Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Rise of The Visual Web

The latest stats from PewInternet Research Project show a big win for the visual web.  

While Facebook growth has steadied, Pinterest and Instagram have both seen 13 percent growth over the last three years. They’ve both overcome Twitter, and Pinterest has overcome LinkedIn as well.  In addition, Snapchat reportedly has almost half as big of a user base as Twitter.

Lots of people have been talking about the rise of the visual web over the past few years, and for good reason. From a media ecology standpoint, it’s inevitable, and just one more sign of our collective move toward a post modern, and more tribal society.

Images allow us to connect in a less linear way.  They are more creative, more sensory, and more emotional.

Our love of images might also be a reaction to the overwhelming amount of text found throughout the web (of course this blog isn’t helping any, but I digress.)  Simply put, there’s a lot to read.

Marshall McLuhan said, “our electronically-configured world has forced us to move from the habit of data classification to the mode of pattern recognition.”  Images allow us to do just that.  Have you ever looked at your Pinterst board and learned something about yourself or  noticed something you didn’t even realize you were drawn to?

My prediction, if I may be so bold, is that sites such as Instagram and Pinterest will continue to grow over the next few years, as sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn will seek to be more visual.

How might that look? Maybe Facebook will allow us to visually view and sort friends, or Twitter will deliver a visual view of feed activity. And think about all of the monitoring from our many connected devices. There will be a real need to easily grok all of that data. The visual web will help us do that.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Achievement Unlocked: Gamification, Systems Theory and the Emergence of the Challenge

It's always fascinating to watch memes unfold and intertwine in the digital space. Most recently, the memes of challenges and achievements are demonstrating how we have learned new behaviors and possibly even realized new powers.

The emergence of the challenge

If you were on this planet during the month of August, you likely heard, or even participated in, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, which raised more than $100 million dollars for research. 

It can likely be said with certainty that this challenge—in which a participant dumped a bucket of ice water on their head, or donated money, and then nominated others to do the same—enveloped us all in a grand experiment.

One might suggest that the success of the challenge was due to its game-like nature. From an anthropological perspective, it was fascinating to watch the rise of our willingness to do what our friends asked of, or rather, dared of us.

There are a number of current challenges happening on 
Facebook, that, while not as bold or popular as the ice bucket challenge, are still calls to action.  For example, there's a daily gratitude challenge in which the participant lists things they are grateful for each day.  There's also an ask to list the most influential books in a person's life.

These asks take effort (more effort than a Buzzfeed quiz for sure), sometimes on a daily basis. They also move the conversation to a new plural dynamic. This new behavior of asking and participating truly displays systems theory in action. If I may borrow from Gregory Bateson, we are no longer in an on / off state (such as reading or writing) but rather we are connected to a more integrated system because we are more deeply connected by an active ask and response.

It's as if we've discovered that, in addition to expressing opinions, sharing, liking and favoriting, we can actually compel another to take action.  Clearly, the social web goes beyond simple or passive connections in this context.   

In fact, in this context the social web is about action, and we are driving that action. We are able to influence each other at entirely new levels.

Unlocking achievements

In addition to this realization, we are in the process of changing our vocabularies to reflect the achievements gained through the actions taken.  While I can't quantify it, I have witnessed a great number of references to "achievement unlocked" in the past few weeks.  My favorite referred to biking home with a milkshake in hand.  Indeed, an achievement to be proud of!

While the idea of gamification is not new to the social web, this application of the phrase applied to personal life events does seem more popular lately. Could it be a realization of our own power, and an acknowledgment that we are heroes in our own game of life?

Realizing our power

These memes of challenges and achievement are, I believe, interrelated. And I think they've helped us realize a bit more of our own personal power and ability to affect change, in the course of strengthening the miraculous system that is the Web.  

While there is negative commentary regarding the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge (specifically that it is yet another way for people to "show off") what is important is the emergence of this new behavior.  Specifically, how might we apply this moving forward? And what has this taught us about new ways to interact in the digital space and to use our powers for good? 

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Queen of Photobombs

I was struck happy the other day when I saw this photo. It's a picture of two Australian hockey players in Glasgow, taken and tweeted by one of the players, @Jayde_Taylor.

If you look very carefully, you can also see Her Majesty, the Queen of England, who apparently photobombed these two smiling athletes.

This picture is delightful for a number of reasons.

First, this photo captures what Dell Upton might refer to as the extraordinary of the everyday.  Here are these two young women (who admittedly placed themselves in an area where they knew the Queen would be) taking a selfie, when the Queen of England extraordinarily appears.

Second, it's evidence that the self-documentation of our world brings us together by literally placing us together in the same frame—but not in a planned photo opp. Traditional media has typically enforced cultural classifications and separation.  But today, when cameras are in most of our hands, we have the opportunity to break these frameworks.

Finally, the photo makes the Queen seem so approachable and friendly. She is placed (by herself) in a secondary position, smiling, and really looking like she is enjoying the moment. What's more, she is so very modern.  I mean, who would have thought that Queen Elizabeth II, a great grandmother, would even be aware of the concept of a photobomb.

It really, truly is delightful.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Once More, With Feeling: The Emergence of Social Emotional Technology

We talk a lot, especially those of us who are parents, about how kids use technology these days.  So fascinated are we with their ability to intuitively understand the digital environment and feel immediately comfortable in it.  To kids, there is no online and offline.  It's just one world.

Convent nun using
And this is where we are getting stuck.  
Anyone who has seen 21 Jump Street can attest to that.
My guess is that we are just a few years away from seeing a new digital environment, one that seriously takes emotions into account. We just need to wait for our children to build it.
It’s interesting to think about the technological landscape they will live in as adults.  And I don't mean the ability for their refrigerators to automatically order milk when it expires. I’m interested more in the ability for them to connect emotionally and experience technology in a sensory way.

Over the past ten years, we’ve seen more and more digital experiences that are emotionally driven.  With these experiences, emotions, senses and mood are not just pieces of data, but textures that add dimension and allow us to connect on a much deeper level. is a fascinating experiment in not only gathering emotions, but feeding it back in ways that benefit society, if only by making us more aware and connected. My favorite example is from a convent in England where emotional feedback is used by nuns as a prayer tool. I think Marshall McLuhan would approve.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to work on a project for Signature Theatre in New York City. The intent of the theater itself, and of the physical space it resided in (designed by Frank Gehry), was to create collisions among theatre goers.   The experience I helped create consisted in part of a 72-inch touchscreen that allowed patrons to input their feelings around a specific topic, thereby creating a reflection of the community’s thoughts.

But while there are numerous examples of emotional and sensory experience in the digital space, anything beyond emoticons still seems to be considered experimental.

My prediction, or hope, however, is that this will change. And I believe it will change because, while adults are figuring out how to bring emotion into the digital space, our children are more emotionally aware than ever.

That's because the social emotional learning movement, originally founded in the 1960s and eventually becoming mainstream in the mid 1990s has started to make a meaningful difference in how we interact. In just a generation or two, it's made it ok to care--and not ok to be the bully. 

So if our kids are learning about their emotions today, and are comfortable with a new level of expression and sharing, when, I wonder, will our new-found awareness intersect with technology in meaningful, relevant and mainstream ways? 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

When Writing, Less Is Often So Much More

I was enlightened this week—twice—by short-form content.

I know. It’s something only a content geek would say, but it’s true.

The first pivotal moment came by way of LinkedIn where I was reviewing a potential contractor for a project at the agency. Their profile was amazing.  It communicated the essential information, yet it was easy to read, possibly even delightful. One of the key reasons why it was so enjoyable was that the description for each role was only one sentence.

One sentence. 

How many of us can say we have a one-sentence description for a role on our resume?

What’s more, these descriptions were for some pretty big and impressive jobs.  Yet this candidate conveyed their value and contribution in one, readable sentence. 

I have to say, it left me with LinkedIn envy, and immediately made me want to delete every bullet point and boring drivel of detail form my profile (don’t look yet, it’s on my to-do list).

The second moment of short-form enlightenment came by way of a status report, written, I kid you not, in haikus. Here's an example:

Come on, stakeholders. Get your schedule together. Meanwhile, I audit.

Hands down, it was the best status report I have ever read. Not only because it was so clever, but because it so succinctly got to the point. The author did go on to provide more details, but he had me at the top line haiku summary. It was brilliant.

As a former newspaper journalist, I was trained to write by the inch in an inverted pyramid style. Most of us don’t make it through entire articles, so it’s vital to get what matters in that first paragraph. So I've always believed that when it comes to writing, less is more. 

But for some odd reason, I forget about when it comes to writing for business.  Resumes, status reports, and the like, seem to prove our value based on length. Why is that?

In many cases, good writing is short.  Short gets to the point.  It conveys meaning. It’s easy on the reader.  And while it may not be appropriate for every form (I do love a long novel that I can get lost in), it might be more appropriate than we think for more of what we write.