Social Media and Seduction

Everyone loves things that are new and novel. (Well, maybe not everyone.) I know that I sure do at least. No where am I seeing this love affair with the new and novel than in the world of social media sites and services. People love sharing the latest thing they’ve found with anyone they can; and that’s cool. But if everyone gets sucked into trying to keep up with the latest and the newest they’re going to miss out on the purpose of the technology in the first place – to create and foster active communities and conversations.

One of the prerequisites of a community is some degree of stability. You’re not going to get to know anyone if people only stick around for a short while because they’re off tasting the latest flavor. I’m a huge Flickr fan and post pretty much every day. A few months ago, while I was in Las Vegas for the New Communications Forum, people were talking to me about Zooomer and I’ll admit it’s pretty cool. But I have almost 1,000 pictures on Flickr, a handful of contacts, several pools I post to, etc. Do I use Flickr because it has specific features that are better than what Zooomer offers? No, I use it because I have connections and enjoy the community. The same is true for hundreds of other sites out there.

I’ve had a number of other conversations recently that have also illustrated this point. One was on a company’s desire to launch a blog to allow interaction with and between customers. They already had a mature and active forum-based community and ultimately recognized that the community they had was more important than the technology on which it was built. (I wish I could remember more details of this conversation – like who I had it with. If it was you, please let me know . . . ) And now, twice in the past three days, in talking with people about various projects and panels, I’ve heard people rat-holing on what’s “cool.” The fact is, what’s cool today probably won’t be tomorrow so find what works for you (or your company or client or friends) and get going.

What’s really cool are the communities and conversations that the technology can help create; and that’s something everyone needs to bear in mind.

[tags]social media, communities, conversation, technology[/tags]

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Ohhh, shiny

A few weeks ago I wrote about some people’s wrong-headed desire to drag users back to specific Web sites rather than freeing content to live where people are already spending their time. I understand that given the way people are measured and evaluated the current approach may make sense – but it won’t forever.

I was talking to a woman the other day about this – she’s smart and well versed in the ideas of social media – and her take was that people are used to going to places to get the things they need or want. If you want food, you go to the market; if need shoes, you go to a shoe store, etc. (Of course for most things you can also just find them online, but even then, you tend to end up at a site that sells certain kinds of things.) Technology has made it possible though for the things we want to be available where we are.

You see it a lot with music – if you’re using Pandora or Peel you can click right to iTunes or Amazon to make a purchase. Google has made a science out of presenting people with what they might want wherever they go; and there are certainly plenty of services that allow people to create customer start pages, feeds or portals. The idea of providing content – even it through a user-defined space – still, in some ways, speaks to control. “If you want this, ask for it” “Here is the set of things we think you ought to have,” etc. But that’s not the same as creating content and releasing into the wild to see where it takes root and who gravitates to it.

This is what millions of people are doing every day with services like YouTube and Flickr. Sure, the content starts off on a given site, but people can take it from there and use it where they will. And even on the sites themselves, you can see what people are attracted to and respond to. It’s not perfect, but it allows content to be free and its use be flexible. (This raises issues of rights and ownership which approaches like Creative Commons seek to address.)

In any case, the bottom line is that information and content ought to be viewed independently of the entity that creates it. This doesn’t mean you take no credit or abrogate responsibility for things, only that it be allowed to leave the nest. It all gets down to content, control and choice around consumption.

Very few people agree with me on this. Even people who like and get social media see the value in content residing at some fixed address. Of course you need that, even if only as a staging area; but we need to move away from the fixed address concept as much as we can. It’s the next step in social media and one that we need to be thinking about and preparing to take.

The flipside of this coin is that the freedom to create and consume content will be co-opted. While PR people that get social media seem to be in the minority, there are an increasing number who seem to be thinking about it as a shiny new (and exploitable) channel for reaching their audiences.

Despite some stellar screw-ups, it seems that there are people who look at these cases and say to themselves, “I see what they did wrong,” instead of “how can I do that right?” The channels that are available through social media can’t become tools for manipulation. When found out (and it will be found out) it only gives everyone involved a black eye. So naked manipulation is out.

What about influence – manipulations cute cousin? I suppose it’s a step in the right direction; but it’s still built on the foundation of “us” and “them.” What prompted this whole digressive post was a post by Melvin Yuan a few weeks ago where he wrote about Ogilvy PR and the idea of 360 Degree Digital Influence. At the time, in a comment on his blog, I wondered if influence was too much of a one-way concept to describe how we ought to be communicating.

What I am more comfortable with is the idea that we (and by extension our clients) advocate for ideas and issues through transparent engagement with the community; that we share ideas (and content supporting them) in an unfettered way to see where they come to rest; that we bring ideas to communities that we believe will benefit from the information and that in all cases we openly support these ideas using the tools at hand.

Social media has lots of cool bells and whistles, that for sure. But we can’t get so caught up in the cool tools that we ignore the fact that these tools can represent an opportunity to communicate in new and more open ways. And we can’t support, condone or reward attempts to misuse this technology to create a false sense community, conversation or engagement.

[tags]social media, public relations, PR, communication, manipulation, influence, content, information[/tags]

MIT Center for Collective Intelligence – 4/23 – The developmental arc of massive collaboration

Yesterday’s session of the Center for Collective Intelligence addressed the issue of massive voluntary collaboration (MVC), how and why it works and what motivates people to participate. Kevin Crowston, a professor of information studies at Syracuse University, presented some early ideas on the topic.

The work he and his colleagues are doing seeks to answer two questions:

    What practices make some distributed work teams more effective than others?
    What dynamics help self-organizing distributed teams work effectively?

To consider these issues, they are looking primarily at participation in open source software development projects, as well as at Wikipedia (though less intensively).

One thing I wondered about was the fact that both of these require relatively intensive participation and, in the case of software development, a set of requisite technical skills. These would seem to limit the number of participants and so could unintentionally influence the research.

They want to understand why people contribute to these types of communities in the hope of providing insights for creating more effective ones and to be able to estimate the likelihood for success of a massively collaborative project.

Open source software is a good community to consider in part because there is some much data about the data (and the process behind the data). The same is true for Wikipedia.

An earlier CCI event focused on considering the data behind Wikipedia. You can find my summary here.

People’s motivation for contributing to an activity has, in the past, often been considered solely from an economic model (benefits exceed cost). In the case of MVC, the presumed benefits are things like future job opportunities, ego gratification, etc. In most cases, the only cost is time.

When Crowston and his team looked into the motivators, they found that self-determination and human capital (the ability to develop ones-self) were at the top of the list. When they looked at why people were spending time working on specific MVC projects they found that in many cases the reasons for spending time did not match up with the stated motivations. It was this disconnect that lead to the desire for a better model for understanding motivation.

[Crowston presented a series of detailed slides on these finding which were broken down by salaried participants, participants paid directly for their work and students. I don’t have access to these slides but trust me, the picture they provided was interesting.]

Past research on peoples motivation for participation also didn’t take into account their role in a given project – which could also play a role. Crowston breaks participants in open source software development into six categories – passive users, active users, co-developers, core developers, release coordinators and initiators. Each of these, he suspects, is motivated by different things. (This structure differs from that of Wikipedia. Another difference is that about 40 percent of open source software contributors are compensated.)

In order to understand motivation to participate in a project, it is also important to understand the philosophy of the organization behind the project and the status of a project – whether it is its initial stages, is growing, or is mature.

An effective model for understanding participation in MVC projects would provide a better understanding of how the core job activities, psychological states of participants and expected work output for the project motivate people. Such a model would need to be dynamic because of the dynamic nature of these types of activities – and peoples involvement – over time.

The dynamic aspect of this understanding is important because people move through different stages or participation and are motivated by different things at each stage.

The three stages are:

Initial curiosity – which requires that a project be visible enough to attract attention and that the curiosity/interest it engenders exceeds the perceived cost in time of participation.

Volunteering/ongoing contribution – as contributors receive feedback for initial contributions they are encouraged to do more, with more substantive contributions receiving more positive feedback resulting in a virtuous cycle that helps people to become active participants.

Sustained contributors – while in the early stages of a project contributors may be motivated by the idea of “helping behavior”; in the later stages of a project, participants – particularly sustained contributors – often view their involvement as being akin to joining a social movement.

These sustained contributors – or meta-contributors – (of which there are very few), are frequently no longer doing the core work of a project. Their focus is often on making what exists more usable, essentially become stewards for the project. Their work often enables others to continue to contribute to the core project.

As is the case in virtually every endeavor, in MVC projects a small percentage of participants are the most active contributors.

Crowtson and his colleagues are particularly interested in the factors that sustain MVC projects as they evolve from the early curiosity stage to active and sustained participation. They believe that the feedback loop to contributors is a critical factor.

The practical insights and applications of the early thinking on this topics include the following.

For projects at an early stage:

    Make the project visible
    Reduce barriers to participation
    Provide positive feedback

To cultivate ongoing contributions:

    Provide continual opportunities to contribute
    Ensure tasks remain meaningful
    Articulate shared values

To sustain meta-contributors:

    Reward sustained contributions with increased responsibility and deeper involvement/participation with the project organization or foundation

Some of the general implications of the initial thinking are:

    Consideration of the role of participants
    Consideration the developmental stage of the project
    Maintaining focus on the small number of people that does most of the work
    Providing recognize the contributions of the long tale contributors
    Recognizing the different roles of contributors and meta-contributors

Aside from further development of the motivational model he presented, Crowston and his team also hope to understand why so few women appear to participate in MVC projects and at what point they drop out. They also plan to study the process of socialization that shapes group identification in these types of projects, the growth of project for evidence of the role of feedback and evaluate the limits of their model by testing it in other environments (games for example).

There was an interesting conversation on the role of negative contributions to MVC projects and how that participation should be viewed. This was discussed in the context of Wikipedia as a political tool. The vague consensus in the room seemed to be that negative contributions remained valid forms or participation.

All-in-all, although the ideas and research are still at a very early stage, it was an interesting topic. I have had several conversations with people in the past few weeks about encouraging participation in large projects and this event has helped develop my own thinking on the issue.

[tags]MIT, CCI, collaborative intelligence, massive voluntary collaboration, Kevin Crowston, open source, Wikipedia, motivation[/tags]

Different Strokes for Different Coasts

I spend a lot of time talking to people about social media, thinking about it, blogging about it, etc. A frequent refrain that I hear is that here in Boston we’re playing catch-up with X (where X equals pretty much any city you can name, but most especially San Francisco). I wanted to share my thoughts on this and to get a response from people about some of these ideas.

First of all, I think that all individuals, communities, regions, countries, etc. have something valuable to bring to the table when it comes to social media. This is because all of them have something of intrinsic value to begin with and social media simply provides new ways for this value to be expressed.

That said, it seems that the number one means of measuring the contribution of social media takes the form of how many new or interesting companies are being spawned, or how many events happen on a given night. That certainly says something, but not everything.

Now I’m a New Englander at heart and I take seriously what that means. The main thing it means is putting up with shitty weather most of the year. I’m not being facetious. It’s cold more often than not and when it isn’t cold it’s wet or muddy or buggy or blazing hot. The result is that people here tend to spend more times holed up in doors than they might like.

Being stuck indoors a lot gives you plenty of time to think and dwell and obsess. You have more time to read. And think and dwell and obsess. Or watch movies. And think and dwell and obsess. We’ve got a pretty good track record of thinking, dwelling and obsessing here in New England and have even made it something of our stock-in-trade if you look at all of the colleges and universities in the area.

I also lived for six years in San Francisco and I loved every second of it. I was there from 89 to 95 – arrived just in time for Loma Prieta and left just before the whole Internet thing really got going. One of the first things I noticed about SF was that the weather didn’t suck. In fact, the weather doesn’t suck in most of California. And if you want bad weather, you can visit it like some kind of museum.

The absence of bad weather means that people don’t have to spend so much time holed up in doors. They can go out and do things! Do things with friends, hang out and do. And doing is something that people do really really well out in the Bay Area. Doing things, making things – awesome things, things the rest of us want and buy and use.

This isn’t to say that people don’t make and do things here in New England, or that people don’t think and dwell and obsess out in SF, just that there may be some impact of the elements on people’s character.

As for that “catch up” thing that people talk about here in Boston – let’s face it, we’re never going to catch up in the making and doing category. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t all be trying to make and do cool new things, but simply that the center of gravity for making and doing is a few thousand miles west of here.

What we ought to be doing is celebrating our tradition and ability in the world of thinking and dwelling and obsessing. Much of what I hear about social media has to do with new sites or services, new ways of doing things, etc. What I hear less of is the why, the what it means, etc. Thinking about – and providing answers – to those kinds of questions is where people here have shined for getting close to 400 years and there’s no reason to stop now.

I’d like to know if other people think this is true. And all of you here in New England, how can we help focus our thinking and dwelling and obsessing in ways that will advance and support the idea of social media moving forward?

[tags]Social Media, New England, Boston, California, San Francisco, making, doing, thinking, dwelling obsessing[/tags]

Apples and Lemons

Yesterday I was saying that my MacBook Pro was crashing regularly since I got it back from Apple from an extended repair session. I tried giving all involved – Apple, my system and me – the benefit of the doubt. I just can’t.

My system has crashed three times today. That’s a total of nine witnessed crashes since Friday. On top of that I’ve come across it powered down a number of times.

So I called Apple again today. After resetting the power management and flashing the p-RAM, the system crashed again while I was still on the phone. They determined that my system was a “looper” and that it needed to be replaced.

The downside to this is that I will need to figure out a way to backup my system, find all of the various disk, and cables and manuals that came with it, that I’m going to once again be without a computer for the better part of a week, etc.

The upside is that I get a new system that’s faster (and hopefully more reliable) than what I have now. I guess it’s a reasonable trade off but I’d be happier if everything just worked as expected.

[tags]Apple, MacBook Pro, repair, looper, replacement[/tags]

All’s well that ends well – I guess . . .

So both the botched TV purchase AND the missing Apple were resolved on Friday. My wife was able to return the TV for a full refund. That morning, I got an email from Apple saying that the repairs were complete and that my system was ready to be sent. Given that this email was send at 9:00 on Friday morning I figured it would be here on Monday or Tuesday.

I was pretty surprised when I found a DHL delivery slip on my door saying that they’d tried to deliver the system at 11:00. I called DHL and they said they’d be able to bring it by in the afternoon – which they did. Although I was meant to be getting ready for a party on Saturday, I couldn’t resist setting it up.

It turned out that they replaced one fan, the screen and the screen casing. The screen had been the item they’d been waiting for. I took it out and booted it up and within seconds it shut down. All by itself. I booted it again and pretty quickly it shut down again. I wasn’t real happy. It was happening when I was trying to move big files off of a portable drive – applications were crashing and so I gave the system the benefit of the doubt.

On Saturday though it crashed two more times while my brother was just surfing. That was kind of a bummer. It ran like a top all day on Sunday but now this morning, here at work, the system crashed two more times. I REALLY don’t want to send it back but will if I have to; and if it keeps crashing I won’t have a choice.

It would be very irritating for it to have been at Apple for two weeks and to have been sent back to me in less than tip-top shape. I sure hope that’s not case but I guess I should be prepared for bad news.

[apple, MacBook Pro, customer care, shut down[/tags]

Social Media Club – 4.12.07 – Ethics and The Social Media Generation Gap

I love a rainy night.

So this is Boston, right? I mean we are used to crappy weather and all but last night’s rain kept all but a few hardy souls from making the trek to Dedham.

The event focused on the ethical issues raised by the Aqua Teen Hunger Force guerrilla marketing hullabaloo here in Boston back in February. The evening’s panelists were John Blossom of Shore Communications, Judith Perrolle of Northeastern University and Douglas Quintal of Emerson College. Todd Van Hoosier of Topaz was the very capable master of ceremonies.

One thing that came up even before the panel started was the question of why this topic was even being discussed by the SMC. It wasn’t a social media program or even an online one; and yet here we were preparing to talk about the reaction of Boston to the discovery of these mysterious devices mounted on key elements of the city’s infrastructure. A valid point and one that was discussed during the course of the night.

Bloom kicked things off by talking about the discussions he has with clients regarding boundaries in social media and how this relates to efforts to monetize the media in general; and the risk, either online of off, of attempting to monetize or commercialize space without consent. The ATHF was one example, as was the recent dust-up between PhotoBucket and MySpace.

He went on to say that one of the problems in the ATHF case was that the marketers behind the campaign weren’t part of the community and didn’t think about who to approach for advice or permissions. This is an overall problem that occurs – again, online of off – when marketers become involved with a community they are not a part of or familiar with.

Perrolle followed and described the event as an example of “solid state spam” – unwanted and unwelcome communication appearing in public space. It represents, in her eyes, an example of advertising out of control. As a program, it failed to consider or respect the community’s views of space.

Quintal came into the discussion from a practical marketing perspective. He felt that the most important lesson to come out of this event was that the old rules still apply. Regardless of whatever buzzwords are being used, you still need to know and understand your target audience and work appropriately.

This was, in his opinion, a case where the creative overshadowed the message. It misused the space and failed to reach its target audience. The people behind the program had not adequately studied the audience or how they would react. That would have required an understanding of the landscape (both physical and cultural) and an application of the same set of ethics that would be used in any media.

For all of these reason, Quintal felt that the program had been a failure and that Boston had not over reacted. He suggested that there needed to be some sort of “opt in” from the landscape for these types of programs.

Perrolle felt that the city had over reacted – but in the way the security people do all of the time now. She feels that this level of over reaction is not financially sustainable and that marketers ought to think about the security implications or response to their planned activities. Her own rule of thumb is “would I do this while getting on board a plane.”

Bloom brought up the fact that the media has become desensitized to the idea of public space, believing that any and all space is open for media or advertising. He thought that social media was resensitizing the public to the fact that they can control the media they consume and that this sense of control might begin to reach out into physical space as well.

All three panelists described situations where public-space advertising run amok was undone by public outcry. Advertising that covered the windows of the T was just one example.

Bloom went on to say that people were beginning to assume that public space is, in fact, commercial space. He thought that this might be less so here in the Northeast because of the historical context of much of our space.

Perrolle thought that the idea of public space as something of value in and of itself has been forgotten. Quintal came in and pointed out that more and more of our public space was being used for commercial purposes with the consent of its owners. He cited names on public park scoreboards, benches, etc. Perrolle countered that in those cases there was a benefit being provided that simple advertising does not offer.

After this, the event moved into a more general discussion that included the audience. How things had gone so wrong came up and the consensus was that they people behind the campaign had failed to judge how Boston would respond. It was also pointed out that here – unlike in other cities where the campaign took place – the devices were attached to key infrastructural elements. Not a good idea.

Quintal went on to describe the campaign as a failure, saying that the ratings impact had been only a fraction of a percent – certainly not enough to justify the effort and issues. Some in the audience questioned whether it had been a failure, suggesting that the campaign might be viewed as a success if thought of as a “public secret” to reinforce those already familiar with the program and to possibly attract like-minded people.

There was also discussion of the fact that the campaign – and the aura around it – while meant to project a sense of the alternative or counterculture, was, in fact, produced by a major media company. This led to conversations about the changing nature of youth, the erosions of privacy and its consequences and the role and nature of online communication and social media as people think about content, choice and consumption.

As always, the after-party was also excellent, with much of the group retiring to the Vinny T’s bar for drinks and continued conversation.

While this summary captures well I think the key points made by the panelists during the formal portion of the evening, it gives short shrift to the follow-on discussions. John Cass writes about the evening’s program here.

[tags]Social Media, Boston, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, social media club, SMCBoston, John Bloom, Judith Perrolle, Douglas Quintal, guerrilla marketing[/tags]