The Present and Future of Communications and Social Media
I am two years into my writing career, 170 pieces on, all Web published. To mark my anniversary, I would like to take a look at where the internet specifically, and communications in general, are moving.
I am fifty-seven years old. By most measures I am too old to be involved in social networking except as a peripheral user, right? Currently, fifty-five to sixty-five year old females are the largest group joining Facebook, so my ancient age group is becoming involved. But the statistic may not be significant. It could be that this "group" is just catching up to the rest of the population, male and younger than 55. Perhaps these ladies are using the site as a means to stay in touch with their grandchildren.
Older people are certainly less represented as computer users than the younger generation. That's pretty obvious. Younger people grew up with computers as an integral part of their environment. We were still students during the era in which computers were being developed.
My daughter is sometimes embarassed by comments I make on her friends' Facebook posts. They befriended me and can cut me off any time they choose. But I see Facebook as an equaliser. People who do not mix socially in real life, for many different reasons, are able to mingle on the web as equals.
I first saw the Zohar's comment that the Messiah can only come when technology exists for all of the world to know, simultaneously and immediately, that he has arrived. It was the early eighties and I was studying at Yeshivat Mercaz haRav. I was excited, certain that the technology was already existent. Just about everyone by then owned a telephone. Even in deep dark Africa one could usually find a radio receiver, and television was ubiquitous in the West, spreading quickly to the rest of the world. Beepers allowed the receipt of a quick, short message. Maybe, I mused, we should open a worldwide, free beeper distribution channel.
At that time I assumed, with all these clever devices available, we had reached technological nirvana. Sure a few cave-dwellers in Yemen, some Mongolian tribes, and maybe primitive parts of Africa were still disenfranchised, but were they important? Was redemption important to them anyway? Would they understand it? Would it change their lives?
Almost thirty years have passed, and the world of communications has taken directions in which few, if any, could have dreamt back then: facsimile machines (now largely obsolete), desk top computers, cell phones, Internet, email, the world wide web, SMS, satellite phones, digital photography, hand-held devices, GPS . . . .
Word spreads quickly via these new tools. Remember the email from the man wearing the Merrell shoes, running down all those stairs, from the eighty somethingeth floor of the first World Trade Center tower after it was stuck by the Al Qaeda piloted plane? They say that that email was read by over sixty million people within three months. That was back in the primitive internet days of 2001. Or the photograph, beamed around the world, of the U.S. Airways aeroplane that emergency-landed on the Hudson River, taken with a mobile phone camera and uploaded to Twitpic from the scene, a moment after it landed?
Recent Web applications continually alter how we use the "new" technology: Facebook, Tweeter, LinkIn, chat, YouTube, social networking sites . . . and these technologies are converging: a cell phone is a Web device, Tweets can be sent from a phone, with Skype a computer is a telephone, you can tweet and post to LinkIn in one action . . . .
The Web browser has taken over as the primary Internet tool. More and more functionality has moved from the desktop to the browser. How many people still send emails using a stand-alone mail program? [I do.] The browser is becoming the default operating system. You can write documents and spreadsheets within browser "programs", and store your data anywhere, away from your computer. Apple is pinning its war against Adobe on HTML 5 which should give "app" [application/program] developers the power to easily produce what once required an experienced C++ programmer to encode. A few years ago Microsoft put Netscape out of business to ensure this wouldn't happen. The effect of their policy was merely to stunt the growth of browser based applications, postpone the inevitable for a few years. Now the techniques are back, with a vengeance, and this time Microsoft is shaping up as a key player.
Social networking, or as it is now being labelled, social media, bringing together many different groupings, is the hottest Internet item today. It provides a simple and convenient way to bring together people with similar interests, or simply interested in being in touch with one another. Friends, acquaintances, relatives spread around the world, old school alumni, in fact any grouping that can be imagined. They can share anecdotes, photographs, film clips, information, concepts, and more. Ideas can be discussed and developed. Friends meet friends via friends. A group of "friends" can be selective, open to whomever they accept.
Privacy is a downside. Or am I old fashioned? Sometimes I get the impression that most [young] people don't care about their privacy. They seem prepared to advertise every aspect of their lives, share their intimate thoughts, often with people they don't know well, or worse, don't know at all, people to whom, pre-Facebook, no-one would reveal more than name, rank and serial number.
A sinister aspect: people are attempting to leverage social networks as a moneymaker, commercialising them. And here, as in other venues, money could be the dirty, destructive word. What's wrong with social networking for the sake of social networking? a virtual convergence of friends, acquaintances, images, ideas and minds?
I'm not naïve -- I realise these networking services must be paid for. Today's financal model is advertisement based, largely because no-one has yet thought of a better way? Would you pay to use Facebook? When the idea was trial ballooned a few months ago it was shot down instantly.
So I cannot object to Facebook placing ads down the side of their screens. They do do it subtly, largely out of the way. I too have, on rare occasions, clicked on an ad. I am largely attuned to not even noticing them, but with millions of Facebook pages served up daily, they don't need a massive click-through rate to make some real money.
I am a user of this advertising technology. I allow, no I encourage, Google to place promotions within my texts. I assume most readers ignore them, but those who see something of interest, click. Each of these clicks make it possible for me to continue living in the style to which I have grown accustomed. (If, out of the corner of your eye, you see an interesting ad, but you are engrossed in my words, click on the ad with your centre mouse button. This will open the ad link in a new browser tab while you continue to be gripped by my narration. You can peruse the pitch ulteriorly.)
As an aside, I can't claim to be overly impressed with Google's selections. Perhaps it is related to my browser cookies always being turned off? But I do not find the commercials they serve, not on my sites, nor on others I visit, to be of great interest nor more than marginally relevant to the displayed content -- they are using simple word association rather than linguistic parsing.
Is there a saturation point beyond which additional advertising expenditure does not increase revenue? More people spend more time on more websites on more computers seeing the same ads. Can high returns continue? Forever?
Third party advertisements are not the dirty money to which I refer above. The commercial world is abuzz with how social computing can become a tool for income production, pushing products, selling services. This is not about building websites to sell products. This is about invading social space surreptitiously to propel products. The web is awash with tips on how to achieve these aims.
I picked one site, typical of the many, so I won't bother referencing my plagiarism. First they point out that today, anyone wanting information goes directly to the Web. Google handles 200,000,000 searches each day. Assumptions are that over [60%, 70%, 90% -- the figure varies] of these searches are product or service related.
Our site advises [in my paraphrase] four steps to successful business on social media sites:
"You do not [directly] make money on social media", they advise. You provide content, not commercials; how-to videos on YouTube, FAQs and Blogs in your areas of expertise, etc. You will eventually make money by showing people you are an expert and you can be trusted. Develop relationships with people to this end . . . and then, and only then, hit them with a money parting offer! Distribute "ethical bribes" along the way; this allows them to more easily part with their contact information, and then they are yours forever. After all they initiated the contact! But over everything else, keep on building trust.
All this is confirmed by a recent Nielson survey which found that only 15% of people trust online advertising [and they ever trusted television advertising?] but 90% believe peer reviews [trust vs believe -- not my choice of words].
I don't know how this will pan out. I'm not sure I like the ethics of this sort of stalking. I have signed up for some of these "information" thingies. Some are far more in your face than others, but the underlying message usually comes through after a short time.
Is a similar subtle sales approach available to those who push a political agenda?
When I come across someone with a few hundred Facebook friends, I think to myself, "Nice, that person knows quite a few people". When I see another with one or two thousand "friends", I know that there is no way possible that this person "knows" this many people. They are frantically signing people up for the sake of . . . what?
I note another worrying trend on Facebook. Other than the length of the messages, the key distinction between Facebook and Twitter is that the latter allows one to blast out information to anyone who is listening, "following", or to anyone searching, without exclusion. The former engenders a discussion, a forum, a showcase amongst like minded people, or as Facebook calls them, "friends".
I have been befriended by people who obviously only "want me for my body". I ignore many friend requests when I have no interest in communicating with that person. These people don't care who I am as long as I am another unit in their friends tally. I am but a number to them, not a breathing, thinking human being. They probably find me via Facebook's usually pesky "friends of friends suggestions". One of these fair-weather friends, the only one I have ever defriended, was only interested in pushing his narrow political line, and himself, to his "friends". Once I commented on his post. He immediately deleted my well thought-out words, explaining in a private communication that, while he entirely agreed with my viewpoint, it was detrimental to his political agenda. I dumped that party hack quick smart.
Another friend doesn't understand that all discussion need not be politically correct. I consider both of these attitudes as stifling free speech amongst what should be a group of friends. A comment made by one of your friends, which you view as politically incorrect, should not be considered to reflect badly on you.
However, the friend grouping concept on Facebook may not always be valid. All my friends have something in common with me, but certainly not everything in common. What Beatrice and I share professionally may have no relevance to my gym buddy, Freddy. But both Beatrice and Freddy view identical posts on my Wall, as well as all the comments I make to others, or others post to me.
Perhaps we need a paradigm of multiple persona, each aimed at a unique clique: old school friends, workmates, immediate family, extended family, etc. At each posting we would indicate to which sub group we are referring. How will we then control replies and comments? Could such a complexity be workable? Facebook groups may be a direction to solve this problem, but in my opinion it isn't quite there yet.
A third friend, who has been building up a nice list of many friends, I think more for commercial aims, let us know yesterday that she was dropping her current Facebook persona. She has hundreds of friends, legitimately so, as she travels far and wide, meeting many people on her travels. She is a people person. I have posted to her threads and responses have been forthcoming, from her and from others. But I understand her professional situation. It is not easy to control what is posted. Our world is twenty-four hours, seven days -- but we also have to sleep, eat, work and countless other things. It is impossible to continuously monitor whatever appears on our Walls. Or again, why does a naughty third party reflect, negatively or positively, on me?
My friend announced that she is switching her Facebook presence to one where "likers" can express support but not an opinion. Pity about that. But isn't this Twitter with a longer than 140 character message, and some graphics thrown in? Or is this a valid application of existent technology overcoming Twitter's limits? and directed to a controlled, not general, audience?
Of course our "thousands of friends" friend may be leaving a nice hole for us lesser mortals. If I want to say something to a large audience, I can do it as comment, or a Wall post to this friend. All his hordes will see it too. Or is this a form of spam, or bad, unsocial network behaviour?
When the Mashiach arrives, speedily in our time, how long will it take for everyone to find out he is here? What will be his technology of choice? Does it yet exist?
Will our King have a Facebook presence? I certainly hope so, and I pray that it is open, a channel for his subjects, and the people of the world, to carry out true communication, with him, and concerning his rule. Transparent to all, as was his progenitor, King David -- without any commercial intervention or sponsorship.
Please feel free to
and don't forget to stop by my site to look at my latest (and classic) photographs.
And don't forget to look at my latest (and classic) photographs at www.MenachemKuchar.com