Worried about the Wikipedia blackout? Don’t be! #twitterpedia has the answer!

As Wikipedia prepares to go black for 24 hours tomorrow, along with Reddit and Boing Boing, in protest of SOPA/PIPA, millions of Internet users, students, and knowledge addicts around the world prepare for the worst, as the phenomenal information repository we’ve grown to love will shut down temporarily in protest of these most heinous pieces of litigation.

However will we get our information now, you ask? What will desperate students do to bolster their essays with information from reliable and infallible sources? What will we do when you wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night, panting heavily, as you’re met with a sudden and immediate urge to find out who won the 1989 Honduran general election, because that’s just something you need to know? Don’t despair, dear reader! The solution to all of our problems is quite simple!

Since Wikipedia’s brand of crowdsourced wisdom won’t be available to us tomorrow, let’s make the most of the resources available to us to help out our fellow brothers and sisters of the Web, and let’s have lots of fun in the process. For argument’s sake, let’s say you are struck with the sudden and immediate urge to find out who won the 1989 Honduran general election tomorrow. Simply tweet your question, and tag it with #twitterpedia! Chances are, someone, somewhere, will know the answer to your question. The more people we can encourage to participate, the more questions we can get answered. Think how awesome you’ll feel, having someone benefit from your superior knowledge of Central American politics, or anything else, for that matter.

Tomorrow, let’s not only show our support for net neutrality, and a truly open and free Internet, but let’s use it to demonstrate how awesome the Internet really can be.

Happy Twitterpedia-ing!

N.B. I didn’t come up with this concept. It was dreamt up by animator extraordinaire @JackTheRogue. All credit due to him!


Digital Narcissism and Physical Life

Watch this. It’s funny.

Did you enjoy that? I sure hope so! It’s a funny angle for Microsoft to be pitching their Windows Phone 7 handsets from, but it does sort of make sense, at least to me.

I was just reading a speech by funny-man and self-confessed Twitter addict Greg Stekelman, on the narcissistic implications of Twitter, which was ironically thrown my way, via Twitter. It’s a wonderful read, which makes you think about how social media, Twitter in particular, is affecting our behaviour. Stekelman himself admits to tweeting on buses about being on buses, and being very much detached from the physical world. This, I think, is where the above advertisement’s message comes in.

We all love attention, and we all crave it. It may be the main pull of social media, which is why we do things like Twitter, and tweet about how we’re, say, sipping tea at the foot of the Taj Mahal, or why we insist on putting up inordinate amounts of photos on Facebook of our holidays to Greece. We get it. Once you’ve seen one donkey, you’ve seen ’em all. Still, somewhere in this mad frenzy of social media production, we’ve forgotten about things like our families, our Tamagochis, and our dinner that’s burning to a crisp in the oven. That’s fine, though, because you can tweet about your dinner, and create a newfangled Facebook group in memory of how Skippy the Tamagochi filled up his digital cage with poop, and asphyxiated himself with his own faeces. Still, all that’s boring. Well, I’m sure it’s fine, really, but you can’t stop yourself from living your life because of it.

Stekelman, in his speech, talks about pre-tweeting. The act of tweeting in one’s own head, when you’re unable to actually tweet. It’s something we’re all guilty of, myself included. Still, it’s this media pre-production that can make us do stupid things, and stop us enjoying what’s literally in front of us, though some odd desire to document an event you’re experiencing so your following can experience whatever it is vicariously, through you, whether or not they want to.

Case in point. Last year, I went to see one of my favourite bands, Nine Inch Nails, on their farewell tour. Nine Inch Nails are great. I love them and their music a lot. Still, it seems to be that whenever I go to gigs these days, I always take a camera and snap away like a rabid tourist (when it’s allowed, of course) so I can upload these photos to Facebook, and prove to my friends that I attended a monumental show. In a way, this is good, because everyone who wasn’t able to attend the gig gets to experience it through my photographs, and they all think I’m very cool for sharing, and I get cool points, or whatever. The downside is that I have to experience the gig through the LCD screen on my camera, while I fiddle furiously with the manual settings to try and get a good shot of Trent Reznor’s beautiful face. All in all, documenting the gig in such a way had dampened my enjoyment somewhat. With this particular gig, it was weird. It was almost like I wasn’t experiencing it first-hand at all, but instead was experiencing a reproduction of the experience. It was a meta-experience. The result? Nine Inch Nails have now gone on hiatus, and I’m quite sad that I passed up the opportunity to go nuts in front of them, because of the prospect of digital props.

Learn from my mistakes people. Don’t let social media rule your life. As I’ve said many times in this blog, social media is a fantastic, wonderful thing, and I’m not knocking it. However, when it starts impacting on your physical life to the degree where you stop enjoying physical things, you have to do something about it.


Are we really narcissistic on Facebook?

Earlier today, I noticed an article on Mashable concerning a small study that had been carried out by a Canadian undergraduate, investigating how men and women represent themselves in a narcissistic way on Facebook. It’s a good read (you can find it here) but I’ve got some major qualms with it, which I’d like to state here, for posterity’s sake. I’ve also got a problem with the way Mashable presented the findings in a very ‘matter of fact’ way, but I guess that’s the responsibility of good journalism.

Regarding the paper itself, the author asserts that Facebook is a fully nonymous (not anonymous) social network, and builds her study on this rudimentary belief. I’m sure Facebook is nonymous in the majority of cases, but we’ve all seen examples of people failing to display true profile pictures, their real names, or even creating pages for fictional characters, providing a whole new angle for study concerning identity generation, and the possibility of narcissism within this new demographic. Indeed, within a wider context (this study was restricted to a sample of 100 college students, who’d surely be a perfect example of homophily in action, hence downplaying the significance of the author’s results), how could these new, ‘artificial’ identities could affect one’s narcissistic behaviours? I think people who make an attempt to hide their personal identity on Facebook, for instance, by posting ‘pseudo-pictures’ (images of fictional characters that act as avatars, possibly with some semblance to the physical identity of the user in question) are lacking in self-esteem in such a degree that they cling to the service, whether Facebook or otherwise. However, the findings of this paper state clearly that there’s a correlation between increasing Facebook use and narcissism. More on this later.

I also find fault with the author’s definition of narcissism, and narcissistic people. She’s somewhat damning in her exposition of narcissistic types (in saying they’re all nothing but complete narcissists), but somewhere along the line explains that some kinds of narcissistic behaviours could possibly be generated by internal cues. Hence, anyone could prove to elicit some slight form of narcissism. I don’t think the author’s definition of narcissism is that simple, doesn’t exist in such binary terms, and needs to be re-evaluated.

I’ve already stated that the results in the above paper were somewhat inconclusive. My other problem with the results is that they make use of a multivariate coding system to designate Facebook profiles as narcissistic or not. The author does acknowledge at the end of the paper that her results may well be unreliable due to the objective nature of her coding method, but again, some of her definitions, to me, are problematic. For instance, apparently, all people who promote themselves through status updates are narcissistic. I refute this, out of self-experience. If you’re reading this update right now, there’s a good chance that you found it through my Facebook page. Being a poor student, I can hardly afford costly promotions (some, including myself, argue that the best promotion costs nothing) and rely on my Facebook status updates to promote new entries on my blog, which is all I really use status updates for these days. Am I a narcissist? I don’t think so. I just promote my blog because I know Facebook is a good way of informing my friends when I write something new.

My final gripe is with the concluding assertion that narcissistic people spend more time on Facebook. Again, I spend a great deal of time using the service, as do others. An inordinate amount of time, some might say. However, I wouldn’t say I’m as narcissistic as much as I am a massive procrastinator and time-waster. How is it possible to condemn all prolific Facebook users with one fell swoop? I think this, again, is a sampling error, and a lack of concluding clarifications that the findings presented are only relevant within the context of the paper, that is, concerning students in higher education. Even so, not all students are one and the same, and I think drawing such conclusions is a little simplistic.

All in all, I enjoyed reading the paper. It looks at something new, and is a good omen of things to come from (what I imagine is) an undergraduate’s first publication. Still, I think it falls down in its initial definitions of narcissism as a digital behaviour (it’s only on or off, as well as existing in the online sphere). It does hold some interesting questions for further research, though.

The paper tries to take a classically offline behaviour and relate it to online processes, which it acknowledges at the outset. I think this is wrong. It’s a good starting work, but I feel there’s so much more potential out there, to build and research new, more novel models about how we exist online. Are we narcissistic on Facebook? Perhaps. Is Facebook conducive to inspiring narcissistic behaviour? That, I think, is the question we should be asking ourselves.


Brands that get it: Civilization

Civilization (the turn-based strategy games from Fixaris Games) might be an odd brand to bring up in a discussion such as this. Indeed, most of you reading this (unless you’re into gaming) have probably never heard of the brand. What’s so special about it, then?

Civilization has been around since 1991, and has since then enjoyed cult success as a heavyweight of the turn-based strategy genre. Fixaris’ latest offering, Civilization V, launches next month. Great news for strategy fans, and not a big deal for everyone else, I’m guessing. Bear with me.

Sid Meier, the “legendary game designer” behind the series, brought out a lighter version of Civilization’s rather full-on formula, for more casual players, in 2008. He called it Civilization Revolution. The game was released to a warm reception, prompting a 2009 iOS release. It’s a good, if not further chopped-down version of the original Civilization Revolution, that cost somewhere in the region of £5.

Last week, as a promotion through FreeAppADay.com, for one day, the iOS game was free to download, and since then has been selling for the paltry sum of £1.79. That still sounds like a lot, especially when you consider you could have acquired it for free, but it’s a massively different price point. Still, I’m sure people will be further enticed towards making a purchase by all the new, lovely reviews from people who downloaded the app for free.

I’ll admit, I’m not a huge Civilization fan. Or at least I wasn’t. Before my Civilization Revolution download, I specifically remember my last experience with the series was playing Civilization II at a friend’s house while I was in primary school. Still, being reintroduced to the Civilization has had a massive effect on me. It’s just so addictive. As a result, I’ll be sure to pick up Civilization V next month when it’s released.

Fixaris, and 2K Games, its publisher, don’t seem to have done a great deal of promotion for Civilization V, other than the standard, very pretty official website. It’s a long call from the brilliant, tongue-in-cheek campaign they used to launch Civilization IV, depicting a mock help service for Civilization addicts. They also produced some brilliant advertisements for this, which you should really take a look at. They did, however, use Civilization Revolution to promote the brand as a whole, in a very non-direct way.

So, what can we learn from this? People like free stuff, for starters, and are willing to download anything of (monetary) value if it’s given away for free. What some might see as money lost in app revenues, Fixaris/2K probably see as introducing people (getting them addicted) to the Civilization franchise. It worked on me, for sure.

It’s not often that companies give you something to say, “Oh, hello, here’s something we did a year ago, for free!” I’m sure many took their free game and let that be that. However, Fixaris/2K implicitly gestured, “If you liked that, there’s more where that came from next month!” This is fantastic, especially since they didn’t shove this in anyone’s face. Nowhere on the game’s AppStore listing is there any reference to Civilization V. Indeed, the promotion is put down to a ‘birthday celebration’.

Lesson two, then, is that people don’t like being shouted at. Games and advertisements are (or should be) two different things entirely. People download Civilization Revolution to play, not to be preached at. People are clever, and more than capable of doing their own research. In fact, I felt quite privileged when I figured out, all by myself, that a new Civilization game is being released soon.

All in all, this whole strategy is a great way of driving adoption of a small, cult-like (niche?) product, like a turn-based strategy game. Everyone knows that people don’t know what they like. If you show them something neat, which they might not have explored before, and they can obtain at no inconvenience to them, you might just be pleasantly surprised. Just be nice about it.


Brands that get it: Old Spice

If you take even the slightest bit of notice as to trends developing through the social web, I’m sure you would have heard of the Old Spice responses campaign. You should at least be aware of their brilliant TV ads, an example of which is below. Even if you’ve seen this one before, I think you should watch it again.

Did you see that? Wasn’t it marvellous? Truly, this should be the direction that communications should be heading. In one month, that video has captured over 11 million views, which is over half as many views as Powerthirst, which has been up for years; because, you know, everyone should totally start using Powerthirst as a benchmark of awesome.

Indeed, it seems that I’m not the only one who’s mega enthusiastic about this all. People have gone wild for Old Spice, following their online exploits. Or not. Depending on who you talk to, Old Spice sales have either increased a great deal because of these campaigns, or haven’t really done anything amazing in the wider context of men’s toiletry sales. I’m of the opinion that it’s really too soon to judge whether or not Old Spice man has had a profound effect on sales. Instead, I think we should (without forgetting how recent these videos, and the responses campaign was) focus on the things Old Spice, and W+K, the agency behind all this, did differently.

Number one, people generally like being listened to, especially by brands. The historical connotations of the word ‘brand’ conjure up images of soulless offerings manufactured by the kind of organisations that Ronald Coase was harping on about in the 1930s. Think limited distribution, the marketing ‘push’, one way communication, or whatever you want to call it. We all know that’s certainly not the case now. Brands now are more friendly creatures, that have every opportunity to listen and talk back to their audiences. Generally, I’m suitably satisfied when a brand I tweet at manages to tweet back at me. That specific example is all about customer service, and all about AWESOME, but I’m sure you get the point. In their own way, brands are celebrities, and we’d all like to be noticed by some celebrities every once in a while, right?

Number two, the responses campaign was essentially responding to the internet in real-time. This, known as low latency advertising (props to Faris Yakob for that one), is truly the future of advertising, in my opinion. We all know, as people, that people generally hate waiting for things. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, we also love it when brands talk to us. However, Old Spice didn’t only respond to the internet in real-time, it responded to the internet in real-time with well polished, humorous video responses. To be on the receiving end of one of those bad boys must have made you feel like a celebrity, as well.

Used in conjunction with each other, these two things result in increased audience engagement on a scale we’ve never seen before. The internet didn’t know what hit it. This was a result of superb strategic planning, from the team who produced these videos, who managed to scour the web for decent questions from influential people, and then answer these questions as a way of maximising the campaign’s exposure.

One area I think really needs paying attention to, is that Old Spice has truly befriended the internet. I like to think of the internet as another country, almost. As such, it’s got its own cultural values, its own customs, and most importantly, its own unique sense of humour. The Old Spice responses were not only able to tap into this unique pool of memes and in-jokes, but exploit it to their advantage. I’m not sure if this is a deliberate result of brilliant writing and planning, or whether it just happened, but it’s a lesson the creative industries all need to learn. The internet can be your best friend, with just a little love. Get to know it first, and then make it happy. Just watch this response to Anonymous (the shady group of internet activists who were behind the Scientology protests), which they unanimously approved of, and you’ll see what I mean.


Southampton Social Media Surgery: PRODUCTION UPDATE!

Yesterday we held the first of what I’ll imagine is a series of meetings for Southampton’s Social Media Surgery. I’m aware that lots of you who want to help out were unable to attend, so I’ll summarise things for you here.

We decided that it’s probably best to hold the surgery around mid to late October, after the hullabaloo of Freshers’ Week. We’re looking to hold it in the computer rooms in the Murray building (Building 58, Highfield Campus) on a weeknight, somewhen.

As for the actual format of the sessions themselves, we thought it may be a good idea, since social media is such a broad topic, and to maximise the resources we have, to have one ‘surgeon’ to five or so ‘patients’. The surgeon would demonstrate to the group how they can use a certain service, (say, how to set up a WordPress blog, or how to make a YouTube video) and would then oversee the patients as they set up their blogs, or make their own YouTube videos, and offer one-to-one help to anyone who gets stuck. We figured it’d be good to get people actually using social media themselves in the sessions, while providing support if they need it, since we want to help our patients develop their own internet skills, and not simply use the service as a crutch.

To close the meeting, we delegated out duties to people. If my memory serves me correctly, Lance Corporal @aaronbali assumed responsibility for finding surgeons, Lieutenant @daxleewood is in charge of securing a venue, and General @parboo and myself are responsible for finding potential ‘patients’.

We’re still in the early stages, but I really think this idea has the potential to become something great. As always, we’re always looking for people to help out, and be helped. If you know know your social media, or are a worthy cause in need of help with your web presence, do leave a comment below and someone will get back to you.

Oh, and please do follow (and use) the #sotonsms hashtag on Twitter, to keep in touch with everyone involved, and to find out about upcoming production meetings.

Thanks. 🙂


Southampton Social Media Surgeries

Know anything about social media? Do you know your Facebook from your Twitter? Your Tumblr from your WordPress? Live in the Southampton area? If so, I may have a very interesting proposition for you.

Social Media Surgeries are events set up to help local charities, non-profits, and anyone who expresses an interest in getting their head around social media, for the greater good. Imagine a room full of geeks, imparting valuable knowledge about the interwebs to people who could really use some social media goodness in their lives. Perhaps these people are already using social media, albeit not to its full extent. Social Media Surgeries are about helping people enrich their lives through technology, so they can go and use social media to do amazing things. That’s the dream.

Have I piqued your interest? If so, and you would like to help out, please leave a comment below and I’ll be in touch to keep you updated on when, and where any surgeries will be taking place. In a similar way, if you’re a local organisation looking to expand your social media operations, or aren’t quite sure how or if social media could help you in doing what you do, then please do leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you.

If you are interested in helping out, you may be interested in this Twitter list which keeps track of everyone interested in helping out so far. Again, get in touch if you would like to be added. We’re also using the #sotonsms hashtag. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.