NaNoWriMo, Social Media, and Measurability

Month of “Um” Days (hereafter MUD) day 2:

If April is the cruelest month, as the great Tom Eliot once observed, November must be the lamest. As the not-so-great Tom Hood wrote,

No dawn — no dusk — no proper time of day
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member —
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,
November !

So having no other options, some 250,000 people this month will write novels, as part of the National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. (And, in case you’re wondering, I’m not one of those people. I have other editorial fish to fry.)

What’s curious to me about NaNoWriMo is how it has leveraged the framework of social media in the service of what is an essentially solitary and personal undertaking. I tend to think of social media as being collaborative in nature and as producing a collective benefit. But NaNoWriMo uses social media to produce an individual benefit—in this case, finally finishing that novel you’ve talked about writing for so long.

NaNoWriMo 2011

Self-help tools for aspiring novelists predate social media, but none, to my knowledge, have had such widespread success. What started out in 1999 as a casual contest among 21 Bay Area writers has turned into a world-wide event that’s led to several best sellers and many thousands of novels that might never have otherwise been finished.

You might question the quality of those novels, but that’s not the point of NaNoWriMo. It’s all about measurability, not quality. The whole point is to produce a countable number of words (50,000) in a countable number of days (30), which participants must submit for verification.

What’s brilliant, I think, about NaNoWriMo is how it uses measurability to turn social media from a vehicle for experiencing into a tool for doing. It becomes a social system to help individuals conquer what Seth Godin calls the fear of shipping.

What other examples of social media can we identify, I wonder, that use measurability to achieve individual goals? I’d try to answer that now, but my MUD rules don’t allow it. But then, dear reader, that’s what the comments are for.