Managing flux: why and has all got too much? (guestblog)

 I am delighted to present a guest blog post from Hugh Wallace, what he describes as a “scrooge-style old essay”. 

Hugh Wallace has done a variety of digital things in the education, charity and culture sectors, as well as working agency-side for four years. You can find him @tumshie on twitter.

When Mark asked me to write a piece for his blog I mulled over a number of possible subjects for ages, but nothing was quite hitting the spot. Then it struck me that, on looking back at my experience in digital over the last fifteen or so years, much of my time has been spent managing flux in one way or another. This piece explores some of the reasons for that flux and asks whether it’s all got too much…

First-off, here’s a summary of my last decade-and-a-half in 100 words.

Build me a website. No, wait, build me thousands of microsites. What about a virtual tour? Can we have some stuff in java or shockwave? Can the buttons have rollovers? Let’s flood the web with banners! Can they be animated? Can we have video in our emails? Can we build a community? Can we buy all available search terms? Are we syndicating our content? Can we meet on an island in Second Life? We MUST be on Facebook (but first migrate all our Myspace and Bebo friends). Can you put all of the above on an app? Then tweet it?

So far, so facetious. Of course one short paragraph doesn’t come close to encapsulating all of the fads and false starts or, for that matter, the positive things that have permeated too. My point is that the web’s always been a noisy place and anyone who’s done more than scratch its surface will have had their fair share of cutting through that noise.

Because the majority of my career has been spent working as part of an in-house team, I’ve devoted a lot of time helping organisations navigate – sometimes successfully, but with a lot of lessons learned along the way – choppy online waters. It can be a demanding role and on countless occasions I’ve found myself acting as a buffer between a variety of agendas, agencies only too keen to up-sell their services, and the constant pace of change. It can leave you in a strange no-man’s land, often having to grumpily justify saying ‘no’ to things that have been sold under the false facade of innovation (but are clearly rubbish) whilst trying to push the least sexy projects in the world (‘let’s have an almighty whoop –  we’re going to analyse our sales funnel!!’). And all this is on top of tirelessly reiterating the value of the basics: “Repeat after me class: quality content + correct context = half the battle”.

But it’s getting harder.

The barrage of information that’s been unleashed as a result of, and largely about, social media offers precious little of real value and lots more noise. It comes from all angles, and it’s full-to-bursting with soothsayers offering advice, predictions, best practice and the eternal promise of ROI. There seem to be a lot of confident people surviving on little more than rhetoric, reiteration and assumed knowledge - the harsh truth is that we’re all coping with a lack of proven, long-term success methodologies. Even to the trained eye it can be a job to separate the wheat from the chaff and my overriding concern is that, having being through the loop many times, business decisions will increasingly get made based on the flimsiest of evidence. When I hear talk of organisations banning the use of Facebook, I have a little wry smile to myself and think ‘I’d probably ban Mashable first...’.

This may sound a tad contentious, but I do wonder if there needs to be something akin to the dot-com bust to knock a bit of sense back into all of us. For anyone who went through the dark days that followed the bubble bursting ten years ago, you’ll know those were terrible but necessary times. The insane over-hyping of everything the Internet was going to deliver (I implore everyone to watch and read Boo Hoo for an insight into how ludicrous the world was) could only end in tears, but what resulted was a more mature, rational and reality-focused take on all things digital. I’m not saying I want to see a mass of businesses suddenly fold, but I also don't think being constantly saturated in hyperbole is particularly constructive for the long term.

Is that too harsh? Do I just need to chill out and start filtering information a bit better? Is this all part of a learning curve that will eventually come good? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


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