Small problems with big data!

Conversations on Twitter have a unique ability to set off reflection and propel further conversation and thought. This invariably builds and shapes our collective ecosystem of sorts.  Especially so, when the conversation is between people who you watched from a distance, making a difference! 🙂

This post is a thought assortment, after spotting a conversation thread on Twitter.

It went like this.


Cards, badges and trinkets

Every conference, breakfast / lunch / dinner interaction, round table and other professional meeting usually left me with a few things. An array of thoughts, usually. If I was lucky, a bouquet of ideas. At other times the chance acquaintance of a someone who had a wavelength that matched and was generous with the sharing. These obviously happened on my lucky days. How I wished it happened in all conferences.

But there were two ubiquitous results from every single conference.  One was a guilt ridden memory of having indulged in the dessert a tad more than what I could afford. (sigh)!  Another was a clutch of business cards from fellow attendees.

A couple of weeks ago, in the midst of some spring cleaning, I unearthed many stacks of business cards, collected with a fervour matching a fanatic, from a slew of conferences over time. Were they another form of paper , like say currency, I could sit across the Sultan of Brunei and give him a complex. That much. Unfortunately, these were plain business cards.

At the moment of exchanging cards, each business card was pregnant with an opportunity for a conversation and an exchange of ideas. But now, in the midst of the spring cleaning, the silent sighs announced the still born scene sans melancholy. Passing around business cards suddenly seemed a meaningless ritual.

Of course, they carried a logo, a designation, a name. But obviously, these were dead cards. Devoid of a voice. People had moved companies. Or companies had moved addresses or moved company themselves : morphing into new conglomerates or disappearing without a mention. If that were the case with companies and their addresses, less said about titles and telephone numbers, the better.

The cards made people and their positions seem yawningly ancient. ( If you have been to enough conferences, I can safely bet that you would have had the experience of someone telling you, ‘this is an old card. Am transitioning into a new role’, even as he/she is presenting the card to you).

It didn’t take a long while for it to dawn on me that my business cards would have similar antiquated positions in several stacks in peoples homes and offices, bristling with the ignominy of having been ignored! The people that really desired to talk to me, found me nevertheless. So was the case with people I wanted to connect to. We spoke. We continued the conversation. On twitter. On the blog. On Linkedin On Facebook. On Pinterest. On Google Plus. Most found the good old mail box!

The ‘distribution’ of business cards, it became obvious, was a static activity incoherent with the order of the present day world. A ‘in-the-moment’ world, where I am almost always available for a conversation. I just had to make known where I am most available! (Unlike business cards, I could have different places that I would point people to, in different contexts and situations).


Upon a whim I decided to stop using business cards and thought of a badge and a baggage tag as an alternative. The #TechHR14 conference organised by People Matters was the ground for experiment.

The result has been more than merely ‘interesting’. Of course, a certain degree of novelty would have perked the eye. Twitter friends loved it! 🙂
Sunder put it out on twitter  later in his fabulous video of the conference as well, and the rest of history is still happening.

There were some interesting conversations on the sidelines though. Here they are. Three of them. Awesome reasons. Read on.

#1. A friend on seeing the badge spoke of ‘immersive connection’ that looking up the twitter handle and a conversation would lead to versus, a ‘passive connections’ that one more business card in the bag will have. It sounded so profound that I felt strangely proud!

#2. A complete stranger, a fellow conference attendee, complemented me on the badge. Proceeding to give me a low down on the history of business cards and them being more a preserve of aristocracy, and how with one action of mine I had helped reiterate the message that the internet doesn’t tolerate hierarchy. It sure sounded as though I had single handedly won a war or something.

#3. Yet another friend, spoke of how my wearing my twitter handle as ‘my identity’ was a massive thing and he couldn’t imagine doing it. I was convinced I had won the world championship in some sport!

Before these read as rotten fatuous self praise, I must confess that these didn’t occur to me at all before these people said it. Truth be told, I was just solving a problem of business cards piling up! Of course, I nodded in knowledgeable agreement and thanked each of them. They were all right and sounded so solemn.

But I was more than merely impressed that this had struck a chord. If you would put me behind a pulpit asking me to deliver a ‘victory speech’ it would go like this :  “People, this is 2014. There is global warming that is leaving a gaping hole somewhere up there. The internet is breaking down walls and ways of working. All the feedback that have come my way has only reinforced the belief that the era of the business card and what it stood for is clearly in the past…..”

Of course, I’d be silent on how some folks felt that it was plain wrong (‘bordering on arrogance’) to assume that most people would be on twitter and would want to connect with me on twitter. ( ‘Business cards provide options’, was also heard!). For now though, that argument isn’t going too far with me. Will keep you posted. Also, at the end of this conference, I still have a clutch of business cards to sort given to me by people. I only have the satisfaction of not having given out any.

That day, much after the conference, I was checking in at the airport. I didn’t realise that my shirt continued to sport the badge. An old lady with a quiver in her voice that didn’t energy and curiosity, was seated next to me at the airport She was visiting her grand kids in Mumbai she said. We spoke about the weather and such else. After a while, she asked, ‘what is that trinket pinned on your chest’?

Now, it had been a long day. I was tired. I took a moment to gather my energy and wondered where I should begin. She wasn’t in any mood of waiting though. With a smile and mischief filled half wink said, “Whatever it is, it looks good. I haven’t seen it before. Besides, its close to your heart”.

That settled it well!

Keeping count

We were all set to get into a meeting and the phone rang. I had a few minutes. I picked the call to hear a lady with an impeccable accent speak.  She cut through the basics as only accomplished professionals can. “We work on getting you more followers on twitter” she said.

In another few minutes of conversation, it was widely apparent that she not only knew what she was talking about but was also good at speaking about it. It boiled down to this: For a fixed fee, my follower count will magically increase. It was a tiered approach. Different fee for different slabs!

I was more than intrigued for several reasons. For one, she gave me stats about my twitter account that I hadn’t quite bothered to keep up with.

Second, ‘enhancing follower count’ was a ‘business model’ that merited an outbound call to an individual (and not a brand). After all, getting marketer friends to think and talk beyond buying ‘likes’ and ‘followers’ on Facebook and Twitter has been an uphill trudge of sorts.

But to an individual?

An individual buying more followers (“Grow the follower count inorganically” as the lady put it) seems very creative but doesn’t cut much respect. This of course is my perspective and I can frankly do with some education here.

Forgive me if this sounds clichéd and you can’t help letting go of a yawn. I come to twitter to learn. That learning is from conversations. And benefiting from all the stuff people around the world are sharing on a continual basis. The follower count and all the statistics thereon, matter much less, relative to all that I am garnering from the place. It is a fantastic market place of sorts filled with rich conversations often blossoming into relationships and influence beyond borders.

Short cuts come with compromises.

“Isn’t it easy”, I asked her, after recovering from the initial surprise, “for anyone to click on the “followers” you are promising to get, to figure out that most of the followers are eggheads”?  Or at best, a smorgasbord of flotsam and jetsam. Or people with absolutely no relation to what I tweet about usually. Isnt it a sure fire way of destroying reputation? Wasn’t it flirting with disaster?

By now, I guess she realised, that there wasn’t much of a point to her continuing the conversation with me. “Look, who has the time to click into your follower list and verify?”, she said with mild irritation. “And lots of people are doing it”. That was the last straw. Of course, I know people who are doing this to themselves. It saddens me, but then, who am I to judge.  Perhaps a few calls like this one went lured them or tipped them over. Whatever! I hung up soon after, thanking her for the midweek lesson and politely told her that I have no names to offer her as ‘leads’ (after she asked).

The ask on twitter is simple, it is to give! It is to participate in conversations and exchange ideas. Or at least that’s how I work it. If there is an interesting point of view or a conversation thats on, I relish and jump in. Irrespective of follower count.


From Hugh MacLeods @gapingvoid Daily Cartoon for March 10, 2010

Euan Semple wrote a fantastic post on ‘agency’.  The stuff that he didn’t write about there, is that it takes time to build relevance and agency. It takes hard work. Buying your way into ‘relevance’ doesn’t work. For in most cases, it so easy to lose what you build when word spreads!

Another fantastic post that I came across some time ago is this.  Do give this a read. It is about crafting your story. Not just the story, but to live a life that is worthy enough to tell that story with pride!

The lady was right. I dont have the time (and more importantly the inclination) to peer into anybody’s follower count to check if we should chat. A point of view, a pointer to a resource with respect and fun is nevertheless going to get me and most people started on a conversation.

I guess the classic ‘goals & measures’ debate applies. The goal in some quarters is to ‘have fun / influence / learn etc’ on twitter. Sometimes that gets measured through follower count. In the melee to get more “followers” the goal of being ‘really successful’ in twitter is missed. And slowly the primary goal becomes increasing the ‘follower’ count and voila, the measure has morphed to become the goal. When measures become the goal, mayhem follows.

Am not sure if there is anything more than a sustained enthusiasm to evolve and revolve around sharing and being of help in the stream. Wichever stream. Followers and reputation will happen, with engagement and relationships over time. “Pay to magically grow your twitter followers” doesn’t quite add up in my mind. At any point in time, it can singularly ruin a reputation.

I am sorry if this post takes a ‘holier than thou’ hue. Thats not my intention. To experience a marketing campaign that attempts to lure people down the wrong road (or so I think) raises a few heckles in me.

Sometime later, I read this “Eulogy for Twitter” (with a subtitle which read “The beloved social publishing platform enters its twilight.”) and this response to it on Slate. Of course all via twitter.  I thought again of the impeccable accent and the call. Several things began to fall in place.

Now that the rant is over, here’s wishing you a fantastic week ahead. May we all work at the arc of possibility and create futures that we can be truly proud of.