Governing the Twitterfolk: Shel Israel disappears up own asshole

I came across this post via Jeremiah Owyang’s (@jowyang) tweet, written by Shel Israel (@shelisrael), the man that co-authored “Naked Conversations” with Robert Scoble (@scobleizer).

It seems that lots of people have got behind Laura Fitton’s (@Pistachio) article describing Twitter as a personal village, and rightly so. The metaphor is apt, even if Twitter is a lot more dynamic and ephemeral than a real village.

Shel’s post comes after an email suggestion from Connie Reece (@conniereece) and proposes the idea of electing a “Twitter Village Mayor” and other members of a Council. They admit that:

it is not for Connie and I to decide. Neither of us like that top-down approach. It is for all the residents to decide.

Well, that’s all well and good. But wait a minute. A mayor to govern over his Twitterfolk? Thank goodness that Scoble, despite being on the nominations list, has the sense to see this for what it is: inappropriate and impossible.

The question of how we can “manage” the people using Twitter doesn’t come up if you accept the basic tenet that Twitter is the communications channel over which we have relinquished the most control. There is no guarantee that someone is who they say they are, there is no structure to a conversation (save Twitter’s flakey “@” command), I can’t set up access controls or groups – in short, I am broadcasting to the world without any control over my audience.

[Caveat: Sure I could make my tweets private, but that spoils the whole thing]

Ricardo Semler is the president of Semco, Brazil’s fastest growing company. He is also the subject of hundreds of newspaper and journal articles about his controversial management style. Semler’s principles lie in giving employees the freedom and respect to act as adults, not be treated like children who need minding and managing. Semler has written two books and given numerous talks and workshops around the world. I’ve been reading “The Seven Day Weekend” recently, so it’s on my mind.

It’s a rich vein to go into now, but I recommend you check out some of the transcripts of his talks online, such as “Leading by Omission”, recorded at Harvard, or “Managing Without Managers”. The point I wish to make is that Semler has spent two decades breaking down the established practice of military management. He’s replacing it with democracy and decentralization.

Twitter represents the furthest we’ve gone towards a democratic communications channel. To try and install overseers, even to suggest it in the spirit of fun, should be beaten down before somebody influential thinks it’s a good idea.


  1. Posted January 14, 2008 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

    “even to suggest it in the spirit of fun, should be beaten down”


    please tell me this post is also satire? cuz here’s how it reads: “decentralize, decentralize, decentralize… BEAT DOWN the jesters”. Um, Bit of cognitive dissonance there?

  2. Posted January 14, 2008 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been a fan of Semler since Maverick!, so I’m with you on the concept that the last thing we need is “overseers”.

    However, I don’t think the idea of a “mayor” was intended as a “governor”.

    Instead, it was the earlier idea of the mayor being the elected representative who represented the people TO the “central government.”

    In this case, I assume that the “central government” would be the owners of twitter, including the as-yet-to-be-named-one who actually has an idea about how they’ll monetise it 🙂

    ie – think Mayor of Swiss Canton, not Guliani 🙂

  3. Posted January 14, 2008 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

    Well written. All I can say is “agreed”.

  4. Posted January 15, 2008 at 1:00 am | Permalink

    OK, perhaps Gizmodo can rule.

  5. Posted January 16, 2008 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    If you’re worried this is one-sided and over-zealous, read the follow-up that generalises my reaction:

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  1. […] part 2 January 15, 2008 at 3:46 pm | In twitter | I’ve had some responses to yesterday’s post diving into the Twitter Village / Mayor discussion, some as comments on the post, some on Twitter […]