J.R. Johnson is the CEO and founder of Lunch.com, a social media website that helps people share and discover relevant information and opinions, and create free, custom Communities on any topic. It is based on the premise that finding our common ground with one another online will help to make the world more tolerant and understanding.
Before starting Lunch, Johnson launched the user-generated content website VirtualTourist.com in 2000. Under his leadership, VirtualTourist grew to one of the largest online travel communities in the world earning multiple honors, including Time Magazine’s ‘Recommended Travel Forum,’ Newsweek’s ‘Favorite Website,’ and one of Travel + Leisure’s ‘35 Best Travel Sites’.
In 2004, Johnson launched OneTime.com, an online meta comparison tool focused on booking flights and hotels. Both websites had over 8 million monthly users and in 2008 when Johnson sold them to Expedia.
A Southern California native, J.R. attended the University of Southern California and graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Entrepreneurship, he also holds a Juris Doctorate from S.M.U. Law School and is a member of the State Bar of California. Being a pioneer in the field of user-generated content and a frequent speaker at industry events, Johnson co-founded the Lunch for Good series, a program designed to encourage offline discussions and thought leadership around issues core to the future of online participation.
Silicon Valley Watcher
by J.R. Johnson
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
Remember when Facebook was called the "walled garden" because it felt so nicely protected from the outside world?
Privacy was core to Facebook's original success and brand identity. Recently though, the social media giant has begun to dramatically open up its users' information to be more public. The topic has earned a Time magazine cover and sparked active debate over their "real" agenda for privacy with everyone from Capitol Hill to Silicon Valley. Facebook's attempts to quell the backlash, resulted in 50 privacy settings with 170 options, which are now getting yet another makeover.
At this point, the number of privacy controls is actually irrelevant.
When you start as an open platform right out of the gate, expectations are set and clear. However, when you invite people into a walled garden and then start taking those walls down, that creates a fundamental change to the basic definition of your product.
The Catch: Facebook's Product Is Produced By Its Consumers
These privacy changes can have such a chilling effect on contribution to Facebook, that the resulting product can be comparable to Budweiser deciding to sell only non-alcoholic beer.
While Budweiser is the producer of their product and we, the public, are the consumers, Facebook is different because we are both the consumers of the product and the producers. This means the product itself is at stake. Not because people will leave Facebook entirely (though we've seen a few high profile Internet mavens make that move already). Rather, people will simply ... hesitate.
For example, they may hesitate before updating a new cell phone number, wondering who might see it; "liking" a new TV show, if they're not that committed to it yet; or posting vacation photos, letting potential strangers know we're not home.
As soon as that happens, then for all of us "consumers" on Facebook, our stream of personal entertainment and information just got a little less interesting. The best content on Facebook, the product that keeps users coming back to the site, might not be there anymore. We'll no longer have the same product.
We'll have non-alcoholic Bud.
First Self-Inflicted Demise in Social Networking?
Myspace overtook Friendster by building a faster and more scalable product. Facebook then supplanted Myspace, again because it was a better product. Privacy was the biggest differentiator in that case, and people flocked to it.
What's so interesting here, is that no one actually beat Facebook with a more innovative product. If they're unseated, it will be death by their own hand.
The more intertwined with the concept of privacy the Facebook brand becomes, the more the product will change, regardless of any privacy settings they may offer. It will be an erosion rather than an exodus, but the outcome could be just as detrimental.
Facebook has bounced back from past growing pains before, like allowing non-university users in, changing the newsfeed, and the Beacon debacle, among others. Some changes stuck, and some were rolled back.
In the case of privacy though, I'm not so sure that's a bell that they can un-ring.
For the sake of social media's future, and how much better it will be if transparency prevails, I sincerely hope Facebook can figure this out. I'm just afraid that every time we hear a friend, the media, and especially Facebook itself, talk about privacy, the bell gets rung yet again.
The Big Picture
If privacy was at the root of their success, why would Facebook even consider changing course to open things up?
I believe Facebook's intentions are actually very valid. Mark Zuckerberg believes in the power of connecting people around the world and all the potential good that can result. His stance seems to be that if we all open up a little bit and get comfortable sharing things about ourselves more openly, the world will be a better place.
Personally, I share these beliefs, and have since I was 15. My approach with my current company is actually based on very similar values, seeking to uncover people's points of common ground in order to help us all become more thoughtful and tolerant.
I believe this is really important work, so ultimately I'm rooting for Facebook. Though they'll have to pull off a branding Houdini like we've never seen before.
by J.R. Johnson
Sunday, November 15, 2009
The Web’s World Changing Potential
There’s been a rising interest in the concept of “social media for social good.” In large part, that discussion has been focused on cause-related social good. I have a different take, related more to the greater good of humanity as a whole. To my view, the Internet, specifically social media, has the potential – and responsibility – to make the world more thoughtful and tolerant by showing people their shared common ground.
At 15 years old, I entered an essay contest where the first prize was a trip to Moscow. The subject: how to create world peace. I wrote about a board game that would pose questions about different cultures. The more you played, the more you learned about other cultures, and the less likely you’d be to want to nuke them. Voila! World peace. I ended up getting second place and a $50 savings bond. More than 20 years later, I’ve still never been to Moscow, but I haven’t given up on the belief that people around the world are fundamentally the same and share many of the same values.
Meanwhile, I’ve seen the advent of the Internet, and more recently, participated in the explosion of social media. What I’ve yet to see is for the Internet to fulfill its true potential to connect people by focusing on our common ground in the interest of growing our mutual understanding of each other. It’s certainly off to a great start – but we’ve barely scratched the surface.Uncovering Common Ground
Utilizing commonalities has been a staple of many of the most successful online companies to date. Large e-commerce brands like Amazon and Netflix rely on the common ground among shoppers to make product recommendations. Facebook’s social graph is built entirely around areas of commonality, namely schools, work and offline friendships. Going even further back, we’ve seen discussion groups formed online around specific topics, originally through Usenet, and now across many sites.
In each of these examples there are threads of common ground that link people together, providing a significant value and benefit to the website as well as their members. However, I believe that the benefits of discovering our common ground can extend far beyond a good product recommendation or reconnecting with high school friends.
We are sharing unprecedented amounts of personal perspective through the online platforms mentioned above, as well as on blogs and user generated content sites like Twitter, Wikipedia, and YouTube. This increased sharing, combined with the technological transparency and connectivity that the Internet provides, is exposing our points of common ground more than ever before. The stage is set for a positive change in the way we view “us” and “them.” The more we understand our common ground, the more likely we are to understand each other’s differences.The Common Ground Paradox
Yet, a common ground paradox exists. Often, when we gather around a common interest or passion, it creates a self-reinforcing silo, resulting in resentment or hatred toward anyone with opposing viewpoints. Finding common ground within one group often blocks our ability to find it outside of that group. It’s a natural human reaction and we all do it.
If I’m passionately in favor of public option healthcare, for example, and encounter someone strongly opposed to it, I feel alienated from them simply because of their take on that issue. If all we know about someone is that they disagree with us on something we care about, it’s almost impossible not to transfer our feelings about that issue onto the person. With zero common ground, it’s easy to hate them, or at a minimum dismiss them, which can be equally divisive. Once the “us” and “them” mentality sets in, we are unable to hear what they’re saying or understand the point they’re trying to convey.Creating Connections
But today, we now have the ability to reduce that innate animosity through common ground discovery. Even if the only things we share are as trivial as loving Cherry Coke or Seinfeld, that’s a start. That trivial little something has the potential to change the way we see the person with whom we disagree. They’re no longer an image of what we hate or don’t understand, but someone with whom we’re similar in some small way. We will become more tolerant, understanding, and thoughtful when interacting with them. Does that mean, we ultimately agree with them? Of course not, but we will be able to hear them. At that point, we can learn something from someone we’d previously perceived as completely different.
In order to experience the benefits of this scenario, we need to take full advantage of the current landscape and put common ground at the forefront of our online interactions. It’s going to take more than good intentions though. We need the right set of tools and online platforms to make it a reality. It’s unlikely that we’ll all start analyzing the Twitter streams or Facebook Fan Pages of everyone we come across to learn that we share a love of Cherry Coke and Seinfeld before passing judgment about each other. As a Web entrepreneur, I’m tasking myself as well as my colleagues in the industry, to foster these types of connections through innovation.
Overall, this will be a subtle change to each individual interaction, but when multiplied by the millions of connections taking place online daily, the impact will be monumental. Imagine millions of people understanding their common ground with every other person in the world. Over time, this will change the way we look at different races, religions and nationalities, and shift the natural first impression that we are all different to a new first impression – that we are all somehow similar.
San Jose Mercury News
by J.R. Johnson
Saturday, September 12, 2009
by J.R. Johnson
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
San Francisco Chronicle
by J.R. Johnson
Wednesday, March 18, 2009