Friday, January 30, 2009

Social media and the rise of the common folk

eMarketer published this report yesterday: Traditional Media Use Stabilizes as Online Rises.

It's not really news at this point. I'm sure you've seen similar headlines over the past few years. But take a look at this chart which accompanied the report, because it's not only about online. You'll see that along with the increased use of things such as blogs and social networking, is also the use of real-world person-to-person advice.

As a society, we've been moving toward this place for thousands of years, ever since the invention of the alphabet, which put the power of communication in the hands of a few. This dynamic simply expanded as we saw the printing press and the broadcast networks owned by those who had money and power. The peak was probably somewhere in the 1960's. But at the same time that Don Draper and his boys were ruling the roost, ARPANET was in its infancy and students at MIT were playing around with a little something we all know as email.

The issue here is that, as mass media got more powerful, we started believing that unless we were "professional" communicators, we didn't have the right to speak. What "we" had to say was not important. That's not to say that there's not a place for professional communicators, the point here is that everyone should have their own printing press. Enter the Internet.

As we began to publish ourselves, via forums and Usenet, I think we also started believing that our voice counted. As more and more people started participating online--an Amazon review here, a social network profile there, we started taking back the power of communication.

The rise of trust in ourselves and each other is one that has been coming for a very long time. It's about the validity of the everyday as professor of anthropology and architectureDell Upton suggests: “The navigation of everyday spaces, the ordinary, unexceptional sites of most of our sensory and intellectual experiences, is the primary arena within which selfhood and personhood are formed.”

To me that means that what I have to say matters, whether that be via blog post or twitter update, and whether it's profound or mundane. What's more, in saying what we have to say, we validate ourselves as worthy of being heard. Even if it's a Facebook update that I am "grabbing a latte."

That's my point about this seemingly simple chart. It's not about media. It's much much bigger than that.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

An update on OpenID

In my opinion, open, central identity is the future of the Web. OpenID, an open identity format that is quickly becoming a standard, has made tremendous strides in the last few years. Here's an update as to where they are these days (data is from their newsletter):

-A whopping 20,000 sites have integrated OpenID in just the past year! That makes about 30,00 sites accepting your OpenID, with new properties including MapQuest.

-OpenID providers are increasing the amount of rich profile data you can send along when you sign into an OpenID-enabled website--AOL now allows its users to send their email, nickname, country, date of birth, gender, and postal code

-Sites are seeing increased registration conversion rates

If you use Yahoo or AOL, you probably already have an OpenID. Find out, or sign up for your OpenID today.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Why we love geeks, reason 1: The robo cat door

This cat door works on facial recognition. Seriously.

Here's how it works, according to its creators, a Pacific Northwest couple: Booger (the cat) enters a box on the outside of the window and a motion sensor tells the webcam to snap a picture of her. The software (named BookerPicker) then matches in quadrants to several "approved" facial images of her entering without anything in her mouth. If there is a high-enough percentage match the door is told to open. If there's no match it fails and the door stays locked.

From the inside Booger hits a little trigger pad to set off the gears that unlock and open the door for her (according to Booger's owner it only took a few days for this smart kitty to figure out).

Here's what I love most: Booger's owners can access the system online to see a text log of when the cat has entered and exited along with fail/approved commands; they can peek at the live cam or they can see logged photos of her face as she enters and exits.

See it in action!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Obama's super duper use of social media

If you have yet to see the USA Service website, stop what you are doing right now and check it out.

The site is a call to service from President Obama and allows for two key activities:

1. Finding service opportunities by type and location
2. Submitting an opportunity to serve

The focus and simplicity of the site is brilliant.

First of all, it allows for bite size activity, which means that if I am free on Saturday I can be of service that day, and I don't need to make a long-term commitment. So it allows me to "try out" different ways to be of service and it is also flexible to my schedule.

Second, it enables me to submit my own event. This option is significant because it suggests that, I, too, can effect change. Oh yes I can. And you can too.

It's what happens when you make a community organizer the President of the United States of America. And, in my opinion, it is awesome, inspiring and exactly what America needs right now.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Pew releases report on adults and social networks

The Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project released their findings last week on how adults user social networking sites. Here are a few highlights:

-The number of adults who have profiles on a social networking site has quadrupled in the last four years, to 35 percent (compared to about 65 percent of teens use social network sites), but because there are more adults than teens, the number of adults on social networking sites is actually higher than the number of teens

-Adults are more likely to use these sites for personal rather than professional use

-The most active users are 18-24, 75 percent of which are on social networking sites

The full report can be found here.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Can the Seattle PI survive online?

I heard snippets of an local NPR panel yesterday discussing the online viability of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, one of Seattle's two mass market newspapers. If you haven't heard, Hearst, the PI's owners, have put the paper up for sale, and if it doesn't sell by mid-March (and I don't think that in this economy anyone is holding their breath for the sale of a newspaper) Hearst will either shut the paper down or turn in into an online only publication.

The topic that the panel was discussing was how an online version of the PI could survive. There was lots of talk about how the staff would need to be slashed to about 20 people, which would be a more than 80 percent reduction.

But I also heard a comment suggesting that to survive online, the PI would have to give up local coverage.

I strongly disagree. I suggest that local coverage will be their saving grace. I would even suggest hyper-local coverage. That means coverage of every neighborhood in Seattle, all the time.

But how would 20 staffers do this? That's a lot of work, you say.

The answer is in engaging the citizens of Seattle. The concept actually has a name, citizen journalism, and has been around for many years before the Internet existed.

Here's a documentary about citizen journalism from Cambridge Community Television in the UK.

Of course the Internet brought new life to citizen journalism. It was 1995 when technology reporter Joshua Quittner declared the birth of “Way New Journalism.” I remember where I was when I first read his article, and I try to read it at least once a year. "Look, you know some things are going to have to change around here." Quittner says. "Like journalism, for instance ... I'm talking about a sea change in journalism itself, in the way we do the work of reporting and presenting information."

And that's exactly the point.

As a former newspaper journalist myself I've seen first hand how mass media gets really nervous when there's talk of those regular folks out there reporting the news. And as a trained journalism student who graduated from an accredited journalism school I get that lots of folks don't have the fancy formal training that the "professionals" have.

But the thing about the Internet is that it is a cybernetic system, which means it's self correcting. All of that journalism training had to be in place with a limited press because there were only a few people who got to talk, and it was up to them to be sure that they had some notion of fairness. But today, with technology, there are so many voices out there that the truth will come forth, even if one blog is completely biased.

I have one more thought, and that's that it could very well be the role of the professional journalist to help train the citizen journalist. You see, it's not about dividing professional and citizen content, it's about integrating the two.

The question is, who is going to take the first step forward?

Maybe the Seattle Post-Intelligencer can have at it. I mean, what have they got to lose?

(In full disclosure, I worked as a reporter in the digital division of Seattle's other mass market paper, The Seattle Times, from 1994-1997).

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Geek wishes for the new year

Here are my wishes for the coming year. I'd love to hear about yours.

1. The term "Web 2.0" dies
We've been talking about Web 2.0 for six or seven years now. Let's make 2009 the year that Web 2.0 becomes the Web. It's not specialized, it's not different, it just is.

2. Community gets integrated through the user experience
That means no more "community" tabs on the nav, but rather community elements infused throughout a site.

3. The "experts" share the knowledge
I hope that everyone in your organization has the vocabulary and knowledge to talk about social media and understand its core concepts. If you're the resident expert, it's your job to infuse knowledge throughout. Don't worry--they'll still need you.

4. Social media consultancies stop popping up out of the woodwork
Everyone and their brother became a social media expert in 2008. It reminds me of the portal and e-commerce trend of 1999. Lord have mercy.

5. The semantic web (aka Web 3.0) takes hold
Shard vocabularies, taxonomies, context ... let's get this party started! The semantic web is where social media truly takes hold. It's not about a viral video but rather a meaningful, relevant experience that goes beyond the construct of a web site.

Have a fabulous 2009!