Read World of Ends. Please.

Read it already? Read it again.

Print it out, pin copies of it to your office notice boards, carpet bomb copies of it throughout the boardrooms of Madison Avenue, Bay Street, Madison Avenue, Wall Street, Finsbury Square, Government Center, Parliament Hill, Sand Hill Road... strongholds of greydom and wrong-headedness the world over. Banzai!

The subtitle to World of Ends explains that it is an effort to explain: "What the Internet Is and How to Stop Mistaking It for Something Else" - so it's not specifically about the social media space, per se. But it's no less relevant and apposite fer a' that.

Seriously: read it.

[P.s. Quoting Keats, above, reminds me of one of my favourite Spike Milligan stories.

Stationed in North Africa during WWII, Milligan describes his experience in an artillery unit as one of lengthy periods of excruciating boredom, punctuated by brief bursts of intense activity.

In an effort to alleviate the tedium and pour a little learning into the rank and file, some of the university-educated junior officers decided to introduce a series of postprandial lectures on cultural topics.

In Milligan's version of the tale, the gunnery sergeant called the mess tent to order to announce:

“Right, you lot – tonight Lieutenant Wilson will be giving a talk about Keats – and I bet not one of you ignorant bastards knows what a keat is.”

Aw, Spike. Six years since we lost you, and the world's still a sadder, less funny place without you around. God rest you, lovely man.]