White Is For Witching

A few weeks ago, I noticed that the guys at It’s Nice That were asking if people were interested in reviewing a new book by Helen Oyeyemi, called White is For Witching. Being a book-lover, I couldn’t resist, so I got an advance copy and wrote my thoughts on a bookmark as they wanted. I was pleasantly surprised when mine was one of the handful they decided to put up on the website for the book. White Is For Witching is a gothic coming-of-age story that deals with life – and death – in a hauntingly beautiful way. Here’s a short animated video about it. Go to the site to read reviews (including mine) and find out more!

A review of The Power of the Network

It isn’t easy to theorize about social media today, simply because we are reaching a stage where the messages are often the same. Repetition is pointless – not only can it cost you readers (especially in the case of a blog), but it will make you less credible. 

Lulu.com has enabled bloggers the world over to publish their most poopular blog posts (or even their whole blogs, if they so choose!) in book form. From the days of Gutenberg’s printing press to lulu.com, we’ve certainly come a long way. 
David Cushman’s The Power of the Network, a collection of white papers from his blog, from that point of view passes the first test – that of having enough meat in it. The best chapter in my opinion is his explanation and exploration of Reed’s Law and the Long Tail, in Chapter 7. David elaborates on Reed’s Law, or Group Forming Network Theory, by first relating it to Sarnoff’s Law (initially used with reference to TV – the value of a network growing in proportion to the number of viewers) and then Metcalfe’s Law (the value of a network growing in proportion to the number of nodes in it). He uses simple examples from the digital world, like Twitter, to explain the greater potential of Reed’s Law in collaborative networks of shared purpose. David writes in a manner that is easy for anyone to grasp. I’m very interested in seeing how he can further explore this concept. 
In Chapter 3, ‘What now for advertising and marketing’, he talks about the new rules of marketing. His expertise as a practitioner of social media comes to the fore here – he speaks about widget marketing, for example, which is something I heard about at Ad:Tech London in September this year (the post was written in January). In that sense, David predicted its potential as a marketing tool ahead of many others. 
The other ideas in the book are fairly straightforward and mostly deal with the growth of communities and herd theory (as discussed widely by Mark Earls, for example). One chapter was originally a presentation at a conference and I got the feeling while reading it that it would have been best left that way, though the ideas in it were good. Transferring blog posts and presentations into book format is a tricky issue. My suggestion would be to focus on the ideas that people would want to read as a book, and either leave the rest as is or use them merely as a starting point for a chapter that can be further explored in a book. 
Twitter with its 140-character limitation, blogs with their larger content capacity and Slideshare for Powerpoint presentations, are all vastly different animals. As more people bring books based on their blogs out, I’ll be keeping an eye on how they aggregate content and focus on ideas that can stand the test of the written form. 
The Power of the Network, however, as a quick read, can be recommended for most of its content. 

Of brand books and music

Rohit Bhargava’s Personality Not Included had a lot of things going for it to prop up book sales. Some of the innovative things Rohit did were getting bloggers to interview him, starting the Personality Project and having a competition to get a reader to have his/her quote on the back cover of the book. 

But Jonathan Salem Baskin has gone a step further. He’s made the first move towards creating a completely new experience for readers of his just-launched Branding Only Works on Cattle – a soundtrack for the book! He says: “I have aspirations of achieving something like the Beatles fame, only with the lyrics of Tom Lehrer.” He has plans for another two songs, and ‘maybe even an EP’! Presenting ‘The Sock Puppet Blues’:

Why you should read Clay Shirky’s latest book

I wanted to mention a few of the things I learnt while reading Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody: the Power of Organizing Without Organizations, before I forget. I got a copy from the lovely people from BookRabbit who were giving out free copies at Social Media Café London last week – more about them in another post.
I’ve been noticing from quite a few blogs that many people have read it, but they haven’t said much apart from the fact that it is an excellent book – which it absolutely is. My curiosity was aroused from the little that I’ve heard, but with all respect, nothing I’ve heard so far does justice to the book. It is a well-researched, engaging piece of work, that will make sense for laymen as much as it will for media professionals, and it is a very relevant discussion of the ongoing revolution in the communications industry today – and by that I mean social networks, e-mail, blogs, and everything in between (and more). Most importantly, it is quick and easy reading. So a few things that you’ll like reading about (I’m just touching upon these topics):

 

1. The Birthday Paradox: With three people, you’d think that the odds of two of you sharing a birthday is two in 365 (days of the year) – you, let’s say X, either share it with Y or Z. But the error that most people make is that in a group, you have to count the links between people and not just the number. So in addition to the chance that you may share a birthday with Y and Z, they may share a birthday among themselves. And this number increases exponentially as the number of people grows. The other day I was wondering how two completely unconnected people in my friends list in Facebook knew each other. I still don’t know, but chances are, within the set of common friends the three of us have, there will be some connection, however vague. It’s isn’t just about how I know A or B, it is how A and B know each other. That is something I often overlook.

 

2. I heard of this briefly when the event happened: the stolen Sidekick phone issue in New York. Evan Guttman, a friend of a woman called Ivanna who lost an expensive phone in a New York City cab, created a social media campaign that was so strong it led to the thief, who knew that she had been identified, being arrested. Think of the odds of that if you forget your phone in a city. Evan made use of social media in a way that forced NYPD to reclassify the phone as ‘stolen’ from just ‘lost’. This is something that would have been inconceivable even a decade ago.

 

3. This one I didn’t know about: the HSBC-Facebook standoff. Yes, we have the power to change rules when companies try to use them to their benefit – at our cost.

 

4. The fact that Sourceforge is the largest online warehouse of open source projects. I know a few developers who hope that they will be the next Page or Brin. Building on common knowledge, they absolutely can be, who knows. Also, on a somewhat related note, see this very interesting piece by Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker, and then this article on multiple independent discovery.

 

5. Why Microsoft’s Encarta failed versus Wikipedia: apparently the managers, seeing Wikipedia’s success, tried to involve users but with the not-so-subtle caveat that Microsoft had permission to “use, reproduce, edit, modify, translate and reformat your Submission” for a product that they would make money out of. Duh – not happening. Today, I go straight to Wikipedia for descriptions and histories of people, places and events. Encarta doesn’t even enter the frame, forget the picture. In fact, I don’t know a single person who has ever mentioned using Encarta.

 

Anyway, these are just a few thoughts that came to me from the book. Yup, this post is sort of like a teaser. Go read the book and see what you think – and come back and tell me. (If you already have, then you have no reason not to comment – NOW!).