The problem with digital social connections

 

I was interested to see this piece on TechCrunch this morning.

Wiith is described as something akin to Tinder, but with a focus on shared social experiences. Clearly the term ‘shared social experiences’ is open to broad interpretation, and I have no doubt that Wiith will be useful to the same fine people that managed to force Adult Friend Finder to pivot from its initial bearing as a social network for golfers. Deviants aside, Wiith is an interesting prospect and a reflection of a similar idea I had a year or so ago.

Two things really bug me about mainstream social platforms…

The first is selection bias. No matter whether you’re talking about Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tinder or Grindr, new connection recommendations are typically based on shared attributes. Facebook wants me to meet Jill because we have 12 friends in common; LinkedIn wants me to meet Bob because we work in the same industry; and Tinder wants me to meet the Harris twins because – well, that ain’t gonna happen ‘cos I’m a happily married man. My point is, while digital social platforms have made it easier to meet new people, the selection of new connections based on the requirement of shared attributes is tantamount to inbreeding, and I don’t believe that’s a good thing.

Despite 500+ connections, my LinkedIn gene pool is so shallow you could dive in and smack your head on the bottom. My Facebook and Twitter profiles are no better – packed to the gunwales with colleagues and contemporaries. This is great for recruiters and those looking for a little industry chit chat, but useless in all other contexts. Back in my bar fly days I used to meet interesting, random people all the time – builders, bailiffs and bartenders (lots of bartenders), famous actors, authors, musicians and photographers, former mercenaries, convicted murderers… Thanks to the social networks’ recommendation algorithms, the opportunities for such wild and exhilarating encounters are now practically non-existent.

The other problem lies in the inherent agenda of social connections. While Facebook is less of an issue in this regard, connection requests are invariably tied up with an agenda of some kind. That LinkedIn request is from a headhunter or would-be supplier; the new Twitter follower is a content marketer wanting to leverage my reach and influence; and that Tinder request (ok bad example – Like I said, I’m a married man and don’t use Tinder).

I’ve come to realise that while our species is now more connected than it has ever been, we’ve also never been so lonely. Our social networks are designed to surround us with people just like ourselves, who invariably want something from us. The opportunity to meet new and interesting people for no other reason than to enjoy human interaction just doesn’t exist in today’s social networks, but it should.

Is Wiith the answer? Will it solve these ills and lead our species to the richness and fulfilment of genuine human interaction? Who knows. Maybe not, but it’s a nice idea and hopefully a sign of more to follow.

DP2015: Call for Entries

Ah, sweet December, my favourite time of year. The endless frustration of insane deadlines and absentee clients, offset by rampant binge spree drinking and a plethora of barbecued pork products. All of this, of course, pales in comparison to the true joy of this festive season – picking 10 celebs and praying to Glub / Uncle Chuck that they meet their mortal end before the next year is out.

That’s right, sports fans, DP2015 is open!

Stoked

Bought my first piece of NZ art – Why The Long Face #2, by Fane Flaws

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I well remember the iconic Radio With Pictures opening credits Fane Flaws created in the 80’s, and have long admired several of his other pieces in a friend’s office. The man is a living legend, and I was shocked to realise an original piece of his work was within my budget.

So stoked.

Got Schwag?

For about a year now Since the start of last year (time flies!) I’ve subscribed to Startup Threads Monthly. Every month a tshirt, some stickers and a discount offer from some hot new startup arrives in my mailbox, and a small fee appears on my credit card statement among the endless array of taxis, bar tabs and mobile phone charges.

Startup Threads

It’s been a while, and my initial motives for subscribing are no longer clear (probably some misguided, hipsterish desire to rock the startups nobody’s yet heard of – bogus and sad, I know). I know why I haven’t cancelled though, and for the same reasons I’d urge all of you to do one thing right now:

Sign up to a subscription service. Startup tshirts, underwear, razor blades, chocolate – whatever floats your boat.

Why? For me there are two reasons. First, there’s the absence of choice. Too many brands are labouring under the misapprehension that consumers want choice. Sure we do, generally speaking, but choice also creates problems we have to solve, and this will often cause us to simply not choose instead. I have to make a bajillion decisions every day at work, many of these having considerable consequences. You think I want to labour over more decisions in my free time? Hell no. Check out any busy working man’s sock and shirt drawer some time and you’ll see I’m not alone – all those threadbare shirts and odd socks are testament to the fact that choice can be an inhibitor to action.

By subscribing to Startup Threads I get a new shirt every month. Some are awesome (better than anything I could have found through hours of shopping), some are pretty cool, and a few I really dislike – but that’s ok with me because the juice is worth the squeeze. To me the cost of a dud once in a while is way less than the benefit of getting a new shirt every month, mostly cool, without having to think about it.

The second reason I love subscription services is possibly a little childish but still valid. I love surprises, and it’s nice to get one every now and then even if I did pay for it myself. Nothing beats arriving home after a long hard day and seeing a mystery package on the table. Joy! Sure I know it’s going to be a shirt, but what’s the design, who’s the startup, will the colour be awesome or… *not awesome*? It’s like having your own little Christmas morning each month, but without the ham (dammit – hey Frank, any chance you could throw in some ham?).

I’ll admit that when some of these product subscription services started to emerge I was more than a little skeptical. Why would someone pay top dollar for something they don’t even get to choose? If you only consider the simple exchange of money for product then yes, it all seems a little nonsensical. But once you factor in the cost of choosing vs the value of not having to choose, and the value of finding a surprise in the mailbox each month, the balance tips entirely the other way. Behavioural economics is some interesting shit, huh?

Go on. Treat yourself.

Cool Stuff

A few (signed, limited edition) screenprints I’ve bought recently by two of my favourite artists, Shepard Fairey and Ernesto Yerena. I have nowhere to hang these right now, but figure by the time I do these will be way out of my price range so best to buy them now. 

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Shepard Fairey, Sedation Pill

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Shepard Fairey, Compton’s Most Wanted

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Ernesto Yerena, Lion of the Dead

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Ernesto Yerena, Yaqui Dia de los Muertos

Why the Big Day Out is dead

This year is the last time we’ll see the Big Day Out here in NZ. Theories abound as to why the event no longer attracts its once cult-like following, but if you really want to understand you need look no further than this picture @barryhannah snapped at the gate out there today.

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Look familiar?

Clearly, the talent pool at BDO hq is now so shallow they think it’s ok to steal images from blogs, rather than source by legitimate means.

It’s amateur hour out there, folks. If they’ll break the law over something so trivial as an ID sign to save a few bucks, why would they stop short of ripping off artists and skimping on safety? My guess is they wouldn’t.

If you ask me, the kids staying away in droves this year have made a good call. Shame, as the Big Day Out used to be a hell of an event.

Social media usage following the Christchurch earthquake

A few random thoughts on some of the applications of social media following the Christchurch earthquake. I’ll attempt a more meaningful formulation soon.

In the first minutes, real-time tools like Twitter and TwitPic really came into their own. First the news broke that a major quake had occurred. Reports followed of its magnitude, and then the first pictures and videos started to come in. Within 15 minutes, #eqnz had become the accepted hashtag. Despite the massive fragmentation of sources, thousands of people all over the world were watching the story evolve in real-time, reading the same tweets and viewing the same images.

In those first minutes, the thing most people were concerned about was finding out what the hell was going on. As such, open and real-time were absolute requirements. Several people and organisations recommended Facebook pages as useful resources, but in this instance they were way off the mark. I don’t want to become a fan of (sorry, ‘like’) a page in order to report a missing pet or loved one, and I want my plea for help to have the widest possible audience – not just people who have also signed up to that page.

It was interesting to once again observe a kind of passive aggressive turf war between proponents of alternative hash tags. #eqnz emerged almost immediately, followed by the Earthquake Commission’s proposed #chch. Why the hell they felt the need to upset the apple cart is beyond me.

I’ve read a few posts lately with people bitching about the continued use of the now-defunct ‘RT @…’ method of retweeting. Personally I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about, and really didn’t give a toss one way or the other until yesterday. Looking through the #eqnz stream in search of new information was a nightmare, due to the thousands of RT-style retweets that would otherwise have appeared as a simple numerical increment appended to the original tweet. RT-style retweets enter the stream in the same fashion as the original, but with a later time stamp. When people are looking for real-time information, wading through thousands of hour-old (oh, how our expectations have changed) posts is a painful and unnecessary drag. I’ll never use the RT style again. Who’s with me?

It seems every man and his dog tried to get their favourite celebrities to retweet links to the NZ aid organizations, and many did so (Kudos to Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Stephen Fry. Screw you, Oprah). I can’t help but wonder if these pleas were a genuine attempt to leverage star power in a time of need, or a sad form of 21st century autograph hunting. Nobody collects signatures anymore – it’s all about @ replies and retweets, don’t you know. Does it matter? No, but it’s interesting to me at least.

Within minutes of the first pictures of the collapsed Christchurch cathedral coming out, its Wikipedia page and image had been updated to reflect its current condition. Not only that, Wikipedia administrators had flagged the image as a candidate for removal due to its dubious copyright status. Wikipedia is such an efficient animal, especially in times like this (reminded of similar instances in the case of Steve Irwin’s death, and Pluto’s demotion to non-planet status). This never ceases to amaze and impress me.

Once the mainstream news organisations started to get a handle on this situation – for the first couple of hours they were essentially re-publishing information and images sourced from Twitter – social media usage seemed to shift into recovery mode. People wanting to locate missing loved ones were tweeting their names and possible locations, and people on the ground were attempting to find them. Several wiki and wiki-like projects kicked in, creating centralized registers of the missing and the found. Wikis were an ideal technology to use now, to balance out the noise and evanescence of the Twitter stream.

The utility of some of these digital tools also provided a way for concerned people all over the world to get involved. I looked across my office at one point and saw a colleague scanning the Twitter stream for reports of missing people, updating a missing persons’ wiki. Around a dozen people were working simultaneously. Where and who were the others? I have no idea. It doesn’t matter.

Misinformation is always a challenge with social media, and yesterday was no different. When reports came in of damage to the Christchurch cathedral, the accompanying pictures were actually of a different church that had been totally destroyed. Some well-meaning soul assumed blood would be in demand, and put the word out that donations were urgently required. The resulting flood of offers – not needed, thanks to regular donors such as myself – placed undue pressure on the Blood Service, who were forced to divert attention from their task at hand and respond with their own assurances that blood stocks were fine and dandy. It’s not all bad news though – because the misinformation was largely on Twitter, the Blood Service was prompted to create their own account (@nzblood) in order to join the conversation. Here’s hoping they stick around.

Misinformation is by no means the sole domain of social media. Last night I was appalled to see TV3 news anchor Hilary Barry announce ‘unconfirmed reports’ of a death toll as high as 300 to 400 people. Unconfirmed reports? Why not preface with ‘a bloke in the pub told me’? If this is what counts as journalistic integrity in the 21st century it’s no wonder the old media establishments are struggling. If I’m going to soak up a bunch of speculation and heresay I might as well get it for free and without a 15-second ad at the start.

TTFN…