The Internet and Social Media in 1993

NPR’s Science Friday radio show recently rebroadcast a groundbreaking show from 1993 when it live-streamed the first ever radio show over the Internet with the help of scientists from Xerox PARC.   They actually slowed down traffic on the Internet because so many people tried to listen in.  This is a fascinating step back in time with host Ira Flatow, internet radio pioneer Carl Malamud and Brewster Kahle taking calls from listeners over the Internet.  What is particularly special is not just the excitement expressed by the presenters for the technical achievements of that day, but also the comments and creative ideas by those calling in about how they were using the internet, their concerns and what they would like to see happen in the future.  Discussions included:

– How to handle the glut of information coming over the internet, learning how to move through it and avoid ‘information anxiety’.

– How to determine which information is accurate – who can you trust?

– Copyrights and how do you reward a content creator?

– Gaming – Multi User Dungeons (MUDs) and the beginning of virtual worlds.

– The Internet as a ‘universal watercooler’ – a place you can convene electronically, chit chat and schmooze and how it levels the playing field between individuals.

– Creation of new communities, global villages, ‘media of the people’ and its impact upon society.

– The White House’s use of email and interest in opening up and communicating with people.

– One caller wishing he could have a ‘library of songs’, and describing how it would be great if record companies could let songs be downloaded then he could upload his credit card number.

All were extremely prescient comments yet it’s striking how 17 years on we’re still debating many of these issues.  As for Social Media – well, here is the foundation, it’s just that back then it didn’t have the tag.

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Measuring Happiness and Mappiness

It is with much scepticism that many view Cameron’s recent decision to spend £2 million on a project to assess how happy we are as a nation – and what it will prove is up for debate. We’re currently being asked to fill in a form online and new questions will be added to large household surveys produced by the Office for National Statistics.  For a government supposedly intent on having innovation at its core I can’t think of a more traditional and boring method of getting the general public involved.

Yet there are some extremely interesting innovations currently evolving in the mobile scene around health and happiness.  Perhaps Cameron would be interested in checking out the iPhone App Mappiness to see how data can be obtained in a fun – but importantly anonymous – way, involving users in the whole experience and providing data for users’ own personal use as well as data for a specific project.

Launched by George MacKerron at the London School of Economics, the iPhone application Mappiness plots users happiness over time taking into account their location, what they’re doing, how relaxed and awake they are.  You receive a few pings randomly more or less every day so it’s not too intrusive and you can view your own personal data to assess yourself (which is interesting – I’ve been testing it for one week now).  The data is aggregated anonymously producing a real-time happiness meter and a photo-map showing the happiest locations in the UK. Although in the early stages of development this project and no doubt many more like it will be emerging in more complex forms in the future.

It’s worth noting though that trying to quantify happiness and how to obtain it has been a serious pursuit over the years.  Back in 1789 Jeremy Bentham wrote “Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation” in which he outlined his felicific calculus theory which calculates how a moral act is one which produces the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. This then ‘radical’ outlook made him a vocal critic of many legal and political institutions of the day.  In a later book ‘Constitutional Code’ he suggested that political reform should be dictated by the principle that the new system would promote the happiness of the majority of the people affected by it.  Hence, he was in favour of universal suffrage, vote by ballot and annual parliaments – and also stated that there should be no king, no House of Lords, and no established church.  Selection of government officials, he declared, should be by competitive examination and their work should be inspected continuously.  Politicians, he remarked, should be reminded that they are the “servants, not the masters, of the public”.

Perhaps Cameron should revisit Felicific Calculus then and see what it can teach him this time around…

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The Evolution of Revolution

It’s no new news that the internet and social networks have been likened to the Coffee Houses of the late 17th and 18th centuries in Europe. Both originated as ‘open source’ information exchange forums for free spirited thought leaders to congregate demanding free speech and an environment in which to debate, philosophise and even set afoot plans for revolutions.  It was in a Parisian coffee house that Camille Desmoulins stood on a table, brandished two pistols and shouted the famous phrase “Aux armes citoyens” just two days before the storming of the Bastille and the beginning of the French Revolution.

Yet by the early 19th century the bohemian and revolutionary stance of the Coffee Houses was being replaced by private clubs which demanded payment of annual subscriptions.  The New York Times in 1874 described the London club scene at the time:

‘There is an extraordinary mania in London just now for starting clubs… It is curious to observe how certain streets are being absorbed in this way.  A club is set up in one of  the corner-houses, another soon breaks out at the other corner and by and by almost every house is found to be a club…. In short, the mushroom growth of clubs in every direction is one of the most perplexing social mysteries of the day.  There are clubs for everybody, for gentlemen and shopkeepers… doctors and men of science… a red hot anti-Popery club… A club has also been got up for the “Ramblers” who are explained to be gentlemen who are either waiting to get into a club or who cannot make up their minds which club to try for”

So should it be of any surprise that following the trend we are seeing gated networks such as springing up?  This exclusive social network appears to be aimed at the aspiring rich and those looking to gain status and describes itself as ‘a private international community of culturally influenced people who are connected by 3 degrees.’

It seems that money and status will always find a way of seeping into any space.

But a new type of forum has just emerged where potential inspirational thought leaders of our time can flock, debate and philosophise.  We’re now talking a whole town!  Yes, Malmesbury in Wiltshire recently made a bid to become the UK’s first philosophy town – because the philosopher Thomas  Hobbes (author of Leviathan) once lived there.  But what kind of set up is this to be?  A Coffee House style bohemian free for all or organised ‘club’?

Angela Hobbs (a possible distant relative of Thomas Hobbes) explains when interviewed by the BBC how:

‘ “The idea was that the organisers [of the festival] want a professional academic connection to advise on the programme and on speakers and future events, marketing and publicity, and to generally use our network of contacts.”

She said Malmesbury was an idyllic setting for such a festival and had “that connection with a very vibrant, challenging period of our intellectual history, the end of the renaissance, the Civil War going on” through Thomas Hobbes.

“It’s hugely relevant at the moment when we are really wrestling with what kind of political set-up we want, how do we pay for it, what contributions are for what, what contributions are unfair, and what we want the State to do for us and what should we be required to do for the State,” Ms Hobbs said.’

So my question to the good citizens of Malmesbury is: “Are we going to be talking Big Society or genuine social revolution?”

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Pokémon grows up

Hearing rock and heavy metal oozing out from under the locked doors of teenagers’ bedrooms is about as normal as you can get so I was a bit mystified recently when I heard what sounded like a piano concerto wafting gently my way.  Feeling a bit concerned I knocked on the door and asked calmly where the music had come from.  “Oh, it’s just Pokemon”  16 year old replied, eyes fixed on the screen.  WHAT?!?

Yep, and here it is.  Pokemon theme – the grown up version:

And for those who can’t remember the original:

Like most of his friends this teenager was totally hooked to both Pokémon and his Gameboy when he was six. It was just one of those crazes which schools wished would go away accusing the makers of Pokémon of using over-clever marketing to fuel an “obsession” among schoolchildren .  But neither Pokémon nor the kids did go away, and 10 years on the education system is beginning to take the potential benefits of the game more seriously – as JP Porcaro of the School Library Journal explains how Pokémon can be integrated into science, maths and English lessons.

So let’s finish off on a note from dolphindoodle – great work thanks 🙂

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The Fashion of Advertising – the future in 1903

We’re all immune to billboard advertising – but are we really ready for the personalised, localised, niche advertising we’re expecting to hit us as we walk down the high street clasping our mobile phones, not to mention the use of augmented reality apps to entice us into the stores? Whether these prospects excite us or make us feel a bit uncomfortable spare a thought for London in 1903 when the fashion of advertising had just taken hold.  It was, apparently, all the fault of ‘the modern spread of education’

‘Even the muffin man’s bell, so welcome in the winter afternoon’s gloom, seems now more seldom heard… Yet one’s ears are no longer so generally deafened, and the reason for this is not far to seek.  For London is now so gay with advertisements that in every direction our eyes meet strange, gaily-coloured hoarding and sky signs; and the manifold attractions of various articles, instead of being cried in the streets, now cry at us from the walls, or shout discordantly at us from out of the blue of heaven, from ugly black wires and glaring brazen letters.  We cannot go out of doors without being asked a hundred times, in varying type, such silly questions as “Why does a Woman Look Old Sooner that an Man?” “Why Let Your Baby Die?” “Why Pay House Rent?” or other such idiotic queries…  In shops, or on railways, it is the same.  For at least several miles out of London you travel in the constant company of “Pears’s Soap”, and “Colman’s Mustard;” and outside eating-shops you see in large letters the cunning legend, “Everything as Nice as Mother Makes it.”  The Art of Advertisement is everywhere paramount… This mania for posters has, of course, largely resulted from the spread of education: for of what use to ask such questions in old days, when few could have succeeded in reading them?  The fashion of advertisements is still growing, the Americans are encouraging it to preposterous proportions; and we shall soon, indeed, live in a mere criss-cross of lettered wires, not unlike Mr. Wells’s idea of a future Utopia.’  Highways : & : Byways in : London by Mrs. E.T. Cook

You do wonder what she’d have made of this possible future:

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Ada Lovelace Day – Mrs P and her A – Z

Phyllis Pearsall was a force to be reckoned with.  Headstrong an understatement.  Born in 1906 and after a very tumultuous life she found herself aged 29 wandering the streets of London one evening trying to find her way to a party.

To her the solution was simple.  A map just had to be created to help people get around town.  She immediately started her crusade by walking 18 hours a day around the 23,000 streets of London mapping it – walking a total of 3000 miles.  She then designed and proofread it all herself using just one draftsman, James Duncan, to create it.

Having battled against all odds to get this far all she had to do was sell it.  Selfridges and Foyles were not impressed, but undeterred she continued on ending up at WH Smiths where she joined the daily queue of sales reps.  She was totally ignored – everyone assuming she must be someone’s secretary.  She returned for seven days on the trot until finally the buyer saw her.  He bought over 250 copies and so the A – Z’s journey began.

Within a year of conceptualising the idea Mrs P had sold 10,000 copies which she delivered herself to all the outlets in London – in a cart.

She then spent the next 50 years she building her business.

So where does the tech come in?

Phyllis was an innovator and embraced any technology which could help her business run more effectively.  In the 1980’s as computers appeared Mrs P immediately saw the benefits and quickly introduced them into the company – though she did ensure  that they did not interfere with the social aspects of the company.  In 1996 (the year of her death) the company produced its first CD-ROM of London.

And social media?

We talk these days of social media as if it is a new thing.  Of course it is not.

In terms of social media in business Mrs P valued immensely  the importance of all her staff.  She was a natural manager and understood that nurturing, motivating and rewarding her staff could only bring benefits to the company. She took on many youngsters and allowed their talents to flourish.  Many remained with her for over 40 years.

In 1966 she turned the company into a trust to ensure that it was never bought out and safeguarding the employees jobs.  She was determined that any profits always came second to the welfare of her staff and families.

But over and above this the A – Z is a piece of social media in its own right.  It has never been recognised by the official mapping organisations who chose to ignore both Phyllis and the A – Z.  Some say this was because the  A – Z was too commercial, or  because it is not mathematically correct.  It put design and clarity above mathematical accuracy.  But Mrs P was a trend setter and her style of cartography is now used for many modern maps to this day.

The A – Z is a map for the people.

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Women are your digital customers

Notes for my presentation at the O’Reilly Web 2.0 in Berlin last October:

Women represent a good half of the number of users of the web and even more on social networks.

Women make over 80% of all real world consumer purchases and according to a recent survey conducted by Mastercard run across 7 countries recently, women now shop more online than men – though they spend less. Some of the reasons for this being security issues and bad website design.

Justin Drummond notes in Brandrepublic ‘It is recognised that women, more so than men in the US and UK, are culturally encouraged to be more inclined to discuss their purchases with friends, recommending items they are pleased with and asking for advice from peers in decision-making; “they utilize the powerful marketing tool: word of mouth” (Source: This goes hand in hand with an expectance of openness to information about goods they wish to purchase, and makes them harder customers than men in many ways’.

The Web 1.0 online hard sell “Point-Click-Purchase” approach doesn’t always work, and given the choice women often prefer to browse, dig deep and get to understand our choices. Perhaps this is the reason for the success of sites like Etsy which offer more of a shopping experience – with social networking at its core.

Social media is becoming more of an integral part of websites – and, as Business Week reports the use of social media is particularly attractive to women.

Web design and online marketing companies which are areas generally dominated by men are having to adapt to social marketing. Having more women involved with their eye for what women want can only be a good thing.

Moving on to advertising, Martha Barletta in her book ‘Marketing to Women’ comments that 91% of women say ‘advertisers don’t understand us’,and IPC Media reveals that within the ever growing market of women over 35, 36% feel that advertising aimed at them is patronising.

I must admit that I’m getting particularly fed up with the marketers and product designers assuming that the way to get me to buy some piece of tech is to make it in pink!

But there are a few glimmerings of hope with Dove, M&S and a few others having launched highly successful campaigns aimed at the older woman.

But my favourite to date has to be Harley Davidson which has added a section on its website dedicated to women motorcyclists. Women now buy 12% of all Harleys sold, and in an article in the New York Times, Jerry G. Wilke, Harley-Davidon’s vice president for customer relationships and product planning comments: “I think 12 percent is just the beginning…. The opportunities to cater to women are endless, and we will continue to do more.”

The video games industry is an area worth watching too with 40% of all gamers being women – though they represent just 12% of the industry.

This is still just the beginning though, and the money is starting to appear.
Advertising on, and traffic to, women-specific sites has increased rapidly and the big boys are starting to get in on the act:

Comcast recently bought the shopping and entertainment site DailyCandy for $125 million;
Peacock Equity and Venrock invested $5 million in BlogHer;
Yahoo created Shine .

So where do we go from here? With the majority of internet shopping being done by women, and women also being the majority users of socical networks it’s odd that only 16% of women are involved in designing and building websites. And although roughly half of staff in advertising are women, men still monopolise the all important creative director roles which is odd considering that they are trying to influence women.

I would have thought that with these serious facts and figures behind us, now would be the right time for women to really start to make their mark.

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Tim Berners-Lee – the future of the web

I went along to NESTA recently to hear Tim Berners-Lee, ‘Creator of the Web’. Intelligent and articulate as you would expect, he also came over as a truly genuine person. As he was part of a panel he didn’t have too much time to speak which was a shame – but here’s the video of what he did say. Bringing everything down to a very human level you were left simply wanting to hear more.

It’s just a shame that NESTA couldn’t provide an embed code – so don’t forget to come back here when you’ve finished watching the video!

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Globalisation – shift happens

The speed at which technology is moving, how it impacts upon everyone in the world, and what the future holds for us all is of constant fascination to me. Whether you see it as exciting and motivating or a threat to the way in which we currently live, here are some facts which none of us can easily ignore. This video was made only a year ago and it’s interesting to note how some of the figures relating to internet usage have increased since then.

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Sir Salman Rushdie at Zeitgeist Europe 2008

Sir Salman Rushdie in conversation with Chrystia Freeland on the impact of technology on the literary sphere and as an enabler free speech at Google Zeitgeist last week. 

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