Anonymity might be the only path to building community in an age of corporate brand preservation.
I think Anonymous is relevant in this context because an online business commons lives at the intersection of the hive mind that is the Internet and the hive mind that is corporate brand protection. And the only way to get past that deafening buzz is for business portals to invest in -- and for business consumers to adopt -- a credentialing authority for the anonymous business masses online, something similar to what InformationWeek did for me.
The closest I've seen to what we need is on LinkedIn. When you click on "Who's viewed your profile," you see a mix of real names (the brave), those who "chose to be shown as anonymous" (the cowardly) and the people who fit somewhere in between:
--Someone in the Design industry from the Dallas, Texas, Area
--Someone in the Computer Software industry from the San Francisco Bay Area
--Someone in the Legal Services industry from the Anchorage, Alaska, Area
It's that last set of people who, in the context of a community dialogue, have shared enough with me to let me feel connected.
Trust is an entirely different matter. Sites can easily ask users for city, industry and role information, but people can just as easily dodge that ask (see sockpuppetry).
A handful of companies have taken on the challenge of verifying identities, usually for commerce. But the need that continues to go unmet is that of verified anonymity -- for all of us in the business world who want to contribute to the creation of a thoughtful online community but can't risk the crosshairs of Big. There probably is a company or product out there that's perfect for this challenge. We just need to introduce it to the business portals.
The Insipid Message Of The Social Media Rah-Rahs
If I read another "10 reasons" article about why companies should use Twitter or why executives should tweet, my tweet will tweet!
I finally signed Coverlet up. Not because I have insight to share. In fact, I'm thinking about tweeting my weight every day. Frame it as half protest, half art installation.
169. If you're wondering.
Here's the thing: Despite my rants about Big, I care deeply about the company where I work. It's filled with big-hearted people with whom I actually enjoy spending my 14-hour workdays. I'm using every bit of my influence and brain power to help pull this institution -- my institution -- out of irrelevancy. My business partners might care about our decreasing profit margins and banking's potential disintermediation by startups founded by twentysomethings, but at the end of the day I care only about creating a sustainable, humble, empathetic, moral business that can support several hundred thousand real livelihoods.
Despite my snarky soul, I don't want to tarnish my institution's reputation. And given that social media is so easy to mine that even Big can do it (see, I can't help myself), I have three options:
1. I can keep my mouth shut online.
2. I can post under my real name but keep my opinions bland.
3. I can be lucky enough to know someone at InformationWeek who continues to confuse my sarcastic, metaphor-laced, over-the-top rants with "speaking truth to power."
You, dear reader, do not have option 3.
But that can and hopefully will change. (I know the editors at InformationWeek certainly lose sleep over issues of community and how to foster it.)
We all understand that organic, unrefined conversations in the public sphere are replete with real risks: They invite litigation, increase regulatory pressure and abrade brand sensitivities. The point of "verified anonymity" isn't to hide what you're saying from your institution, but to sidestep these risks with a mutually beneficial alternative that advances a higher purpose: the creation of a thoughtful business commons.
If we do it right, it can lead to the same kind of civility that we see on Grandma's Facebook wall. And, oddly, I wrote that last sentence without sarcasm.