7. Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy.
When Facebook introduced the new Group feature, I read somewhere that you could add anybody to your group but they could actually opt-out of it. As an experiment, MIke Arrington of Techcrunch added Mark Zuckerberg (the founder of Facebook) to the joke group NAMBLA (North American Man/Boy Love Association). Facebook downplayed this minor privacy issue and Mark Zuckerberg immediately quit the group. Although intended as a joke – this shows that in the era of new Facebook features – it’s very easy to connect people to groups, groups to people, people to people or even groups to groups. All this of course is accessible eventually via the URL or the hyperlink. Gone are the days when people can hide behind hierarchy – if someone knows your email, twitter, plurk, myspace, linkedin, tumblr or facebook then they can easily have access to you. The ability to connect directly without need of intermediaries is how hyperlinks subvert hierarchies and as an unintended consequence actually flattens the organizational chart of organizations. There is a cognitive limit to the number of people someone can maintain stable social relationships with. According to Wikipedia this is called Dunbar’s number and Dunbar’s number is usually quoted to be 150 but it can be from 100 to 250. This flattening of hierarchy is becoming more andmore pervasive when we observe that hyperlinks are now connected to our daily lives. You can now send an email via your mobile phone and you can share a very long hyperlink by creating a shortened URL. If you have a presentation, a spreadsheet, an image, a video or even your location – you can now access this via a URL. Even in sports – the kind of training that used to be accessible to elite athletes can now we used by even beginner athletes through the power of these hyperlinks. Many of these elite athletes now blog or even share information of their regimen through the Internet and someone really disciplined and diligent can cull this information and use these datapoints for something meaningful. One of the more interesting uses of these flattening effect of these hyperlinks are those ubiquitous social network buttons that you know see in every blog. Before the advent of these buttons, it would have been a very roundabout way for any commenter to actually contact the author. But now, all you would need is to press the “like” button and you immediately have a connection with the author. Of course, it is still up to the author whether to full-heartedly participate in these kind of interactions but it is available to use. The great thing here is, these kind of connections lends itself to direct interactions without the need of intermediaries – you immediately go to the social network site of the commenter and either acknowledge their fandom or disabuse them of any notions that might have contradicted what you posted and demonstrated. Is the world ready for this interaction? People are starting to realize that it’s not easy to get “off the grid” anymore – all you need is somebody connected to the “grid” and somehow you are connected to it. Thinking about this in a corporate setting – there should always be a way to get to the CEO. Or as the current practice is being played out – the CEO should even be in the forefront and be the face of the company and even answering what the public is asking about the company. It’s a brave new world out there but that’s precisely the kind of posture that CEOs need to have – be brave and understand the new because people are not going to wait for the CEOs to spin their yarn through the PR machine – the faster they can respond when questions are asked, the better it is for you company. There will always be a new company around the block that’s hungrier than you and these companies are just waiting for their competitors to let down the ground so that they can pounce. Make no mistake, they will take you to lunch and with a shorter news cycle – it’s all about keeping your product and your company as part of the mind share especially when you’re a business or a brand that’s expected to communicate through the Internet. We’re talking at CEO level here – if the CEO sets the tone for these kinds of interaction then it goes without saying that those that are C-Level and even middle management are expected to have this high level of commitment to a very quick response time. You can imagine how this can trickle down through the hierarchy of the company. One advantage of this kind of structure is that there is an opportunity to aggregate opinions over a broad spectrum and come out with a broad consensus or even best practice for many given situations. Contrast this if the information is being streamlined and funneled through a hierarchy – there wouldn’t be enough data points sometimes when your information is being filtered from many levels. WIth all the emphasis on business intelligence and monitoring the state of a company real-time – it begs the question of who is asking the clients and the customers the righ questions so that the answers can be analyzed. If business plans don’t survive its first encounter with real clients and customers, why do people expect to be able to keep on same track when they try to monitor the company. And this is the challenge – while CEOs know exactly to look for based on their pas experiences, the world is moving faster than it was 5 to 10 years ago. There is simply no excuse for not anticipating the next black swan.