Monthly Archives: November 2006

The craic with social media

In the course of Beers & Innovation 6 Meg Pickard elaborated a little on the motivations to create social media.

Staking a claim, and staking out your territory, in other words expressing, defining and developing your identity, are the principal spurs for younger people, Meg said. But these needs are not so prevalent for older people, because they (mostly) reckon they know enough people and have enough friends (with the exception of the Linked In professionals’ network).

But once you’ve amassed all your friends and acquaintances on your digital social network, then what? What follows that, and the reason social media excerpts an ongoing pull, is what Meg termed as “web craic”.

Celtic connections

Right across Ireland, where I’m from, craic is a malleable term that means, fun, excitement, good times, but also stories, news, the latest gossip, the general state of affairs.

“What’s the craic with her?” means what’s the story / context with the girl/woman in question. “The craic was great” translates as “it was brilliant”. Its meaning can also be as general (as in “what’s the craic?”) as “what’s happening?” or “how are you?”

But enough digression for one post. It’s not my fault that the Irish have the best version of the English language going  ;-)

“Web craic” (broader than just chat or banter, as we’ve established) is what enervates and gives legs to the likes of MySpace, Bebo and Flickr, Meg stressed.

Social by accident – context is king

Topic-based social networks, in turn, revolve around social experiences. Here, the person isn’t at the front. The topic is the important thing; sharing stuff is the way that you create relationships. Hence it’s popularity with older people, Meg continued.

She went onto explain that the topic – photos with Flickr, music with Last.fm – provides the context to get together and talk about everything and anything. Context is king, and the users bring and make their own content through the context of the topic (whether that’s sneaky, collaborative or selfishly motivated).

Hence with delicious, its incidental that making my bookmarking tasks easier has a community impact. So it’s social by stealth, and that’s common across the board – whether via ratings, what’s hot or interestingness permutations.

Delving deeper

The recent Financial Times profile of Danah Boyd gives a good introduction to research into and analysis of social networks that was broadly referenced in the course of the event. But John Hagel’s 29th October post on social networks and urbanization raises a bunch more interesting questions, specifically his view that:

“Social network sites are more often a supplement to physical space relationships.”

and:

“A lot of forces are at work on a global scale that increase the need for us to both broaden and deepen our network of social relationships.”

[I’ll revisit this later]

Given the proliferation of social media sites in every niche: social bookmarking, communities, to do-lists, web analytics, news aggregation, social shopping (see also, Stylehive, Kaboodle and others – ref: Pete Cashmore – as well as speaker Philip Wilkinson’s own Crowdstorm), video storage sites, calendars and more, who has time, Philip reflected, to register and look at all these regularly? Will it turn into a Darwinian survival of the fittest contest, he wondered.

I listed Philip’s tips on how to get attention in this crowded sphere in my last post and he’s recapped his talk here.

Attention, presence & data portability

The potential of Second Life to supersede the likes of MySpace and Bebo was queried by Meg on the grounds that Bebo et al thrive on asynchronous communication. Second Life hasn’t cracked that yet, but presence is something that we are going to see a lot more of in our world.

Mike Butcher raised the issue of other technologies that will allow us to network independent of the portals (verily, Mike was listening to Marc Canter’s talk at Content 2.0 back in June ;-)  )

Philip agreed insofar as we will see data follow us around via web widgets etc, so if things go pear-shaped and you want to take all your data out, data portability is the answer.

Digital natives

Responding to the observation that this will make the content and value of social networks ephemeral, one woman in the audience commented that emphemerality is a good thing, because when I leave Bebo and joined My Space I don’t want my Bebo profile be associated with my Myspace profile anymore.

This dovetailed perfectly with the thoughts of 18-yer-old Dot and 19-year-old Rory in the Invisible Culture session at Content 2.0 in June 2006. They in turn embody what Gary McClarnan said about digital natives at NMK’s In The City Interactive conference in June 2005:

communities are migrating across platforms which are not “mass” as such. What’s missing here is the technology to support the taste makers, he reckoned. The music industry has done this for years with street teams and suchlike. “Now we need to allow people to migrate around their blogs and communities.”

Among the many opinions and questions coming from the floor, Alan Patrick wondered is the social network hit-based or long-tailed? Rob McKinnon has summarised his question about the role of social media in socially-motivated public actions with more observations here, and Meg’s responses about using social media for mobilisation are here.

Jamie Kantrowitz of Myspace highlighted the mobilisation potential towards the end of the Marketing 2.0 forum at Content 2.0. But even simple text message and email-based networks fulfil this function, in the form of flashmobbing.

Is tagging worth the time, wondered Sue Thomas from De Montfort University. For a comprehensive update on developments (but not statistics) checkout Niall Kennedy’s 27th October post on bookmarking and social sharing trends.

Media’s ingrained campaign mindset

I asked about the campaign mentality of brands who are launching themselves into the social networks sphere in increasing numbers if not always with a long term perspective. The issue of (Mint Digital created) Islandoo’s future after the next series of Shipwrecked is populated with participants (the initial rationale of the network) and then broadcast (they have to keep it going at least that long) is very much apropos of this issue.

Is it any wonder consumer trust is declining and their attention turning to P2P networks for recommendations when brands treat them as campaign fodder and ultimately disposable?

Clashing with structural barriers

It’s something that not only confronts the challenging idea of brands and corporations truly adopting policies of engagement and valuing attention and feedback (ie. rather than cost-per-click, cost-per-conversation) that Meg noted.

It also betokens a structural barrier in media planning and buying which Nicolas Roope of Poke (and Hulger) noted, in economic terms, underwrites the short-term campaign format that typifies marketing and advertising today and is deeply embedded. James Cherkoff is also on the case with this infrastructural stumbling block.

This latter territory is ripe for discussion at the next Beers & Innovation in January. See you there [and my first post on Beers Innovation 6 here].

What happened at Beers and Innovation Social By Design

Tuesday night at NMK’s Beers & Innovation 6 was great craic*.

The diverse backgrounds of the speakers worked a treat in terms of covering-off both the analytical and practical aspects of social media, and the perspectives, strategies and lessons learnt from marketing, entrepreneurship and large portals (or “super networks”).

And although Yahoo! CEO Terry Semel was in London on Tuesday for a keynote at the IAB Engage conference, sadly he didn’t make along  ;-)

Tim Morgan (spookily, a fellow former alumnus of Ernst & Young, where I was international Web Editor in 98/99) gave an interesting summation of what has happened in the first 10 weeks since Mint Digital had launched the Islandoo social network for Channel 4’s ‘Shipwrecked’ series.

He expressed genuine surprise at how the network had grown and taken on a life of its own (22,000 profiles created since it launched, but more than that, over 2 million comments generated), with online parties, the development of a regular Wednesday game, and people even finding love through the network (well okay, if not love, at least something more “tangible”, to put it delicately, than a wave hello).

Communities take control

This was all community-initiated activity. In turn, people didn’t leave the site once they’d been eliminated from the TV selection competition, which embodied how the network has taken on a life beyond the narrow, selection-oriented goal of its creation.

In fact, being selected has become pretty much secondary to hanging out on the site, meeting people and just having fun. Islandoo is also developing its own social norms. At first people would sometimes get comments from others along the lines of “fan me and I’ll fan you.” Tim explained that to “fan” someone was a verb Mint coined (heh) as part of the larger framework of ratings and popularity that is simple to use and lends meaning and status to people on the site.

Brands and letting go

The funny thing was, after a few weeks, people turned against these solicitations, and the community rejected such behaviour. The level of community-driven activities and the rapid emergence of norms synched with a comment made by AOL’s Meg Pickard toward the close of the discussion, which is that there’s a deep-seated problem with brands trying to own the conversation on communities they create.

Why? Because they only create the infrastructure, I guess (‘tis the people that create the community and the “content” ya see), and brands need to relinquish the controlling mindset that has defined the brand mentality since the emergence of mass communication because they’re no longer broadcasting. With networks like Islandoo they are just facilitating engagement and the people are serving and entertaining themselves.

Mash-up of an identity and topic-based network?

As such Islandoo is perhaps a hybrid example of what Meg termed an ‘identity-based’ social network and a ‘topic-based’ social network. Getting selected for Shipwrecked (topic) was the founding pretext for creating and (initially at least) joining the site. But now it’s mutated into something else: a place to hang out and talk about stuff, upload your videos, blog, and generally meet and shoot the breeze / get up to stuff with other fun-loving, “Alpha” (ie, confident, extrovert) people; an identity space. The DNA and relevance of the community has changed.  

Other people who attended – notably Alan Patrick – have noted Meg’s stress on context over content – “now context is king” she said). But what struck me was Meg’s closing observation that the challenge is how do you design for people that don’t think they’re taking part in a network and who don’t realise their activities will have collective and unselfish consequences? (Second spooky aside – Meg went to the same sixth-form college as my little brother!)

Sociable design – deeper than glossy surfaces

A flurry of debate surfaced when George Nimeh queried the design strengths of many social networks sites, notably MySpace. Tom Coates nailed it on the head when he said calling the event ‘Social By Design’ had never referred to the graphical design and art direction of a site.

Rather, “by design” referred to its purpose, with the importance residing in the sociability of its architecture, its usability, the degrees of personalisation offered and innovative seeding and marketing techniques, plus what speaker Philip Wilkinson of social-shopping site Crowdstorm termed the “social capital” of a site (echoing Umair Haque’s argument at Beers & Innovation 5) required to make it successful in what Philip amply demonstrated is now a very crowded space.

The number of “me-too” offerings in every category of social media that Philip listed, from to-do-lists to social bookmarking sites, has now multiplied far beyond sustainable limits.

Philip himself synched with Meg’s view on brands attempting to own the conversation in his number one tip for success in this space: don’t try to control your users’ behaviour.

His Top Five Tips list continued:

(2) Focus on product usability
(3) Stand out and get yourself seen because…
(4) …there’s never enough time
(5) Every user is important

To save you from over-long post fatigue I’ll cover other parts of the event in my next post.

For now, check out these posts so far from speakers and delegates (please add any other posts on the event in the comments or mail to deirdre.molloy (AT) chinwag (DOT) com as even WordPress, Bloglines and Technorati combined don’t capture everything, thanks):

Alan Patrick (Broadstuff) – November 15 2006
http://broadstuff.com/archives/57-Social-Networks,-Innovation…….and-the-Unifying-Principle-of-Beer.html

Sue Thomas (De Montfort University) – November 15 2006
http://www.hum.dmu.ac.uk/blogs/wdl/2006/11/social_by_design.html

Rob McKinnon (London Ruby User Group) – November 15 2006
http://fleetingideas.com/2006/11/15/social-by-design-catalyzing-change

Meg Pickard (AOL / meish) – November 15 2006
http://meish.org/2006/11/15/on-speaking-at-social-by-design/

Tom Coates (Yahoo! / Plasticbag) – November 15 2006
http://www.plasticbag.org/archives/2006/11/thoughts_around_socia/

Andrew Whitehouse – November 16 2006
http://andrewwhitehouse.wordpress.com/2006/11/16/social-by-design/

[* the lowdown on craic will be given in my next post – I know, so dreadful of me to keep you in suspenders ;-) ].

BBC Backstage Xmas bash booking up fast

If you don’t know already, BBC Backstage are holding their Xmas party in collaboration with a lot of other digital media and technology networks…

Including MoMoLondon, London Girl Geek Dinners, Geek Dinners, Swedish Beers, London 2.0, Open Rights Group, London Perlmongers, London Webstandards Group, London Ruby User Group, and London SEO.

It’s on Saturday 9th December at The Cuban.

Bookings opened this morning and as of 8pm this evening there were upwards of 270 registrations already. The limit on numbers is about 400, so it’s bound to be maxed-out soon.

You can get the details and register here, and see who else is going here.

Congrats to Ian Forrester and BBC Backstage for fostering the first real-life aggregation of London’s networks. It’s going to be a great party!

SXSW notes: The Perfect Pitch

‘The Perfect Pitch – How To Attract Money For Your Digitally Convergent Business ‘

Pitching to investors of both the angel and VC vairety was the topic up for discussion at this session on Monday 13th March 2006, with a raft of investors, advisors and recipients of funding sharing their experiences and recommendations…

CHAIR:
Alex Cavalli – Chairman of the Digital Convergence Initiative
PANEL:
Ashwani Dahr – Venro / Iconixx (bridging early-stage to later-stage funding)
Josh Baer – Skylist
Harlan Beverley – Bigfoot Networks (fight lag in video games)
Sachi Gahan – VC, CentrePoint Ventures
Peter Huff – Blue Sage Capital (do more later-stage funding)

Q: What’s the single hardest thing in developing a pitch?

Harlan Beverly stressed knowing what you want – always go into a meeting with an ideal outcome and if you don’t sign the cheque today, have a thought prepared on what else would be nice.

Josh Baer said a lot of the best business plans that he’s seen have pulled together the market information and presented why their idea will make a success in this scenario.

Sachi Gahan listed (1) People (2) Technology (3) Market – different VCs will judge with different emphasis the order of importance of these. He was sceptical of Gartner and Forrester’s background information (which comes with a price-tag). So it’s great if you have these numbers but he was more interested in the bottom-up set-up and perspective as it shows the intelligence and analytic abilities of the entrepreneur.

What are your key strengths?

Beverly reckoned that the people aren’t so important but Gahan countered that the management team are important.

From Ash Dahr’s point of view, the people and management’s perspectives are paramount but the filter of the experienced entrepreneur has to be there, so it’s harder for the first time entrepreneur.

Angels have lower return expectations but VCs bring a discipline and rigour that makes a real difference.

Baer said the management team is the most common core requirement. Speaking as an angel he said it was very important for them. Also, they were most concerned with the customers – who are they, how are you going to get through to them, and do you understand them?

More than management and moneybags…

A delegate asked the question: as a technologist with a business plan but no management team, would any of the panel see him?

Beverly said that they see a lot of such plans. Dahr replied that as a technologist you need to know who you’re talking to regardless, then they quickly filter. So make sure you know who you’re talking to and how much money you need.

More than one person voiced frustration and disdain at funders’ attitudes, with several saying they’d been turned down once or more for funding but managed to bootstrap quite sufficiently and sometimes with great success.

Whither bootstrapping?

An angel investor in the audience quipped “it’s a bit like the bank, they love to give you money when you don’t need it.”

Others asked about the bootstrapping approach specifically, but they were steered to the session on ‘Bootstrapping Your Digitally Convergent Business’ directly afterwards at 5pm, where this would be the primary focus of discussion.

Filling in the blanks

Gahan added that they will always ask for a full reference list and do due diligence on the names you didn’t give and reference; so integrity is a deal breaker.

[This panel was part of the SXSW Interactive ‘Digital Convergence Initiative’ strand, which ran multiple panels and a few evening parties throughout the festival-cum-conference. The DCI is a project of the greater Austin-San Antonio Corridor Council – the Texas Technology Corridor]

See the motherlode complete list of SXSW Interactive 2006 panels.

SXSW notes: Running Your New Media Business

This session at SXSW Interactive on Sunday 12th March 2006 attracted a broad audience of start-ups, SMEs and freelancers with a variety of experiences, plus some bigger media players. 

The line-up of web entrepreneurs was equally varied, and while the discussion ranged over business models, recruitment and retention, working relationships and funding, the “people” thread dominated the discussion.

CHAIR:
Bryan Mason – Adaptive Path (user experience design, they sold MeasureMap to Google the week before he gave this talk)

PANEL:
Erika Hall – Mule Design (6 people)
Jennifer Robbins – Little Chair, also writes for O’Reilly on web design, blogs at Jenville and Cooking With Rock Stars (1 person company)
Jeff Robbins – Lullabot; also at O’Reilly 93/94, then started a web design company, then his band got signed and he played full-time for 6 years. Lullabot do mainly Drupal consulting.
Evan Williams – CEO & Founder, Odeo; formerly founder of Pyra Labs who sold Blogspot to Google, he also worked at O’Reilly in 1997. Ev added that he always started his own companies – the first couple (pre-Pyra Labs) “were terrible but good learning experiences”.

Growth, success and failure squared

Bryan posed a number of questions to kick off the discussion: How do you know it’s time to grow? What does success look like? Can you fail and what is the cost of failing?

Erika Hall said it’s a continuous process of making mistakes and getting over them fast.

Where does the money come from? Bootstrap or take someone else’s? How much should you take?

Evan Williams explained that VC money had enabled Odeo to grow a lot faster. However, it’s difficult to get a lot people at the table early on and it’s harder because it limits your manoeuvrability and makes getting everyone on the same page more cumbersome.

Odeo now (March 2006) has 12 people (but in October 2006 he bought Odeo back from the investors). However, growth means there’s an added communication tax on everything you do. In terms of funding, at the start they were just looking for an angel round.

Adaptive Path’s algorithm for hiring staff
(1) Billable (core team)
(2) Support admin
(3) Contractor vs staff

Start-ups – lifestyle careerists beware!

In terms of hiring, Odeo have used blog posting (that approach keyed into the Rails community); referrals (50%); and used 2 executive recruiters (2 of whom charge $75k per hire!).

Who do you hire? Contractors vs staff. Where do you find them? How do you pay them? How do you structure your company? A legal entity that’s structured for retention? Should you be traditional or inventive?

Erika replied that her company is more fun to work for than any other, and fosters the culture whereby staff have a real say in what goes on. Mule Design is also open to learning from people.

Evan observed that O’Reilly was / is basically a lifestyle company. It’s harder to do that with a start-up, he reckoned. If you’re a start-up there’s an assumed model that you go with and that drives you.

Transparent expectations

Jen Robbins said that she works with people that she knows and that she gets a along with. Adaptive Path’s Bryan Mason wondered is that structure and management where we want to put our energies?

Odeo aren’t a billable company as there’s no revenue and no revenue is predicted for a while, Evan explained. Erika stressed that because they are often working with contractors who are also friends – you have to be absolutely clear about expectations regarding what you want to get out of it, how they see it working and what they want to get out of it.

Jeff Robbins concurred – if you keep expectations really clear then the contractor will know when they’re screwing it up and you won’t even have to say anything about it.

Business essentials

With MeasureMap, Jeff recounted, they had unbelievable discipline and they paid around a 25% communications tax, but that worked because the people were in disparate places. They had a daily 10.30 conference call.

Evan noted that there’s a great blog on this called Founders Frustrations and he recommended trying Adminstaff for covering all your employee benefits.

How important is the written business plan for getting VC funding, someone asked. With time running out Evan said Pyra didn’t have anything like a plan and they were okay. Odeo had a PowerPoint presentation and just creating that was a good exercise for him to think the business plan through.

SXSW Interactive back on the radar

After a chat at work about this and next year’s SXSW Interactive, I’m feeling inspired. But guilt at not blogging all my notes from the conference/festival has also resurfaced.

Not like it’s not out there already, but every report has its peculiar skew, paraphrasing quirks, deliberate omissions and oversights (to confirm if I’ve missed anything, check out the SXSW official podcasts).

So I’ve resolved (in my spare time) to write up all the sessions I never got round to doing back in the spring-summer period when I was completely overwhelmed with planning Content 2.0, the Beers & Innovation series and NMK’s broader programme of events, in addition to my editorial and web development duties.

If you missed them, the three sessions I did write up back then were:

Beyond Folksonomies: Knitting Tag Clouds For Grandma

Book Digitisation: Revenge Of The Librarians (more exciting than it sounds, but then some librarians are very cool these days)

James Surowiecki on The Wisdom Of Crowds

The forthcoming ones are equally juicy, but they also have a more business-like slant (with garnish of social media and visionary ranting for good measure). Which is a perfect fit for the evolving logic of the Beers & Innovation series.

They also relate equally to the ‘creative industries’ start-up enterprises and SMEs (I *so* hate that acronym, but hey) that dominate the UK web industry. And the creative industries being another area B&I will soon be tackling – in fact it was going to be announced last week (sorry for the delay on that).

So, session write-ups coming soon on:

Running Your New Media Business

The Perfect Pitch – How To Attract Money To Your Digitally Convergent Business

What People Are Really Doing On the Web

Commons-Based Business Models

Danah Boyd’s Current TV SXSW Interview

Consumer Is The Producer: DIY Media

Bruce Sterling Presentation: The State Of the World

Two other great sessions I went to – the Craig Numark keynote and Jason Kottke & Heather Armstrong in interview – I didn’t take notes on, which was nice as I could just relax and take it in. No need to worry though, as 60% of delegates were blogging the conference, so you can look them up on Technorati.

Are you saving-up for your airfare to Austin in March 2007? No chance of affording it or getting the boss to shell out? Get your mates or family to group together and buy you a ticket for Crimbo (£225 for 4 days of round-the-clock goodness – bargainous). Then take a loan out to cover your hotel and airfare, or sell something / anything. That’s my thought for today  ;-)