Yesterday morning I laid in bed and watched Twitter fly by. It was somewhere around 7am and lots of crazy things had happened overnight in Boston between the police and the marathon bombers. I don’t remember exactly where things were in the series of events when I woke up, but while I was watching the still-on-the-loose suspect’s name was released for the first time. As reports started to come in and then, later, get confirmed, people on Twitter did the same thing as me: They started Googling.
As I watched the tiny facts we all uncovered start to turn up in the stream (he was a wrestler, he won a scholarship from the city of Cambridge, he had a link to a YouTube video) I was brought back to an idea I first came across in Bill Wasik’s excellent And Then There’s This. In the book he posits that as a culture we’ve become more obsessed with how a things spreads than the thing itself. He uses the success of Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point to help make the point:
Underlying the success of The Tipping Point and its literary progeny [Freakonomics] is, I would argue, the advent of a new and enthusiastically social-scientific way of engaging with culture. Call it the age of the the model: our meta-analyses of culture (tipping points, long tails, crossing chasms, ideaviruses) have come to seem more relevant and vital than the content of culture itself.
Everyone wanted to be involved in “the hunt,” whether it was on Twitter and Google for information about the suspected bomber, on the TV where reporters were literally chasing these guys around, or the police who were battling these two young men on a suburban street. Watching the new tweets pop up I got a sense that the content didn’t matter as much as the feeling of being involved, the thrill of the hunt if you will. As Wasik notes, we’ve entered an age where how things spread through culture is more interesting than the content itself.
To be clear, I’m not saying this is a good or a bad thing (I do my best to stay away from that sort of stuff), but it’s definitely a real thing and an integral part of how we all experience culture today. When I opened the newspaper this morning it was as much to see how much I knew and how closely I’d followed as it was to learn something new about the chase. After reading the cover story that recounted the previous day’s events I turned to Brian Stetler’s appropriately titled News Media and Social Media Become Part of a Real-Time Manhunt Drama.
There’s something magical about the first few moments of a new medium, as people experiment and try to figure out what it’s all about. It’s a period of uncertainty as a small group of people fumble with new technology and it’s fun to watch. Go back and read early Tweets or look at early Instagram photos and you get the equivalent of tapping the mic to see if it’s on.
I say this because I stumbled onto Vinepeek this morning, which shows a continuous stream of new Vines from Twitter. (For the uninitiated Vine is a new product Twitter announced that lets people make 6-second looping videos.) Watching Vinepeek, I got to thinking that there was something really fascinating with combining a new technology people are getting acquainted to with an API that people can make experimental outputs of. It’s like letting people play with the input and the output at the same time, and in the case of Vinepeek you get a very odd thing that feels like a little TV network that peeks into people’s lives.
I’m sure it won’t be interesting in a few days, but there’s a real magic to combining experimentation on creation and distribution at the exact same time.
We’re doing a little conferencey thing on Monday in NYC for community managers and I just wanted to take the change to invite some of you. We don’t have a ton of spots left, but if you’re interested drop me an email (noah at percolate).
To celebrate #CMGRs, Percolate is hosting a small invite-only event expanding on our SPEAKEASY Happy Hours called SPEAKEASY #CMAD. It’ll be a day full of learnings from brands, agencies and platforms including incredible speakers from LinkedIn, Denny’s, Getty Images, GE, MasterCard, Tumblr, IPG Media Labs and American Express.
This is a cross-post from the Percolate blog. I try not to do this too often, but when it seems like it will be worth sharing I’ll go for it. If it’s annoying let me know and I’ll stop.
We talk about the idea that you must consume content to create content a lot around here, and I wanted to share a little anecdote that I’ve been using in presentations lately.
When Twitter first launched the big joke was that it was a place where people shared what they had for breakfast. Twitter fought tooth and nail against this idea, trying to explain that the service was actually much more serious than that.
But it’s not.
And that’s not a bad thing.
The way I see it, Twitter is just a big platform of what we had for breakfast. Except it’s not food, it’s what we ate on the web. A large proportion of Tweets have a link in them and those links are to whatever that person consumed moments before. It might be a Huffington Post article for breakfast or a YouTube video for lunch, but it’s still just what we ate. We are turning consumption into production.
My friend Grant McCracken wrote about social as exhaust data a few years ago and I think that’s a really nice way to think about it. Essentially what we’re seeing is a digested view into the lives of people and (increasingly) brands. Their social footprint is just that: a footprint. It’s the thing they leave behind after they take a step.
Apparently there’s a kindergarten teacher in TriBeCa who closes each day with a tweet she composes with the class. The whole story is nice, but I’m especially fond of the explanations of Twitter that end the story:
“To me, Twitter is like the ideal thing for 5-year-olds because it is so short,” she said. “It makes them think about their day and kind of summarize what they’ve done during the day; whereas a lot of times kids will go home and Mom and Dad will say, ‘What did you do today?’ And they’re like, ‘I don’t know.’”
Explaining what Twitter is was a little tricky, she said. But there was a handy analogy. Every weekend, one student takes home a stuffed animal frog and a journal. They take pictures and write about what they’re doing to share with the rest of the class.
“So when I introduced Twitter, I said you guys are doing this with Froggie on the weekend, and so we’re going to let your parents know what we’re doing in class a few times a week,” she said.
In this interview with News.me, Evan Williams wonders why there aren’t better tools to surface old content:
One thing that I find missing is discovery of non-new content. The web is completely oriented around new-thing-on-top. Our brains are also wired to get a rush from novelty. But most “news” we read really doesn’t matter. And a much smaller percentage of the information I actually care about or would find useful was produced in the last few hours than my reading patterns reflect.
I’m definitely with him on that. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a bit with Percolate and was actually having a conversation about last night at dinner (specifically, why do old things resurface on Reddit?).
I swear I read something other than Hacker News, but today I was reading the HN comments in response to this blog post by Chris Dixon about how once you start taking money the clock starts ticking. This comment in particular, in response to the idea that it would be good to know what companies ran out of money so that others could try the same idea, struck me:
Doubt it would work out that way most of the time. You wouldn’t have the same experience/knowledge/insight.
The same people could probably re-do a company smarter though. Foursquare is Dodgeball 2.0. Twitter is sort of Blogger evolved.
While I’ve always thought of Twitter in some very specific ways (started by some of the same people, it solves the big problem of blogging by taking away the big empty box), something specific jumped into my mind at that moment that I hadn’t considered before. I long believed that the core difference between Twitter and Tumblr was the decision to go with path names (twitter.com/heyitsnoah) versus subdomains (heyitsnoah.tumblr.com). While this doesn’t seem like such a drastic difference, it creates a very different kind of network and feeling. The latter (subdomains) are much harder to monetize on a per-page level because as much as it might seem illogical, advertising doesn’t work all that well on the long tail (Tumblr’s answer to this, of course, is that people keep refreshing the dashboard).
Twitter has solved this problem by keeping everyone within the main experience. Your page on Twitter is less your page than it is Twitter’s page and that makes it easier for them to sell long term. I was actually talking about this on Wednesday with a friend of mine who said he felt even more creeped out by Pinterest because it felt like it took the idea of the platform owning the page even further. He felt like everything he posted there wasn’t really his and as he found more popularity on the platform he’d eventually have to move it to make it more his own. Not sure I agree with the distinction between the two, but it’s interesting to think about how seemingly small choices on how to set up URLs can have a big impact on the way the site feels.
I’ve been having this conversation a lot and thought it was worth posting. When thinking about Twitter I keep thinking of all the people poking fun of the service a few years ago by saying that it’s a place for people to share what they had for breakfast.
Now that Twitter has matured and redesigned it’s becoming more and more apparent that the jokes were correct. Twitter is all about what you’re consuming, except it’s not food, it’s content. Twitter is full of people sharing the YouTube video they had for breakfast and the New York Times article they consumed for lunch. The new design seems to be largely focused on this type of behavior.
Funny how jokes sometimes turn out to be insightful.
Really smart thoughts from Dan Frommer on the Twitter redesign. I especially agree with his thoughts around direct messages: “Twitter is trying to de-emphasize private messaging by moving it a layer deeper in the user interface. I’m guessing there are a bunch of reasons for this, not limited to: Simplicity, perhaps relatively low usage by most users, potentially confusing rules around DMing, and that more public content is probably better for Twitter’s product and advertising goals. Some long-time and hardcore Twitter users are probably going to be upset about this, but one of Twitter’s strengths has always been its willingness to design for its mainstream users at the expense of its geek users. (Tip: To get fast access to your DMs on Twitter for iPhone, you can swipe up the “Me” icon at the bottom.)” Also curious to see where things go with brands.
[Editor's Note: I posted this over at the Percolate blog and thought it was worth posting here as well. Hope you enjoy.]
Andy Weissman wrote an interesting post about what he calls the “golden age of internet marketing.” Essentially his vision, which I mostly agree with, is that a few large platforms are going to create native monetization models that better align the interests of brands, consumers and platforms than display advertising ever did. Google and Facebook are the two clear winners in this world so far, as both have found ways to serve brand needs while creating a better experience for users (at least with paid likes in the case of Facebook).
There are a few additional thoughts I have on this whole conversation, though. First, what are the ramifications of a web that is controlled by a few successful platforms? Andy gives the example of Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Instagram and Soundcloud amongst a few others. All of these platforms have managed to generate a ton of user engagement and some are already at the user scale needed to support native brand interactions. However, this number will always be very small (in terms of total platforms, not total consumers). I’m not sure that’s a bad thing, but I’m also not sure it’s a good thing. I believe deeply that the relationship people have with sites is different than the one they have with platforms, and there will always be value there. The problem is, essentially, to be successful with an advertising buy on a website these days you need to do something native for their platform (the site), which will never have the scale that a Facebook, Google or Twitter does.
Second, I think a lot of Andy’s article places the onus to get this figured out on the brand, but I’d argue an even bigger responsibility lies on the shoulders of the platform to understand how brands actually work. A few weeks ago I wrote about some comments from Jack Dorsey at Twitter about their model. Dorsey talked about capturing intent, which has been a big buzzword around marketing Google’s search advertising was coined as an intent miner. As I wrote then:
Twitter’s value is not about intent, in the classic funnel definition, it’s much more about awareness and interest: About exposing you to new products and services you didn’t know you were interested in. If Twitter can actually deliver this it has a truly differentiated ad product, but I worry they’re following the Google model too much and thinking too low in the funnel.
This may seem like a semantic difference, but I don’t think it is. I think generally Silicon Valley has not done a good enough job understanding what brands are all about and what they’re trying to accomplish with their spend. I actually think there are a lot of startups that think brands are stupid, which seems crazy to me considering most of them are ad funded. What I’m trying to say is that building a native marketing unit requires respecting your customer (the brand) as well as your users (the consumer). At the end of the day what truly separates Google’s search ads from other marketing units is that it’s respectful: It believes the user is smart and the brand knows what it wants.
Last, but not least, I think these platforms are going to need to be careful not to overextend themselves. When Facebook reads an article like the one from Emily Steel at the Wall Street Journal a few weeks ago about some of the top brands spending a bunch of money buying likes and then shifting the spend to content to keep those likers engaged, they’ve got to pause for a minute to think about how they can capture more of that value. A native marketing unit can’t capture the entire chain of value and it shouldn’t. Google doesn’t keep you in Google when you click an ad and (hopefully) it never will. But when platforms like Facebook look at the numbers will they be able to not get greedy and try to capture a bigger slice of the pie? Or will they try to become more and more of a walled garden: Controlling as many pieces as possible and causing that beautiful alignment of interests between the platform, user and brand to get out of alignment.
I’ve been taking some time over the Thanksgiving break to catch up on my Instapaper queue, so I’ll probably be posting links to some older articles over the next few days. The first comes from a SocialFlow blog post about how the Osama Bin Laden death news spread across Twitter. While the particulars are interesting, I especially liked the points they made about how impossible it would have been to predict the players actually responsible for spreading the message. The post explain, “Before May 1st, not even the smartest of machine learning algorithms could have predicted Keith Urbahn’s online relevancy score, or his potential to spark an incredibly viral information flow.”
They then conclude with a deeper message for how we think about social influence that I completely agree with:
As we build out digital social spaces, we must not get derailed by metrics of status affordances that have taken center stage. Just because we have easily accessible data at our fingertips doesn’t mean that we have the capacity to model and place a value tag on human behavior. Followers, friends or likes represent an aspect of our digital status, but are only a partial representation of our general propensity to be influential. Keith Urbahn wasn’t the first to speculate Bin Laden’s death, but he was the one who gained the most trust from the network. And with that, the perfect situation unfolded, where timing, the right social-professional networked audience, along with a critically relevant piece of information led to an explosion of public affirmation of his trustworthiness.
I got sucked in the by the title of this article (“Can ‘Serendipity’ Be a Business Model? Consider Twitter“), but I’m not sure it lives up. About a year ago I was doing a lot of research into serendipity, and most interestingly (to me at least) was that the definition is “the ability to find things you didn’t know you were looking for.” I do think Twitter is a pretty genius solution to this. By essentially allowing you to overhear conversations it exposes you to a kind of ambient data that is otherwise hard to come by. When it comes to their ad model, this will clearly be a big part of the value. But I think the way they’re positioning it (in this article at least) as being about intent is totally wrong. Twitter’s value is not about intent, in the classic funnel definition, it’s much more about awareness and interest: About exposing you to new products and services you didn’t know you were interested in. If Twitter can actually deliver this it has a truly differentiated ad product, but I worry they’re following the Google model too much and thinking too low in the funnel.
I’ve been waiting for something like this to happen:
In a Tuesday ruling, a federal judge in San Francisco refused to dismiss news site PhoneDog’s complaint which argued that a Twitter password and the identity of followers was a trade secret. PhoneDog claims that its former journalist, Noah Kravitz, failed to surrender the password to a Twitter account that was originally tied to the handle @phonedog_noah. Instead, says PhoneDog, he simply changed the name of the account to @noahkravitz and kept sending messages to the thousands of followers he had acquired while employed at the site.
I suspect we will see more and more of these disputes moving forward as we all deal with the rather blurry lines between our working and non-working selves. I’ve spoken to some folks at media companies who are becoming increasingly picky about how employees use social media and the connections there to their professional persona. It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next few years.
The gist of the argument here is that asking your users to do a bunch of organizing is a bad idea (see: Twitter Lists and Google+). I completely agree when it comes to G+ and completely disagree when it comes to Twitter Lists. Let’s start with the latter: For most people lists have no use. But that’s okay, Twitter doesn’t ask you to make them and doesn’t seem to be bothered if you never even know what a list is (which I assume is the camp most users are in). For a very small group of power users, lists are incredibly important (I’m not one) and in return Twitter gets enough data to organize millions of users into useful categories. Power users products have value to those users (and in this case the company). On the G+ side, building an entire product around making users work to put people into lists seems silly (and I agree is shit work). I still contend that G+ is a perfect strategy and a terrible product. Everyone has said at some point that social networks should behave more like their “real-world” equivalents, allowing you to sort and filter friends. But then you quickly realize that people do all that sorting without thinking and if they had to spend a bunch of time thinking about it they probably just wouldn’t bother. It’s a perfectly logical thesis except that it ignores the real way humans behave. Then again, maybe I don’t know anything … They seem to have a lot of users.