Blogging about not blogging ...

So I haven't blogged in a while ... or rather I've been on Twitter alot.  As it turns out, to rephrase Hugh MacLeod, "Blogging Tweeting is a great way to make things happen indirectlydirectly."

David Berkowitz blogged how Twitter makes blogging better ... and in one way worse:

"One prominent blogger, who I won't call out here, includes a daily summary of his Twitter posts on his blog. Very few of those posts are worth syndicating. They only make sense if you follow him. I find myself reading his blog less now because of it."

I'm not the "prominent" blogger in question ;)  but as those of you reading the feed know, I'm equally guilty of reposting daily tweets here. The postings were archived and did not show up on the front page of this blog, but were regularly shipped out on the feed. This served a few purposes, including:

  • Using the blog as a journaling and archiving system so that years from now I could look back and find what I was doing on any particular day, through the archived daily tweets here. Twitter has no archiving mechanism and it's currently very difficult to find your tweets from any single day: you have to scroll back in your twitterstream to do so.

  • Posting daily tweets to my blog helped keep this blog going at a time when I've been particularly busy and haven't found the time to blog. The last three months have been very hectic, starting from before organizing  BarCampMiami, to leaving Scrapblog, to the various things I'm doing today and which I'll describe in upcoming posts.

  • In addition to keeping the blog alive with content, the daily postings kept Google's spiders crawling and indexing this site for these past few months.

However, daily postings of tweets are difficult and/or boring to read and as David points out, they only make sense if you're following them on Twitter as they occur, in which case it's redundant to see them on Twitter, on the blog and aggregated with my other activity on socialthing! and FriendFeed.

I've been active elsewhere

Speaking of which, I've been active on many other services as well. I've added the social networks and sharing services I use most to my blog's navigation and sidebar and have thus reclaimed my blog as a central identity hub from which to find me online. These services are listed under my picture on the sidebar, and are reposted below. If you'd like to connect on any of these services, please leave a brief comment describing how we know each other or why you'd like to be connected (see note below*):

Twitter Updates on Twitter
Facebook Facebook profile
Flickr Flickr photos
LinkedIn LinkedIn profile links
Upcoming Upcoming events
LinkedIn Tumblr lifestream
Dopplr Trips on Dopplr
Digg Dugg items
Google shared items Shared on Google Reader
LastFM LastFM radio
Jaiku Jaiku lifestream
Skitch Skitch screenshots
Slideshare Presentations on Slideshare
MyBlogLog MyBlogLog communities
Friendfeed Friendfeed lifestream
Technorati Technorati profile
ClaimID ClaimID identity
Netvibes Netvibes universe

*Note: I accept most friend requests, although I connect mostly with people I already know or have met on Facebook, Dopplr, Tumblr, Jaiku Google Reader, NetVibes, ClaimID, LastFM, SlideShare, and Upcoming. I'm more open with connections on Twitter, LinkedIn, Digg, MyBlogLog, FriendFeed and Flickr, although I reserve the right to not connect for whatever reason - please don't take it personally if I don't reciprocate a connection request.

Having said all that ...

... I'm blogging again ;)

May 7, 2008 in Social Media & Networks | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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Social object and the object-centered environment

Note:  this post on Social Object follows two previous ones, on The use of social objects as artefacts for identity management and on Social objects and the observer's paradox.

Sergeant Jalonen must have spent his childhood in a concrete sandbox

After I graduated from college, I completed mandatory military service in the Finnish Army. The year-long experience yielded intense experiences, lifelong friendships and lots of stories. One of them comes to mind: Jalonen and I were the first two soldiers from our company to be promoted to the rank of Sergeant. While I was promoted for technical skills in field operations, Jalonen was chosen because he was a strict disciplinarian, as tough as nails. So tough was he, that our company's soldiers concluded among themselves that he must have spent his childhood in a concrete sandbox!

Surroundings and situations affect your behavior

I never gave this story much thought except to joke about it with my friends.  Aside from the humor, however, the suggestion is that a childhood spent playing in concrete sandbox will toughen you up. Were they too quick to judge? What part of Jalonen's personality is attributable to a difficult childhood, and what part is attributable to the situation of being in the army?

In "Blink," Malcolm Gladwell describes how people tend to over-emphasize personality-based explanations for behaviors and disregard situational ones (see fundamental attribution error). For instance, it's tempting to stereotype a work colleague by saying "she's tough negotiator." However, that same person may be seen differently by friends and family, who might describe the same person by aspects not necessarily shown at work: "fun-loving, caring, generous, etc." University of Oslo professor Ole Hanseth further explains,

You do not go about doing your business in a total vacuum but rather under the influence of a wide range of surrounding factors. The act you are carrying out and all of these influencing factors should be considered together. This is exactly what the term actor network accomplishes. An actor network, then, is the act linked together with all of its influencing factors (which again are linked), producing a network.

Can your physical surroundings act as an influencing factor on your behavior? Social Scientist Roger Barker extensively researched see Architectural Psychology and found that, quite obviously, "In a store, people assume their roles as customers; in school and church, proper behavior somehow already resides coded in the place".

The object-centered environment

Cidade Negra Aldo's Wedding Boxed In Verdi's Il Trovatore
France X Cyprus Worldcup Qualifier Copa Fireworks Santini and Velloso john edwards
sxsw abx2007 (8) Food Network Awards Party Al Gore on Global Warming online social trends panel
cidade maravilhosa thierry's 40th maracana

A store and a wedding are social objects (because they're conversation starters and topics for people). They are also object-centered environments. You step into a situation that structures your behavior. Both physical structures like stores, churches and public parks and situational events like weddings, soccer games and flashmobs condition the participants' behavior to perform a certain objective collectively with like-minded others.

Work is a common form of social object as well as an object-centered environment. When you go to work, you "plug-in" to an environment where you then socialize with your colleagues and customers, because you work at the same place. If you telecommute, you're still "plugged in" to the work you do with your colleagues. For instance, traders around the world plug in to financial markets. Such environments are rich social objects, both positively and negatively. Think about the number of varied work-related conversations you've had over the years!

Moulding your environment

In Roger Barker's research, the places were clearly identified with a set location and purpose, like a hardware store, a high school, a denominational church or a financial market, like the Chicago Board of Trade (see Karin Knorr-Cetina's paper on "The Market as an Object of Attachment"). But what about when you perform a different activity in a location generally meant for something else? For example, a wedding may be performed nearly anywhere. In Hawaii, Florida and the many other coastal areas, weddings may be carried out on a beach. In this case, the wedding supersedes the beach-going activity and conditions the guests' behavior. The wedding ritual is generally standard within cultures, and everyone knows what to expect: gathering, union, blessing, and celebration. Other examples include a birthday party in a playground, public manifestations in city streets, flashmobs in a store, doing work inside a Starbuck's, TupperWare dinners in someone's living room, street soccer games, rock concerts inside Second Life, classical concerts inside a church and a BarCamp in a concert hall. Each of these activities bring people together around a shared object or objective, they include their own rituals, and they are performed in a certain way. The objective of the gathering supersedes the purpose of the location and the environment is molded to suit the gathering's purpose. Chairs are placed, tables are setup, goalposts are erected in a field, and so on (see "Placemaking, the way in which all human beings transform the places they find themselves into the places where they live").

Bernard Hunt, Managing Director of HTA Architects Ltd, talks about life in physical spaces:

The physical form of a place is only one side [of the coin]. The way life is lived in it, and the common purpose around which that life revolves, is the other. And from cave dwellers to loft livers human beings have always used places to achieve their common purpose .... Somehow things were easier when that purpose was protection against the elements, defence from attack and control of disease. Successful placemaking seemed to happen when what was built was in direct response to imperatives like defence and topography and also when it was done unselfconsciously by different people at different times.

Barry Smith, Department of Philosophy at the University of Buffalo, writes:

A physical-behavioural unit such as a religious meeting, a tennis championship or a sea battle is an intricate complex of times, places, actions, and things. Its constituents can include both man-made elements (buildings, streets, cricket fields, books, pianos, libraries, the bridges and engine-rooms of battleships) and also natural features (hills, lakes, waves, particular climatic features, patterns of light and sound). These features and elements may be further restricted to a highly specific combination of, say, a particular room in a particular building at a particular time with particular persons and particular objects distributed in a particular pattern. In general, however, it is a form of generic dependence which prevails in the realm of physical-behavioural units; a judge must hear and decide the case, but it need not be this judge; the capital city must be located somewhere, but it need not be located in this spot (and in time of war it may be relocated).

So whether the situation is dictated by the purpose of the location or the purpose of the gathering, you behave according to the appropriate culturally established rules you've learned. You have learned how to behave in a store and how to behave in a wedding.

What role for space in online community building?

In a discussion thread in Jeremiah Owyang's Community Strategists group in Facebook, Jonathan Trenn mentions:

"I think this is an excellent question, but what concerns me is that we are not talking about communities here...we're talking community platforms. Important distinction."

This begs the question: to what extent is the platform an integral part of the community? To what extent does the platform foster or condition community behavior? Offline, a basketball court may be an integral part of a local community, just like a bingo hall, church, community center, grocery store, etc. If you take away such spaces, you would expect the community to change, because you would restrict the different areas and reasons for people to find each other and interact based on their shared interests. Does this same dynamic play online? To what degree does the architecture, features and tools of the community spaces you provide foster or restrict community interaction? (see Karin Knorr-Cetina's work on "The Market as an Object of Attachment" is worth further reading for the notions of "wants and lacks", "attachment" and "embeddedness" in community.)

The way the online space is designed has wide ranging implications for community interaction. "Social Design" decisions include whether to allow people to create a profile page, upload a picture, write a bio, tag their content, add bookmarks on content and people, comment on others' creations, add friends, determine privacy settings, invite friends, publish to other platforms, create and moderate groups, browse profiles and content, "pivot" from one page to another, have personalized URLs, receive email notifications of activity, vote and rate content, engage in phatic communication, receive a mini-feed of friends' activity after login, classify friends, participate in public forums, and so on. These design decisions affect space, because each of these actions and activities have a placeholder on the website.

Unlike a media like TV, magazines and other traditional media, social media is highly participatory and created through the active contribution and collaboration of people interacting with each other. Each design decision and how it is expressed on the website, leads to far-reaching implications for the community. And if these decisions are not made and certain features are not provided, the community will find a way to either adapt their space or to find other spaces where they may engage in conversation and activity.

Back to Jalonen's concrete sandbox

To tell you the truth, military service is not such a pleasant experience. There are thousands of constraints on space, time and privacy. Your identity is formed daily in front of others through your behavior and actions. Heroics are performed and tiny hacks are found to break the rigidity. We found a way to build friendships and community, regardless of the hardships. Overall, however, relatively few cherish the environment enough to want to make a career of it. It is not so much that Jalonen's youth was spent in a concrete sandbox, but that the army situation itself was a figurative concrete sandbox.

Are your service's users stuck in a concrete sandbox? How do your website's features foster or hinder identity formation, personal expression, profile discovery, and community interaction between people? Can the community appropriate and form the space to fit their needs? How might different cultures appropriate the same website?

This post highlights the importance of design decisions in online community building. Answering these and similar questions with an eye to community-building, and before the first trace is drawn, determines to a large extent the community-building and word-of-mouth potential of your web service.

March 12, 2008 in Social Media & Networks | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

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Frank Warren of

frank warren of

Secrets are powerful social objects: they connect and bind people in a unique way. Monday's keynote at SXSW featured Frank Warren of PostSecret, who gave insights into the "unity we share, but often forget". During this presentation, a person walked on stage and proposed to his girlfriend.

"With postsecret, Frank Warren pioneered the idea that a website can serve as a an anonymous online confessional. Listen to his moving story about the trust his readers put in him, as well as his thoughts about how technology can help us overcome some of our darkest fears."

"There are two types of secrets, those we hyde from others, and those we hide from ourselves" - Frank

Has received over 200,000 secrets in three years. Has received secrets in all types of formats, including one on each side of a mixed-up Rubik's Cube. Also on a Starbuck's cup, that read "I serve decaf to customers who are rude to me":

- "My boyfriend is deaf and when we have sex I scream my ex's name"
- "I put lipstick on my bosses shirt so his wife thinks we're having an affair even if we're not. This sounds crazy even to me"
- "I know my child is not mine, but I love her anyways"
- "You called me an idiot so I sent your bags to a wrong destination. Opps, I guess you were right!"
- Favorite one: "Dear Frank, when I wrote down my secret to send to you, I felt horrible reading it, and at that moment I decided I will no longer be that person who carries this secret inside for the rest of my life."
- "You told me your darkest secret, and my heart ached because I realized I could not possible love you ever more"
- "I've gone through dark periods in my life and I've learned to have patience, because hope does not always come on the time schedule we would like"
- "I know how to fix my life, I just chose not to"
- "He's been in jail for something I did 10 years, 5 more to go"
- "The secret I mailed in last week was true when I mailed it, but it's no longer true now"

SXSW secrets:

- "All these web celebs have never worked with clients"
- "Work paid for me to come here, but I actually came here to find another job"
- "My company, a large one, has sent me here to steal ideas from startups. I'm posing as a freelancer"

wedding proposal on stage

Presentation, discussion and question and answer

Three years ago printed and handed out 3,000 postcards with instructions on sharing a secret to an art project. "Hi, my name is Frank and I'm collecting secrets." The people who say they don't have any, have the best ones. Secrets started pouring in, from all over the world and in many languages. So he started sharing these on a blog.

PostSecret is an online community that organizes itself as it develops. There are 10,000 or 100,000 other ideas like PostSecret out there waiting to be started. Projects that make us realize the greater unity that we all share, but that we often forget.

A rock band made a music video using secrets, and the project also evolved into a book. The project has also been used to raise money to support (and save) a suicide prevention hotline.

His father did not understand the project initially, but one day told Frank a secret that changed their relationship.

Frank had to grow up quickly when he was young and develop a rich interior life ... and thought that everyone else also has a rich interior life that's important to share. He also found the process of sharing a secret very therapeutic.

People are sharing secrets, but the truth is that similar secrets are shared, even by people sitting in the same room.

There is an intimacy revolution, an authenticity revolution going on. We post pictures on Facebook our employers shouldn't see. Social media tools are driving this type of revolution and many new forms of authenticity will emerge.

There are secrets occurring in virtual worlds, too.

People share secrets about sexual identity, about abuse ... When Frank gets difficult and emotional ones, he channels the emotion to support the suicide prevention hotline.

He thinks of the postcards as works of art.

It's a false dichotomy to think secrets are either true or false.

"Free your secrets and become who you are"- Frank (to a standing ovation)

March 10, 2008 in Social Media & Networks | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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Self Replicating Awesomeness: The Marketing of No Marketing panel at SXSW

tara hunt, hugh macleod, david parmet at sxsw

Here's a transcription on community building by a panel of top social media consultants and bloggers. Since it's transcribed, please excuse the grammar and run on sentences.

Chris Heuer, Partner, The Conversation Group

Tara Hunt, Co-Founder, Citizen Agency

Jeremiah Owyang, Forrester

Deborah Schultz, Founder/Chief Catalyst,

David Parmet   Owner, Marketing Begins At Home LLC

Hugh MacLeod   Grand Pooh-Bah,

"'Conversation' & 'community', yes, yes. Of course. Given. But how, exactly? Do you want people to find out about and play with your awesome Web stuff without being skeevy about it? Serious about including your users in the long-term creation and evolution of your products? Together, we'll divine the best ways to unmarket and create self-replicating awesomeness."

How can you uses social media to build communities around your projects?

Deb Schultz: None of this is about tools or technology, it's about understanding your customers and bringing them into the fold.

Chris Heuer: What makes a community are the interpersonal connections within it. Social media fundamentally changes the way we interact with each other. It takes a shift to think about participation in a different way. We need to change people's mindset from selling to people, to helping people buy. You need to have a genuine spirit of wanting to do good, or people will notice the "fakeness".

Jeremiah Owyang: Conducts research and most recently interviewed 17 companies on best practices for community building and management.

Tara Hunt: "Marketing is the price you pay for creating mediocre products." Tara found that the more she gave away, the more business she got. The more time she donates to the community, the more opportunities open up to her. Read Cory Doctorow's "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom." The book talks about if you do good things for the world, you get more "woofys" (ie., Karma).

Hugh MacLeod

Was unemployed 5 years ago and started drawing cartoons on the back of business cards and posted them to his website. This led to a gig with a small South African winery, Stormhoek, which was selling 50,000 cases per year at the time. Hugh then started talking about Stormhoek and sending free bottles to bloggers, without asking them to blog about it. Hugh then noticed geek dinners happening and offered to send a case of wine to these events. The only condition was to ask people to post pictures to Flickr. The result is that in a year and a half, Stormhoek went from 50k cases per year to 250k cases per year! Hugh and Jason [Korman, of Stormhoek] noticed that the wine was a social object. In fact, it was becoming a social marker, because it took territory and demarcated the conversation.


If you are at a small startup and have some control over your marketing budget, get out of the ivory tower. Get a community manager or evangelist and go meet your customers. Go to conferences and start "weaving". Don't put names on things, like "viral marketing".

Jeremiah mentions that he makes a lot of people at his own company nervous, because he gives out a lot of his knowledge for free.

However, by sharing your knowledge, people will understand that you have knowledge and this becomes your calling card.

Traditional marketing is about throwing the net out wide and hope you catch as many people as possible. What Hugh realized is that you can provide good service to small groups and the word will spread. "Blue Ocean Strategies" is a good book about these principles.

Question and Answer

How to find brand advocates? It's pretty easy to find them by searching. You can also use paid services that will mine the net and find influencers.

What is Kula and what is the latest one?
Kula are shells that people trade in South Sea islands. Islanders would paddle great distances to gift Kula to others. It's not about the shell, it's that people are wearing them and it creates a bond, an obligation, a conversation, an interaction. It's all about people.

It's ok to give away the little things, but what about giving away big stuff?
For example, Audi is giving away dry cleaning, spa treatments and so on. Find related things that people you interact with will value. Also, break things down into smaller segments and go local. Start from the bottom up. Russel Davies said big brands don't have big ideas, they have lots of small ideas. Starbuck's is about the small things. Apple stores also. When you add lots and lots of little things done well, these add up. As a community manager for Hitachi, that sells products worth millions of dollars, Jeremiah set up a wiki that became a valued space for customers and represented a huge cultural shift for the company.

How to market a film? Start a blog and get people from the community to start telling their stories. The brands with the best storytellers win. Empower people and help them tell their stories.

What's the rebuttal to the 1.0 Marketing pushback? There's no such thing as viral marketing. Why not go right to the customers themselves, rather than going for yet another ad buy. Sometimes you shouldn't give your products away, but it's those things around it, the social gestures you make. For example, the Honda dealer has wifi, has bagels, has playground for kids ... so some independent consultants go there to work! It's not just about giving away stuff, it's about creating relationships with the people you're giving stuff to.

What's the takeaway, the soundbite?
Social objects are the future of marketing. Build social capital and find your higher purpose. Passion for people, put passion into product. Technology changes, human behavior doesn't, don't get lost in the shiny bling, don't get lost in the ivory tower, nothing replaces listening. People are people.

What about nonprofits, what is free is the message ... is pitching the message annoying or wrong or unethical? What you're giving is a connection to a higher purpose, a sense of belonging. Cultivate this feeling, rather than sending a message to people. Find how to connect with people. When do you connect with people? Is it just on your own terms. Do you sell tupperware when you invite people to dinner? That's a turn off. If you only talk to them when you need them, you will lose them. It's more about the quality of the connections, one person at a time.

What if these tactics don't work? How long does it take? Traditional execs want immediate results. They care about levers, not people. A lot of it has to do with people not getting it. It's not campaigns, it's programs. Get qualitative results, get the videos of the kids in the playgrounds and tell their stories.

Is this a fad or does it need to be done? Jeremiah believes there is a purpose to marketing. But marketing has become associated with sales, rather than associating the product with the value people get from them. For Deborah, it is a personal mission, not a fad. She considers herself a customer advocate, not a marketer. She loves bringing tools to people and enabling people to do cool stuff with it. It's significant that everybody has a voice today. It boils down to, what's your intention? People will notice fakeness.

Wrap-up: A story without love is not worth telling.

March 10, 2008 in Social Media & Networks | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

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Tools for Enchantment: 20 Ways to Woo Users, Kathy Sierra at SXSW

kathy sierra at sxsw

I missed Kathy Sierra, from CreatingPassionateUsers, when she spoke at FOWA in Miami, so it's awesome that she presented at SXSW (Note: this is a transcription, so please excuse the grammar and run on sentences):

"Better than chocolate, better than sex." Even if nobody really MEANS it, what would it take to craft experiences our users would describe like that? In this new follow-up to creating passionate users, we'll look at tools that can help take us there (including some fun science). We'll cover some new, some retro, and some counter-intuitive techniques to take Cognitive Seduction to the next level. Best of all, we can do a whole lot of user wooing without having to change our product."


Kathy asks us to do four things. The first is, what is it something that you really would have loved to have been. Mine is to have been a professional soccer player at the highest level. My neighbor's was baseball. Kathy's was being a great horseback rider.

Last year, she asked us "Why are you here?" If you're making applcations that don't make face to face meetings necessary, why are you all here?. Last year we said, to make better apps, we must compensate for the missing "human-ness".

So, how do make users say "this kicks ass." Would you rather a person say the company or the product kicks ass? The secret answer is, you need to help the user have a user where they're kicking ass.

The Hi-Res User Experience.

If you know more about music, the more you hear. For example, Tantek says he looks at the world differently after he started climbing elevn months ago. For instance, he builders the Knight Concert Hall, the SXSW center, climbed the wall at the 16bits party in order to get past the hour-long line ...

Neurogenesis and neuroplasticity, researched by Elizabeth Gould, who found out that animals generate new brain cells in rich environments. Being good at something is not about natural talent, it's about a talent for practicing. People who put in the time. If you put in the time, you will become really, really good. Richard Restak says, "we need a rage to master."

So, What do you help your users kick ass at?

1. Use telepathy. VS Ramachandran. It started with a monkey. There are two flavors of mirror neurons. One is being able to read facial expressions. You have to be able to see people's faces. You're not thinking what other people are thinking, you're actually simulating what's going on in someone else's brains. The other flavor is motor neurons. You feel the movements. When you see some action, a party of your body experiences it. We get this by watching other people, so we can understand what the other user is feeling, thinking, going through. And the more you've experienced something, the better you understand. This means you have had to feel your user's pain ... or skill. Also, you can actually sit in a room and practice by visualizing. The way that you visualize matters. If you imagine seeing what you would see, that's better than seeing a picture of yoursef.

2. Serendipity. Our brans are pattern matchers. We try to find reasons for things. There's a serendipity curve. Add randomness, for example "the staff pick of the day."

3. The Dog Ears Design Principle. If your dog shaeks their head , the ears follow the head. Think about how things move. Fluidity turns the brain on.

4. Create Joy. It's important. The brain needs play. Pay attention to Amy Joy Kim and Liz Danzico ("frameworks").

5. Inspire first-person language. What can I do to cause users to talk about themselves, rather than about the company or its products? Passionate users talk more about themselves, using first-person language. "I kick ass"! People talk through t-shirts (so make a women's fitted tshirt!).

6. What does being your user say about a person?

7. Easter eggs and other treats.
Read "A Smile in the Mind".

8. If your users are passionate, they will justify their passion by recruiting new users. Help users defend to other people this "totaly lame waste of time."

9. Reduce their stress. Think about ways for your users to manage stress. They can't be passionate if they're stressed.

10. Exercise the brain. Read "Brain Age". Plain old physical exercise is one of the best ways to exercise the brain. Geeks are coming late to the notion "I have a body and I can do things with it."

11. Give people superpowers, quickly. The company "Electric Rain" has a motto: Users Must Do Something Cool Within 30 Minutes.

12. (missed it)

13. Speed their knowledge acquisition. Get them up the knowledge curve. Are there shortcuts? For example, chess masters have an ability to recall from just a glance at a board which game it was. But if you show them a random board, they won't remember it. So what is it that experts know, really? One of the top Go players in the US became an expert in a very short time

14. Make your products or services reflect people's feelings. Add a button: WTF? Marketers have a twisted, ideal, stereotyped view of what their customers feel like. It's the difference between "oops" (they love you) vs. "those bastards!" (your users hate you).

15. Help with reinestment of mental and physical resources into new problems they can solve that will help them learn and grow more. The expert never shrink the size of their lists, they just keep adding new stuff to do. Communities do this too. Encourage your communities to take on more challenging tasks. Give people the chance to focus, to devote all of their attention to things. Think of "Attention Offsets" ... If you consume partial attention, give them something that will consume full attention.

16. Create a culture of support.
There are no dumb questions. Give people a chance for people to become mentors at a much earlier stage, before they are experts. But more importantly, there are no dumb answers. Encourage people to answer questions, even if they're incorrect. Get them talking. Don't destroy people for a wrong answer, tell them it's ok.

17. Do not insist on "inclusivity". Passionate users "talk different". They use jargon. You say one word, and people who were there with you get it. Don't make advanced people friendly to newbies, but do give new people a place to feel safe.

18. Practice Seductive Opacity. Mystery. Anticipation. Curiosity. Michael Lopp: "It's not secrecy, it's theatre." Diane Ackerman "Deep Play." There is a resurgence in things that are real and tangible. It is impossible to see your Amazon delivery box and not smile. Just having it on your doorstep makes you smile and the delivery guy is a sex symbol! (It's all about the package! haha ;). And people document the unpacking! Elexctirc Rain says "the experience of getting and installing a product should feel like receiving a gift." Etsy is huge. Make is huge and growing. It's not "boomer nostalgia."  Think about the fact that people have senses. Studies show people who petted rabbits had lower cholesterol.

19.5 Do what this guy does.
This is the best and motivating story Kathy has seen. Welcome Gary Vaynerchuk! (He was also in Miami for FOWA). Everything Gary does is about mirror neurons. Gary gives people a higher resolution wine experience. He says "Most people in the wne industry are douchebags. Wine is fundamentally broken in America. Try different stuff. Stop drinking Yellow Tail, people, you're killing me!"

The last thing we're asked to do is to "keep in touch" by touching the shoulder of the person next to us.

March 9, 2008 in Social Media & Networks | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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Social Strategies for Revolutionaries, Charlene Li at SXSW

charlene li at sxsw

Charlene Li, Analyst at Forrester Research, gave an excellent presentation about Social Strategies For Revolutionaries; these ideas are further developed in her upcoming book, Groundswell (Note: this is transcript, so please excuse the grammar and run on sentences):

"You know that it's essential for your company to be involved in social technologies -- but your executives are too afraid to pull the trigger. This session will give you the strategic frameworks that will appeal to the logical, analytical side of executives, while tapping into the revolutionary spirit needed to create a groundswell of support for your strategy. Based on the upcoming book, Groundswell: Winning In A World Transformed By Social Technologies, the session will layout how to think about how people are using social technologies, the business objectives that can be met, and review a quick case study of how one company transformed itself. Highlighted throughout the session will be the role of the revolutionary -- the key person inside an organization who leads the transformation. You'll learn how to channel the tradition of radicalism into a force that can transform your company."


 Example of DVD code on Digg, where users revolted when Digg suppressed the post (Digg was forced to republish the post with the code). Another example is Jericho Nuts on CBS. One day, 20 tons of peanuts showed up in the producer's office that cancelled the show. The revolutionary behind this was a talk show host, Shaun, who loved the show and didn't want to see it die. CBS brought it back.

The Groundswell is "A social trend in which people use technologies to get things they need from each other, rather than form traditional institutions like corporations." Companies now want to embrace the groundswell. When a company says "let's get a blog," it's because they feel they need to get involved and don't know how.

So, will you be a radical like Thomas Paine? He was the founding spark that led to the American revolution. After that, he went to France, and when he came back, the revolution was over and he had no more voice. His funeral was attended by 6 people.

Or a revolutionary like Thomas Jefferson: the dog days of 1776 was a tedious process to get colonies to agree on declaration of independence. He was a different type of revolutionary, because he had the process and framework to pull people together.

Making revolutions stick requires frameworks and processes.

The POST Process

People: Assess your customers' social activities, from Inactives (44% adults, 26% youth) to Specators to Joiners to Collectors to Critics to Creators (18% adults, 39% youth). Youth are always off the charts and an indication of the future. Fewer and fewer people are inactive. This is the social technographics of your website. Age is a major driver of adoption. It takes boomers longer to learn the technologies, and the content is not really geared for them. But this too is changing. They are at least engaged as spectators and are starting to comment and become critics. Soon, they will produce content as well.

Objectives: Decide what you want to accomplish. (ie. why do you want to have a blog?). From research to listening. From marketing (shouting) to talking. From sales to energizing. From Customer Support to supporting. From development to embracing customers, pulling them into the process. For example, Blendtec talks with viral videos, which became embeds. These $400 blenders have seen massive increase in sales. He spent $50 on the first video he made. George Wright, VP of Marketing, decided to use YouTube to show what Blendtec could do. He worked at a steel mill before and was not a social media guru. Another example s Dan Black, Director of Campus Recruiting at E&Y. He created a Facebook page and he took it upon himself to write back to students in a very personal tone. He is the Head of Recruitment and needs to hire 3,500 college students each year. He realized here was a forum where he could be in direct contact with potential hires, with the people E&Y most desperately want to reach. Gary Koelling and Steve Bendt at Best Buy created as a front line support system for employees. This gave them a place to have a voice. They gave an email address for each employee, so they could now email customers back, for example. Joah Bancroft, tecnology evangelist at Intel and geek blogger. He put up an internal wiki in a day (not weeks), Intelpedia, a tool for people inside the company to support each other. Steve Fisher, VP of Platform,, wanted to get a way for customers to provide feedback. They set up the SuccessForce Community, the SalesFocre IdeaExchange, a Digg style voting system for ideas. Getting input from the groundswell gave them confidence to make changes happen.

Strategy: Plan for how relationships with customers will evolve.

Lionel Menchaca, Digital Media Manager,, is a product technologist, a product revolutionary, someone who knows everyone. Basically, Dell went from "Dell Hell" in 2005 to creating a blog resolution team to go and solve problems. Person by person, they started to change internal attitude towards things. They first started a blog, but it didn't get off to a good start. It was very discouraging, because comments were negative. And then he got a comment from Mchael Dell, who said "keep doing this, it's what we need." So a couple of days later, he made the "flaming notebook" post, where he spoke of the battery recall openly. This set the tone for the blog going forwards (ie., acknowledge that people are talking). This made a huge difference internally and externally for Dell. Dell's IdeaStorm, where Dell executives review and implement customer suggestions. For example, they set up Linux Ubuntu servers in two months, based on customer requests. Dell also uses a blog to talk to investors, DellShares, information and insight for the investor community. So Dell went from the depths of despair in 2005 to poster child of social strategies.

Find and support your revolutionaries:

- find the people most passionate about developing relationships with the groundswell.

- educate your executives.

- Put someone important in charge.

- Define "the box" with policies and process.

- Make it safe(r) to fail.

Technology: Decide which social technologies to use.

Final words of advice:

- Making revolutions stick will require frameworks and process.

- Start small but think big. Start small, fail often and iterate over and over again.

- Make social strategy the responsibility of every single employee.

- Be patient, cultural change takes time. It took Dell two years.


How to show results? The ROI of blogs depends on your objectives: is it about insights, research, talking, energize, support, and/or embracing? It's like saying, how to measure the impact of a website. There is no single way.

What about industries that are restricted in BtoC, like Pharma?
There are many companies trying to experiment with this anyway, for example, in private communities requiring registration to make it work.

Tips for startups? The flip side is also BtoB, because it's about being focused on a particular target. Start a blog and bring in experts from the company to show expertise. Also, for SEO.

What about 3D virtual worlds like SecondLife ... interesting? Actually, it's a place to be avoided for big marketing spends, because the people are not there.

Marketing departments keep things at a distance because they want to keep things pristine. But customers are messy! They internalize things, they take pictures, they make widgets. The ideal stereotype of the customer does not exist! If the marketer does not feel queasy, they're not doing enough.

Thoughts on how to convince internal stakeholders about social strategies? The challenge is getting people to let go of control, to reduce email communications, to stop the old thinking. What are you afraid of? It's inside a firewall. Why wouldn't you want free flow of information? Focus on the benefits rather than the technologies. Also, it's so low cost and you can start small. It should be quick and easy to get these things going.

Expand on benefits of SEO? Search engnes look for inbound links. You can raise the goodness of a page by getting links, putting keywords, refreshing content often to shoot the site up.

What about Twitter, Flickr? They're all good, but one of the best are forums. This is a real good robust tool. Forums and wikis have been around for a long time ... it's not about the technology, but about how they are used. Companies sometimes are scared about going into "people" spaces for fear of wrecking them. But how dare you not help a customer who's having a problem.

March 9, 2008 in Social Media & Networks | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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Social Design Strategies panel at SXSW

chris messina, josh porter, todd sieling, daniel burka at sxsw

I'd been looking forward to this panel, expecting it to be one of the highlights of SXSW for me. It did not disappoint, despite the last minute change (at 10pm the night before) of the panelists; Emily Chang and Max Kiesler of Ideacodes had to step out at the last minute because of an emergency. Todd Sieling of Magnolia and Chris Messina rose to the occasion and more than filled their shoes. Judge for yourself:

(Note: this is almost a direct transcript of the session, so please excuse the grammar and run on sentences).

Social Design Strategies

Daniel Burka   Creative Dir,   Digg/Pownce

Chris Messina  Co-founder,   Citizen Agency

Todd Sieling   Product Manager,

Joshua Porter   Founder,   Bokardo Design

"Now that social networks are pervasive and quickly becoming a regular feature set, designers need to understand the dynamics of creating experiences that encourage social behavior and public expression, while giving individuals a sense of privacy, personal gain, and ownership. This session will take an in-depth look at the principles and practices of social design. How do you create a symbiotic relationship between people and data that maximizes discovery, game-play, connections, and communication? We'll examine a breadth of examples and explore their pros and cons. Then, we'll take a look into the future of what's possible. You'll hear firsthand from a group of designers who do this every day.

Joshua Porter on How to Encourage Behavior

Here's a condensed history of the last 15 years of the internet:

- 1st phase: building static website for reading

- 2nd phase: websites with database on the backend, started to be a two-way communications: banking, e-commerce sites

- 3rd phase: last few years, social applications that enable conversations between people using the software. Object-based networks and social networks.

So, we're considering the design issues that come over time as you see more and more social interaction of people using your website. One of the big challenges is, how do you encourage good behavior? How do you get people doing the activity your website is made for?

1. Tying behavior to identity. If it isn't, people can't be held responsible for the things they do there. Using real name gives more authority. For example, on Amazon you have real names. Another example is eBay, a web service with greater revenues than the GDP of many countries. eBay has a sophisticated behavior rating system that defines the identity and authority of the buyer / seller. This is a system identity rather than a real-world identity, since the name of the buyer / seller is not known until after the auction is over.

Daniel Burka mentions how they took out the top Diggers feature because it became very competitive for a small set of users to the detriment of the rest.

Josh adds that recognition is good, but on Digg it was cumulative, so it was easier to stay on the top once you already were there, and made it harder for others to reach that spot. On Threadless, for example, recognition tapers relatively quickly after a designer has won a contest.

2. Showing causation. For example, Netflix ratings. The more movies you rate, the better recommendations you will receive. The feedback is instant, too, since you recommendations are refreshed based on your ratings.

3. Leverage reciprocity. When someone does something of value to you, you feel inclined or obligated to be reciprocal. On LinkedIn, this happens through recommendations. When someone gives another person a professional recommendation, the probability is that you will say something about the other person.

Daniel Burka on Privacy and Community:
What are the hot points for user regarding privacy?

1. Identity. Their image, their name ... Digg doesn't require a real name, it's very open. On the other hand, Pownce is about interpersonal communication between people. Unless you have a reciprocal relationship with someone, you can only see their first name and initial of last name.

2. Friends.
Being able to see others' friends, which is an unusual thing in general, because you don't see friend relationships offline.

3. Communications. Communications exist on a range of private to very public. For example, on Digg, there's a shout feature, because it is very public act.

4. Identification of activity. People can see what you've Dugg, what comments you've made ... On the other hand, Facebook Beacon takes this too far, at least in their first implementation. It's important to have a "gradieted" site, where it's simple on the surface, but as you gather experience, you find new functionality and features that will keep you interested and active.

5. Transparency. Preferably you show and don't have to tell. For example, when you make a post, tell the user whether it's a private or a public post, so user can make an informed judgement. Protect the user from uninformed actions.

Todd Sieling on Ma.gnolia's Adventures in Spam Control

Spam is a drag on social software: 75-80% of new accounts are spam! Besides bein a nuisance for users, it's costly for the service owner. The primary methods spammers use include:

- Creating many accounts on a site, to game up their spam content.

- Appearing too legit to quit at first, and later having few legit-looking links.

- The "Joe SEO" with "helpful" get rich quick advice. They feel they're not spamming, but helping people by sharing information; they don't realize how they're taxing people's enjoyment of the site.

- You can't fool me: spammers that are profile aware (sometimes by copy and pasting information from others' profiles) and make it look like they're legitimate users.

- Had enough yet?: importing volume links makes it very easy for spammers.

The implication is that spam will not go away because it is difficult to control against these methods by machine. It's not possible to win the war, so strategies have to be developed to mitigate the spam.

The principal strategies that didn't work include:

- No-follow: Magnolia thought this would take away the incentive, but this doesn't have an effect, partly because there are too many sites that don't apply no-follow.

- Akismet: this is a "machine logic" method of dealing with spam that didn't work; too much spam got through and false positives got flagged.

- Weed on sight: too much volume, not enough time.

- Recaptcha: again, a machine solution.

However, some strategies did work:

- First of all, accept there's no 100% solution so you can focus your resources more wisely.

- Give an opportunity for your members to become "gardeners": don' just use technological solution, but use human intelligence. Enable trusted members of the community to flag abusive users, but don't make it into a job, a contest or a vendetta. Gardeners will aslo identify and develop new gardeners. What's the reward? Mostly, it's that they're contributing to the community in an altruistic way. For example, Alex Jones on has a gardener's shovel next to his name. (Josh Porter mentions there's no pure altruism, and that people do things to help themselves. Recognition, authority, rank is a strong motivator). Well, Alex Jones is in the audience and stood up to say that he discovered Magnolia very early on, set up some groups relevant to him and that his activity on Magnolia has helped him raise his own profile. So he feels indebted to help make Magnolia a better place, both out of gratitude and because a clean site helps him more.

- Create a whitelist (with a shade of gray)

Question on monetization of social sites. Josh mentions that it needs to be indirect. Build the culture of the community and support the culture and the revenue will come indirectly, as a fallout of their increased passion.

March 9, 2008 in Social Media & Networks | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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Social Marketing Strategies Metrics, Where Are They?

The interesting part of this session was the quasi-total lack of discussion about metrics for social media. My read is that it's not the panelist's fault, it's just the current state of social media. Also, much of social media cannot be measured quantitavely, but rather qualitatively based on your business objectives. Note: see also the update towards the bottom of this blog post.

Live blogging the Social Media Metrics panel at SXSW


Tom Parish CEO Tom Parish Inc

Brian Magierski Chief Dev Officer BSG Alliance Corporation

Michael Smith Exec Dir USAA

Ynema Mangum Exec Producer BMC Software Inc

Rohit Bhargava SVP, Digital Marketing Ogilvy

Panel Presentation and Discussion

- Why are CMO's afraid of social media and social networking?

Rohit: There may be two reasons, the first being "loss of control", the other being the measurement question. Managers have a hard time moving from impressions to engagement. Would you rather have a million impressions that no one paid attention to or getting the "right 10,000 people".

Michael: Each senior officer has a map of risks in their mind regarding social media. The CMO is worried about a brand out of control. The Senior HR person is worried about losing people. For the PR guy, social media is either largest friend or foe. If it goes out of control, it's a foe. The Sales exec won't care if it has no impact on sales. The CEO looks at it this way: "If we don't do anything, will it come back to hurt me."

The old paradigm was about controlling the message. The new one is about openness, and this is the way that companies will compete in the future. But the problem is, if companies do it now, they will probably have a bad experience. This is because companies are delivering a poor customer experience, and the CXO's know it.

- How can companies leverage social media for marketing success when they have no experience?

Ynema: The priority is to get the executive involved in social media; it's not enough they're excited about it, they actually have to do it. But when senor execs do get involved, it's a good lever to use to build community.

- Is it important to self-assess your readiness for social media?

Brian: Companies can't jump straight into social media and have any credibility, they need to take a phased approach. The first step is listening, the second step is engaging, the third one is creating a platform for thei customers to socialize on.

Ynema: You have to be confident about your product or service before diving into conversation marketing.

- What metrics do you use to evaluate the progress of social media programs?

For PR firms, you can have metrics. For example, blog metrics, community participation metrics, and metrics that articulate the value you get from different channels, like from email. It turns out that community management yielded the best metrics, because of the close engagement and conversations on social media platfroms.

Rohit: It's not the lack of ability of measuring things, it's knowing the value of things that can be measured.

Tom: There's are obvious differences between BtoC and BtoB sales, and the longer the lifecycle, the harded it is to identify the factors that led to the sale. Maybe the customer based a decision after months of reading a blog, but it would be hard to know this.

*Update: this Meebo chat transcript of the panel highlights the problems of this session:

16:26 439761 Once again, great panel goes off the rails with no discernable direction or ability to stick to a TOPIC

16:27 WillElliott4 Who wrote these "questions"??!!???

16:27 guest439761 I would love to try an experiment - lets collaborate, do some research, make a wiki - and ANSWER THE QUESTION ABOUT METRICS

16:29 guest690201 is now known as metrics are not as dry as this panel is

16:29 metrics are not as dry as this panel is revolucion!

16:31 strategicast for some reason tha panel believes that saying the word" metrics" a lot answers the question.

16:35 christine but it would be better to have the panel be actually about metrics, since in theory that's what people came here for. this is a panel on 'how to think about selling a social media program into a big company'

16:40 mvp i think we should all just randomly start shouting "metrics"

16:45 MichaelBassikIsCoolerThanYou is now known as OpeningMyWristsNow

16:50 guest3411256 i wonder if someone has been doing metrics on the number of people leaving

16:50 emptywells Bartender, Metrics Please?

16:50 thFOOL I'd like a Vodka and metrics

16:53 OpeningMyWristsNow GENIUS: its not the ROI of a press release. who measures a press release?! it's the @#*&^$ story that results FROM THE PRESS RELEASE

16:56 thispanelisbunk the thing is we're professionals, who paid money to learn real things, and they know the information and aren't revealing their strategies.

March 8, 2008 in Social Media & Networks | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

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Social objects and the observer's paradox

My previous post about "social objects", described how your profile, what you publish and what share online determines the impression you make and provides topics or hooks for others to get in touch with you. The term social object is a convenient shorthand for describing such hooks, which represent many of the reasons people socialize with each other online; this theory is referred to by sociologists as "object-centered sociality".

Other ways to socialize include phatic communication, although arguably even small talk may be carried out for ulterior motives.

"No Man's Blog" has an excellent analysis of identity management and phatic communication through the use of Facebook applications.

Objections raised

My post garnered excellent, lengthy comments. Referring to Hugh MacLeod posts here and here, one of the commenters, Bernard Tremblay voices a valid, if strongly worded, objection on his blog to the use of the term "Social Object". Bernard laments that the term seems prone to profiteering by marketing "snake oil salesmen":Twitter / Bernard D. Tremblay : #matrix #borg M. Scott Peck...

The moment draws nigh when we take one more step: “you came over just to chew the fat with Pam” … right. But what happens when we use “social objects” as our lens? We see that entirely social impulse in terms of transaction … the title of the piece is “marketing” and properly so: what we’ve done here is reduced the whole to an exchange between providers and consummers [sic].

Yet the trend is clear ...

There's plenty evidence that brands are investing heavily in online word-of-mouth marketing. According to PQ Media,

Spending on word-of-mouth (WoM) marketing jumped 35.9% in 2006 to $981.0 million and is expected to top $1 billion in 2007, making it one of the fastest growing alternative media segments. Driving the growth is the continued consumer shift to alternative media and the marketers' need for increased brand engagement and ROI. These are some of the findings of the first in-depth analysis of the emerging word-of-mouth (WoM) marketing industry released today by PQ Media, the leading provider of alternative media econometrics (

Helping to fuel this growth are a projected 3.5 billion brand-related conversations per day in the U.S., according to Keller Fay Group, with nearly 80% of consumers trusting recommendations from family, friends and "influential" persons over all other forms of advertising and marketing.

Need more evidence? According to Nielsen, vehicle discussions are up 40% since January 2007. Interestingly, the same article displays Nielsen's "Brand Association Map, which is a "a visualization tool to map how consumers naturally think and talk about brands online." This is how the social object plays out in conversations. Here's an example of a map of conversations about Nike.

Pitfalls abound!

So let's all hop on the word-of-mouth bandwagon, and let's do it by creating social objects for people to engage in object-oriented sociality, but under own terms, right? Not surprisingly, this type of thinking is fraught with pitfalls. Some examples come to mind:

  • Should brands join or build social networks? Consider the $2 to $3 Million "Connecting with Cookies" site, whose shortcomings are described here by Kami: "Connecting with Cookies is pure advertising and the site is a brochure. There is nothing wrong with that, but if Pepperidge Farms was sold a social media site, this isn't it."

  • McDonald's strained effort to create a Starbuck's-like experience in its stores, which according to this FastCompany article, is certain to bomb: "Remember McPizza? Me neither. I've read it was neither better nor worse than Pizza Hut or Domino's Pizza, but it was a miserable failure. Why? Because when you go into a McDonald's, you're going to be bullied out of your pizza-eating mood (assuming you entered with one in the first place) by the sweet stink of the flagship fare. The place reeks of fries and beef. McDonald's has spent millions of dollars developing chemical aromas for its fries, burgers and chicken, and they are every bit as intoxicating as they were meant to be. You know that frustration you experience when you try to hum one song while another is playing on the radio? That very dissonance was the demise of the McPizza, and will claim McCoffee next."

  • And more generally, some companies and brands are paying bloggers and social networkers to advocate their product, for instance by using Pay-Per-Posts' rebranded SocialSpark service (good introductory video, though and props for the greater transparency with the disclosure badge). From the video: "... the perfect way for brands who want to engage bloggers in a more controlled atmosphere" ... lol. As if you could craft real conversations between people to mirror the laundry detergent ads on TV.

Censoring or attempting to control the word-of-mouth is equally misguided, as in the case of Microsoft doing away with the Blue Monster; according to Robert Scoble: "@gapingvoid: yeah, someone inside Microsoft killed the Blue Monster. Sigh. Microsoft's committees kill everything cool." The alternative would have been to let the Blue Monster live its own life and retire itself when Microsoft does start changing the world again.

The Observer's Paradox:

Zero Influence points out that "Brand as a Narrative prevents the Brand existing as Embodiment. Brands need to live within the architecture of life, not on the perception plane. Trying to get a purchasing audience to care about a Brand is costly compared to using your Brands affordances to improve the infrastructure of life. In this case giving is cheaper than advertising."

In "The Gift", Lewis Hyde makes this point by describing an English fairy tale of a ...

"... Devonshire man to whom the fairies had given an inexhaustible barrel of ale. Year after year the liquor ran freely. Then one day the man's maid, curious to know the cause of this extraordinary power, removed the cork from the bung hole and looked into the cask; it was full of cobwebs. When the spigot next was turned, the ale ceased to flow.

The moral is this: the gift is lost in self-consciousness. To count, measure, reckon value, or seek the cause of a thing, is to step outside the circle, to cease being 'all of a piece' with the flow of gifts and become, instead, one part of the whole reflecting on another part.

Because life is grainy and each bit, the good and the bad, make up your experience. The things we love most may have lots of defects. When things are too easy, we take them for granted. And when things sound too rosy, we distrust them. And if you look into the source of your gift, you'll lose the shine in your own self-consciousness.

The same thing applies when designing spaces for consumer interaction with your social objects.

Talking about Relational Aesthetics and art, where the audience is envisaged as a community, French theorist Nicholas Bourriaud, curator at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, says,

"There are two ways of building an institution. One way is to build a jewelry box to present objects and the other one is to conceive of it as an open market where everything is removable and you can change things all the time. ....

I think that maybe the idea of being relevant, of being useful, of being pertinent is more important to artists than just doing something new ....

Ten years ago, it would have been completely impossible to consider a DJ as an artist for example. Now, it's normal. Nobody would even think of saying 'you're already playing pre-existing records, so you're not an artist.' That's vanished. The idea of the artist as a kind of demi-god creating the world from a blank sheet of paper is something that has just vanished from our every day culture. The fact that the DJ or programmer or artist uses already existing forms in order to say what they want to say is something that is certainly the most important thing at the moment because it totally goes beyond the art world."

If you're a brand, consider becoming a DJ with your products and services. There are plenty of examples, including Radiohead's latest album, Amazon's customer service (“Jeff used to say that if you did something good for one customer, they would tell 100 customers”), and Dell's Ideastorm.

So Design for Hackability (pdf file, via PLSJ). Design for play and join your audience. Just don't make it slick and stop your bean-counting, if you want to build engaging experiences with your community around your social objects.

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January 11, 2008 in Social Media & Networks, Social Object | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

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The use of social objects as artefacts for identity management

First, a bit of history

Before talking about social objects as accessories for online impression management, I wanted to surface a bit of history about the term, "Social Object".

There's been a lot of talk lately about object-centered sociality, which can be thought of as "the reason people connect and socialize with each other", to paraphrase Jyri Engestrom. In addition to Jyri, Hugh MacLeod of Gapingvoid's been posting lots of ideas about "Social Object", particularly here and here:

"The Social Object, in a nutshell, is the reason two people are talking to each other, as opposed to talking to somebody else. Human beings are social animals. We like to socialize. But if think about it, there needs to be a reason for it to happen in the first place. That reason, that "node" in the social network, is what we call the Social Object." -Gapingvoid

Hugh asked me whether there's a link pointing to Jyri and I conversing about social objects, as we did in Reboot7 and LesWebs3 in 2005:

Alas, no, there is no link: Jyri Engestrom first blogged about object-centered sociality before the Reboot7 conference in Copenhagen in mid-2005 in a blog post that referred to the ground-breaking work of sociologist Karin Knorr-Cetina, and that changed my understanding of online social networking. I then contacted Jyri, Anne Galloway and a few others for guidance on where to learn more about object-centered sociality; I spent the next couple of months devouring every paper I could get my hands on. I relied on friends who are professors in procuring me hard to obtain research papers. That same year, I spoke with Jyri in person on two occasions, once at Reboot 7, where he gave a great presentation on the subject, and later that year at Loic's LesWebs3 conference in Paris. On both occasions, we spoke about using the term "social object" to refer to object-centered sociality. A Google search at the time produced no results; but if I am not mistaken, the term had already been used a couple of time before by sociologists in research papers. How did Hugh link Jyri and I? He was at both conferences as well. By way of full disclosure, I registered the domain in mid-2005.

Do I believe social object is the "Future of Marketing", as Hugh does? Yes, I definitely believe social object design and related concepts have the potential to foster greater customer engagement and word-of-mouth.

Do I think I should get credit for co-coining the term? No: the term has quite probably been in existence, even if obscurely. I am glad the concept is finally getting wider play.

Social objects as artefacts for identity management

I had a conversation on Twitter yesterday about Singelringen as a social object; it's a catchy blue ring worn by people who are, you guessed it, single:

From the site: "By wearing your Singelringen, you declare that it is OK to be single. You may wish to find "the one", or you are quite satisfied with life as it is. Regardless, you will show to everyone that you accept and stand for what you are, an attractive single."

  • alexdc: so the singelringen becomes the social object for connecting? sure, it's a conversation starter but something's missing, methinks
  • alexdc: @leahjones ok; to grow as social object, should have traditions rituals activites or other socially constructed fictions for greater meaning
  • alexdc: @kr8tr right, the message should not be "I am available"; it should be let's respect, cherish and celebrate being single
  • alexdc: @apenny i believe the ring is no more a social object than a wedding ring: the conversations are around the traditions of marriage, not ring
  • alexdc: when you meet a married person, you might ask how they met, where they got married, do they have children, etc ... the ring is just a signal
  • alexdc: with a singelringen person, what are conversation points? there are no social norms or single institutions around which to converse
  • alexdc: @apenny i believe social objects are enriched through socially constructed fictions, stories, history, ritual, behavior: ring is a "signal"
  • alexdc: @lindasherman i'm not disputing singelringen is a social object: it certainly breaks the ice; it may grow into more significant S.O. w/ time
  • alexdc: @lindasherman if singelringen is a "real-life" (as opposed to online) substitute for, it will remain only as an ice breaker
  • alexdc:  @lindasherman if singelringen wearers take pride in being single as a lifestyle, even temporarily, then that's really different and worthy

So Singelringen serves as an accessory for others to recognize, like a wedding ring. Malcolm Gladwell wrote about rapid cognition in his best-selling book Blink; people make immediate judgements about others, about their environment and about situations through a process called thin-slicing:

When you meet someone for the first time, or walk into a house you are thinking of buying, or read the first few sentences of a book, your mind takes about two seconds to jump to a series of conclusions.

In this sense, Singelringen is an immediately noticeable, interesting and unusual ice breaker, like Armstrong's yellow Livestrong bracelet. Starting to talk with someone about the ring can lead to prolonged conversations about what it means to be single. And as people talk to each other about the Singelringen, they construct their particular fiction or story about it, which is what social objects generally lead people to do. When you see someone with such a ring, you will probably thin-slice and already start to make some judgements.

Similarly, today's New York Times has an article, "Putting Your Best Cyberface Forwards", about online impression management:

Keith N. Hampton, an assistant professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, said the notion of impressing “everyone out there” is the fundamental problem of networking sites. They are designed so that millions see the same image of a member.

For online impression management to be effective, Mr. Hampton said, the sites should be redesigned to allow people to reveal different aspects of their identity to different users. You should be able to present one face to your boss, and another to your poker buddies. “We have very real reasons for wanting to segment our social network,” he said.

This makes a lot of sense. You probably dress and behave differently at work than you would with your buddies or your family. The way others thin-slice you is dependent on the clothing and accessories (artefacts) you're wearing and on your behavior. Just as you present different sides of yourself in different situations in real life, so should you be able to manage your online personas. Most social networks don't allow you to segment your contacts so they see different aspects of you. However, you control the information you publish and by doing so manage your identity to make an impression on others. The following blog post illustrates this; Red Coat, Black Coat on PSFK:

Unlike paranoid Steve [who wears a black coat to protect his privacy], Jill is considered as the socially evolved. It’s not only her red coat that presents an image to the world of how she wants to be seen – Jill understands and manipulates how the world sees her, how companies see her, how her friends see her. Using technology that was developed maybe twenty years ago, Jill knows nearly everything everybody else knows about her. And in the same way she uses his bright red coat to make a statement about herself, she manages the data about herself to present the image she wants.

Information is like fashion – to be used, shown off and even bartered with.

By using online artefacts and accessories, Jill is manipulating social objects and signaling to others how to connect with her. When you wear a Singelringen or a Rolex watch in real life, you are sending signals for others to pick up. Online, you use information about yourself and perhaps pictures, videos, slideshows, Facebook applications or other object-artefacts to send signals on how others should socialize with you.


If you'd like to know more about social object in concept and practice, I posted a number of links on Twitter yesterday that may be helpful:

January 3, 2008 in Social Media & Networks, Social Object | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

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