Tapping The Champions

A few days ago, a younger colleague and I were interviewed about precision agriculture by a popular business magazine. What made this interview unique was how we were found by the magazine author through “Twitter.” My colleague had received a “tweet” about someone seeking to interview professionals in the field of precision agriculture. He quickly tweeted that he could connect that someone up with hardware companies, software companies, growers, consultants, and others active in precision agriculture. My colleague then got another tweet with the contact information for setting up an interview. These rapid-fire exchanges of text occurred in a matter of minutes. The whole exercise was an example of communication in a socially networked world.

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A Younger View

This is one of those articles that should be written by my younger colleague who is far more knowledgeable about social networking and its impact on communication. The concept of technology-enabled social networking is increasingly becoming important in precision agriculture, especially when including the role of a champion. When I speak of a social networking, I am referring to the various ways people are connecting today over the Internet, whether through a desktop computer or a smart cell phone. The reason I feel less qualified to write about a social networking is that I have not embraced these new Internet tools. This lack of participation is mostly due to the age of my personal social networks and my preference for interacting directly with people on a face-to-face basis.

My own bias toward not participating in online social networks should in no way diminish their importance in our precision agriculture community. Social networking is truly an evolutionary phenomenon riding on the back of the Internet — the late-20th century revolution in computer-based communication. In fact, today’s social networking tools are the leading new communication applications available through desktops, laptops, and smart cell phones.

Even with minimal first-hand experience with online social networking, I did make an effort to understand its development path. Social networking is an outgrowth of e-mails and Web sites, which of course are the most popular forms of sharing information over the Internet. E-mails are composed for a personal, targeted audience, whereas Web sites are open to anyone. A “blog” is a form of a personal Web site, which can be configured with text, images, and links to the personal tastes of the author. Interested and invited individuals can follow entries on a blog and be kept informed of a particular topic. Meister Media, the publisher of PrecisionAg Special Reports, offers its readership a number of blogs through its Web site.

Facebook, LinkedIn, Plaxo, and FriendFeed are examples of online programs which allow individuals to share information with each other over the Internet. These social networking programs are easy to use and are freely available to anyone willing to spend the time for their upkeep. The emphasis on each new version of these programs is the real-time sharing of information among their connected communities.

In terms of real-time connectivity, the current rage among social networking tools is Twitter. Twitter takes advantage of text communication through smart cell phones. Individuals can update (tweet) each other anywhere and anytime via their hand-held phones. Besides text, these tweets can include images or links. The huge success of Twitter is the mobility and instant communication provided to the participant. Individuals can keep friends abreast of their every move or thought and likewise follow the tweets of others. Active participation among a group of individuals can result in a “tweetup,” which is an old-fashioned, face-to-face meeting.

Instant Communication

I have provided this somewhat incomplete background on online social networking to simply document an obvious trend — instantaneous communication. Today, individuals interested in precision agriculture are truly capable of real-time connectivity. Looking for help with new precision agriculture software? Simply tweet like-minded individuals in the precision agriculture field. Want information on a new precision production practice? Submit a question to a blogger specializing in precision agriculture. With the various social networking tools, information is literally at your fingertips.

It is just because there is an inflationary world of information that “champions of precision” are becoming increasingly important. Champions of precision are key companies and individuals, such as those highlighted in this issue, who have dedicated their efforts to advancing the many facets of precision agriculture. They bring not only the knowledge but the passion to the precision agriculture enterprise. Champions of precision are the “nodes” in precision agriculture social networking, which link us together in a shared desire to be the very best in our precision agriculture efforts.

One has to wonder about the future of online social networking. Clearly, the trend of innovative programs following Web and cell phone-based technologies will continue into the immediate future. The speed and diversity of information will continue to increase. However, at some point, because of expediency, communities of individuals who share a common interest, such as precision agriculture, will become self-organized in a more structured manner.

I end this article with an observation. Any evolving communication technology, like social networking, can be a two-edged sword. On one edge, the ability of individuals to instantaneously share information worldwide is a very powerful, positive force. On the other edge, some of that shared information can be either accidently or deliberately misleading in its content. The true evolutionary path for social networking will depend on the responsible behavior of the participating individuals.

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