Social World

The terrible events in Japan over the past few days have affected many of us. A lot of people have been using social media to share information, discuss the tragedy and find ways to help those affected. And some have used social media in ways that make you want to bang your head on the table.

So let me repeat three very simple points about social media that people and companies should ALWAYS bear in mind:

1. Cause precedes effect

Offering to donate a sum of money to disaster relief if people “Like” or retweet your brand is magical thinking which puts effect before cause. Donate the money first and that way people will “Like” and retweet your brand because they respect you.

2. There is only one world

If you or someone in your organization uses social media to post something stupid or offensive in a public space then it will be heard by the entire world. This is not about private vs. public but local vs. global. Once uttered it is there forever and for everyone.

3. Write then edit

If you have to explain a tweet then you are either trying to describe something that simply cannot be done in 140 characters or you are assuming knowledge on the part of the reader when you cannot safely make that assumption.

The basic rule for social media is the same as the basic rule for life – think.

If you would like to do something to help Japan then one way you can do so is through the Red Cross.

Two different stories, one platform

Twitter release an updated client for iOS which puts a large black hashtag bar across the top of the screen which results in users complaining bitterly that the functionality of the app had been sacrificed to the demands of monetization.

This morning I awoke to an update from someone whose long established Twitter username had been claimed by an organization who post-dated the person’s use of that username but who were a registered commercial entity.

The thing which they have in common is that they both reflect the difference between open and proprietary platforms.

The thing which most differentiates Twitter from email is that the email we use is based around a series of open standards – RFC1939, RFC822, RFC5321 amongst others.

Twitter can change the rules at any time.

But it’s not just Twitter

I wrote earlier this week about the risk of a single point of dependency in business models, but what if that single point of dependency is in our social and personal lives instead?

He’s Frank

No, not or even.

This Frank is our attempt at trying to pull the world of work together. I suppose you could call it a portal but I do not really like the portal concept, work portals tend to be either overloaded or underfunctional. Too often they provide a nice frontend but the second you click on anything the horror emerges and it’s hello VT52 all over again.

Most enterprise systems tend to the user hostile, after all how would consultants make their money if systems were easy to use and implement? So how do we square the circle and come up with an enterprise front end which is user friendly, powerful, simple and drives usage?

Hence Frank. At the moment Frank is ideas and some bits of technology and demonstrators but we aim to go PoC in mid-September and I plan to document the journey here.

Oh and the name is not an acronym, we hate acronyms, it is in memorium.

“I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that”

An interesting report into the blockers behind the adoption of social media in government is quoted as flagging up IT as one of those key blockers. I will ask the guys at Huddle for a copy of their report as we use Huddle and I recommend anyone looking for a quick and easy project collaboration tool to take a look at their service.

I find it interesting that the pitch of the article is that we in IT are against social networking. Ok, so it’s another thing to manage and another possible path for information to leak but we could have made all these arguments about the telephone or allowing people to speak in the office.

Personally I think that the problem is not so much with my fellow CIOs but rather with the fact that social media is inherently disruptive. We work in bureaucracies which have grown over the years and where information and social networks are both power and inherently built into the very fabric of the organization. Tools which allow you to recast information and social networks in an agile manner strike at this traditional worldview and in my world we do not necessarily have the same market pressures which affect other classic information/social network businesses like newspapers or retail.

Anyway, I’m one public sector CIO pushing on with our own social media developments.

Wisdom of the crowd vs Regression to the mean

I am a big fan of Last.fm. Over the past couple of years it has become my default way of finding out about music. The way it learns your taste and (somewhat) challenges it is great and I have enough of the trainspotter about me to be interested in the charts it creates of the music I have most listened to in the past week, month or year.

Last.fm, like everything in this world these days, has a social networking component, part of which allows you to join groups. I belong to two such groups, one for readers of Metafilter, the other for people who shop at PostEverything.

So, two groups, one aimed at a mainly American technology aware, socially minded group of people; the other for people who shop at an esoteric online shop for “interesting” music.

And when you look at the charts of most popular music in the two groups you find … a large degree of similarity. Radiohead … check, Coldplay … check, Portishead … check.

There is nothing surprising in popular music being popular. But it got me thinking about taste and popularity and the connection between chart position and tag clouds. One goes up and one gets bigger but both tell the same story.

And the concept of popularity always makes me think about the story of how architects define paths on campuses by letting people walk across the grass, organically creating links and these emergent paths are then used as the basis for the formal paths.

This is often quoted as an example of the “wisdom of the crowd“. The way in which a decision taken by a group may be smarter than that taken by individual members of the group.

But you can also think of it as an example of “regression to the mean“. The tendency of distributions to collect around the mean point. This is just a natural reflection of the fact that most things are around average, by definition, but we humans like stories, we like to think that what we are seeing is something real, not just a statistical artifact.

We see this time and again in life. A football manager is acclaimed one season as a genius and accused of failure the next, when you look at the stats all that has happened is that they won slightly more games than the form book would indicate in year one and slightly less in year two. Whenever things are at an extreme we either proclaim a new paradigm – “The Bubble is eternal!” or start looking for reasons to explain something which may just be noise.

I find myself thinking about what this might mean for social media and engagement. If we create a more agile public space, one which is as frictionless as possible. Where people can rapidly engage with and shape policy, is there a risk that we conflate noise and reality?