Archive for March, 2010

Public ≠ Property of Facebook: Another round in the Facebook privacy rigmarole

Posted in media on March 30th, 2010 by Xiaochang Li – Be the first to comment

Facebook has one again issued changes to their privacy policy that is pissing people off. At this point, I’ve pretty much come to accept that facebook has no respect for their users, or their valuable networks, data, and attention they provide. There are a whole series of proposed changes, which are outlined wonderfully by TechCrunch and the ACLU, some of which sound positive and useful. However, it’s the really exploitative and heinous ones that have been getting the most traction.

At the center of this round of facebook privacy controversies is the new “enhanced pages” which allows third-party websites, approved by facebook, to access your public information and your connections — what you like, how you identify yourself, and who your friends are. In fact, Facebook will happily share with external websites of their choosing anything shared under your “everyone” option, which of course, is the default setting.

“Public” doesn’t mean “Property of Facebook”

This is the distinction that gets made again and again and again. “Public” is about sharing, about contributing and giving access to a larger community. Nowhere in the many definitions of “public” does it characterize something that can be taken from the public and redistributed to a select group for private profit.  Facebooks actions aren’t about making information public, they’re about making information theirs.

This is why in these cases, privacy can be a misleading battle-cry. The controversy isn’t just about access to our information and data. It’s also about our ownership of it. Much of the response-rhetoric whenever these privacy issues arise tends to be some variation of “well, if you didn’t want it shared, you shouldn’t have made it public.” In some ways, this is true, and it’s a deeper media literacy issue.

But in another way, this is total bullshit. It’s an excuse that conflates making something public to handing something over as property of Facebook to use and profit from as they like. There’s plenty of things I share with friends, and plenty I’m happy to share with strangers, but at the end of the day these are still my things — my networks, my data, my work and labor, my time — and I should have more control over who gets access to use of what. When I share my information, it still belongs to me in part, and I still have some say over it. What facebook is proposing isn’t sharing — it’s straight-up taking. It’s facebook claiming sole ownership over user data and pimping it out to the highest bidders.

In my white paper on Locating Value in Spreadable Media, I cite instances like this as indicative of a tension between economically-driven exchanges and socially-motivated ones. Facebook is thinking in terms of economic exchanges, which as discrete. It provides a service, users hand over data, and now they have the service and facebook owns the data to do with as it likes. However, facebook’s users believe themselves to be involved in a social exchange, which is ongoing. Social exchanges are like sending Christmas cards — you wouldn’t send 10 cards to someone and consider yourself covered for the next 10 years. The exchange is just a symbol for an ongoing relationship. In this case, that means users continue to contribute value so long as facebook continues to respect the relationship. The social exchange model makes more sense here, especially because the value being provided isn’t discrete. Facebook does have a lot of data now, but the real value in the data (and the attention provided by users) is that it’s ongoing, changing, and developing. So facebook needs to keep the relationship alive.

But how is it different from “spreadable” media

In the report on spreadable media that I co-authored with Prof. Henry Jenkins, Ana Domb, and Dr. Josha Green, we lauded the ability of individuals and communities to wrest control over content and meaning from producers. At the surface, Facebook’s appropriation of user data for their own goals echoes that of, for instance, fans remixing and sharing content to express their social relationships and tastes. But there’s one huge difference: facebook is in a position of structurally determined power in relation to their users. In layman’s terms, it’s simply this: Facebook’s acts are top-down, spreadable media is bottom-up.

As a bottom-up process, spreadable media operates through plenitude — any act of spreading doesn’t undo or prevent other acts of spreading. Spreadable media allows for differing opinions, motivation, and types of value. On the other hand, facebook sharing your data is an act of economic and institutional control — they determine who has access, and how, for everyone. This doesn’t leave room different forms of use and disregarding the diversity of user-motivations and social networks that make the facebook community as rich and popular as it is. In spreadable media, you can always add more content, more layers of meaning, more routes of circulation to reflect your goals. In Facebook’s approximation, you can believe their ideology about what the internet means and is good for, or you can just not participate. This kind of put-up or get out attitude is the antithesis of spreadable media, which is about creating more options, more meanings, more ways for people to shape and share their identities. Facebook is offering only one way — the one that makes them the most money.

Disrespecting Social Worth

Facebooks controversial changes are always opt-out instead of opt-in not because Facebook doesn’t know better. They know full well that it’s more respectful and responsible to make drastic changing involving sharing personal data opt-in. They make it opt-out because facebook hopes you don’t know any better. That is, they’re hoping to exploit anyone who may not have the knowledge or time to keep up on what their changes really mean.

It’s pretty clear from Facebook’s actions that they expect people to fall in line because they’ve become so ubiquitous. And it’s true — a lot of people will overlook the offenses because it’s just such a hassle NOT to use facebook these days. Some of my notifications started getting filtered into my spam folder without my knowledge a couple of weeks ago and I was amazed how many events and correspondences I missed, how many of my friend I unintentionally ignored. But there’ll be a limit. It may not be this, but it’ll be something and sooner or later, facebook need to start recognizing the value that their users are providing. They need to stop thinking of themselves as simply providing a no-cost service, and start considering the fact that they’re in an ongoing social transaction with their users, with implicit social contracts that have to be respected.

What’s more, with every move to unabashedly profit from their users without any consideration or respect, Facebook tips it’s hand — the more they scramble to make money off their users, the more they reveal to their users how valuable they are. And before long, many of us are not going to put up with facebook profiting off that value without valuing and respecting us in return. So, the bottom line: shape up facebook, and stop being douchebags. The party’s almost over.

research link dump: (mobile) branding, (geo)tagging, and (virtual) graffiti

Posted in research, weekly round-up on March 18th, 2010 by Xiaochang Li – Be the first to comment

So this weekly round-up is a bit different from my usual semi-regular link dump of stuff I’ve been reading. The past couple of weeks, I’ve been lax on blogging the past couple of weeks because I’ve been busy firing my little synapses at issues surrounding the how branding + geotagging/location check-in (e.g. foursquare, gowalla) affect how we encounter urban and public space (and each other within it. It’s quickly turning into a full blown captical-P Project. I’ll start posting some prelimenary thoughts/questions next week, but for now, some of posts, articles, and books that I’ve been drawing on in the initial concept mapping phase.

So, in a way, this is part link-dump, part project-emergence-documentation.

I started thinking about these issues with the recent surge in discussions of brand collaborations with popular geolocation social games, especial with all the chatter in SXSW reports about the rise of location-specific (I know people are using the term geolocation, but I’ve yet to really embrace that tautology) games and social networking tools.

  • Daniel Terdiman reported that Foursquare and Gowalla trumped twitter this year in terms of cutting through the noise of the conference backchannels.
  • And the prevalence of location check-ins was one of the biggest take-aways from Jay Baer’s SXSW observations.
  • Clement Yueng at Social Media Examiner writes about how businesses can leverage geotagging to build their brands.
  • Last month a number of Entertainment and Media brands linked up with Foursquare
  • And universities are jumping on the wagon, with Marc Parry at the Chronicle of Higher Education discussing the rise of “virtual graffiti” initiatives.

Location check-in networks therefore have two obvious precedents: display advertising and graffiti culture.

  • For display advertising and public space, I’ve been digging into City Reading: Written Words and Public Spaces in Antebellum New York by David M. Henkin, which discusses the way branded communications and marketing transformed public space and how we perceive information as a culture.
  • One of the (geographic) sites of interest is Sao Paulo, a city famous for its unique graffiti culture and for banning outdoor advertising. Hector Fernando Burga’s briefly outlines [pdf] a number of papers given at the Decentering Urban Theory conference at UC Berkeley focusing on new productions of urban space, including one by Prof. Teresa Caldeira on the “auto-construction” of Sao Paulo, where citizens engage in slow, collaborative, ad-hoc rebuilding of the city. These and other sites like it reveal “another dimension of place-making” that geotagging and location check-ins also seem to fit into.
  • Also on the urban theory front, I’m looking into a classic in the field, Kevin Lynch’s Image of the City.
  • And going in the other direction, I’m trying to think of how to situate the geolocation social activities between public and private, and starting with The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard, which explores how we encounter the most intimate and domestic spaces.

Weekly round-up [3/05/10]: the science of art, old media interactivity,

Posted in weekly round-up on March 5th, 2010 by Xiaochang Li – Be the first to comment

I should probably acknowledge that my weekly round-ups aren’t so much weekly as they are “periodically,” but it’s a little too late to change now.

  • So in honor of the approaching Oscars, the NYT recently released a piece on how shot pacing in films matches our brain rhythms. Interesting observations, but it begs the question: what does this tell us that we didn’t already know? That films written, shot, and edited by human beings have an increasing tendency to suit the pace of how humans think? How is this news to anyone? In the same vein, have some mathematical descriptions of movie composition.
  • Moving on: CMS colleague Nick Seaver has a great piece on interactivity of player pianos. He makes great points about mediation and reproduction and other issues that are central to new media concerns, illuminated in a new way. We can only learn so much about new media by looking at it in isolation — it’s by connecting it to the once new technologies that the larger social patterns emerge.
  • Oh, and speaking of thought to be obsolete, there may be life for Google Wave yet.
  • Clay Shirky entreats us to stop talking about information overload. The problem, he points out, is not too much information or too little attention. Too much information is an old media problem, existing since after the Dark Ages. The issue is that we haven’t mastered the systematic filtering and sorting of this information.
  • This Open Net Initiative piece on keyword filtering by Microsoft Bing in ‘Arabian Countries’ reminds us too that solutions for “information overload” in one context can quickly resemble censorship in another.
  • And sort of related: insights from a mobile Q&A rising star. Frost & Sullivan has a piece on youth market insights from an analysis of ChaCha. Full disclosure, stuck without a smart phone, if not for ChaCha I may still be lost somewhere in West Texas.
  • And what’s with all this bzzzzzzz — AT&T has a new service that some think will actually supplant Google’s offering due to its facebook integration.

And on a last note:

  • “You came in with dreams and now you stand with spreadsheets”: Rishad Tobaccowala cuts right to the point at his 4A Transformations talk on incentivizing talent. The three types of wealth — experience, education, and economic — resonated because his emphasis was on wealth as a diversity of these things, not a sheer quantity. I had been spoiled for the first two at MIT — and range of experiences you could have, things you could create was matched only by the immense generosity of the minds around you. In the current economic climate, I’ve yet to see media and advertising industries match that kind of intellectual ambition or reciprocity, though my hope is that speeches like this mean there’s a thaw — not just economically — around the corner.

Social Suicide’s digital savvy: bridging monetary value and social worth

Posted in C3 blog on March 1st, 2010 by Xiaochang Li – 1 Comment

Over the weekend, a rigorously fashion-forward friend of mine sent me a slightly perplexing message: “go bug social suicide on twitter so I can buy a couple of suits.” Not being an avid follower of men’s fashion, I wasn’t familiar with the London-based retailer of immaculately hand-tailored menswear with provocative detailing. But when I went to their site, I saw something more in my arena:

Social Suicide's socially savvy marketing

What drew me to this wasn’t just their whimsical naming schemes (though they certainly don’t hurt), but their latest social media promotion for their winter sale. As a follow-up to their Winter 09 “Dictators of Fashion” line (with suits like Kalashnikov’s Rifle and Mussolini’s Turncoat), Social Suicide launched the “Dictator’s Discount”. The premise is fairly simple — the general public will dictate the percentage of the sale markdowns in both the online and brick&mortar store by how much buzz they generate. The more twitter mentions, facebook updates, blog links, and unique site visitors Social Suicide gets, the higher the sale discount. The rate is dynamic, so the discount can go up or down (hence my friend asking me to help drive the discount steeper), with unique sale codes that will give users the current discount rate being released periodically on the retailer’s twitter.

Social Suicide’s campaign demonstrates exactly the kind of recognition of the monetary value of social capital that is needed to navigate an increasingly socially networked consumer-base. While there’s no shortage of brands and marketers expounding on the glories of “dialogue” and “conversation” in digital marketing, but Social Suicide is putting it’s money where it’s buzz is.

Cultural Capital as Digital Currency

Like I’ve gone on ad nauseum here and elsewhere, just because of lot of stuff online comes without a pricetag doesn’t mean it’s free. We may think of consumer-generated buzz as free because it doesn’t cost anything, but like I explain in my recently released white paper, things like data, attention, promotion and other benefits of web chatter around a brand come with social contracts between the brand and its consumers and fans.

Social Suicide proves their recognition of the value of social worth by translating it directly into dollar value — not for themselves, but for their fans. It’s easy for brands to say they are listening, but rarely do we see a company acknowledging the value of what they hear in such concrete terms. Like Trent Reznor putting up the NIN album at no cost in return for fans’ ongoing loyalty, they don’t just declare their appreciation, but prove it by giving back in the exchange.

Social Suicide’s move shows that they understand that cultural capital isn’t just a thing that exists out in the ether, nor their birthright by virtue of being a cool brand with good products and content. By creating a sort of cultural equity participation campaign (the more cultural capital raised, the greater the kick-back on investment), they demonstrate an understanding that cultural capital is coming out of the time and social commitment of individuals. These commitments are a gift that needs to be returned in some form.

Participation Means Sharing (the wealth)

Social Suicide’s campaign reveals common blind spot in thinking about how to merge the value of online communities and the economically-driven exchanges that dictate how businesses run. Too often, when a brand seeks to “participate,” they really only mean “profit from.” Consumers generate social worth and cultural capital for the brand, and the brand seeks to give back take more economic capital on top. That approach though doesn’t match how a gift exchange works. Gift exchanges create a legacy of value such that the original giver feels entitled to some of wealth they’ve contributed.

What this campaign shows us is that if we want the two to come together, sometimes it has to go both ways. Participation means contributing and sharing, not just listening. And sometimes, that means you’re looking at brand social worth that translates into monetary value for the consumer.

Rethinking Retail

I spent a lot of time thinking about how media and advertising industries need to adjust to the shifting dynamics of the new media landscape, but too often forget the retail side of commerce. As Kit over at the Real Time Project points out, the Social Suicide campaign is a great answer to one of the biggest concerns of contemporary retailers — linking their digital presence to their brick&mortar stores in a meaningful, robust way. A number of fashion retailers have gone out of their way to create digital content that mirrors and elaborate upon the brand experience. But more and more, efforts like this one show us that there are tools to link online presence much more tangibly (and functionally) to their physical store. Just like we saw with media outlets, retailer are no longer seeing their websites as simply a digital copy of physical offering. Perhaps even more provocatively, the Real Time Project article suggests that we might, in some industries, see B&M locations become non-purchase showrooms.

Overall, it seems that these considerations signal a shift towards deeper and more direct integration of physical and digital commerce, and between social and economic value.

UPDATE: I’m hearing from Social Suicide’s online/international shoppers (like my aforementioned friend) that the shop hasn’t been very responsive to email/twitter inquiries and has been rather lax at releasing their sales codes online regularly as promised. In short, the promotion has been more useful to in-store shoppers than the online shoppers who’re driving the discount. This is rather unfortunate since they’ve built a promotion that very usefully links their digital presence to their physical one. Gotta remember: Digital isn’t just a way to promote your shop. The road between digital and brick&mortar goes BOTH ways.

UPDATE (THE SEQUEL): Soon after I tweeted regarding Social Suicide’s lag in responding to their online consumers, they replied to me explaining that it was a stock and changing between winter/summer inventory issue. A few minutes later, they tweeted an apology/plee to their online customers to bear with them during the transitional period. Later that same day, they also finally replied to my friend (who had told me about their digital neglect) after nearly a month of radio silence, offering him the suit he wanted on massive discount. So all in all, a great, innovative marketing/communications tactic, a minor maintenance hiccup, but a nice, responsive management of the problem once they were notified of it.