A whip-smart/smart-ass response to the Gap’s announcement about crowdsourcing a logo re-redesign.
I was listed in this blog post as one of the top 25 content strategists. I’m still trying to find out what the significance of this mention is.
Regardless, it’s inspired me to try to post more on this blog.
WASHINGTON — Google and Verizon, two leading players in Internet service and content, are nearing an agreement that could allow Verizon to speed some online content to Internet users more quickly if the content’s creators are willing to pay for the privilege. The charges could be paid by companies, like YouTube, owned by Google, for example, to Verizon, one of the nation’s leading Internet service providers, to ensure that its content received priority as it made its way to consumers. The agreement could eventually lead to higher charges for Internet users. Such an agreement could overthrow a once-sacred tenet of Internet policy known as net neutrality, in which no form of content is favored over another. In its place, consumers could soon see a new, tiered system, which, like cable television, imposes higher costs for premium levels of service. Click title for full text. It’s been a pretty good ride. This could mean the following:
WASHINGTON — Google and Verizon, two leading players in Internet service and content, are nearing an agreement that could allow Verizon to speed some online content to Internet users more quickly if the content’s creators are willing to pay for the privilege.
The charges could be paid by companies, like YouTube, owned by Google, for example, to Verizon, one of the nation’s leading Internet service providers, to ensure that its content received priority as it made its way to consumers. The agreement could eventually lead to higher charges for Internet users.
Such an agreement could overthrow a once-sacred tenet of Internet policy known as net neutrality, in which no form of content is favored over another. In its place, consumers could soon see a new, tiered system, which, like cable television, imposes higher costs for premium levels of service.
Click title for full text.
It’s been a pretty good ride. This could mean the following:
Rupert Murdoch has declared surrender. The future defeated him.
By building his paywall around Times Newspapers, he has said that he has no new ideas to build advertising. He has no new ideas to build deeper and more valuable relationships with readers and will send them away if they do not pay. Even he has no new ideas to find the efficiencies the internet can bring in content creation, marketing, and delivery.
Social objects are memes. Digital media help them replicate.
In my last post, I said I’d like to explore the truth of this statement:
Social Networks form around Social Objects, not the other way around.
I’d like to do this by juxtaposing this idea with the idea of memes. I had to go back and research this topic a bit more. A few definitions of memes. From Wikipedia:
A meme (pronounced /ˈmiːm/, rhyming with “cream”) is a postulated unit of cultural ideas, symbols or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena.
Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes, in that they self-replicate and respond to selective pressures (source)
From the publisher of Susan Blackmore’s book The Meme Machine:
What is a meme? First coined by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene, a meme is any idea, behavior, or skill that can be transferred from one person to another by imitation: stories, fashions, inventions, recipes, songs, ways of plowing a field or throwing a baseball or making a sculpture. The meme is also one of the most important—and controversial—concepts to emerge since The Origin of the Species appeared nearly 150 years ago. (source)
The colloquial use of ‘meme’ in online dialogs and communities seems to be a specific type of meme — a digital artifact that enters pop culture by being captured, modified, and re-transmitted, often in social networks, but not exclusively. In fact, this use of ‘meme’ is a meme in and of itself.
Take, for example, the evolution of the LOLcats meme. From icanhazcheezburger.com:
In the early days, many of the earlier images on this site were found around the internet and forums, such as 4chan, fark, fazed, vwforums, gpforums.
The practice of captioning (specifically, cats) started many years ago on anonymous forums, most prominently called the *chans. Supposedly, the practice of posting and the actual type of these images was termed “Caturday”.
- A day when people all around the internet create, submit, send, email and send pictures of lolcat’s around the world.
- Throughout this all the tone of Caturday remains the same: POST SOME ******* CAT PICTURES.
This word has since detached from it’s original context, grown, and evolved into different terms like lolcats, lolrus, loldog and splintered into varying sub-memes and sub-sub-memes which employ different grammatical patterns, different contexts, and sometimes even merges memes. It has since spread through many forums, and online communities such as somethingawful, ebaumsworld.
The meme continues to evolve into many completely tangential and unrelated memes: lolbrarians, lolbees, lolpresidents (my favorite being LOLcode). A new LOL- spinoff is created every week. This is happening throughout the internet by people who are having fun, and being creative, by taking a meme (idea) and applying it in new and creative ways.
On ICHC you may also find non-lolcat pictures — we call this lol* and we tag it treasure. (source)
The LOLcat meme and Caturday are Internet-native memes. The easiest means of their replication is also via digital media. By easiest, I mean the path of least resistance — the transmission costs are low. People learn about these memes on the web, figure out how to participate in the specific meme culture, and join in using tools that allow them to modify and disseminate digital media. There is minimal translation required for transmission, relative to, say, a religious ritual or runway fashion.
For more about meme replication, see Susan Blackmore. (TED talk).
LOLcats and Caturday are an easy case — one where a social object is formed within a social sphere. The object/meme emerges in the context of a social agreement within the community that something about it would be meaningful, amusing and relevant. The community doesn’t have to be tightly bound, it just has to be culturally cohesive and present, even if asynchronously. (The notion of a social network is too specific for my taste, as it implies reciprocal friend connections rather than simply a clustering of social interactions in a place, whether real or virtual. But I’m assuming that this broader idea is what MacLeod meant in his statement.)
A similar phenomenology applies to memes that are not digitally native, except that the replication paths are different, and that from the vantage point of the information age, the replication time and effort may appear to be costly, even arduous. Consider the the rites of Freemasonry, textile patterns, high-heeled shoes, the 30-second spot. Digital technologies and digital media are extensions of our humanity (see McLuhan, Understanding Media, The Extensions of Man (1964)). They make the spread of memes so easy, in fact, that they spread culture at a faster rate than we sentient beings can form social relationships. The difference between the Internet and, say, television as media that spread memes is that the Internet allows each of us to replicate the meme and retransmit it, whereas each of us were an end point for the television medium, and to replicate the meme, we would have to create it in a different format. This is Internet 101, but sometimes the basics are where the answers lie.
And so while memes/social objects emerge in the context of a community with social contracts of a certain strength (e.g., agreement on what’s funny, relevant, appropriate, etc.), they also transcend social spheres because of the speed of transmission and replication and become objects about or around which people engage.
So I agree with the first half of MacLeod’s statement that “social networks form around social objects…” , but not with the second half, “…not the other way around.” I would rewrite this as:
Memes emerge from social agreements in the context of a cohesive culture, and in turn, social engagements form around memes.
In my next post, I’ll try to make this academic discussion relevant to digital marketing and content strategy.
Social objects: Early thoughts about how to cultivate them in digital media
Said Hugh MacLeod in 2007:
The Social Object, in a nutshell, is the reason two people are talking to each other, as opposed to talking to somebody else. Human beings are social animals. We like to socialize. But if think about it, there needs to be a reason for it to happen in the first place. That reason, that “node” in the social network, is what we call the Social Object.
In the post, Mr. MacLeod, also known for his cartoons, gives about half a dozen examples of social objects: conversation topics, religious iconography, events, authors, and cultural institutions.
So if you never knew what a social object was before, now you know — it’s anything that is causal to or referred to in a social context.
When thinking of the potential for social objects, say, if you’re thinking of creating a marketing campaign that may hopefully “go viral” — encouraging or even manufacturing a social interaction, then really, a social object could be anything — a topic, a reference, an artifact… That’s a big, vague place to start generating ideas.
I’d like to add a little more structure to this notion of a social object. The concept of a social object is broad and can encompass any and all things that have a social potentiality. The next level of specificity might be classes of such things. Bear with me! Here’s a rough draft list of sub-types of social objects:
- Tangible objects (in the case of digital — things that can be captured or downloaded)
The utility of such a list? I see it as a possible menu of options for planning content and messaging for (digital) communications. Say you’re marketing water bottles and are creating a campaign*. What kind of story would you tell? What kinds of assets would you create? What scenario would tickle you pink as you imagine consumers talking to each other about your product? Is it important that they talk about the water bottle, itself, or would it be better if they talk about their experience hiking with the water bottle, or about the specific (quirky?) way you describe the product — say, as an udder? These aren’t new questions for marketers, but the context for them is still fresh and evolving. Social media tools and sites continue to bring to market new means of interacting and sharing, and the nuances of the way people can share things reflect on the message and meaning that is then passed along to the next willing participant in the social chain. In other words, part of the transmitted message is personal and unique to the social participant, and part of the message is imbued by the mechanism with which it’s shared. (I strongly suggest reading this explanation of McLuhan’s — “The medium is the message” postulate.)
Given that, what do you think of the draft list? How would you change it?
Another idea I’d like to explore is the truth of this statement MacLeod also made in his post:
Social Networks form around Social Objects, not the other way around.
I’ll write another post on this, but the question on my mind is, how does this account for the production of, for example, memes and rituals? They emerge within a cultural context, not the other way around. The cultural context is the cloud of social interactions that precedes and pervades an individuals experience with social objects. More on that next time.
* For more about applying social object theory to marketing campaigns, see Iain McDonald’s piece in the Razorfish Digital Outlook Report (2009), page 56.
Daylife also sees that news needn’t exist in isolated, short-lived, repetitive units of presentation invented for the age of print. News should reside in a nest of relevance, which not only improves the presentation, it gives you more options on how you want to delve into the story and follow it and eventually contribute to it. It makes news more personal.
An argument for the Semantic Web.
When reality is labeled unthinkable, it creates a kind of sickness in an industry. Leadership becomes faith-based, while employees who have the temerity to suggest that what seems to be happening is in fact happening are herded into Innovation Departments, where they can be ignored en masse.
Clay Shirky in his post Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable
This is the first time I’ve seen nay-saying on innovation departments, but I see the point. If organizations don’t have processes to harvest and catalyze experiments and ideas, they live and die in these posh ghettos.