Archive for the 'Social Networking' Category

Why Facebook is for ice buckets and Twitter is for what’s actually going on

[link] Saturday, September 6th, 2014

Tomorrow’s Observer column

Ferguson is a predominantly black town, but its police force is predominantly white. Shortly after the killing, bystanders were recording eyewitness interviews and protests on smartphones and linking to the resulting footage from their Twitter accounts. News of the killing spread like wildfire across the US, leading to days of street confrontations between protesters and police and the imposition of something very like martial law. The US attorney general eventually turned up and the FBI opened a civil rights investigation. For days, if you were a Twitter user, Ferguson dominated your tweetstream, to the point where one of my acquaintances, returning from a holiday off the grid, initially inferred from the trending hashtag “#ferguson” that Sir Alex had died.

There’s no doubt that Twitter played a key role in elevating a local killing into national and international news. (Even Putin’s staff had some fun with it, offering to send human rights observers.) More than 3.6m Ferguson-related tweets were sent between 9 August, the day Brown was killed, and 17 August.

Three cheers for social media, then?

Not quite. ..

Read on

Sometimes, the camera doesn’t lie

[link] Monday, August 4th, 2014

This is fascinating. It’s also rather embarrassing for the Kremlin.

Selfies taken by Russian soldier Alexander Sotkin appear to provide damming evidence that Russian forces have been operating in Ukraine. Sotkin posted a number of images on social networking site instagram, apparently without realising that they were being geotagged to reveal his location when he took them.

Facebook, ethics and us, its hapless (and hypocritical?) users

[link] Sunday, July 6th, 2014

This morning’s Observer column about the Facebook ‘emotional contagion’ experiment.

The arguments about whether the experiment was unethical reveal the extent to which big data is changing our regulatory landscape. Many of the activities that large-scale data analytics now make possible are undoubtedly “legal” simply because our laws are so far behind the curve. Our data-protection regimes protect specific types of personal information, but data analytics enables corporations and governments to build up very revealing information “mosaics” about individuals by assembling large numbers of the digital traces that we all leave in cyberspace. And none of those traces has legal protection at the moment.

Besides, the idea that corporations might behave ethically is as absurd as the proposition that cats should respect the rights of small mammals. Cats do what cats do: kill other creatures. Corporations do what corporations do: maximise revenues and shareholder value and stay within the law. Facebook may be on the extreme end of corporate sociopathy, but really it’s just the exception that proves the rule.

danah boyd has a typically insightful blog post about this.

She points out that there are all kinds of undiscussed contradictions in this stuff. Most if not all of the media business (off- and online) involves trying to influence people’s emotions, but we rarely talk about this. But when an online company does it, and explains why, then there’s a row.

Facebook actively alters the content you see. Most people focus on the practice of marketing, but most of what Facebook’s algorithms do involve curating content to provide you with what they think you want to see. Facebook algorithmically determines which of your friends’ posts you see. They don’t do this for marketing reasons. They do this because they want you to want to come back to the site day after day. They want you to be happy. They don’t want you to be overwhelmed. Their everyday algorithms are meant to manipulate your emotions. What factors go into this? We don’t know.

But…

Facebook is not alone in algorithmically predicting what content you wish to see. Any recommendation system or curatorial system is prioritizing some content over others. But let’s compare what we glean from this study with standard practice. Most sites, from major news media to social media, have some algorithm that shows you the content that people click on the most. This is what drives media entities to produce listicals, flashy headlines, and car crash news stories. What do you think garners more traffic – a detailed analysis of what’s happening in Syria or 29 pictures of the cutest members of the animal kingdom? Part of what media learned long ago is that fear and salacious gossip sell papers. 4chan taught us that grotesque imagery and cute kittens work too. What this means online is that stories about child abductions, dangerous islands filled with snakes, and celebrity sex tape scandals are often the most clicked on, retweeted, favorited, etc. So an entire industry has emerged to produce crappy click bait content under the banner of “news.”

Guess what? When people are surrounded by fear-mongering news media, they get anxious. They fear the wrong things. Moral panics emerge. And yet, we as a society believe that it’s totally acceptable for news media – and its click bait brethren – to manipulate people’s emotions through the headlines they produce and the content they cover. And we generally accept that algorithmic curators are perfectly well within their right to prioritize that heavily clicked content over others, regardless of the psychological toll on individuals or the society. What makes their practice different? (Other than the fact that the media wouldn’t hold itself accountable for its own manipulative practices…)

Somehow, shrugging our shoulders and saying that we promoted content because it was popular is acceptable because those actors don’t voice that their intention is to manipulate your emotions so that you keep viewing their reporting and advertisements. And it’s also acceptable to manipulate people for advertising because that’s just business. But when researchers admit that they’re trying to learn if they can manipulate people’s emotions, they’re shunned. What this suggests is that the practice is acceptable, but admitting the intention and being transparent about the process is not.

Who do you trust?

[link] Monday, June 30th, 2014

Who_do_you_trust

Fsscinating — and revealing — chart.

Source

The Laws of Social Networking

[link] Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

There is a 100/10/1 “rule of thumb” with social services. 1% will create content, 10% will engage with it, and 100% will consume it. If only 10% of your users need to log in because 90% just want to consume, then you’ll end up with the vast majority of your users in the logged out camp. Don’t ignore them, build services for them, and you can slowly but surely lead them to more engagement and potentially some day into the logged in camp.

Source

Metcalfe’s Law Rules OK

[link] Sunday, May 4th, 2014

This morning’s Observer column:

There are two paradoxical things about Twitter. The first is how so many people apparently can’t get their heads around what seems like a blindingly simple idea – free expression, 140 characters at a time. I long ago lost count of the number of people who would come up to me on social occasions saying that they just couldn’t see the point of Twitter. Why would anyone be interested in knowing what they had for breakfast? I would patiently explain that while some twitterers might indeed be broadcasting details of their eating habits, the significance of the medium was that it enabled one to tap into the “thought-stream” of interesting individuals. The key to it, in other words, lay in choosing whom to “follow”. In that way, Twitter functions as a human-mediated RSS feed which is why, IMHO, it continues to be one of the most useful services available on the internet.

The second paradox about Twitter is how a service that has become ubiquitous – and enjoys nearly 100% name recognition, at least in industrialised countries – could become the stuff of analysts’ nightmares because they fear it lacks a business model that will one day produce the revenues to justify investors’ hopes for it.

They may be right about the business model – in which case Twitter becomes a perfect case study in the economics of information goods. The key to success in cyberspace is to harness the power of Metcalfe’s Law, which says that the value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of its users…

Read on

Why Facebook and Google are buying into drones

[link] Sunday, April 20th, 2014

This morning’s Observer column.

Back in the bad old days of the cold war, one of the most revered branches of the inexact sciences was Kremlinology. In the west, newspapers, thinktanks and governments retained specialists whose job was to scrutinise every scrap of evidence, gossip and rumour emanating from Moscow in the hope that it would provide some inkling of what the Soviet leadership was up to. Until recently, this particular specialism had apparently gone into terminal decline, but events in Ukraine have led to its urgent reinstatement.

The commercial equivalent of Kremlinology is Google- and Facebook-watching. Although superficially more open than the Putin regime, both organisations are pathologically secretive about their long-term aspirations and strategies. So those of us engaged in this strange spectator-sport are driven to reading stock-market analysts’ reports and other ephemera, which is the technological equivalent of consulting the entrails of recently beheaded chickens.

It’s grisly work but someone has to do it, so let us examine what little we know and see if we can make any sense of it…

LATER: Seb Schmoller, struck by my puzzlement about why Facebook had bought Oculus Rift, sent me a link to an interesting blog post by Donald Clark, who has experience of using Oculus kit.

I’ve played around with the Oculus for some time now – played games, roared around several roller-coasters, had my head chopped off by a guillotine, walked around on the floor of the ocean looking up at a whale and shark, floated around the International Space Station using my rocket pack.
Why do I think it matters? It’s possible, just possible, that this device, or one like it, will change the world we know forever. It will certainly revolutionise the world of entertainment. Flat screen TVs have got as big and sharp as they can get. It is clear that most people do want that big, panoramic experience but there’s a limit with 2D. Climb into that screen, which is what the Oculus allows you to do and you can look around, upwards, over your shoulder. You can them move around, do things and things can be done to you. It’s mind blowing.

The problem that Oculus has is getting to market quickly. Kickstarter was fine, for starting. Sony is right on their shoulder with project Morpheus. With this money they can accelerate R&D, have a massive marketing push and keep the price right…

His conclusion:

This is not only a ‘game’ changer, it’s an experience changer. It will change the way we spend our time, expand our experience and acquire skills. I’ve seen the effect it has with children, teenagers, adults and pensioners. It’s an experience, even at low resolution that can change your life, as you know, when you’ve tried it that it’s coming and when it comes it will be all-embracing. Facebook already has the world at its feet with 1.5 billion users, it now has the world on its head.

Translation: maybe the acquisition make more sense than I though.

Why Snapchat is interesting

[link] Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

As usual, danah boyd nails it:

Snapchat offers a different proposition. Everyone gets hung up on how the disappearance of images may (or may not) afford a new kind of privacy. Adults fret about how teens might be using this affordance to share inappropriate (read: sexy) pictures, projecting their own bad habits onto youth. But this is isn’t what makes Snapchat utterly intriguing. What makes Snapchat matter has to do with how it treats attention.

When someone sends you an image/video via Snapchat, they choose how long you get to view the image/video. The underlying message is simple: You’ve got 7 seconds. PAY ATTENTION. And when people do choose to open a Snap, they actually stop what they’re doing and look.

In a digital world where everyone’s flicking through headshots, images, and text without processing any of it, Snapchat asks you to stand still and pay attention to the gift that someone in your network just gave you. As a result, I watch teens choose not to open a Snap the moment they get it because they want to wait for the moment when they can appreciate whatever is behind that closed door. And when they do, I watch them tune out everything else and just concentrate on what’s in front of them. Rather than serving as yet-another distraction, Snapchat invites focus.

Furthermore, in an ecosystem where people “favorite” or “like” content that is inherently unlikeable just to acknowledge that they’ve consumed it, Snapchat simply notifies the creator when the receiver opens it up. This is such a subtle but beautiful way of embedding recognition into the system. Sometimes, a direct response is necessary. Sometimes, we need nothing more than a simple nod, a way of signaling acknowledgement. And that’s precisely why the small little “opened” note will bring a smile to someone’s face even if the recipient never said a word.

Snapchat is a reminder that constraints have a social purpose, that there is beauty in simplicity, and that the ephemeral is valuable. There aren’t many services out there that fundamentally question the default logic of social media and, for that, I think that we all need to pay attention to and acknowledge Snapchat’s moves in this ecosystem.

My idea of a perfect blog post. It’s insightful, thought-provoking and beautifully written.

Aw shucks!

[link] Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

Turkish_Twitter

Aw, isn’t that nice: a new follower! Wonder if it has anything to do with this?

Facebook @ 10

[link] Sunday, February 2nd, 2014

My piece on Facebook’s first decade.

In fact, the most significant question is not whether teenagers will abandon Facebook, but whether its adoption by huge numbers of adults will result in the fulfilment of Zuckerberg’s vision of owning “the world’s social graph” – the network of humanity’s online social connections. If it does, then our society’s move into completely uncharted territory will be complete.

The reason for this is that, in a strange way, Facebook’s business model is analogous to that of the US National Security Agency. Both need to use surveillance of both intimate and public online activity to make inferences about behaviour. The NSA claims that this enables it to spot and thwart terrorism and other bad stuff. Facebook’s implicit – but rarely explicitly articulated – claim is that intensive monitoring of what its users do enables it to both tailor services to their needs and provide precise targeting information for advertisers.

The difference is that while it’s impossible to know whether the NSA’s surveillance is a cost-effective way of achieving its mission, there’s no doubt that Facebook’s monitoring of its users is paying off, big time – as evidenced by its quarterly results, released last week. The company had revenues of $2.59bn for the three months ending 31 December – up 63% from the same time last year; and for 2013 as a whole it had revenues of $7.87bn, up 55% year-on-year. Its profit last year was $1.5bn.

All of which is pretty good for an outfit created by a Harvard undergraduate in his dorm room 10 years ago. What then of the next 10 years? As with most internet ventures, it’s impossible to say. On the one hand, permissionless innovation might spring another surprise on the world. After all, software is pure thought-stuff and there’s no shortage of geniuses in the profession. This is why many online moguls have Andy Grove’s motto – “only the paranoid survive” – engraved on their psyches. The future of Facebook will be determined by the outcome of a struggle between Metcalfe’s law and the capacity of the net to spring disruptive surprises.