Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Twitter Newsfeed Changes: Good or Bad?

Twitter Newsfeed Changes: Good or Bad?

This week, Twitter annouced that it was looking into offering users a more 'curated', algorithmically-sourced newsfeed to it's users - whether they like it or not.

As a business, that's their prerogative, but I have to say that it's a mis-step from them in my opinion.

My reasons?

  1. It's not their newsfeed: people like to be in control of what they see, and everybody is different. Whilst I know that algorithms take this into account, I'd rather have the primary option of being able to control exactly what's in my newsfeed, and what isn't. Twitter is forgetting that we already have a way of curating our newsfeed: following and unfollowing.
  2. Social networks are top-down, but can be destroyed from the bottom-up: Social networks, as opposed to user-built (and even business-built) communities are traditionally ran in a top-down model: the guys at the top make the changes, and the guys at the bottom (the users) have to suck it. That may make people using the network think that they are powerless to stop this, but you only have to look through Silicon Valley's graveyard of failed social networking sites to see that the true power lies with the users. If you build it, they will come, but if you piss them off, they will leave.
  3. Media influencers and early-adopters are still crucial: Twitter has gained traction as a social platform with influencers and people working in the media like no other social network I have seen.
    As a platform, it is genuinely transforming the way many media outlets get their news, and produce their content. It has become an essential part of the content-creation and news-sourcing loop because it appears to be a source completely unfiltered by any internal or external forces. Being able to pickup and follow the trail of a story as it develops across Twitter is one of the few mainstays of the constantly-evolving digital content age. If you curate what a journalist sees, or what a person sees, how can we trust you as a platform? How can we trust the fact that Twitter isn't going to start hiding controversial updates regarding #Ferguson? Or about #ISIS?
    We already know that Twitter censors our newsfeeds in countries easily-offended by free speech - fine in principal if you dislike hate-speech, but what does removing that hate-speech, controversy and illegality really do? It certainly doesn't stop it from existing. It will just stop industrious people fighting it on the net, and acts as a sop to the 'down with this sort of thing' brigade, who would rather not have views expressed that they didn't agree with - on the left and the right of these debates. A journalist won't use a compromised news source - believe it or not (and I do), the vast majority go there for unvarnished facts, commentary and opinion. To remove that would remove one of the major benefits for using Twitter. 
So, with that in mind, can you tell which side of the fence I'm sat on, Twitter?

Friday, 23 May 2014

Britain Thirst (sic) - shaming Britain one typo at a time

This week, in the midst of the European and local elections, an article appeared on professional content-bucket Buzzfeed regarding a political party called Britain First, an offshoot of the British National Party.

In Buzzfeed/Upworthy terms, what I read shocked me.

According to the article, over 300k people are fans of the Britian First page on Facebook - far more than the three mainstream political parties, and over three times the number of fans than the Liberal Democrat party.

At first I was wary: how could a political party with so little representation nationally have so many fans on their Facebook page? I smelt a rat.

However, upon checking the Facebook page, and discovering to my dismay that two people I know like the page in question, I am having my doubts about this.

The page is consistently adding fans, and it’s majority user base is in the United Kingdom.

Britain First Facebook Stats

There are no sudden growth spurts to indicate the bulk-buying of fans, which is a subject I’ve covered in previous blogs.

The only reason that I can see for the page’s popularity is their constant, incessant sharing of patriotic imagery, coupled with strong calls to action - asking people to like and share their content if they agree, and goading people who do not share the images with the inference that they somehow condone mass immigration and child abuse if they don’t. 

Classy political discourse.

I have no problem with people choosing to support a political party if they genuinely believe in the ideals that party stand for.

But I think this is more of a case of mistaken identity than anything else.

From what I can see, the images that are being liked and shared the most are little more than clickbait. 

Lee Rigby, Princess Diana, Winston Churchill. Three people who are stitched into the fabric of our society for a variety of reasons. They resonate with people. Tragic, heroic, caring.

Britain First is exploiting this. By asking somebody to like and share a picture of Lady Diana, you are avoiding having an actual conversation about your policies. Yes, you are creating engagement, and getting new people to your page, but you are not really having conversation about your policies. Britain First - I doubt that the vast majority of your Facebook audience know what your policies actually are.

And the reason that most political parties don’t share pictures of Lady Di, Lee Rigby and Winston Churchill is that they don’t have the permission of the families of these people to do so. They don’t want their relatives exploited for political gain. 

You should know this, Britain First -  Lee Rigby’s mother asked you not to use his name or likeness in any of your promotional literature. 

Lyn Rigby

Are you genuinely proud to do that on Facebook?

Are you proud that you are using pictures of the dead (who aren’t around to grant permission for you to use their images or likeness) to get engagement for your page?

Are you happy to reduce the terrible murder of Lee Rigby to a Facebook post?

If so, you don’t sound like the type of party that I’d vote for. You sound a bit ignorant, and quite frankly thick.

You are a party that marches down Brick Lane, a place where thousands of people go for curry, culture and a bit of fun on a weeknight, claiming that you’re doing it for the memory of 'great Christian crusaders' like Lady Diana.

The same Diana who is represented in all her glory on the wall of my favourite Brick Lane curry house.

I bet you more British people have enjoyed a nice curry in Cafe Bangla than like your Facebook page, Britain First.

I bet you more British people like the country how it is, and where it is going, Britain First.

I bet you that the spelling and grammar on the curry menu in Cafe Bangla is a lot better than the spellings on your Facebook page, Britain First.

Ringo Starr

Thursday, 10 April 2014

'So Ben, tell my why you don't go to social media conferences?'


Lyrics below, for your information:

"Let's Get Social"
lyrics by Phil Mershon:
vocals by Mary McCoy:
music by Dave Curtis:
band: Dave Curtis; Danny Campbell, Tonga Ross-Ma'u)

Verse 1
I'm showing you things you'll like
Trying to get engagement
Here's some photos from my life
My cat, my kids, some bacon

Verse 2
I'm hoping you'll share my stuff
And tweet it to the world
If you help me grow my Klout,
I promise that I'll share yours

So connect with me, let's have some fun
Let's show the world how this gets done

Let's get social (social) with social media
Let's get social (social) with social media
Where we can spread the word and grow our reach
And find our fans in their newsfeed
Let's get social with social media

Verse 3
We're searching for the story
That'll bring us instant fame
So we shoot our "viral video"
And we post it to the Gram

Verse 4
We're looking for the secret
Of Facebook's Holy Grail
We try to keep from paying
That leads to hashtag #fail

(Repeat pre-chorus and chorus then to bridge)

Hey now y'all, can we just get real?
Do we care about our fans or is this just another deal?
Said another way, have we lost our way?
Social's about the people, remember they are people
Do we really need another fan, like or share?
Do we need another post to show up everywhere?
I hope as we scatter we never forget
That our posts live forever even when we go to bed


Friday, 21 March 2014

Lily Cole and the nonsense paradigm


 Yesterday I had the misfortune to read one of the most baffling pieces of sixth-form prose that I'd ever set eyes upon.

Lily Cole, supermodel/actress/clever-clogs has recently launched an app and website by the name of - in which she boldly proclaims will not only boost the UK's happiness (and in turn it's GDP, natch), but foster a gifting economy, in which favours are traded freely between people.

Or, in Lily's words:
The first manifestation of this idea, for me, has centered around the gift economy, a concept written about mostly by anthropologists but that the British government understands as having a bigger presence in the UK than GDP. The difference between the gift paradigm and more typical exchange paradigms sits largely in the rumour of reciprocity.

In exchange paradigms, return is quantified and direct. In giving paradigms, reciprocity exists but it is generalized and not quantified. When something is done for “the other” – for the act of giving – a subtle bond is understood to be created between the two people. And that action is understood to trigger reciprocity. Imagine what happens at scale: social cohesion.
So I deeply believe in the social value a gift paradigm might offer, and set out on this seemingly impossible journey to build tools to encourage one. Again, and again, I told people about the idea and they have gave to it – time and resources, from legal work to the development itself. I have been blown away by people’s generosity, and so it has become, on many levels, a self-fulfilling prophecy. We have built a social network that allows people to post “wishes” – things they may want, need or offer, which are then shown to other people on the platform based on location, on existing friendship groups, and through matching content (i.e. #cooking). The only currency is an abundant one: saying thank you, which is always public.
Still with me?


And to top it all off, it's being funded by the UK tax-payer to the tune of £200k - small-fry I know, but remember, technically this makes us her investors. Did we get a chance to do our own due diligence on this?

So far, people have mostly been requesting either world peace or new shoes.

I'm not going to spend a whole article criticising Cole for having the temerity to have an idea, or take the piss out if the fact that a supermodel can get a double-first from Cambridge. A lot of the criticism of her seems to revolve around her already-privileged lifestyle (an estimated £10 million fortune), her humble bragging ('after a fascinating day with the UN foundation, I visited the White House on the way home') and her highfalutin name-dropping ('A few weeks ago, I spoke with the world wide web’s inventor, MIT’s Tim Berners-Lee'). So far, so standard celebrity. It's nothing new.

But Lily - just to be clear, being very clever doesn't mean that you aren't capable of being misguided.

This gifting economy that you are speaking of - doesn't that already exist? 

People are sharing their time - with families, friends and loved ones. In addition to this, they are also volunteering at food banks and donating charities.

Take a look at this chart from CAF - you'll see that the UK is sitting pretty in sixth place.

World Giving Index

In addition to giving their time freely they are also expected to spend more time at work, to contribute towards the economy, and to pay income tax on what they earn - trying in vain to plug the gap where the government has failed to ensure corporations and wealthy individuals pay their fair share.

Hours worked in Europe

The problem with this is it provides nothing - literally nothing of any tangible use in the battle against inequality, and the mean-hearted concepts that prevent people from taking part in the sharing economy.

So Lily - on top of all the sharing we're already doing, you want people to get together and walk each others dogs?

It's a nice idea, sure. That's why people are already doing this up and down the country. People are setting up youth clubs and societies to protect and look after the vulnerable and the elderly - engaging with people currently banished to the outskirts of society.

And the shittiest part of the equation? Many of these organisations will never see anything close to the £200k that you received from the government to put out an app which enables people to wish for expensive shoes and foreign holidays.

We live in a sharing economy - it's just that some people put more than their fair share in already, Lily.

Stop asking them to walk your dog for you and give the money back.