Monday, December 12, 2011

Travelling on the right Path

Digital folk and early adopters around the world have recently been given a new toy to play with in the shape of the latest iteration of the Path mobile app – Path2.

Path facilitates the sharing of information, locations, media and other content by its users with a fixed number of no more than 150 connections. Yawns I hear? Another Facebook, Google+, Twitter etc?


But Path has received huge amounts of praise online by bloggers, enthusiasts and journalists for its design. Additionally, Path is exclusively for use on the mobile, making it a true mobile social network. That in itself if pretty rare. For more information, you could look here, and my point isn’t to provide a review.

Rather, it’s a comment on the purpose of Path and similar challengers in the social network space.

We must be realistic firstly and agree that Facebook and to a lesser extent Twitter & LinkedIn have the battle for MASS adoption by the GENERAL public pretty much won. I don’t include the early adopter community (such as those on Google+) here, I’m talking mums and dads, grandparents, kids…those people who are on the three big networks already.

That’s what makes them true social networks - the fact they include people from all demographics in society, and are not just the realm of the early adopters and digital geeks - that first 2.5% on Rogers Diffusion of Innovation curve. And that's what makes me wonder about articles like this, that proclaim "new network X will kill off MASSIVELY established network Y". For me, that just cannot be true.

The Paths of the world have great ideas and amazing ways of doing things, but they aren’t vastly different from what we can already do. And the rate at which this industry moves is like nothing we’ve ever seen, so with those existing networks having been around for 3, 4 even 5 years already it means challengers have got so much ground to make up before they are even level with where the established networks are right now. Notwithstanding where the established networks then might be by the time the challengers have caught up to where they are now.

Speculation is that Path is in a great position for a takeover by Facebook so the Path team can apply their expertise in mobile to build upon Facebook (what it most closely resembles) and improve their frankly awful mobile app that I’m sure many use out of necessity rather than desire. In the same way that Facebook recently purchased Gowalla.

I hope this is true. It would be shame for the thought that went in to Path2 to not be seen by the mass audience. After all, that’s what we’re talking here. And no matter what Path loyalists may think, I can’t see how 800m users will be converted by a single mobile app that does something they already do elsewhere with a connection network they’ve been building up for 5 years.

Can anyone else see a way how Path could achieve that goal? Because after all, that’s really what it has to do.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Stop listening to the music and start HEARING the music

It’s been a while since I wrote something for my blog. Many reasons which I may even put down at some point.

In the meantime here it is, a first post in a while and for those who know me, it seems right that music should be what gets me going again.

Pete Townshend (guitar legend from The Who) recently talked in depth at Salford Media City about music and the impact of digital technology on the music industry. It was picked up by a number of news outlets thanks to the headline grabbing statement that Apple and iTunes were bleeding artists dry like a “digital vampire”.

The essence of his argument was that in days gone by, record companies provided a whole host of services for their fee, few of which iTunes provides despite taking a healthy cut of artist’s sales. His insinuation was that iTunes doesn’t give as much as it should for the money it takes.

I completely agree. iTunes DOES charge too much for the music it distributes. Albums on iTunes are sold at broadly similar prices to what they are in stores without many of the costs – think packaging, production, distribution. There’s no need for them to be that expensive.

Pete went on further and talked about how the digitisation of music has made stealing music so much easier, and whilst on the one hand artists should be pleased that their work is being heard by more people than ever before, on the other hand a mechanism needs to exist to be paid for their music.

Again, no argument.

But for me, he and many other speakers on how digital music is killing the artists always seem to miss a few key issues that I’ve referenced in the past, and want to bring up again:

1. Digital music evolved differently

Physical media sources through which we consume music have always followed a (largely) linear product trajectory. The LP/vinyl was replaced by the audio cassette, replaced by the CD, replaced by digital media.

Only digital media hasn’t JUST replaced the CD as the next product form – if it had done so, we wouldn’t be having this digital debate because the same retail model would apply.

Digital media has CHANGED the model we have to apply to music. The difference between vinyl, cassette, CD’s, MiniDiscs etc was just in the physical form. The MODEL itself was generally the same – you produced a physical product, you sold it. The lack of a physical product in the digital era and the ability to distribute music without a physical product, to an unlimited degree and with zero marginal unit cost means we have to change the models we apply to the monetisation of the music industry.

That isn’t happening. Digital music is still being considered according to physical product rules. Why?

2. So focus on what can be monetised more than what can’t

Of course, there needs to be a solution to the problem of pirating music. That’s not being disputed. But at the same time, why is no one focusing on trying to maximise those elements of music that can’t be digitised?

People don’t only listen to music, they experience it. Music invokes emotions, thoughts and feelings, and live music does so even further. I always remember this clip from White Men Can’t Jump, which for me encapsulates this argument:

There needs to be renewed focus on making people “hear” music, rather than just “listen” to music. Make experiencing the music as fundamental to the enjoyment as listening to it.

3. Technology always moves quicker than the regulation of technology

Legislation was passed to cover Napster probably years after the world had moved on from using Napster, past Limewire & Gnutella and onto torrents. It’s always playing catch up. There’s no point trying to fight piracy in this way, because it’s too far ahead. Why don’t we use technology to beat technology? Or maybe mix technology with changing user attitudes and behaviour to beat technology. Think Spotify and streaming music. That’s legal, digital and being accepted by users. Win-win all round.

So what's the answer?

I don’t pretend to have all or any of the solutions. If I did, I wouldn’t be here talking about them, I’d be “doing” them. But I’m bored of yet another talk by a well known personality about yet another nail in the coffin of the music industry delivered by digital music.

Digital music is here, and digital media has won. It’s not going away, and because it’s how we consume music at home and on the move it’s becoming a more integral and ingrained part of our life with every day that passes.

Isn’t it time stop trying to fight it, and instead figure out how we can make it work for us in the way we want it to so everyone benefits? I think so. Agree or disagree?

Friday, April 29, 2011

Protect your iLocation

There has been an almost universally negative reaction to the news that smartphones – and in particular the iPhone – stores its users location data on the phone and in its backup file. Privacy concerns are obviously key, and this week I was made aware of a site (here) that offers a program that uses that location data and plots it on a map.

My Mac iPhone backup file is encrypted (by checking the box at the bottom of the main iTunes window as shown below).

Because of this I seem to have blocked access by this programme to my iPhone’s location data.

You can try it yourself – download the program and run it. It will give you a map of all the locations you’ve been to (it’s actually quite cool provided you haven’t got anything to hide. It shows you where you’ve been since you’ve had your phone). Then re-sync your phone but now with the backup encrypted and you will get an error message like the one below.

It’s not clear whether this makes the data stored on the actual phone any more secure or just the data in the backup file stored on your computer. But it does at least add some level of security to this pretty confidential information.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Join the conversation? Not anymore

When I first joined twitter I jumped in and played around, followed a few people, joined in a few conversations, built up a network and really enjoyed it. That’s worked really well for me, and by and large it’s what people will tell you to do.

This week, Darron Gibson did the same. A few of his friends were on twitter, he joined in, and dabbled around. But he got quite a lot of abuse, and 2 hours later closed his account.

Darron Gibson however is a professional footballer. He’s not a high profile player, but he plays for Manchester United who are a high profile team, so his profile is naturally raised. Darron Gibson isn’t one of the club’s better players; in fact in most supporters eyes he’s probably not good enough for the club. When the team plays badly and he’s in the team, he gets the lion’s share of the blame. He can’t really be held responsible for the team’s form on his own, but as he plays in midfield and his role is largely to keep possession of the ball and control the game, that responsibility comes with the territory.

It’s wrong he got abuse like he did, even worse that it came from his own fans who saw his opening up to the public as a way to vent their anger. That is wrong. Officially, the line is that he joined twitter, couldn’t see what the fuss was about and left, but no one is really buying that.

It made me think about this idea of just joining in with the conversation. And whether that applies to celebrities and those in the public eye.

There’s two sides to the story I think.

Celebrity is a strange thing – especially in top level football in England. The players are now so far detached from the fans that any relationship is non–existent. I've heard stories of how in years gone by, players would ride with the fans on public transport to games. There's no way could that happen anymore. If players are making an effort to re-engage with the fans through social platforms, they should be applauded.

But celebrity polarises opinion, more so now than ever before. With the amount of discussion that goes on around football in England and celebrity in general, there’s no way that all opinions are ever going to be positive. And the reactionary nature of social media is such that often things are typed before brains are engaged. Plus it’s easy to be a keyboard warrior and hide behind a screen.

Which brings me back to my original point – can you just jump in and play around on social media anymore?

I think the average person can and should.

But if you’re even remotely in the public eye, I don’t think that’s possible anymore. The intensity of the spotlight that is placed even on low profile players (such as Darron Gibson who has never invited or courted that attention) is just a sad part of the way things are. In the same way celebrities learn how to deal with the press, they now need to learn how to deal with the open communication channels between the public and themselves.

That for me is the key. They need to be taught an awareness of what’s going on outside their celebrity bubble (again - an environment they may not wish to be part of, but are by association) and what that brings with it. I don’t think that’s right, but I think that’s the way it is.

Communications have opened up. The internet and social platforms have done that. With that comes a very steep learning curve. Unfortunately for Darron Gibson, he got left on the steepest part of that curve without a rope to pull him over it.

Which side of the fence do you sit on? Was it right or wrong what happened to Darron Gibson? And have we got to a point now where there’s a difference in the way celebrities can expect to use social platforms? Should they expect this abuse, and accept if comes with the territory? Comment below with your thoughts, or tweet me @mazherabidi.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Check out the check in

As the largest social network, I imagine most readers will have had some experience of Facebook. Depending on when you joined the network, you will have seen it in one of many different guises, more than likely to have been after the focus of the platform changed from being based around looking at your friends profiles individually to the now ubiquitous news feed which aggregates all your friend’s activity on one page.

Almost all social platforms now implement some form of news feed or stream. Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, Foursquare, Quora, Instagram. Almost every single one.

Yet a second type of social platform is starting to gain traction based around participation and action. These are the check in platforms. Foursquare, Gowalla, GetGlue, gomiso and similar. It is a more direct, action based platform, and it requires a different type of behaviour. Consequently, commercial opportunities are different.

I think these platforms are more complex for marketers to get involved in than the news feed based platforms for two reasons.

Firstly, the news feed battle takes place at our convenience. We view and interact with the news feed when it’s convenient to us. With the check in, it is almost disruptive behaviour. It is not particularly intuitive to remember to check in when taking part in an activity, watching a TV show, visiting a location. That is tough for marketers. Campaigns can now be as clever and innovative as they like. But it is not the campaign that makes us check in, it is the activity. Marketers can’t control that, and that’s a hard sell.

Secondly, it is impossible for users to be aware of all campaigns based around a certain activity or location. I cannot expect to know what offers are available around a shopping centre in a city I’ve never visited. For me to become aware of them, I should have to want to check in without knowing what may or may not be at the other end of the check in. In other words, the casual check in has to be part of my routine. This is where Foursquare’s game theory works. By rewarding the casual check in which doesn’t necessarily have any initial commercial significance, they allow campaigns to be discovered on an ad hoc basis.

This is my big gripe with Facebook Places right now. Even as a fan of location based networks, this is why I don’t use it. It doesn’t offer me any incentive for the casual check in. If today’s news that Facebook will only offer the Deals platform to organisations with a $50,000 budget is true, I can’t see how Facebook Places will encourage the casual check in, thereby offering little benefit to the SME businesses that will probably be just as important as the superbrands in helping the platform to grow at the local level.

How are others using check in based platforms? Do you casually check in without any incentive? Is game theory enough to entice the casual check in for you? Or do you not see any value in check based platforms. I’m keen for your views.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Anti-social networking

When LinkedIn recently promoted a mapping tool that allowed users to create a visual map of their connections, it offered an interesting outlook on how users had built their ‘professional’ network on LinkedIn. For me, the map showed distinct clusters of connections broadly based around jobs and companies I had worked in, with few inter-linkages. This seemed logical and quite natural for the platform.

It got me thinking about my connections across all my different networks, how the various network maps would look if a similar tool was available for other platforms and how those maps would look if they were all linked together – essentially a complete online map.

Whilst I didn’t go so far as to actually make out the map (physically), I did reach two major conclusions:

1.    My social network “hubs” are on Facebook, Twitter and to a lesser degree LinkedIn.
2.    All the other various platforms I am on have almost no unique connections, with connections derived from these connection ‘hubs’.

The answer as to why this is the case is fairly obvious. Any new platform we now join has some sort of connection importing facility – allowing users to build up their network through people they already know from elsewhere. That makes sense for the networks as it gets users onboard with a large number of connections immediately and allows them to use the service with people they already know from elsewhere. However from a social networking point of view, it doesn’t really make sense.

For me, the whole point of being on social networks is to get to ‘meet’ new people, to interact with them, network with them…however you want to put it, the whole premise should be about broadening your networks. But when contacts can be shared at the click of a button across networks, it doesn’t really promote that. Think of it as akin to moving to a new city, making friends but then as time goes on you frequent the same bars with the same people – your friendships with those people are strong but you meet new people far less. Things become stale.

Foursquare is a great example. I am a big fan of location based networks – I think in theory they’re a great idea and really hope they become adopted by the majority as opposed to the early adopters. But all my contacts on Foursquare are derived from my Facebook or Twitter connections. It’s not easy to connect randomly with people who visit similar venues to you regularly and who obviously share similar interests. The platform doesn’t really have a mechanism that makes this easy.

The closest ‘new’ platform I can think of that goes against this is Quora. By making topics rather than connections the focus, it helps you discover people with similar interests to yours. Effectively it takes your interests and helps you develop new clusters of connections that actually have some sort of contextual relevance to you. I’m not a huge fan of Quora as it is – I don’t really use it but believe their method of connecting people on their platform is far more ‘social’. It’s one of the reasons why I think it will become a more useful platform in the future. It has a USP and is not the same conversations with the same people just in a different place.

This is obviously written from my own experience and perspective, and I’d be keen to hear if other readers have had similar experiences. Do you find yourself sharing connections more and more without actually meeting new people? And do you think this is almost ‘anti-social’?

Monday, January 31, 2011

Social Media WON'T kill the journalism star

It would have been hard for anyone to escape news of the two huge political revolutions from Tunisia and (currently) Egypt taking place. Social media has played a key part in the organisation of these citizen revolutions where commentators and insiders have been live tweeting, organising and spreading word through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the like.

The effect has been undeniable, and it may not be an exaggeration to say that without social media platforms for the public to communicate with eachother and the outside world, these revolutions may not have taken place.

The reporting of these events has also had to adapt. Sky, BBC, CNN, Fox, Al-Jazeera have all been reporting from journalists on the ground as well as following events on social media platforms, often quoting tweets and updates from politicians and the like. It’s sometimes claimed that social media is now the place to go for news rather than news organisations, and the citizen journalists are the ones  who carry the breaking news.

I’m not completely on board with that theory and believe it’s important to remember where journalism – and the true skill of the journalist – comes to the fore.

Firstly it’s an affront to the work of the professional journalist to think those without knowledge of the art could compare just because they’re able to be first on the buzzer with tweets, follow the right people and retweet the right tweets. Whilst it’s important for a news organisation to be first to break the news, it’s also important to be accurate and to report the actual news rather than speculate and spread rumours.

Most importantly however it underestimates the skill of a quality journalist in investigating the story behind the story. There is no way that a citizen journalist could ever match the experience, investigative power and ability to report of a journalist who talks to the right people, has access to the right influencers and who has the credibility to pass opinion and accurately report a story.

Many journalists are on social media platforms and use them to break stories; this is clearly the way media is moving and that is only right as they will be left behind unless they adapt.

But there is still a need for skillful investigative journalism and reporting.

Social media can add to and enhance that. But it isn’t yet in the position to replace it.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Blogs rule!

Readers and followers of my blog (there are at least 5 of you!) will have noticed the lack of activity over the winter/holiday period.

The world continued to turn and big stories included Quora and a gluttony of “Top X of Y in 2010” and “Top predictions in 2011”. I had a few blog ideas around those subjects but they didn’t REALLY inspire me (Quora a little maybe, but it was being overdone). I didn’t see any value.

And that’s what this post is all about. Value. Specifically adding value.

For those who blog or who appreciate a good blog post, it’s almost universally understood to be one of the most valuable and important aspects of any social/online strategy. Unfortunately there’s not a lot of mutual recommendation of good quality blogs. What there is a lot of is mutual recommendation of people. Particularly on twitter. On Friday. I’m talking about #followfriday - #ff.

Every Friday the twitter community, in a pique of what is increasingly becoming sycophantic backslapping, recommend their followers to follow other people. Initially a great idea for people to meet and speak to new people it’s now becoming a way for people to recommend their friends to their followers. Many of whom follow the same people anyway. Others still include a long list of follower names with no explanation of why they should be followed. It adds no value.

I had a thought that I wanted to put out there that addresses this. A new Friday recommendation hashtag.


I want people to recommend great blogs. Blogs that they have really enjoyed reading, blogs that have added to their knowledge, made them think and have provided a great insight or comment on a particular subject. It’s simple, but it would add so much to everyone’s online experience. It will ensure that great blogs are given the platform they deserve. And from those blogs, you’ll naturally follow the authors. It’s just another layer on top of #ff that serves a great purpose.

I’m not sure if it will catch on or not. But I think it should. After all, other Friday tags such as #HireFriday (linking jobs and jobseekers) have caught on, and @MackCollier’s weekly #blogchat must be one of the most active twitter chats online, so it’d be interesting to see if people see value in #BlogFriday and adopt it.

I’ve had positive feedback so far from a number of people who like the idea and starting this Friday I’ll be recommending some of my favourite blogs to my followers and hope to get some back.

#BlogFriday. Let’s share some great content.