A Quick Take On Google+

Today, Google announced a new social network called Google+. While it’s invite only at the moment, I thought I would quickly highlight two features, both of which may fundamentally change the way businesses build their social media strategy:

  1. It allows you group friends into circles, so you can share particular information only with a specific group of friends. This is part of Google’s push to promote privacy in social networks, and a direct attack on Facebook’s share everything with all your friends.
  2. It has a discovery engine called Sparks that allows people to discover relevant content identified by Google Search and the Google +1 button.

It is a revolutionary take on how social media will function. It’s invite-only at the moment, but will be rolled out very quickly. At 2020Social, we’re going to examine this very carefully to understand the opportunities/challenges it represents for our clients and share that understanding.

You can see a demo here or just scroll down to find all the demo videos. If you’d like to read more about the service, check out the stories in the NYTimes,  WiredTechcrunch, and Mashable.

I recently wrote about how I believe social media will evolve.

The Freedom Box — the future of social media, the Internet and personal freedom

Eben Moglen, the famous free software attorney (wikipedia entry), talks about the world we live in today where we are tracked, measured and monitored in real time, in the video below. A world, where we are no longer anonymous.

He talks about many of the things that have bothered me for a while now. Let me give you a simple example: I wanted to attend the Triggr event in Noida, India today (Saturday, June 18, 2011). When I went to register for the event, I was asked to sign in via Twitter.

These are the things Triggr wanted to do:

The permissions that Triggr wanted from my Twitter account

Reading Tweets from my Timeline is fine, seeing who I follow is okay as well, since that is public information. But follow new people, update my profile, posts tweets, and the show-stopper: access direct messages till June 30th!

I didn’t register, and I didn’t attend.

Facebook has data about 700 million individuals. So, Facebook knows who we are, where we live, who are friends our, what we like, what we want, what we think…

Watch this video:

Eben Moglen is trying to give the internet, and our lives, back to us.

Track the Freedom Box Foundation here: whose goal “is to write free software that enables widely distributed social networking that runs on tiny automated individual home computers.”

Rant: When Social Media and Crowdsourcing gets hijacked by Groupthink

I read a guest post on Cult of Mac today that got me hopping mad. Written by Adel Zakout, it’s basically about how Apple’s new campus needed to be crowdsourced. Oh, and incidentally, Mr Zakout owns a crowdsourcing platform (and a mobile app) for buildings etc.

It’s a reaction to this video (I tweeted about it yesterday):

And here’s my comment reproduced in full below (with minor edits to fix grammatical slips and typographical slurs :)

This post reminds me of Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead. More specifically, it reminds me of the architects who opposed Howard Roark’s heretic designs since they didn’t include the sort of features that the others were including in their own buildings (think Grecian columns).

Let me quote Mr Zakout and address each of his points:

“To be able to take part in an open process of deciding what types of buildings, spaces and community projects are planned, that ultimately affect our everyday lives.”

How exactly does the Apple campus, or any company’s campus affect the everyday lives of the people who live in the area but don’t work there?

The biggest Effect? Traffic: A large campus housing a lot of people will result in more commuters. That was a question that was asked and addressed — the current offices there have 9,500 people working, and therefore, commuting to and fro.

However, Mr Zakout goes further. For some reason he believes “the community didn’t seem to be involved in the decision-making process behind the building.”

How exactly does he want the community to be involved — help Steve buy the land, or pay for the architects so they can be part of briefing and review meetings, or perhaps become architects themselves …

“although I would question how considerate it is to its local history and surroundings. Yes, the increase of green space and the fact that it is a low-rise building is thoughtful – but, architecturally, this building could be located in London, Beijing or Dubai. It doesn’t seem to have any specific contextual link.”

Correct me if I am wrong but that reads to me like the author is suggesting that every locality has an architectural style that needs to be preserved, and copied ad nauseum.

Also, buildings aren’t located anywhere architecturally, they are located in places physically. So, this building, whatever you may think of it is NOT located in London, Beijing or Dubai — this is, at best, a specious argument.

“What about the thoughts and concerns of the local residents – whether positive or negative?”

Ah, Mr Zakout, how nice of you to take up cudgels on behalf of the local residents. It’s so easy to get free publicity when you become a champion for the poor, the needy, the downtrodden. How about we wait for the meeting where the building permissions will be discussed, and any objections that the town may have will be aired.

“Developers and Architects need to also be able to engage with the local community when thinking about buildings in order to manage their process more transparently.”

In other words, Mr Zakout, developers, architects, steve jobs, and the town of Cupertino needs to sign up on your website. This last point is perhaps the most vulgar of the lot.

I have a day job heading one of India’s leading social media agencies. I have built tools enabling crowd-sourced ideation that are being used by fairly interesting people in interesting ways. But, I also have the good fortune of a childhood that included reading Orwell and Huxley.

What Mr Zakout suggests is not a crowdsourced alternative, he is pushing for groupthink. He seems to believe a collective intelligence can design a better building than an individual expert. Leave architecture to the architects Mr Zakout, and let the good folks of Cupertino fight their own battles.

Three lessons to be learnt from Vodafone’s Social Media Fail

Today, Vodafone India got a story on the front page of the Economic Times — India’s largest financial daily, for perhaps, the country’s biggest social media fail. And I’m sure some people reading the story are going to blame social media campaigns for the soup Vodafone is in.

The fact of the matter is simple: Vodafone told a customer to shut up. The question they need to ask themselves is this: would they tell a customer to shut up if he were standing in front of them, complaining face to face. Chances are, no matter how tempted they might be, they would control themselves, listen, and try and mollify the customer.

You see that’s what happens in a conversation.

When brands and companies continue to treat social media as a method of communication — a one way street, where they can “engage customers” (read “get customers to click the like button”), this is what could well happen to them.

Three lessons for brands:

1. Publishing has been democratized. Everybody online is a publisher with the power to reach millions of people. Everybody. Having more money doesn’t automatically mean you can out-publish an individual.

2. Don’t tell people you don’t like to shut up by sending them legal notices. If a customer is complaining, you need to listen and either choose to respond if he’s genuine, or ignore the guy if he’s making a mountain out of a non-existent molehill.

3. You can’t afford to not be on social media. And you can’t let advertisers tell you what to do. Advertisers sell. They communicate. They don’t know the first thing about a conversation — because that’s not how they’ve been trained. In fact, most social media agencies operate like ad agencies — they talk marketing speak “reach”, “impact” etc. Wake up and smell the coffee: it’s a conversation. And you, the brand, is a participant in a conversation. Behave like you would if you were at a meeting: don’t shout, don’t ignore what others are saying, listen, and respond.

How hard is that?

Very. Most marketeers and advertisers are trained from day one to think about communication aimed at selling and brand building. Their tools are mass-media vehicles that lots of people consume, or “interact with”. I’ve always wondered what that means — interaction. Press a button and hear a sound. So what! The answer, normally, is couched in a sentence that includes the phrase: “brand recall”.

Here’s my take on it — it works.

But, it doesn’t work everywhere. It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.

If everybody’s a publisher, what you need to become is a reporter. You need to think editorial NOT advertorial.

Welcome to my world.

A New Social Network That Likes To Spy

Yesterday, a friend told me about AllMediaPeople, A Social Network Just For Media Professionals (their emphasis, not mine).  So, I moseyed over to take a look at it — as a believer in social media and the digital age of conversations, I love the idea of people setting up social networks, even if they don’t seem to have a business model.

The retired journalist in me still has a couple of kicks left, though, so whenever I see a website without a business model I go looking for links to their privacy policy and their terms of service. If they’re up, you find juicy tit bits about how they’re going to use the information you’re putting up on the site.

Think about it for a second: I don’t know how happy I’d be if the world could see topless photos of me — wait, they can, I’ve made it my profile picture … damn. But, you get the idea. We all have stuff we want to share with people who know us. So, I’m sure we’d all be unhappy if a pervy database administrator was sitting going through our photos, phone numbers or addresses.

Coming back to our friendly social network for media professionals: they didn’t have a TOS or a Privacy Policy that I could find: click here for an image.

That’s when the troll in me emerged: I set up two fake profiles using the names of famous journalists and posted a comment from each. I set up the accounts using throwaway email accounts (the sort that stay alive for a few minutes).

Here’s how a social network that professes to be aimed at a vertical should behave when they find fake accounts: go ahead and delete them. Better still, use a verification system that works. For example, when Facebook — the largest social network I know, correct me if I’m wrong — started up, they were only open to users with a .edu email address.

But here’s how AllMediaPeople addressed the issue. They checked the IP address used to create the account. Ran a reverse-ip. Figured out it belonged to my office. All good till here, maybe. Here’s the shocker: They called and asked if we had started to represent the two journalists in question.

When I was told about it, I burst out laughing imagining what their faces would look like if this social network had called them up instead.

As someone who has almost always signed my name to the stuff I have to say, here’s what I think of AllMediaPeople: it’s a con job. An attempt to gather and sell the data of journalists, PR professionals and Corporate Communications Managers  to real estate brokers who’re going to spam us. And I’m going to stick to this position till they upload a TOS and Privacy Policy that proves me wrong.

Louis Vuitton Versus The Internet

Luxury super brand Louis Vuitton recently won a court case against Danish artist Nadia Plesner. And certain, sometimes dangerous, parts of the Internet exploded.

The Story:

Nadia created a painting of a impoverished African child carrying a Louis Vuitton bag. The painting also featured Paris Hilton. Her objective was to draw attention to the atrocious situation in Darfur, and criticize materialism and consumerism.

LV took her to court, won $200,000, and she has reacted by keeping the image up on her website and letting the fine grow by leaps and bounds.

And Now …

Here’s what Anonymous, an amorphous group of digital(lulz) vigilantes who have taken on governments, large corporations and individuals have to say about this:

Anonymous takes on Louis Vuitton

As of today morning, social news site and hub for digital activists of all colors reddit.com and the dark side of the internet 4chan.org seem to have taken this cause to heart.

Of course, it may not seem to matter because, as Redditor Arcturussage points out in a brilliant graphic, Redditors don’t seem to be LV’s target audience.

That said, what they’re doing is dangerously subversive and the impact on the luxury brand may well be far more severe.

And now that the great hivemind has decided that LV is EVIL with the vowels missing, the backlash is not going to go away even if the stupid lawyers who thought up the lawsuit are sent to purgatory, the brand withdraws the lawsuit, and apologizes to Nadia.