Tumblr is being incredibly screwy today - this long post was meant to be posted here.
1. Someone posts a link. You read it, think it’s worth posting, but completely differ in your take on it (in this case it was this Spiegel/Chris Anderson thing, which @mathewi thought was “Brilliant” and I thought was “Facedesk”: Anderson in full nihilistic flow, Spiegel failing to land a single blow, asking exactly the “tough questions” he wanted, never following anything up and demonstrating why some professional journalism really isn’t worth monetizing). Do you credit them when you relink the post, even though it’s associating them with an opinion they doubtless disagree with?
2. Someone in your field follows you, is posting on-topic content, replies etc. But all their posts are in a language you don’t understand. A refollow would be a courtesy - they’re certainly not a spammer - but it won’t add any value to your stream.
“Online and mobile research that people actually enjoy”: are Invoke the only research firm to make participant enjoyment so central to their USP and message? I can’t think of another one. Good for them!
Worth imagining the absolute bafflement that might have resulted had a research firm used this as a strapline ten years ago. We’re moving in the right direction I think.
Bruno Brookes used to present the UK Top 40 when I was a teenager. And Bruno had a policy (well, OK, the show did). You play the stuff at the top, and the stuff on the way up, but you don’t bother with records once they’re going down the charts.
That worked fine for the Top 40. But when I see the same policy being applied by tech and social media commentators I have to raise an eyebrow. I saw a tweet today from a quite well-respected tech journalist saying, in essence, “God why does anyone care about Yahoo! What year is this again?”
Now Yahoo are the #2 destination in the world, according to Alexa. 1 in 4 Internet users globally goes there. Facebook might overtake them this year but it hasn’t yet, and yes, their audience is in a slow decline. But, you know, 1 in 4 people. That’s a lot of reach.
And then there’s MySpace - whose decline is more precipitous, and who have been written off by most commentators as far as I can see. Here the issue isn’t over a service’s long-term prognosis but over its short-term use. I saw a blog post on social media expertise which took the line that you shouldn’t take any consultant who mentions MySpace seriously. This is idiotic: not only are lots of people still using MySpace, they’re probably a different group of people to the ones who go on Facebook (or Twitter, which MySpace still dwarfs).
Why do people go all Bruno Brookes when it comes to websites? Fashion plays a part, but mostly it’s pretension. Social media types want to believe that they’re leading edge, and that doesn’t just mean embracing the new shiny things, it means ruthlessly discarding the old ones. The annoying persistence of the likes of Yahoo doesn’t fit with this self-perception and so they’re simply better ignored. What year is it again?
For some websites there are good reasons for taking this editorial slant. A site like TechCrunch, for instance, lives and breathes new start-ups and a strong line on which of the big players is worth caring about helps its reputation. The equivalent of paying most attention to the climbers and the number one works well for them. But not every tech site should be TechCrunch, and certainly social media commentators should think twice before aping its approach. As for market researchers - it shouldn’t even be up for discussion!
Think of it this way: social media is about the people who use it. If you dismiss Yahoo or MySpace as yesterday’s news you’re essentially dismissing those people, suggesting that their interactions, creativity and choices are of zero interest because of the platform they’ve chosen. It’s hard to think of anything less in the ‘social’ spirit.
My son is two and a half and has strong views on stories.
Sometimes he likes stories from a book - right now he’s keen on Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen, but before that he insisted most nights on a Kipper story by Mick Inkpen.
I like Sendak but I can’t be doing with Kipper - it’s whimsical hippie rubbish and what’s more it’s achingly slow. So every now and then I change something round to amuse myself. When Kipper makes a cake, instead of currants and butter I tell the boy he puts in sausages and ice cream.
“NO DADDY. NO sausages. NO ice cream.” He’s genuinely cross.
This kind of story is inviolate - changing the details ruins it. He won’t interrupt - though if you ask him questions about what’s happening, he’ll reply, or point things out in the pictures.
The other type of story he asks for are ones I make up. These have a list of ingredients which tend not to vary much - him, his brother, our pet rabbit, Muck from Bob The Builder, Spooky Spoon from Numberjacks. But he’s keen for the details of the story to vary, and often if I include something he’s not interested in he’ll stop me and change things round.
So this kind of story is malleable - he likes collaborating, remixing, providing inspiration. He’s comfortable with the idea of characters from different stories crossing over - as they do when he plays with his toys.
Text is ritual: story is play.
(I’m sure there’s lots of literary theory exploring this stuff, which I’m just dabbling with empirically as part of the whole parenting thing!)
But what does it mean for commercial co-creation, and brands or marketers wanting to make content people love?
I’ve been reading Henry Jenkins’ essays on spreadable content - as opposed to viral content. Spreadable media is changed and repurposed as it’s passed around: viral media uses the participant as a host to make perfect copies of itself. In a networked system spreadable media is more powerful; it becomes more relevant to more people because those people make it relevant to themselves.
When my kid wants a book he’s getting static content: he loves it, absorbs it, and drops it. When my kid wants me to make up a story with a mix of characters he’s getting spreadable content - stuff that exists in a continuum with his play. Children’s books and TV shows are a special case, of course: static content that’s specifically designed to introduce spreadable material into a child’s life and play. The kind of activities that are seen as weird, nerdy or piratical in adults are encouraged in kids!
Anyway, the lesson I’d draw is that if you want to make spreadable content you really need to be thinking in terms of toolkits as well as (not instead of) text. Finishing something might push it into the realm of the static and the ritual - so completion might be your enemy. But on the other hand you need some finished things as proof that your toys are worth playing with. After all, not just anything get into the set of characters my son draws on for his made-up stories - only the ones that really matter to him.
One last thing: making up the stories for my kid is a lot more challenging and enjoyable than reading them out. Spreadable, malleable content isn’t just good - it does you good.
This week might see a little bit less activity on Blackbeardblog because of some upcoming developments. I’ve been asked to blog about the intersection of social media and research for the Research Live website, which will be introducing blogs later this month as part of their ongoing site-wide upgrade.
Obviously this is exciting for me, but I also see it as an opportunity to support a wider online research community, and to shout about the fascinating stuff happening in the burgeoining research blogosphere. I’m planning to link to other people’s posts and blogs as much as they’ll let me, and will (for example) be swiping Neil Perkin’s excellent “Post Of The Month” idea.
Where does this leave Blackbeardblog itself? Hopefully in an even better place - for more general readers I’ll still be wandering around the wider socialverse, and for the research posse I’ll be using BBB to post stuff that wouldn’t necessarily be appropriate in the more spotlit forum of an MRS website. That sounds juicier than it actually will be, I’m sure!
I’ll let you know when the Research blog launches - don’t even know the address as yet. Wish me luck!
Jonathan Ive talking to the Royal College Of Art. Magazine editors need to read this quote as much as designers. The tyranny of focus grouping has deadened magazine craft. People make products they think some fantasy reader will like rather than the best and most exciting publication possible. Mr X might not exist and even if he does, he doesn’t necessarily know what he wants. (via brokenbottleboy)
The anti-consumer who gets “offended” by a rad new product is often also a fantasy, of course, or at least is someone who’d be outside the target market for a thing anyway.
Focus groups - like market research in general - are a nice Aunt Sally for people who have a corporate job but like to think of themselves as the type of person who doesn’t. Of course they’re not the solution to everything but the reason focus groups go bad isn’t because talking to people about the stuff you’re making is an inherently terrible idea. If you end up letting a focus group kill off something awesome or make something crap then the explanation is likely to be one of the following:
- You recruited the wrong people.
- You asked the wrong questions.
- You used the focus group at the wrong point in the process.
- You gave the focus group way too much power in the process.
- It wasn’t actually that awesome (or: it’s less crap than you think)
If it’s 1 or 2, it might be your supplier’s fault. If it’s 3 or 4, it’s probably your fault. If it’s 5, you’ll thank them later.
Of course, it might also be that you are a magical snowflake genius whose ideas are so awesome that any contact between them and other people will crush them like a flower is crushed beneath the wheel of a dung-cart. If that’s the case then yeah, stay well away from focus groups dude.