Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

I’ve been trying to get this quote right from memory for a bit and have just given in and Wikipedia’d it. Apparently it is from George Santayana.

It has been on my mind for a few days.

At the talk I gave last week at #somesw I made the case that the whole world of digital communications and social media is still in its infancy as it is only six years old in the way most people view it.

That said I do think that if you are going to be a professional in this space you need to understand that the digital world did not explode fully formed with the birth of Facebook and Twitter.

I know I’ve been around a while but I was slightly horrified that nobody at this event had heard of Friendster. It might just be the History undergraduate in me but I strongly believe in the idea that you need to understand what has come before so that you can be prepared for what comes next.

The rise of Facebook is put in context by the rise and falls of Friendster and MySpace. Twitter wouldn’t be the same if it hadn’t had to compete with Pownce & Jaiku in the early days.

I’m not sure anyone would have thought it was even worth exploring if it hadn’t had been for the ‘Cluetrain Manifesto’ (not to mention ‘Naked Conversations’ a little later). These books and their authors pretty much created the concept of social media marketing and communications. The theories and philosophies remain something to strive for even if at times they feel like a part of the ‘web we lost’.

Plus this doesn’t even go in to the power of blogging in those early days and how that seems to be coming full circle. Things like LiveJournal were stalking horses for the changes to come – and flamed out in a manner that shouldn’t be forgotten.

There is every chance I am just becoming that grumpy old guy. Preferring to look back than forward. Mike suggested that is the nature of this space.

Maybe it is like sharks – always moving forward (is that even true?).

Anyway I am going to listen to my wireless and have a Horlicks.


As Phil has reminded me it was actually this earlier conversation that inspired much of this post – but like I said I am old and I forget things (even if my subconscious does not!)

9 responses to “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

  1. Or Orkut, or ICQ or IRC. If is sometime amusing to see talk to digital collaboration in companies being touted as a new thing. Yet if you look at the Open Source communities that have been doing collaborative cross-planet, cross-timezone collaboration for two decades now. At least.


  2. I’ve heard Blaine tell a similar-ish version of that story. The myth-making around the early days of Twitter is amazing.

    No chance they know who Winer was – they came from a post-RSS generation really!

  3. Matt – yea but I think there is a difference. Things like IRC never escaped the ‘geek ghetto’ (I still hate using it) and I wouldn’t expect everyone to understand that depth of history *but* the mainstream stuff is different.

  4. Since I’m quoted I’ll weigh in 🙂 I do suspect that when you asked that question Matt there was an element of good old British reserve and/or internet types just being naturally introverted, which might have made the silence more deafening than it really was. I’d certainly heard of Friendster (though not signed up) and had a MySpace account- but I think I was too shy to put my hand up… That said, to expand on my tweet, perhaps if it doesn’t matter what you tweeted last week, it *really* doesn’t matter what tool you used to communicate last year. You also made a good point about that maybe not being the best approach for people who work with social media for a living though- perhaps there is a need for a sense of history there.

    I bloody loved Pownce. It was like Twitter but with photos, file uploads, and events. I remember inviting my friends and them all being of the opinion that they were fed up changing social networks every 6-12 months, and that Facebook was everything they needed. I should have tried harder.

  5. I think you are right about the shyness but there was certainly a lot of blank faces and furious scribbling when I talked about Cluetrain 🙂

  6. Perhaps tangentially related, but there seems to be a ‘circle of life’ effect at my organisation where structures and roles come back to the centre, and then a few years later are devolved out again.

    I guess it all seems new and revolutionary when you’re doing for the first time, but if you observe it happening more than once you start to recognise it.

    Perhaps an idea’s time comes where previously the organisation just wasn’t ready.

  7. I agree with Mike that there was probably some element of British reserve playing a part in people not coming forward. Personally I’ve worked in digital/social media since 2006, so MySpace was the first social media community I managed as part of my job. I don’t remember using Friendster, but there was definitely a whole load of other now-defunct platforms I loved (I was very sad when Vox blogs died a death). I actually joined and left Twitter in the early days because it seemed pointless and I didn’t think it would take off (how wrong I was) only to return recently when it simply became unacceptable not to be on Twitter if you worked in social media.

    In a growing industry like digital there are always going to be people coming in that are simply not old enough to have experienced the history and actually I don’t think there’s necessarily an easy place for them to go find out what came before Twitter/Facebook.

  8. As I said to Mike I accept the shyness/reserve factor (but its less easy to frame a post around that :)) but there were a lot of blank looks when I talked about Cluetrain. I don’t believe its that hard to find info about the past of social media or the texts that set out the philosophies behind it all. It does take a little time and commitment and a willingness to look back though and maybe it isn’t required. Like I said at the talk – what the hell do I know!

%d bloggers like this: