The other day I stumbled upon a charming idea from Larry Smith, Editor of Smith, the US based online magazine, which takes a Hemingway anecdote as it's inspiration. Back in the 20's, Hemingway apparently bet ten dollars that he could write a complete story in just six words. He wrote:
Wasted my whole life getting comfortable Richard Merrington
Luckily, never got my first wish Theo Matoff
Not quite finished, tell you later Dave Nicholson
Jennie, Emma, Jane, Sophie, Rose, happiness Peter Graham
Any chance I could start again? Sunny Tailor
So that got me thinking as to what mine might be, and it's quite an intriguing thing think about. The temptation is to come up with six separate descriptive adjectives (but how do you pick just six?) or to turn it into a short-list of the things that matter most to you (which is equally difficult). In the end, I settled on:
"Always trying to make things better."
So what's yours? I'd love to know. Leave a comment or post and link back.
I'm a big fan of Jeff Bridges. I love his work and he has an excellent website which I've mentioned before with some great stuff on it including a link to The Complete Works of Shakespeare (yes, really) and this little gem - a collection of some of the worst album covers you are ever likely to encounter, which includes these corkers:
Blimey. Go take a look . I'd love to know your favourite (or if you have a better one?)
In a related post to the one below, there was an interesting feature in this weeks New Scientist about a scientist who is using the characteristics of networks and linking in fascinating way. Peter Gloor at MIT (he of Swarm Creativity) has developed software, called Condor, which uses a property of networks on the web he has termed "betweenness" to make predictions.
It begins with taking an ordinary search term, plugging it into Google, and then taking the URLs of the top 10 returns, plugging them back into the search engine prefaced with the term "link". Google then returns the sites that link to the ten orginal sites, and this process is then repeated with the new sites. The software then maps the links between all the sites and works out the shortest way to get from one to the other via the links they contain. Sites score higher betweenness scores the more often they link to other members, and an overall score for the original search term is calculated by averaging the betweenness scores of all the sites.
Using this score alone can be a good indication of popularity (the example given involved Gloor entering a range of film titles for a whole year into Condor. Of the ten which acheived the highest betweenness scores, five won oscars, four were nominated and only one got nothing). But improvements are now being made to Condor to allow it to search blogs and chat forums in isolation so that these scores can be weighted alongside scores from the web to acheive a more accurate result. Surprisingly, the magic combination is believed to be 15% from the web, 5% from blogs but 80% from discussion forums - a result he puts down to the belief that forums tend to be populated by people who are most interested and have the most to say. Either way, he's acheived some impressive predictive results using Condor including predicting 3 days ahead to an accuracy of 80% whether companies stock prices would go up or down, and it's also been used to predict the result of an Italian political party's internal election a month in advance to a degree of accuracy equivalent to exit polls.
It feels to me like we are just scratching the surface of what may be the true potential for communications in developing a better understanding of network properties and effects. In the meantime, perhaps they should be using it for Obama/Clinton?
In amongst all the speculative noise surrounding Microhoo (or is it Yahoosoft?), there was an announcement from Google which barely got a mention on ad blogs yet represented a significant step towards empowering communications which capitalise on connections on the social web.
Google launched their Social Graph API (under the heading URL's are people too) which uses the same algorithms from the search engine to discover how people are connected across the internet. The API works by searching for connections between people based on how everyone is linked on social networks and via publicly available profiles and pages.
Based on open standards, and the indexing of two types of commonly used link tags - Friends Network (XFN) and Friend of a Friend (FOAF) markup - the API looks for two types of publicly declared connections:
All public URLs that belong to you (your blog, your Twitter account, your LiveJournal page) and that are interconnected.
Publicly declared connections between people (blogrolls, social network 'friends' etc)
At it's most basic, the API allows websites (and brands) to make it easy for users to locate and add their friends when starting up at a new social application. Meaning that when signing up for a new social service, it not only allows me to easily feed it links to my social presence on the web (blog, twitter, dopplr, delicious), it will analyse the onward connections and network to suggest to me friends that I might want to add on the new service.
The API uses publicly available data but that doesn't mean that there aren't issues to be ironed out around how the data is applied. But there's no doubt that the ability to identify and tap into the social infrastructure of the web across multiple sites and applications is a very powerful thing. It's not only a major step forward for data portability, it's a major step forward for social media. And it sets us down a path where it becomes ever more possible for users to allow easy access into their social graph. Tim O'Reilly called it a "huge step forward" towards his vision of an internet operating system (his original vision of a web built on open architecture where simple programs could be connected to accomplish more complex tasks). He even called it "REALLY cool".
For brands, I think this has the potential to transform communications that use social media. But I also think it throws a whole new light on the debate and controversy surrounding Duncan Watts' work around influentials. Billed as anti-Gladwellian, I actually think that the views of Watts and Gladwell are not wholly mutually exclusive. I don't know why anyone ever expected word of mouth to be easy. Given the complexity of human nature, the effective spread of ideas is inevitably going to be dependent on a highly intricate and interdependent set of multiple features including the idea itself, it's portability, the environment into which it's born, who seeds it. And the nature of influence is probably even harder to pin down.
But I do buy into the general concept that some people, for some things, will inevitably be more influential than others. Finding them is the (extremely) hard part. The social web may well provide a small part of the answer. If the foundations of the web are sharing and openness, then the currency of the web is very much about links. As Scott Karp says, the link is the principal driver of network effects and influence: "Influence on the web is all about connectivity - the larger the network, the more powerful the links". If we are better able to understand and tap into the social infrastructure created by these links, brands will be better able to use social media in a constructive and useful way. In launching their new ad platforms, Facebook have attempted to allow brands to harness the power of our social connections. The difference with Google's API is that it has the potential to do this not just for one social network, but for the whole web.
David Hepworth put me onto this great Radio 4 programme on Russell's excellent speechification blog. Don't Hang Up is a journey into the unknown. Presenter Alan Dein goes into a studio late at night and calls random phone boxes around the world, talking to the people who just happen to answer. In the episode Night Lines, he talks to a hitchhiking transexual in New Zealand, a friendly security guard in the Florida Everglades and a drunk teenager in Margate. In turns it's an uplifting, charming, sad and slightly disturbing programme but I love the randomness of this idea - its sort of like an audio stumbleupon into people's lives or as Alan describes it, "a voice leading me on a wild ride onto worlds unknown". You can download the programme here:
I'm a sucker for a well designed book cover and have often thought of it as an underrated form of design. I think it adds a lot to the book your reading if it has a great cover. It can really set off, or frame, what's inside. And it can't be easy to capture all those words in such a limited canvas. Covers is an excellent book cover blog maintained by Fwis, a design outfit based out of Brooklyn. Here's some of my favourites:
Image courtesy Some years ago my missus was a marketer for Actionaid, the international anti-poverty agency. As part of the job she went on a trip to Malawi in Africa, then as it is now, one of the poorest countries in the world. I remember her describing the absolute poverty she had encountered, but also the wonderful spirit of the people. Back then Malawi was a little known country somewhere in the heart of darkness (until Madonna went and adopted a Malawian child that is). She still talks about that trip today and what she told me about it has stayed with me.
Which is why I just loved reading about The Great Football Giveaway - a project launched by one man and his wife to hand deliver thousands of footballs, pumps and spare valves to some of the world's most disadvantaged children. They began by distributing 3,000 footballs and netballs to children, schools and orphanages in Malawi, a country where the average age is 16. As well as spreading a lot of fun and laughter, each football came with a message from its donor, and lots of positive side effects like drammatically helping increase school attendance levels. In 2007 they took another 3,000 to Angola, a war-ravaged country where playing football can serve as both a symbolic gesture of a return
to normality, and to encourage
children back into education. In June of this year, they are doing the same in Uganda. It costs just £10 to donate one
What an amazing idea. So simple. And not from a big corporate charity but from one man - Paul Clarke - who happened to love sport and gave up everything to giveaway footballs in Africa. So if you've got a spare five minutes, why not spend a tenner and spread the kind of joy captured by this charming little film:
I have a pathological dislike for automated phone systems. It annoys me that I have to listen (at the company's convenience, not mine) to an entire menu of options before I find that the thing I rang for in the first place isn't listed. I might have a simple question to ask, but I can't ask it. No, instead I get another menu of more options. Automated phone systems are time-consuming, irritating and inflexible. They say to me that I am not an important enough customer of that company for one of their employees to speak to me. They say, hello we're a company that doesn't care if we annoy you. But most of all, these kind of systems are just so...well, inhuman.
People like people. Companies spend millions reaching out to potential customers, so any direct interaction they have with their customers should be pretty important right? So why automate it? Social media has turned the internet from a place of relative anonymity into a more humanistic and transparent experience, and it is doing the same with the way that brands need to interact with their customers. Take blogging. Blogging gives companies a human face. There's no place to hide when you blog. Your interaction with your customers is direct and public. It shows your business is not afraid to deal openly, so people trust your company more. Time spent blogging is high leverage time for businesses but with little overhead attached to it. Simple isn't it? So why don't more companies do it?