Pioneers of Social Media–Introduction

February 21, 2011 · 10 comments in Pioneers

[NOTE: I use social media tools to help me write books. I get insight and feedback from people on this blog, on Twitter and on Facebook. I've done this twice before and the result has been a much better book without the help from so many friends.

There's a process. I turn to readers for suggestions on who to write about. I post early versions of each chapter. What you say--or don't say--guides the heavy rewriting and correction that becomes the finished project.

Below is my first draft of the Introduction to Pioneers of Social Media, my third book. Please let me know how I can make it better. Also, please look at the Table of Contents [TOC] [] that I posted last week and suggest names of people you think I should add to the list.]


“Some day” has come

Six years and one week ago, Robert Scoble and I published a book called Naked Conversations. Like so many authors, we wanted to finish the book with some sort of visionary big picture for the impact of blogs and podcasts on business and society. We came up with this outlandish forecast that some day in the distant future the revolution that has become social media would transform the institutions of business, government, education, journalism, health, entertainment and religion.

We had no idea  how far, wide and fast “some day” would occur. We did not see Twitter coming. We never would have forecast 600 million people on a college dating network called Facebook. We did not envision that in our lifetime presidential candidates, rock stars and revolutionary would embrace the tools on a regular basis.

And that was just six years ago, about halfway through a revolution that is now coming to a close. Until now, it has disruptive the status quo. It has been disdained and disliked by many people in power. Now it is being embraced almost everywhere.

For social media, the Age of Disruption is fast coming to a close. The revolution, for the most part, is over and much to my surprise the goods seem to have won. Many people may not seem to realize that this revolution even occurred, but their kids do. Every institution is already changed. All the rest is the tedious process of mopping up along a very long tail.

Those who do not see what has occurred are likely to be in organizations that will not exist at the end of this decade.

With the end of disruption comes the dawn of a new Age of Normalization. This has started already and is moving fast. People talk less about the tools themselves and use them more to get their jobs done and to enjoy lives and friends in new ways. Almost nobody believes that this is all a fad, which was the conventional wisdom in 2006.

Social media in the workplace is being refined. Innovative ideas are becoming best practices. Cool stories to be shared have become case studies. The media is chocked full of articles, nt on how to get started in social media but on how to do it better.

Professionals are learning how to monitor and measure the conversational tools of social media, and analysis of soft qualities such as engagement and influence are getting better pretty quickly.

Social media is being woven into the fabric of most everything.

This is a good thing, if you ask me, and it is the way it should be. But with it, there are unintended consequences. The torch of social media is being passed to a new generation and with it, the stories of the people who led us there are starting to be forgotten.

The other day I was speaking on a panel in San Francisco and I mentioned Cluetrain,” [] a reference to the 1999 fountainhead book of this revolution. In the audience, primarily comprised of this next generation of social media practitioners, I noticed many glazed over eyes. A few days later, at another gathering, I mentioned Howard Rheingold [] and  The Virtual Community [], and saw puzzled looks once again.

These two closely coupled incidents surprise me and made me a little sad. What these pioneers of social media accomplished happened between 1995 and 2010, yet they are already being forgotten even by members of a growing cadre who consider themselves social media professionals.

My friends and colleagues, these pioneers of social media, are being quickly  forgotten even by those whose enthusiasm and professions are immersed in social media.

This book is for this next generation. If you are among the burgeoning horde of new social media professionals and enthusiasts, this book is for you. I want you to know how we got today, so that you can get us to an even better tomorrow before your kids take the reins.

The idea for this book has been with me for years. I’ve been interviewing social media innovators on my blog for years and I thought that some day, I might compile their stories into some sort of anthology. But those two recent incidents made clear to me that the time to do so should be sooner, rather than later.

Pioneers of Social Media is about 60 people who blazed the paths the rest of us have followed. I use conversations with most of them to tell you the stories from their perspectives.

My guess that some future historians will write about many of these same people after they are gone. They will portray them in that larger-than-life style historians seem to often be fond of. I wanted to give the pioneers themselves the chance to tell their stories from their own experience and hopefully future historians will use it as a basis to portray them as well.

All but one of the people that I tell you about are still living. Most are still contributing. Only one, an Iranian woman named Neda [] is no longer with us. She became a social media pioneer in the saddest possible way. She was murdered on the streets of Tehran as a digital camera witnessed the atrocity. Ironically, she is the youngest of my 60 pioneers.

I believe I am well-suited to write this story. I have been a part of it, but more as a witness than as a contributor. I have met many of the people I am about to tell you about. I have collaborated with a few, learned from many and some are  friends.

This is a history book. But don’t worry, you won’t be quizzed. And I won’t inundate you with dates and and attempts to deify people who, for the most part, are very much like you and me. Winston Churchill allegedly said that history is written by the victors.

In this case you and your children and grandchildren are the victors. The people I am going to tell you about weren’t victors, so much as starters. They took social media where it had never been. They are not the giants of history books. But the did some things during their lives that have had monumental impact those of us who have followed and those who will follow us.

Pioneers of Social Media is a story-teller’s book. I focus on people over events. I think history is more interesting, and my pioneers are comprised overwhelmingly of really interesting and original people. Most accomplished what they did, working alone, but each of them succeeded by having very collaborative approaches.

A particularly challenging issue for me has been where to start the book. So many events have occurred before we knew this was a social media revolution. I elected to start with The Virtual Community and Cluetrain Manifesto, the two books that got the rest of us thinking.

But I have inserted a Prologue to tell you about some of the technologies, incidents and people that preceded our Founding Fathers, the people who go us all started on our way.

Enjoy this book. If you are reading sharable versions please pass it along. When you are through with it, please donate it to your local library. And please, let me know what you think.  I am @ShelIsrael on Twitter, ShelIsrael on Facebook, and on quaint, old-fashioned email.

Feb 21, 2011

{ 5 trackbacks }

Tweets that mention Pioneers of Social Media–Introduction — Global Neighbourhoods --
February 21, 2011 at 12:14 pm
Pioneers of Social Media–Introduction — Global Neighbourhoods
February 21, 2011 at 4:30 pm
PR Communications
February 24, 2011 at 6:48 pm
Pioneers: Ch 1 From Darkness to Aquarius — Global Neighbourhoods
March 2, 2011 at 7:17 pm
Pioneering Social Media | Fluid Studio
July 22, 2011 at 7:56 am


Tinu February 21, 2011 at 4:38 am

I enjoyed the introduction, and how it puts a context on what the book will be about. I’m wondering, though, about the thread of connection between you and people in the generation this audience addresses. It’s as if there’s a reference missing somewhere that skips over the fact that a present pioneer is writing to future pioneers. Maybe it’s your humility. Or perhaps there needs to be a preface written by someone considered their contemporary.

shelisrael February 21, 2011 at 4:40 am

@Tinu I don’t consider myself one of the pioneers so much as a reporter. So I’m not sure it’s humility, but I see your point.

LucretiaMaddenPruitt February 21, 2011 at 4:33 am

It looks intriguing Shel – but putting my reader hat on?
“My friends and colleagues, these pioneers of social media, are being quickly forgotten even by those whose enthusiasm and professions are immersed in social media.”
This sends me down the wrong path.
It sounds more like martyrs dying for a cause than pointing out that there hasn’t been an emphasis on the people who made such differences in this space that their suggestions, observations, and prophesies have become “common knowledge” for the average ‘next gen’ social media professional.
I think I’d rather focus on the fact that the things we take for granted were once revolutionary and that knowing who pioneered these spaces is less about ‘paying tribute to forgotten revolutionaries’ and more about providing their stories so that we have an understanding of the forces that shaped their thoughts and provided the foundations for the change that has happened.

Okay, writing that paragraph was torturous – maybe that’s why you didn’t take that tack, lol.

But honestly – from a reader standpoint, that part rings off. Looking forward to reading this one though!!

shelisrael February 21, 2011 at 4:38 am

@LucretiaMaddenPruitt Good point Lucretia. I’ll adjust accordingly.

LucretiaMaddenPruitt February 21, 2011 at 5:08 am

@shelisrael Thanks Shel! I’m actually really looking forward to this one. I love the ‘human story’ behind every invention, innovation, and discovery. It so helps to understand how we, as people, get where we are. :)

Comments on this entry are closed.