No Monolithic Social Media Solution

In this rather quiet inter holiday week while preparing for our last Technology Voice newsletter of the year I have been reflecting on my use of social media. More precisely, how social media, has perhaps, been using me.

I have been a subscriber to the excellent For Immediate Release: The Hobson & Holtz Report (FIR) podcast since its earliest days. I was first attracted to their offering, not by their consistently illuminating and wide ranging commentaries on issues concerning communications, social media and PR, but in their pioneering work of producing audio programmes for the internet.

As my interest in social media was slow to develop it wasn’t until I was turned on to FriendFeed by a colleague that I started making comments and having the odd mini-discussion with other subscribers to the FIR friend room. FIR was my means to becoming involved in social media.

Shortly after came the rise of Facebook (which purchased FriendFeed in the summer of 2009) and I switched over to using it because, quite simply, so many people were there. At one point I had over 300 ‘friends’ but over time I have now culled that figure back to under a 100 — all of whom I know.

One reason that I did this paring down is that although there are a lot of controls on Facebook as to who can and can’t see your status updates I just couldn’t be bothered to set them. All my friends on Facebook see the same thing. (Although not everything is public. Precise travel plans, etc.)

I found this to be quite limiting. There is a world of people out there (I would like to think or maybe just hope) who would love to know what catches my eye or my attention and that as a consequence I find interesting enough to share along with my occasional musings on this and that. And, as at times, I am semi-prolific in this matter, publishing everything to Facebook would probably place an undue burden on the patience of some friends that I know there.

So after experimenting with Tumblr, Posterous, and Typepad I was really quiet pleased that Google had bounced back from the stalled launches of Wave and Buzz with Google+.

But I still find myself operating within the same constraints concerning the content of posts and updates, albeit according to the channel I am using they differ in nature. Like Facebook, I still find that in all the other outlets what I upload is dictated by the nature of that medium.

There are things that I post on Tumblr that will never see the light of day in my Facebook or Google+ accounts and vice versa. This limitation to broadcast updates universally exists all across my channels.

At first I thought, like in the Facebook instance above, that the audience — my followers or friends — were the limiting factor. But I have only forty followers on Tumblr where I post quite a bit, about a thousand on Twitter where I am a fairly regular contributor and just under two hundred on Google+. Unlike Facebook, I hardly know any of the audience for these other updates. Leaving my familiar Facebook friends aside the only thing that differentiates what I broadcast to Twitter, Tumblr and Google+ is the technology itself.

By technology I refer to the means of making entries and the display of that material as content.

Marshall McLuhan said that the “message is the medium.” (I have linked to the Twitter feed as I find it apt for this article and entertaining in itself, if not always edifying. However, the lecture in the video below is well worth the time.) I was never very sure about what McLuhan meant but now that I can see that the content of my communications is parsed by the technology that I use I understand his point.

The good news is that there is no one-stop shop for communication on the internet. Just because Facebook is big it doesn’t mean it can be everything to everyone.

We all express ourselves in different ways at different times on different subjects to different audiences. The creative development of technology means that we have more and more opportunities to get our message out to the world in different ways.

What we have to say will be revealed by the constraints of the technology with which we have to say it. If we better able to express ourselves through better technologies and their associated mediums then we have a lot to look forward to over the coming years.

San Jose Declares June 30 Social Media Day

Originally Technology Voice was called We changed the title because we discovered that as we were writing about the wider tech scene we felt that the title was no longer a fair reflection of our subject matter.

However, we have always felt, and still do, that the growth of social networks and their effect on us as individuals and as a society has had the single biggest effect on how we socialize and do business since the first electrical power plants were built.

Social media has become so much a part of our culture that a given individual can now become conspicuous by their absence from at least one of the networks. We have reached a point now where there can be negative consequences for not engaging with social media.

For a professional person not to have a Linkedin profile would raise a red flag with any potential future employer, or at the very least raise an eyebrow. Similarly, not having a Facebook profile or a Twitter account, while possibly reflecting a naivety about how social networks work or some sort of perverse rejection of modern mores, would have the same net effect — self-exclusion from a global conversation.

Isolating oneself as an individual is fine. There is no doubt that there are many people who wish to keep themselves to themselves and don’t wish to participate in an ever changing online social environment and that should be respected. However, for a business not to engage in with the phenomenon of social media is to put it bluntly, plain stupid.

Every business needs customers and the social networks such as Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter and so on are where the customers are. Almost 700 million of them are on Facebook alone.

Recognising the deep importance of the role that social media and social networks play in our lives the City of San Jose has just announced that June 30, 2011 is officially Social Media Day.

San Jose is a designated Global City because of the important role it plays in the world economy. It is known as Capital city of Silicon Valley which reflects its proximity to the headquarters and major operation centres of most of technological titans of our era.

The recent billion dollar refurbishment and upgrading of its airport to being one of the most technically advanced in the world is direct reflection of San Jose’s City council determination to be the gateway to Silicon Valley as well.

This purpose is to highlight the incredible importance of social media in our daily lives.

The Irish Technology Leadership Group, a network of over 1500 tech executives who are either Irish or of Irish descent, has in turn agreed to host a special event to mark the day.

Some of the leading figures in Silicon Valley have been gathered together in a special panel to discuss the significance of social media and its ramifications for business and the world around us.

What makes this special is that through the power of social media you will be able to partake in this event, engage with the panelists and ask them questions.

Social media is not a passive broadcasting service. What makes it so phenomenally effective is the extent to which it allows you to interact, share and exchange ideas and access people and resources that would never have been otherwise possible.

The panelists have been chosen to provide as broad a view of the area as possible.

Tom McEnery, ex-Mayor of San Jose and Rich Moran, venture capitalist and author, plus Charles Orlando have years of wisdom and experience to share and are all able commentators and observers of life in Silicon Valley.

Fergus Hurley of Clixtr, Philo Northrup of enVie Interactive and Kevin Spier of Bunchball are there to tell us how it is from the frontlines of innovation and product development.

All these people will have valuable insights to share.

Social media has, in just a few short years, become an indispensable part of the fabric of our lives. One question I would certainly put to this panel would be, “How do we prevent ourselves from becoming complacent about the possibilities that social media has to offer all of us and not take it for granted?”

One answer would be to keep taking the opportunity to engage with the opportunities that the technologies of social media and social networking afford us whenever they arise.

One such opportunity is the event taking place at the Irish Innovation Center on June 30 at 4pm.

San Jose Social Media Day, June 30

June 30 is Social Media Day at the Irish Innovation Center in San Jose, California.

At 4pm there will be a live global linkup across the internet.

Live at the IIC will be a panel discussion involving Tom McEnery, Rich Moran, Charles J. Orlando, Fergus Hurley, Philo Northrup and Kevin Spier.

The subject for discussion will be centred on the importance of Social Media in the modern business and tech world. However, participants will be able to put questions to the panelists from wherever they are in the world by means of the various social networking tools that are available.

There is more information here and don’t forget to register.

NFC: Using your Mobile to Make Natural Connections

Near Field Communications (NFC) is a form of wireless technology that allows users to receive or share information at short ranges of typically 4cm or less. NFC devices can also communicate with RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags. It is a technology that has been developed especially to work with mobile phones.

The development of NFC-enabled mobile phones such as the Google Nexus S, has led to the possibility of using a phone as a digital wallet for contactless payment such as that offered by Visa’s Paywave or the
London transport system’s Oyster Card.

NFC technology allows the sharing of information between two NFC mobile devices once they are in close proximity, in a similar way to the way Bluetooth operates, but in a much faster and more convenient way.

In order for two NFC mobile devices to connect, they need only to be within range of each other. Both users confirm the operation, and information may be transferred between the two units.

This can allow users to transfer items such as store vouchers between two “digital wallets” but could also have a transforming impact on the way we engage in social networking.

Two years ago, researchers from the Chair for Information Systems at Technische Universität München developed a prototype application called NFriendConnector which allowed NFC-enabled phones to interact with Facebook.

The prototype, which was submitted to the NFC Forum’s, Global Competition in 2009, came from a desire to, “Use Near Field Communications to map your social life much more easily to your online social life on Facebook,” according to the Munich University’s Philip Koene.

His colleague Felix Köbler notes that, “Just using Facebook or any other social network and sitting in front of a PC device will not be the future.”

He continues, “In the past when people came together in virtual communities in precursors to the social networks of today, people connected online and then transferred their social relationships from online to offline. Now it is basically vice-versa. People map their real social relationships into facebook, so we think that any application that is enabling or even supporting this process is of great help to people.”

The application allows users to swipe their phones alongside each other and download each other’s Facebook profiles to be browsed at a later time. It also contains a function that will match user’s profiles, and generate automated status updates.

“All you have to do is touch the cell phone of the other person and you can make a new friend connection, or you can make a new status message that tells your community on facebook that you have now met this other person. We thought it would be a kind of neat way to map your real life on to your online social networking,” says Philip.

He explains that, “The broad idea was that you kind of have data, for example, that you met this other person in real life, that you’re at a specific location in real life. You can gather this data quite easily because you just have to touch something with your telephone, that’s all that’s basically needed. And then you have an app like NFriendConnector where you can map this data easily on to your social network.”

The application is not available at the moment as it was, “Used from a research perspective actually,” says Felix. “The prototype is basically two years old now so that’s quite a long time when the markets are being filled with applications.

“NFriendConnector was developed in a University setting so with developing it, doing research with it and then publishing it; a lot of stuff happened in that time.”

Philip notes that the speed with which mobile technology is developing also presented a problem, “We developed the NFriendConnector for the Nokia NFC-enabled cell phone of the time which was rather a low key device compared to today’s smart phones.”

A version of the app which translates its features to the Google Nexus S phone is in development. “We don’t have a title, just a working title right now. We hope to bring it onto the Android marketplace when it’s finished just to evaluate it when it’s finished, maybe in a few months,” says Philip.

“What we saw is that people see payment as the big application for NFC, but through our presentations we met other people who see social networking as another possible driver for NFC,” notes Felix.

Philip explains why he his optimistic as to the future of NFC-enable social networking thus, “The whole touch metaphor is extremely simple. If you set the application up right, the user won’t have to do anything else other than touch something and that will then be mapped onto a whole range of social networking sites.”

“It kind of had a slow start, but we believe it’s coming. NFC enables, in my opinion, a very natural interaction with your mobile phone. You just have to touch something with it to start an interaction.”

“The guys from industry always tell us that it’s coming and that this will be the year of NFC. NFC really has a lot of potential and we’re hoping that it’s coming to a bigger market and that we can do broader research with it.”

Crowdgather: The Importance of Forums on the Internet

Sanjay Sabnani is the chairman and CEO of Crowdgather, a network made up of over 65,000 forums generating over 90 million page views per month and 4.5 million visitors a month.

Back around 2005 Sanjay looked at all the press in terms of valuation of user generated content sites and social networks and realized that forums seemed to have very valuable content, very strong ties between the members and really no love from the mainstream community. We asked him why he thought that might be?

“For some reason there seems to be a general reluctance amongst advertisers to advertise on user generated content. You have to message down to the individual and to the small groups. Back in the nineties that was not how it was done. The manufacturers and advertisers wanted to control the message and did not have any dynamic feedback in their approach where they could learn from their users.

“That’s all changed now and we are already started to see traction. We have grown from 12 million page views a month last year to 90 million page views a month.”

But haven’t social media sites subsumed the role of forums?

“There is a substantial difference between forums and social media. At the same time there is a huge amount of ignorance about forums and their place in the eco-system.

“I believe that Twitter and Facebook are the training wheels of the true, deep internet experience.

“On forums most people use imaginary user names. Who you are in the real world, how big your bank balance is, how pretty or handsome you are does not matter on a forum. What matters on a forum is the worth of your intellect, the merit of your thoughts and your ability to communicate them.

“Unfortunately, they are not very pretty. There are legacy issues in how pretty they can be made because of how arcane the software is. But if you look at them for what they are — as vehicles for many to many communication — they are the best applications of many to many interaction.

“Facebook is not many to many. It is me and my friends and at any given time it’s me communicating with my friends or me participating in the communication of my friends. We are never all in it together because I may not have friends that overlap your group of friends.

“Forums are designed for a multiplicity of people to communicate with a multiplicity of people and they are done in an organized fashion with a taxonomy that makes sense.

“If you go to a standard forum you will find an index. There’ll be be a section that has an introduction for new members and a section to put your complaints. You’ll find the subject you are interested in is broken down into various sub-headings. It is very easy to find the information and, specifically, the conversation that you are looking to create or participate in.

“What forums allow you to do is the sum total of everything you can do on the internet.

“On a good forum you can read a review. You can have a member do a tutorial on how to jailbreak a phone or how to hack something. You can have your typical Q&A threads. You can post a question to the community. You can also share. There are very few places that have this aggregate of knowledge.

“Facebook allows you to share social linkages. You see pictures of your friend’s new born child and you get to congratulate them. Linkedin captures your work history; who you have worked with and the chronology of your work experience. Twitter allows you to broadcast to your followers.

“There is nowhere else [besides forums] on the internet where your passions, your hobbies and your knowledge base is sufficiently given credit for.”

Apart from being a powerful advocate for forums Sanjay also runs Crowdgather as a business.

“We are focused on what is unique about forums. In the meantime we pursue an acquisition and advertising driven business strategy because in order to get to our dreams we need to have a day job. Get bigger, charge more for ads and give advertisers access to the constituents they are looking for.

“The software that we are developing seeks to expand on this folio and create a system that allows all forums to be interlinked so this history and this collective knowledge base can be better utilized and accessed by the masses that are now cutting their teeth of Twitter and Facebook.

“Forums are highly valued by search engines. You take any other form of social media; you take a blog, you take Facebook, you take Twitter, what is the policing mechanism on the links posted in those types of sites? It’s zero.

“On a forum if you showed up as a new member and in your first several posts there were links to a commercial product you would be ridiculed, insulted, banned and the link would be removed.

“Forums are the only class of site other than Wikipedia type sites that has a built-in peer review mechanism. Search engines have already looked at and identified this process as a very powerful form of curation of good answers. There is a framework of well-understood conduct that you must abide by.”

Forums, with their roots in the pre-internet days of networked modems, are the largest repository of high value, user generated content on the internet. Despite their somewhat unfashionable status it is impossible to imagine a worthwhile or particularly useful internet existing without their presence.

Forums might never be cool enough to have movie like “The Social Network” made about them but with people like Sanjay as advocates there is a chance that they might receive a bit more love and respect than they do at present.

Social Media Activism: Scientists Take to the Streets

Courtesy of ShaneMcC

Where Twitter really works is when people are on the ground witnessing events and sending out real-time texts and pictures. On Twitter it requires the physical presence of observers to make the news come alive and have meaning. Twitter coverage which is no more than the retweeting of the already processed news stream lacks immediacy, scope and depth.

The coverage of the #scienceisvital march in London last week was an example of Twitter being used at its very best. Lots of accounts from real people at an ongoing event. It was fascinating to observe how so many people recounted so many different aspects of the same event even though at times they could have well been standing beside each other. There is nothing like that sort of coverage anywhere else in the media and it is something that makes Twitter truly unique.

The campaign and march was conceived and organised by Dr. Jennifer Rohn, a cell biologist and editor of the online magazine which concerns itself with “the culture of science in fiction & fact.”

On the 8th of September, 2010, the UK Government Business Secretary Vince Cable gave a speech which revealed that there was a strategy to cut science funding.

Jennifer was not present when the speech was given but she heard about it from the buzz it was causing on Twitter. She says, “I got very angry and I dashed off a blog post in about five minutes, put that live. Then on Twitter I linked to my blog post and said, forget this let’s march on the streets.”

Original tweets – read from bottom up.

“There was loads of retweets and people were really excited about what I said. Within about an hour I had been contacted by Imran Khan who is the director for the Campaign for Science and Engineering. He said, “I’m with you. What can we do to help?” About another hour later I got contacted on Twitter by Evan Harris who is a former MP and science friendly politician. He said, “I’m willing to help.” And from that it completely spiraled out of control.”

Five days later the first in-person meeting took place at the Prince Arthur pub in Euston, London. There was just a few weeks to put together a campaign and organise a march to make sure the voices of scientists and interested parties are heard before the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review on the 20th of October. That is when the announcement will be made as to exactly how much funding science in the UK will receive.

Jennifer describes how effective Social Media was in organizing the rally, “If it wasn’t for Twitter we would never have gotten almost 35,000 signatures on our petition. And that’s all down to, basically, famous people tweeting to their thousands of followers to sign the petition.

“People like Brian Cox and Dara O’Briain, We had a link so everytime somebody famous retweeted we had a huge boost in people linking to our website and signing our petition. It was vital. I can’t imagine this would have ever happened without Twitter, well certainly not within three weeks or a month.”

Roughly 2,000 people turned up on the day of the march to publicly voice their concerns about the Government cutbacks. But thanks to mobile phones and Twitter thousands of others who were unable to attend could follow the proceedings via the use of the #scienceisvital hashtag.

One of the virtues that nearly all the social networks have is the ability transmit information extremely rapidly but there are times when even the most worthy of messages needs a helping hand.

“We actually had to work behind the scenes to get these people to retweet us.” Jennifer explains, “So one thing I would advise to those who want to change the world is sometimes you have to ring people up and say, “Listen, I’m going to tweet this at 5 o’clock can you be prepared to retweet it?

“You need a strategy. You can’t inundate your followers with Science is Vital 24/7. We were very careful to mix up the campaign stuff with fun stuff that had nothing to do with the campaign. We spread the load a bit. We had about twenty people who were strategically tweeting and we made sure they weren’t all doing it at once. We focused on events. OK, we’re at almost 10,000 signatures now let’s make a push. So we tried to do sort of news hooks…things that weren’t just over and over please support Science is Vital. You have to keep people’s interest going. So it’s important not to overload people with the same message.”

Despite all this effort the future for the UK Government’s investment in science looks grim. There is a hope that the work that Science is Vital has done in getting a traditionally reserved community involved in acts of social activism by means of Social Media may alleviate some of the worst of the cuts.

The Science is Vital petition asking Government to recognize that science is vital and to not reduce science funding is due to be handed into Downing Street on Thursday, October 14th. But the campaign will go on and you can find a guideline for writing a letter of protest to your MP on the website.

You can also engage with the campaign by joining the Science is Vital Facebook group which has over 5,000 members at the time of writing.

Dr. Jennifer Rohn is also a novelist. Her next book The Honest Look is due out in November.

She also has a blog called Mind the Gap

Will Social Media Enable Humanity’s Next Evolutionary Step?

The topic of evolution has sparked controversy since Charles Darwin proposed it in 1858. Even in the twenty-first century, some education boards are seeking to replace textbooks describing evolution with those positing Intelligent Design. But regardless of whether you believe in evolution by natural selection or not, most people believe that human beings exist in their final form, and that we are not subject to evolving or changing in a significant way. However, a number of thought leaders are challenging that idea, and social media may have a role in taking humanity to the next level.

The End of Humanity as We Know It

Ray Kurzweil, author of The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, is a noted computer scientist, inventor and futurist. According to Kurzweil, the singularity he predicts is “a future period during which the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed.” In Kurzweil’s vision, this change will take place through a merger between human and machine, exponentially boosting our intelligence through advanced computing power.

To a limited extent, this process has already started, through our widespread and increasing use of the Internet as a resource. Wikis, blogs and the explosion of educational and informational websites put nearly any piece of information within reach. As technology has moved into smaller and more portable devices such as smart phones, we now have the ability to access any fact at any time, from practically any location, and the trend is towards smaller and more powerful devices.

Although our use of the Internet may not seem like a paradigm shift, Kurzweil predicts that the process will start off slowly, almost imperceptibly, and will then accelerate exponentially. Vernor Vinge, a retired mathematician from San Diego State University, suggests that one way we can achieve superhuman intelligence is to “exploit the worldwide Internet as a combination human/machine tool.” He goes on to say, “Computer networks and human-computer interfaces seem more mundane than AI [artificial intelligence], and yet they could lead to the Singularity. I call this contrasting approach Intelligence Amplification (IA). IA is something that is proceeding very naturally, in most cases not even recognized by its developers for what it is. But every time our ability to access information and to communicate it to others is improved, in some sense we have achieved an increase over natural intelligence.”

Tapping the Crowd

Another vision of humanity’s next evolutionary step is the emergence of a collective consciousness. More and more, social media is being thought of as enabling global consciousness because it allows us to harness and coordinate the collective intelligence and talent of large groups of people.

Social media enables “ordinary” people to collaborate and engage in commerce and information exchange in ways that were impossible to imagine a few short years ago. By tapping into the latent information, talent and intelligence of the masses, social media brings everyone up to a higher level of productivity and problem solving.

In The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki notes that when a group of people works to solve a problem, the group’s answer is almost always significantly more accurate and intelligent than that of even the smartest members of the group. The process works when each individual proposes his or her solution, and then all answers are averaged, like in the stock market or a horse race. Interestingly, it is also the model used by social bookmarking sites like Digg, Reddit and Stumbleupon.

Surowiecki points out that this sort of group intelligence is what is emerging in the blogosphere, where thousands of bloggers, mostly amateur and unpaid, are replacing or at least augmenting, traditional media written by professional journalists. Lon Safko, author of The Social Media Bible, says that soliciting, encouraging and using user-generated content is one of the keys to a successful social media strategy, and this idea is transforming both entertainment and industry.

Writer Jeff Howe has a term for this: crowdsourcing. More and more, companies looking to solve thorny problems are turning not to scientists in their R & D departments, but to the general public. For example, a company called InnoCentive has an online platform where Fortune 100 companies post their problems and pay amateurs between $10,000 and $100,000 per solution. Other social media sites also use this model. Flickr, for example, is not only a network where people share their photos with friends, but also provides a platform for aspiring photographers to distribute their photos to companies for low or no cost. Crowdsourcing, by providing more value for a lower cost, increases overall productivity. Particularly successful individual contributors benefit economically, and companies may also benefit from even the less successful ideas generated by the crowd.

Facebook and Twitter are not collaboration platforms, but they do provide virtual watering holes where people can find and share interesting projects and information. As such, they work to enable viral spreading of memes, which depending on what meme is circulating around, may contribute to or detract from a higher collective consciousness.

LinkedIn, on the other hand, facilitates cooperation in its groups, which are more participatory than Facebook’s group/business pages. In LinkedIn, if a member of a group posts a business question such as “how can I market my website with a very small budget?” numerous members of the group with expertise in the subject will respond with long, well-thought out responses in order to prove that they are experts and possibly secure some business from the asker or other group members who appreciate the depth of the answer. The asker is then presented with a number of possible solutions and strategies and can choose from among them, all without spending a dime.

Master Mind Vs. Groupthink

While it is true that social media facilitates cooperation and collaboration, there are different ways that groups can operate. The most extreme are Master Mind and groupthink, and their outcomes are very different.

Back in 1928, Napoleon Hill coined the term “Master Mind” to describe a synergistic relationship between people where the intelligence of the group was more than the individual intelligence of its members, and thus the group was able to achieve things that the members could not, had they been acting alone. In order to get to this Master Mind level, the members of the group had to share a common goal, and all members had to “willingly subordinate their own personal interests for the attainment of the objective for which the group is aiming.” When the people in the group have unity among them, Hill says, their minds blend and become more creative and intuitive in regard to their purpose. He credits this kind of cooperation with the success of some of the giants of his day, such as Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie and Thomas Edison.

The flip side of the Master Mind is a phenomenon called “groupthink.” First named and discussed in 1972 by social psychologist Irving Janis, groupthink is when a group makes bad, and even immoral decisions because of group pressures. In groupthink, a strong leader and a majority of members hold the same preconceived opinion, suppress any dissention from the majority view and refuse to consider facts that support a different decision. Groupthink tends to lead to irrational and ill-conceived decisions and produces outcomes with a low probability of success.

So the next time you are using social media to collaborate or crowdsource, remember to be yourself and participate as an individual, but with a sense of shared purpose with other group members. If you do, you may just be doing your part to bring the human race to its next evolutionary level.

Jennifer Dublino began writing in 1995. She writes two blogs: one on social media marketing (Buzzoomba at and one on parenting (I’ll Take Five at She also runs a marketing firm, Pro Creative Marketing Group ( that provides ghost blogging services to corporate and professional clients.