Social Media

Binary Code

Facebook is in the process of updating its Newsfeed algo again so that we see more posts from friends and family, and less from ‘Pages’. Great news, except that when every person is media, and there is a limit to the pruning one can do, the feed will still consist of biases, prejudices, hoaxes, paid endorsements without disclosure, and yes, cat videos, Lincoln’s quotes on self driving cars, click bait and baby pics. My point above is less about filter failure and more about the continuing explosion of content and its distribution to set the context.

But now let’s talk about filters. The sheer volume of content means that (in general) the reader will want quickly digestible information before he/she moves on to the highly entertaining video waiting in line. Absolutely connected to ‘the demise of the middle ground in the attention economy‘. The article talks about nuance in political debate getting lost, but I think its reach extends beyond that. As this fantastic Guardian article “How technology disrupted the truth” states, “..everyone has their own facts“. But why do this happen? More

Social Nextworks

The impending death of Orkut (2004-2014) made me think of the evolution of social networking and its transience. Orkut lived ‘only’ for 10.5 years, and this is despite being part of Google, though some would call that a disadvantage. Facebook  has been around for the same time, and the fact that it is a force to reckon with is a testament of its understanding of this transience. It also explains the acquisition of Instagram, Whatsapp and the attempt on Snapchat.

However, I recently realised that I am probably more active on Whatsapp, Instagram and Pinterest than Facebook and Twitter. I am also reasonably active on Secret. That made me dig a bit deeper.

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What is changing? From my observations, there are at least two factors that are driving the change.

Perspectives on connectivity: The early era was fueled by the need to connect. Facebook is soaring well beyond a billion users, and its longevity is (also) because the need still exists. It continues to look for better ways to do this, manifested through front end and back end changes. But despite this, and my own curation of my newsfeed by sending signals to Facebook, I am regularly overwhelmed by the volume. This goes for Twitter too. Personally, I have treated these platforms as a means of self expression. I would also like to choose the people whose perspectives I want, and who are entitled to a judgment, if any. But that’s not so easily done on popular platforms.

That’s when I start to look at the many ways to handle this – from social networks to messaging apps. I could go to where the crowds are relatively less and/or are more ‘focused’ – by domain or use cases, (LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram) I could interact with smaller groups, (WhatsApp) use ephemerality (Snapchat) or be anonymous (Secret) As I mentioned, at least three of these work for me. A wonderful nuance I caught in Mitch Joel ‘s prophetic ‘The Next Big Thing Online Could Well Be Anonymity‘, is that it may not just be ‘something to hide’ that makes some prefer anonymity, but it could also be so that ‘who they are will not become a focal point within that discussion’. Anonymity on the web is not new, but many of its enablers are.

Devices: The networks of an earlier era (eg.Facebook) were made for desktop and had to adapt for mobile. On the other hand, Instagram, Whatsapp, Secret, Snapchat etc are mobile natives. Given the increasing ubiquity of smartphones, their growth is not surprising.

What are the possible business models and what’s a brand to do? As more and more users flock to these new platforms, they would need to mature, with business models which could mean associations with brands – the journey from social network to social media.

Instagram and Pinterest are already social media, making advertising at least one of their revenue sources. WhatsApp does not like advertising and already makes money on downloads. Its competitors like Line, KakaoTalk, WeChat etc, however, have found various other means – virtual items, (stickers, in app purchases in free video games) promotional messages, baby steps in electronic payment handling fees, and interesting tie-ups. Snapchat already has many marketers on it and is likely to offer promotion options too, probably tied to a time bound event.

Secret has a lot of negativity surrounding it – s3x talk and startup malice and being just a fad – and there are comparisons to Formspring and its demise despite funding. But beyond advertising and in app puchases, maybe, there’s also potential for insights on a brand and its use cases? Things that cannot be found on indexed platforms. Also, Whisper already has a content deal with Buzzfeed.

Analytics for such platforms haven’t even really begun yet, but it can’t be far away. But more importantly, all of these platforms are potential enablers for a brand to take forward its narrative and become relevant to its users. It continues to be about storytelling, and digital.

Posture child

I guess that’s the reason why Calvin & Hobbes is so utterly loved by so many folks. Profound, timeless, universal truths expressed in such a unique way!

I had never seen this one until recently. Why blame Instagram for filters? They existed long before anyway :) I thought this strip found great application in all kinds of posturing from time immemorial, and especially so now – in the social media context, when everyone is a publisher. Over a period of time, I wonder how fast we would forget who we really are (if ever we come to know it or knew it) It would probably be irrelevant in the real-time era. We would be the statuses and photos and everything else we like and share every minute. After all, I’m no longer the person who wrote it anyway, and who’s to say the non posturing self is the real deal?

until next time, impostor :)

Character’s Objective

There are some movies I watch multiple times – whenever they show up on TV. One of them happens to be the 2010 version of The Karate Kid, featuring Jackie Chan (as Mr.Han) and Jaden Smith ( as Dre Parker). And the fact that one of my favourite scenes is the ‘snake woman’ is only a coincidence, and nothing to do with my alleged (by Cyn) affection for snake scenes in movies. 😀 Actually the part that interests me is the conversation after. (do not quote  this line out of context)

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=inZWX5ipBZU&feature=related

Dre: “She was doing the Cobra thing.   She was like…(makes movements)… copying the snake. And it was like…  right here, and she was like…”
Han: “You did not watch closely enough, Xiao Dre… It was the snake that was copying the woman.”
Dre: “What? I don’t get it.”
Han: “Look.” (points at pool of drinking water) What do you see?”
Dre:“Me, well my reflection.”
Han:“Yes. (whirls water). Now, what do you see?”
Dre:“It’s blurry.”
Han:“Yes. That woman was like still water. Quiet and calm. In here (puts hand on the head) and in here (puts hand on the heart) .
Dre: “So, the snake reflects her action like still water. Like a mirror?”
Han: “Yes.”
Dre: “So, she controlled the snake by doing nothing?”
Han: “Being still and doing nothing…  are two very different things.

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The conversation interests me because the snake’s behaviour is typically the way I react to events and people that life throws at me. The aspiration is to have the clear and calm mind that will allow me to change the relationship equation. It’s an extremely difficult task, thanks to stimuli received from all around, especially social platforms. The real time knee jerk reactions characteristic of ‘social media’ also start influencing the way I make decisions even when they are not involved.

It’ would probably be easy if I just closed myself to these stimuli, but that’s not really practical, or the best way. The better, and more difficult way, is to be there, and yet, not allow it to affect what I am and do. As John Wooden said, “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” That’s something I am trying not to forget, even as I try to make the character as objective as possible. It’s ironic that the platforms which started out (for me) as places to express myself are now trying to ‘force’ me to conform, to become part of cliques, or maybe that’s just the way it’s supposed to work when networks become media.

until next time, character limits :)

Expert Ease

This one jumped ahead in the drafts queue, thanks to a tweet session with Ranjani.

The internet, and specially its social manifestations have meant that experts of all shapes and sizes scream out of my stream on a regular basis. So, when I found a superb post that mashed two domains where I see most of the atrocities being committed in the name of expertise, I was oh! so happy enough to share it and add my two non-cents. One of the two domains is easy to guess – the social web, where the number of experts are about 3 less than the number of users, the three non experts being bots or brands. The second one is food.

Both of these are domains I operate in, and in both of them I have a problem with ‘expertise’. With respect to social media, it’s pretty simple. There are dozens of social media tools and platforms that the ‘expert’ would have no clue about. Even if he did, there’s a new one coming out every week. The application of expertise is usually to do with brands. Again, there are thousands of categories and audience types, whose usage of tools and platforms differ as do their relationships with brands. I can go on and on, but I’d like to hop on to the other one.

On food. I don’t cook, and my knowledge is limited to one season of Masterchef Australia, in which I was completely lost in the visual stimuli and paid scant attention to the craft. However, I can understand how one person could become an expert in cooking a dish/many dishes in a certain way, or know how that dish tastes according to a certain recipe, but to assume that every palate in the world will appreciate the dish cooked that way, ONLY that way, and further decree that it SHOULD be enjoyed only that way, is to my mind, ridiculous. And yet, I have seen enough snobbery around that, and tirades on how one should opine on food. (example) A good time to note that despite Mr.Bourdain’s well intentioned advice, I still have my steak well done. (someone commented on twitter that they stopped reading the food reviews here because of that) I aspire to be worthy in some other way. Sigh.

I do grant that ‘experts’ more often than not offer perspectives more broad, deep, and varied than the average person. There are also instances where certain technicalities are involved, and a trained person’s view might be considered more informed. But the issue for me is about taking a global stance on expertise – on everything that falls in the domain, opining on it, and then insisting that the opinion is the only standard applicable, with no consideration to an untrained person’s views and reasons. As Seth Godin rightly said, “Expertise is a posture as much as it is a volume of knowledge.” Unfortunately, on the flip side, most people do not have the time to google, so the ‘expert’ status IS easily gamed, especially on social platforms, where a fan legion will attack at the first sign of dissent. Maybe if we can all agree that there are no experts, and only perspectives, some informed, some nuanced, and some just plain subjective opinions…

Will end this with the best work on the subject that I have seen – this xkcd toon, which pretty much sums it up

(alt text: Our brains have just one scale, and we resize our experiences to fit)

until next time, I don’t mind expert comments ok? 😉

Crowd Control by the crowd

Its rightly said that however thinly you slice the bread, there will always be two sides. Sometimes the very features that makes me love the social web – sharing and transparency, are not treated with the respect they deserve. Or, to be more specific, the crowd is not able to react maturely when someone is being transparent, or sharing something innocuous, or just doing his job. I remembering touching upon mob justice in the case of the Hasbro vs Scrabulous issue too.

Since then there have been several instances of what Jason Calacanis might describe as the ‘madness of the mobs‘. From Hotmail users fighting against the new design, virtual protests and self immolations on Second Life against a steep purchase and maintenance fee increase, to relatively harmless breast beating on Twitter and Facebook, there has been a lot of action happening all around.

A few recent incidents have made me look at the otherwise wonderful features of the social web in a negative light again. Rex Hammock recently wrote about a Dilbert strip in which its creator Scott Adams did a bit of ‘in house’ product placing – for DilbertFiles.com, an online sharing and file storage service that was the result of a deal between Adams and Sendyourfiles.com, which Adams had explained on his blog. In fact he also points out that

As the number of traditional newspapers continues to shrink, this is the sort of thing that will help keep Dilbert free online.

But several readers took exception calling it a ‘shameless plug’ and ‘unethical’. Thankfully there were many in the crowd who were objective enough to see it as ‘lame but not ethical’, and several others who found it interesting, and a great way of promoting the service. I, for one, thought it was some neat ‘brand integration’. The debate is now over, i guess, and Scott Adams made some candid, cool closing remarks on the issue. You can read them here.

The other incident that caught my attention was the case of James Andrews (@keyinfluencer on Twitter). Here are the details. In short, this is what happened. James Andrews, from a company called Ketchum, in Atlanta flew to Memphis to visit FedEx, one of his agency’s biggest clients, to talk to their corporate communication team about social media. Being a regular Twitter user, he tweeted on landing

“True confession but I’m in one of those towns where I scratch my head and say, ‘I would die if I had to live here.’”

Instead of the lil argument that would’ve happened on Twitter over this, it became a classic ‘tempest in a tea cup’, when a person from the Fedex Corporate Communication Group took this up and sent a mail to Andrews. And thus it became a story of the agency guy (Andrews) talking ill of his client’s city. (the entire mail can be read in the link I shared earlier) All the poor man did was give a personal opinion about the place he landed in. That is a crime in social media, according to a few social media storm troopers. Suddenly, there are statements to be made, the agency has to apologise on behalf of Andrews. I say, FedEx, thats #FAIL. Kudos to Funkidivagirl for defending her husband so eloquently, and putting things in perspective.

Both the situations made me think of expectations. Scott Adams is perhaps thinking of greater good (keeping the online strip free) when he makes a deal like this. He even explains the reasons on his blog. He doesn’t have to. And the crowd, or at least a part of it, loses it. James Andrews tweets personal views about a nameless place  (Fed Ex’ reaction ensures everyone knows about Memphis now) and his agency and work are judged based on that!! We’re supposed to be careful of what we tweet.

The last and most recent incident is the worst, because unlike the other two, this one’s effect was real and physical!! And at the receiving end was none other than Tech Crunch’s Michael Arrington. As he was leaving a conference, someone walked up to him and spat on his face. The pain in his words are unmistakable as he relates the incident. It doesn’t matter whether you agree, disagree, love or despise TechCrunch or Arrington, but their contribution to the web and startups transcends that, and cannot be denied. If this has to do with what he writes about as part of his job, this is a despicable reaction. I, for one, would really want to know what provoked such an act.

We expect transparency, honesty and sharing in the social web.  But are we always ready to handle it maturely when its given to us? Yes, brands and people have a responsibility towards us, but shouldn’t that be reciprocated by us too? By having unreasonable expectations from brands and people, especially in a scenario where the rules of engagement are only beginning to be formed, are we forcing these entities to stop sharing and stop being transparent? As RWW correctly notes,

Whether you believe in monitoring yourself online or not, don’t forget the point of the social Web: to get to know other like minded people, share resources, have fun, and leave the place a little nicer than you found it.

Let’s have some of this spirit back, and show some maturity not only when we share or tweet or try to engage an audience as a brand/PR person, but also as a reader, when we consume this content. After all we are human, and I like to think that with web 2.0, we’re on our way to making this cold machine driven entity called internet , human. Lets not make the reverse happen.

until next time, you have the right to remain silent, sometimes the duty too..

PS. but you should comment 😉