Ten cringeworthy social media terms I loathe using (guilty as charged)

1. Gone viral: Everyone drops this term very loosely these days. Any video/post/tweet that receives even the tiniest more attention than usual has “gone viral”. Viral comes from the word virus that denotes an infection. Infections make you ill and connotes negativity. You don’t give someone Ebola or H1N1 intentionally or consciously. But a “viral video” is shared consciously — noted, sometimes without careful examination or thought — and it may or may not be negative. Relating it to an infection just makes it cringeworthy. I prefer “shareable”, but I know that’s never going to stick. Perhaps, the word “popular” will do.

2. Monetize eyeballs: When a print editor drops this bomb I know he’s gone over to the dark side. He thinks it’s hip, but it’s so 1990s. We used to be called readers. Now we’re just eye sockets with dollar signs in editors’ irises. You’re a “pageview” or a “unique” for which a commercial value must be extracted. Which brings us to…

3. Traffic: “Viewership” and “readership” seem to have a nice, stately, cruiseshippy connotation. Traffic just connotes jams, smog, anxiety and roadrage. It suggests we humans are just being herded into some corral like farm animals. “We need to bring in more traffic and monetize those eyeballs”, says Mr Marketeer. Urghh.

4.Engagement: Nice word. It’s a step up from sleeping together but just shy of taking the plunge. But in Mr Marketeer’s parlance, a unique visitor (he visits, he doesn’t read, view, or listen) is considered “engaged” when he @tags, shares, comments or likes your last post on a friend’s funeral. “To calculate the ER (engagement rate), take the total PTAT (people talking about this) and divide by the total number of likes.” Sounds like a mathematical formula to derive whether the couple will eventually get hitched or not.

5. New Media: It isn’t new anymore. The net has been with us since 1969. The web since 1990. It is hard to call something new anymore when it’s old.

6. Social media: Put the word “social” in front of anything and it will sell. I should know. I train people on social media marketing, social media journalism, social media crisis. In fact they’ve even dropped the word media: it’s social marketing, social selling, social business. Social business, you say? I say, oxymoron.

7. Hyperconnected: Seriously, this was the theme for a major political party’s forum “A Hyperconnected World: Challenges in Nation Building” in 2014. So someone thought the word hyper is still sexy. It isn’t. In this article, they even mention that we live in an “era where dissemination is at warp-speed”. “Aye, aye captain. Shall we add some hype to that too and sprinkle it with hyperlinks.” Anything prefixed with hyper eg: hypermarket, is just hyperbole, and sounds so dated. The word hyper needs to vanish from our vocabulary just like the triangular ship in the arcade game Asteroids when we hit the Hyperspace button.

8. Smartphone: The phone’s smart. And we aren’t? Some friends still feel obliged to send me XXX videos via WhatsApp making the phone a smutphone. We went from handphone to featurephone to smartphone. What’s next hyperphone? Noooo.

9. Bleeding-edge: Beyond the leading-edge? Really? Come on. That seemed cool to say like in 1999. Now it just sounds creepy and macabre.

10. Listicle: defined as “an article on the Internet presented in the form of a numbered or bullet-pointed list”. Sounds like a list to me. Why “listicle” when “list” will do? Was it merged with “popsicle” = sweet lists you can lick or like? Or perhaps it derives from testicle = lists with some gonads? Or maybe it’s a combo of list and tickle. Which makes this, if you came this far, one of them.

The bully in us all

On June 5, 2005, a young woman’s dog pooped onboard the Metropolitan Subway, Line 2, near Ahyun Station, Seoul, South Korea.

She was embarrassed and was offered a tissue by a fellow passenger. She cleaned her dog with it but was chastised by passengers later for refusing to do the same for the mess on the floor  — before hastily disembarking.

By then, a passenger named Miss Kim had taken her photo with a mobilephone and soon the posting went viral online.

The meme “dog poop girl”, “dog s**t girl” or 개똥녀 (gae-ttong-nyue) took a life of its own. An online all-points bulletin alert and the firestorm of criticism resulted in identification of her, her relatives, her place of work and apparently her eventually quitting.

dog poo girl
As documented by Jonathan Zittrain in ‘The Future of the Internet’:The summed outrage of many unrelated people viewing a disembodied video may be disproportionate to whatever social norm or law is violated within that video. Lives can be ruined after momentary wrongs, even if merely misdemeanors.”

The case brings to mind several other related incidents well-documented by popular sites such as Know Your Meme and Wikipedia including: Bus Uncle (Hong Kong), Christopher Lao (Philippines), Anton Casey (Singapore) and Sharifah Zohra Jabeen (Listen, listen, listen) (Malaysia).

Each case differs in the degree of the wrong-doing but the backlash of harassment, hate vitriol, ridiculing parodies, even death threats online were common to all.

In a hyper-cammed, super-amped Internet world, an online mob can quickly become judge, jury and executioner. What you say or do in a public space, online or otherwise, can and will be used against you.

Bus Uncle’s infamy may have even resulted in him being beaten up by masked men, Christopher Lao suffered a mental breakdown, Anton Casey lost his job and fled the country, and Sharifah Zohra says she feared for the safety of her family and children.

By all accounts, none of the actions of the five individuals that became online media targets are defensible.

Dog poop girl’s refusal to clean up, Bus Uncle’s profanity-laced tirade, Christopher Lao’s “whiny, obnoxious” interview, Anton Casey’s condescending tweets and Sharifah Zohra’s disparaging inanities all made us uncomfortable when measured against mature, civil society norms.

Anton Caseys offensive tweets

Above: Anton Casey's offensive tweets

We were angry, mad even. But, sadly, their bad behaviours incensed some of us enough to get on moral high-horses and bombard them with derision and death threats – reflecting our own bad behaviours online. Yes they were all wrong and deserved a reprimand but who died and made some of us infallible gods online?   (I shudder to think of the early part of my 50 years of living if a particular moment had been filmed, documented and posted online. How would I have reacted if an intensely-scrutinized single mistake became the defining moment of my entire character, career or life? How would you? )

As a young journalist, I was always worried of writing a story that would result in sources or the subjects of the story losing their rice bowls — or even their lives. Was the story more important than the resulting fallout? Would the uncertified engineers I pointed out lose their jobs? Would the undocumented immigrants I reported on be forced to return to the destitution of their home country? Would the passerby “hero” who came to the rescue of the family in a murder case be later victimized by the assailants? I was never able to reconcile that part of my job by the cliched refrain “I’m just doing my job.”

As media professionals and a community, our actions or inaction can result in a profound impact on society at large. The cliché is worth repeating: freedom of expression does come with great responsibility. If we are to mature as a society, then we have an obligation to speak up and point out what’s right, and what’s wrong — online as well as offline.  We already live in both worlds, whether we like it or not.

In my old age, as a media trainer, I try to provoke my participants into embracing all things Internet. But also, I encourage them to think of the long term implications of everything they do online that is archived in that cloud of posterity. Every post, every comment, every tweet, every photo and every video defines who you are to some future Internet archivist.

The Internet is a messy space and we have a responsibility, nay, an obligation, to bring some level of maturity of discourse in it. Just like the rest of the world. Allowing only the trolls and anonymously nasty to fill this precious resource with hate would be sad.

Everyone of us relishes our privacy to some extent,  but that shouldn’t be the one thing that holds you back from sharing all the value you can add to the conversation. In fact, you should be in it because you care enough to effect the changes you want to see online.

If this knowledge freezes you, makes you stick your head in the sand and stay offline from any social network, then you have chosen to disengage with the very society you are a part of. And that’s a true loss for everyone.

(The caveat: I know for some it can be hard. A woman who was the victim of an abusive marriage told me she could never go online for fear her ex would trace her every move.  “Be yourself” is easy to say — but being yourself in a hyper-documented, super-shareable world calls for real gonads for some. )

So, did the five “victims” survive their 15 minutes of online infamy? Bus Uncle apparently asked to be paid for media interviews and tried to organize a “Bus Uncle Rave” which never happened. No word on Dog Poop Girl, Anton Casey or the Listen, Listen, Listen lady, who are quietly fading away, perhaps to their own relief, into the obscurity they came from.

Christopher Lao, in a 2012 report, finally returned to university to complete his Bar exam, become a lawyer and an advocate against cyberbullying.

In the interview he says:

“The level of bullying that I experienced can affect anyone’s confidence. I was always crying every day and I feared that I could not move on and could not fulfill my duties as a parent, even.”

Lao says his perspective changed, however, when he started to “detach” himself from material comforts and stopped giving excessive value to his reputation. “Reputation is very limiting because it boxes us. We are scared of failure because (of this). I was no longer afraid of failure…I was done with reputation, I was done with that,” said Lao, who went under medication due to the cyber-bullying he endured.

“I asked myself, ‘Why am I not gonna take this Bar? Only because people might again derive joy from my potential failure?’ I’m done with that. They’ve said whatever they want. I just said, ‘It’s time to do things that will make my loved ones proud, myself proud, the Lord proud. I figured that I was able to wake up every day because I felt that I was worth something.”


  1. Internet trolls really are horrible people
  2. A tale of defeat, resolve and all-out war against bullying

Open Letter: Daniel Gulati on How Facebook Makes Us Miserable

Dear Mr Daniel Gulati,

I disagree with your inferences in HBR that Facebook Is Making Us Miserable .

Your three points are:
1) comparison mania
2) time suck
3) less “real-world” relationships.

Naysayers have been providing the same reasons about any new technology for centuries — blaming railways, cars, radio, recorded music, the phone, TV, video, computers, the Internet, mobile phones, Twitter — now even iPads — for supposedly making us all “miserable”.

Let’s face it, we aren’t any more miserable today than we were in the 18th century. (In fact, Steven Pinker goes so far as to argue in The Better Angels of Our Nature that violence has declined and that we have never lived through more peaceful times as we do now).

I doubt if Facebook makes us any more miserable, suicidal, violent, sick or depressed, than we were before 2003 and making that inference by extrapolating from small-sample research is just wrong.

Here are my three counterpoints:
1) Comparison mania: People have been “keeping up with the Joneses” for ages and painting a better picture of your life than it actually is is a human weakness that existed long before the Internet came along.

2) Time suck: Our media diet now includes print, music, photos, videos, movies, email, tweets, social network updates, etc. FB is just another tool we’ll adjust to.

3) Less “real-world” relationships:
A relationship improves only if you work on it. When it’s mediated through screens, it doesn’t make it “unreal” or less “rich” as having “in-person meetings.”

We live in both worlds – online/offline, virtual/real – some us have found the balance, a few of us haven’t. Our relationships have the potential to be more varied in degree and diversity than even before. You make it as rich and as close as you want it to be. How can that possibly make you more miserable?

Julian Matthews

What’s your story?

Trey Pennington, a popular social media speaker died from his own hand on Sunday morning beneath an oak tree, near his church at Greenville, South Carolina. He was 46, the father of six children and grandfather of two grandchildren.

Understandably, there is an outpouring of tributes online of his sudden loss. (1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 )

I never knew Trey but discovered him only through those tributes. His poignant last tweet resonated with me as it did with many.

Trey’s death coincided this week with the demise of a Malaysian TV journalist, age 41, who was shot dead in Somalia while on a humanitarian mission and the sudden death of a schoolmate from my year who had an apparent heart attack at 48.

Death seems to hover over my professional and social circles, like a dark cloud, a constant reminder of my own mortality. (On Sept 10, 2011, my dad would have been 92, this is the first year we will not be celebrating his birthday.)

Wallowing in my own selfish concerns, I tried this week to stay positive and digest Trey’s spirited philosophy and enthusiastic approach to his profession.  Here’s my attempt to glean something from his numerous videos, blog posts, podcasts and tweets — online artefacts through which his legacy lives on.

By all accounts, Trey was the quintessential Southern gentleman who was passionate about social media, generous with his insights and an influential leader in the online community.

Trey had a respectable 111,000 Twitter followers, he had a blog and an online radio show and was active on Google Plus, Facebook and Linkedin. He was credited with starting or helping start ten Social Media Clubs:  eight in the southeastern United States, one in the United Kingdom, and one in Australia. He also co-founded Like Minds (a social media conference that launched in England and had events planned this year in Milan and Dubai) and the Social Story conference.

In his presentation at Social Slam 2011 in April he said:

“Never before have we had so many ways to make contact with strangers and nurture them into advocates. There is a three-fold human hunger fueling this explosive growth of social media and it is creating the age of opportunity for those willing to embrace it. No 1. We all want to be heard/seen, No 2. We all want to be understood and No 3. We all want to know our lives count.

Trey related how he came to this “beautiful” understanding when he met Amanda, a 11-year-old, at a disability school. Amanda was diagnosed as non-communicative, non-verbal which meant whatever she felt inside — her thoughts, her hopes, whenever she was hungry or afraid — she couldn’t verbalize. One day, Amanda was learning to use an adaptive communications device and she pushed a button and the computer said: “I have something to tell you.” He replied: “Okay, Amanda what do you have to tell me?” Amanda looked down at the device, then up at him again to make sure he was listening, she then pushed a button that said: “I love you.”

“Obviously this was an incredibly rich moment for me to hear her expression of affection,” he relates. “But what was more profound, was what I saw in her face — her entire countenance changed; everything about her being completely changed when she realized, for the first time, somebody else understood what she was feeling. What has this got to do with social media? How ever you are using Facebook, all of us have a bit of Amanda in us. We all have a yearning for somebody to see, someone to hear us and someone to understand us…”

Trey was a consultant for politicians and often times, he said he was faced with a client who was obsessed with  “getting the message out”. Trey’s take was to flip it and get the message IN.

Politicians, he said,  needed to say, ‘I see you and I hear you now.’ They needed to follow people back on Twitter and listen to what they said.  In one example, Trey relates how one politician took his advice, absorbed all the anger and animosity online, accepted and acknowledged his followers’ gripes and, over time, those hate tweets dissipated into friendlier banter.

Trey believed there’s “a world out there engaging on social media, just hoping someone would notice them.” All we need to do is listen.

“Who am I now; why am I here (existentially AND on social media); what do I have to offer are great starting points for engagement.”

Trey often quoted Zig Ziglar on this: “You can have everything in life if you’ll just help enough other people get what they want. It’s not about you, it’s about them.”

Towards the end, Trey distilled the core of his understanding in a devoted exploration of the idea of the social story.

“The story is more powerful than the brand,” Tom Peters.

Trey believed today’s online yearnings are just a reflection  and amplification of  what storytellers have been doing throughout the ages.

“The Storyteller sees Story as a gift that has been given and grows in value as it is given away. He sees the relationship with his Audience as one of doing everything for their benefit. He is totally focused on their experience right now. He sees to minimize himself so that Story and the Audience would have the pre-eminence. When you boil it all down, the Storyteller simple sees the world differently. And there in lies the huge opportunity for us today to challenge the assumptions about the way things are, the way things should be and the way things can be.”

Two books he cited that shaped his thinking were Annette Simmons’ The Story Factor and Doug Lipman’s The Storytelling Coach.

An excerpt from the first chapter of  The Story Factor distillates the idea of the story as core:

“People don’t want more information. They are up to their eyeballs in information. They want faith – faith in you, your goals, your success, in the story you tell. It is faith that moves mountains, not facts. Facts do not give birth to faith. Faith needs a story to sustain it – a meaningful story that inspires belief in you and renews hope that your ideas, do indeed, offer what you promise. Genuine influence goes deeper than getting people to do what you want them to do. It means people pick up where you left off because they believe. Faith can overcome any obstacle, achieve any goal. Money, power, authority, political advantage, and brute force have all, at one time or another, been overcome by faith.

“Story is your path to creating faith. Telling a meaningful story means inspiring your listeners — co-workers, leaders, subordinates, family, or a bunch of strangers — to reach the same conclusions you have reached and decide for themselves to believe what you say and do what you want them to do. People value their own conclusions more highly than yours. They will only have faith in a story that has become real for them personally. Once people make your story, their story, you have tapped into the powerful force of faith. Future influence will require very little follow-up energy from you and may even expand as people recall and re-tell your story to others.”

This animation suggests the extreme way in which we are immersed in Information over Story: Red Riding Hood as told via infographics by Tomas Nilsson:

Slagsmålsklubben – Sponsored by destiny from Tomas Nilsson on Vimeo.

In this tweet exchange with Jay Baer, Trey was asked whether social media would be helped or hurt by widespread corporate adoption?

His reply: “Intriguing question. Humanity will be helped by wholesale adoption of a ‘social media’ mentality—’My neighbor 1st’ mentality. Don’t know that we need to shield social media. Also don’t know if corporate America can handle social media. Besides, social media will probably get better as more and more people and organizations get on board.”

On the impact of stories on social media, Trey concluded:

“Social media helps shine a spotlight on old-fashioned humanity — we make meaning through stories. A storyteller doesn’t have a ‘point to make,’ nor is he focused on ‘ROI,’ or even his own end-game: he focuses on audience. The storyteller lives to help the audience create their own experience; that IS the reward and that’s enough. Social media swings wide the doorway to co-created experiences that can be easily shared with others.”

Trey Pennington exemplified the life of the selfless storyteller. He gave meaning to many people’s lives, despite his tragic end. Who doesn’t need a little validation in their life every now and then?

Maybe we all need to hear to each other’s story too. So what’s your story? Tell me, I’m listening.

Trey Pennington shared TJ Thyne’s fable called Validation on his June 13, 2010 blog post.

Case study: WWF Malaysia

Anita Devasahayam of Trinetizen Media has written a case study about WWF Malaysia for the latest Social Space magazine, produced by the Lien Centre for Social Innovation, Singapore Management University.

The paper focuses on the non-profit’s use of media tools to champion its advocacy efforts.

The Malaysia chapter of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-M), like most non-profits, operates on tight resources and struggles to gain attention for the work it does.

It must contend with issues of relevance, credibility and strategic use of media to deliver its conservation message in a world saturated with media messages.

WWF-M currently runs over 70 projects ranging from saving endangered tiger and turtle species, to protecting the highland forests, rivers and seas. The projects are funded through a combination of grants, donations, sponsorships and fund-raisers.

Although WWF-M had the support of big brand names such as Boh Plantations, Honda Malaysia and HSBC Bank Malaysia, there were concerns that the projects did not receive sufficient media coverage and were not reaching the desired audience – namely, the larger public interested in the environment and ecology.

According to its 2009 annual report, corporate sponsors contributed over RM1.91 million in 2009 compared to RM2.15 million in 2008 in financial support to WWF-M, a drop of almost 11 per cent from 2008 to 2009.

Conversely, donations from individuals over the same time period rose by 16 percent. Donations from individuals accounted for 38 per cent of the organisation’s total revenue.

Recognising that a shift had occurred in its source of funding and support and more was needed to engage individual donors from among the Malaysian public, WWF-M was prompted to review their media strategies to meet this objective.

Although mainstream media played a significant role in spreading news pertaining to WWF-M’s activities, twice as many articles were written in the media from 2000-2004, as compared to 2005-2009, though there was an overall increase in the number of conservation issues in the latter period.

One contributing factor to this change is the general increase in access to the Internet across Malaysia over the last decade.

WWF-M recognised that it would have to work with newer media channels, while at the same time coming up with innovative strategies to engage traditional media platforms, to ensure their message reaches the larger public.

The results of a survey, targeting senior journalists and editors at local newspapers and broadcast stations, were also eye-opening and gave WWF-M an impetus to change the way they pushed their agenda via the media.

The survey identified three key areas that WWF-M needed to address in order to advocate their message of conservation, strengthen their relationship with their current stakeholders and cultivate the larger public in this media saturated environment.

The three key areas were:

  1. simplify the message;
  2. cultivate media relationships;
  3. ensure that their voice is heard despite the unfavourable media environment.

1. Simplify the Message: Give Me Something Fresh and Easy to Understand
For example, survey participants stated that stories tackling dwindling numbers of leatherback turtles or threatened forest fauna due to intense logging were “typical and usual”, “old”or “recycled.”

What was perceived as urgent or significant news by WWF-M was not viewed as news by the media.

WWF-M’s press releases also tended to be technically complex, with little or no effort to craft the issues in a manner that would be understood by lay-persons.

Furthermore, the alarmist tone that often characterized the press releases issued by the organisation did little to increase its credibility, even among reporters who were conversant with conservation issues.

Some reporters characterized WWF-M press releases as hyperbolic and occasionally inaccurate.

2. Cultivate Media Relationships: Give Me Someone to Talk To
The media stated that it had trouble keeping up with changes in the WWF-M’s communications team. The communications team of the WWF-M also failed to engage with the media on the presumption that the strength of their brand was sufficient to draw attention to the various causes. Mainstream media members generally felt the onus lay with WWF-M to keep editors and journalists apprised of internal changes and new developments.

3. Ensure Their Voice is Heard: Speaking Up Over the Noise
WWF-M was also affected by the economic downturn in the 2008-2009 period. Appeals for donations in the public domain became particularly challenging as a result. WWF-M’s appeals for coverage in broadcast media also revealed that the industry has shifted its emphasis to focus more on poverty, disabilities and unmet social needs. With limited air-time available, conservation and environmental issues were given less coverage through such media platforms. WWF-M needed to work harder to make their issues relevant, timely, and just as important than other matters the media was covering.


WWF-M’s TX2 tiger conservation campaign used an integrated approach combining offline marketing activities such as tiger-face painting and online appeals and outreach efforts via social networks.

Useful Twitter apps and links

1. Find people to follow: Twellow | Tweepsearch | Tweepz | TwitDir | WeFollow | CelebrityTweet | Twitterholic or just search #ff in Twitter Search.

2. Find journalists, news orgs on Twitter: MediaOnTwitter | Muckrack | News “papers” on Twitter | List of Malaysian media | List of Malaysian journalists

3. Find those tweeting at specific location and specific subject matter: Nearbytweets | Twitterfall

4. Shorten links before posting: Bit.ly | TinyUrl
Both offer customization of links to something more memorable and Bit.ly also offers stats so you can see how many clicks you are getting from your short link. Just add the plus(+) at the end of a link eg: http://bit.ly/xxxxx+ to find out more.

5. Find out whether the story or link you want to tweet is current or popular or has been tweeted already by your followers: Topsy

6. Use popular Twitter clients: UberTwitter, TweetDeck, Seesmic, Echofon, Twitterrific, Tweetie (recently bought by Twitter). An updated Twitstat list of popular clients.

7. Graph your stats: TweetStats

8. Post and share photos: Twitpic | TweetPhoto | PikChur | yFrog | TwitGoo | Picktor

9. Post and share videos: yfrog | TwitVid | Others

10. Journalist tips and guides: Twitter tips for journalists from Steve Buttry | The Journalist’s Guide to Twitter by Leah Betancourt | 6 Twitter tips for journalists by JD Lasica

Bonus: Great complete guide with best practices and case studies for convincing management on Twitter.

(Attribution: From various sources including Mashable)

“Newspapers Never Made Much Money From News”

“People who visit the auto page are interested in autos. But what ad do you show next to an earthquake story?” Hal Varian, Google Chief Economist.

Hal Varian shares some sober reasoning on why the newspaper industry is in the doldrums. From his blogpost:

The news industry’s financial problems started well before the web came along. Circulation has been falling since 1985 and circulation per household has been falling since 1947! Ad revenue for newspapers was roughly constant in real terms up until 2005, and ad revenue per reader actually increased up until that time. Since then, the drop in advertising rates due to the recession, coupled with a significant drop in circulation, has exacerbated newspapers’ financial difficulties.

In the last five years many more people have been reading the news online: About 40% of internet users say they looked at online news “yesterday.” Higher income households report even larger numbers, making online news readers a potentially attractive audience for advertisers.

However, visitors to online newspaper sites don’t spend a lot of time there. The average amount of time looking at online news is about 70 seconds a day, while the average amount of time spent reading the physical newspaper is about 25 minutes a day. Not surprisingly, advertisers are willing to pay more for their share of readers’ attention during that 25 minutes of offline reading than during the 70 seconds of online reading. So even though online advertising has grown rapidly in the last five years, it appears that somewhat less than 5% of newspapers’ ad revenue comes from their internet editions, according to the most recent Newspaper Association of America data.

There’s a reason for the relatively short time readers spend on online news: a disproportionate amount of online news reading occurs during working hours. The good news is that newspapers can now reach readers at work, which was difficult prior to the internet. The bad news is that readers don’t have a lot of time to devote to news when they are supposed to be working. Online news reading is predominately a labor time activity while offline news reading is primarily a leisure time activity. One of the big challenges facing the news industry is increasing involvement with the news during leisure hours, when readers have more time to look at both news content and ads.

What about search engines? Many readers go directly to their favorite news site, but a good fraction use search engines to access news specific news topics. According to comScore, clicks from search engines account for 35-40% of traffic to major U.S. news sites. Since most newspaper ads are priced on a per-impression basis, this means that 35-40% of major U.S. newspaper online revenue is coming from search engine referrals. That is a big fraction of online advertising revenue but, as we saw above, online ad revenue is only about 5% of the total.

Furthermore, the real money in search engine advertising is in the highly commercial verticals like Shopping, Health, and Travel. Unfortunately, most of the search clicks that go to newspapers are in categories like Sports, News & Current Events, and Local, which don’t attract the biggest spending advertisers.

This isn’t so surprising: the fact of the matter is that newspapers have never made much money from news. They’ve made money from the special interest sections on topics such as Automotive, Travel, Home & Garden, Food & Drink, and so on. These sections attract contextually targeted advertising, which is much more effective than non-targeted advertising. After all, someone reading the Automotive section is likely to be more interested in cars than the average consumer, so advertisers will pay a premium to reach those consumers.

Traditionally, the ad revenue from these special sections has been used to cross-subsidize the core news production. Nowadays internet users go directly to websites like Edmunds, Orbitz, Epicurious, and Amazon to look for products and services in specialized areas. Not surprisingly, advertisers follow those eyeballs, which makes the traditional cross-subsidization model that newspapers have used far more difficult.

Some have argued that the solution to the financial problems of newspapers is to charge for access. Many people place a high value on news, and there is clearly a significant social value to having a well informed citizenry. The problem is that there is a lot of competition among news providers, and this competition tends to push prices down. News sources that have highly differentiated content may be able to make pay-for-access work, but this will likely to be difficult for more generic news sources.

In my view, the best thing that newspapers can do now is experiment, experiment, experiment. There are huge cost savings associated with online news. Roughly 50% of the cost of producing a physical newspaper is in printing and distribution, with only about 15% of total costs being editorial. Newspapers could save a lot of money if the primary access to news was via the internet.

New tablet computers like the Kindle, iPad, and Android devices may encourage people to read online news at home in the comfort of their easy chairs.

1. Hal Varian presentation on Scribd
2.TechCrunch summary.
3. Martin Langeveld summary at Nieman Journalism Lab.

The messenger is the media

(Above: Painting entitled The Messenger, 1996. by Bill Viola)

If Marshall McLuhan were alive today, would he instead say the messenger is the media?

The media is crass, commercial and aimed at the lowest common denominator. An endless parade of wannabe idols on a dubious stage. You have to have the “whole package” yet “be original’ and then have 14-year-olds decide your fate. Or wipe out.

The media is biased, agenda-laden and orchestrated. It is the coloured ball bouncing around on a snooker table, depending on who’s holding the cue for the day. It gets sunk into holes of its own choosing, only to be retrieved by another, so points can be tallied up for either side.

The messenger is the filter, the curator, the aggregator, the means by which we decide what we want to see, hear, debate. When the messenger massages the media, we like him all the more. We subscribe to his take, his point of view, his clarification of the thoughts we think — but can’t seem to express. No spin, nor hype. Just the truth. Plain and simple.

The media is flawed, the messenger is flawed genius. We like him all the more for that very fact. The messenger validates us. He needs us as much as we need him. We become one with him — momentarily. But we are not so naive as to take him wholesale, all the time. We are, afterall, as empowered as him.

The messenger helps us keep our wits about us when everyone else seems to be losing theirs. He keeps us in the loop and affirms our right to know. He digs down deep, and pushes us to the edge of reasoning. He draws from diverse sources and sieves what needs to be shared, what has to go out, what can’t be bought and sold under-the-table, what can’t be taken from us by those who feel entitled.

The messenger is in our corner. He’s on our team. He doesn’t give us a bollocking at half-time even though we are losing. He restores our faith in what we already know. That we need to get out there and just play the game. The way we know. The way we trained for it. For what is the point of being on the field anyway, if we don’t want to play the game? He gives us a sense of worth and pride.

The messenger puts us all on the same playing field. It may not always be level, but at least we know the rules of the game. The right way, the way it should be done.

The messenger makes us want to aspire for our higher selves. To make things accountable. To stem the rot and change the status quo. The messenger is our avatar. He is blue and larger than life. We live our lives vicariously through him.

The messenger is the media. The messenger is us. We are the new media.

Spreadable media

Henry Jenkins, Professor of Communications, Journalism, and Cinematic Art at the University of Southern California, makes a case for “spreadable media”.

Jenkins doesn’t like the use of the word Viral in describing media. I must say a disease-based metaphor never sat well with me in describing ‘new media’. Neither did I like the concept of Web 2.0, a borrowed programming metaphor, that is still vague and inaccurate.

Our easy reliance on the word “viral” as if communication takes place by way of an infection, Jenkins explains, has two issues:

1. It reduces consumers, often the most unpredictable variable in the sender-message-receiver frame, to involuntary “hosts” of media viruses;

2. It holds onto the idea that media producers can design “killer” texts which can ensure circulation by being injected directly into the cultural “bloodstream.”


Douglas Rushkoff’s 1994 book Media Virus may not have invented the term “viral media”, but his ideas eloquently describe the way these texts are popularly held to behave. The media virus, Rushkoff argues, is a Trojan horse, that surreptitiously brings messages into our homes — messages can be encoded into a form people are compelled to pass along and share, allowing the embedded meanings, buried inside like DNA, to “infect” and spread, like a pathogen. There is an implicit and often explicit proposition that this spread of ideas and messages can occur not only without the user’s consent, but perhaps actively against it, requiring that people be duped into passing a hidden agenda while circulating compelling content. Douglas Rushkoff insists he is not using the term “as a metaphor. These media events are not like viruses. They are viruses . . . (such as) the common cold, and perhaps even AIDS” (Rushkoff, 9, emphasis his).

Media viruses spread through the datasphere the same way biological ones spread through the body or a community. But instead of traveling along an organic circulatory system, a media virus travels through the networks of the mediaspace. The “protein shell” of a media virus might be an event, invention, technology, system of thought, musical riff, visual image, scientific theory, sex scandal, clothing style or even a pop hero — as long as it can catch our attention. Any one of these media virus shells will search out the receptive nooks and crannies in popular culture and stick on anywhere it is noticed. Once attached, the virus injects its more hidden agendas into the datastream in the form of ideological code — not genes, but a conceptual equivalent we now call “memes” (Rushkoff, p.9-10).

The “hidden agenda” and “embedded meanings” Rushkoff mentions are the brand messages buried at the heart of viral videos, the promotional elements in videos featuring Mentos exploding out of soda bottles, or Gorillas playing the drumline of  In the Air Tonight . The media virus proposition is that these marketing messages — messages consumers may normally avoid, approach skeptically, or disregard altogether — are hidden by the “protein shell” of compelling media properties. Nestled within interesting bits of content, these messages are snuck into the heads of consumers, or wilfully passed between them.

These messages, Rushkoff and others suggest, constitute “memes”, conceived by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in 1976 as a sort of cultural version of the gene. Dawkins was looking for a way to explain cultural evolution, imagining it as a biological system. What genes are to genetics, he suggested, memes would be to culture. Like the gene, the meme is driven to self-create, and is possessed of three important characteristics:

1. Fidelity — memes have the ability to retain their informational content as they pass from mind to mind;

2. Fecundity — memes possess the power to induce copies of themselves;

3. Longevity — memes that survive longer have a better chance of being copied.

The meme, then, is “a unit of information in a mind whose existence influences events such that more copies of itself get created in other minds” (Brodie, 1996, p. 32). They are the ideas at the center of virally spread events, some coherent, self-replicating idea which moves from person-to-person, from mind-to-mind, duplicating itself as it goes.

Language seems to ‘evolve’ by non-genetic means and at a rate which is orders of magnitude faster than genetic evolution. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation (Dawkins, 1976, p.189).

Dawkins remained vague about the granularity of this concept, seeing it as an all-purpose unit which could explain everything from politics to fashion. Each of these fields are comprised of good ideas, good ideas which, in order to survive, attach themselves to media virii — funny, catchy, compelling bits of content — as a vehicle to infect new minds with copies of themselves.

We are all susceptible to the pull of viral ideas. Like mass hysteria. Or a tune that gets into your head that you keep on humming all day until you spread it to someone else. Jokes. Urban Legends. Crackpot religions. Marxism. No matter how smart we get, there is always this deep irrational part that makes us potential hosts for self-replicating information. (Neil Stephenson, Snow Crash, 1992, p.399)

Though imagined long before the rise of the Internet and the Web, the idea of the meme has been widely embraced as a way of talking about the rapid dispersion of informationn and the widespread circulation of concepts which characterize the digital era. It has been a particularly attractive way to think about the rise of Internet fads like the LOLcats or Soulja Boy, fads considered seemingly trivial or meangingless. The content which circulates in such a fashion is seen as simplistic, fragmentary, and essentially meaningless, though it may shape our beliefs and actions in significant ways. Wired magazine (Miller, 2007) recently summed it up as a culture of “media snacks”:

We now devour our pop culture the same way we enjoy candy and chips – in conveniently packaged bite-size nuggets made to be munched easily with increased frequency and maximum speed. This is snack culture – and boy, is it tasty (not to mention addictive).

This description of snacks implies that they are without nutritional value, trivial or meaningless aspect of our culture, a time waste. And if this meaningless content is self-replicating then consumers are “irrational,” and unable to escape their infection. Yet these models — the idea of the meme and the media virus, of self-replicating ideas hidden in attractive, catchy content we are helpless to resist — is a problematic way to understand cultural practices. We want to suggest that these materials travel through the web because they are meaningful to the people who spread them. At the most fundamental level, such an approach misunderstands the way content spreads, which is namely, through the active practices of people. As such, we would like to suggest:

1. That “memes” do not self-replicate;

2. That people are not “susceptible” to this viral media;

3. That viral media and Internet memes are not nutritionally bereft, meaningless ‘snacks’.

The 8-part posts with embedded videos can be read at: MIT Convergence Culture Consortium or Henryjenkins.org

Yammer for the enterprise

Been fascinated with the use of Yammer, a micro-blogging tool that is making headway on the enterprise. These two presentations, one by BJ Schone and John Polaschek on Qualcomm and the second by Lee Aase of Mayo Clinic was useful:

Yammer 101

View more documents from Lee Aase.

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