Categorysocial media

Welcome to the Post-Social Media Era

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The last decade was the era of Social Media: Community-driven platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and even LinkedIn have completely changed the way we interact with, and perceive, the world.

(Purely anecdotally: I joined Twitter in 2006, about a year after it launched—and felt I was late to the game. Since then, I think I owe a great deal of my career to the people I met through Twitter.)

Societally, the impact of these platforms has been amazing: They have enabled communities to form, they allowed people with niche interests to find likeminded folks around the globe, and they have empowered groups to advocate and campaign for their causes globally without the need for traditional, large scale campaign infrastructure.

Social media also has made us all (with a caveat: some more than others) commentators, and active participants in the global media conversation. In the process, they allowed for real-time fact checking and commentary of media and politics. For a while, it seemed this was a bottom-up revolution that propelled society to more truth, easier access to facts and experts, and a more informed public.

Image (Public Domain): U.S. National Archives: Actual Demonstration by the Fire Department Training Station. Photographer: David Falconer.

And it has, to a degree. But at the same time, the same mechanics have also led to large scale harassment and fake news, and have helped undermine trust in journalism (aka “main stream media”) and political institutions like governments and political parties. Turns out tools aren’t neutral or a-political; and even if they were, Bad Guys are really savvy using tools for nefarious purposes.

By now, the combination and scale of fake news, harassment, and intransparent platforms with their black box algorithms are killing social media as we know it:

Social media first undermined the media’s and institutions’ credibility, and now their own. Facebook and Twitter (the platforms) are the tech world’s functional equivalent of main stream media; Facebook and Twitter (the companies) are the institutions.

In their place small, private groups thrive (think Whatsapp), but public social media has peaked.

We’re headed into a social media winter. The post-social era has begun.

I’m leaving Facebook

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I’m leaving Facebook.

I’m not leaving in a huff, nor to make a strong statement. I simply haven’t been getting anything out of Facebook in a long time and like to do a good house cleaning from time to time.

To be honest, I’m a bit surprised myself to find myself leaving out of disinterest rather than conviction. (I do feel a little ashamed of that fact, but there you go. We all contain multitudes.) I never particularly liked FB, but used to use it a lot. And as someone who for a long time worked professionally in/with/about social media, there simply wasn’t a way around it, and that was ok, and I would say “I’m not a fan, but it works for x or y, and there’s no way around it anyway.” In 2017, this feels patently untrue.

I’d like to stress that I’m not judging for using or not using FB or any other platform. People like what they like, and it’s ok!

Personally, to me Facebook feels like an outdated model of social media. It feels a bit like reading the news on paper rather than my phone: It might be ok, but it’s just not for me anymore. Social conversations still happen of course, but the semi-public model, and more importantly the model that’s financed through driving up “engagement” (read: anything goes that gets you to click “like” or “share”) is one that feels kind of dirty by now.

For me, the conversations happen across a number of platforms. Slack and Whatsapp are a constant presence in my communications landscape, I still enjoy a good private Instagram, and of course I never left Twitter: It’s still the platform I use most, every single day, and I still get a lot of interesting and helpful interactions there every day. (I’m old school that way.)

Again, this isn’t a political statement. I’m 5 years too late for that, when many of my early adopter friends left. It simply feels like the party is over. That said, I’ll be happy to vote with my feet and take a tiny, miniscule fraction out of the “monthly active users” stats away with me. Facebook aligned its service a little too perfectly with their financial incentives, and picked dangerous incentives for my taste.

I’m of course a little worried about losing some contact details. I’m afraid there’s only so much I can do about that. The best I can do, at this point, is to share my contact details and hope everybody who needs them notes them down. They’re also easy to find online.

I might also keep a shadow profile to occasionally have a look at some pages I (notionally) manage. But given that we haven’t done a great job maintaining those anyway and you can tell by the lack of conversations there, we might just delete them altogether. The conversations for ThingsCon and my other collaborative projects are happening on Twitter and Slack anyway. Maybe it’s better that way.

Sincerely, P.

Focus areas over time

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The end of the year is a good time to look back and take stock, and one of the things I’ve been looking at especially is how the focus of my work has been shifting over the years.

I’ve been using the term emerging technologies to describe where my interests and expertise are, because it describes clearly that the concrete focus is (by definition!) constantly evolving. Frequently, the patterns become obvious only in hindsight. Here’s how I would describe the areas I focused on primarily over the last decade or so:

focus areas over time Focus areas over time (Image: The Waving Cat)

Now this isn’t a super accurate depiction, but it gives a solid idea. I expect the Internet of Things to remain a priority for the coming years, but it’s also obvious that algorithmic decision-making and its impact (labeled here as artificial intelligence) is gaining importance, and quickly. The lines are blurry to begin with.

It’s worth noting that these timelines aren’t absolutes, either: I’ve done work around the implications of social media later than that, and work on algorithms and data long before. These labels indicated priorities and focus more than anything.

So anyway, hope this is helpful to understand my work. As always, if you’d like to bounce ideas feel free to ping me.

Social Media in Medical Institutions

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Note: These are some initial thoughts, not yet ready for prime time on the Third Wave blog. Feedback to help shape these thoughts is very welcome.

A recent issue of f&w, a German magazine for managers of medical institutions (mostly hospitals and rehabilitation clinics) had a series of articles on social media. On the one hand, it’s almost a bit depressing that this sector is only now beginning to seriously look at Social Media. On the other hand, it’s good to see some movement in this space as there is much to gain for all parties involved.

The magazine quoted plenty of studies – some of which seemed fairly small-scale, but indicative and plausible enough for me – that boiled down to this:

  1. The whole sector is only in a very early stage of embracing Social.
  2. Top level management is only beginning to see the need for and advantages of Social Media, mostly because they have no personal experience with it (ie. a generational gap).
  3. Adaption rates seem to grow quickly from a low level as the first movers gather lots of (oftentimes positive) experiences.
  4. There’s clearly a recognized need for the sector to engage with their potential patients online and through Social as patients get more and more autonomous and base their decisions on online research and peer recommendations.

It’s a tricky sector for Social. Not unlike banking, if for completely different reasons, data is highly sensitive and privacy is of the highest priority. This is also reflected in the laws regulating both sectors.

Just to be clear here: In an emergency hospital, things can already be quite sensitive. But if you or your relatives submit themselves to treatment in a clinic for psychological or psychosomatic diagnoses it’s a different ball game altogether. There’s legal issues, there’s social stigma, there’s the risk of negative impact on the treatment. Most people won’t “like” a clinic on Facebook, and that’s ok.

And yet there’s tremendous potential in using Social channels in this context. As patients get more autonomous, monitoring and reputation building grow more important. As a clinic, you’ll want to know how happy your patients are with treatment, location and service. You might want to learn how to improve their experience during the treatment. You might try and support them after treatment through regular checkups and by providing a channel for them to get advice should they need it. And of course you can always help patients with shared experiences to connect among themselves for mutual support.

That’s the Social Media part. While the details and implementation are tricky, it’s not rocket science and there are enough examples of how things work. Then there’s the part that I’d put at the intersection of where the somewhat unwieldily named Quantified Self (that we’ve been writing about for awhile) meets mobile apps and networked technology.

More concretely, imagine a kid treated for childhood obesity (the numbers in the industrialized world are staggering!). Once kids leave the clinic and head back home, they’re back in their old environment, back in their old life. This is where things get complicated, as obesity usually involves a radical change of lifestyle – often for the whole family, if there is to be a lasting effect.

Feedback loops can help keep the motivation up, as can group dynamics and regular reminders. All the big and small stuff we can do to ease the problems that might arise on a day-to-day basis. A scale that tweets your weight might sound ridiculous. A scale that helps you track your weight over time and gives you regular feedback – not quite as ridiculous. An app that lets you know what you can’t and can eat given your current situation that very day? Now we’re talking.

All these things might become unnecessary after a few months, which is fine. Once the former patient has developed new routines and a better understanding of what’s good and what isn’t and they’re ready to move on. But for the transition period this could be really useful.

The current wave of Quantified Self and lifestyle and health apps aims mostly at those with an extra healthy or active lifestyle and at early adopters. A few of these services also target very specific medical conditions.

It seems to me that there is a huge, huge demand (and thus market) in the middle here. And I’m looking forward to seeing new services developed for this market.

Disclosure: I privately hold a (very small) amount of shares in a small independent medical services provider with a focus on phychosomatic rehabilitation, and used to work with them on their online activities when I was still a freelancer.

In London for Mozfest and Internet Week Europe

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Mozilla Festival London

Mozilla’s big open/free culture festival, aptly called Mozilla Festival, is on this coming weekend. I’ll be headed over to London and stay for the full festival as well as the beginning of Internet Week Europe. (Sadly I won’t be able to stick around for the full thing.)

Can’t wait for the festival that I’ve seen come together up close, so I trust it’ll be fantastic. (It’s organized by the good folks of the Mozilla Foundation, notably by the lovely Michelle Thorne & Alexandra Deschamps-Sansino, so I’m clearly biased.) Last year’s Mozilla Festival in Barcelona – called Drumbeat at the time (my blogposts) – was basically a geeky love fest, which I say with respect and admiration. This time around it’ll be great, too, and it focuses on a topic that hits even closer to home for me – it’s all about the open web and media.

As someone who for a long time wanted to (and occasionally did) work as a journalist, seeing these two cultures of journalists and geeks (or hacks & hackers in Mozfest speak) merge is great. There’s so much both can learn from each other.

Beyond purely personal interest, I’m also interested in how these spheres can learn from another. After all, I’ve been advising media companies for years, first as a freelancer then through my company Third Wave. So I love geeking out about these things and learn from some of the smartest folks in the industry (and beyond).

Long story short: If you haven’t yet, join us at the festival > sign up here; and I’ll be in London for a few days, so ping me to meet up.

Disclosure: I was on the jury for the Lovie Awards, which are part of Internet Week.

Google+ First Impressions

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It’s time to drop some off-the-cuff punditry. (Kidding.) I’m sitting at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport waiting for boarding one of a long series of flights, on a trip that’s been going on for the better part of a week. So when I got my Google+ invite, I hardly had time to check it out – besides through the mobile app on Android.

And I have to say: I’m impressed.

Disclaimer one: As we see a lot of bashing on one, and hyperbole on the other end of the spectrum, I’ll try to stay clear of all that. If you don’t like moderate blog posts, skip this one. Disclaimer two: I once worked on a small project for Google, and I’ve been (on and off) a member of the Google-initiated Internet & Society Collaboratory in Berlin (a multi stakeholder initiative, unpaid).

So! Is Google+ a Facebook killer? Nonsense, of course not. There’s a time and a place for Facebook, and the level of convenience as well as the incredible reach that Facebook has reached makes it unlikely to go away anytime soon. However – Facebook has been feeling stale and old for quite some time, and they have fumbled privacy so many times it’s hard to imagine that they really tried. Whatever their agenda is, protecting their users doesn’t seem to be part of it. If we’re lucky – and I must say I hope so – then Google+ might help nudge Facebook just that tiny bit closer to become more like MySpace: still around, but really, really irrelevant.

G+ is, however, the first serious and promising large scale attempt to offer a serious alternative to Facebook. While I’ve been really crossing my fingers for Diaspora – and it has become relatively neat over time – it’s not a very lively space.

The way Google has connected all the dots and learned from all the ways other platforms as well Google themselves were criticized is quite impressive. It’s obvious that a lot (!) of thought and resources have been poured into G+. Even the awkward loose ends like “+1” and their other social near-failures seems to fit right in. And while of course only time will tell how protective of our privacy G+ will be, there are a number of interesting and very promising paradigms at work here. For one, sharing is much more granular – the “circles” metaphor works well. Group chat (“huddles”) works smoothly.

The mobile app is fantastic, and the notion of separating between a stream for your circles and “nearby” conversations happening allows for temporary local networks. Imagine you’re at a conference or concert, and instead of doing the awkward hashtag thing, you just see what people around you are saying. This could change quite a bit.

And one thing is certain: Since Google dropped G+ right into the Google navigation bar (along with mail, calendar etc) shows it really prominently whenever you have a touchpoint with another Google webservice – if you’re a knowledge worker these days, that means basically all the time. The integration with the other services, as far as I could tell, works very smooth, too. Google has managed to connect all the dots, and a very decent picture emerged.

Maybe it happened at random, but the fact that Google Calendar and Gmail also got a new, freshly designed interface just makes Google look that much more attractive than just a few days ago.

Of course, we’re seeing only the beginning of what will probably a long iterative process. The not-yet-quite obvious effects are hard to grasp at this point, where the beta users are only trying out what exactly it is that Google+ is even capable of. But besides becoming another big social network (which I’m sure G+ will become very quickly), I expect Google search results to become a lot more relevant.

When G+ will be available on iOS I don’t know. But Google has at least proven one thing: That despite their reputation they actually know how to do social. They’re a bit late to the game, but with G+ they put a stake in the ground.

This is going to be interesting to watch.

ps. For a very decent overview and analysis, this WIRED article is a must read.

The importance of community managers (Focus Magazine)

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When I was asked to contribute an article to FOCUS magazine’s special for Next Conference (disclosure: clients of our company), I was more than happy to write something: About how social media stops being a standalone complex and instead is becoming an essential part of every service, product and company. And about the importance of community managers for companies now and in the future. After all, community managers are in many cases the first point of contact and the public face of your company, and should be equipped with the autonomy and access it takes to leverage this position for the best effect:

Screenshot: Focus Next

Read the full thing (in German) on Focus.de.