The Whuffie Factor

by Chris Applegate in News Google+

The very final talk of Thinking Digital last Friday was by Tara Hunt, who was talking about social capital in networks as part of her new book ‘The Whuffie Factor’. ‘Whuffie’, a word originally from Cory Doctorow’s novel ‘Down & Out In The Magic Kingdom’, is used by Tara to mean what has been also been described as ‘social capital’ or ‘guanxi’ in discussions of intra-community relations.

Of course in many ways the word ‘capital’ is opposite to its normal usage – whereas financial capital is exhausted by being used, social capital is only exhausted if it’s not used. As Tara put it – “the more you give away, the more you gain”. Online communities tend to be gift economies – but gift economies are nothing new and it’s worth studying their history – an excellent and very readable anthropological and sociological view is Lewis Hyde’s ‘The Gift’ and should be required reading for anyone who thinks social capital only came about with social media.

Of course there’s a natural tension between gift economies and market economies. Giving away everything for free is not the soundest of business models (although Matt Mason, author of ‘The Pirate’s Dilemma’, had some thoughts on that earlier in the day). But gifting time, help and effort to communities and helping the conversations within them, to help everyone’s whuffie grow (not just your own) is the key to proper social media engagement.

There is one quibble I have with Tara’s philosophy on whuffie – and I suspect this may be stuffy Brit clashing with extroverted American – which is her emphasis on being light-hearted. While I’d agree that having a sense of humour is important, being human is more important. And there are many occasions when it’s not appropriate to be light-hearted, particularly dealing with experiences and conversations that are negative. It’s harder to convey emotion in text when online than in person, and you need to be sensitive and respectful as much as you need to be good-humoured in those situations.

Tara’s presentation is at the top of the post – do check it out – although her rapid-fire and engaging presentation style mean it was much better with her speaking over the top of it…

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  • http://www.i-boy.com/weblog/ George Nimeh

    What I love about these presentations is how good they make me feel inside. Why? Because I know that we're on the right track … the track that stared somewhere around the time of the Cluetrain Manifesto and that we've been on ever since. Tara's preso is reassuringly obvious to those who've been doing “it” for a while.

    What I hate about these presentations is that they're preaching to the choir. We tweet this stuff back and forth. We embed it into our blogs. We talk about it at conferences. And so on. At the end of the day, it begins to feel like Echo-chamber marketing.

    Don't get me wrong … I'm all for thinkingdigital.co.uk and the themes of the conference. I'm just wondering how many people were already thinking digital before they came through the door and then nodded their way through in reassured agreement.

    So what I suggest is that you take this stuff to the people who need it. Take Tara's presentation and send it or present it or steal it or whatever …

    Oh, and does anyone know if Tara uses a speech-to-PPT generator? If so, I'd like to download it. Looks like it would come in handy.

    @iboy

  • Facebook User

    (Being lazy) What George said.

    I didn't even finish reading the Slideshare, it's long, pretty predicable and gets wuickly boring. I'm sure it was a lot better watching it rather than reading, but it really is only re-hashing exisiting stuff.

    Ask most people, they won't know who I am. They won't know who Tara is either (Nothing against her, just making a point). People know Stephen Fry or Oprah Winfrey. Funnily enough when those guys saw something in Twitter it started being adopted by a lot more people and now being taken seriously. And the celebrities don't deal in whuffie – or maybe they do, but that translates in hard cash pretty directly for them.

    PS: Chris, about the last comments, Tara is Canadian. I'll refer you to George's listing American stereotypes started earlier today. ;)

  • http://mammon.typepad.com/ Matt

    I got tired of clicking. Nothing good can come from a 293 slide powerpoint presentation. Fact.

  • http://tandot.co.uk/ Dave

    'Whuffie' is exactly what Goldharber was talking about at the end of last century, when he talked about the Attention Economy. It's nothing new, it's not about a made-up term from a sci-fi book, it's something real that has always been there.

    I hope her attempt to lend comic sans credibility gets off the ground!

  • http://shkspr.mobi/ TerenceEden

    Whuffie.reduce(“TaraHunt”,”Using Comic Sans”);

    While I like the idea of Whiffie, it's just too easy to see how it could be gamed. Of course, it's fairly easy to game regular reputation – not to mention how cultural clashes affect it (think “Honour Killings”).

    T

  • http://en-gb.facebook.com/people/Nathan-McDonald/629002720 Nathan McDonald

    @George – I agree with your sentiment, and as a fully paid up member of “the choir” I quickly left Tara's whuffie presentation at SXSW when I realised it was pretty much what I'd already seen on slideshare (as well as the fact that comic sans makes me angry). However there are probably many attendees of Thinking Digital or SXSW (or readers of this blog) who may never have thought about social capital in this way.

    @matt_law – As Chris points out, it works a lot better when you're listening to her speak over it, and don't have to click. But if you're free later on this afternoon I have a 314 slide presentation on why long presentations are really quite effective… :)

  • http://www.i-boy.com/weblog/ George Nimeh

    @Nathan “However there are probably many attendees of Thinking Digital or SXSW (or readers of this blog) who may never have thought about social capital in this way.”

    You think so? I'm not so sure … I'd expect that most readers of this blog/site would be switched on and expecting something new. From the comments on most posts, that seems to be the case.

    At yesterday's media140 event, it was a deeper dive into the subject of realtime news and media with real case studies and debate from people on the ground actually doing it. I thought it was incredibly valuable … and no comic sans in sight. Ha!

    Best save the topline shit for the generalist conferences sponsored by the trade mags … You know the ones. ;-)

    @iboy

  • http://blog.brandwatch.net/ giles Palmer

    yes it's reasonably obvious to we in the choir, but still it's a story well told. i got to page 250 so kudos to Tara

    As for the word whuffle — well personally i don't like it – to close to whaffle maybe, but it certainly is a thing and we should have a word for it. Social capital is just too impersonal but it is a little different to influence and friendliness seems far to lightweight … now i'm whuffling :)

    @joodoo9

  • http://blog.brandwatch.net/ giles Palmer

    on reread – that should be us in the choir …

  • http://blog.brandwatch.net/ giles Palmer

    yes it's reasonably obvious to we in the choir, but still it's a story well told. i got to page 250 so kudos to Tara

    As for the word whuffle — well personally i don't like it – to close to whaffle maybe, but it certainly is a thing and we should have a word for it. Social capital is just too impersonal but it is a little different to influence and friendliness seems far to lightweight … now i'm whuffling :)

    @joodoo9

  • http://blog.brandwatch.net/ giles Palmer

    on reread – that should be us in the choir …