digital revolution

They like it? Hey, Mikey!

Businesses live and die by big data. In fact, there’s so much content production (2.5 quintillion bytes per day according to IBM) that we can’t begin to make sense of it.

However, metrics and optimization tools are here to help us. As a new blogger, I don’t have to spend my day counting the different IP addresses that hit my site. WordPress magically aggregates the number of unique views and slices and dices them to my liking.

Reporters don’t have to scour through 2.9 million Google results pages to find an acceptable definition of “quintillion.” They can mostly trust the first page because search engine optimization (SEO) terms push the salient sites to the top.

Metrics have enabled us to analyze, infer, and interpret large quantities of information. Metrics have shown newsrooms which headlines spike traffic. And metrics have infatuated leaders to the point where decisions can be made based solely on numbers.

If data is available, it should be studied. Highly clicked stories can let an editor know what’s resonating with people. This is especially helpful for news outlets who are still trying to determine how to monetize operations as advertising and subscription revenues have decreased.

According to a study by Nikki UsherAl Jazeera, the Middle Eastern media network, has captured the attention of millions (e.g., 220MM households), established itself as a notable news source, and grown rapidly over the last 18 years, all while being financed by monarchs. i.e., “They got money.”

To some, a news organization being owned by rich, powerful people sounds alarming, yet it’s worked for decades.  Around the world, readers have trusted the San Francisco Chronicle, the Wall Street Journal, and CNN despite the names Hearst, Murdoch, and Turner. (Albeit, Al Jazeera’s financiers are also government leaders.)

As a result, Al Jazeera has been insulated from the economic penalties associated with being a news organization. It doesn’t risk losing readers from the creation of a pay-wall. It doesn’t have to compromise editorial decisions to only produce stories that will guarantee a bump in web traffic. And its staff have the luxury to focus on what they want to do: report the news.

Is it worried about profits? Of course! But execs and managers keep track of the bottom line. While Al Jazeera is in a plumb position to ignore perilous economic effects, it still keeps up with metrics. Usher found that individual reporters want to see who’s reading what. Managers want to see what audiences want.

Even if Al Jazeera’s modus operandi seems vague to others, it clearly understands that measuring engagement is critical. Because of social media, viewers can tell companies what they like and dislike. Yet, direct conversation is not the only way to communicate.

Everyday, we interpret emotion and feelings from nonverbal body language. Likewise, news organizations, journalists, and bootstrapping bloggers infer a lot from metrics. By tracking the behavior of users, we can stay one step ahead in this content-saturated world.

Visit Steadman's blog for quintillion explained.

Mark Steadman built this clutch quintillion infographic. Click graphic to see his Robin Leach-esque break-down.

Silly rabbit, memes are for kids.

Or are they? If anything has evolved (or regressed) with our sense of humor, it’s the tolerance for online silliness.

Mischievous catsHillary Clinton. And…the Harlem Shake? That viral YouTube clip garnered more than a billion views and enticed thousands of spinoffs that included NBA teams, colleges, and even NASA.

What’s so appealing? A combo of amateurs, parodies, and laughter. That’s what Olga Goriunova discussed in her article, “New Media Idiocy.” Goriunova said that it’s the “homemade feel” that keeps a piece, or video, authentic, and that is captivating. Today’s digital culture encompasses many tools, academic theories, and business models, yet we shouldn’t overlook the power of the idiotic. Or the “sincerely comic,” according to Goriunova.

So how did YouTube convince people that it was acceptable (and possibly profitable) for parents to showcase their children biting one another? Clay Shirky‘s Here Comes Everybody boils it down to three factors: a promise, the tool, and a bargain.

YouTube promises uploaders that others will not only watch a video, they’ll react to it. Each reaction is positively correlated to the number of visible views. When the views increase, the video is then promoted exponentially across several platforms. Thus, YouTube the medium also serves as a tool that encourages and tracks engagement. Does this site deliver on its promise? I’d wager that by having more than one billion unique viewers each month, YouTube lives up to its bargain.

People are clearly satisfied with YouTube’s structure, and it continues to reign as the most-visited video-sharing site. (If people didn’t like it or liked it less than a competitor, they’d quit using it.)

As silly as it sounds to post personal stream-of-consciousness tirades, they too are YouTube-worthy because others can relate to the message. When I first watched Krissychula‘s profanity-laced rant about trying to survive the “91,000 damn degrees” of summer…I buckled over with laughter. Why? Because I was staying in a sweltering Harlem apartment during the Fourth of July with no air conditioning. My misery found solace in Krissy’s company.

And for Krissy’s bargain? Well, I can assume she’s being financially rewarded as her videos have garnered more than two million views, and she’s now hawking an app for users to download.

While it’s still hard to explain why silly stuff spreads so easily, I think a good place to start is with relatable emotion. (People are absurd!)

Texts from Hillary Tumblr

Texts from Hillary Tumblr

References:

Goriunova, O. (2013). New media idiocy. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, (19)2, 223-235. Retrieved from http://con.sagepub.com/content/19/2/223

Shirky, C. (2008). Here comes everybody: The power of organizing without organizations. New York: Penguin Press.

Social Media Schools TN Legislators

This week, Tennessee state senators considered a “religious freedom” bill similar to the one that passed Kansas’ House of Representatives: legislation that empowers business owners to refuse services to potential clients, especially gay ones.

Soon after news of the legislation sponsored by Senator Brian Kelsey, a Republican that represents parts of Memphis and Shelby County, was made public, a local restauranteur and chef, Kelly English, got political. Once English learned about the bill, he posted his dissent to Facebook:

Screen Shot 2014-02-21 at 12.21.13 AM

And what happened next can best be explained by Clay Shirky in Here Comes EverybodyHe described how barriers to collective action have been removed because of technology. In 2007, American Airlines passengers and many other fed-up frequent flyers successfully lobbied for the Passenger Bill of Rights after eight hours on the tarmac broke the camel’s back. Dissatisfaction and organizing via social media sparked Congressional change. (Today, passengers have the right to deplane if they’ve been sitting on a tarmac for more than three hours.)

Chez English instantly became a social media influencer by encouraging others to follow suit and vehemently rebuke the bill. And rebuke they did! Online protests, trending hashtags, and calls to action flooded posts and networks. (See Mashable’s engagement tips for help.) This resulted in two key developments: Senator Kelsey dropped his sponsorship of the bill, and the legislation was indefinitely sent to a subcommittee for the remainder of 2014.

While traditional news organizations delivered the information, the scene was filled with “alternative voices.” Not media outlets or the powers that be. We’re talking about the hoi polloi of the Internet who got offended and spoke up. While legislators and the bill’s supporters could chalk this up to public griping, English’s camp could liken it to an Egyptian revolution.

Score for this round? 1-0 with “No Bluff” English in the lead.

galvanizing your peeps…and tweeps

As social media dominates the next century, it continually undermines something that happened 300 million years ago. Pangaea, our planet’s former super-continent, broke apart and created divides that separated people until travel finally intervened. Today, physical barriers no longer obstruct communication, ideation, or galvanization. While people may still be far from one another physically, the influence that social media continues to garner worldwide is nearly Pangaea-like.

In Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody, the notion of connecting people behind a cause is not portrayed as novel but powerful. His account of Evan Guttman’s attempt to retrieve his friend’s stolen cell phone by publicly blogging the ordeal conveyed that human emotion and mass participation had a direct influence on government bureaucracy. Readers of Guttman’s blog rallied behind a cause that they connected with and lent their voice (and outrage) to solving a problem.

Because social media is fueled by technology, there are Orwellian fears that it will increase distance between people. While Nicholas Carr makes a strong argument that social media causes more distracted people, the opportunities for game-changing collaboration and open source projects outweigh having harried attention spans (in my opinion).

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital (my employer) open sources its side projects and research related to its Pediatric Cancer Genome Project. St. Jude believes that the more access scientists have to information related to anomalies in the genetic code (that lead to cancer), the better. It allows researchers across the globe that have a vested interest to request access and explore the data. Why? Because children could be ultimately be helped by others with a fresh set of eyes, other resources, and different ways of thinking.

That harkens to Shirky’s point, and others. People have already converged. Now, we’re in the next phase of witnessing results, actions, and progress.

Pictorial reaction to class readings by Burton Bridges.

Pictorial reaction to class readings by Burton Bridges.

Other articles of interest from this week: