When picking up a book about online trends and technologies, I always look at the date it was published. The rate at which things move on the web makes even five years enough time for a book to become dated. So I had doubts when I saw Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies by Charlene Yi and Josh Bernoff was published in 2008. Eight years is an eternity on the inter-web. But, the book had been recommended to me by a professor, so I took the chance.
The groundswell the book is constantly referring to is the mass of people online who are using social technologies like blogs, reviews, and forums to talk about companies and gather their own information. They represent the growing power of customers and individuals. Since the book was written, this trend has grown. People are banding together online in ever increasing numbers to threaten institutional power. The groundswell has grown much in the same way that it was predicted in the book. That is the real power of the book, that despite the number of years since it was published, its information is still relevant and compelling.
I actually liked that it was not quite up to date. The references to MySpace and Digg helped to remind me that the technology we use is constantly changing, so don’t get too attached to any one platform. It made me focus in on the theories being presented. And it reminded me to take all current predictions with the prescribed grain of salt. No matter what anyone says, the future is never certain.
Presented in an entirely readable way, anyone can understand and put into practice the theories espoused in the Groundswell. Case studies and academic knowledge were summed up and explained in groundbreaking ideas like: “don’t be stupid.” A lot of their advice might seem somewhat common sense, but the case studies and presentation of each point were what made them so understandable.
The overall tone of the book was very positive. I think that is part of what makes it a great book, especially for beginners. The encouragement to branch out and affirmative examples can help push someone to try something new. And no one will read this and feel shamed for not knowing something. However, I read it as a tad over optimistic. I think it glosses over some of the backlash and criticism companies do and will receive. But that doesn’t make these technologies not worth trying. I assume that was the point Yi and Bernoff were driving home.
Unlined by solid theories, I would easily categorize this book as a business book before aligning it with the niche of just social media. Even if you don’t have a Facebook account, you will still be familiar with the technology in this book. Things like product reviews and support forums online seem as integral a part of the web now as Google. But they do represent a change in the business landscape from twenty years ago.
In the end, this isn’t a book about the Internet or technology. It is about a new way of thinking. I found it helpful and interesting for sure. Definitely recommended reading for others interested in the Web 2.0 revolution and social media. Or if you find yourself being thrust in the middle of it and feeling lost, this is a good starting place. It manages to present a lot information without being too boring or technical. Clear, easy writing helps the nuggets of wisdom in Groundswell shine.
As I continue my business education in school and out, I hope to find other books as useful and readable.