Are Brands Fracking The Social Web? [ My talk from Squared ]

I’m not long out of giving a new talk this morning for the first time, at Squared in London to the bright young things who’re just starting out on a six week intensive learning experience.  It’s always a privilege to talk to the future leaders of an industry, and today was certainly no exception.  Find out more about Squared here.



I was nervous beforehand, given that so much of it was new thinking, and the rest was a different look at some older things I’ve written and talked about.  It seemed to go well though, and it started a good debate (which could have gone on longer, so I should try and shut up sooner next time perhaps).

More than ever, there’s a lot lost in just having slides here, rather than the full “sound & vision” experience.  But would love to know what you all think, as ever.

Thanks to Sarah & Jen for the invitation to talk, all the mystery folks who kept recommending me to them for a ‘talk on the social web’, and to Mark Earls for kindly giving it a quick sense check last night at some ungodly hour.

And finally, thanks to everyone who adds to the dialogic conversation around this stuff, by blogging, writing, sharing and chatting about it.  It makes putting the talks together so very interesting and enjoyable.




Tidying the Google+ Garage

Pats wrote a very thought provoking piece on Google+, and how the decentralised model of social profiles is more likely to be the long term winner. I agree with her on that, for whatever my agreement is worth.

Mind you, maybe I’m not the best person to judge, as my Google+ profile is an utter mess.

I was talking to Toby about it over the weekend; he’s a big fan, and uses his a lot, is all organised.

Mine isn’t. I likened it to being like my garage; a self contained area where lots of stuff keeps piling up, and you always mean to do something about it.

This was my garage this Saturday morning, for instance:


The problem is, you can promise all you like to tidy it up, and stare aghast at it every time you walk in…

…but as soon as you walk out, it vanishes from your mind. There are lots of other things to be getting on with.

For me at least, it’s the same with Google+. I periodically walk in to Google+, stare at the mess of stuff piling up, swear to organise, tidy, link things up, and so on. Then I walk out, and forget about it. Out of site, out of mind.

I wonder if with the launch on Google+, everyone (Google, commentators, users) unfairly expected it to take immediately, to become a complex, thriving social platform within weeks.

I don’t think anything can grow as quickly as expectations demand, nowadays, unless they are relentlessly simple (Instagram, for instance, is only just over a year old, only exists on one mobile OS, yet has more than 10 million users worldwide).

By trying to do as much as it does, all at once, Google+ is its own adoption problem. It isn’t easy to get it up and running quickly. It maybe needs to chunk things down a little, focus on little things. “Here’s ONE thing you can do…” type approach.

I always seem to use Hitch-Hikers sections as examples, but it is perhaps a little like when Ford Prefect tells Arthur that the Earth has been blown up, and doesn’t exist. It’s too big a statement, too much for Arthur to take in. So he begins to break it down…

New York has gone. No reaction. He’d never seriously believed it existed anyway. The dollar, he thought, has sunk for ever. Slight tremor there. Every Bogart movie has been wiped, he said to himself, and that gave him a nasty knock. McDonald’s, he thought. There is no longer any such thing as a McDonald’s hamburger. He passed out.

If Google+ focused on smaller things, maybe we’d feel more inclined to try those small things, then the next thing, then the next. In launching with full, amazing, unadulterated completeness, it’s too much to take in all at once.

I might be overreacting, of course. Maybe it would just take a good four hour chunk of a day to sit and sort. I could have it on Sunday, perhaps.

But instead, I spent the afternoon tidying the real garage, not the Google+ one…


Bonfire of the Metaphwoars

Are you sitting comfortably?  Good-oh.

A lot of this might be familiar to you, but if you’re going to Metaphwoar on the 9th November, please do read to the end… I need your help.


Last summer, whilst sitting on the train up from Brighton one morning, I was writing a short piece for the IPA Social Collective… we wanted to change how people think about “social”…

…you know,  how to get the folks in the media & advertising game out of the notion of just thinking ‘big, immediate, shiny’, and think more along the lines of starting small, interesting social things, that are built collaboratively with people to become big, interesting social things.

Just then, a wandering metaphor pixie happened upon me, leapt into my head through the right aural passage, sprinkled some magic dust, and watched as a metaphor formed.

I think I felt her dance a little jig on her way out, as what she’d left me with was this…

“If advertising is firework, then social media is a bonfire”.

Being one of those people, I shared it on twitter.

(Of course, being ‘one of those people’, I share quite a lot on twitter, mostly not as funny or smart or interesting as perhaps I think it is whilst writing it, and regret it a little afterwards just about every time…).

Twitter liked it.  It liked it a lot.

Maybe it was something to do with putting fire in a metaphor.  Maybe it was because everyone loves making bonfires, and lighting fireworks.  Maybe it takes us back to our childhood.  It might be all of the above, it might be none of the above.  But there was appetite for more…

So I started to expand it a bit with some reasons why; stuff like “advertising burns very brightly, but dies very quickly” and “social media takes time to start, but with attention and dedication, as you fuel the bonfire it will only ever burn brighter”


Then, the best thing happened; people started joining in…

Dan – “What about if we notice people are building a bonfire for themselves?  How could we help them make it even better?”
Chris – “your bonfire maintains interest and builds advocacy once the bright lights of the works have long gone”
David – “people tend to remember really good bonfires that let off loads of heat but for every one of those there are loads that don’t light”

…and it’s the thing that happens every time the bonfires & fireworks metaphor is repeated by anyone, really; in meetings or talks or blogs, people love to join in.

Which brings us to Metaphwoar


It’s an evening Andy Whitlock from Poke has created as part of Internet Week, and he kindly invited me to be part of it.  The fool.

Anyway, here’s the thing; I have accumulated lots of slides and thoughts and examples of the bonfires/social thing.  I could pick the best, speak fast and Scottish, and get through the ten minutes.

But it occurred that it’s not true to the spirit of the original bonfires metaphor.  It’s always been a collaborative thing.  It started small, and people joined in.  It’s a bonfire in it’s own right.

So we’re going to do something collaborative.  I’m not going to tell you exactly what yet*.  But I am going to set you some homework.

If you are coming to Metaphwoar, please think about how would you complete this sentence:

“Social projects are like bonfires because…”

See you on the 9th…


*Partly because of some misguided sense of mystery, and partly because the idea I have is still only half-baked.  Hey, there’s plenty time.  Anyway, I’m on last, we’ll all be a bit tipsy, and if it goes wrong I’ll sing a song or something.  Or fall over.


Apple, Ping, Douglas Adams… and #cheeseandpicklefail

I was asked by Campaign to write a piece on Apple’s Ping social network, which was in the magazine last week.  I thought I’d post it here too.


So, it turns out that Apple’s Ping is rubbish.  Is it rubbish?  Well, yes, it must be rubbish.

Lots of people have been saying Ping is rubbish, and sharing their thoughts on its unequivocal rubbishness.  They’ve rubbished it on twitter, they’ve rubbished it on blogs, they’ve rubbished it in forums.  Some people have even gone to the bother to make films to upload to Youtube rubbishing Ping.

It’s like a new kid arrived at social network school, and the bigger kids nicked his lunch money, flushed his head down the loo and wrote ‘rubbish’ across his forehead in permanent marker.

OK, so perhaps it’s not surprising.  If I asked you what you’d want from a music social network in 2010, a closed network locked inside a walled garden might not have been top of your list.  To paraphrase The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, it’s a social network hosted “in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard’…”

We’ll come back to Douglas Adams later though.

However, in a world that’s evolving so, so quickly (Youtube is only five years old, remember), I’m inclined to think that the one thing we mustn’t rush to do is judge.  To try and make more sense of this, it’s worth stepping back a bit to see the big picture.

The past year has seen both Apple and Google start to make plays in the social space – Apple with Ping and Game Centre, and Google with Wave and Buzz. 

Now, the social phenomenon has caught them both napping a bit, and large companies find it harder than small ones to move quickly.  But they’re trying to work out how to build it in to what they do already.  They’re preparing for the future.

The problem is the media glare (both traditional and ‘social’) they both operate under.  When you’re a start-up trying to build something new, nobody is watching.

When you’re Apple or Google and you announce you’re going to the canteen to see what’s for lunch, there’s a press conference at the till and a three day post-mortem across the world on #cheeseandpickleFAIL.

We saw it last month when Eric Schimdt announced at Zeitgeist that they’re “trying to take Google’s core products and add a social component”.  Press coverage went through the roof, and commentators across the world offer a hundred and one thousand different interpretations of what this could mean for users, competitors, regulators, advertisers and so on.  Everyone is always watching.

Which is hardly the ideal climate for innovation.  If either Apple or Google had launched the first version of Facebook, we’d have probably laughed too.  It’s easy to knock people nowadays.  They always said that ‘everyone’s a critic’.  Thanks to technology, they’re now all published critics too.

But rather than poking fun at those who’ve started down the social path and have taken a few wrong steps here and there, it’s much more important to look at who isn’t “trying to take core products and add a social component”.  And I’m not just thinking about technology companies.  I’m thinking about every sort of company.

We’re on the cusp of a world where everything is “social”, from the car you drive to the toys your kids play with.

Ready for the slightly geeky bit?  Good.

You may have heard of the ‘internet of things’.  It describes a world in which every machine, product and object is connected to the internet, and the interaction between them produces a myriad of weird and wonderful services and experiences for us.

Dave Evans, Chief Futurist at Cisco Systems, recently stated that there already 35 billion devices that through some form or other are connected to the internet, and there over a trillion ‘devices’ by his estimate that could be hooked up; cars, livestock, kitchen appliances, pets… the list is endless.

The important bit is that when they’re connected, they’ll talk to each other.

Let’s take the car example.  This year Ford announced MyFord Touch, the next generation of the Ford Sync program (powered by the Microsoft Auto platform).  Amongst many other features, it has its own cellular modem built in.  In tandem with the GPS navigation device, you’ve now got a car that knows exactly where it is… and can talk to other things around it.

Want to know where the cheapest petrol is, or which restaurants are still serving breakfast?  No problem.  Want to see what songs others listen to most along your favourite drives?  Easy peasy.

Then we’ve got toys; Disney recently proposed that all toy manufacturers set out  ‘to establish a set of industry development and technology standards for web-connected toys’.  They’re looking to prevent a format war, and through making one standard for any toy that connects to the internet, decrease the costs of implementation for everyone whilst at the same time increasingly playability for kids.

Think back to when you were a kid.  It often irritated me when playing with two different toy types they didn’t ‘work’ together; Star Wars figures, for example, couldn’t hold pieces of Lego.  Copious amounts of Blu-tack solved that problem of course, though in doing so it created another carpet cleaning based one for Mum.  Sorry Mum.

Anyway, one industry standard that means any toys can talk to each other, whether to form alliances against the Evil Emperor Grrh’AAttH’TTh or to see how often they’ve taken tea together.  No doubt it’ll connect to your Club Penguin account and earn you Coins for playing in the real world too.

All this will be natural for a generation who will grow up knowing that everyone and everything can talk to everyone and everything else; ‘playing nicely together’ takes on a whole new meaning.

It will be so natural, in fact, that they won’t have a name for it.  Which brings us round again to Douglas Adams, who in a 1999 essay despaired of the term ‘interactivity’ and its emergence as a fashionable term to use when talking about the new medium of ‘the web’.  He pointed out that back before broadcast media…

“…we didn’t need a special word for interactivity in the same way that we don’t (yet) need a special word for people with only one head.”

Everything was ‘interactive’.  And in much the same way, when everything has ‘social layers’ built into it, so it will be that nobody will talk about ‘social this’ and ‘social that’.  Because why would you make something that didn’t have ‘social’ embedded?

So then, back to Ping; it’s just the first attempt to build a social layer into iTunes.  It had over a million members in the first 48 hours.  Would you bet against it evolving inside iTunes until its useful and fun?  There’s not many folk have made money betting against Apple. 

But maybe by then ‘social’ will be so naturally embedded into everything we’ll forget what all the fuss was about…


The international language of taking the piss

Idly through twitter this morning, I saw Ben tweeting this… why would you not click..?


It’s a link to a video on youtube by Russian boy band Steklovata.  I say ‘video’ and ‘boy band’, but I’m using the terms in the loosest possible sense…


It’s called Noviy Noviy God, and it’s Not Very Not Very Good.

Lesson one; Anyone can be a pop star nowadays.

The more interesting thing for me was the links that started appearing to other videos beside it…

…somewhat inevitably, people have started making parodies.

First up was the Swedish version…


…then there’s the Polish version…


…the Lithuanian version…


…Bosnian version…

…just when you think it’s getting a bit like Eurovision, we travel halfway around the world for the ‘Brazilian Trash Version’…


…and of course the inevitable ’50 Cent vs Steklovata’ mash-up…

Lesson two:  Anyone can be a pop star nowadays, but you’d better be prepared for the great global pisstake if you put up something like Noviy Noviy God…



2010 Social Nework map… now in landscape :)

A couple of days ago, I posted an image of Flowtown’s brilliant update of the XKCD social network map.

Off the back of wishing they’d done it in landscape for easy-presentation-stealing, I sent them a wee note…

Hello there

Firstly – HUGE kudos for updating the XKCD map, genius work. I referred to the original with an oft alarming frequency…

Anyway, second thing… it’s be amazing if there was a version in landscape. Yes, I know, presentation format.  I know you’ve all put huge amounts of work in already, and it shows. Depending on what program you’ve built it in, I can offer my labour to help transpose.

Of course, do feel free to tell me which far flung island of the social media map to f**k off to…

I didn’t really expect anything, but I thought I’d ask anyway.

Imagine my delight to get a note back from Ethan at Flowtown this morning saying…

How’s this…?


Ethan, that’s brilliant.

Everybody, call up Ethan at Flowtown and say thanks, send him beer, pay his rent for a week…

…he’s just made one of the best slides you’ll have in your presentation for the next six months 🙂


Mapping the social web; 2007 vs 2010

Over the past three years, I’ve made more use in presentations of XKCD’s map of the social web than any other picture…


But for obvious reasons,for the last two and a half years, I’ve been caveating it as a ‘representation of how quickly things move’, as opposed to a ‘ representation how things are’.

Myspace, for instance, isn’t the biggest anything any more.  Well, apart from the biggest deficit figure on Rupert’s annual reporting sheets.

Anyway, I’m DELIGHTED that the guys at Flowtown, in tribute to the original, have updated it for 2010.


Thanks Flowtown guys.

I have just one request… next time, do it in landscape please?  This will be a bitch to look at in presentations…



#commutebox playlist & spotify; TV next, please?

It’s been a while since a few folks and I started mucking about with the #commutebox hashtag on twitter.  It was a way for friends to share the tracks and albums they were listening to on the way to work. 

That way, you’d find out what else folk were listening to, and might find a few more interesting things yourself.  (I talked about it here, ’twas over a year ago now it seems.  Doesn’t time fly..?)



But of course, twitter’s hardly the most natural home for doing it perfectly.  Like it is for many other things, the simple twitter interface was the inexpensive ‘best’ we could do at little effort at the time.

But most folk didn’t search for #commutebox every day, they probably just saw a tweet here and there suggesting some new music.

What we were probably all waiting for was the social Spotify malarkey. 

Since they launched the social features, we’ve compiled a lovely spring playlist, and we’re halfway through a summer playlist.  It’s really easy just to quickly add tracks whenever the mood takes you.



Then everyone who subscribes to the playlist has it on their desktop, or their phone if they have a premium account.  An instant source of a peer-curated music.

So with that experience, it’s of great interest to see the launch of Spotify TV in Sweden & Finland…



Sure, at the moment it’s just for creating your own playlist of music through the TV remote.

But you’ve got to think they’re just paving the way for the technology to work for TV content, rather than just music.

Which would be great; a TV guide curated by you and your mates, that you can all set up to watch on specific occasions (not unlike when we’re ‘all’ commuting with the music…). 

It’s been talked about before, but please, make it so, Spotify…


Social TV yes. But a Social TV remote? Oh FFS…

There’s a great piece on Social TV in the MIT Technology Review, which talks a lot of sense (HT @graemewood).

But there’s a barrier at the top that makes you initially want to skip over it… and it’s this stupid picture…



See, the article features an idea that makes a lot of sense; provide services and software that work through people’s existing technology (e.g. phone).

Whereas the picture is another example of people thinking ‘oh, I’ve got a great idea… and I’ll turn it into a standalone gadget…’

Yeah, because we don’t have enough gadgets lying around the place.

If you already like the notion of Social TV, you probably use your phone to do talk to other people about what you’re watching anyway… so why would you want a ‘social remote control’?

Companies are, more than ever, playing catch-up to the things people do together through whatever technology they have to hand.


Uniqlo & Inception: Riding The Data Comet

I wrote a post in January last year about The Data Comet, which was about how…

…the data that we all collect in a comet-like trail behind us (either on purpose or inadvertently) can be harnessed by clever tools that make our life just a little better…

There was even a rudimentary little visualisation.  Aww.



Anyhoo, two things this week made me think of it again.

Firstly, the already much talked about Uniqlo Tweet Show… you enter your twitter account, and it makes a music video from the data left in your comet’s tail:

I think it’s a neat execution (though the music really fucking annoys me). 

I guess it’s an interesting twist on advertising rather than some groundbreaking marketing initiative, but that’s cool… it makes ‘sit back’ just that little bit more ‘lean forward’.

The second thing was the new game for the new Christopher Nolan film Inception.

Now, we work with Warner Bros in the UK, but this has emerged from the US (as a lot of film stuff does), and given the levels of secrecy Chris Nolan usually surround his films with, we always expect things to emerge from nowehere (we found out about all the Dark Knight stuff by registering & playing for instance…).

Anyway, the first level of the game that’s up is a pretty rudimentary casual game based (as far as anyone knows) on the movie… it’s fun to play, yes, but my favourite bit (and the thing that reminded me of the Data Comet) is the fact that when you sign in with Facebook Connect, it uses the names of your friends as the other people in the game…

Here I’m hiding out from Fiona and Mark…



…and here I’m being beaten up by Piers and Gibbo…



Again, it’s not revolutionary, but it’s the subtle pulling in of the data tail I’ve left behind in life to make something more relevant to me that I’m a fan of.

Just think what’ll happen when people get really creative with the comet tail…