Posts Tagged ‘social networks’

The idea of control is absurd, guns or not.   The world is far too complicated to predict events, system behaviors, or whether even your email will send when you hit the send button.  Prediction is a necessary (but not sufficient) condition of control.  And when we say “gun control” we believe we can predict who would be a responsible user of a gun and who wouldn’t.   We believe with the proper equipment features we can control what happens when a user pulls the trigger or that it’s actually the user who owns the gun… and so on.  It’s literally all based on an absurd premise.

Guns in the Game of Life

Guns in the Game of Life

And yet, control is exactly the fallacy of our political and social systems.  Guns and other tools of destruction provide the operator the illusion of control.  Lightweight, homage regulating laws provide the population the illusion of control.  These illusions really just mask the chaos of a contingent world.  Any distressed person operates under highly conflicting contingencies or has lost the ability to recognize contingencies (of behavior and consequence).   In fact, this happens to all of us all of the time.  We live under near constant confirmation and related behavioral (cognitive biases) as a result of our limited perceptive systems and neural componentry (and often sick and broken bodies).   Our system constantly pattern recognizes incorrectly (we think God helps us score touchdowns….).  These incomplete interpretations of the contingencies of the world become especially problematic in a stressed and distressed situation.   (I’ll skip a deep discussion of behavioral, physical and chemical science and just lump all of it in an idea that we are all systems ecologically looking for homeostasis/equilibrium.)

When contingencies conflict or get very confused and the environment is primed properly disaster is more likely to occur.  Priming includes a cultural dimension, accessibility of destructive tools, lack of obstacles to act, etc.   Combined with stress, illness, and chemicals (drugs/booze/etc) in a person and a more combustible situation emerges – this is the nature of probability and complexity.

Proponents of guns and various “let’s all pack heat” strategies suffer from the same delusions of control as perpetrators of mass killings and gun murders.  The world is not fundamentally controllable – in situations with guns and situations without guns.  Every person and system is a collection of contingencies – the collective probabilities of circumstance and events.   For instance, at Christmas time if you have hot colored lights plugged in, faulty electric outlets and dead, dry pine trees in your living room you have increased the chance of burning your house down.   I assure you there are lower probability of raging fire decorations you can display in your home.

The key to dealing with our uncontrollable world isn’t pretending control exists.   We either increase or reduce probabilities of events by changing ourselves and/or the environment.   Changing the contingencies is non-trivial and multifaceted.   One key is to not put too many degrees of freedom between an act and the experience of the consequences of that act.  This is a subtle but very important point.   Many studies show humans are not good at anticipating delayed consequences – delay in time and in-directness (associations) of consequences.  This truth is at the heart of addition formation, financial debt, wars, education and literacy, and so on.  You can do your own study on this truth by reminding yourself of your last Vegas trip, checking your alerts for all those idiot Candy Crush notifications from your “friends,” looking at your credit car bills or reviewing your local church (and bible!) for policies on tithing and confession and promises of heaven and hell.

Guns are so easy (very few contingencies) to obtain and use (poorly) that there is almost NO PERCEIVABLE IMMEDIATE CONSEQUENCE to gun ownership relative to THE DELAYED ULTIMATE CONSEQUENCE of gun usage.  Pulling a trigger is such a simple act…. even gun makers and the NRA know this.  It’s why they attempt to stratify guns into level of effort to use: manual, semi-automatic, automatic and so on.   The delay in round expulsion is built on the idea that if you add more work for the user the less they can kill and the more time it takes to load and fire rounds the more the prey and other contingent circumstances can adjust in response.  This is all highly consistent logic and observable phenomena.

Most systems, including individual people, operate on a strategy of efficiency AKA the path of least resistance.   We resolve our stresses efficiently (according to our own weird histories/abilities).   When guns are easy to get then that’s an outlet we go with (replace guns with drugs, TV, gambling, sex, food, yoga, etc).   We know this truth.   We’ve used it forever… Grocery stores get ya every time with this.   And so does the government.  Some things it makes hard to do or get (more contingent): health care, food stamps, driver’s licenses, info on NSA programs.   Somethings it makes easy (less contingent): paying your taxes (do it online!  send cash!), getting parking tickets, buying lottery tickets, campaign donating!

Never underestimate the power of laziness! (capitalism and governments/kings and religion don’t!)

If people generally didn’t operate this way voter turn out would be 100%, education rates would be off the charts and no one would ever buy a lottery ticket or use a slot machine again (well at least they might pull the handle instead of auto spinning).

I firmly believe in the complete disarmament and aggressive buy back and destruction of all arms – civilian and otherwise. For this country and all of them.   I believe in trying to get the probability of widespread carnage and unintended consequences as low as possible.   While compromise is inevitable my position is not one of compromise.

If you’re for guns or even a gun apologist you really just don’t trust the world and believe in control and want to maintain what you perceive as a competitive advantage to the unarmed or the less well armed.   Perhaps it is a competitive advantage, local to you.   System wide you’re increasing the chance of unintended disasters and you’re partially complicit more or less in the continuing violence against kids and students.   You are also probably ok with it or don’t believe it because the consequences of your slight increase in probability of someone else’s disaster don’t register in your pattern recognizer.


As I said earlier… lowering the probability of gun violence takes more than gun laws.  It takes education, first and foremost.  And it takes economic opportunity, better health care, jobs, love, and everything in between.  I chose to be complicit in increasing those things at the expense of my right to bear arms.   We’re all just a small piece of a contingent and uncontrollable world and I’d rather stand in perspective and connection with people rather than behind armor, triple locked doors and concealed weaponry.

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Hi all,

Rather than write generally about online communities I figured I’d blog from the inside about one community building effort in particular, Weplay.  A couple of posts ago I talked about my experience and belief that real world structures for the best basis for a successful online community.   We’re putting that theory to the test in a real way on Weplay.

Very soon Weplayers will see much more neighborhood information and features. We all play, practice, shop, study, eat… ya know, LIVE, in the real world.  We believe Weplay should fit as naturally into your offline life as much as possible.   Soon you’ll be able to see what’s happening in your neighborhood, city, county, state and region like never before.  Get the latest news on who’s playing each other (and everything else that’s fit to print!), get the latest scores, find directions to those soccer fields you’ve never heard of, see who else hit a homerun on the local baseball diamond, ask and answer questions of people right in your own backyard.

Of course we’ll make it EASY and FUN to contribute to the Weplay neighborhood experience. We’ve been quietly working on an iPhone application (and figuring out Android, Blackberry!).   We’re being very careful to make sure it’s easy and fast to snap a picture or video and get it up to your group or profile page.  We know when you guys are in the dugout, in the stands, on the team mini van speed is of the essence!  Oh yeah, we also want to make it easy for moms and dads to share pics and keep up to date on where and when to be!

In addition to using a mobile device to update profiles and contribute to the local experiences, we’re opening up the platform for Weplayers to contribute news, venue information, ask and answer questions, tag content and so on.

Read the rest of the post on Weplay >

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Online social networks as a dominant medium for ideas, relationships and communication is not a fad. Online communities not based on something substantial in the offline world are a fad or rather were the easiest types of networks to get up and running. Today’s leading social networks from Facebook to linkedin to eharmony and other niche communities thrive because they are based on meaningful relationships/structures in the offline world – workplace, school, dating, religion, community activity, teams The social networks in decline or already gone have been based on virtual or entertainment only connections between members – music group fans, gossip, breaking news, Internet memes, pro sports, etc.

The online networks based on offline structures benefit greatly from built in relationships, hierarchies, and connected behaviors. It is much easier to invent functions and services based on well established behaviors and objectives. Additionally the offline structures mentioned above are more important to people in their daily lives than purely virtual communities. This deeper importance leads to better engagement and commitment to the online counterpart of that institution. E.g. Few users maintain a sloppy or misleading linked in or Facebook profile (this isn’t constrained to any age group either). As the online and offline components become more intertwined activity in either becomes reinforcing.

The downside of building an online community based on something offline is that can take considerable resources to get it right and achieve critical mass, the user must do more to get the value – fill out a profile, be real, have substance in interactions, be interesting offline etc.

There are other reasons virtual only communities suffer… Because the interactions have few offline consequences the interactions quickly grow out of sync with offline norms and values. The more out of sync they get the harder it is for their to be lasting connectedness between larger and larger groups of members. The network fractures and often gets too abnormal for mass consumption.

I am definitely making the claim that celebrity worship, loving the same bands, seeing the same movies, disliking the same athletes, being simply in a similar career are not strong enough connections to build a social network around. Shared offline experiences is the basis of long lasting online communities. Last I checked humans still lived, ate, made babies, earned money and died in the real world. And the things most essential to doing those activities are what were all going to post, blog, take pictures, comment and like.

As an aside to those working in the internet biz…. Not all unique users are created equal. Very quickly this industry will have a metric system based on unique people with real names interacting in your system. Of course publishers, networks, media companies will always attempt to shroud those numbers in mystery, but it’s getting harder and harder to hide how many real people use a system. Once the industry makes this shift the offline connectedness becomes more essential.

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They’re at it again. Yes they are… As part of the Rube Goldberg contingent from Mythinformation Central. From the people that brought you “you’re fat because of your friends” you are now presented with: “your genes influence who will become friends.”

They set up the straw man: that it is an error to suggest people are a function of a “simple model for the metabolic, neural and Internet networks, and the same model is applied to human beings — that all parts of the network are identical and interchangeable”.

They never knock it down but extrapolate beyond the data with innuendo of their own PR. One can only imagine that Christakis and cronies will be doing collaborative work with Steven Pinker soon on the topology of the mind, call it science and write another book on the mind’s influences in support of Pinker’s postulate that the reason the Chief justice misquoted the oath of President Obama was a “blowback from Chief Justice Roberts’s habit of grammatical niggling Or was it a Freudian slip? Hmmm… Science, huh... How very canny for the Language Don Dr. Pinker to point that out as he knows so much about both people’s histories, relevant factors and ‘mindful’ homunculi like those “inherent characteristics that govern where we [as individuals] gravitate to in the social network.”

“A second implication is that the [current] study suggests that if we really want to understand how things [?what ‘things’?] diffuse in social networks, we need to take into account people’s locations in the social networks, which are due in part to their genes,” Christakis pontificated while showing no data or peer reviewed research.

Please see the Baloney Detection Kit submitted for consideration for those reading content from any media channel, including Buzz Creation or Mythinformation efforts by mainstream print media to get more subscribers and kooks to buy their fading printed words.

I am looking forward to more “sharper predictions” from the Christakis Mythinformation crew.

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Failure to understand how users and money flow through the Internet costs media and etailers a lot of money every day.  There are huge misconceptions about where the “value” actually lives for user data, advertising performance and profit margins on all this high tech.

The following figures attempt to disambiguate some of the confusion.  The summarized conclusions come from a variety of data sources and real life experiences analyzing financial statements, traffic reports, advertiser analysis and experimentation.  Specifically one could get someone exact figures by combining comScore, Quantcast, Compete, Google Analytics, TNS, @Plan, SEC Filings, internal reports, revenue statements and DART forecasting as I have done several times.

This post is meant to be a demonstration of the core concepts, not a statistical treatise on the topic.

If you hate reading too much, skip to the end for a somewhat realistic example of how traffic flows.

Traffic on the Internet roughly splits 7 segments.  (as shown in the figures below).  These segments are defined by where the sit in the user experience by amount of consumptive behavior (clicks, reading, sharing, watching). How the user gets from segment to segment is not completely linear in actuality, but when you coagulate a users behavior you’ll roughly see a funnel in terms of time spent, pageviews and ad impressions.

Traffic Funnel

Traffic Funnel

The segments can be characterized also by their ad performance, ad targeting (how specific is the user in their activity), and their audience coverage (how much of the particular audience segment does a type of site/service reach)

Funnel Traffic Segments

Funnel Traffic Segments

Each segment has a different cost profile.  Here I look at labor costs to maintain and capital expenses to build and power.

Where's the Cost?

Where's the Cost?

As you can guess, each traffic segment has a different profit profile too.  This is largely the result of combining the advertising/revenue performance with the cost profile.  Certain Internet services simply do not have a strong profit opportunity because they borrow old models and/or cost more than the market is willing to pay. (Perhaps that will stabilize one day, but I think software tools and low cost hardware disrupt the demand curve A LOT because users can often supply their own demands once the cost gets too high, hence why TOOLS are the most profitable segment.)

Profit Margins by Segment

Profit Margins by Segment

Make no mistake about what I’m presenting here.  The profit online is all in retailing, portals/search and tools/utilities.  The stuff in the middle of the funnel is highly susceptible to competitive displacement and has very little intellectual property protection.  You can verify this conclusion by reviewing revenue statements and SEC filings for the big tech and internet companies.

The advent of citizen journalism and self publishing flattened the media market.  Owning a printing press was once “high tech” and a capital investment barrier.  Owning the right location on the main street was once a logistical barrier.  High speed computers and difficult programming languages was once a technical barrier.  Those 3 feature are gone.  Media is now, well, almost purely a creative barrier.  There’s a huge pool of creative talent constantly struggling against each other.  Creativity is worth a lot once it rises above everything else.  That happens so rarely to make it a bad investment.  Every minute more and more people enter the creative market (how many blog posts per hour? how many videos go up each day?… a lot.)

organizing, sifting, filtering, distributing, aggregating… that’s the sweet spot.  There is a technical hurdle, but the investment is worth it as there will never be less of a need to filter, sift, find, distribute.

This week we had a beautiful illustration of these concepts with the Presdential Inauguration.

Most of the US users watched the Inauguration, most on TV, a lot with online video streams and 2 million in person.  During and Immediately following the inauguration the Internet lit up with content creation and massive usage.  The portals and search engines featured as many new links and breaking stories to the news coverage.

The social networks shot pictures, tweets and status updates around, occassionally referencing links to the confirmation gaff, benediction speech text, and satelite pictures from DC.

Micro bloggers summarized everything as fast as they could, while the search engines and utilities sucked in that content.  The original content creators probably released a previously composed story and put that live.

Mainstream users shut down their video streams and took to the portals and search engine, seeking more info on what just happened or insight into a specific moment.  Most times they ended up at CNN or NYTimes.  Many times, but less frequently, they hit a blog that had some recent content.  Most users probably ran into a wikipedia reference link or youtube video.

Some users ended up on amazon to buy Obama’s books or some inauguration swag.  Finally as the day concluded and original content creators finally had enough time to craft something, users might find themselves falling asleep to a good OpEd on the history of the day or an interview with the Michelle Obama dress designers.

By 3 days later the amount of content available on the inauguration is 1000x greater than within the first 10 minutes.  Original content creators are hopelessly buried amongst the blog posts, tweets, continuosly AP feed CNN articles and YouTube embeds.  The bloggers are buried by other bloggers.  The news stories give way to other news stories.

The utilities that sort, sift, filter and monetize on it all just got a 1000x better experience and continue to catch the huge volume of user investigation and digging.  The own the head, the trunk and that dreaded long tail and collect user targeting data all along the way.

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UPDATE 1-US weekly jobless claims surge to 16-year high
Reuters – 11/20/08 – 1 hour ago

US weekly jobless claims shoot up to 542000 MarketWatch

Boeing layoff of 800 rattles Wichita aircraft economy

HP to possibly layoff 25,000 world wide coincident with merger with EDS

(Update) UTMB Begins Process Of Laying Off 3000 Employees dBTechno

Brady Corp. posts slight 1Q sales dip, announces layoffs
The restructuring means layoffs for about 800 of Brady’s 8000 workers worldwide.

We all know the difficult and sometimes devastating consequences from layoffs from employment. Yes, there is a ripple effect of the shops and the Blackberry sales and the BMWs and the ‘this and that’ affected in the years to come.

All these represent, [say it with me…] “CHANGES IN CONTINGENCIES”.

There is the change in contingencies from what controls the people employed that need to be redeployed by cities and states to control contingencies of the people wanting a job, unemployment benefits, food from food banks and such. There is the toll on children, handicapped, and those with marginal skills that were working just to exist.  All their contingencies change as well only they are not any more a part of the statistics than are the one-room developers working for Macy’s or Mama Mia’s.

All these things are tough. But they are tough for other reasons than given or obsessed over a $5 Starbucks coffee [also laying off and closing retail stations]. That reason is the wholesale breakage in the schedules we have. Hold on. Think about it. We are consumed by work and the things that lead to it and result from it. We normally groan about traffic, litter, bosses, colleagues, food, time and other highly emotional elements. We have all these things on schedules. They are intertwined with each other to a point where changing one, (Starbucks is too crowded at lunch) is met with a lot of travail and consternation in the process of searching for another hangout.

Now consider that for the unemployed, there may be 12,000 to 50,000 changes in what that person does on a weekly basis.

  • Oh, did I mention they have no behavior to replace those 12,000 – 50,000 “things” that they did?
  • Did I mention they have ‘get a new job’ skills ‘cause those behaviors haven’t been used in six years?
  • Did I mention they don’t see people that they considered of value?
  • Did I mention they don’t see the affect of doing work they maybe linked and were good at?
  • Did I mention they aren’t getting paid any more?
  • Oh, and don’t forget the change in value they have of themselves… they are not there and others are there…”What gives with that?”

One solution is to create new schedules. FAST! Immersion into creating behavior for getting a new job as quickly as possible and, in the process, hang out with more positive people, dump all toxic people, don’t drink $5 coffee or attend to any dome and gloom stories from the talking heads. Ignore it all. Those things are out there whether you know about them or not and you can’t effect any of it. Use those social networks you surreptitiously spent time on while working…

Things will come around again if you behave! For now, find some behavior and get back on some new schedules.

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Douglas Rushkoff
“Social Networks Are Like the Eye”
A Talk with Nicholas Christakis

I read with great interest – as usual – the Edge article by DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: “Social Networks are like the Eye” – A Talk with Nicholas Christakis.

Certainly no shortage of the point and counterpoint logic on anyone’s part. Rushkoff and Alda both working as part of several social networks themselves show a dismissive stance to marketing but are published in a most pristine record of ideas on the Internet where, despite their claims, they market their approaches. Good stuff for many but wait, what are they saying with all those not-so-grand illusions (‘living systems’ or subsystems of brain numbing metaphor piled on metaphor…) or mentalistic and romantic ideas of a ‘vis viva’ forces to establish value of their agendas over ‘others’ agendas.

YIKES! What’s going on?

Two things come out of all of this:

  1. Social networks are treated as a separate uber-case of behavior apart from other forms of behavior. It reminds me of how in the late 40’s and much of the 50’s the railroads treated themselves as an ‘industry’ rather than part of transportation.
  2. The metaphor is the medium. As such, they are contributing to the slow dilution of the very communication that they are so proud to expound on. Much of the article’s context is spent validating selected metaphors and not explaining how social networks work empirically.

Incased in the strategy being presented it was like I was being induced to look for a communication homunculus but instead was provided a drumming of the numbing anti-parsimonious meme concept of Dawkins. Raise you hand if ‘ideological components’ does wonders here in explaining social networks. Using a metaphor to support an analogy… to support another metaphor is hardly what Edge has built its reputation on.

“It’s the media shell that allows a media virus to spread through the mediaspace undetected, while it’s the memes inside that interpolate into our confused cultural code, forcing their replication.”

Doesn’t this sound a little like ‘vapor’ explanations that resurfaced in the 1850s from Aristotle’s ‘vapors’ theories as what was responsible for behavior? Aristotle and others that followed posited that there were ‘airs,’ just as there were different liquids and different solids that caused behavior. How are vapors that different than memes and metaphors that have nothing to do with people doing stuff?

To interrupt these authors, consider that social networks are based on interaction / access. No one cares about the brand of the camera, phone, or graininess of the content. For social networks to grow there needs to be content to access and the viewer needs to be able to respond. End of story. It defies predetermined categories of demographic gurus. Content gets acted on and in so doing lets the provider know what is of value. Hits and sends to others = important. No action = not important. Move on. Where are the virus – memes – biological systems metaphor required?

The question that begs to be answered is why are these metaphors necessary or used? Do they may provide some communication value leap-froging a more parsimonic or empirical resolution about social network etiology? For Edge it may come down to what was the objective of airing this set of monologues. While interesting, they are diversionary to understanding the subject matter in the title.

The world has more media options and combinations that move a message than ever before. Like reality TV it seems that every TV media exec has the secret and that one more reality show will be better than one less. As if each media exec has blinders on, they don’t get it that the form of media and the content carried live until the predictability and the exposure create habituation. This, along with competition for a viewer’s time, and things changing, variability occurs and gets selected and is the next big (valued) thing. Everyone gets to take credit for the next big thing because no one can show how to do it again. It is as old as game shows, westerns, crime soaps and variety shows.

Mr. Rushkoff asks “What is the cultural immune response related to MySpace or YouTube?” No one knows – which makes the talking heads cranky. But is there any question that there will be another episode change? Of course not. To use the idiom of the article, “if something has value, the code is picked up and carried, converted and re-sent via other shells elsewhere until its value has run its course to the end user.”

As content without a polarity, the media material exists in a vacuum and only becomes viral [and thus of ‘value] if it is attended to on the network… it was not ‘design specificity’ but the lack of specificity in the media channel that gives it value to network members.

Moving on, I was surprised at the vitriolic or at least pejorative tense of some of the assessment.

“Thus “viral marketing” was born. Meanwhile, visionaries interested in the possibilities for organismic awareness offered by mediated interconnectedness were lumped in with the fascists of earlier eras. Anything smacking of “meta-organism” reminded the intelligentsia of Hegel or, worse, Jung. Instead of looking — like scientists — at the incipient reorganization of civilization on a new dimensional level, they cringe like early readers of Le Bon’s The Crowd, incapable of seeing in collective organism anything but the tyranny of the masses.”

The nice thing about Edge.com is that it has an abundance of ‘intelligentsia’ all with identities that with little coxing evolve into priestly pontifications like that above scolding us for questioning the latest epoch of truth. In my experience, ‘scientists’ don’t need to yell. There data is what matters.

One last note on Ruchkoff’s primer on social networks; like artificial intelligence, Boolean logic and internet language code, there is a point where social networks will get absorbed into the fabric of life and the next generation of life without fanfare. We are observing an important yet fleeting data point that has meaning only if the data involved lead to other dynamic social activities. Ultimately none of this will be understood unless a less romantic strategy of study is applied to that behavior.

John H. Bryant

The Woodlands, TX USA



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