This idea arose from a presentation at Research 2010 by Research Now, in which they talked about reaching business decision makers. They said nothing objectionable but I started wondering about this concept of the “decision maker”. We’d just had a stimulating talk by an academic who’d rubbished marketers’ obsession with constructing young people as “digital natives” and “millenials” - a viewpoint I’m sympathetic to - and I wondered if we’re not guilty of constructing business people in the same way: building up an idea of the time-poor, decision-oriented, highly rational business worker that may not be quite as useful as we think it is.
In my urge to make a point yesterday I didn’t really consider that the reason the Hunch Predictor Game had me so wrong might be a bug. Apparently it was, so I feel a bit silly, and I’m pleased to announce that the game had me right a more respectable 69% of the time, after 100 questions.
It’s addictive and fun (though I kind of preferred it when it was throwing more leftfield questions at me when broken!) - it is on safer grounds when it sticks to lifestage stuff rather than lifestyle stuff, which it mostly does. Once it had established I was married with small children it could score a lot of easy wins (“Have you ever changed a diaper”) though it needn’t have re-used previous information at all: it still might all be from a follower/follows analysis. The questions it got wrong, for what it’s worth, tended to be about my liking to go out - it assumed I didn’t enjoy dancing, clubs, pubs, etc.
So, sorry Hunch, and I urge you to check the game out and see how predictable you are (on some things!).
Research 2010 was its now-usual stimulating self: the “Glastonbury of Research” concept seems to have legs and over the two days I saw presentations involving cuddle trains, research-bots, rainbow panda vomit, evolutionary theory and chicken farming. It was interesting talking to a couple of American delegates who were delighted and occasionally baffled by the intensity and “British-ness” of it - in an increasingly global research business the MRS conference is carving out an identity as a place the more curious and interesting stuff gets talked about. There’s still a distance to go - and as one friend pointed out there wasn’t a lot you could pick up, take away and use. But it’s on the right track - congratulations to the organisers.
I have a sheaf of scrawled notes from the two days and over the next few entries on Blackbeard Blog I’m going to write up ten ideas I took away. These won’t always be ideas that were openly stated on the conference platform - sometimes they’re themes from a few presentations, or stuff I jumped to from something someone said, or stuff I disagreed productively with, or just things that were “in the air”.
I was going to do a post on the Tory party #cashgordon fiasco but in the topical blogging game it’s ‘you snooze, you lose’ and there’s no way I’d have done anything as good as Meg Pickard’s graph-based analysis anyway.
So instead here is a post about why hashtags are brilliant. Like a lot of social media things I didn’t see the point of them initially but now they’re one of my most beloved things in socialmedialand. Not to use especially - though I’ll join in one if I want - but just the sheer elegance of them. They’re so simple and commonplace that it’s easy to miss the awesomeness coiled up in them, the unintended consequences that have come out of this particular solution to a user experience problem.
Hashtags evolved, as I understand it, because people like tags and Twitter doesn’t support tagging posts. It’s a user-led innovation, not a Twitter-led one. I’ve seen people say they’re badly designed because they take up space in a Tweet, but I don’t agree with this. That introduces a small but real cost (in characters, ergo in information) to using a hashtag, which is probably helpful: it means you can’t freight your post with them and still have it be readable. I also suspect far fewer people would click on, or join in with, tags that were external to the Tweet - they’d have to be more visible and prominent than blog post tags usually are.
And from this comes the first big important difference between hashtags and ordinary tags…
I’m doing a presentation at the MRS conference next week. It’s about networks and research and a lot of it is to do with what characterises the individual’s experience in a network - for instance how information reaches us on a Twitter or Facebook feed or a Tumblr dashboard.
This thinking sprang out of reading a blog post by John Borthwick last year where he talked about contrasting ways of seeing the web: as an architecture of sites and pages, or as a collection of flows of information. This struck a chord because it mirrored how using the web in a “traditional” search-and-visit way feels very different to me from experiencing it via Tumblr or Twitter.
So I’ve come up with 7 things that I think characterise this “networked web” experience. Some are pretty obvious - well, I guess they’re all obvious in their way - but taken together they’ve helped clarify my thoughts about the current user experience of ‘social media’.
(Or, to be more exact, that part of ‘social media’ based around feeds of information provided by other people - Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Foursquare, etc etc. Which given the size of FB alone is a hell of a lot of it.)
- Kristian Segerstrale of Playfish, quoted by John Willshere on Twitter.
I’ve seen variants on this sentiment quite a lot, more often about “social media” than “social games” (in fact someone replied to @willsh saying this soon after). There are two basic ideas behind it I think.
The first idea is that all games, or all media will be ‘social’ or have a social component. And that implies the second, which is that this social element will be so normalised that remarking on it will seem odd and silly.
I can get behind these ideas to an extent, definitely. I don’t know enough about gaming to really comment, but I doubt the standalone media experience will die off. But reading or watching without the whole sharing/commenting/remixing social element will be the basic option: something more like lurking is on a community. Now 90% of people lurk so it’s not exactly a minority activity! But nor is it what you’re thinking about when designing your community.
I think the interesting question is what we’ll talk about and get excited by when the social is assumed, when the fact of sociality itself isn’t interesting. I’m hoping there will be more excitement and interest around the different types of experiences ‘social media’ and ‘social gaming’ offer, less of the implied separation between the “content” and the experience of it.
At the moment we focus a lot on the content and a lot on the aggregate of the social interaction around it but not quite so much on what an individual’s experience of taking part in social media is like. We haven’t really got a handle on the different types of social media experience - the genres of social if you like: small group vs large-scale, open-ended vs a closed project, top-down v bottom-up, hierarchy v open participation, goals v sandbox, anonymous v identified.
All of these variables FEEL very different for a participant and we’re bunching them together as “social media” - where we do acknowledge differences it’s to focus on the tools - Facebook, Twitter - like everyone’s experience of THEM is the same! This is foolish and I think it’ll change quite quickly.
I was planning a visit to Berlin later this month - since abandoned - and I asked people on Twitter what one thing I should see. A bunch of them replied, and I’m grateful to them for when I do finally visit that city.
My asking the question is an example of what I see called “lazyweb” activity - rather than google something I just throw a question open on Twitter. Search might get me a lot of well-resourced, crowd-aggregated information: recommendations get me useful information tailored to me by people I know. So lazywebbing feels more personal than typing something into Google.
So far so obvious. But now let’s try and look at this through the prism of influence.