The magic of network effects: What is Social Media? translated into Chinese

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This is a long post, but I’ve got a good story to tell you.

Personally, this is the most thrilling example of the power of network effects, the social web and the creative commons I’ve yet experienced.

As regular reader will know, just a year or so ago I wrote an eBook called What is Social Media? at Spannerworks (now iCrossing UK) and published it under a Creative Commons attribution licence. The thinking was that this would be useful to our networks – marketers and media people who wanted straightforward definitions, explanations and examples of different social media formats.

It’s done very well a good amount of downloads, links and the attention it has earned means it ranks highly in Google for search terms like "social media". Some UK university courses started using it for PR and information management courses. Word is it is being printed in India at a university. Someone told me that had used it as part of a start-up’s business plan to help explain social media terms to potential investors.

Great. But this week at iCrossing, my colleague Yong Yang was searching through Google.cn for references to us and found a load of conversations about the eBook. Apparently it had been translated into Chinese. Wow!

I got in touch with one of the translators, Jia Liu, who is living in Boston at the moment and what she told me seemed even more incredible.

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In September last year Jia put out a call on a social network called Yeeyan for people to help her translate What is Social Media? into Chinese. Yeeyan is a community that wants to bridge the gap between Chinese and English blogospheres. Members translate interesting Chinese blog posts into English and interesting English blog posts into Chinese. An amazing idea in itself.

Two people – Zhifeng Sun from Shanghai and Xinyu Mao in Qingdao – answered the call and over the next month they created a Chinese version of the eBook, adding images of Chinese blogs and social networks where appropriate to replace the English examples.

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As a result of the experience the three collaborators decided that they should create a open platform for publishing more free ebooks like this. In late October they created Innobook, which has now published five ebook translations including The Bootstrapper’s Bible by Seth Godin and Advertising 2.0 by Paul Beelen.

In her email to me Jia Liu started off by saying "It’s really a magic 2.0 world…" – I couldn’t agree more.

It reminds me of Adam Arvidsson’s "magical humanism" that I blogged about last summer.

He said that we only partly understand the power of synergies of knowledge and of human social networks. We don’t completely understand what they do and in a specific situation we don’t know what the precise effects of engaging with them will be, but we invoke these "immanent forces" anyway with a kind of faith in their benign effect.

I certainly didn’t imagine this outcome when we published What is Social Media?, but when you set data and knowledge free in the networks they take on a life of their own, it seems. It’s great to see the little ebook off on its travels.

I wonder what it will get up to next?