The Transformative Power of Social Software

GreenTweetWhen my non-tech industry friends learn that I Twitter, the first thing that many of them ask is why. They hold a common perception that Twitter is used solely for idle chat, such as “I’m having a hot dog for lunch” or “Hanging out with Jim and Judy at the pub now”.

The events in Iran this week have, hopefully, changed that misconception of Twitter forever. Iranians protesting their presidential election process and the result of last week’s balloting have shown the world just how powerful a medium Twitter is. Protesters have used Twitter to:

  • organize rallies
  • warn each other of impending danger
  • coordinate denial of service attacks on official government websites
  • broadcast news to the rest of the world when the Iranian government forbade foreign journalists from reporting on the uprisings

This is a truly powerful use of a very simple technology and probably well beyond any use case @ev and @biz ever envisioned for their brainchild.

While the protesters have also used other social software (notably Facebook, blogs, and photo/video sharing sites) to communicate among themselves and with foreigners, Twitter has been the most heavily used channel and the one that links the others media together. The enormous importance of Twitter to the Iranian protesters was underscored when Twitter and its hosting provider, NTT America, delayed a scheduled maintenance window so it would occur during the early hours of the morning in Iran, rather than during the day when protester Twitter activity has peaked.

OK, so why am I discussing this on a blog site that purports to address enterprise collaboration and social software? There is an applicable lesson here for any business that thinks it can control the use of social software by its employees — you can’t!

When the Iranian government blocked one technology after another, protesters simply chose a different tool with which to communicate, eventually seeing that Twitter was the most viable given the circumstances. The same thing will happen in any organization in which the CIO blocks employee access to social software. Those employees might not be engaged in as noble a cause as fighting for political justice and electoral reform, but they will seek back-channels through which to communicate when other effective media are blocked (and when all the IT department offers is overly complex collaboration applications with restrictive usage policies associated with them.)

The events in Iran this week have given new meaning to the name of this blog — Together, We Can!  The world is changing all around us and social software is a primary enabler of that change. When will the revolution take place in your organization?

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2 responses to “The Transformative Power of Social Software

  1. For some quantitative evidence regarding the heavy use of Twitter and other social software in conjunction with the Iranian election protests, see Ben Parr’s post on Mashable at http://mashable.com/2009/06/17/iranelection-crisis-numbers/. The Twitter usage stats that he reports on are simply incredible!

  2. Pingback: Zitiere: The Transformative Power of Social Software von Larry Hawes « Digital Naiv – Stefan63's Blog

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