The Humanity of the Web: Reflections of a Social Computing Evangelist

Gran Canaria - Puerto de MogánA little while ago Courtney Hunt, from the talented Denovati Group, reached out to me through Twitter, and then LinkedIn, to ask me whether I would like to contribute to a book project they are working on to go and celebrate the World Wide Web’s Coming of Age, since this year, 2014, we all, collectively, celebrate its 25th anniversary. Yes, I know, I couldn’t just reject such kind, generous and overall wonderful opportunity, as I am sure you would all agree with me on how much we owe Sir Tim Berners-Lee for such life changing invention with a huge impact on each and everyone of us, not just in a work context, but also in our personal lives and our society. I mean, could you possibly imagine a Life Without the WWW today? I know I couldn’t, and that’s why I thought about participating further along to that effort with my humble contribution, as a token of immense gratitude for a lifetime transformation journey from, once being a technophobe, back in the day, into, nowadays, truly loving the enablement power of the Web that’s helping us regain our very own essence: our humanity.

What you will find attached below, since it is already now publicly available at the Denovati Group Web site, is the book chapter that I submitted where I reflected on my own overall experiences and interactions with the World Wide Web from over the course of the last 17 years that I have been actively making the most out of it, day in day out. It hasn’t been an easy task to do, more than anything else, because there have been so many anecdotes, stories, life changing experiences and good overall transformation all around that I eventually decided to just focus on what I feel is perhaps the most profound impact that the World Wide Web has had in yours truly over the course of the last 15 years. Of course, I am talking about the Social Web and I am sure, as you continue to read further along, that you would probably be envisioning what single experience I picked up to reflect further on that would describe that shift from hating technology / computing (back in my high school years) to absolutely loving the WWW for what has done not just for me as a knowledge (Web) worker, but also for everyone else, for that matter. 

The title of the article / book chapter is “The Humanity of the Web: Reflections of a Social Computing Evangelist” and you would be able to find it as well over here. However, since it has been out already for a good few days I thought I would also take the liberty to reproduce it over in this blog as an opportunity for me to reflect and continue to celebrate perhaps one of the most profound and of deep impact inventions in the history of the human race on this planet. Most probably, at the very same level as the invention of the Printing Press, if not even more significant. 

Thus, without much further ado, here’s the article, on its entirety, reproduced below:

“There was a time when I didn’t quite like technology. Back in my high school years, computing was one of the subjects that I kept struggling with time and time again. Eventually I gave up on it. You could say I was a bit of a technophobe. I moved on to a career in humanities instead. Fast forward to 2014 and today I wouldn’t be able to get by without the World Wide Web. What happened then? Well, transformation is what happened. The Internet changed my life 17 years ago, and my relationship with it is still going strong.

On January 20th, 1997, I started working for the largest IT firm in the world, IBM. From the very beginning, at the infancy of the World Wide Web, I realised that perhaps my high school experiences with computing didn’t provide the best foundation for my relationship with technology, and maybe I needed to move forward and restart with a clean slate. That’s when the transformation journey commenced.

As time went by, I started to get more and more heavily involved with technology. It all began for me with customer service – first the mainframe, then PCs, then ultimately the Internet. It was in 2000, when I was exposed for the first time to something called “wikis,” that I had that aha moment, realising how the Web – the Social Web that was then only just getting started – would change us all for good, whether in our personal or work lives. There would be no turning back.

That was the time when I realised the key, paramount role that technology and the Web would play in helping us collaborate and share our knowledge much more effectively in the workplace. It was that time as well when I realised that, if anything, the main purpose for the Web was to help us connect, build relationships, collaborate more effectively and eventually do our jobs better. The Web as an enabler – a very powerful enabler, reflecting a fundamental shift in terms of how we would get our work done, how critical remote, virtual collaboration would become over the course of time. How hoarding and protecting your own knowledge would be very limited in the long run. And, instead, how sharing it openly and transparently, through the (Social) Web, would give us an opportunity to change how the business world works – and for that matter, society as a whole.

During those early years, as I got more heavily involved with wikis, profile aggregators, blogs, social bookmarks, file sharing, podcasting, tagging, messaging, and various other key elements from the so-called Web 2.0, I continued to nurture the excitement of how technology would have a much more significant impact than anything we may have witnessed over the course of the last few centuries. And so I became a Social Computing Evangelist.

It’s not an easy task to help people understand how they can benefit from the Web, especially all the various social networking tools, but I have learned over the course of time that the job of a social computing evangelist becomes a whole lot easier when you practice what you preach. That’s essentially when people will start noticing the potential impact of the Web, when they can see it working in real day-to-day work interactions not just for the benefit of a few, but for everyone. That’s why, after years of evangelising about the enabling capabilities of the Social Web, I decided to take things to the next level and make it an integral part of my work and personal lives.

Email has been with us for over 40 years, and most people would probably tell you they couldn’t live without it. It’s become so integral to how we share information, stay in touch, get work done, etc. that to imagine a world without email would be probably more of a nightmare than anything else. Well, that’s exactly what I did – I not only imagined a world without email, I lived in it!

In February 2008, after 8 years of evangelising about the power of social networking, both in a work and life context, I decided it was a good time to put my actions where my words were. To help demonstrate what the Social Web was capable of, I decided to tell the whole world that I would no longer use email in a corporate environment to get work done and collaborate with my peers. It was pretty much like that already in my personal life, where the vast majority of my interactions happened through the Web, so I figured I might as well give it a try at work and see how it would play out.

Many of my colleagues thought I was crazy. You know, “How are you going to survive in a large corporate environment without using email?” they would say. “There is a great chance that you would end up getting fired if you continue pursuing that unrealistic idea,” they added. Yet I was convinced more than ever that the move would open the door to a new reality of sharing, caring, and helping one another, which is essentially what the Social Web has been enabling all along. And as stubborn as I am, I decided to continue pulling it off to see where it would take me.

Initially, plenty of people thought that I just wanted to kill email, ban it for good, get rid of it, annihilate it from the corporate workplace. I must confess that back then I too had those thoughts. However, things didn’t work out that way. Throughout all of those years of living a “Life Without Email” I realised that I didn’t want to kill the tool, or the system. I just wanted to improve the way we work together, as a team, as a network, as a community. And that’s when it all turned into helping people understand how this movement I founded over 6 years ago had then a single premise: open up to a new world of interactions, of connections, of serendipitous knowledge discoveries that, sooner or later, would affect the way we work and eventually become the new norm: an interconnected, hypernetworked (business) world.

The Web is a wonderful thing, especially the Social Web. We owe a great deal to Sir Tim Berners-Lee for helping change our lives forever. Indeed, all of these social media capabilities have helped us generate that conscious collective knowledge of wanting to do wonderful things, of repurposing and creating a new meaning for what we do with our daily lives: connectedness. It’s developed an ability to regenerate our empathy by caring and helping one another that we humans can’t just deny, neglect or ignore. We have been born with an innate urge to help each other when in need. It’s in our genes. Part of our DNA, our social fabric.

And that’s what makes the Web so special. It’s got that ability to help us humanise ourselves, to remind us all tof our ability to connect, share and build relationships with others no matter where they may be in this world. And that’s exactly the journey I started over 17 years ago, a journey that has proved how an initial dislike of technology (from my high school years) can turn itself into an unprecedented love of technology. The Web is helping us regain our very own sense of humanity: that of belonging to the group, our tribe. The one with which we can make the world a better place. One human at a time. Not just for us, or our children, but for our children’s children.

That’s the legacy the Web will be leaving behind. That’s our legacy: leave this world a better place than we found it. The Internet is us, we are the Internet. And all of that, without using a single email but through the power of the Connected, Social Web.

Hello, my name is Luis Suarez, a.k.a. @elsua. I am one of the billions of netizens out there… Are we connected yet?”

Happy anniversary, our very dear World Wide Web! May you keep flourishing for many, many decades to come!

We don’t need no regulation.
We don’t need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the network
Government: Leave our net alone
Hey! Government! Leave our net alone!
All in all it’s just another brick in the wall.
All in all you’re just another brick in the wall

 

Written by Luis Suarez

Chief Emergineer, People Enabler and Charter Member of Change Agents Worldwide and a well seasoned Social / Open Business evangelist and 2.0 practitioner with over 15 years of experience on knowledge management, collaboration, learning, online communities and social networking for business, and has been living, since February 2008, a (work) life without email challenging the status quo of how knowledge workers collaborate and share their knowledge by promoting openness, transparency, trust, sustainable growth, engagement, connectedness and overall smart work. He can also be contacted over in Twitter at @elsua, Google Plus or LinkedIn.

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The Therapy of Blogging While Showing Off Your Ideas Out in the Open

You may have noticed how over the course of the last few days I haven’t had much of a chance to blog over here. And it is not because things may well be so incredibly hectic that I wouldn’t have enough time for it. Quite the opposite, actually. I am continually looking at the prospect of writing away, as, you know, there is always time for blogging, right? In my 11 years of blogging itself I don’t think I have ever experienced the good well known writer’s block when putting together the next article. I have always felt it’s just a matter of whether you have got something interesting, relevant and valuable to share across for others to keep improving with their additional commentary and eventually have a really good conversation on a given topic as a result of it. And today’s musing, while it’s been in my mind for over a week now, is pondering what is a blog without comments, after all? Is it still a blog? Or, on the other hand, just a regular Web site that you dip in your toes for a minute or two and then move on? Should blogs have comments turned off by default and still be called a blog? What do you think? 

The main reason why I am reflecting on this topic of whether a blog is still a blog without comments enabled is because over the course of the last few days (nearly a week now!) elsua.net has been under an attack of spam comments that I have never seen in the 11 years that I have been blogging away. So vicious that I eventually had to turn comments off, because even Akismet couldn’t handle the load. And they are still disabled. And it hurts. Tremendously. More than anything else because I feel like I have just killed off the conversation. 

This is not the first time that I get hit by spam comments. In fact, till recently, Akismet was telling me it caught over 4 million of them since October 2005 when I started this Internet blog (two years after my Intranet corporate one came alive). However, this is the first time that it’s taking me so long to turn on comments and bring back the conversation. And the issues are still there, which is the main reason why I haven’t been blogging in the last week, because I kept thinking what’s the point of writing over here, if other people can’t read AND comment on the blog, right? (If they so wish, that is…)

Yes, I know plenty of people out there would still view blogging (despite the 20 years that have gone by since the first weblog came out) as a publishing platform where people just show off. Of course, they do. They show off constantly, but not necessarily their selves, but, most importantly, their ideas or deeper thoughts on those topics they are truly passionate about and that they would want to share with others to start off a conversation. That’s where comments kick in. 

Yes, I know plenty of people out there think that blogging, in some way, is a kind of therapy and I would probably have to agree with that sentiment, as that is, some times, the kind of effect that I get when I sit down and start writing myself. Like in this case, for instance, this article I am putting together, where, out of sheer frustration about that spam comment attack, I am using it as an opportunity to flush it out, get it out of my system and carry on, hoping that at some point things would go back to normal. 

Yes, I know as well plenty of people have been writing over the course of time about the multiple various benefits of blogging and how to get things started with your own, whether for personal or business interests, but perhaps one of my favourite quotes that would keep justifying for me the argument as to why a blog is still incredibly powerful is the one that, just recently, Dave Winer put together under the heading Why Blog?

The mission of blogging is to empower all of us to go directly to each other with our expertise. So if you know something as well as anyone else, or you learn something or know something that should be shared, then you should share it on your blog” [Emphasis mine]

And, once again, here I am finding myself debating what’s the point of having and maintaining a blog if you cannot keep the comments open and available to everyone who may want to share their ¢2. Rather frustrating altogether. Then you remember the beautifully crafted articles like David Weinberger’s “What blogging was” or Tim Kastelle’s “You Should Start a Blog Right Now“ and you realise that you just need to build on further on your patience levels and wait for the attack to go by to then turn comments back on and you will be fine. Back in business. 

Well, that’s essentially what I will be doing. I will keep hanging in there and see if the spam comments attack will eventually go away so that I can get back on track. After all, blogging is still lots of good fun! And I miss it. Terribly. So I suppose I will just keep blogging away from here onwards imagining the wonderful conversations I could have had with you folks, but that they may need to wait for a little bit longer. So, please bear with me while we get over this spam storm. Hopefully, it won’t be too long before we get back to normal … 

Interestingly enough, and moving on into another topic that I would want to briefly touch base on, somewhat related, but perhaps worth of a separate blog post on its own to dig in further on it, a few of you commented, when I mentioned this issue through Twitter, and other social networking tools, that I should perhaps outsource the commenting system rather into Disqus or even Google Plus and move on forward with things. 

That certainly was a very interesting suggestion that I have been contemplating as well for a good while, even before this spam comment attack and all along I haven’t been convinced it would be the best option out there. In fact, it raises a number of different questions and concerns with yours truly in terms of where you host your (long term) content. Allow me to explain it perhaps with a metaphor I have been working my way through over the course of time, that I originally crafted for discerning the differences of publishing content in your blog versus elsewhere, i.e. other social networking tools. 

Imagine your blog is your home. That special space that you keep coming back to over and over again, because, you know, it’s your own online space on the Social Web. The place where you belong, where your thoughts are entertained in ways you couldn’t possibly even imagine by sharing them freely and openly with others, so that, over time, conversations develop, open knowledge sharing goes back and forth and trust builds up naturally, as folks have got an opportunity to visit your home, feel comfortable, learn about you and what you are passionate about and develop a relationship over the course of time through multiple interactions and overall good old participation in the back and forth dialogue.

Now, imagine you decide to go to someone else’s home and live there permanently. Like LinkedIn (with its recently open-to-everyone publishing platform), Medium (Blogging for the 9%), Tumblr, Google Plus, Blogger, WordPress.com, amongst several other options. How would you feel if, at one point, you are no longer welcome at their homes, or, even worse, how would you feel if those homes just disappear overnight without an opportunity for you to leave the party on time (with your content) to event share it elsewhere with others? I guess you know where I am heading, right? 

John Battelle described it beautifully in a recent LinkedIn article under the rather suggestive and thought provoking heading of “LinkedIn Is Now a Publishing Platform. Awesome. But First, Get Your Own Site”, where he confirms with this brilliant quote why I am myself not ready just yet to outsource my home for someone else’s: 

From now on I’m going on record as a passionate advocate of posting to your own site first, then posting to LinkedIn (or any other place, such as Medium).

Why? Well, it comes down to owning your own domain. Building out a professional profile on LinkedIn certainly makes sense, and bolstering that cv with intelligent pieces of writing is also a great idea. But if you’re going to take the time to create content, you should also take the time to create a home for that content that is yours and yours alone. WordPress makes it drop dead easy to start a site. Take my advice, and go do it. Given the trendlines of digital publishing, where more and more large platforms are profiting from, and controlling, the works of individuals, I can’t stress enough: Put your taproot in the independent web.

And that’s essentially what I will be doing from here onwards. Focus plenty more on building a beautiful home that everyone else out there on the (Social) Web can enjoy, if they so wish to drop by and pay a visit, and where I can help facilitate the space without hijacking the conversation just for the sake of thriving on attention. I don’t need it. At least, I don’t think I need it. What I do need though, for sure, is for the conversation to take place, openly, publicly, and available to others, because that’s how we, you and me, can keep up with our ongoing, constant learning paths.

For now, though, and while we wait for the spam comment attack to fade away, I guess this blog is under construction, currently being refurbished, if you wish, just like any home out there would do every so often, while we wait to turn on the comments once again. And bring back the conversation to life. 

I just can’t wait for that to happen! 

[Thanks ever so much everyone for the continued patience while enduring this painful experience and for all of the wonderful support offered thus far. It’s greatly appreciated. As always]


Written by Luis Suarez

Chief Emergineer, People Enabler and Charter Member of Change Agents Worldwide and a well seasoned Social / Open Business evangelist and 2.0 practitioner with over 15 years of experience on knowledge management, collaboration, learning, online communities and social networking for business, and has been living, since February 2008, a (work) life without email challenging the status quo of how knowledge workers collaborate and share their knowledge by promoting openness, transparency, trust, sustainable growth, engagement, connectedness and overall smart work. He can also be contacted over in Twitter at @elsua, Google Plus or LinkedIn.

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Gran Canaria – Celebrating the Mini-Continent

Today is a special day for yours truly. A very special day, actually. And I am not saying that because I know how perhaps half of the world (if not the whole world already!) may well be enjoying the various different celebrations of St. Patrick’s Day. So, if you are celebrating it, Happy St. Patrick’s Day nonetheless! Hope you are all having a good time with your loved ones, family and friends. The reason why I am very joyous and rather happy today though is because it’s exactly 10 years ago today that I decided to reboot my life, restart with a clean slate, and make a move to Gran Canaria, where I might find a new home and a new life altogether. That’s right, March 17th, 2004, I took a flight from The Netherlands (Rotterdam, to be more precise) to Gran Canaria to start a new life and 10 years later only thing I can say is that I’m rather privileged and grateful for having found it and for still going strong. 

There are no regrets. None whatsoever. In fact, all along, I have always felt it was probably the best decision I have ever made in my life, next perhaps to the one I have made 10 years later when, just recently, a bit over a month ago, I decided to make a move from IBM after 17 years of service in three different countries: The Netherlands, Ireland and Spain. Interestingly enough, I have always felt a rather close connection with Ireland myself, even more so when I spent a year over there in Dublin on an assignment for some project work I did back in the day. There are just so many things that I truly heart from that country, so when I decided I was moving back home from The Netherlands, I knew I would have to pick up a special date. One that I would remember forever with plenty of fond memories all around. And that date chosen is St. Patrick’s Day. 

Throughout the whole day I’ve been having lots of really good friends congratulating me and wishing me well for my birthday. I guess I have been a little bit of a naughty boy, because it’s actually not my birthday today. It was already in February (Another fellow Aquarian, I know, hehe), so I lied on the Web :-) 

On most social networking tools out there where I keep getting asked about my date of birth for my profile I never put my real one, since with it and a couple of other pieces of data, it’s relatively easy to impersonate someone. I mostly put the year I was born next to March 17th, perhaps more than anything else, because when I came over here it all felt like I was being re-born again, so what a better tribute one could pay to such a special date than to celebrate it as if it were your real (Internet) birthday, right? 

For all of those folks who have been sending along their kind and best wishes I would want to take this opportunity to thank each and everyone of you for making this day even more special. For helping me get a reminder of what it was like moving over here, to Gran Canaria, to begin everything again from scratch. 10 years later, I am only now just getting started, although it feels like I have been living over here forever. It’s not there just yet. It’s the second longest place I have ever lived in, apart from my family place, back in mainland Spain (León). So it does feel like I have been here for a long long time. 

And, of course, it was time to celebrate such milestone, don’t you think? Well, that’s exactly what I have been doing whole weekend long, including today!, of course :) by spending most of the time visiting one of my favourite places on the whole island: Puerto de Mogán, to just be reminded, once again, why I moved over here 10 years ago: 

Those of you who may have visited Puerto de Mogán at some point in time would know, and probably agree, what a stunning place that little fishermen’s village is to not only just walk out and about, but also to enjoy some stunning scenery that can be, if anything, rather breath taking: 

But not only that. Little Venice, as it is very well known for, has got a lot more to offer, like rather long walks along the harbour enjoying spring in full bloom in almost every single corner of the village making it a true pleasure for your eyes and your sense of smell to be taken away while the rest of the senses are just getting started to experience beauty and charm in equal doses: 

And, finally, the last stroll along the beach that acts as a clear reminder as to why I felt in love with Gran Canaria 10 years ago and why, 10 years later, it is just as strong as ever! Yes, it probably doesn’t get any better than this: 

I don’t know how much longer I may be living in Gran Canaria. Only time would know for sure, perhaps different various circumstances as well, I guess. At this point in time, I am taking each year as another gracious gift that I have been given without asking for anything in return and, as such, the only thing that I have got left is to write down this blog post as a token of immense gratitude for having Gran Canaria make me feel right at home in paradise. Carpe diem, as some of you may be thinking about at this very moment. For me, it’s a sincere Thanks! for changing my life back 10 years ago and for continuing to do so today.

March 17th, 2014! Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone and here’s to many many more years in paradise to come further along! And, remember, if you ever come over to Gran Canaria, get in touch. I would love to share with you all plenty of the hidden, golden gems this gorgeous island has got to offer to every single explorer

Me, included! :-D

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