Keeping Social Networks Social

Thought I would share an article I recently wrote for BQ Magazine on keeping social networks social… click me below…



Happy Birthday World Wide Web.

Today the World Wide Web will have woken up to breakfast in bed, cards a plenty and an array of presents including the obligatory pair of socks.  Later it probably met with friends for coffee, a bit of shopping and then enjoyed a meal out with its significant other half in that posh new restaurant in town.  The World Wide Web celebrates its 20th birthday today.  Happy Birthday to you!

On 6th August 1991 Tim Berners Lee and his team gave birth to the first website.  It was a tad basic, a bit ugly, and a lot boring… a birthing ritual still kept alive by a number of traditional advertising agencies today.

First website.

With each passing year the Web has evolved, morphing and evolving into an essential element of our everyday lives.  From the screech and whistles of early dial-up modems to the introduction of high speed broadband, wifi and mobile 4G around the corner, advances in technology and expertise has improved the online experience and harnessed the essential of engagement.  The Web has become a hyper information conduit, and made the world much smaller by bringing us into easy contact with friends, family and acquaintances…

…it makes me feel so warm when I get friend requests from former school bullies on Facebook!

As well as giving me a job, the Web has genuinely revolutionised communications.  It took Radio 38 years to reach 50 million users, it took TV 13 years, but only 4 years for the Web.  Further to this, social media has revolutionised the Web itself. Facebook reached 200 million users in less than a year!  With 50% of the world’s population under 30 and 96% of Millenials a member of a social network, you won’t appear on Oprah as a talented clairvoyant to work out what the future holds.

How the web will develop is difficult to say, especially given the changes we have seen in so few years.  Nobody had heard of Facebook just five years ago! What we do know is it will continue to replicate the society in which it is growing up: one where there is good and bad, where there is openness and closedness, where there are principles and where are those eager to fob off and make a quick buck (oops trad ad agency tangent again).

Happy birthday World Wide Web! No longer a teenager and well on your way to getting the key of the door.

Twitter. Revolutionary or revolutionary?

At 4:29 am on December 5th, 2008, Malcolm Gladwell of Blink and Tipping Point fame posted his first tweet. It read, “Nice to join this jungle.” One year later in October 2009 he tweeted his last. It was a failed experiment. It hadn’t been that nice after all. He hadn’t seen the wood for the trees. Gladwell, it would seem, wasn’t impressed! “What?” I hear you ask… after all, Twitter has brought down governments and brought MC Hammer closer to over 2 million of his followers!

Over a year later, and in an article in the New Yorker, Gladwell attacked Twitter’s revolutionary credentials. He suggested that there is a limited application of social networking tools to activism in the “real world”. The Twitter Revolution in Moldova hadn’t really happened. The social network that Ahmadinejad banned at the height of the 2009 troubles had in fact had no effect on the streets of Tehran. Facebook hadn’t lead to the downfall of Ben Ali in Tunisia or indeed Mubarak’s flight from Egypt.

I have to say… I agree and disagree.

Gladwell it has to be said has a propensity to simplify, but as my mother always says – and she really is wise – “Things are never black and white. They are always grey.” It is as ignorant to say that Twitter caused a revolution as it is to suggest that Twitter, or indeed Facebook, had no effect whatsoever. Such events are multi-layered and multi-faceted. Hell, I would even agree with Julian Assange when he took part credit for the events in Tunisia and Egypt because of his Wikileaks revelations.

There is no doubt that social media was used as a communications tool inside and outside of these events, allowing leaders to influence and spread news. There is no doubt that it influenced global mass media, and in doing so influenced politicians. However, the likes of Twitter and Facebook are just tools. They aren’t revolutionaries in their own rights. They are used by revolutionaries who may or may not be that skilled at influencing, organising and toppling as the next cyber-Chez. And they are used alongside muffled coffee shop conversations, discrete text messaging and incendiary leaflets disseminated around the corner from the local Mosque.

When we think of ‘leaders’ I think we have to remember that with the democritisation of the web through the social networks, ‘leaders’ has come to mean ‘you’ and ‘I’. We all communicate and influence. Social change may have traditionally been seen to be hierarchical, but that does not mean it is the case or that it will always continue to be so. Social networks give people this voice and magnify it. I find it odd that Gladwell seems to have missed this. Isn’t that what Tipping Point was all about?

Of course it will always be easier to get somebody to ‘like’, ‘poke’, ‘retweet’, ‘follow’ or ‘share’ but that has more to do with the energy behind their revolution than it does anything else. The social networks are a tool, amongst many, but powerful tools to be leveraged by those with an axe to grind.

Has Places KO’d Foursquare?

Facebook has just launched Places, in competition to the location based social network Foursquare. Having heralded the all too soon demise of Foursquare in a tweet not too long ago a thought came into my head as I scrubbed teaspoon number 6 whilst staring vacantly through the kitchen window this morning.

As a teen in Scotland in the late 80s a popular term of offence was “spoon”. The phrase “what a spoon” or “you spoon” or simply “spoon” often followed an act of stupidity or nerdiness (if such a word exists – iPhone spell checker not happy). It got me thinking about stupid nerds and Mark Zuckerberg popped into my head. “No! Don’t attack the co-founder of Facebook!” I hear you cry. But never lead by the crowd here it goes…

Before I do though just a bit more about Foursquare. Dennis Crowley, the fresh faced college grad with perfect teeth, and co-founder of Foursquare, hit upon a great idea of connecting social networks more effectively with the opportunities offered by the smartphone revolution and the innate human desire to play games and compete. Facebook’s Places is an obvious response to this, but I have to agree with Crowley’s seemingly “I’m under threat” accusation that “Places is boring”.

Central to Foursquare is the concept of competition – collecting kudos badges and becoming mayor of a location. This is already being used by net savvy companies to offer promotions to loyal mayors. My local Domino’s is doing exactly that. I’m one day away from usurping the existing mayor in a stealth-like coup d’état to get a free pizza (now who’s the spoon?) So what is central to Foursquare is not central to Facebook. What was central to Facebook was privacy. I say “was” because 26 year old Mark (childhood fan of Risk the board game) has now decided he knows what humanity really wants. Supposedly we don’t much care for privacy. This approach, along with it’s 500 million users, fits surprisingly well with a web domination strategy. Seems like Risk came in handy on a number of levels.

So, as well as agreeing with Dennis, I have a complaint of my own. With Places you have no choice of sharing options as you do on Foursquare… If you check-in everybody knows where you are. At least with Foursquare I can check-in to my local Domino’s for the promotion, and choose whether or not I wish fellow members of my diet club to know it’s my fourth day in a row! Even if there was an incentive to check-in with Places (I promise you now fatigue will set in) there are no privacy options.

So I wonder if Facebook’s self seeking ways will see Foursquare continue in popularity. Yes Facebook has the numbers over Foursquare, 500 million versus a much smaller 3 million, but Twitter only offered the service of Facebook’s update status and 190 million users later it has done rather well thank you very much. “Mark, you spoon!”

2… it’s Joe!

Originaly posted 21st December 2009

Some may argue that X-Factor Joe McElderry’s cover of “The Climb” for Christmas no. 1 2009 was always going to be an “uphill struggle”, and it proved to be the case. The organic grass-roots campaign was launched by Jon and Tracy Morter on Facebook after becoming bored of the X-Factor winner topping the charts every Christmas for the last 4 years.

No doubt the results will send ITV, X-Factor producers, and more to the point Simon Cowell, into crisis talks. Why? Because even although Joe sold more singles than any other X-Factor debutant, the Facebook campaign shows a determined and gritty fight back by a sizeable group (over a million) specifically against what is perceived to be “the machine”. This is another example of bad online PR not being managed properly and spilling over into “real life”. You see, the power of the social networks is not in the technology but in its users. These users are not some strange group of freaks on the fringe but are you and me, and if they aren’t you then they will inevitable be your friend, partner, offspring or neighbour. The point is that the social networks are “real life”.

So in summary, the latest in a long line of social network phenomena chose this year’s number 1, raised over £78k for the charity Shelter (still rising with RATM also donating revenue from sales to them and another teen music charity), managed a free gig by Rage against the Machine sometime in 2010 to celebrate, lost the bookies £1 million, and broke 2 records: biggest download single ever and only Christmas no. 1 by download ever!

The only thing left now is Facebook’s choice for no. 1 in 2010…