If it’s social, it has a story, and sells as it tells

Even scientists can be social and savvy.

Today the Guardian makes me come over all giddy with a special section on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at Cern. It’s at times like this that I’m actually proud to be a Guardian reader. It has dedicated a lot of time and space to this landmark achievement, and I’ve been avidly reading it. Not that I entirely understand what it’s all about, but if the scientists manage accidentally to create even a very small black hole, even if it does evaporate immediately, then I for one will be impressed. Meanwhile I can just gape at the pics:

But there is also a story here about how Cern has cannily used social dynamics to make this all possible. It is using grid computing to analyse the results. That’s right – you too can download LHC@Home and help trace Higg’s Boson.

As it says in the Guardian, they could have just put all the computing power in a shed in Geneva somewhere. But, through grid computing, purely apart from the economies of scale, they’ve “been able to get many more institutions into the project – and got more people involved along the way.”

In other words, when people feel they are stakeholders, they’re more willing to help. Plus you get a great story out of it.

I’ve been ‘touched’ by this desire to help out. I once donated some of my CPU cycles to SETI@Home, but when I started getting into computer-based music production I found I had to stop it. When your PC is hard at work synching up all your synths the last thing you want is something else in the way, even if it claims to politely sidestep when your PC is active. Plus, deep down inside I was a bit worried that it might beep, having found ETI, but that I might not be able to distinguish it from my music. Or that the unmistakeable tones of Close Encounters might cut through…

While we’re on the subject of space, why not give us a say in our astronauts? In mid-June the Guardian ran a piece on six hopeful British astronauts. Of them, five were terribly impressive. They were bright. They were strong. Their teeth were bright and strong. They clearly had The Right Stuff:

See what I mean? They’re attractive and talented and ambitious, but if they made it, and came back looking even more pleased with themselves, I would probably heave a sigh and just get on with life. But if they sent someone I actually affined with – someone who would give an honest-to-God account of what it was really like up there – then I might be more inclined to pay interest.

Enter Ben Tristem. He’s one of The Hopeful Six. But while the other astronauts gab on about how their lives have been leading up to such a momentous moment, Ben’s take on it is that “Basically, they’re looking for someone who’s stupid enough to sit on top of a big experimental rocket, so that if you make it into space, you know which buttons to press and in what sequence.”

Space is ours. So let’s put one of our own up there. If he just comes back and says ‘Wow’, then I’ll know what it’s like – and what, essentially, I paid for.

And there’s your story. Let people own it. Let people affine with it. Make it remarkable – quite literally, such that people will remark on it.

Like the story of grid computing for Cern, or sparking people’s interest through SETI@Home. Sure, you can do it all yourself, but why allowing others to help, and to buy into what you have to sell, doesn’t selling it suddenly become so much easier?

And to conclude, I’ll just put a quick plug in for Porter Novelli’s Under Construction website. It’s a neat idea: turn the development of the site into a story, and get people to submit their comments. Social media for social media. Is that a tautology?

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