Encyclopedia Titanica (Qualman Ch 1)

“Internet dead ahead!”  The thing that interests me most when I look over the carnage that the internet has left in its wake is at what point did these industries–encyclopedias, newspapers, record labels, magazines and book publishers–realize that they were doomed.  Was it something specific like the papers piling up at the end of all their neighbors driveways or their kids getting busted using Napster, or did/will they live in denial all the way to the bitter end?

The publishers of Encyclopedia Britannica probably never thought that it would be possible for unpaid and unvetted people to equal the quality of the articles produced by paid professionals, but recent studies have shown that Wikipedia is at least the equal of Britannica.  Is Wikipedia the first real example of large-scale crowd sourcing?

In chapter one of Socialnomics by Erik Qualman, he summarizes how technology and human nature conspired to overthrow industries that have existed for hundreds of years.  For example, Encyclopedia Britannica began publication in 1768 (I looked that up in Wikipedia ironically).  The big surprise to me–and maybe to these industries–isn’t that they disappeared, but the fact that it all happened so fast.  As Qualman points out, social media has only been around for a few years, but it is so perfectly aligned with our basic human need for connectedness that it is like the internet on steroids.  I mean, it has surpassed porn as the most popular activity on the internet (p 1).  I never thought I’d see the day when porn was overthrown on the internet.

According to Qualman, “As human beings we have the dichotomous psychological need to be our own individual, yet we also want to feel that we belong to and are accepted by a much larger social set.” (p. 2) Why have an editor of a newspaper that doesn’t even know me decide what I see in the newspaper when I can have my friends and colleagues on LinkedIn and Facebook recommend stories based on a personal/professional relationship?

Newspapers aren’t doing themselves any favors by moving to a subscription model for internet content locking it behind a firewall.  That only works if you have a product that can’t be obtained elsewhere.  News and commentary are available from tons of sources for free, and, as Wikipedia has demonstrated, just because it’s free doesn’t mean it’s bad.  Qualman’s scenario about the Idaho-senators blogger (p. 14 – 21) did a good job capturing the futility of the old business model.

There was really only one area where I question Qualman’s argument.  He contends that the time that appears to be a waste on Facebook, actually makes us more productive since we gain access to potentially critical information much faster.  I’ll admit that that can be the case, but sometimes it’s like drinking from a fire hose of  Zynga requests, political status updates, and funny cat pictures to find the kind of useful tidbits that Qualman uses in his example.  Have you ever had your boss walk by while you had Facebook open?  Did they think you were being productive?  Did you?

Posted on September 29, 2012, in Social Media, Society, Workplace. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I’m glad you brought up Qualman’s point about social media making us more productive. I thought that was painted with a little too broad of a brush as well. There are times when I may be using it productively and times when I am not. What is most difficult is that even the best of intentions (After being caught by your boss, “I just opened Facebook to check our company’s last post on ABC Corp., really!”) can be easily derailed by “funny cat pictures” and the like.

    It is pretty impossible to hold focus (and productivity) on any social media forum given the onslaught of information.

  2. Good point in the final paragraph. I know teaching on a laptop campus that I HATE seeing Facebook open on my students’ computers when I’m trying to lecture. Still, I am a proponent of Twitter and have tons of examples of learning/gaining access to valuable information from the people I follow there, so if Twitter was open I wouldn’t mind. Maybe I should tweet Qualman to ask him to update his chapter 🙂

    Oh–don’t forget to categorize your posts.

  3. I was just reading articles about how Facebook influences productivity, looking for any evidence to support Qualman’s assertions. While I didn’t find anything to support the notion that Facebook gives us faster access to critical information, I found a number of articles discussing the value of Facebook as a break from work. Studies suggest that 10-minute breaks from work increase employees’s productivity. Studies further suggest that workers who take a break with Facebook gain more productivity than workers who took other types of breaks. Business News published an info-graphic to illustrate the findings.


    • That is such an interesting study you found there. Would have never thought it would come up with these results. Could you identify if this study was based on a scholarly research?

  4. The primary resource is from the MIT Sloan School of Management. I haven’t read the original study–just a couple summaries and the infographic.

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