A like Zite, but I just don’t like my Zite recommendations enough. That is why I feel as a content curation tool, it doesn’t meet my expectations…just yet.
Zite is a content curation app that:
mining content from your social connections
modeling that content
modeling the community that interacts with it
modeling your interests
matching your interests to the content and your community, to help you discover content youâ€™ll want to see
Here’s a screenshot of my Top Stories based on the above:
Pretty uninspiring huh and yet the content served up is meant to be a reflection of what I like and what my peers like so why doesn’t it surprise and delight? How easy would it be to influence Zite to serve up stuff I’m more likely to be interested in? The answer is pretty hard actually. I could purge my twitter followers that has led it down the path of social media marketing but that would be extreme and antisocial. Alternatively I could wade through the content and down mark the stuff I’m not that interested in the hope of improving the overall quality.
If the main objective to go on Zite is to influence it’s output rather than to enjoy the content then it’s decision making algorithm needs to be tweaked. This is not the first time perceptive media has gone off piste. Take for example TIVO’s intuitive recording functionality which has thrown up similar issues for viewers in the US.
No, I would much rather like to think that our interests are much broader, much more diffused than those prescribed by the machine logic of Zite, the scrobbles of LastFM or Amazon Recommendations. That’s why the professional curation of Brain pickings is so much richer in terms of interesting and engaging content, probably because the team there spends over 450 hours every month trawling for stuff. There is also a subtle distinction at play, and that is Maria Popova and her team curate content that interests them and may interest us.
There is a sense of serendipity in discovering something new or surprising that take us through a particular rabbit hole or scratches an itch. Philippe Petit, describes this vividly in the documentary Man on Wire. He describes the moment when he was sitting in a dentist waiting room and came across a magazine article describing the future construction of the World Trade Centre. It was this moment that sparked his ambition to high wire between the twin towers.
Zite assumes that we like certain content until it is are told otherwise.Â But there is an inherent fallacy at work within this machine logic. The belief that we like being served up the same stuff without losing interest. It’s like the party bore who corners you and drones on about a particular subject matter, you may have a fleeting interest but by patience and goodwill quickly evaporates and out comes the excuse that you need a drink or the toilet.
In previous blog articles (here)Â I’ve covered the various business models of media and in particular the pay wall model adopted by The Times.
A Slideshare presentation by Made by Many puts the emphasis on Cultural Relevancy being a key driver for driving traffic to generalist online news sites. Typically, people share news that is relevant to them, and this has always been the case even before the internet as we know it today became ubiquitous.
Therefore as in the case of The Times, the moment a barrier, in the form of the pay wall was put up, it’s cultural relevancy has been stunted by a lack of sharing.
To prove the point I used backtype, which measures social media commentary, to investigate whether cultural relevancy for online news is intrinsically linked to being a) free and b) shareable.
In order to perform a meaningful comparison I measured The Times against The Huffington Post:
It becomes clear that in terms of cultural relevancy, a lot more social media equity is contained within The Huffington Post when compared with the Times.
Neverthless I wanted to make sure I was comparing apples with apples and focused purely on online news in the UK. In this case The Times vs The Guardian.
Again The Times is significantly behind those online news publications which are free.
But let’s not assume that a pay wall is a barrier for conversation and sharing of content. The evidence would suggest it impacts specifically general online news. When you start to apply specialist online subscription services – such as the FT, cultural relevancy is not impacted.
What becomes evident is that cultural relevancy is determined by three core factors: relevant content, directed to an engaged audience, which encourages conversation. The strategy employed by The Times has diminished it’s cultural relevancy by starving conversation.
Contrast that with subscription services that offer specialist insight such as The Economist or the FT.com which maintains and encourages an eco-system based on dialogue and sharing.
Cultural relevancy is not about paid or free content, it’s about making content a talking point that’s relevant to you, the consumer.
Marketing Award ceremonies you got to love em! The love and respect of your peers when you win. The jealousy and back biting when you lose to a competitor.
The booze keeps flowing. The wheel keeps turning.
But without wanting to sound pious, it shouldn’t be just about awards. Digital and social campaigns should extend beyond the execution of a creative idea. The linkage between our online identities and our social media interactions over time continues at a pace and yet marketeers and brands struggle to make sense of this exponential increase in data.
The true value of a marketing campaign going forward will be the one that can specifically identify its core audience base, create targeted messaging that is both relevant and meaningful. It’s about increasing the odds that audience will react positively be it to increase brand awareness, or to sell more product or service.
Delivering a digital or social campaign is not about awards. It’s about delivering a personal experience, but within our social and interest groups.
It’s about delivering an engaging or valuable proposition.
Planning for success is one thing. Executing against that plan is the flip side to that coin.
The Sunday Times Social List is an attempt to muscle in on the social capital / measurement services offered by Klout and Peerindex. In terms of business alignment it fits nicely into News International’s evolution into the digital space as well as a natural extension of The Times Rich List.
Even a media empire can be caught unaware by the ebb and flow of our social media interactions in the digital space.
A great idea such as the Social List is ultimately rendered worthless if it goes offline for even a few hours let alone a few days.
I’ve been fortunate enough to stumble across the work and musings of Olivier Blanchard via his blog. One article in particular grabbed my interest and that was his strategy for fixing Foursquare. In the face of increasing competition from Facebook Places, Olivier posits the argument that the founders Foursquare should be looking to further evolve and free up their business model. Olivier suggests the following:
Building a Badge Store that will enable companies to create their own badges with designers of their choosing
Providing a scaleable CRM platform for companies to track their Foursquare marketing channel
By opening up Foursquare, Olivier’s argument is that everyone wins. Foursquare get more revenue as a result of the badge store and CRM, work is generated for designers, and frees up Foursquare’s design capacity issues so they can concentrate on scaling the business model. Ultimately it’s the common benefit of all parties to evolve the Foursquare ecosystem further.
Yochai Benkler and Helen Nissenbaum came up with the concept of “Commons-Based Peer Production and Virtue“. That is they put forward the proposition that certain systems rely on voluntary contributions. Social motivation rests on the pillars of membership and sharing, that is being part of something and contributing to it’s success. It’s this social motivation behaviour combined with an open platform that can accelerate the platform’s growth and deal with external or internal challenges.
Seth Grodin, provides a great example of social motivation and opportunity in his book Cognitive Surplus. He describes how the whole West Coast Skateboarding scene kicked off from a particular group of skateboarding kids – the Z-Boys – practising in the empty swimming pools in recession hit California. The Z-boys would use the opportunity to hone and refine their tricks, through friendly competition, to establish a network that encouraged and rewarded membership and feedback.
When designing or planning a social platform evolution, the users behaviour is the behaviour that’s baked into the platform. If users are not performing as expected there is a need to understand why and to take the opportunity to react to how users behave online. It’s this dynamic behaviour and interaction of the users that inhabit the social media platform that determines it’s longevity.
Olivier’s post is bang on the money in demonstrating the need to remove or reduce any barriers that may prevent users from actively engaging. Failure to evolve or to positively react to external or internal dynamics has proved the undoing of many startups.
Amazing how a train of thought can be set off by another blog post. Having read Neil Perkin’s blog post on Predicting the Unpredictable.Â I then turned my attention to Brainjuicer’s article on Me to We and in particular the tracking of the Swine flu epidemic via Google Trends.
Broadly speaking there is a strong correlation between real world events and people sharing their experience online. Case in point I decided to conduct my own experiment using Google trends on the recent unrest in Egypt.
I filtered on just Egypt – so that I’m monitoring all the search terms for that Country, and in used the terms Egypt and (the then President) Mubarak. What calls out from the graph is that for a period of 4-5 days there was a slump in search terms around the end of January 2011. To discount anything funky I broadened the search criteria to include Twitter and got the same results below.
What seems to be inferred is that the Egyptian Government’s lockdown of online communication had a tangible impact on people accessing information online during that time period.
Workarounds against the communication blockade were apparently in place around the 1st-2nd February 2011 with Twitter rolling out a service that enabled people to leave a voicemail that would be converted to a tweet.
Nevertheless the role of social media in bringing down the Mubarak regime has been overhyped. The fact is that the biggest demonstration took place when there was limited access to social media as noted by Jim Clancy of CNN. It was more likely that mobile communication – which were not subject to restriction and word of mouth that prompted the downfall of the regime.
The high level data presented by Google trends can only lead to inference rather than contextual information on the impact of social media in the events in Egypt. Nevertheless one can deduce that low connectivity in Egypt made it easy for the Government to restrict access. One could speculate that Mubarak wanted to restrict unofficial social media dialogue with the outside world whilst he attempted to get his house in order.
To return full circle to Neil’s excellent article, his concluding point… “How many companies are truly joining up their data to extract and interpret the kind of intangible insight that has real tangible value? My guess is very few. That, to me, has opportunity written all over it.”
Now replace the word companies with government and do you have a have an Orwellian vision of the future – in using social media to manage it’s citizens?
Hollywood is the only industry, even taking in soup companies, which does not have laboratories for the purpose of experimentation – Orson Welles
There are two golden ages in Hollywood’s 100 year old movie history. The first golden age kicked off in the 1920s, and was built upon the sweat and vision of Jewish and European immigrants keen to be a part of a new approach to mass entertainment. Hollywood, provided sanctuary and a collaborative meeting place where the constructs, and rules around motion pictures and sound were set in stone.
For the best part of 30 years the Hollywood Movie industry became synonymous, for creativity, talent, and inventiveness. But the Hollywood system was also inherently conservative in it’s outlook and a key factor in its downturn at the end of the 50s. For example, movie stars, directors, writers and technical staff were tied to long-term studio contracts that acted as a barrier for wider collaboration. In addition film studios, in the US at least, effective operated a cartel by owning not only the production, but also the theatres that ran the films. It became common practise for studios to block book films for a long run in theatres to ensure profitability.
In effect, the Hollywood machine was no longer dynamic, it was devoid of fresh ideas, and had become complacent in the light of internal constraints and external forces. That external threat manifested itself in the shape of television – a new medium of cheap entertainment that you could watch without leaving your home.
It took a new breed of writers, directors, and producers to change the studio paradigm and kick start what known as the second golden age of Hollywood from the mid 60s to late 70s. Lucas, Coppola, Spielberg, Friedkin and others were effectively outsiders looking to dismantle the rigidity of the Studio system and decided to compete with television on it’s own terms.
What’s become clear is that Â the Hollywood system finds itself again on the downward curve, unable to grasp its role in the post digital age. Whilst the notion of Hollywood is still rooted in film making, it’s the business ties with legal, and the entertainment press that has preserved it’s hegemony but at the same time created a mutually beneficial but bloated ecosystem. The advent of the internet, has impacted the film industry in two key ways:
Previously high barriers for the copying, editing, and distributing digital content have effectively been dismantled. Anyone with a laptop and an internet connection can fulfil these activities just as effectively as a film studio
Engagement and social interaction between people has fundamentally changed. Previously our social interaction were restricted by time, relevancy and distance. Social platforms and channels have helped to facilitate a conversations that transcend these barriers.
Critics for example are paid to objectively review movies and to report their findings. Yet as the following article in the Sunday Observer reported, critics are today anodyne in their views and opinions for fear of straying too far off message. This select group of critics are now finding themselves being challenged by the views of the public being published through a variety of social media channels. This crowdsourcing of opinion has two advantages, firstly it’s timely and not subject to a deadline, and secondly its relevant to its target audience because its written by the public for the public.
The film studios continue to be wary of utilising social media channels and platforms to ship products. They are clinging to old ways of thinking that people will continue to passively consume product when the internet has championed a proactive engagement with content. Â That’s not to say Hollywood has ignored social media completely – you only have to see the transmedia campaign for The Dark Knight – to see how effective that was for creating buzz around the film outside traditional PR and Marketing channels.
Hollywood has a tendency to see technology as a solution to declining sales rather than looking at the bigger picture of how people are communicating, sharing, and consuming their product or brand. There is something of the Emperors new clothes with the rolling out of 3D as a viable opportunity to ship their products in the theatrical and Home Entertainment markets. Yet where is the engagement opportunity with that?
The entertainment model is changing with 2010 seeing the biggest ever entertainment release – and it was a video game Â Call of Duty – Black Ops . Game manufacturers are giving Hollywood studios food for thought in terms of a shipping their products. Yes technological advancements have narrowed the gap between video games and the movies, but what game manufacturers have embraced is good story telling for their linear games and active participation with multimedia games. Halo, for instance has created a content ecosystem that allows people to upload footage from games. That footage is in turn being repurposed and shared across digital channels such as YouTube.
Hollywood studios will need to re-evaluate what intellectual property means in the post digital age. A phalanx of lawyers challenging individual users for distributing or repurposing content is not having the desired effect. Hollywood can help themselves by helping to facilitate the repurposing, and sharing of content. Create the framework and conditions to engage with users to create content over and above the original feature film. It requires a complete shift in its modus-operandi, but by releasing it’s control over Intellectual Property it opens a doorway to limitless opportunities for creative repurposing that can only add value, not take it away.
A third golden age for Hollywood is attainable. The Hollywood system should be looking at alternative business models applied in the post-digital space, rather than fighting them. Hollywood should take a leaf out of start-ups, by getting lean and agile if it’s to react to the shifting digital space. Yes it requires a degree of risk but the alternative is a slow and painful decline for Hollywood where it’s relevancy diminishes in the eyes of a switch on consumer.