Long before Mark Zukerberg became TIME’s Man of the Year, James Buck, a UC_Berkeley journalism student was arrested in Mahalla, Egypt, on April 10, 2008 while covering an anti-government protest there. On his way to the police station, James sent a one-word twit to his friends from his cell phone – “Arrested” … His fellow Twitteres spread the word; within hours the University and the government of the USA were alerted… diplomatic actions were set in motion and Mr. Buck was released.
As president Obama said yesterday “Wheel of history turned at a blinding pace” over the last two weeks in Egypt, and social networking had more than a fair share. Yesterday, when CNN asked Wael Ghonim (now famous activist and Google employee): "First Tunisia, now Egypt. What's next?" Ghonim's intriguing response was "Ask Facebook."
From a small start-up phenomenon, social networking technology has blossomed in to a force way beyond its fad-appeal. True, people continue to demonstrate an unstoppable obsession of reporting round-the-clock snippets of their daily life, profound and not-so-profound private details continue to clog the Facebook walls, yet fundamentally there is something at work… something that is very basic and human. Ultimately all the new social networking tools cater to a more innate genetic trait – the urge to connect, to communicate, to congregate, to share – both sorrow and success, to be in touch, to support and be supported and yes, to gossip and to show-off.
We had the same need when we were hunter-gatherers and congregated around the cave-fire at the end of the day. That’s why the big tree in the village square was always the place where everyone met and made big decisions, shared all the local news and gossip, where the young got advice from the elders.
The Twitter and Facebook (and their predecessors like MySpace) are raging because they enable the same community network under the village tree, albeit virtually and bring people together around the same ancient human urge. They are addressing a need hard-coded in our DNA. Not surprisingly perhaps, just this past week, we learnt Twitter as a business is being valued at a whopping $8Bn-$10Bn. This is for a company that had a 2010 revenue of only $45M and estimates its 2011 revenue to be around $100M. Facebook with its 600M members already has a valuation of $50Bn. And it is no where near its IPO. Hype or bubble? Could very well be… But meanwhile the role Twitter played in Egypt back in 2008, and the association both of them already have with the Egyptian revolution and one its more famous Facer Wale Ghonim is nothing short of historic.
Welcome to political engineering with social technology !! Happy Twittering.