Social networks as focus groups- The future of live TV

A couple of months back I wrote about how social networking was making inroads  connecting people while they watched TV.

Liveprogramming, such as awards shows, were benefitting disproportionately from this type of community building with some estimates showing the Golden Globes, Grammys and Oscars with 14%, 35% and 14% bumps in viewership, respectively. Can it ALL be attributed to social media chatter and participation? I doubt it. But these events consciously make social media a part of their promotional campaigns by leveraging the conversations that are already taking place on twitter and facebook. (Here is what the Grammys did in 2010.)

 

During the interminable World Cup and the almost-as-boring NBA Finals, twitter said that there were over 3000 tweets per second referencing these events. Normal twitter traffic is about 750 tweets per second, evidently.

So what? Well, here’s what: TV is losing viewers, but is in no danger of disappearing. Partially because instead of fighting against social networking as a threat to their hegemony, they have decided to co-opt it to their benefit. (“They” being the faceless, nameless “them” that decides what goes on the air.) With laptops and iPads and smart phones at full throttle as people sit on the couch watching whatever, the Mystery Science Theater 3000-ization of TV is complete. Every tag for every promo on every sports channel and reality show implore us to follow them on twitter and friend them on facebook. The real time feedback from viewers coupled with the demographic information we all gladly provide as payment for joining these networks is a data gold mine for programmers, advertisers, producers and folks wanting to target a specific sector of the populace.

We’re making it easier for them to make TV that better resonates with us that we can chatter about in an endless, self-referential loop. The focus group has reached its zenith.

KCRW- Your one stop shop for finding great music online

I am going to take a break from the usual social media trend analysis to share with you all a fantastic iPhone/iPod Touch app I discovered over the weekend. Don’t have an iPhone/iPod? It’s also a website, so no worries.

Ever since radio officially stopped caring about you and me, finding good music has become a real chore. Like mining for gold, hours spent searching often results in a few nuggets that lose their luster in short order.

Enter KCRW.com and the KCRW iPhone app. For those who do not live in the Los Angeles area, KCRW is the NPR station for Southern California which has become renowned for their excellent music, public affairs and political programming.

The app does so many things perfectly, it ought to be shown to all app developers as the “how-to” use case. Like other radio station apps, you can listen live, or filter by “news” or “music.” The “On demand” feature, however,  is where this app really shines. There you will find 25 different shows/DJs and the option to play back either their latest show or a past one. A playlist pops up in real time that allows you to then take the songs you like and create your own playlist, buy the song in iTunes or share the show you’re listening to with friends. But here’s the real kicker. As we know, Apple does not allow apps to work in the background. This non-feature becomes particularly annoying with a music app such as this one. Well, fear not, music seeker- the “Play in Background” feature is what separates the men from the boys here. AND, the music streams over WiFi or 3G, and I have not had any problems with the hand off. (In other words if you start listening at home over WiFi and then get in your car and switch to 3G. The music keeps right on playing.)

OK, so whatever- all these features are cool. But what about the music? You’ll find KCRW’s signature daily music program “Morning Becomes Eclectic” as well as world music, jazz, indie pop, trance, hip hop, remixes, soul, and on it goes. The DJs themselves are all excellent and, unlike on hit radio, they don’t blather on endlessly. They play the music and stay out of the way. (Special shout out to Tom Schnabel, who was my favorite DJ to listen to when I lived in LA. I probably learned about more music through him than anyone else. Nice to hear you again, Tom.)

So, look, all the time you’ve spent reading this post, you could have spent the .99 cents and downloaded the app already and gotten as much pleasure from it as I have. Ever since I left Los Angeles, I have missed listening to KCRW. Now I don’t have to miss it anymore, and you can have a great LA experience, without all the freeways.

At last, a great way to find great music.

facebook and the losing battle over privacy

So facebook doesn’t seem to care about your privacy. Until they do. Or, do they? Kind of hard to tell. The people who run the service that was pitched to all of us a few years back as a semi-private club where we would have control of who saw our photos, status updates and hackneyed inspirational quotes have now, for the fourth or fifth time, moved the goal posts on what constitutes “privacy.”

Finally, on May 26, facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was forced to address the frenzy whipped up online and off over what many perceived as a sneaky attempt to manipulate people’s information. Past attempts have stirred up a storm among the digerati and have been mostly confined to blog posts and tweets. This time, however, it landed on the front page of the New York Times which for an internet business can only mean two things: you have stopped being cool because the stodgy Times found out about you OR because you did something bad/stupid/illegal or some combination of the three.

This is not the first time they have done this, nor the first time I have written about it. But for some reason, THIS time it is really freaking people out, and not just the techie geekerati. So what is at the heart of the problem, and what can be done?

facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg firmly believes two things:  1)  the web is making us all more open and that privacy is an illusion and 2) facebook is on a mission to transform they way we all interact with the web. Facebook wants to be the center of our digital lives, the starting point of our engagement with the internet. facebook believes that “By making the world more open and connected, we’re expanding understanding between people and making the world a more empathetic place.” Oh, brother.

The hue and cry was so intense about their ham-handed changes, that Zuckerberg was forced to acknowledge their mistakes and offer up different settings options for users. The previous privacy settings had 50 pages of clicking and over 170 possible permutations. Who the hell is going to go to all that trouble? That, of course, is EXACTLY what they were counting on- that few of us would.

So, is facebook evil, stupid or crazy like a fox? The truth is, there is not as much of a business for them in only being a place for you to upload your photos and provide status updates as there is in collecting massive amounts of data about their users which can then be used to earn advertising income by more effectively targeting those ads based on your online activities and expressed interests.

If you believe their  numbers, facebook has over 400 million active users, two thirds of whom live outside of the US, but the privacy features are explained in ENGLISH ONLY. So many users have invested so much of themselves (ourselves) into the service that simply quitting facebook is not really a viable option. And even if we did, what would become of all those pictures, videos, intellectual ramblings, etc.? facebook would tell you that they are simply reflecting the change in people’s attitudes about privacy. I have seen no evidence of that. Rather, I would suggest that they are forcing change in order to be able to better target advertising and make more money. The truth is, given the choice, human beings typically opt for convenience over privacy.

(Side note: the implication here is that young people don’t care about their privacy. Zuckerberg himself is only 26, and that may very well be his personal ethos. Yet a Pew Reserch Center study released on May 26, 2010 about reputation management and social media found that 71% of social network users aged 18-29 have changed their privacy setting on their profile to limit what they share with others online. “Reputation management has now become a defining feature of online life for many internet users, especially the young.” Here’s a link to the survey.)

For those who were freaked out by this latest breach, I think the main reason is that  our privacy has been under assault from so many quarters, and that is a real concern for many of us. From illegal wire tapping and circumvention of FISA to self-inflicted revelations in public fora, many of us face a constant push-pull over how much to reveal and the harm it may inflict. When I say “harm,” I don’t necessarily mean physical harm, although there are many heartbreaking stories of physical harm. It could be embarrassment, getting caught in a lie, or just forgetting that you are sometimes speaking to a broader audience. But these missteps feel manageable because we realize that WE were the ones that made a mistake by revealing too much. It’s quite a different, and creepy, feeling when someone ELSE reveals our personal information without our informed consent. Betrayal is tough to come back from. Unless you’re facebook and no one seems to give a damn.

For all intents and purposes, facebook has no competition and, as danah boyd points out, the deeper a relationship, the higher the cost of ending it. So what can be done? Not much, I’m afraid. Stay on top of the changes (because this WILL happen again. And again.), and remain ever mindful of what your goals and objectives are when you join an online club.

As always, I would love to hear your comments.

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What’s the big deal about Foursquare?

There has been lots of talk in the press lately about location-based applications and Foursquare seems to be earning the lion’s share of the coverage, even though there are others in the space, like Gowalla, Loopt and Brightkite, with similar offerings.

So what is Foursquare, anyway?

Foursquare is a location based service with a bit of goofy competition thrown in for good measure. You load up the Foursquare app on your iPhone, Blackberry or whatever you carry around that is GPS-enabled. When you arrive at a destination that has a “hang out” quality to it (think bar, restaurant, book store, museum, clothing store or anyplace you might be awhile) you “check in” at that place. If you don’t find the place already listed within Foursquare, you can add in the name, address, phone, etc., of the place, and THEN check in. All of this activity earns you points and helps you unlock different badges (this is the goofy competition part). Additionally, you might find that your other Foursquare friends are hanging out in the same place or, perhaps, they are somewhere nearby in the neighborhood. There are literally dozens of badges and the more times you visit a particular place, you end up becoming the “mayor” of that place. Here is where Foursquare gets interesting for businesses. (Click here to see what Foursquare is doing to help businesses take advantage of their service. They make it VERY easy.)

Every successful business has regular customers. Now, via Foursquare, you can reward those loyal customers and their friends. 10% off an item of clothing if you’re the mayor of a local clothing retailer. Bring in 3 other friends and your meal is free. You get the idea. It’s a new twist on loyalty programs, but in a much more public forum. Your Foursquare updates can be tied to your twitter feed and posted to your facebook page, letting people know about the places you like to eat, shop or hang out. Why is this significant? Because people trust the recommendations of their friends and peers more than they do celebrity endorsers or commercials. And if you are a local business, you’re not going to have a celebrity endorser anyhow. (I love this Jimmy Choo treasure hunt around London using Foursquare.) Foursquare also allows users to leave tips about different businesses in sometimes clever ways. I was recently having lunch and when I checked in, someone had left a tip that automatically popped up that said “Make sure you try the ice cream across the street at Miss Mooie’s.”

Location based apps have a certain creepiness factor, but I see them as a huge boon to businesses of all sizes. Foursquare does allow for advanced privacy settings, so you don’t have to broadcast your whereabouts to the whole world. Maintaining connections to customers is so critical for the survival of ANY business, and Foursquare enables those connections, and also helps with the important work of having your customers act as your marketing street team. As Twitter and facebook continue to integrate location into their services, Foursquare is a logical complement. For business owners, it is not a silver bullet, but IS a clever and effective way to engage and reward your most loyal customers, and steadily build a new customer base.

TV is still King, and the Internet is an enabling Prince

I have written in this space (too many times to link to) about the absurd and reductive tendency on the part of the media and others to anoint “killers” every time a new piece of technology or social media platform comes out: iPhone killers, Kindle killers, TV killers, and on it goes.

 

Despite cratering ratings of many TV shows, TV still rules the roost and social media and the Internet actually enable and help to grow audiences, rather than be the oft-predicted TV killer. The 70,000 twitter posts per hour during last week’s Oscars telecast probably had something to do with its strong ratings showing.

Just as social media can help level the playing field allowing smaller brands, retail outlets, restaurants or mom & pop stores to have a fighting chance against household names, the same holds true for TV. David Carr’s March 15 piece in the NY Times quoted the GM of Oxygen Network who credited the popularity of “Bad Girls Club” to social media. The show “is knit so tightly into the social media system that on nights it is on, its characters and plot make up 5 of the top 10 topics on Twitter.” (We will leave out any discussion of the relative quality of programming for now.) For live programming, such as the Oscars, social media can be an even bigger boon. New services such as Hot Potato offer a foursquare-style ability to “check in” to a particular live TV program (think the NCAA basketball tournament or CNN) and let friends socialize and comment in real time.

All of these trends help stanch the ratings hemorrhaging that has been afflicting TV for some time now.

Methinks the web-fearing TV exec doth protest too much.

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Social Media in Education- Social Media Club South Florida

Social Media Club South Florida will address a topic very near and dear to my heart: Social Media in Education. We have a fantastic panel and a (ahem) great moderator. Please try and make it out this week. Here’s a link to the Eventbrite invite (admission, as always, is free) and here’s a link to the Social Media Club South Florida page.

The March meeting of

Tuesday, March 9, 2010
7pm -10pm
Johnson and Wales University, 1701 NE 127th St. N. Miami

This month’s meetup will explore the opportunities and challenges educational institutions face in terms of social media:

– How to use social media to reach and keep in touch with alumni?
– How to reach out to potential new students and their parents?
– How to integrate social media for classroom learning?
– How to teach about social media use and safety to students … and parents?
– What about cyberbullying, sexting, and other pitfalls of online communication?
– What about crisis communications (crime alerts, etc.) using social media?
– How to use social media for marketing and community relations?
– Should educational institutions engage their followers?
– How to build community through sporting events, research, and other campus news?

Panelists include:
– Luis Casas, Florida International University
– Maureen Lloyd James, Johnson & Wales University
– Christine Casas, University of Miami
– Rosanna Fiske, Florida International University

Moderated by Matthew Chamberlin

Hope to see you there.

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BarCamp Miami 2010

BarCamp Miami 2010 is on for this coming Sunday, February 21 from 9am-6pm. This year, it will be taking place in the heart of Miami’s Design District at 4141 NE 2nd Ave.Just a quick note to let you all know that

If you’ve never been to BarCamp, I urge you to come. It is a free unconference that in years past has attracted upwards of 500 attendees.

If you’re a start up looking for some feedback on your idea, if you’re an employer looking for talent, if you’re talent looking for work or if you’re an investor looking to find out more about the ever growing South Florida tech scene then you need to be there.

Of course, many think that the Geek Dinner is the highlight of BarCamp. This year’s offering comes from world-class restaurants Pacific Time and Maitardi. Registration is free, but please sign up so we can get a head count. If you’ve never been before, you will be pleasantly surprised and if you’ve come to past events, you know what you’re in for.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that there is $3 valet parking all day in the Design District. Hope to see you there.

On privacy, or Why facebook is not your friend

I have long believed that privacy is an illusion, a sort of opiate for the masses. “Trusted” companies have collected our  credit/debit card records, telephone calls and text messages for years. Now it’s the archiving of facebook, twitter and foursquare updates, blogs posts and comments…and on it goes.

On the one hand we expect a certain degree of privacy, on another hand we willfully give it up and on a third hand (warning: this post is not anatomically correct), we cry “foul” when we feel our privacy has been violated. Like 99.9% of all matters internet related, none of this is new. Ma Bell always knew who you called and Visa always knew what you bought and where and when you bought it. The magnetic stripe on the back of your driver’s license probably knows who you took to the prom, for God’s sake.

Living your life online brings the fear (hysteria?) of privacy loss into sharper focus even though, in many cases, we ourselves are to blame for that loss. I would argue that “they” have long known lots more about you than you probably want to think about. Haven’t you ever watched “Law and Order”? Cell records, swiped ID cards, 7-11 debit card receipts- that’s how Jerry Orbach poked holes in your lame alibi and Sam Waterston put you away in the second act.

facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg recently, in a very offhanded and arrogant  manner, declared that the new default (non) privacy settings on facebook reflected new “social norms” and so “we just went for it.” Let me translate that for you:  a service that is used by 350 million people worldwide just made a profound change, a complete 180,  in how your information, posts, pictures, comments, videos, etc. are protected and they didn’t even bother to check with you first. They just “went for it.” (Read more here)

Awesome, dude.

Of course, you can go into your privacy settings at the top of your page and revert back to the way things were. But how many of you reading my little blog are hearing about this change for the first time? Further, one of the founding principles of facebook that kept us all coming back was that you could rightly assume that your updates, pictures and stuff were only being seen by your “friends” (another word that facebook has rendered meaningless, but that is another blog post).

This is not an anti-facebook rant, regardless of the what is contained in the previous paragraphs. I will say, however, facebook is dead wrong about this policy and may suffer the consequences. Their misguided and tin eared policy shift is akin to positing “if you don’t want someone to see you doing something bad, maybe you shouldn’t do it.” Uh huh. This illogical rejoinder is most often utilized by governments in the former Soviet Union, North Korea and more than once by the previous crew in Washington (and probably the current one, too). Privacy does not just mean secrecy, but that reductive logic is part of the price we pay in these anti-intellecutal times we live in. This “argument” in defense of “openness” renders context meaningless.

As regular readers of this blog already know, I am big fan of the author Chuck Klosterman. I read something the other day in his book “Eating the Dinosaur” that encapsulated the current state of affairs and maybe, just maybe, helps share the blame for this so-called “loss of privacy.”

“…I’m not sure that we aren’t seeing the emergence of a society in which almost everyone who isn’t famous considers themselves cruelly and unfairly unheard. As though being famous, and the subject of wide attention, is considered to be a fulfilled human being’s natural state- and so, as a corollary, the cruelly unheard millions are perpetually primed and fired up to answer any and all questions in order to redress this awful imbalance.

I fear that most contemporary people are answering questions not because they’re flattered by the attention; they’re answering questions because they feel as though they deserve to be asked. About everything. Their opinions are special, so they are entitled to a public forum. Their voice is supposed to be heard, lest their life become empty.

This, in one paragraph (minus technology), explains the rise of New Media.

Meet me in Doha

My last post was made from my hotel room in Doha, Qatar where I lamented having missed a local bloggers conference. Since I made that post, I have made amends and connected with several of the attendees and organizers.  I am pleased to be heading back to Doha for several days starting December 26 and I want to use this blog post to connect with even more of you.

I am working on a long term project in Doha that focuses on several interesting topics including food security, green and sustainability issues, solar energy and technology. I will be in Doha  from December 27-New Year’s Day and really want to connect with as many  local bloggers, tweeters, and podcasters as I can, so please feel free to connect with me via the blog or twitter. (#tweetupqa)

In the meantime, Happy New Year to all of you, and thanks so much for supporting the blog and podcast this past year.

All the best in 2010.

New social networking communities

Social media is obviously a huge part of my life. I write about, it’s a big part of my day to day life, I talk about it ad nauseam and my consulting business is devoted to it. Nevertheless, I am fully aware that its uptake is not nearly as ubiquitous as some of us addicts might like to think. There are huge segments of the population, (dare I say the majority?) who wouldn’t know foursquare from Times Square, facebook from Redbook.

I make this blog post on my last day of a 6-day trip to Doha, Qatar. (Sorry, no picture to post. I know-lame!) I was curious to know what the social media scene was like here, especially since I am trying to evaluate how best to use SM on behalf of a new “green” client here in Gulf. Lo and behold, there was an Arab bloggers meeting here in Doha just yesterday called Mudawanat: All ABout Blogging. (Here’s one review of the event. Jeremiah Owyang spoke to the conference and writes about it here.) Unfortunately, I found out about it too late (shame on me), and would have been unable to attend in any event since I was a little busy finishing up some work. But it was encouraging to see that social media uptake is continuing to grow steadily everywhere you turn.

I know that my personal and professional lives have been immeasurably enriched because of social media/social networking and I am glad to have found a new community, if I make it back to Qatar someday soon.