The Myth of Control
I have one more reflection about the Technology Conference from last week. As Reggie pointed out in his post, the buzz was much more about web 2.0 than it was about traditional technology "tools." The keynote speakers and many of the concurrent session speakers were exploring the role of blogs, wikis, social networks and other ways for users to collaborate more effectively and create value for themselves and others.
What struck me, however, was the nearly universal reaction of fear from association executives. The first questions tended to be along the lines of:
What are the liability risks?
What if they [web users] do something we don’t like or want?
What if they violate anti-trust laws?
How do you know if someone joins the network?
What if they do something disruptive?
How do we know that the time spent doing these things is really work?
I know I am generalizing here, but the mindset I heard from many people was one based in fear and control. More specifically, they were afraid of unleashing something that could not be controlled. If the association is going to do something, then it must be able to control the outcome. They will ensure that people play fair. They will control the content that is created. They own the value, and they distribute it (for a fee) to the users.
I think this kind of control is a myth. I am not sure it really was an entirely accurate way to look at how associations created value in the past (although it was closer), but it seems ridiculous to me now. Users create their own value. The community will police itself in terms of fairness. The people who create the content will control it, and even then, they won’t, once people start using parts of it in mash-ups.
I think if we can convince ourselves to give up control (that we probably didn’t have in the first place), we can start to unleash incredible potential. Parts of it may be messy, but the mess will be offset by the exponential gains in value.
And it may require a bit of a new identity for associations and the professionals who run them. We need to start getting out of people’s way, maybe give away things we used to hoard, maybe follow the people we used to "lead," maybe facilitate where we used to direct. Questions of liability, anti-trust, or productivity won’t go away, but we will probably ask (and, more importantly, answer) them differently.