Government // Mobile & Wireless
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9/23/2013
11:26 AM
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Community And Anonymity Must Get Along

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.

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Coverlet
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Coverlet,
User Rank: Strategist
9/25/2013 | 2:15:20 AM
re: Community And Anonymity Must Get Along
Coverlet
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Coverlet,
User Rank: Strategist
9/25/2013 | 1:58:34 AM
re: Community And Anonymity Must Get Along
I have a LinkedIn Pro membership. Even after they get your money, those results remain vague. If you click on "Someone in a Leadership Role in Dallas," the resulting list is a dozen randoms who fit that description AND more often than not, your target... buried in there.

Been giving a lot of thought to LinkedIn. Although sock puppetry exists on the site, most users are real-- and have good reason to be honest about their profiles. It is-- for many-- a resume of sorts. So LinkedIn integration with a business portal (with similar obfuscation) might be the answer.

LinkedIn is also a case study in how vanilla a conversation can get. Their group discussion are out in the open-- with people's real business identities stapled to each comment. Reading the comments on that site would make you believe that the corporate world is filled with positive, always-helpful, life-affirming, Mother Teresa types.

Makes me ill.
WKash
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WKash,
User Rank: Author
9/25/2013 | 12:11:06 AM
re: Community And Anonymity Must Get Along
Your point about LinkedIn as a model for anonymity is an interesting one, though I believe users show up anonymously on one's "Who's viewed your profile," widget as a device to get you to upgrade your service with LinkedIn, to see who they really are, not to as a tool for building trust.
Coverlet
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Coverlet,
User Rank: Strategist
9/24/2013 | 10:56:39 PM
re: Community And Anonymity Must Get Along
People can set themselves up as anyone on the web.. How much do you-- Chris-- trust that a person with the username SeniorBankExec is a senior bank exec? I'll speak for myself and say not at all.

And that lack of trust-- completely earned by the behavior of the internet over the last several years-- is at the heart of our inability to connect on matters of business and business culture.

(It works when you're sharing cat pictures btw.)

This all begs the question of what needs to serve as the foundation of a civil community online for it to thrive. Ideally we should interact with ideas based on their merits, not whether they were posted by ipushfatkids37. But that leads to a very sterile, joyless experience. Business portals need to address the social need to connect (with real people).
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
9/24/2013 | 10:21:02 PM
re: Community And Anonymity Must Get Along
People could set up a Disqus account with the name SeniorBankExec44 today, right? Wouldn't that would provide both anonymity and some sheen of background information? I'm not sure it's really a missing infrastructure that prevents people from engaging anonymously. It might be a cultural taboo that it's somehow sneaky. But I think more likely it's a fear that they'll say something deemed over-the-line and get caught.
RobPreston
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RobPreston,
User Rank: Author
9/24/2013 | 4:28:34 PM
re: Community And Anonymity Must Get Along
The "institutional proofreaders," as Coverlet calls them, just don't understand that frank, even controversial dialog "in the wild" can enhance their brands. The communications run through legal, compliance and PR departments gets all the personality sucked out of it -- and no one wants to read it or respond to it. Companies need to take a stand and be willing to get criticized. The community (and your customers) will think better of you for it.
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