Thursday, March 29, 2007

Way New Journalism

I had the opportunity to hear Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired magazine and author of The Long Tail, speak at my company’s client summit today. One particularly interesting slide showed the top websites, making the point that blogs are right up there with the big media giants. We all know this is correct, but the way he presented it was especially effective.

It got me thinking about an article I read in 1995 (I still remember reading it) published on Hot Wired, called “The Birth of Way New Journalism,” by Joshua Quittner I have a ruffled hardcopy of this article in my files because, as an online community reporter in 1995 (when you could count the actual newspaper who were online, possibly on one hand) is rang so true. Interestingly enough it seems just as relevant today. So I wanted to point to it here, in case anyone missed it. It’s worth a read—just remember to read it as if it were 1995.

And when you're done, think about what might happen in the next 12 years. Amazing, no?

The Birth of Way New Journalism

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Interactive Storytelling

Not only do I think twitter is the best thing since MySpace (in fact it makes MySpace look so passe) but I am equally enamored with twitterific, the fictional offshoot of the lifestreaming site. I've been hearing a lot about collaborative storytelling lately. There was even a panel at SXSW which I unfortunately could not attend.

It reminds me of an experiment I conducted three years ago when I was a media studies graduate student at the New School. I had been examining ways in which storytelling as a means for learning about one’s culture and traditions might translate to virtual spaces, and how concepts common to games might work within that process. So I attempted to create an online storytelling environment that would test these ideas and examine how systems related to storytelling. The experience proved to be one of emergent storytelling where content was created through the process of engagement.

You can read more about it, or read the stories themselves. And if you know of other interactive storytelling sites of this vain, please feel free to post them here.

A lot of buzz for a little chip

I'm often asked to provide ROI on social media, which is not always an easy task. So much of social media is about the soft stuff—creating relationships, strengthening a brand's perception or repositioning an organization in a new and innovative way. It's a challenge to measure results in hard numbers, and sometimes, I'dLink argue, not the best gage of success.

But today I came across a report on MediaPost that spoke to the Dorito's Super Bowl challenge. Here's the download, in hard numbers:
  • 2 million hits
  • 750,000 unique users
  • 2 million total video views
  • 1 billion impressions, which equated to $36 million in paid media
With all due respect to Dorito's, if a snack chip can create such buzz, think about the potential here for other applications.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Digital Media Outlook!

Every year Avenue A | Razorfish puts out a Digital Media Outlook report. This year, we outdid ourselves ;) According to Guy Kawasaki, "It’s very useful reading for anyone involved with digital media." You can register to receive a copy or listen to the podcast version. Kawasaki also has a digital version listed on his site if you just can't wait.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

SXSW: Recap

It saddens me to think that SXSW is over. It’s such an inspiring gathering of truly creative and just generally good people. Here’s a list of the panels I attended:

  • World Domination via Collaboration
  • Under 18: Social Networks for Youth
  • Kathy Sierra Opening Remarks
  • Every Breath You Take: Identity, Attention, Presence and Reputation Online
  • Living in Spacial Reality
  • Keynote Conversation: Phil Torrone and Limor Fried
  • Virtual Worlds and Virtual Humans
  • Henry Jenkins Interview
  • Growth of Microformats
  • When Communities Attack
  • How to Create a Kickass In-house Design Team
  • Open Knowledge vs. Controlled Knowledge
  • 12 Values Shaping the Future of Technology
  • Keynote: Will Wright
And what I saw as key themes this year:

It’s all about the people
It’s excellent to hear that we have remembered that technology and the Interweb is all about people. I heard this phrase in a number of panels I attended on a variety of subjects. As designers and programmers—and even more importantly as business people—we would do well to remember this.

There is this thing called emotion
Both Kathy Sierra and Will Right touched upon this critical piece of our human makeup—and how it's what defines us from machines. I heard this a lot in the community panels I attended as well. And not just talk about emotion, but specifically about empathy. Empathy is the appeal of the story, Wright said (whereas agency is the appeal of the game). As a UX professional, I use the potential of empathy as a strategy when developing moderation guidelines in commmunities. Research has shown that high empathy communities, such as those focusing on healthcare and education, require less moderation than those communities with low empathy, such as those focusing on sports, politics and religion. (For more on this check out research conducted by Jenny Preece at the University of Maryland.)

Non-required registration
I’m an advocate for required registration, or at least I was. I’m rethinking this after hearing numerous community experts challenge registration as a requirement for participation. We do, after all, still have their IP address as an identifier. Don't get me wrong, registration can be a very useful tool, but I for one will be doing some more reading on this topic. If you have suggestions for me, please leave a comment.

So adios SXSW. I’ll see you all on twitter.

SXSW: 12 Values Shaping Technology’s Future

Panelists:

Rachel Matney, Guest Insight Group Manager, Target
Andrea Shortell, Manager, Brand & Consumer Insights, MTV
Timo Veikkola, Senior Futures Specialist, Nokia

This panel talked about guiding concepts that are (or should) drive technology development for products and services. It had a consumer focus with panelists from Target, MTV and Nokia.

Maybe I do too much user research (is there such a thing?) but I didn't hear much that was new or enlightening, although it was certainly validating.

I found Nokia's Veikkola the most interesting. He spoke a lot of about conectedness of devices and of people to machines. He also talked about the concept of Web 1.0 being about search and Web 2.0 being about find. He said that tagging will become more mainstream and understood, and that context needed to be part of the search/find journey. Finally, he talked about the concept of robotics moving from a tool to a companion. Which makes me very interested to see the next iterations of Nokia phones. Maybe mine will vacuum too?

SXSW: Open Knowledge vs. Controlled Knowledge

Participants:

Rob Capps, Wired Magazine
Brett Gaylor, Basement Tapes
Hermai Parthasarathy, Public Library of Science Biology
Gil Penchine, Wikia
Francesca Rodriguez, moderator (Creative Commons)

We are obsessed with looking good.

As a SME in community at AA|RF, I often speak with clients about opening up their digital ecosystems by enabling the consumer's voice via social media, such as blogs and ratings and reviews. The concern I get most often is, “What if someone says something bad?”

This is certainly one of the main questions of Web 2.0.

This panel made some interesting points along these lines. Gil Penchine of Wikia talked about the experience of opening up an entire website to its users. “We believe that people are basically good … and it’s been remarkable to me how good people are,” he said. Wikia gets the “occasional vandal,” he said but if you give the community the power to fix the community then the bad stuff may quickly go up—but it will quickly come down.

He also suggested that if something’s been closed for a while and it is suddenly open then there’s a different psychology that may occur at first. It may take time for that community to build trust.

Case in point, at the beginning, Wikia had seven full-time people around the world, but they now have thousands of volunteers around the site everyday. The challenge is getting people to feel ownership and then giving them the tools.

The fear, says Parthasarathy is that the bad comments will rise to the top. But, she said, if we can find a way to engage communities then the good will find a way to rise to the top.

Capps talked about how Wired is experimenting with putting a developing story online before it is published. While the fear is that competitors will scoop them, the alternate is that they won't waste their time covering the same story. In my opinion, the positive side is that more news gets covered, while the negative side is that there are less voices covering one story.

But I digress.

The point is, there's a battle looming between between fear and hope, and Web 2.0 is at the front lines. Who are you placing your bets on for victory?

Monday, March 12, 2007

SXSW: When Communities Attack

Chris Tolls is the VP of marketing of Topix. Topix gets approximately 30,000 posts a day and deletes five to 10 percent of them. Here are just a few of his tips for community management:

1. Geotag comments
When users know their comments are associated with their location, they are less likely to be rude. I find this quite interesting and would love to do more user research on this topic.

2. Forget about registration
Registration takes incentive away from busy people with good stuff to say and it instead encourages a troll environment. Topix showed how this worked for them, so I believe it, but I am an advocate for registration. I appreciate the seed of doubt though, I will be thinking about this.

3. Find and focus on the good stuff
Yes!

4. Get rid of the bad stuff
Bad stuff means threats, calls to violence, personal details, and postings with 100 percent intent of harm. It’s important to have a policy defining this. To achieve this, you can use a number of tools, such as using meta-moderators, Captcha, heat language analysis, IP/domain moderation, and community voting systems.

5. Have a goal or purpose
Here here. While we often hear that “interest” is what ties communities together but I’d suggest that the best communities have a sense of “purpose.”

SXSW: Henry Jenkins

Henry Jenkins is the author of “Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide,” and a professor of at MIT. Here are some key points from his talk:

On copyright … Hollywood has already lost control and needs to “get over the moment.” The issue we all need to confront now is how to fight back in a world that is economically unequal. Hollywood may not have control, but they do have lawyers.

On participation … We may have come far in bridging the digital divide, but we now have a participation gap, meaning that not everyone gets to participate equally. Specifically, there is a move to stop young people from participating online. Jenkins says this stems from fear and that we need to choose to be led by knowledge instead.

On Wikipedia … Is knowledge a product or knowledge a process? Wikipedia is a “monument to participatory culture,” it is interesting because you can see how those entries are developed among people. “If we can figure out those ethics about how Wikipedia works … we can begin to understand how we can create a shared information space.”

On media literacy … We have to stop getting mad about being faked out. Instead we need to tech people how to weigh representations. What skills do we all need to know to individually or collectively process things like this?

On SecondLife … SeconLife is a new participatory culture where we can try on new identities, much like carnivals in Medieval times. Think of it as a way of experimenting with social relations that we can carry back into the real world and that has an impact on the real world.

On isolation … We’re used to being isolated in suburbs and now we are moving back into a collaborative space. The problem is, we don't know how to live here. How do we figure out how to collaborate?

Read more at his blog: http://www.henryjenkins.org/

Sunday, March 11, 2007

SXSW: Every Breath You Take

Identity and reputation in the digital space is one of those gigantic topics to try to tackle in an hour. This panel provided some discussion starters, but unfortunately, there wasn’t enough time to go deeper.

Presenters:
Kaliya Hamlin, Identity Woman
Ted Nadeau, Dot Line, Inc.
Mary Hodder, dabble.com
George Kelly, allboutgeorge.com
Christian Crumlish, moderator, xianlandia.com

Here are few interesting points for further discussion:

  • •Kaliya Hamlin spoke about OpenID and other identity management applications that allow users to maintain one identity across many sites.
  • Mary Hodder made the suggestion that we all be transparent about what we do online so that the government can’t stigmatize certain people or certain behaviors
  • Ted Nadeau made the point that while you are connected to your identity you are not in control of it
  • George Kelly showed us the interactive Johari window as an example of how our reputations so not belong to us, but rather to the people who interact with us
One of the most interesting points of the panel came from an audience participant who asked about changing identity. We are, after all, a young industry. How will we feel about having one identity in 10 or 20 or 30 years? I for one, find it fun to Google my Usenet entries circa 95.

Another interesting point raised was how we manage the public versus private space. Again, as a young industry, I think there is a lot to be learned from others in similar, older industries, such as media. As a trained and practicing journalist, I was required to take a media law class as part of my undergrad degree. Point being, there are existing parameters for deciphering what’s “fair” to post publicly, that we (and by “we” I mean every person on the planet who is now in a place of being a de facto reporter) can and should learn from.

SXSW: Kathy Sierra Opening Remarks

(This is a posting from yesterday's keynote at SXSW. Please forgive the delay, the Internet connection here is iffy.)

Kathy Sierra asks an intriguing question at a technology convention: “Why are we all here?” If we can connect almost instantly via technology, then why do we bother travelling to be together in person?

The answer is simple and obvious. Computers, no matter how amazing, can't take the place of humans for one very important reason—they can not detect emotion. (Not to my fellow geeks: Sierra made a very funny point about how most of us tech folks can’t detect emotion either … Google Asperger’s Syndrome for fun).

The problem is that if we can't detect emotion, then we can't help users at the most crucial points of frustration. Sierra suggests a few ideas for solutions, for example, a “WTF button” or a graphically based entry into help files where users can click on the facial expression they are making at that moment.

The problem is so very apparent, Sierra says, when you look at FAQ’s and help files, which are so often stiff and linear. We need to give users understandable questions that don't assume prior knowledge, she said. Start at a higher level of dialog. Make tiny changes to your language, like using the word “you.”

It seems so simple, yet why do we so often get it wrong? Personally, I’d suggest that the formula of text=help is wrong.

When we write, we remove ourselves from our feelings. Socrates said, “The discovery of the alphabet will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust the external written characters and not remember of themselves.” They will appear smart but will know nothing, he said.

Now, text can be used in interesting and interactive ways. Ford.com’s vehicle finder, which I worked on with a team at Avenue A | Razorfish uses a simply layover to help connect instructional text with the site.

But there must be other, more innovative ways to help users that are integrated and meaningful. There are ways to create interesting text based help files—that interact. What models can we draw on?

First, I would suggest that we all wikify our help files. Why can't users add or change help files to make them more useful based on their experiences? How about using audio that is navigable via verbal commands. Or what about video that users can annotate?

Those are just a few, very high level thoughts. I’d love to hear more!

A name is a name is a name

Here's another thought about community and identity online. Women have been dealing with identity for years, right? Until recently, it was a given that women would marry and it was a given that women would change their name. So in many ways women are experts at identity building and changing. I'm at SXSW right now and the panelists is showing a slide about a man who changed his name and what a hassle it is ... but women have dealt with this forever. Just a thought, or, er, a rant I guess. Are there paralleles in the digital realm? How is remaking ourselves different? Or is it not? More to come on this panel...

Saturday, March 10, 2007

SXSW: Under 18: Social Networks for Youth

This was another all female community panel. Very interesting as I am more and more on the kick that females are better at community building than men. Is that sexist?

Anyways.

The moderator, Andrea Forte of Georgia Tech, pointed out that 87 percent of teenagers (I assume in the US) are online and that there’s a dichotomy between being in mortal danger and fulfilling your inner potential. Turns out, she said, it’s probably somewhere in between.

The most interesting part of the discussion was the overview from Danah Boyd, a PhD candidate from UC Berkeley and Yahoo! Social media researcher. To summarize her overview:

Teens today are isolated, but it wasn’t always like that. One hundred years ago, only 10 percent of the population went to high school, which meant that just about everyone else was working. And by working, teens were socialized by and with adults. Then in the 1930s, when employment was tough to come by, laws were passed which required teens to attend high school, a move Boyd says has to do with eliminating competition in the workforce. By the 1940s “teenager” was a marketing term and public life shifted to a focus on age groups. This segmentation continued until present day, with teenagers being seen as strange and needing to be hidden away from the rest of the population. Hence, the isolation.

Boyd continued to say that the Internet changed all of that by allowing people to escape this segmentation. She says that life online for teens is unique in four ways: persistence (what you say sticks around); searchability (parents can find kids); replicability (a conversation can be copied and don't know where it comes from); and invisible audience (you don't know who you're speaking to).

Or course, I can't do justice to Boyd's work in a short recap (she's too brilliant) so please do yourself a favor and check out her blog for more opf her insights: http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/.

SXSW: World Domination Via Collaboration

This was a great panel with real experts in the community space, including:

• Jessica Hardwick, SwapThing
• Betsy Aoki, Microsoft
• Lisa Stone, BlogHer
• Joy DesJardins (moderator), BlogHer
• Jenna Woodul, LiveWorld

As a community developer, I was delighted to hear participants talk about experiences I have had in this realm. Here's a summary of some topics that were discussed.

1. Remember, “It’s the People Stupid”
Bravo to Jenna Woodul, who so clearly nailed this very important point. Community is about the people—and we can't control or change or monetize people. They're not products.

2. Get users involved—in building, fixing and moderating community
Community participants are by far the most valuable element of any community (for clarification, please see Point 1). Betsy Aoki of Microsoft said that at Live QnA, a social search site, users actually called on the site’s code of conduct “representative,” (a character named Norbert), to help moderation. Other panelists made similar points. For example, SwapThing’s users keep bad products off the site. By quickly reporting them, bad products stay in the community on average only 12 minutes, according to Jessica Hardwick.


3. Establish a dialog with your community to gain insight
Enable users to speak up and speak back. You can't be everywhere at once so rely on community participants to understand what’s working and what’s not in the community. And be open to the feedback. As Aoki said, you sometimes have to hear tough feedback—but it’s better to hear even anonymous feedback than none at all.

4. Transparency is critical to creating a relationship with the customers
As Lisa Stone of BlogHer eloquently phrased it, “Never lie.” People feel tricked, stupid and patronized, and that’s just not good for rapport. It’s also not necessary. Most users will welcome commercial content or paid contributors—as long as they know who is really behind it all.

5. Let go of (the illusion of) control
One audience participant spoke of an organization that killed their community by insisting on moderating every single comment before it went live. Wow. That's so 80s. As a few participants mentioned, people are already talking about your brand online (there are soooo many outlets in Web 2.0), so be open to your customers and stop trying to control a living, breathing community.

One final note of interest—at a tech conference (even one such as SxSW where the gender mix is better than your average tech conference), the community panel was all female. So was another community panel I attended. So what do you think, are women better at developing online community than guys?

Friday, March 9, 2007

SXSW!

I haven't been to SXSW in 8 years, so I am very, very excited to have a chance to go this year. I'll be covering panels here, so check back in the next few days if you're interested in hearing about what's going on and/or starting a dialog about it. Here's what's on my agenda. Some of these panels overlap, plus there's keynotes, so I may not get to all of them, but they certainly all look good!

Emerging Social and Technology Trends
World Domination Via Collaboration
How to Bluff Your Way in Web 2.0
Everything's Gone Douglas Coupland
Commercialization of Wikis: Open Community That Pays the Bills
Your Web Application as a Text Adventure
The New Business of Collectivism
Every Breath You Take: Identity, Attention, Presence and Reputation
Living in a Spatial Reality
Revisiting Commercial Open Source Business Models
Warren Spector Presentation: The Future of Storytelling
Scaling Your Community
12 Values Shaping Technology's Future
How to Make Your Ideas Stick