Dreaming of a single digital home

Mansi made an interesting comment on one of my posts, about where the web is heading:

‘instead of having multiple social stops, we’ll all have one social home, so we don’t have to leave. ever.’

I’ve been thinking about this for a while now and though that is logically where we should be heading, I wonder if it will be possible in practice. I’m thinking of a service that is like FriendFeed and houses all your social presences in one place, but it should have one crucial difference: users should be able to control their privacy levels. So something along the lines of Facebook from the privacy point of view, but it should allow asynchronous following of people, like on Twitter. Currently Twitter offers only two options: on and off (via protected updates). Facebook is simpler from that point of view but requires approval when anyone ‘friends’ you in order to have them in your network. Another key issue in the service I’m talking about would be needing to use only one password to access everything, instead of having to remember multiple passwords for every site you log in to. 

Of course, single sign-on would need to work, and that can only happen when one company owns all the sites in question. Google is the closest so far. Yes, it does beg the question of monopoly – power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. 

So maybe all this is just a pipe dream, and someone needs to invent a smarter way to save passwords, which automatically gets updated when you change them on any of the multiple sites you use – which will in turn need a password of its own! 

I can’t stop thinking of the potential of the single web home idea though. It will be like your digital passport – the only document you’ll need online.

PS: Read this really informative post by Tim O’Reilly on the subject of the coming War of the Web.

‘Us Now’ Available For Free Streaming Online

In December, I mentioned watching Us Now, a documentary that looks at how the internet is changing the notion of power and government through crowdsourcing. I just heard that the one-hour film is now available to view online via free streaming, thanks to an interesting site called the Joining the Docs, an online channel that aims to make good, in-demand documentaries available to a wider audience than the film may get otherwise. It’ll be a good way of spending an hour, I guarantee. 

Social capital and social media

Here’s an excerpt from the article I wrote for Connect! by the Project 100

“It isn’t surprising, given my background in sociology, that I often find parallels between sociology and what I observe online. From telegrams to Twitter, technology has completely taken over the way we communicate. The reason for the massive take-up of social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter is simple: they help people stay in touch. It isn’t any surprise that both Facebook and Twitter ask members to answer the same question as a starting point: ‘what are you doing?’. Of course, social networks are used for a range of other reasons as well, from seeking opinions (TripAdvisor, Tipped), to disseminating news (as Twitter was used for during the recent attacks in Mumbai). But the seed for the creation of most social networks is the basic idea that people want to be connected. No man is an island, as the saying goes.

 This has its foundation in the concept of social capital, as popularized by Robert D. Putnam – “the connections within and between social networks as well as connections among individuals”, as Wikipedia says. Nan Lin, a professor of sociology at Duke University, spoke of social capital in a different context:  he said people invest in social capital with an expectation of returns in the marketplace (emphasis mine). Most intelligent usage of social media in a marketing context should thus give users their ‘expected return’ by adding to their social capital. By doing this, a brand simultaneously strengthens their own social capital, thereby enabling economic benefits to accrue.”

I also recently wrote a post on social capital and agile ideas on the Made By Many blog, which expands on the same idea, so you may like to take a look at it if you’re interested in the subject.

Note: Facebook hadn’t changed its look at the time I wrote the article. We all know the question Facebook asks now is ‘What’s on your mind’? The relative merits or demerits of that move are a subject for a different discussion altogether! 

A snow trip, anyone?

The Utah Office of Tourism looks like they’ve definitely caught on to the social media scene. Their basic site is in itself very snazzy, but they’ve also created a separate one that aims to further promote the snow-laden state. It features YouTube videos, has downloadable widgets and wallpapers, and an iPhone app. The ‘planner’ feature also helps visitors plan a visit to the state. 

No one can blame them for not catching on fast enough, that’s for sure!!

Social networks and Mad Men

One of the issues I’ve been discussing with advertising/ marketing/ social media people lately (I need a word that serves as an umbrella for all three – if anyone has any suggestions, let me know), is that of consumers being at the heart of most brand communications these days. The days of one-way communication from the brand to the consumer is finito. It’s about talking with the consumer, not AT them, and in many cases they come up with the actual content. That explains the reason for many retail brands creating social networks of their own, to make use of this collective wisdom, or to foster it, in a sense. The first of the latest of these is the very unlikely Sears department store (why ‘unlikely’, you ask? Because I’ve never thought of Sears as a particularly modern brand. This may be my own prejudice, I admit. If anyone thinks of Sears as a with-it brand, I’d love to know your reasons). Sears now has a website called the Arrive Lounge, for which they have partnerships with a load of other teen and tween-focussed franchises and networks, like High School Musical, GoFish.com, Nick.com, FunBrain.com, even MySpace and Facebook. Details here. Clearly, they are specifically targeting younger consumers in the back-to-school season. 

The second is the upmarket Juicy Couture, which has started Club Couture, where users can check out looks from other Couture consumers and create their own. 
Which got me thinking: if every brand and their brother starts creating a social network just to jump on the bandwagon, will the concept lose its novelty? Or is it here to stay? I suspect it’s a fad. As one-off initiatives, they’re great, but how long they will be able to sustain the tempo is highly questionable.
In other news, I finally got the Mad Men Season One DVD set. I finished Disc 1 of 3 yesterday and I can say I like it. I’ll get into more detail at a later date, when I’ve finished watching the whole lot. Meanwhile, take a look at this graphic artwork based on the series. Love it. 

Will the twin metros help British Airways?

When this goes live, I’ll start exploring it to see if it’s that much different from other rank-and-recommend sites. British Airways is creating a social media network called Metrotwin, which is to act as a virtual bridge between London and New York, one of the airline’s busiest sectors. It will allow users to rate the best restaurants, bars, neighbourhoods and so on  in each city, let them to recommend a ‘twin’ for places they like and will also recommend places to go to based on users’ likes and dislikes. The twinning concept for cities is well-known, but for BA to undertake something like this in the hopes of re-vamping their really negative global image, is – hopeful, perhaps. The project itself has potential though.

Thinking your online life through

This article in the New York Times is a brilliant summary of the state of social media today, its usefulness and uselessness. It’s a long article but these are the bits that stood out the most for me, as a blogger and user of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. 

This is the paradox of ambient awareness. Each little update — each individual bit of social information — is insignificant on its own, even supremely mundane. But taken together, over time, the little snippets coalesce into a surprisingly sophisticated portrait of your friends’ and family members’ lives, like thousands of dots making a pointillist painting. This was never before possible, because in the real world, no friend would bother to call you up and detail the sandwiches she was eating. 

You could also regard the growing popularity of online awareness as a reaction to social isolation, the modern American disconnectedness that Robert Putnam explored in his book “Bowling Alone.” The mobile workforce requires people to travel more frequently for work, leaving friends and family behind, and members of the growing army of the self-employed often spend their days in solitude. Ambient intimacy becomes a way to “feel less alone,” as more than one Facebook and Twitter user told me.

But where their sociality had truly exploded was in their “weak ties” — loose acquaintances, people they knew less well. It might be someone they met at a conference, or someone from high school who recently “friended” them on Facebook, or somebody from last year’s holiday party. In their pre-Internet lives, these sorts of acquaintances would have quickly faded from their attention. But when one of these far-flung people suddenly posts a personal note to your feed, it is essentially a reminder that they exist.

This rapid growth of weak ties can be a very good thing. Sociologists have long found that “weak ties” greatly expand your ability to solve problems. For example, if you’re looking for a job and ask your friends, they won’t be much help; they’re too similar to you, and thus probably won’t have any leads that you don’t already have yourself. Remote acquaintances will be much more useful, because they’re farther afield, yet still socially intimate enough to want to help you out. 

It is also possible, though, that this profusion of weak ties can become a problem. If you’re reading daily updates from hundreds of people about whom they’re dating and whether they’re happy, it might, some critics worry, spread your emotional energy too thin, leaving less for true intimate relationships. Psychologists have long known that people can engage in “parasocial” relationships with fictional characters, like those on TV shows or in books, or with remote celebrities we read about in magazines. Parasocial relationships can use up some of the emotional space in our Dunbar number, crowding out real-life people. 

This is the ultimate effect of the new awareness: It brings back the dynamics of small-town life, where everybody knows your business. 

It is easy to become unsettled by privacy-eroding aspects of awareness tools. But there is another — quite different — result of all this incessant updating: a culture of people who know much more about themselves. Many of the avid Twitterers, Flickrers and Facebook users I interviewed described an unexpected side-effect of constant self-disclosure. The act of stopping several times a day to observe what you’re feeling or thinking can become, after weeks and weeks, a sort of philosophical act. It’s like the Greek dictum to “know thyself,” or the therapeutic concept of mindfulness. (Indeed, the question that floats eternally at the top of Twitter’s Web site — “What are you doing?” — can come to seem existentially freighted. What are you doing?) 

My own personal experience mirrors some of these thoughts at different points in time. I assume that will be the case for most people who read the article through. At the end of the day, one line stood out most for me: the fact that in a sense we have gone back to small-town life, where everyone knows what you are upto. The cycle really has come full-circle and we are back to where we started.

Youth and Social Media

A useful presentation by MTV on the relationship between youth and social media. One statement I found particularly intriguing is ‘Content will be spread virally within’ (social networks). Young people today spend a lot of their time online and brands that hope to target this ever-expanding segment (a large percentage of the ‘tiger economyBRIC countries is under the age of 25, for example), will need to tailor their advertising in ways that appeal to them. They want to be in control of their content, whether this is through widgets or blogs. Brands that listen to them, as in the way Ernst & Young is reaching out to fresh graduates they hope to recruit through their Facebook group, have a better chance of gaining and keeping their respect than those that don’t. I’m not saying Facebook is the only way to go. What I’m saying is, keep this in mind when strategies for youth-oriented brands are created in-house. It’s easy to forget sometimes.

Via Unplannd