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Hugh McGuire

Hugh McGuire

Posted: September 8, 2009 11:58 AM

Six Pixels of Clarity


Here's a bit of a confession, in the world of the web that I have been exploring with great excitement since 2004: the thing that has interested me least is marketing. Blogging, podcasting, wikis, Twitter, Idenit.ca, community filtering and big online datasets, and many other things have been thrilling to me because of the sorts of things they allow individuals and groups to do that they never could do before. Any artist with a tiny tiny bit of tech savvy can now get their work out to the whole world. Anyone with a message has nothing standing in their way. Even more exciting, groups of individuals scattered across the globe can collaborate on massive projects in ways never before possible. You always wanted to write novels? Well nothing is stopping you now. What about exploring your world of bespoke tailoring? Turns out there are people who want to read about it. Host your own radio show? About music, or about health problems in Africa, or interviewing old timers in rural areas -- all of this can be done, at almost no cost.

What has been called Web 2.0 has changed the dynamics of the universe. While there are some who think that Web 2.0 is just a marketing term, it was very real to me. I set up my first blog in July 2004 (using blogger -- then I migrated to Wordpress); and made my first Wikipedia edit in September 2004. Uploaded my first Flickr photo in October 2004. Made my first podcast in September 2005. These were my 1.0 to 2.0 events, when I went from being a consumer of the web to a creator as well. It was a thrilling change, and I am still awed by the great possibility that comes with the web.

But something funny happened with all this wonderfulness. The marketers got hold of Web 2.0 - or what some call social media. (Note: I should admit that some of my best friends are marketers). And frankly, the thing which has interested me least about the new web is marketing. Or at least, the only thing about the new tools of marketing that excites me is that it is now so easy for one person or a small group with good ideas to find people who want those good ideas. But the marketing side of social media, well, it's just never been my thing.

So it was very puzzling to me when I started developing a friendship with Mitch Joel. He is, after all, Canada's digital marketing rockstar, a world recognized thought-leader in how new digital channels change our relationship to brands, and how companies and people need to adapt.

So what was I doing enjoying spending time with Mitch so much? At first I chalked it down to Mitch's history as a music reporter in Montreal -- marketing guru or not, you gotta like someone who made a living for years interviewing Gene Simmons and the guys from Whitesnake. But that didn't seem to be enough; after all, unless someone told you about Mitch's background, you'd never know that his youth was spent attending metal concerts for a Montreal newspaper.

A couple of years ago, Mitch and I, and fellow-Montrealer Julien Smith started having lunches together once in a while, then it became a regular thing. And these lunches were always the highlight of my week. We would pontificate about the future, about what technology changes meant, and rage on about things that were changing too slowly or companies that just didn't get it. These lunches were thought-provoking and engaging and inspiring. They were great, even if Mitch was a marketer.

One time, Mitch and I drove back to Montreal from a conference in NYC. And in the car Mitch said something that made it click for me, made me understand why I liked Mitch the marketer so much. He said: "I want to totally change the way marketing is done. I want marketing to be about getting people who love something together with the people who have it." (I am paraphrasing my memory of the quote). And in a flash, it all made sense to me. I understood why I like Mitch so much.

My greatest interest in the web is the ability it gives to people to create wonderful things. And Mitch's real interest is helping connect wonderful things with the people who want them.

Having been knee deep in the web for a few years now, I am always surprised that what seems so obvious to we webby echo chamberists is not necessarily so obvious to the rest of the world. And I've long thought that someone needed to pen a book that would explain to people -- primarily to businesses -- what the hell all this stuff means.

Mitch has a new book out today that does just that: Six Pixels of Separation. What's so refreshing though is that he has written it as a business owner and entrepreneur, and not as a pundit. As a webby person, I found his insights about business to be deeply satisfying; as an entrepreneur, I found his take on the web to be extremely useful. He talks not so much about specific tools or channels (though he does that too), but instead about people who have used these new channels to do wonderful things (disclosure: my project LibriVox.org gets a mention).

The world has changed, and will continue to change. That has implications for anyone with an idea they want people to hear about, a thing they want to sell, a cause that is important to them, a group of people who depend on them. It has implications for individuals, and multinationals. Six Pixels of Separation is a great guide to the changing world.

Six Pixels of Separation

Follow Hugh McGuire on Twitter: www.twitter.com/bookoven