Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Networking? Take it easy ...

Celebrating my first year of blogging to the NonStop community blog, Real Time View ...

Over the past couple of weeks, I have spent most weekends out on the highways somewhere between Simi Valley and Boulder. I haven’t travelled exactly the same route twice during all that time. For readers who may be interested in a more complete description take a look at my other blog site http://www.buckle-up-travel.blogspot.com/ next week.

This past weekend, I decided to travel back to Boulder along the Interstate system that now closely follows the “Mother Road” – Route 66. The picture I have included here was taken of me “standing on a corner, in Winslow, Arizona” – a site made famous in the song by the Eagles “Take it Easy”. It’s a 20 miles off the Interstate with next to nothing there, but I had always wanted to do it. I spent a few dollars on a cap and a T Shire before returning to the Interstate and heading to Albuquerque.

Back in the late ‘30s, over a million people left townships in the prairie states and headed to California. The great depression era “Dust Bowl” conditions forced many of them from their homes with little choice but to seek work in the rich farmlands of California. After the Second World War, there was another major migration, as servicemen stationed in the Pacific retold adventures they had in California and elected to start over in places other than the frozen north of the country.

Route 66 became a communications channel with information passing rapidly between townships by word of mouth. It developed into the go-to source for all information about the boom-times on the Coast. The opportunities in California soon provided a compelling reason to uproot from the many small cities along the way and to seek new lives amid the booming economy out on the West Coast. Route 66 faded with the arrival of the Interstate Highway system that bypassed these small communities, but the legacy of Route 66 remains with us today. It’s a small coincidence that one of the last sections of the Interstate system to be completed in the ‘80s was the bypass of Winslow, Arizona.

The passing of information through a society, as happened with the people living along Route 66, reminded me of the power and immediacy that comes when a society communicates in this fashion. Even today, marketing companies still include word-of-mouth, or one-to-one, marketing tactics as one avenue that generates awareness. Perhaps its appeal is not valued by all companies, particularly those looking for very rapid growth, but for some companies it remains a valuable tool in getting information about their products into the marketplace. As I walked out of Albuquerque with another T-Shirt featuring the Route 66 highway sign, I couldn’t ignore the similarities between this road, and the role it played, with today’s social networks.

For many of us, the web has become our go-to source for information. In a recent exchange with our daughter Anna, she explained to me how ingrained the web has become to her and her friends. “Discussion forums still seem to be big; as for product info, I still rely on Consumer Reports online a fair bit, and CNET for electronic stuff; and people still blog. In my circle it seems particularly big among people with new kids, as an easy way for the ‘busy mom’ to update everyone. Facebook is huge!”

Throughout history, there have been many infrastructures over which information flowed. From the time the Phoenicians sailed to every port in the Mediterranean, to the time the Romans pushed roads into every corner of Europe, to what happened with Route 66, knowledge grew as information flowed freely over seas and up and down roads. And with the world wide web, this process continues but at an accelerated pace way beyond anything previously seen.

There’s always a downside, of course. Just as the residents along Route 66 found themselves victimized by those within the community that preyed on unsuspecting neighbors, as has happened since long before there were Roman highways, so too has the web become home for a lot of questionable information. Just because it’s in the public domain doesn’t mean that it’s accurate and of any use. As is the case when dealing with any information, the credibility of the source and integrity of the site are extremely important and questioning everything remains the sensible thing to do.

But blogging is certainly opening up new ways to get the story out into the wider community and who would have guessed that with this post, I am celebrating a full year of blogging! And yes, there's 80+ posts already made to this NonStop community blog and I am sure, there will be many more to follow. In a blog I posted back on September 24, ’07 “What did you have in mind, eh?” I made the observation that the “creation of this blog is not in competition to any other exchanges that exists within the ITUG community, it is being undertaken to complement other programs. The thought behind the production of this blog is that across today’s community there are different generations of users.”

And then I added in a subsequent posting on January 9, ’08 “I got my new horizons!” that “I am not yet convinced that there will ever be a substitute for face-to-face networking, particularly for my generation, where participation in events, conferences, and seminars is how we stay current with IT … But more often these days, I am finding that with time and budget constraints I can’t always attend them all and I don’t get to listen to everyone I should. Social networking helps me stay connected when otherwise I wouldn’t have the opportunity.”

It was only a week or so ago that I first heard that Martin Fink was authoring a blog. He is calling it “Musings on Mission Critical Computing” and it can be found on the HP web site at http://www.communities.hp.com/online/blogs/musings-on-mcc/default.aspx Already it’s developing readership and comments are beginning to appear. I see this as a very positive development for the community of HP users, particularly those now participating in Connect. There’s nothing more relevant than the opinions and observations of the person in charge, and I find it very encouraging to see Martin step up to blogging. I for one will be a regular reader of his musings. Clearly, the HP site is not one that falls under the classification as questionable, nor does Martin bring any concerns about credibility. There’s no downside in going to this site and checking out Martin’s musings and I have to believe he will welcome all community commentary.

As I have remarked in previous blog postings, for all of us within the NonStop community, any buzz that’s generated around the NonStop platform is important and any vehicle used in the creation of that buzz, including social networking across the web, is valuable. But is social networking just a passing fad?

Earlier this year, in a posting on April 21, ’08 “We all have opinions!” I asked the question “Social networking has now made its presence felt on us all … will these communication and networking vehicles survive over time, and will we always turn to them for information? Or will this be viewed as just a fad, popular with a younger generation of users?” And now, only a few months later, I am coming to the conclusion that this communication vehicle is here to stay, providing us all with a valuable service.

As pressures continue to mount on us in our daily IT lives to deliver more with less, so to is the tolerance for mistakes decreasing. Information from any source, whether vendor or industry analyst, can be more easily validated than at any other time in our history. There’s no excuse any more for pursuing any technology or solution undertaking without first checking the web. Indeed, for most CIOs questioned in one recent community survey I was involved with, the first place they turn to for information is Google – even before they call any of their peers in the industry.

Route 66 witnessed multiple population migrations as information about a better future passed from one community to the next. As hope emerged for those who survived the ‘30s Dust Bowl, and as prosperity beckoned to those who returned from the war, Route 66 provided the “network” across which news travelled. It became “America’s Highway” and the “Mother Road” to all those looking for information about a better place to live.

And for many of us, the web has become the World’s Highway in much the same way. And blogging has become an easy way to communicate observations and to express opinions to everyone with access to the web. Social networking is here to stay, in one form or another, and we do need to ask ourselves “are we staying connected?” While the Eagles song “Take it Easy” suggests we need to lighten up while (we) still can and to take it easy, I have to ask if we can only do this after first checking out the web?

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