Irresistible Delicious

Finally it has arrived: the brand new delicious 2.0. At first sight it looks clean, cool and fast. Everything seems to be very much at its place:

the new delicious

the new delicious

What I like is that they really did think about making the things work better that delicious had been strong at – quickly saving your bookmarks and recovering them – and not trying to turn it into something else.

For example, they could have expanded on the commenting feature, so that delicious would resemble FriendFeed a bit more. They didn’t. Commenting still remains an isolated feature tied to the bookmarks and not really allowing for interactions. I like this, because it will not change my current workflow of saving links in delicious and discussing them in Friendfeed.

Also the social networking features have not been accentuated. You can still send your contacts links with the “for:name” syntax, but that’s all. I haven’t been a heavy user of this feature anyway because I think it’s much better to just save the links and let your network select the links they find interesting for themselves. Or is there some magic application of this feature that I missed so far?

What I like very much is the visualization of the popularity of a bookmark. It’s simple and beautiful:

showing popularity the delicious way

showing popularity the delicious way

What I am missing is a similar thing for showing how long it has been a bookmark had been saved the first time. So I could see with one glance whether this is hot news or a reheated meme. And also: the ability to save bookmarks directly into one of my FriendFeed rooms. But this would be delicious 3.0.

Social Media is using us

Usually we think it’s this way: We are the users and we’re using social media like blogs, Wikipedia, Friendfeed or Twitter. But what if we put it exactly the other way round? Sometimes reversing the perspective gives a clearer view. So, I propose that in addition to us using social media, social media is using us (remember what Michael Wesch said?).

This is not a very new thing to do, listen to what Marshall McLuhan wrote in 1964:

By continuously embracing technologies, we relate ourselves to them as servomechanisms. That is why we must, to use them at all, serve these objects, these extensions of ourselves, as gods or minor religions. An Indian is the servomechanism of his canoe, as the cowboy of his horse or the executive of his clock.

And, I would add: The geek of his FriendFeed.

To add a few examples: Wikipedia is using me to learn more about sociological, statistical and architectural subjects; Twitter and FriendFeed are using me to keep the streams of my followers flowing (it’s not only about tech), the blogosphere is using me to connect different weblogs on sociology and social media. I could go on much longer with this.

Social Media is using me. And this in turn changes my life and changes society. This point can also be found in McLuhan’s writings, as he said:

Physiologically [I would add: psychologically and socially, BK], man in the normal use of technology (or his variously extended body) is perpetually modified by it and in turn finds ever new ways of modifying his technology.

As much as the current state of social media and its various discourses are shaped by people like Robert Scoble, Michael Arrington and Jeff Jarvis, I believe they would not hesitate to confirm that social media has used and changed them as well.

Sometimes the social media system even demands too much: another blogpost, another Wikipedia entry, another Tweet. I bet there are more than enough people who are waking up with their Google Analytics and are going to bed with their Feedburner stats. Social media can overuse us. And there is no moral conscience preventing this.

Maybe it’s a good idea to step back sometimes and rethink: how much are you giving and how much are taking from social media.

From social to mass media?

Niklas Luhmann, the famous German sociologist who popularized sociological systems theory, distinguished mass media from other media by the fact that there is no interaction among the participants. This interaction is more or less explicitely locked out by technical means. And in the few cases, where there really is this kind of interaction – think of the letter to the editor – it will be carefully staged and marked as an exception.

Social Media are different. They explicitely allow for interaction. Even more than that: their technology calls for interaction. The Twitter crisis showed the problems that appeared when interactivity had been selectively shut off. A social media service that only is able to broadcast and not to interact, is not social media.

But does Luhmann’s distinction really hold for social media? There has been an intense debate about the friendship paradox: Having more and more contacts or friends is a strong incentive because it means more information and more influence. But at the same time, if you are passing a critical number (how large is it?) you are not able to respond to your friends or contacts anymore.

You are beginning to transform a social medium into a mass medium. You cannot interact with the participants anymore, although this is not caused by technology but by sociology.

With Luhmann you could assume that this switch from social media logic to mass media logic also would imply the following changes:

  • knowing your contacts will be superseded by presumptions and allegations
  • your audience is becoming vague
  • increasing your reach will be increasingly a strong objective
  • the mass medial code “information vs. non-information” will be your guiding line, which implies e.g. that you cannot present the same information twice
  • finally, when looking at the big picture, one of your functions will be to keep society awake, to irritate and surprise

What do you think? Do mass medial bloggers, twitterers, friendfeeders really exist and “operate” this way?

Measuring blogs: The New, the Best, the Odd, the Linked and the Forgotten

Social media measurement should take into account that there are different types of blog posts with different readers, expectations and usage patterns.

In seminars I often employ a little number play and compare how many people are reading e.g. a German food magazine and how many people are reading a blog on the same topic. More often than not the blog wins.

But then again this comparison is fundamentally flawed because both media – the magazine and the blog – are consumed in very different ways. Magazines come in issues. This sounds simple, but has serious consequences for measuring reach. Here, only the last issue counts. It does not count how often older issues are read.

Blogs are different. First, there are no issues but only atoms – single entries, which are updated in a more or less regular way. But when counting the reach or success of a blog, there are at least five types of blog posts that are important to measure:

  1. The New: When measuring the visitors or page impressions of a blog, new articles always appear on the first places. They are shown on the top of the blog’s title page and are feed through the RSS readers to your subscribers. But they lose impace, the longer the intervall you are measuring. When measuring a single day’s success, blog posts written on this day will almost certainly have the most visitors. But if you’re analysing a whole month, it can look very different.
  2. The Best: Every blog has posts that have something special to them, may it be a very brilliant formulation, a great heading or summing up a long discussion. Those posts also rank very high because they are linked by other blogs or appear at the top in search requests.
  3. The Odd: Every day, blog posts get hits, that are old and do not belong to your top posts. This is because someone did a search and Google put your post very high because it appears to be very relevant to the terms.
  4. The Linked: Sometimes another blogger, maybe a prominent one, is linking to an oder entry of your blog. Suddenly there is a lot of traffic to a post that is already a few months old.
  5. The Forgotten: This is the rest of your blog. All those blog posts that rest hidden in the depths of your blog’s archive. But they can be rediscovered and join the categories of the odd or the linked.

Social Media Measurement should reflect those different types of blog posts in their methodology because it may be the case that they represent different blog readers, expectations and usage patterns. This could also be an important typology for optimizing social media marketing campains and for targeting advertising campaigns on blogs. Do you need to focus on the new, the best, the odd or the linked?

Is Twitter hot or cool?

Marshall McLuhan distinguished in his seminal work on Understanding Media between hot and cool media.

Hot media are high definition and have the propensity to lull the recipient. Their messages seem complete, so the recipient fells no need to fill in any blanks. Examples for hot media are the radio, print, photographs, movies and lectures.

Cool media on the other hand are always incomplete. The recipient is not a mere recipient, but feels involved in finding and supplying the missing parts, the blanks of the message. Cool media mean invovement in something instead of just looking at something. Examples given by McLuhan are the telephone, speech, cartoons, television and the seminar.

Taking this dinstinction as a starting point, I’m asking: Are Social Media hot or cool? Is Twitter a hot or a cool medium? On the one hand, Twitter is cool. Very cool. I guess everybody had the feeling when first trying out this new service, that s/he only gets half of the messages. Conversations by the people you follow seemed at first as incomplete as listening to a stranger talking into his mobile. You also had to follow the people your friends were talking to in order to get the whole message. But then again, they also talked to people you did not follow … At some point in time some kind of switch occured: It became clear that this incompleteness is a central feature of Twitter. It’s what makes Twitter so cool.

On the other hand it is also the reason, why Twitter is so hot. If you can never get the whole story of Twitter anyway, it becomes possible to just drop in, listen and talk for a few messages, and then drop out again. You can watch all those tweets flowing by half-noticed without feeling that you are missing something. This is typical for hot media like the radio or a lecture at university that can to some extent run in the background.

So, I’m not sure, where to put Twitter. It definitely has cool aspects, but can also be quite hot at other times. Maybe this undecidedness is what makes this service so beautiful. What do you think?