Self-exuberance vs. bragging in the age of social media

One of my colleagues at work recently pointed me to this music video by CharliXCX from earlier in the year. There are some interesting graphics, which really adds to the point of the video (whether it’s sarcastic or serious is up to the viewer!): that selfie culture is going overboard.

On a related note, I read this psychology paper recently (thank you Ged) where Irene Scopelliti (Cass Business School, City University London), George Loewenstein (Department of Social & Decision Sciences, Carnegie Mellon University), and Joachim Vosgerau (Department of Marketing, Bocconi University) describe a series of experiments they did looking at the gap between what *people think* others think of them when they share positive news on social media, and what others *actually think*.

I was unsurprised by the results. To clarify, I’m not a big user of Facebook socially (I use it for work a bit). I do use Twitter a lot though, and I’m starting to feel uneasy about the self-promotional activity that I do on Twitter myself (yes, I do do it, because I like hiding behind the screen instead of doing it in person and Twitter feels less of an imposition on people than Facebook because my connections on Facebook are people I know in real life, versus Twitter where connections are more anonymous – think of that what you will).

Anyway, the research finds that:

self-promoters overestimate the extent to which their self-promotion elicits positive emotions and underestimate the extent to which it elicits negative emotions. As a consequence, when seeking to maximize the favorability of the opinion others have of them, people engage in excessive self-promotion that has the opposite of its intended effects, decreasing liking with no positive offsetting effect on perceived competence.

There are influencing factors: how well you know the person who is sharing this information and cross-cultural influences in how a braggart is perceived, for example. The solution, according to the research? Get others to brag on your behalf, which is another often-observed behaviour on social media, from my experience.

That’s not going to sort selfie culture though. That’s just narcissism, which social media fuels, in my opinion! ‘Contrived perfection made to get attention’, as Essena O’Neill, the teen Instagram star who quit the social platform a few months ago, declared. She got hate for it, of course, and definitely still uses some social media to further her much more purposeful new project Lets Be Game Changers, so take it with a pinch of salt.

You can snap that selfie now – share it with people you know, but think twice about posting it on Facebook if you have a large extended circle of friends! Maybe your mum will share it for you on Facebook, though – the ideal outcome.

10+ years of social media and me

Someone asked me to briefly summarise my journey through social media over the last decade, a couple of months ago. I thought I’d share it here.

Fresh out of university in India many MANY years ago, I joined a social network called Ryze. It was an interesting place, if a bit confused. In the early 2000’s, it positioned itself as LinkedIn but in reality had many of the features of networks that soon surpassed it in popularity: Google’s now-defunct Orkut, and later on Facebook. Ryze introduced me to many people with shared interests, a few of whom continue to be extremely good friends (hi Shilpa and Madhavan!).

A bit later, in 2003, I started a personal blog. It drew me into a circle of people whose blogs I really enjoyed, a number of them anonymous, as mine was back then. Blogging was so new, I think all of us felt safe behind a veil of anonymity. There was a sense of belonging based on mutual interests.

I closed my personal blog around 2006, the hidden cloak of anonymity having fallen away. I needed something else to experiment with as the web starting growing in influence. As if on cue, Twitter came on the scene. I joined it in 2007. At the time I was laid up for a few months with a broken ankle in New York, so I was happy to try anything that gave me something to do without having to move from my sofa! (I joined Facebook around the same time, but it was Twitter that captured my imagination because Facebook was a gated community and not many people in my sphere had entered it, so to speak). Twitter, on the other hand, was like listening in on a hundred different cross-connections on the phone all at once, for a newbie like me then, at least. Users were mostly early adopters and I felt I was part of a new kindred community again. Clay Shirky’s ‘Here Comes Everybody’ and ‘Groundswell’ by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff were often mentioned. Subsequently, I joined many new platforms, including the Ning community led by Seth Godin when he wrote ‘Tribes’ in 2008, even curating a companion Q&A ebook with a few others. Why not, eh?

Twitter has made succinct thinking a skill, given its 140-character limit. I also enjoy sharing links to interesting articles, a way of giving back as much as I get. Of course getting lost in the internet labyrinth is always a risk, but I tend to ignore articles lampooning social media for causing attention deficit disorder. We’re adults, we should know how to control what we do!

Around the time I joined Twitter in 2007, I went back to blogging, but this time with a focus on the professional rather than the personal. That’s when One Size Fits One was born. Blogrolling was a thing back then. Now, external linking to build your community hardly exists.

My blog helped me get a foothold in a field I didn’t really start out in – I didn’t have a degree in technology or media, subjects I often speak about at conferences these days that form an integral part of what I do now. I used to run a series of interviews with interesting people in marketing in the early days as well, which I still continue with startup founders, though much less often.

Other things I have been able to do through social media include writing chapters for collaborative books and presentations and expanding my knowledge in a more structured way through Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) on platforms like Coursera. Participation is oriented in good old forums, which have shown no signs of dying; in fact Google Groups is the mainstay of Ada’s List, an online group for women in technology that I co-founded last year.

In short, social media has opened up lots of opportunities, introduced me to people I would never have met otherwise and helps me learn a little bit more every day.

On children, human rights & the work of @kidsclubkampala @oliviambarker on #BAD13 cc @blogactionday12

Today is Blog Action Day 2013, an annual event where bloggers across various disciplines the world over pledge to highlight one social issue. I’ve been participating for the last few years and thought I’d like to continue this year as well. There are currently 1,717  blogs from 124 countries, across 26 languages registered to take part in Blog Action Day 2013; I encourage you to join us – it’s not too late!

In keeping with this year’s theme of Human Rights, I’d like to bring attention to the work done by Kids Club Kampala, an organisation I have mentioned here before, that I support through mentoring.

Over the summer, Olivia Barker, KCK’s Director, was over in Uganda. I asked her what she was up to, and this is what she said:

This summer in Uganda has been amazing. It was very busy and I did so much stuff, but it is very exciting too. One of the main things I was doing was managing teams of international volunteers coming out which was great. I also did a lot of training of our Ugandan volunteers, ran a children’s camp for a week, checked up on all the projects, women’s groups and sponsored children and opened a new KCK centre. In June we launched a new project called the Ewafe project (‘where we belong’ in Lugandan) which is to support children in Kampala who have been abandoned. This summer, we placed several abandoned children into foster families. We also rescued one girl from living and working on the streets, and bought 2 acres of land to start building an emergency care home for abandoned children.

What follows below is a post by Olivia on children and human rights, seen through the lens of what KCK do. If you’d like to support them, details are at the end of the post.

For 80% of children in Uganda, their rights are being abused in some way.

One of Kids Club Kampala’s core values is to uphold the rights of the child. We believe that all children have the right to be loved, respected and cared for. They have the right to have fun in a safe environment, whilst having access to adequate food, shelter, clothing, education and healthcare.

The children that we are working with come from extremely poor households and the conditions in the slums of Kampala are shocking. Many families often survive on just one meal per day and cannot afford to send their children to school. People live in very overcrowded conditions, sanitation is poor, and children often do not own shoes so it is impossible to keep clean and away from infection. Disease and illness is rife, children suffer often from malaria and medical treatment is not free in Uganda. Illiteracy and unemployment rates are very high, as is the prevalence of HIV. To add to this, the slums are notorious for crime and violence at night, children are often abused, forced to work on the streets or caught up in gangs. Many children have been orphaned, neglected or simply abandoned.

Kids Club Kampala is making a huge difference to the lives of so many children and individuals in the slums of Uganda. We are passionate about empowering these children and communities, letting them know they are loved and are worth something, and helping them to overcome their situations and poverty. As an organisation, we are working with our children, volunteers and communities to ensure that children’s human rights are being upheld, advocated for, and not abused. We are doing this in several ways:

  • We are educating children about their human rights and encouraging them to advocate for and raise awareness about their rights.
  • We are creating a trusting relationship with the children, young people and vulnerable adults that we work with. We provide counselling services for children who have been abused, neglected or need support in any way. They can come and talk to us, and receive support, advice and practical help.
  • The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child details how the needs of children become their rights. We are helping children and communities to meet their basic human needs through providing food, clothing, toys, soap, and other essential items. We feed almost 4000 children every day across all of our KCK centres, and regularly provide children with clothes, shoes, soap, toys, mosquito nets and more.
  • School is not free in Uganda, making it extremely difficult for poor families to afford to send their children to school and meaning many poor children miss out on a vital education. Education is a basic human right and is essential to breaking the cycle of poverty. We believe that all children deserve the chance to learn and to have a bright future. Our education project allows children who have no access to education to have the opportunity to take part in informal education classes. We also run a School Sponsorship programme, allowing children access to formal education through paying their school fees, enabling them to grow up educated and with a good future ahead of them.
  • One of our main aims is to allow disadvantaged children the chance to just enjoy being children, to play and have fun away from the stresses and worries of their everyday lives. We do this through playing games and sports, running music and dance classes, football training, arts and crafts and lots of other fun activities. This is in accordance with Article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that children have the right to ‘rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child.’
  • We are talking to parents and getting to know families in the communities that we work in to educate them, support their human rights, and to raise awareness about children’s rights.
  • All of our staff and volunteers have signed up to and follow Kids Club Kampala’s code of conduct to ensure that we are keeping children safe and protected at all times. Our volunteers receive regular training about child protection, children’s rights and First Aid.

Please join us in our work for children’s rights. There is a long way to go and we can’t do it alone. Please visit our website or email to find out more about how you can get involved and support us.


The Google+ phoenix rises?

Over the last couple of days, I’ve spotted a few articles on the web that talk about the impending rise of Google+.

‘What?!!’ I hear you say.

Yes, Google+. And I actually believe them. Google, somewhat quietly, launched a feature called Google Author Rank a few months ago. That means that when you search for something on Google, if the author/journalist’s Google+ profile is verified and links to a relevant article, her link will show up first. This is obviously very useful not just for the writer herself but for the general public – verified and more relevant content is given priority above link-baiting sites, which is exactly as it should be.

Google is also slowly, incrementally adding new features that are improving the utility of the site: Communities, for example.

Lots of people, including me, are getting fatigued with Facebook. In the end though, it’s Google’s renewed business focus on search (experiments like Wave being retired as they fall by the wayside) that might lift them above Facebook, because that is what is going to boost usage of Google+. It is a philosophical pivot for them, but has rock-solid business motivations. As this article says:

Google doesn’t own social networking, but it does own search and email (and surprise! new Gmail signups automatically get Google+ accounts). With Author Rank, it’s outsmarting SEO spammers while forcing content producers to use Google+. They may not like it, but the alternative — risk losing influence, isn’t much better.

Google is smart. Very smart. Now if only they could renew the once-vibrant Google Reader community by bringing that back in to the fold.

On @pinterest and points of view

This is pretty interesting: if you type the words ‘thinspiration’ or ‘thinspo’ into the search box on Pinterest, it shows you a warning about eating disorders as below. It is supposed to extend to any words related to anorexia but I tried ‘anorexia’ itself as well as ‘thin’ and they both work. As this article says, clearly they are responding to the increase in the number of people looking for anorexia-related images on the site, but is a half-way house better or worse than going all the way and not showing any images like that at all? I suppose it’s a subjective thing: what’s thin to me may not be to you and so on.

In general though I think sites do have a social responsibility to their users: Google took a stand against piracy and Facebook against employers who request access to prospective employees’ passwords, amongst other things. If services don’t take a stand and have a strong POV on issues they feel strongly about, then they become facilitators, which is much more dangerous both ethically and as a brand.

Story via Mansi Trivedi.

On Facebook’s shaky future..or not

Thought-provoking post on why Facebook, like all networks, is doomed to fade (was their recent drop in US and Canadian traffic the first step?):

Networks have more than a utility based on connections; they also have a shelf life. Our fundamental insight is all those connections can grow or diminish in value at once — based on the context of the network vs. its competitors. Yes, networks rise in value and build gravity to draw masses to their center. But like a planet teeming with life that begins to pollute its own atmosphere, eventually all users long for a fresh start.

Nevertheless, Facebook seem to be continuing to try and innovate: they have a photo-sharing app in the works, and even I was floored by their COO Sheryl Sandberg recently!

The one where I was contacted by a Seinfeld bot

The other day, I randomly tweeted a link about Jerry Seinfeld’s collection of Nike sneakers.!/anjali28/status/73332694267871232

Imagine my surprise when a minute later I saw this in response:!/hellooooonewman/status/73332826619117568

I then did a bit of investigating, and discovered that it was a project by Neil Kodner, who built a Seinfeld bot (amongst many other characters!) that auto-responds whenever anyone tweets anything Seinfeld-related. He’s a data geek, and mines everything available to generate a whole host of data related to these bots. Here’s more, from one of the FAQ’s on his site:

For example, since @HelloooooNewman has already sent out over 170,000 replies, I have at least that many incoming tweets mentioning Seinfeld in my logs.  I am able to tell who’s tweeting about Seinfeld, when people are talking about Seinfeld, what they’re saying, and so on and so forth.  I can even tell if certain events, such as the release of a box set or a new event have resulted in an increase of Seinfeld tweets.  For examples of some of the things I’ve done with the twitter data, check out this analysis of Seinfeld Tweets“…

He’s currently looking for Seinfeld quotes for his Newman bot to use, so if you’re a fan then do contribute.

Fascinating stuff. Entertaining too, but you get my point!

A thought on Twitter

I know the whole point of a public Twitter account is so that anyone can follow you, but I can’t help thinking now and then that it would be interesting if I had the option to fill in a ‘why do you want to follow this person’ button right after I click ‘follow’, so that the person being followed would have some idea of how I got to know about them in the first place (did I chance upon their blog, see them speak at a conference, meet them in person, at an event, and so on). It would also make people more likely to follow me back (and vice-versa, more importantly).