What’s next? Social Media and the Information Life Cycle

10 10 2011
The Crystal Ball

Image via Wikipedia

As previously seen in Biznology:

Back in the days when “Web 2.0″ was a hot buzzword, many people asked what “Web 3.0″ would look like. Even though that question sounds now as outdated as an X-Files re-run episode, the quest for “what’s next?” is always in our minds. I’m no better prognosticator than anybody else, but my best answer would be: look at where the inefficiencies are. In no way is that a good indicator of what 2012 or 2013 will look like. Some inefficiencies may take decades to be properly addressed. But if you are trying to guess where we’ll see the next revolutionary step in social media–as opposed to the much-easier-to-predict incremental improvements–you have to focus where the biggest opportunities are, the undiscovered country somewhere out there. Analyzing the current landscape and the evolution of information markets by borrowing from a product life cycle framework may assist in developing some educated guesses about what the future may bring.

This is the third post in this current series discussing the differences between making and moving information and knowledge versus physical goods.

Since the first businessperson started bartering goods in some cave thousands of years ago, products went through a more or less standard life cycle: they were conceived, designed, produced, filtered for quality, distributed, sold, consumed, serviced, and finally disposed of. Over the course of history, that life cycle underwent several enhancements, most of them minor and mundane. A few of them, like the introduction of currency, steam power and the production line, had a huge impact in the overall efficiency of moving products around. Naturally, even though in retrospect those inventions seem like no-brainer milestones in the history of business and commerce, in reality their impact was scattered over a number of years. It’s likely that many who lived through those transitions did not realize how big those changes in fact were. One important indication of their revolutionary aspect is how each one of them enabled an incredible amplification in volume or reach of one or more stages of the product life cycle. Currency obviously made selling and trading more practical, steam power increased the ability to reduce the dependency on animals and people for mechanical work and the production line affected both the ability to manufacture better and to improve quality controls.

Non-physical items, such as ideas, information and knowledge, also go through a life-cycle of their own, but some of the steps are still not as sophisticated as the ones described above. Roughly speaking, that cycle consists of: creating, verbalizing (coding), capturing, distributing, filtering, consuming (decoding), and disposing of.

Creating and Coding
Thoughts and emotions come through everybody’s heads all the time, raw, unruly, uncensored. Then some are internally processed by the conscious mind and made sense of. A subset of those are mentally verbalized, and even a smaller portion of them is finally vocalized and communicated to others. The effect of technology in this early cycle has been modest. It still happens mostly the way it used to thousands of years ago.

Capturing
Capturing knowledge in the early days of humanity basically meant drawing on cave walls. Drawing became more elaborate with the advent of writing–which could be described as the codified doodling of one’s thoughts in an enduring medium–ensuring that a person’s knowledge could survive much beyond the physical constraints in time and space. More recently, photographs, movies, and audio recording permitted the capture of an increasing variety of information, but in practice they were still enabling us to more efficiently capture a concept, a memorable moment, or to tell a story.

Distributing
The introduction of movable type removed much of the limitations around the distribution of that content. Radio, cinema, TV, and the Internet of the 1990s did more of the same for a broader set of records of human knowledge. It was an expansion in scope, not in nature, but each new media added to the mix represented yet another powerful distribution amplifier.

Filtering and Consuming
All that capturing and distributing of information still relied a lot either on physical media or on the renting of expensive properties and expertise. Whole industries were created to exploit those high transaction costs. The inefficiencies of the system were one of the most powerful filtering mechanisms in that information life cycle. The big mass media players essentially dictated what was “media worth” for you to consume. In fact, that’s what most of us were known for: consumers of goods and information.

Disposing
Most information that is digitized today is not formally disposed of, it’s just abandoned or forgotten. Archived emails and SharePoint sites are an example of that, but how often do you search your company’s intranet and find information that is completely outdated and irrelevant now?

The social media role, so far
Much of what we call social media today, be it Internet forums, blogs, podcasts, photo, video and file sharing, social networks, or microblogging, along with the advances in mobile communications, contributed significantly to bring those transaction costs closer to zero. Billions of people can now not only capture and distribute information at low cost, but can also consume more of it and consume it faster. Not only that: the ability to add links to status updates, retweet, and share enabled regular people to filter and distribute content too. Everybody became a content curator and distributor of sorts, often without even realizing it.

So what’s next?
Most likely, we’ll continue to see an increasing sophistication of the inner steps of the information life cycle. We’re already witnessing better ways to capture (the IBM Smarter Planet initiative is a good example of that), filter (Google Plus’ circles), distribute (Tumblr, StumbleUpon) and consume (Flipboard, Zite) it. However, the obvious under-served stages in the information life cycle are the two extremities: creating, coding, and capturing on one side, and disposal of on the other.

On the creating, coding and capturing end, the major current inefficiency is loss of information. From the millions of ideas and thoughts that come to people’s minds, the vast majority vanishes without a trace. Twitter and status updates showed a very raw way of capturing some of that, but they are still cumbersome to use — and often impractical:

In case of fire, exit the building before tweeting about it

Via funnysigns.net

Apps like Evernote and Remember The Milk are evolving to make it much easier to record our impromptu thoughts, but the actual potential is enormous (suggested reading: The Future of Evernote). Even a real brain dump may be more feasible than most of us initially thought. As we learned a few days ago, UC Berkeley scientists have developed a system to capture visual activity in human brains and reconstruct it as digital video clips. The results are mesmerizing:

Reconstructing brain images into video

But it does not stop there. Ideas generate ideas. Capturing makes indexing and sharing possible. Imagine how much more knowledge could be created if we had better ways to share and aggregate atomic pieces of information. We might not like Facebook’s timeline and Open Graph real-time apps in their first incarnations, but they are just giving us a peek of what the future — and the past — may look like.

Decoding the existing content out there would be a good start. My first language being Portuguese, I often find amazing content in Brazilian websites or brilliant posts shared by my Portuguese-speaking colleagues that are still not easily consumable by most people in the world, making me wonder how much I’m missing for not knowing German, Chinese, Hindi, or Japanese. One can always argue that there are plenty of tools out there for translating Internet content. True, but the actual user-friendly experience would just be browsing websites or watching videos in Punjabi or Arabic without even noticing that they were originally produced in another language.

Finally, one of the unsolved problems of the information age is proper disposal of information. Since storage is so cheap, we keep most of what is created, and this is increasingly becoming an annoyance. I often wish that my Google search could default to limiting search to the last year or the last month only, as the standard results normally show ancient content that are no longer relevant to me. Also, most of us just accept that whatever we say online stays online forever, but that is just a limitation of our current technology. If we could for a second convert all that digital information to a physical representation, we would see a landfill of unwanted items and plenty of clutter. Of course, “disposal” in the digital world does not need to be complete elimination–could just be better ways to place things in the back burner or the backroom archive. For example, we could use sensorial clues of aging information. You always can tell if a physical book was freshly published or a print from 20 years ago, based on its appearance and smell. Old internet content could be shown with increasingly yellow and brown background tones, so that you could visually tell the freshness of content.

Some of the above sounds crazy and superfluous, but the idea of Twitter probably sounded insane less than 10 years ago. Are we there yet? Not even close. But that is what makes this journey really interesting: what is coming is much more intriguing than what we saw so far. Like I said before, we’re still witnessing the infancy of social technologies.

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Moving things vs. moving ideas

10 10 2011

AVENTURA, FL - AUGUST 18:  Ed Cole (R), with t...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

As previously seen in Biznology:

All of our existing controls around content, intellectual property, and information exchange were developed when moving information around was an ancillary function to what mattered at the time: moving goods efficiently to generate wealth. The most powerful nations and organizations throughout the centuries were the ones that mastered the levers that controlled the flow of things. That pattern may soon be facing its own Napster moment. Information is becoming a good in itself, and our controls have not yet adapted to this new reality. In fact, much of what we call governance consists of ensuring that information moves very slowly–if at all. The entities–countries, companies, individuals–that first realize that a shift has already taken place, and re-think their raison d’être accordingly, might be the ones who will dominate the market in this brave new world.

In my last Biznology post, I used a comparison between information and physical goods to support an argument that social technologies still have a long way to go to be considered mature. When information itself becomes the good, and social interactions become the transportation medium, some new and interesting economic patterns may emerge.

Scarcity is a natural attribute of the physical world: a house, a car, or a TV set cannot be owned by multiple people at the same time, nor can one person provide hairdressing or medical services to several customers simultaneously. Our whole economic model is built on top of it: theories around economies of scale, price elasticity, bargaining, patents and copyright all have a strong dependency on “things” or “services” being limited. We even created artificial scarcity to digital items such as software and audio files in the form of license keys and DRM, so that they could fit our “real world” economy.

That model worked OK when being digital was the exception. However, more and more “things” are becoming digital: photos, movies, newspapers, books, magazines, maps, money, annotations, card decks, board games, drawings, paintings, kaleidoscopes–you name it. Furthermore, services are increasingly less dependent on geographical or temporal proximity: online programming, consulting, doctor appointments, tutoring, and teaching are sometimes better than their face-to-face counterparts. While most online services are still provided on a one-off basis, the digitization of those human interactions is just the first step to make them reusable. TED talks and iTunes University lectures are early examples of that.

Of course, I’m not advocating a world without patents or copyrights. But I do think that it’s important to understand what that world would look like, and assess if the existing controls are playing in our favor or against us. Even if we do not dare to change something that served us so well in the past, others may not have the same incentives to keep the status quo.

Another factor to consider is the leapfrog pattern experienced by the mobile telephony industry: countries that were behind in the deployment of phone landlines ended up surpassing those in the developed world in the adoption of cellular phones. Similarly, countries that never developed a sophisticated intellectual property framework may be able to start fresh and put a system in place where broad dissemination and re-use trumps authorship and individual success.

Finally, the emergence of social technologies over the last 10 years showed the power of a resource that has been underutilized for centuries: people and their interactions with each other. The essence of what we used to call Web 2.0 was the transformational aspect of leveraging social interactions throughout the information value chain: creation, capture, distribution, filtering and consumption. The crowd now is often the source, the medium, and the destination of information in its multiple forms.

The conclusion is that the sheer number of people that can be mobilized by an entity–a nation, an organization or an individual–may become a source of a wealth in the near future. Of course, peoplenomics is mostly a diamond in the rough for now. A quick comparison between the top 20 countries by GDP per capita (based on Purchasing Power Parity) and the top 20 countries in the world by population shows that the size of a country’s population is still a poor indicator of its wealth–only the United States, Japan and Germany are part of both lists. Whether or not unleashing the economic value of large populations and efficient information flows will ever materialize is anybody’s guess, but keeping an eye for it and being able to adapt quickly may be key survival skills in a rapidly changing landscape.

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The infancy of social technologies

3 08 2011

Note: I’m resuscitating this blog one more time, but slowly: copying my posts from Biznology and other places to here and applying minor edits. Naturally, they lost their freshness, but I want to make this WordPress blog an archive of all my posts.

As previously seen in Biznology:

Alex Pickering Transfer Company, early moving ...

Image via Wikipedia

The last 20 years saw knowledge workers adding a steady stream of tools to their repertoire: increasingly sophisticated office suite software, email, the Internet, instant messaging, voice over IP, Web conferences, and, in the last decade, a number of social technologies in the form of blogs, wikis, social networks, microblogging and others. Google+ is just the latest addition to the mix, introducing some interesting ideas to a space that seemed to be quite mature already. Nobody knows for sure if Google+ will ever dethrone Facebook and Twitter, but the buzz it created showed something already: our allegiance to any Social Platform in particular is as reliable as that of a mercenary just waiting for the highest bidder. Taking a step back, it becomes clear that we came a long way since the days where Wikipedia sounded like a misplaced hippie idea transplanted from the 60s. But make no mistake: we are still witnessing the infancy of social technologies, and there is much more to come.

David Allen, of Getting Things Done fame, stated in an interview to the Harvard Business Review magazine earlier this year (May 2011):

Peter Drucker said that the toughest job for knowledge workers is defining the work. A century ago, 80% of the world made and moved things. You worked as long as you could, and then you slept, and then you got up and worked again. You didn’t have to triage or make executive decisions. It’s harder to be productive today because the work has become much more complex.

I have no idea of how much that percentage changed since then, but I suspect that in much of world, a significant number of workers now “make and move” knowledge and information, as opposed to physical goods. Of course, this is no earth-shattering statement, but what is sometimes missed in this obvious assertion is that the same kind of inefficiencies and constraints that limited the production and distribution of “things” one hundred years ago can be observed in the way we deal with knowledge and information today. By visualizing information as a “thing” that can be produced, distributed and consumed, we can better understand how far we still are from an efficient knowledge marketplace.

While we spend countless hours debating if email is dead, if IM is a productivity booster or killer, and if Twitter and Facebook and Google+ will be here 5 years from now, the fact of the matter is that each new social technology brings new mechanisms trying to solve the same problem: reduce inefficiencies in the way we create, capture and move information. While MySpace has likely gone the way of the Dodo, like Geocities did before it, they both introduced some memes and patterns that are still alive today. Wikipedia, blogs, podcasts, Friendster, Facebook, Twitter and FourSquare all contributed to this mix, and social business platforms are continuously incorporating several of those concepts and making them available to knowledge workers.

FedEx, Amazon, and Walmart all created a very efficient ecosystem to move goods by reducing or eliminating obstacles to efficiency. They make the complex task of moving goods a painless experience–at least most of the time. For the non-physical goods, we’re not even close to that. Information flows are inefficient across the value chain. Compared to their counterparts in the physical world, our mechanisms to digitize information are precarious, the channels to distribute it are cumbersome, and our filters to screen it are primitive.

However, eliminating inefficiencies does not necessarily mean eliminating barriers altogether. Sticking to the physical goods metaphor, while there are items that you want to distribute to everybody, like water, food, sanitation, and medication, there are others that you need to control more selectively (flowers for your wife or Punjabi-language TV shows to a Punjabi-speaking population). Some of the problems we attribute to email or Facebook communications are simply a mismatch between the medium and the nature of the message, not an intrinsic failure of the tools themselves. The Google+ concept of circles and streams are a good start, but still very far from perfect. After spending a few minutes there, you will notice that you are still getting more information than you wanted in some cases, and not even a small percentage of what you need in others. That would be unacceptable today for physical goods: just imagine you receiving all sorts of unwanted books or groceries or clothes by your door everyday, but not having a way to just get the few things you need to live a good life.

Thus, before you get too carried away with the latest and greatest social technology darling, be it FourSquare, Tumblr, Quora, Zynga, or Google+, know that we still have a long way to go. If the knowledge mountain is the Everest and social technologies are the tools to climb it, we have not even got to Kathmandu yet.





The Age of Disinformation

2 08 2011

Note: I’m resuscitating this blog one more time, but slowly: copying my posts from Biznology and other places to here and applying minor edits. Naturally, they lost their freshness, but I want to make this WordPress blog an archive of all my posts.

As previously seen in Biznology:

My Room - Looks Like I've Got My Work Cut Out ...

Image by raider3_anime via Flickr

Coincidentally or not, after I covered the topic of Q & A services in my last Biznology post, I’ve heard complaints from three different acquaintances about the low quality of knowledge in Yahoo! Answers, one of them mockingly calling this world where everybody is an expert “the age of disinformation.” Another friend of mine has recently complained about getting mostly useless content–with zero editorial and zero user reviews–from reputable sites whenever he Googles “<non-mainstream product> review”. Has filter failure become so prevalent that, despite all the information available to us, we are no better off than we were 20 years ago, when content was scarce, difficult to produce and difficult to access?

Three months ago, my wife called me from the grocery store, asking if a product has the expiry date of “11 MA 10″, does that mean May 10, 2011 (which would be good, since it was still April), or March 10, 2011 (which would mean that the product was way past its “best before” date)?

Naturally, my first instinct was to Google it, and inevitably I ended up getting a bunch of entries in Yahoo! Answers. Here are some of the pearls of wisdom I found:

“March. May has no abbreviation””I think it means May 11. Unless it’s on something that lasts a long time, like toothpaste. Then it’s probably 2011″

“march” (wrong, the right answer, I found later, was “May 10, 2011″)

“most likely March cuz May is so short they can just put the full month”

“I believe it’s May… I think March would be Mar”

I finally started ignoring any result coming from Yahoo! and found the definitive right answer: the format NN AA NN is a Canadian thing–I live in Toronto–and it’s the doing of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. You can find the whole reference here. Apparently, to get to a month abbreviation that works both in English and French, that government agency decided to use “monthly bilingual symbols.” The problem is, if you don’t know the context, and if you are not accustomed to that convention, you might mistakenly assume that MA is March, JN is June, or that the two numbers at the beginning are the day, not the year. When it comes to food safety, relying on a standard that is easily subject to misinterpretation is something that you probably would like to avoid.

On the other side of this spectrum, the product reviews posted at Amazon are typically very reliable. Amazon reveals a lot of information about the reviewers, such as “real name,” their other reviews, the “verified purchase” stamp. Also, many filtering and ranking mechanisms are provided, such as the ability for other users to comment on reviews, vote for helpfulness, and say if a comment added to the discussion, or it’s abusive, or if a given reviewer should be ignored.

Unfortunately, Amazon is the exception, not the rule, one of the few sites out there where everybody knows when you are a dog. Twitter’s verified accounts seemed promising, but since they closed the program to the regular public, unless you are a celebrity, you are out-of-luck proving that you are not the person behind that account with your name and your photo. Of course, sometimes having a verified account may play against you, like Rep. Anthony Weiner found out in the last few weeks.

Reflecting over the low quality of information generally available, I concede that skeptics have reasons to not hop into the social media bandwagon mindlessly. But what we are really observing is just an amplification phenomenon, and a moment in time that many decades from now will be seen as the infancy of social technologies.

Since the first pieces of “persistent” content started being produced as rough drawings in some pre-historic cave thousands of years ago, the bad outnumbered the good by orders of magnitude. Creating good content is the exception, and social media amplifies all kinds of content. In part, there are lots of bad Yahoo! Answers because we always had a high degree of disinformation in the world. The only difference is that that disinformation can be easily spread, but that also applies to the good content.

On top of that, the same way natural ecosystems are in a constant state of imbalance but trend towards an equilibrium, information ecosystems will find themselves in apparent disarray from time to time. The original Yahoo! Search, editorialized by real people, once dominated the Internet. It soon became inefficient, and then the PageRank-driven Google search took over. It worked really well for several years, but it’s now also showing its age. Better filters will be developed to overcome the current deficiencies, and this battle will never end. The dynamic between quality of content and quality of filters will perpetually behave like a pendulum, as they always had.

Is this the age of disinformation? Yes, but no more than any other in the past. The fact that, by producing more content in general, we also increase the quantity of good content, should make us optimistic that we are better off today than we were yesterday. If the cost of coming up with one more Mozart is to produce thousands of Salieris, so be it: we may end up finding that Salieris are not that bad after all.





From the batcomputer to Quora: the quest for the perfect answering machine

1 08 2011

Note: I’m resuscitating this blog one more time, but slowly: copying my posts from Biznology and other places to here and applying minor edits. Naturally, they lost their freshness, but I want to make this WordPress blog an archive of all my posts.

As previously seen in Biznology:

When Quora announced earlier this month that they were eliminating their policy against self-promoting questions and answers, some analysts wondered if that was opening the gates for spammers to dominate the conversation. The reality is that the whole evolution of Q&A services is not much different from what Google and other search engines have been experiencing throughout the years. It’s a battle to separate the wheat from the chaff, where the chaff keeps finding creative ways to look like the wheat. Keep reading, and you’ll find why developing the perfect Q&A engine should not be our real objective here.

As a kid, I spent my fair number of hours watching re-runs of camp TV shows, including the classic Batman TV series from the 60’s. I remember how the batcomputer was able to answer any question you asked it, no matter how weird or convoluted they were. For those of you who never had the privilege (?) to see the precursor of IBM’s Watson, here it is, courtesy of YouTube (it’s a long video, so you may want to jump directly to the 2:20 mark):

Yes, you saw it right. The bat-computer was fed a bunch of alphabet soup letters and gave the dynamic duo the answer they were looking for, where they should go next to complete their mission. However, as a sign of things to come, Batman then tries to go extreme and feeds the bat-computer with the Yellow Pages directory book, but—oh the horror—the batcomputer fails miserably trying to get them a more precise answer for their subsequent question.

More than 40 years later, our quest for the infallible computer has not changed much. Watson could easily answer Jeopardy! questions about song lyrics and book topics, but choked when facing more nuanced themes. That was not very different from the 18th century “Mechanical Turk”, which was capable of winning chess games, solving puzzles, conversing in English, French and German and even answering questions about people’s age and marital status, but had its fair share of defeats.

I concede that services like Wolfram Alpha, ChaCha and Quora raised the bar compared to early players such as Yahoo! Answers and WikiAnswers, but they all come short to address complex, subtle or fringe questions.

If you don’t believe me, just try yourself. Use your favorite online Q&A service to ask a question that you can’t easily find in Wikipedia or via a quick Google search and let me know if you get anything meaningful back.

Quora gave many of us the hope that we would be finally getting a high-quality, well-curated Q&A service. It’s becoming increasingly clear now that, albeit a step forward, Quora is not the know-all oracle that we were looking for.

Are we going to ever find the perfect Q&A service, where more nuanced questions will get satisfactory responses? My guess is “no”, but not even Adam West’s noodle-eating batcomputer would know the answer for that.

In fact, at the end of the day, that answer is not relevant at all. As we make strides in the information technology journey, our fundamental objective is not to replace people with machines. Our real target is to free us all from as many mundane and “automatable” tasks as possible, so that we can focus our efforts and energy more and more on the tasks that only humans can do. Having increasingly smarter systems that can answer most of our trivial questions are not a sign of our defeat to “our new computer overlords.” It’s rather a great opportunity to re-define what being human actually means.





Data lust, tacit knowledge, and social media

27 07 2011

Note: I’m resuscitating this blog one more time, but slowly: copying my posts from Biznology and other places to here and applying minor edits. Naturally, they lost their freshness, but I want to make this WordPress blog an archive of all my posts.

As previously seen in Biznology:

Data Center Lobby

Data Center Lobby by WarzauWynn via Flickr

We are all witnessing the dawn of a new information technology era, the hyper-digitization of the world around us. While the physical world is being captured and monitored via smart sensors, human interactions in both personal and business domains are making their way to the binary realm via social media. Did we finally find the treasury map that will lead us to the Holy Grail of information nirvana? Is the elusive tacit knowledge finally within the reach of this generation? Those are questions that not even Watson can answer, but I would dare to say that we are still very far from getting anywhere close to that.

The Internet has come a long way since its early days of consumerization in the 1990s, and we’re often amazed by how disrupting it has been—and still is—in several aspects of our personal and business lives. The more people and information get connected, the more value is derived—and we often hear that there’s much more to come. This is nothing new, of course: the lure of the new has led us to believe that technology will eventually solve all our problems ever since the days when “techne” was more art, skill and craft, than space travel, jeopardy-champion computers, and nuclear science. In the last few years, as our ability to digitize the world around us improved, our data lust was awakened, and we are currently seeing an explosion of information moving from the offline world to bits
and bytes.

The expectations are high. A recent article at Mashable stated:

Do you think there’s a lot of data on the Internet? Imagine how much there is in the offline world: 510 million square kilometers of land, 6.79 billion people, 18 million kilometers of paved roads, and countless objects inhabit the Earth. The most exciting thing about all this data? Technologists are now starting to chart and index the offline world, down to street signs and basketball hoops.

Tragedies like the earthquake-tsunami-nuclear plant combo in Japan are powerful reminders that data alone won’t save us. Digitizing information is an important first step, but it’s the easy one. A good proxy to understand the difference between collecting the data and changing the world is the human genome sequencing effort: once we finished that big effort, the question morphed from “how fast can we do it?” to “what’s next?” We got the book, but it’s written in an unknown language that will take generations to decipher.

Raising the stakes even further, the promise of finally getting the keys to tacit knowledge—defined as “knowledge that is difficult to transfer to another person by means of writing it down or verbalising it” (Wikipedia) or, more broadly, “the accumulated knowledge that is stored in our heads and in our immediate personal surroundings” (PwC article)—has often been used as a carrot to justify social media investments in the corporate world. The same PwC article says:

Tacit knowledge can be unleashed and shared as never before by connecting people ubiquitously through social networking and its closely related partner, collaboration. In large and small companies alike, tacit knowledge is stored in the heads and personal information collections of thousands of employees of all levels, not to mention their clients’ personal stores of information. Up until now, tacit knowledge has scarcely been captured in conventional computer-based databases because it has not been easy to “tap,” summarize, save, and use in day-to-day business.

After years of observing companies aiming for that moving target, it became clear to me that most of the tacit knowledge will remain out-of-bounds to us for the time being. This is not supposed to be a blow to the importance of social media in the enterprise. In the long term, having reasonable expectations will only help us all. If you use the Wikipedia definition, it actually turns out to be an easy and obvious conclusion: if tacit knowledge is the one difficult to write down or verbalize, it is clearly not a good candidate for digitization.

The actual low hanging fruit of social media in corporations is not tacit knowledge. Using the widespread iceberg metaphor, the tip of the iceberg is the so-called explicit knowledge, i.e., “knowledge that is codified and conveyed to others through dialog, demonstration, or media such as books, drawings, and documents”. Much of that information is already digitized in e-mails, bookmarks, documents and IM conversations, but often inaccessible to those who need it when they need it. Moving conversations away from those traditional channels to more shareable and “spreadable” media, and improving the filtering and distribution mechanisms will enable us to harvest the early fruits from our corporate social media efforts.

What about the tacit knowledge? This four-year-old article provides a good analysis of it. Much of it will remain for years in the “can’t be recorded” or “too many resources required to record” buckets. Social media can help by uncovering the hooks hinting that some of that knowledge exists, and suggesting the individuals or groups most likely to possess it, but the technology and processes to fully discover and digitize them are not here yet. Even if you are an avid user of Twitter or Facebook or Social Business Platforms and operating in hyper-sharing mode, how much of your knowledge is actually available there? Very little, I would guess.

So, before declaring that you are about to unleash the tacit knowledge in your company, take a deep breath and a step back. That iceberg might be much bigger than you thought. Data lust can be inebriating, but reality will soon take over.





On erasing tweets and writing your biography in real time

11 01 2011

Research on Iran. by Negar Mottahedeh Social M...

Image via Wikipedia

As previously seen in Biznology:

As Twitter and Facebook have come to the front row of the Web in the last few years, a few have hinted that, by posting frequent status updates, in practice people were writing their autobiographies in real time. That’s dandy and catchy, but an often neglected aspect of it is that this online biography is not only being written by the main agent, but by many others sharing the social media space with the author. Doing it online also means no edits, as the backspace key might not be as effective as it used to be with the good old word processor. In that light, when posting status and photo updates, be ready to have those re-interpreted by others based on future events. Furthermore, be aware: the misinterpretation can happen with quotes that are not even yours.

A few years ago, Bernie Michalik from IBM and I were chatting about the “original” architecture profession and the IT-related one, when he brought up a nice metaphor comparing the design of actual houses with the IT architecture for security and privacy. We typically project houses with front and backyards, verandas, doors, windows, and curtains so that we can set distinct levels of security and privacy for different parts of the property or or for different times of the day and the year—overnight, weekends, when away on vacation, etc.

That conversation led me to see Philip Johnson’s Glass and Brick Houses in Connecticut from a different perspective. Johnson actually lived in his Mies van der Rohe-inspired Glass House, depicted here:

Glass House, Philip Johnson, exterior – by Kathia Shieh, Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0)

While some may feel comfortable with how open the living room was designed, I would suspect that very few would have a sound sleeping night at the totally transparent bedroom:

Glass House, Philip Johnson, living room and bedroom – by Kathia Shieh, Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0)

On the other side of the privacy spectrum, and in the same property, you’ll find the Brick House, with barely any windows to the external world:

Brick House, Philip Johnson, by Staib, Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Thinking further about this metaphor, and about Clay Shirky’s quote in the opening image (“Social Media: it’s like the phone turned into a radio”), I see both comparisons as useful and bright but still incomplete. The missing piece is the traceable tracking record aspect of the Internet. In a world of archive.org, Google-cached pages, RSS readers, Twitpics, and retweets, you write once, and it’s cached everywhere. So yes, online privacy is like a house, but with surveillance cameras owned by third parties, and social media is like a radio, but with a full podcast archive available to everybody. And often, you are not in the driver’s seat to determine when to close and when to open the curtains.

It’s useful, thus, to compare blogging or microblogging frequency with the fossil record from Biology books:

Some of us are like Twitter machines, logging dozens of times a day our actions, thoughts, and events, while others do that very rarely. Most users of social media are probably in between the two extremes.

If you never use social media and think that makes you safe, think again: others might be digitizing your actions in your behalf. It happens all the time in Facebook and Twitter: people will post pictures with you, and will talk about the coffee or dinner you had together. And it definitely happens in the corporate world too. The HBR article “What’s Your Personal Social Media Strategy” tells the real world story of the CEO of a global technology firm, with no active social media presence, having his semi-private comments entering the public realm via a student attending a presentation of his.

From the CEO of Best Buy having his Twitter account hacked (his disowned tweet is still available if you know where to find it) to all the discussions around whether or not Sarah Palin erased her controversial tweet stating “don’t retreat, instead RELOAD!” to Obama quoting The Untouchables, our social media record is there to stay – even when it’s not ours.

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Vestiges of Life: Blogging and Tweeting

18 12 2010

Last week, four different people from my post-IBM world told me in person that they read my blog regularly. While tempted to reply, “do you mean that abandoned thing that’s collecting virtual dust somewhere in WordPress land?”, or “oh, you are that one weekly hit I get in the stats”, I actually feel that I’m the one missing a lot by not blogging, even if nobody else ever reads a line of it.

When I started this blog, I named it “The Bamboo Raft”, with the high hopes that the posts here would be “floating around freely through places and thoughts”. Then, as always, reality sets in, and I found myself blogging very rarely over the last 2 years. Looking back, there’s a clear pattern where the blogger in me wakes up every 6 months or so with a renewed intent of doing it more often, as you can see in “Blog, Interrupted” and “The Bamboo Raft is a submarine”. This post is probably just the latest installment of that series. In my attempt to rationalize my poor blogging and twitter efforts, I’m resorting to a common theme here at this Raft: calling Darwin to my rescue.

Darwin and gradual change
Parody of the Shepard Fairey Obama poster
by Mike Rosulek (Feb 2009)

One of the main arguments used against Darwinian evolution is that the fossil record shows no evidence of the gradual transformation that is supposed to take place according to that theory. The counter-argument, of course, is that circumstances that allow fossilization to occur are extremely rare. Thus, trying to understand the history of life on Earth based solely on the fossil record is like trying to understand the original version of “The Brothers Karamazov” when you know only a half-dozen words in Russian.

As you can see in the diagram above, the fossil record does not register every single event that took place on Earth. That’s for computer logs:


Computer logs: definitely not like the fossil record

Over the last 5 years or so, several folks referred to blogging, then Facebook, then Twitter as tools that allow people to write their autobiographies in real-time. Some people are actually very good at that. Some have even been logging actions and thoughts ages ago, using the ol’ and good pen-and-paper. Both Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau kept very detailed journals that resemble to some extent Facebook status updates or tweets, and used those to feed their more formal work. I love this excerpt from “Autobiography in Real-Time: The Journals of Emerson and Thoreau”.

Emerson used his journal, as Thoreau used his, primarily as a means of facilitating more finished work. It was where he both developed ideas and stored information; it was a place where entire phrases and sentences—sometimes even entire paragraphs—were preserved until the appropriate time for their removal and transfer into essays and lectures. But that’s not to say that there aren’t moments here that are not entirely fresh. Actually, all of it’s fresh. It’s the essays that are borrowed from recyclable material, and there are, of course, plenty of readers who would prefer to receive their Emerson in this form. To call these journals unselfconscious or uninhibited would be to demonstrate a severe misunderstanding of their circumstances; but to call them spontaneous and unimpeded would not be. At their best—at their most mature and august—they are Emerson’s stated alternative to the meek young man in the library—they are “Man Thinking.” The same goes for the journals of Thoreau, too, of course. These are two men of unsurpassed perception and eloquence who made it their life’s mission to look and see, and then to record and share what it was they saw.

As I’m light-years from having “unsurpassed perception and eloquence”, my blogging and tweeting objectives had to be much more modest. Instead of running a play-by-play narrative of what I do and think, I’m settling for just capturing vestiges of life: random glimpses of what’s here, there, and everywhere. Like this Toronto scene that caught my attention Thursday morning on my way to work:

Glenn Gould statue holding a Calla Lily in front of the CBC building

Thus, I see my irregular social networking activities as the fossil record of a regular person’s real life. It’s incomplete, uneven and full of gaps, driven more by serendipity and entropy, and less than by direction and discipline. A bamboo raft may, after all, be an appropriate name for what this blog has become.





Twitter and Politics

14 12 2010
Election night crowd, Wellington, 1931 

Image by National Library NZ on The Commons via Flickr

As previously seen on Biznology on Nov 9, 2010:

Back in the summer, I wrote a pair of posts about Social Media and the FIFA World Cup in South Africa, and Mike Moran talked about reaching your audience during that big event. Well, one can argue that elections and politics can generate passionate discussions that rival or even surpass those by soccer fans, and last much longer than the 30 days of the popular tournament. Following a Twitter list of World Cup players is entertaining, but a list of actual head of states can give us a unique glimpse on how diplomacy is shaping up in the Social Media space. If you want to know which heads of state are using Twitter, how active they are and their following/follower patterns, you came to the right place.

In the past month, I had the unusual experience of being in Brazil during the first round of the general elections (October 3), then back to Toronto during the mayoral election (October 25) and the second round of the Brazilian presidential elections (October 31). On top of that, the US midterm elections were a hot topic around the globe last week, making it almost impossible for me to ignore politics for the last 6 weeks or so. Naturally, politics is a hot topic, and not one that I’m particularly keen in discussing in this blog. Having said that, I find fascinating to analyze the social media layer that is permeating the political scene globally.

Inspired by a TechCrunch article on Twitter diplomacy prior to the G20 meeting in Seoul this week, I used the @davos/g20 list curated by the World Economic Forum as a starting point to visualize how the heads of state are using Twitter. Being from Latin America, I supplemented that list with a few other verified accounts to have a better view of regional politics as well.

I tend to write long and convoluted posts, but in this particular case, a picture is definitely worth a thousand words. So, instead of a navigating the troubled waters of political analysis, I’ll just leave you with a number of visualizations covering different aspects of the Twitter social networking dynamics among this very select group, courtesy of my niece, Gabriela Passos, who’s visiting me this month.

Some points to consider when looking at these charts:

  • They don’t show a complete picture: there might be more heads of state using Twitter, but I preferred to use a curated list from a reliable source as my main reference
  • The number of people followed by these accounts is relevant in at least one subtle, but important way: you can only send direct Twitter messages to people who follow you. By following a large number of Twitter users, these leaders open a private channel that may reveal interesting insights that they would not have access to otherwise.
  • The number of Tweets shown below is a historical cumulative total as of this writing, a metric that favors early adopters. A more interesting metric would be the frequency of tweets over time, but this would be too time consuming for me to get. I bet there will be some online tools covering that aspect some time soon.

The first infographic shows how active each of these head of state Twitter accounts are. It’s interesting to note that @whitehouse (1.8 million followers), @PresidenciaMX (150 thousand followers) and @Laura_Ch (11 thousand followers), despite being order of magnitudes apart in the attention they get, all tweet a lot. On the other side, @JuliaGillard, Prime Minister of Australia, only has 166 tweets, but a considerable number of followers.

Number of Tweets
(c) Gabriela Passos 2010

The second set of charts reveals the followers / following pattern. France and Turkey tie on the low end, both of them not following anybody at all, while @Number10gov and @BarackObama follow over half a million people.

Legend for Twitter charts below
(c) Gabriela Passos 2010

North America (Canada, U.S. and Mexico)
(c) Gabriela Passos 2010


Central and South America (Costa Rica, Chile, Ecuador, Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil)
(c) Gabriela Passos 2010

Europe (UK, France, Russia, Turkey)
(c) Gabriela Passos 2010

Oceania (Australia), Africa (South Africa), Asia (South Korea)
(c) Gabriela Passos 2010

Finally, the last diagram shows that, even among the head of states, you following your peer is not always reciprocated in kind. Cristina Kirchner, president of Argentina, follows a considerable number of her Latin American colleagues, but only two of them follow her back.


Cristina Kirchner follows / followers
(c) Gabriela Passos 2010

One interesting side note: Seeing my niece creating all these infographics by hand, it became painfully clear to me that, despite all the efforts to develop better Social Networking visualization tools (Mashable has a good list here), we still have a long way to go to get the most from the information hidden under the surface in Twitter and elsewhere in the social media landscape.

After seeing the finished product, you can’t help but conclude that politics is but one more area where social media (and Twitter in particular) has become the place for activity that would have happened elsewhere, and has spawned activity that would not have happened at all.





On Leaks, Privacy and Social Media

13 12 2010
Logo used by Wikileaks

Image via Wikipedia

As previously seen on Biznology:

Last week, we learned more about world leaders and diplomacy than some of us would care to know – with revelations about Gaddafi and his nurse being the front-runner candidate for the most TMZ-like material made available, courtesy of Wikileaks. All the buzz and panic that ensued following the release of the US Embassy diplomatic cables motivated a colleague of mine to ask me: are social media’s mantras of transparency, information sharing and digitization of conversations, relationships and activities saving us or are they dooming us all?

Even though Wikileaks have been called “social media journalism” by some, the seeds that enabled their model were planted much before the age of Twitter or Facebook. Clay Shirky had already stated in his book Here Comes Everybody:

(…) in an age of inifinite perfect copyability to many people at once, the very act of writing and sending an e-mail can be a kind of publishing, because once an e-mail is sent, it is almost impossible to destroy all the copies, and anyone who has a copy can broadcast it to the world at will, and with ease. Now, and presumably from now on, the act of creating and circulating evidence of wrongdoing to more than a few people, even if they all work together, will be seen as a delayed but public act.

A clever Venn diagram was circulated over the Internet in late October, suggesting that nothing in the Internet is actually private. The picture below was based on that diagram:

“A helpful Venn diagram” – derivation work

I would argue that the Internet is not the culprit either. I still remember a good friend of mine saying in the early 1990s: “the only things that are really private are the ones you never shared with anybody”. Thus, a Venn diagram depicting privacy vs. the Internet would look more like this:

A relatively recent case of private information leaking to the general public corroborates that point-of-view: Tiger Woods’ challenging year started with verbal accounts of marital infidelity and a phone voice message. No email, no tweets, no Facebook status updates took any part in it. In fact, the now number 2 golfer in the world has finally turned on his Twitter account, seemingly to restore his public image. Ironically enough, by checking the Wikipedia entry on this subject, I learned that Woods and his former wife own a 155-foot yacht called Privacy!

Any concern that by adopting social media practices a company or person will be more vulnerable to this kind of exposure is not well supported by actual evidence. By adding transparency to conversations, relationships and activities, the use of social media may actually contribute to reduce opportunities for doing the wrong or the hidden thing in the first place. Furthermore, it puts you on the driver seat – the remaining question being how much of a good driver you are.

Perhaps we are taking ourselves too seriously here. To keep all this in perspective and also for a good laugh, I highly recommend you to read Julien Smith’s post, All social media experts “are actually the same person,” Wikileaks documents reveal. Here’s a sneak preview:

“Paul from Miami,” as he is identified in Wikileaks documents, appears to be the source of an entire industry of Twitter experts who seemingly give the same advice and yet somehow all have over 20,000 Twitter followers each. (…) Meanwhile, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange suggested more bombshells might be on the way. Speculation was rampant that “SEO experts” and “marketing gurus” might also all be sourced from a single individual, or worse, be “Paul from Miami” as well. Paranoia is on the rise.

Anyway, this is Aaron from Toronto, who I promise is not the same person as Paul from Miami, but on the Internet, I guess you would never know.

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Unskewing the Web: Curators as filters

11 12 2010
Sieves (40/365) 

Image by prettyflower via Flickr

As previously seen on Biznology:

This is my final post on the skewed Web. In the early days of Web 2.0 awareness, much was said about the new —now old—Web being all about participation: in the age of User-Generated Content, everybody and their mother became a publisher, leveling the playing field. An independent blogger could potentially be more influential than a New York Times columnist, and the role of editors in identifying and promoting relevant content would be seeing their last days. What was unclear back then was that social media was not only lowering the barriers for content creators: it would eventually enable a new breed of editors, the social media curators.

In my previous post, I cited Clay Shirky’s assertion that the Internet did not bring us an information overload problem: we just needed better filters. However, the wholesale online sieves, like Google Search and Digg, created a different kind of problem, a giant global echo chamber, where we all were becoming collectively dumber. An online world dominated by page rank and skewed crowdsourcing had the potential to dethrone TV as the ultimate idiot box.

As some of you may know, my academic background is in Biology–thus my frequent comparisons between life sciences and social media in my posts. Conservation Biology advocates that Biodiversity “is essential for the maintenance of vital ecosystem services, and ultimately for human survival”, and that we all need to focus on the conservation of all species, not only the cute ones. E.O. Wilson, renowned biologist and Harvard Professor, stated in his book “The Creation”:

“The pauperization of Earth’s fauna and flora was an acceptable price until recent centuries, when Nature seemed all but infinite, and an enemy to explorers and pioneers. (…) History now teaches a different lesson, but only to those who will listen. (…) The homogenization of the biosphere is painful and costly to our own species and will become more so.”

Likewise, the health and long-term viability of our knowledge ecosystems is dependent on diversity of ideas and opinions. Online content curators are playing an increasingly crucial role preserving that diversity beyond mainstream. But despite all the talk around online content curation, there’s still a long way to go.

Online content creators are well-served today. Gone are the GeoCities and “home page” days, where you pretty much had to build everything from scratch or rely on professional help to generate content. You can go fancy and rely on a Content Management System, or just open a Twitter account and go crazy, 140 characters at a time.

Online content curators, on the other side, are still poorly served. Robert Scoble has recently compiled a list of “The Seven Needs of Real-Time Curators”. One of my favourite online content curators, Bernie Michalik, uses a variety of social media channels to highlight interesting things he finds daily both in the core and in the fringes of the online world. However, very few of us are keen enough to write elaborated blog posts or to create neat websites about fringe subject matters. Most of us tend to only go for the quick and dirty: a quick retweet, or a shortened URL or a Facebook link, resulting in somewhat cryptic, hard-to-consume messages like this one:


Every time my wife sees my Twitter stream, full of messages like that, she says that it looks geeky and uninteresting. And she is right. Thankfully, a number of websites and apps are starting to make the online content curators’ life easier, the same way it happened to online content creators several years ago. Even Twitter and Facebook have recently made efforts to add a layer of translation, rendering links to photos and videos to more attractive thumbnails or embedded players.

The iPad app Flipboard give us a glimpse of what is coming. This is a snapshot of how the tweet above is rendered in Flipboard:


The newspaper format and the rendering of the actual content (as opposed to just showing a shortened URL) goes a long way to make tweets more consumable.

Social Media tools play a crucial role in lowering barriers to entry, allowing more people to become online content curators, and enabling diverse content to be easily absorbed and propagated. By avoiding the extinction of diverse ideas, content curator tools will increasingly become instrumental in preserving our global online knowledge ecosystem, a.k.a. our collective intelligence.

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A Skewed Web: Innovation is in the outskirts of social media

15 09 2010
Honeybees with a nice juicy drone

Image by dni777 via Flickr

As previously seen in Biznology:

As I discussed in my post last month, it’s a skewed Web out there. A multitude of online social filters were developed over the last 15 years to address our perennial information overload curse. From Google’s page rank, we went all the way to tag clouds, social bookmarking, Twitter trending topics and Gmail’s Priority Inbox, trying to find ways to make what matters float to the top. However, most of these social filters are based on some variation of a “majority rules” algorithm. While they all contributed to keep information input manageable, they also skewed the stream of information getting to us to something more uniform. Will crowdsourcing make us all well-informed drones? Ultimately, it may depend on where you’re looking at, the center or the fringe of the beehive.

Almost two years ago, Clay Shirky boldly stated that information overload was not a problem, or at least not a new one. It was just a fact of life at least as old as the Alexandria library. According to Shirky, the actual issue we faced in this Internet age would be that of a filter failure: our mechanisms to separate the wheat from the chaff were just not good enough. Here is an excerpt from his interview at CJR:

The reason we think that there’s not an information overload problem in a Barnes and Noble or a library is that we’re actually used to the cataloging system. On the Web, we’re just not used to the filters yet, and so it seems like “Oh, there’s so much more information.” But, in fact, from the 1500s on, that’s been the normal case. So, the real question is, how do we design filters that let us find our way through this particular abundance of information? And, you know, my answer to that question has been: the only group that can catalog everything is everybody. One of the reasons you see this enormous move towards social filters, as with Digg, as with del.icio.us, as with Google Reader, in a way, is simply that the scale of the problem has exceeded what professional catalogers can do.

While some still beg to differ about information overload not being an issue – after all, our email inboxes, RSS readers and Facebook and Twitter streams never cease to overwhelm us–we tend to welcome every step in the evolution of smarter filters.

The whole lineage of social filters, from Google’s page rank, passing through Digg and Delicious, culminating with Twitter’s trending topics, mitigated one problem–information overload–but exacerbated another one: we were all getting individually smarter, but collectively dumber. By letting the majority or the loud mouths dictate what was relevant, we ended up with a giant global echo chamber.

We were all watching Charlie biting Harry’s finger, and Justin Bieber trying to convince (or threaten) us that we will never, ever, ever be apart. That Ludacris video surpassed 300 million views in seven months in YouTube alone, taking their all-time #1 spot. An unverified claim about Bieber using 3% of Twitter’s infrastructure being passed as news by traditional media outlets is just the last example of how far we went down the madness of crowds road.

br />This of course is not a new problem. Back in the early 1980s, MTV was running Michael Jackson’s 14-minute “Thriller” video twice an hour. The trouble here is just the magnitude of it. A potential downside of this mass-media-on-steroids uniformity is that a homogeneous environment is not the best place for innovation to flourish. Borrowing from paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould: transformation is rare in the large, stable central populations. Evolution is more likely to happen in the tiny populations living in the geographic corners: “major genetic reorganizations almost always take place in the small, peripherally isolated populations that form new species.”

If you are looking for the next big thing, or trying to “think different,” or to be creative and innovative, you need to look beyond the center. The core will tell you what’s up, so that you’ll be “in the know.” The fringe will show you what’s coming next. To paraphrase William Gibson, the future is peripherally distributed.

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A Skewed Web: Are you an outlier?

14 09 2010

70/365 - It. Was. Amazing.

Image by BLW Photography via Flickr

As previously seen at Biznology:

Relying solely on social news or social bookmarking services such as Digg, Reddit, Fark, Slashdot, and Delicious might leave you with a very peculiar version of the world. A glance at the Twitter hot topics or Google Trends suggests that our collective Web brain is that of a tween. It’s a skewed Web out there, and sometimes you might just feel like you don’t belong. But is that real, or just a distorted view of the social media world?

If you believe that Google’s Zeitgeist is a good proxy for “the spirit of times” as its name claims, last year we apparently cared more about Jon and Kate and Twilight’s New Moon than about the presidential inauguration, and there was also a quite unusual interest in paranormal activity:

Google Zeitgeist (US) – 2009 News – Fastest Rising
Google Zeitgeist (US) – 2009 News – Overview

Also, a quick glimpse at the current Twitter trending topics, or the top 50 topics of all time (which, in social media terms, means since September 2008) may also leave you wondering about how wise the crowds really are:

Twitter Trending Stats (Source: TweetStats.com, Aug 7, 2010, 12:07 AM)
Twitter Trending Stats – “All time”: Sep 24, 2008 to Aug 7, 2010 (Source: TweetStats.com)

Collectively, our social media activity seems to be closer to People Magazine and Sports Illustrated than to The New York Times or National Geographic. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that, it is what it is—and I’m as guilty of taking the occasional look at TMZ as the next person.

Is this definitive proof that users of social media are more interested in celebrities, athletes and gadgets than in politics, science and, you know, “serious stuff”? Well, not necessarily. Both Google Zeitgeist and Twitter Trending Topics show “deltas” of interest, subjects that for one reason or another are suddenly becoming popular. A quick look at Google Trends show that, for all its popularity in 2009, “New Moon” doesn’t hold a candle to other popular terms:

Google Trends snapshot (taken on Aug 7, 2010)

Furthermore, people obviously search for things they don’t know where to find. Sites you visit often are likely already bookmarked or just get resolved by your browser when you start typing related keywords in the navigation box.

So, before you lose all faith in humanity, or at least in the online portion of it, take a deep breath and think again. There is a social Web out there that is much more diverse than what is revealed byTwitter or Google trending topics. If you are an outlier, rest assured that you are in good company ;-)

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FIFA World Cup: Social Media Roundup

11 07 2010

As previously seen in Biznology:

The 2010 World Cup is not over yet (the final will start in a couple of hours), but the results for social media are already in–the World Cup has more than lived up to its billing as the biggest social media (and even Internet) event of all time, sur[passing the 2008 election of Barack Obama as U.S. President. While you wait for the big game on Sunday, you may want to check my Social Media highlights for the major sports event in the world.

Internet Buzz

So now that the 2010 FIFA World Cup, according to CNN (via Akamai), has been declared the most popular Internet event ever, let’s look at a snapshot of Akamai’s Net Usage Index as of this writing:

Akamai Net Usage Index

Akamai Net Usage Index

The Most-Tweeted World Cup Event

The CNN article mentioned above states that, despite the popularity of the World Cup, Twitter’s single biggest moment was still “the Los Angeles Lakers’ victory against the Boston Celtics at the NBA Championship”, which “generated a record 3,085 tweets per second as the game ended”. Naturally, a few days after, a World Cup game dethroned Kobe Bryant and friends. If you guessed that it was one of the US games against Slovenia or Ghana, you were probably close, but not quite right. That honor goes, surprisingly enough, to Japan’s win over Denmark, with 3,283 tweets per second.

Cala a Boca Galvao

For several days, a Brazilian Internet meme/prank dominated the trending topics in Twitter, requesting the lead sports commentator in Brazil to shut up. Read more about it at the New York Times and watch the video prank at YouTube.

VEJA - Cala Boca Galvao

Lead weekly news magazine in Brazil (Veja)
brings the #calabocagalvao meme to center stage
(via @dystyler)

Old Media vs. New Media

Rede Globo, the largest TV network in Brazil (and arguably the third largest in the world, behind just CBS and NBC) clashed with Brazilian coach Dunga, when he curtailed their privileges in the national team coverage. A Twitter campaign (#diasemglobo, “a day without Globo TV”) was asking Brazilians to boycott the TV station during a game and switch to the competition. Who won? It depends on who you ask. Some claim that the campaign was a success and responsible for a drop in audience, while others say that it made no difference whatsoever.

#diasemglobo

Players Using Twitter

My Twitter list of World Cup Players is updated with 56 players now. You may want to give it a try and see what the players are talking about using StreamGraph. Here’s a snapshot I took last night (just use @aaronjuliuskim/worldcup2010players as the keyword):

Twitter StreamGraphs - worldcup2010players

Visualization and Social Media

There are plenty of creative visualizations created around Social Media content especially for the World Cup, like this one based on Facebook activity, courtesy of the New York Times. You’ll find a good list at Mashable.com, but the Guardian’s World Cup 2010 Twitter replay is my favorite. It shows in a stunning way the fans’ reactions via the microblog service as the action developed for each game. You can feel all the pain in my Brazilian heart when you play the Brazil vs. Netherlands game. Here’s a snapshot of the key moment of the game: Felipe Melo (who’s in Twitter, by the way) losing his cool and getting a red card.

The Guardian - BRA vs. NED Game Visualization

Check out also the US games against Slovenia and Algeria to re-live the emotions of those two thrillers.

Finally, if you are into live visualization and have an iPad, I highly suggest you to follow the final match via LivePitch. It’s still a bit raw, but it can give you a glimpse of how we may be following the next World Cup. Hopefully Brazil can do better the next time :-)

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World Cup Fever and Social Media

9 06 2010

As previously seen at Biznology:

Fans celebrating the upcoming 2010 FIFA World ...

Image via Wikipedia

The upcoming 2010 World Cup in South Africa is being touted by FIFA and Twitter representatives as the event to slash all previous records in social media traffic. That’s a tall order, considering the US elections, the Beijing Olympics, the Oscars and even the Lost series finale were nothing to sneeze at in terms of frantic online real-time activity. Regardless of whether or not that bold prediction will be realized, the next 30 days of soccer madness will certainly bring a new way of experiencing the most widely-viewed sporting event in the world.

On June 11, the ball starts rolling at the Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg, marking the first time the World Cup is held on the African continent. It’s also the first time the popular tournament will be testing the open waters of Facebook and Twitter. Zuckerberg’s social networking service opened to the general public only in September 2006, and most people had never heard about Twitter when France’s Zinadine Zidane infamously headbutted Italy’s Materazzi in the finals four years ago. Social media was already pervasive back then, but mainly in the form of blogs, wikis, podcasts and video sharing.

Thus, most of the online impressions around that play developed not instantly, but minutes, hours, and days after it happened, and they were particularly prominent in YouTube, the big social media star at the time. My favorites–but perhaps NSFW–are the Coup de Boule song and this compilation of 114 parodies of the unusual, err, interaction.

Furthermore, most of us were still passive small screen spectators of the games, with mainstream media being the intermediaries between the athletes and the public. Now, several players have their own Twitter accounts, and are already commenting on what’s going on in the last days before the kick-off. I compiled a Twitter list of players—including some of the stars left out–in case you want to take a peek at their thoughts before and during the competition. Some teams, such as England and Spain, already banned the use of Twitter and Facebook, but others like Brazil and The Netherlands are ok with it.

Perhaps the most interesting bits won’t come from the players themselves, but from the people close to them. Shortly after the game where Real Madrid was eliminated from the UEFA Champions League on March 10, Kaká’s wife retweeted a post by one of his advisers calling Madrid’s coach a “coward”. Social media guidelines are not easy to enforce outside team boundaries.

If you are into social media, but not into soccer, you must be asking by now: why do I care about all this World Cup nonsense? You should care for at least two reasons. First, it will provide all of us a better opportunity to understand the reach and importance of Facebook and Twitter outside North America. Some reports indicate that nearly 50% of Twitter accounts and one quarter of Facebook users hail from outside the US. All the previous events driving high traffic in Twitter and Facebook were wildly popular with Americans and Canadians. As both the US and Canada have traditionally not been major soccer markets, we can for the first time observe the extent to what the rest of the world embraces the two services. Furthermore, the instantaneous nature of the play-by-play reactions and the unprecedented volumes will allow a much closer reading of regional differences in the use of social media, something that the Oscars or Lost can only give us a glimpse of. The “world game” has never been this worldly.





The bamboo raft is a submarine

7 06 2010

It’s been two months since my last post – here at The Bamboo Raft anyway: I have written three posts as a guest blogger at Biznology and another one internal at RBC in the meantime. Life’s been busy. It’s ironic to think that the times I don’t blog are exactly when I have most to blog about. One of my favourite cartoons from a long time ago had this couple in the top of a mountain, looking at a fantastic sunset. The husband (boyfriend maybe?), while trying to take a picture of it, was saying to his significant other: “I can’t wait to be back home, get the pictures and see how beautiful this sunset was”. I suspect that even to this day, the vast majority of the key personal milestones, achievements and failures go mostly unblogged and untweeted. Perhaps we were too occupied to bother writing about it, or things were too personal to share. In my case, I confess, it was mainly a case of just being lazy.

It’s not that that the Bamboo Raft was totally inactive. It was just submerged. The little time I spent writing in the last few weeks actually went all to this ancient form of communication called email :-P . Some of my Brazilian friends and I have this tradition before every World Cup of writing our guts out about this passion that’s football (soccer). I love doing it, but our conversations are likely too hard core for anybody else to put up with in our picky attention to details and endless debates on anything remotely related to the beautiful game. Things like:

  • How a mathematician calculates the odds for a team to win the World Cup?
  • Are lefties bad in penalty shoot-outs?
  • Does the coach really matter in a 7-game tournament?
  • What are the oddest names / nicknames in the history of World Cups?
  • Are Zinadine Zidane and Mr. Spock identical twins?
Mr. Spock and Zinadine Zidane

Mr. Spock and Zinadine Zidane

As you can see, sometimes NOT using social media may be a good thing.





Felipe Machado and Andrew Keen: Thinking outside the social media echo chamber

7 02 2010

Back in November, I had the pleasure of having lunch with Felipe Machado, multimedia editor for one of the largest newspapers in Brazil, and a former business partner in a short-lived Internet venture in the mid-nineties. The get-together was brokered by Daniel Dystyler, the consummate connector in the Gladwell-esque sense of the word.


Felipe Machado and Daniel Dystyler

Felipe is an accomplished journalist, book author and musician, and I deeply respect his ability to connect the dots between the old and new media. I actually often disagree with him: I tend to analyze the world through a logical framework, and Felipe relies on intuition and passion. That’s exactly why I savour every opportunity to talk to him. If you understand Portuguese, you may want to check his participation in “Manhattan Connection” (Rede Globo, 4th largest TV network in the world), talking about the future of media:

During our lunch conversation, Felipe mentioned Andrew Keen’s “The Cult of the Amateur”, as a book that broke away from the sameness of social media authors. Coincidentally, I had read an article about that book the day before, so I bit the bait and borrowed the book from the local library the first week I came back from Brazil.

This may come as a surprise to anybody who knows me, but if you work in anything related to new media, social media, Web 2.0 and emerging Internet technologies, I highly recommend you read Keen’s book. Make no mistake: the book deserves all criticism it got – you can start with Lawrence Lessig’s blog post for a particularly heated discussion on the limitations of Keen’s arguments. “The Cult of the Amateur” is ironically a concrete proof that having editors and a publisher behind a book does not necessarily make it any better than, say, a blog post.

The reason I recommend a not-so-good book is this: Andrew Keen represents a large contingent of people in your circle of friends, co-workers, clients and audience – people who hear your social media message and deeply disagree with you. They may well be the vast majority that does not blog, does not use Twitter and couldn’t care less about what you had for dinner last night. They often don’t say it out loud, to not be perceived as luddites, but are not convinced that social media is making things any better, or Web 2.0 is something inevitable.

Those are the folks you should pay attention to. No matter how much you admire the work by Chris Anderson, Clay Shirky, Jeff Howe and others social media luminaries, you are probably just hearing the echo of your own voice there. You need to understand the concerns, the points of view and the anxiety of the Andrew Keens of the world toward the so-called social media revolution. Failing to do that will prevent you from crossing the chasm between early adopters and everybody else.

Reaching out to the members of our social network who are not in Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter can go a long way for us all to realize that the real world is MUCH BIGGER than Web 2.0 and Social Media (as I learned from Jean-François Barsoum long time ago).





Itu 400 – Part 3: The land that Google forgot

30 01 2010

Google Maps still amazes me, even after all these years. It evolved from a plain online map to a full-fledged tool with niceties such as Street View and the ability to add your own location. If you live in Toronto, New York or Paris, you can’t help but expect that one day live images of your street will be available.

On the other side, if you live in a small city in South America, chances are that you won’t be that lucky. Here’s a snapshot of the satellite view of Itu in Google:


Itu, city core, Google Maps

As you can see using the red and green arrows as a reference, the map view and the satellite view are off by about 50 m. If you can read a bit of Portuguese, you’ll find that this map shows two city halls and, oddly enough, a campsite in the middle of the city! And if you ever lived there, you’ll spot many other errors in the map, with several points of interest with the wrong name or in the wrong location.

I wonder if a Street View of Itu will ever be considered by Google. Until that day comes, I’ll be helping them with my 2 cents: I’ve just visited their Local Business Centre and added my brother’s restaurant to it. After all, social media gurus told me that, if you are not Googleable, you don’t exist :-P

For my previous posts celebrating the 400 years of Itu, click here and here.





Itu 400 – Part 2: There are places I remember

23 01 2010

I’ve been late with my Itu 400 series posts, and, since February 2nd is around the corner, I’d better post at least a second installment. I fully realize that most people don’t care about a small town in the middle of South America, but the most liberating thing about having your own blog is that you grow comfortable about just writing to yourself. If you get any readers along the way, that’s a bonus, but not the reason to blog.

Itu has always been proud of its history: the locals often hold public events celebrating the imagery of times past. For Europeans and Asians, 400 years is like peanuts, but it’s not too bad for cities in the New World. I always enjoyed seeing how cities, like people, grow old and reinvent themselves.

We typically celebrate the Internet as the source for the latest and greatest, but its ability to give us a window to the long forgotten past is equally brilliant. As social media becomes more pervasive, we no longer need to rely solely on rare archives of some obscure museum curator to find rarities. That yellowish photo in your grandfather’s box can easily make its way to Flickr or your blog/twitpic/posterous presence, and suddenly be accessible to the world. For example, you can now find this great video of Itu in YouTube:

It’s a pity to learn that the city core was so preserved back in the 1960s and is a mix of old and new today. Most of the Portuguese-style colonial architecture houses gave place to modern buildings since then, so the opportunity to become one day a UNESCO World Heritage Centre is now lost forever.

During my last time in Itu, I took a few pictures of the old Itu archives and compared them to how those places look today:



Central Square



Rua Paula Souza


Taxi Service



Shortest Pedestrian Crossing in South America?


My elementary school

Looking at all these old pictures, I can’t help but think about Cinema Paradiso, one of my favourite movies of all time. The old cinema theatre is now a public parking lot. I didn’t take a picture of it, as it was a bit too depressing.


Cine Marrocos in its last days
Source: Cine Mafalda blog

On the bright side, writing this post I found that there is a director’s cut of Cinema Paradiso, with extra 51 minutes at the end of it! I watched this movie for the first time a very long time ago in some obscure film festival in São Paulo, and always had the impression that after the credits there was a very short scene with the adult Salvatore meeting Elena again, but after seeing the movie on DVD I thought it was some kind of urban hallucination I had. Now I know that at least I was not that crazy. Here’s a teaser for you:

See? Even if nobody ever reads this post, I think I already benefited from writing it. Now I need to find where to buy the DVD for less than the outrageous price at Amazon.ca (CAD$ 102.33 for a DVD? Seriously?).





The joke, the circus and the soap-opera

14 12 2009

A few people who saw my Enterprise 2.0 Anti-patterns presentation at SlideShare asked what I meant by “the joke, the circus and the soap-opera”. That came from a post I wrote for Biznology a long time ago, on Sep 15, 2008. It’s old news now, but for the sake of completeness I’m republishing it here. I updated some of the broken links and also moved the “I work for” disclaimer from IBM to RBC :-)

What role do timing and duration play in your Web 2.0 strategy? Marketing experts have long emphasized the importance of media selection and scheduling decisions, but seeing how traditional companies have been exploiting the Internet over the last few years shows that there are still lessons to be learned in that arena.

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it doesn’t always pay off when it comes to your online marketing strategy. All the hype around Web 2.0 and User Generated Content a couple of years ago initially led to some embarrassing attempts of letting regular folks to create ads. The Chevy Tahoe Apprentice challenge in 2006 is probably the most prominent example of how to not do it: even after GM wiped out ChevyApprentice.com, a search in YouTube for “Chevy Tahoe Apprentice” brings plenty of ads that should have never been created in the first place, a sobering reminder that having an exit strategy established up front is a must in your Internet experiments. Eventually marketing teams got it right, and the success of the Doritos Crash the Super Bowl competition in early 2007 led to several others companies to jump onto the UGC bandwagon, with varying, but mostly diminishing, levels of returns.

Another case in point was the creation of online places for your customer base to hang around and discuss subjects that take a front seat in their lives. HSBC’s Your Point of View was launched in October 2005 and generated a lot of buzz for quite some time. However, three years later, it has lost its freshness and novelty, giving the casual observer the impression of a failed experiment, when it could have been considered one of the most successful stories of a traditional company building a site based on the architecture of participation. Vancity’s “community powered” Change Everything, launched in September 2006, suffered from a similar problem, but had a longer shelf life, and people still contribute with comments to this day. One of the major differences between the two services that may explain the varying longevity of two similar offerings is that the Vancity experiment established itself as a social networking site, while the HSBC one stayed away from forming an online community and keeping user profiles. Change Everything is currently announcing a complete revamp of the service, so I’m curious to see what’s coming next.

What’s clear in the examples above is that timing and duration play a crucial role in the success of your online initiatives. This might sound obvious, but it’s often ignored in many of the initiatives we see online. Being too early might prevent you from understanding the dynamics of a new approach, but being too late can just position your company as a me-too player. The sweet spot, of course, is hard to determine, but recognizing these patterns can help you to sniff the right moment. Or you might be better prepared to fail gracefully from the get-go, not as an after-thought.

Influenced by a conversation I had with my colleague Bernie Michalik, I started thinking about three metaphors that highlight the importance of duration in your online strategy. Some initiatives work very well when applied exactly once, as it was the case with the Doritos Super Bowl commercial. Like telling a joke, the second time around people get bored and disengaged.

Other initiatives work better when mimicking a circus pattern: you come, raise your tent, run your dog-and-pony show, and then leave after a week or a month. One or two years from now, you can do it again, but staying there on a continuous basis would never work. This is how RBC approached its Next Great Innovator site. In the first edition, back in 2006, they defined up-front that it would be a time-boxed experiment, so that when they were done a few months after, retiring the site was perceived as the conclusion of a successful experiment. Every year since they keep coming back with new features, but still positioning it as a time-limited event (full disclosure: I work for RBC).

The IBM jams are another good example of how the circus pattern can be efficiently used to your advantage. Besides helping clients to deliver jams, we eat our own dog food and use them as one of the tools in our innovation strategy. If you are wondering what the jam looks like, the next round begins on Sunday, October 5th at 6 pm EDT, and participation is open to IBM clients.

Over the last few years, many marketers have started using microsites to drive marketing campaigns, as opposed to relying on the main corporate site. One of the advantages here is that microsites can be changed—and retired, if necessary—more easily than the company’s main Web site.

Finally, some of your initiatives might actually work well as a place that’s always open for business, pretty much like a never ending daytime soap opera. This typically works well for services that drive a steady number of clients, or whose audience is recycled on a yearly basis, like college students or pre-teens. Procter & Gamble’s Connect + Develop site is a good example of that, as the site serves an audience that has a continuous relationship with them. I often see initiatives that would operate better following the joke or circus patterns defaulting to the soap opera mode. Despite their initial huge success, they become victims of not selecting the appropriate duration for their endeavor.

When devising your next online initiative make sure you think about which of those patterns best fits your offering. Timing and duration might end up being the key determinants in how that incredible new site you conceived will be perceived a few years down the road.








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