We Trust Strangers

Perhaps one of the biggest shifts that came from the social web is the shift in  trust.

The shift was not just because we were all suddenly connected. The shift happened in large part because of the egos of large corporations. Corporations who lied to us, cheated us, and used and abused us.

Visions and Values statements, blah, blah, blah.

A 2002 New York Times Opinion article about Enron shows exactly how people felt about the talking points of a campany’s values statement

At Enron.com, the company’s Web site, one learns that as a ”global corporate citizen” Enron intends to conduct itself in accord with four capital-V Values: Respect, Integrity, Communication and Excellence. This is fairly standard stuff, but a more detailed reading may provide some insight into Enron’s corporate psyche.

Take respect: ”We treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves.” Fair enough. But Enron elaborates: ”We do not tolerate abusive or disrespectful treatment. Ruthlessness, callousness and arrogance don’t belong here.” Oh my. Who brought up ruthlessness, callousness and arrogance? As a corporate communications editor, I’ve read hundreds of companies’ V&V statements, and nowhere have I seen a single reference to ruthlessness, callousness or arrogance — let alone all three.

Well, at least Enron’s leaders thought it important to produce a statement of values. Imagine what they might have done had they found themselves without this moral compass.

Enron was the start of several corporations that revealed their true colors during the recession of the early millennium. Millions of people lost their jobs, their investments and their trust in big business.

Interestingly, it was around this time that we started seeing the development and growth of peer to peer sharing, social software, and the total disregard for corporate profits.

Of course corporations fought back, but who are they fighting?

There is a great book called Starfish and the Spider which talks about the challenges of fighting an organization that does not have an established “head”. See with a spider, if you cut off the head, the spider dies, but if you cut off an arm of a starfish it simply grows a new arm. These peer to peer sharing movement online are built as starfish organizations and the key to creating such a resilient movement is to have a process where we trust strangers.

Peer to peer sharing of music is a perfect example of what we continue to see happening online.

(We trust strangers)

It’s estimated that there were 8.63 million users of P2P services in the United States alone in April 2005. – page 12

recording industry has lost – 25 percent of its revenue since the onslaught of these services. – page 13

(Arrogance and Ego)

But as the labels were repeatedly winning lawsuits against P2P companies, the overall problem of music piracy was getting worse and worse. It wasn’t that the labels weren’t vigilant enough. It was actually the opposite – the labels were adding fuel to the fire with every new lawsuit. The harder they fought, the stronger the opposition grew. – page 15

(Defeating the Ego)

But Napster’s destruction didn’t quell people’s desire for free music. Imagine that you’re a kid who’s been drinking from the fountain of free downloaded music. All of a sudden, some guys in suits turn off the spigot and declare you a criminal. Sure, you can go back to the record store – a place you haven’t seen for months – and shell out three hours’ salary for a CD. A more attractive option, however, is to find a Napster equivalent. – page 22

(Trusting strangers)

Within twelve months, more than 250 million copies of Kazaa had been downloaded. The avalanche of music-swapping was massive. Kazaa gave power to the users without the need for a central server. – page 23

(Opportunity)

The record labels have been out there for about a hundred years. And for a hundred years they’ve been paying the artists cents on the dollar, if that. They are starting to try to recharacterize what they do for a living as marketing companies – page 26

This is a momentous shift with many pirates, many victims, but many more opportunities. As the old models break down, new more innovative models are being developed. Musicians have direct access to a large audience without the gatekeeper of the recording labels and entrepreneurs  have new problems to solve which will require new ways of thinking about an entire industry.