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Archive for the ‘social networking’ Category

Rock’n\A friend of mine has a band. They are great musicians and fun people — the consumate performers. They are busily working their contacts in the music industry and in discussions with record labels for contracts. They have a lot going for them, but when it comes to gigs… Disappointingly few people turn up. Why is that?

The band has a page on Myspace, which as been running for about 18 months. It holds about 1,500 friends, which, given how many people these guys have performed for and how many friends those audience members all have… It’s a fraction of the number it could be, and still doesn’t explain why less than 1% of them are coming out to gigs. Their events should be mobbed. So what can the band do?

1) Expand the fan base with everyone you already know. They’ll do the work for you.

This is a concerted effort, a planned attack. Make a list of every musician you’ve ever worked with, every girl who’s ever batted her eyelashes (this band is fronted by cute boys, so there should be plenty), every family member you’ve got, community members (including old teachers, parents of friends, friends of parents, etc. etc. etc.), music execs, people you chat to after gigs… You want to engage everyone you’ve ever met — and then some.

Generally, when you’re starting a band, the whole world wants to see you succeed. You just need to tap into that enthusiasm. They feel special to be involved, and you’re doing something they probably wouldn’t have the courage to. All you need to do is to make them feel involved, and they’ll rush to support you.

2) Give your supporters something to do.

Keep reminding yourself: They WANT to help. So you want them to stay engaged. When you first tell them, “Hey, we’re starting a band” (or “Things are going well, we’ve got a gig next week”, wherever you are in the process) and they say “That’s great! Well done!” (which is usually accompanied by the thought, “I’m really impressed. And so glad it’s not me! I wouldn’t have a clue how sing/play/perform!”) , JUMP ON IT. Capitalise on the fact that they’re feeling both in awe and a little inadequate by giving them the chance to get involved and help where they can.

Production in the studio - behind the scenesStart with a little status update that doesn’t have to mean much but feels “behind the scenes” (explain that you are doing your best with the recording/the rehearsing/the chasing up new drummer), but that you’d love to keep them posted on your activities. (And/or will want to let them know the second the album is released or the new video goes into production, etc.) Point them to your social networking site and tell them to become your friend… This is the ultimate WATCH THIS SPACE move. They’re now watching.

3) Give them a reason to stay involved.

They love you; show that somebody’s home at your end of the conversation. This means new content on your site every 3-4 days. Something, anything. Thoughts, plans, a silly story from rehearsal, a “this week we worked on X” rundown, frustrations with production, anything. Blogs are particularly good for this kind of chit-chat. It doesn’t have to say

anything detailed about any person or song; just that you’re still there, and you care enough about these people to keep this conversation going.

Remind them REGULARLY (once every week or two) that you’re busy working on all this. These reminders should find them (bulletins, emails — anything that lands in their lap, as opposed to them having to come to your page to find it). Create hype. Be consistent about it.

This will keep these guys engaged while you keep adding new ones to the list. And your numbers will grow!

4) Translate it into ticket and album sales.

Concert ticketsYour final goal is that by the time you release the date of your next gig, every last person on your now doubled friends list will be chomping at the bit to be there to support you. They’re going to care enough that even if they can’t go, they’ll send someone on their behalf.

The same should be true with album sales. Because they feel like they “got in at the ground level” and helped you along the way, they’re emotionally invested. They’re going to cry more than you will when you get your Mercury prize.

5) Recognise how easy this is.

Social networking sites work because you establish instant access to all the people you’d want to be talking to anyway, in the real world. You have their attention, and are giving them an easy way to showcase your efforts to everyone they know. 99% of it is just a method of keeping track of, and keeping involved, the people that your music touches in reality.

Nobody’s loyal to a band they run into online — we respond to hype. We explore suggestions from friends, we try not to get left out of a trend, and we follow through on a strong desire to help “real people” try to make it. So give your fan base a way to hype you and to introduce their friends to your music. Let them work FOR you.

And while you’ve got their attention — don’t forget to tell them how much you love them and how grateful you are. In the same way that you’d thank a friend who drove for miles to be there and cheer you on, let these people know you care. With a good effort on a social networking site, you can do that for all of them at once. You’ll quickly build a huge group who feel personally connected to you and your music.

Now that they’re listening, the rest is up to you. Give them something fabulous to listen to!

Goin to town

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Circle of friendsDeveloping an adolescent network of friends

Being a teenager, for me, was largely a trial-and-error process of figuring out how to be an adult. I wanted autonomy, I wanted to succeed, and I wanted to be able to ask for help — but only on my terms. I created a “family” of friends, relying on them for the moral support and frames of reference that I had previously looked to my relatives for. We muddled our way through adolescence, as I imagine most teens do, trying to work out together how to handle our uncertain futures, new relationships and the stress of achieving good grades. We learned together.

Underneath that bonding and grouping, I distinctly remember not just drifting from my family but actively setting up blocks. “I want to do this my way, by myself!” was a big mantra of those years. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wrote in the 1890s that the US Constitution guarantees “the right to be let alone—the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men”. I was pretty positive Brandeis was writing right to me; as a (self-declared) civilised almost-adult, I thought that right was sacrosanct. I wanted to be let alone with my friends.

Social Networking – the online models of our groups of friends

Feet of friendsSocial networking platforms like Facebook, Myspace and Bebo allow teenagers to intensify their relationships with members of their group. In creating a profile or home page, they can create and re-create their own identities, experimenting with who they are and how they want to be seen. They get to identify themselves with social groups, be seen as belonging (through displaying their friends) and discover who else belongs with whom. And best of all — the parents aren’t invited. This is a world of their own, ideally suited to the adolescent’s social development.

The tension: Protecting the kids or invading their privacy?

If we can extrapolate my experience to a majority of Internet-using teenagers, social networking sites are supporting them in the social development they’re already doing. The challenge comes in building new relationships, where the lack of context can make it easy for someone with a nefarious agenda to mislead the unsuspecting. (See previous post.) The quick intimacy teenagers build can mask the fact that they don’t actually know who is on the other end of the conversation.

Recent US legislation has attempted to minimise the risks to kids. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA) prohibits site operators from collecting personal data from kids under 13 without verifiable parental consent, and removes their liability for disclosing information to the parent about the child. In a previous post, I have discussed the proposed Deleting Online Predators Act of 2006, and this week the Georgia Senate has begun to consider a bill that would raise the age of parental consent to 18. No minors in Georgia would be allowed to engage in social networks without their parents having full access.

At the same time, the chief privacy officer for Facebook, Chris Kelly, maintains that they are restricted from sharing activity and profile content with parents by federal law. “Under the Federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act, we cannot give anyone access to or control of an individual’s profile on Facebook”, Kelly said. In addition to the overhead if they were required to open up all that data and verify which parent belongs to which kid, the inevitable response would be diminished site activity. If kids knew that Mom and Dad could listen in, they would find somewhere else to talk.

(Facebook of course has an interest in keeping activity levels high and therefore maintaining its revenue stream, which appears to be advertising-based. But it would fall short of its goal of “helping people better understand the world around them” if everyone restrained their contributions to each other’s world views because they felt they were being spied on.)

How do we sort this out?

Biking - shadowsIf we go back to my assertion that social networking is modelling interactions and social development that we all do anyway, then the dangers aren’t actually that new. As an offline teenager, I was certainly taught not to give my address to anyone I didn’t know, and not to talk to strangers. I knew to look both ways before crossing the street. I knew how to listen for conversational cues that I was talking to someone with bad motives, and to recognise that friends of friends aren’t necessarily okay just because they come with a “reference” from somebody I know. All these messages kept me safe in the big bad real world, and I knew them because I was taught.

Teenagers need to form groups, to share information and to grow with their friends. And to establish a bit of independence from their families. Social networking can support this growth, but someone needs to make sure that online safety is included with the “surviving in the real world” lessons every kid gets either at home or at school. Particularly because parents are less involved in the conversation than they were when the children were younger, teenagers must be well prepared to make good decisions on their own. Unfortunately, legislation restricting access or allowing parents to “eavesdrop” won’t teach good judgment. Nor will applying privacy legislation — many kids wouldn’t figure this out on their own. Parents, teachers and role models are still ultimately responsible for these almost-adults, and it should be up to these adults to prepare them properly.

HikingDown

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The messages we broadcast

As I wander through my day, I’m reasonably conscious of the messages I’m broadcasting: I try to dress well to present an image of being competent, I phrase my comments in such a way that my colleagues will feel good about working with me, I’m conscious of editing out any commentary about the wine from last night or having burned breakfast this morning. I’m not obsessive about it, I just try to put my best foot forward.

I think we all do this, to one extent or another. We show certain sides of ourselves to whoever the audience happens to be, some of which is selective and some of which is situational (for example, it may be that I don’t mention the breakfast mess to my colleagues because I’m too busy to remember that it happened). We try to balance the messages we’re sending deliberately (for example, the words I choose) with the back channel information we project (like the fact that I smell like burned toast or that they overheard me telling someone else about my head ringing from the smoke alarm).

We therefore end up with each person/group seeing a distinct part of us, some of which we control and some of which we don’t.

What they see of me
What they see of me

We play to that, trying to make the best impression possible with the information we’re sending out to each specific audience. It’s nice to be well-liked, and having allies facilitates getting things done when you need help. In the business world it’s called marketing, self-promotion and networking; in psychology it’s situationally responsive behaviour and relationship-building.

Who we are online

Now let’s take it to the virtual world. Part of the success of chat rooms, avatars, role playing games and online communities comes from the fact that you get to create and control everything that makes up others’ opinions about you.

Me online - what they see
Someone online can project the appearance of anyone they want. This picture shows that the ‘me’ hiding on the inside has nothing to do with the shape that the online contacts think they’re seeing on the outside.

As my father’s favourite New Yorker cartoon spells out, once you get to create and control the messages that go out, you can be anybody. You won’t be betrayed by any back channel information, so no one will notice that you’re having a bad hair day or are too tired to speak at the meeting or aren’t, in fact, of the same species (see below).

On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog
Cartoon by Peter Steiner. The New Yorker, July 5, 1993 issue (Vol.69 (LXIX) no. 20) page 61.

This is, unfortunately, not just an opportunity for reinventing yourself to hide your insecurities; it’s also an easy mark for fraud. The US House of Representatives passed the Deleting Online Predators Act of 2006 in response to concerns about paedophiliacs posing as children on social networking sites to build trust and arrange meetings with their prey. The controversially-worded bill was intended to protect kids from people who were misrepresenting themselves, which is evidence of how much potential we have for being anyone we like online. (The bill is currently awaiting debate in the Senate.)

Why we bother to be real

Most of us actually live in the real world. We meet the majority of our work contacts face-to-face (or at the very least, exchange phone calls). We hug our families and share a sofa when having coffee with a friend. Physical presence — and it’s associated accountability — are priorities for us. It’s how we are used to relating to each other, and the best scenario for us to communicate the most information, accurately and efficiently.

When I began this blog, I thought carefully about whether I would use my real name. There are legitimate privacy concerns around exposing any personal information that is available to the 1.076 billion people who have internet access. But ultimately, I’m out to share my views, spark discussions and create contacts who will be useful to me in my real life. I want any benefits of this ‘virtual’ work to be connected to who I am in reality. So I’ve made that link.

Similarly, the news has been busy in the past few months with stories of how online worlds can grow to successfully parallel reality. The hype surrounding Digimask‘s technology, which takes a 3D image of the user and puts you literally into the multi-player game, reflects this trend. (See today’s BBC News video rundown of Digimask). Apparently if we’re going to go to the trouble of blasting bad guys in Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Vegas on your Xbox 360, we want the credit for our real selves.

The most common example of this keeping-it-real trend comes from multi-player online role-playing games (MMORPGs), like Entropia Universe and Second Life. Entropia Universe (formerly Project Entropia) calls itself a ‘massive online virtual universe’ and maintains a (real) cash economy. In May the developers sold a ‘virtual space resort’ to one of its users for $100,000. The purchaser bought it to establish an online night club, a marketplace through which the (real-life) entertainment industry can sell their wares to other members of the Universe. When you’re looking for cash, keeping ties to reality (and credit cards) are the only way to go. (For more information, see this article on BBC News.)

Second Life is another online world that has caught the attention of significant corporations out to encourage spending by actual people bringing their real wallets. In just the past day, ABN-AMRO has announced that it is opening a branch of its bank inside the virtual world, while IBM have hosted a Virtual Worlds European Media & Influencer Event. (They’re also proud of having replicated this year’s Wimbledon inside Second Life.) This continuation of big-business commerce on the virtual site is only possible because the users maintain links to their real-people bank accounts and come to the site with their banking or marketing needs in tow. Users don’t divorce Second Life from their first lives.

Keeping it real
I’ll repeat what I usually say: technology is most useful when it is supporting something we want to do anyway. And whether that’s sparking conversations through my blog to further my professional growth, finding new routes to market for existing commerce, or knowing that the world reveres me because I slaughtered more bad guys than my buddies could — we can only collect on the real-world rewards when the online contacts know who we are.

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Behind closed doors…It’s the ultimate social networking scenario: who’s been having sex with whom? I remember a health class exercise to demonstrate the power of viral transmission of STDs: the teacher secretly told one of us we were “infected” and then asked each of us to shake hands with three people in the class. The “infected” person had to use their middle finger to scratch each of the people they shook hands with, thereby “infecting” them. They then had to scratch any subsequent hand they shook. At the end of the exercise, 8 people in our 12 person class were “infected”, showing us how quickly diseases can spread.

This is illustrated with my little stick people below (the red ones are “infected”):

Beginning of the game First handshake
Beginning of the game After the first handshake
Second handshake Third handshake
After the second handshake After the third handshake

Now, let’s take it to a real world: the adult entertainment industry. Those in adult entertainment, by the nature of their jobs, are “connecting” with all kinds of people. Once you throw a disease into the mix, as our teacher did hypothetically in my Health class, it’s vitally important to track who else is in their network in order to keep the disease from running rampant through the group.

This situation came to light when adult film star Darren James tested positive for HIV in 2004 (see Porn Faces Reality from the Village Voice of 30 April 2004). Like the rest of the industry, James tested every 30 days (if not more often), tests generally supervised by the Adult Industry Medical Health Care Foundation (AIM). The AIM not only handles medical testing and care for porn stars, it also acts as the independent authority, verifying and distributing results to producers, agents and other filmmakers. They are the Verisign of the porn industry.

Because they have the “industry standard” position of overseeing most, if not all, of the adult industry’s testing, and are connected enough to the film production to know who’s been acting with whom, the AIM was in the “all seeing” position of being able to draw a similar chart to the ones I have above: Who had Darren James slept with?

They pulled the records of everyone James had worked with since his last clean test and then those of everyone that list had worked with. (Two degrees of separation.) Once notified, these 53 performers voluntarily quarantined themselves until they could be tested and verified. From the articles I’ve seen, only one person in this network has tested positive.

Very much like Friendster and LinkedIn will show you your network, and the people you are connected to through them, and so on, AIM acts as a “network manager”, keeping track of who’s been with whom in order to track (and hopefully prevent) the progression of diseases.

233494_syringe1.jpg

But this is all old news. Similar to how the porn industry drove the development of the VCR and quality improvements on online video streaming, this is yet another necessity-born technology that is now benefitting the mainstream. Wired News is reporting that the medical brains behind AIM have brought the technology model to the rest of us.

SxCheck is a joint project between Stanford Computer Science graduate student Doug Whiteman and AIM, and is intended to be an AIM for the masses. “The SxCheck process is simple. You decide which STIs you want to be screened for, order your test online, go to a local blood draw station, and access your results on the website. It differs from its sister AIMCheck in one way: Your results are not sent to producers and agents,” says the article.

Whiteman hopes that having results available web-based will allow people to share them with potential partners before having sex. He expects that ultimately we’ll embed our SxCheck status on dating sites and use them as criteria for judging partners. While I think he may be a bit optimistic on how much we’ll share and how quickly, the independent authority idea could be useful.

Stimulating dialogue on the subject also can’t hurt. “We don’t want to force anything down anyone’s throats, and by no means are we reinventing the wheel,” Whiteman says. “We want to encourage people to get tested and share their results, to promote dialogue and understanding.”

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It seems to me that in this field there is an eternal tension between technologists who can make things, users who take them into their own lives, and companies/management who are essential for it all to happen.

Wallflower at the Web party was in yesterday’s New York Times (re-posted here, no registration required) explores the management/techie tug of war that seems to have driven Friendster into the ground. It highlights three main pitfalls:

1. They focused on developing exotic features at the expense of basic functionality (their lag times were HUGE, and the site had numerous errors), but the added features only dragged down performance further

2. Their initial board members were Silicon Valley big names who didn’t get the concepts and weren’t representative of their user base, which lead to a disruptive series of CEOs (each with their own agendas) jerking around the engineers

3. They were offered $30 million by Google in 2004 – and held out for more. Now that they’re ready to sell, they can’t even get $20m (contrasted, of course, with Myspace‘s $580m price in when sold to News Corp. July 2005)

It’s well worth a read.

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Interesting to note, by the way, that Jonathan Abrams (CEO of Friendster) started the social networking site because he wanted a facility to raid his friends’ address books for potential dates. ‘”Basically, Jonathan wanted to meet girls,” said Mark J. Pincus, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who provided Abrams with some of the seed money to finance his project at the end of 2002. “He told me himself, he started Friendster as a way to surf through his friends’ address books for good-looking girls.”‘ (Also quoted from above article)

It’s a pity that the execution has had its ups and downs, because the theory is still a method of choice for finding dates. Just this weekend I’ll admit I went to a party, out to meet people through those I already know — friends-of-friends are far more reputable and interesting than random people in the pub! In my opinion, one of Friendster’s strengths was the way its model fits into the ways in which we interact anyway, particularly (in this case) when looking to meet people to spend time with. Much of the functionality seems to have been picked up by Myspace (which hasn’t claimed a purpose, just allows users to interact as they want), but with Friendster’s recent influx of VC cash I’ll be interested to see if they manage to grow into and exploit their chosen niche.

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This article from the International Business Times outlines the latest data from the leading social networking sites, as to what age group is logging on where.

Interesting to note that 51% of American myspace users are above 35 years old, and 68% are above 25 years old. I guess it shows that online social networking really does fit a niche in the way we interact generally, not just a phase of adolescence (as myspace’s teenagers-and-bands reputation would have you believe).

The full press release from comScore, who conducted the research, is here.

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