Category Archives: Social Networks

Is academia failing us by not teaching Web 2.0 skills?

Your help is needed. I just received this email from a colleague:


Are there curricula available from schools, online, etc. where one can learn about and improve your interactive skills? All facets of the interactive world. I’m at the University of Nebraska Journalism School and they don’t currently offer too much education in this area and the students and even faculty are asking “Where to you go to learn and study more about a career in this rapidly growing field and learn the necessary skills?”



I’ve already been made painfully aware of the vacuum in academia, as far as educating students on the skills needed in a Web 2.0 world.

One example: Last month an intern with a marketing firm I know told her boss she didn’t have a Facebook account because, “That online social network stuff is a waste of time.”

Yes, I know Facebook can become a monumental way to screw off instead of work, but in a world where we are only as useful to our employers as the information we can access –and the network of talent that will help us gain this access — this is dangerous ignorance. Facebook has a place because it helps us maintain and expand our network of trusted sources.

So, okay. I’m off my soapbox.

Now I’m appealing to my network: Where are the best educational programs for tomorrow’s knowledge workers? And are there ways that students in far-flung places — such as Nebraska — can convince their teachers to add these curricula to their own?

Comment here, or through my Twitter or Friendfeed accounts and I’ll be sure to consolidate what I’ve learned here.

Give your site a marketing checkup with Web Grader

No system for measuring the marketing power of a site is perfect, but one of the more comprehensive I’ve come across lately is

This system takes your web address, looks over the site, and reports back on features such as the following:

  • How optimized your site is for search engines
  • How well you’re placed with major directories
  • Your currrent Google Pagerank and Alexa rank
  • The quantity of inbound links
  • Much more!

Web Site GraderIt even evaluates the reading level of the site, to make sure you’re not turning people off with your language. As a point of reference, this blog got a Secondary / High School rating.

The end of the report is a single score out of 100 possible points. Is spite of some obvious gaffes, such as no listing in DMOZ, this site got a 94. That means out of a sampling of 100 randomly selected sites, DigitalSolid’s marketing power is better than 93 of them. As of today, the process is free. Give it a try. In five minutes you’ll have a thorough web site marketing “check-up,” and concise recommendations on how to improve your score. Do you have any other favorite marketing power evaluation systems? Let me know.

What it takes to go viral

The very thought of an online effort going viral seems like the ultimate triumph: The ROI on a successful viral campaign is huge. Take a fast, meteoric ride on the exponential pass-along curve and you’re looking at the marketing equivalent of striking it rich on a single lottery ticket. So why doesn’t it happen more often?

I see at least two factors standing in the way of an existing brand actually lighting the fuse: Relinquishing control and a sincere willingness to lighten up.


It takes a huge leap to create something and set it free. In a nutshell, that’s the dilemma of using social networks to further a brand — the potential for chaos. Once in the hands of the social graph, a concept can take on a life of its own. And with independent life comes the chance of betrayal.

No one wants to see their viral effort hijacked and distorted into mockery. Unfortunately, it’s this very tension that make viral efforts so fun to watch.


E.B. White wrote the following:

Humor can be dissected as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind.

It’s a pity, then, that something as ephemeral as humor is at the heart of a successful viral effort. But it’s true, and in the hands of a committee-driven brand team, a funny concept all too easily becomes so many frog innards. Humor is that fragile.

It was actor and director Sir Donald Wolfit who was reputed to have said on his deathbed, as a parting reassurance, “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard!”

So are concepts that succeed in going viral.

This post was inspired by one that I received on Friday that is an unqualified success. I received a get-out-the-vote email from a friend in the form of a personalized video. It got the point across and also elicited several heartly laughs. Try it yourself on a friend (of the right political inclinations — it’s from

I’d also like to challenge readers: Do you know of any viral efforts that do not, to some extent, involve humor?

WOM marketing, TwappyHour and Web414 meeting all help to explode myth of online social networks replacing “meatspace”

Mingling at a Business Marketing Association luncheon yesterday, outside the conference room with my fellow “Hello, my name is” attendees, I said something quite naive. I was chatting with a couple of our interns. Referring to the topic of the presentation, word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing, I said, “What we’re going to hear today will be far more relevant for you both than for people of my generation.”

My assumption was that the speaker would talk almost exclusively about using online social networks to generate WOM buzz. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The key case discussed by Spike Jones‘s excellent presentation was how his agency, promoting Fiscar scissors, identified those passionate about scrapbooking and fascilitated meet-ups.

True, there was a large social network component, complete with forums and blog posts. But once web-based connections were made, Spike’s agency created opportunities for scrapbooking enthusiasts to meet face-to-face. They met for weekends of shoptalk and bonding.

Social network tools simply acted as catalysts. They were, in essence, meatspace delivery systems.

Wikipedia defines meatspace as “referring to real life or the physical world … the opposite of cyberspace or virtual reality.”


Yes, We’re Digital Eggs — But We’re Also Flesh-and-Blood Chickens

Richard Dawkins, in his controversial articles, books and speeches, reminds us that all life beyond the simplest single-celled entities is digital. He put it like this: “You contain a trillion copies of a large, textual document written in a highly accurate, digital code, each copy as voluminous as a substantial book. I’m talking, of course, of the DNA in your cells.”

This genetic information reproduces itself more along the lines of a computer file making a copy of itself, rather than the way a photocopier reproduces off of itself. When you make a photocopy of a photocopy, very quickly things get grey and murky. With computer files, as with DNA, there is theoretically no information lost. Things replicate exactly (hard drive flaws and genetic mutuations notwithstanding).

In his book River Out of Eden, Dawkins helps to clear up that old chicken-and-egg conundrum. Sort of. He says we’re all fundamentally eggs (DNA), programmed to keep our species alive via reproduction. But here’s the rub: Eggs can’t reproduce unassisted. They need to grow into chickens. In this way, Dawkins contends that chickens are the eggs’ strategy for producing more eggs.

Thinking of our own flesh and blood as essentially a means to replicating our species’ string of digital information is something peolpe take several ways. They consider the paradigm either humbling, inspiring or alarming, depending on their theological perspective.

For some, in this networked age, Dawkin’s universe of pure information can be seductive. We can sometimes forget that in this digital banquet of the computer-mediated communication, first and foremost, we’re mammals.

And we’re particularly pack-oriented mammals at that.

Online Social Networks Abet Meet-ups

If Spike’s presentation didn’t remind me of the importance of face-to-face meetings (and it was, after all, held at a physical banquet room), my evening certainly did. I left work for two more meet-ups — both made possible through online social networks.

First, I met a group of new and long-standing friends facilitated by Twitter. Appropriately, it was called a TwappyHour, a term coined by organizer Augie Ray. It was a great way for me to put faces to Twitter “handles” I’d been communicating with for months. As Sam Dodge put it, “Meeting people this way after knowing them for so long online is pretty cool, but also kind of creepy.”

True enough. One thing that took away some of the oddness of it all was the atmosphere of our “Tweet-up.” It was The Iron Horse Hotel, a new boutique hotel at the foot of the 6th Street Bridge in Milwaukee, within wheelie distance of the new Harley Davidson Museum. Owner Tim Dixon gave this group of 20 or so Twitter-ers a tour of his amazing hotel.

The Iron Horse Hotel

I was particularly fascinated by Tim’s account of the rigorous market research he did as he planned his hotel, which is targeted to the surprisingly intersecting groups of motorcyclists and business people.

I’m looking forward to more of these TwappyHour sessions. Thank you again, Augie (and his lovely and charming wife Geri, owner of Metropawlis, for the discerning pet!) for making this amazing event possible.

After that, I headed to my first meeting of Web414, which was another demonstration of how computer-mediated communication still hasn’t replaced sitting together around a bowl of snacks. The topic was how to make the next BarCamp Milwaukee better. It was a fun introduction to both the group, and to the “meatspace”: Bucketworks. I’ll be returning to both often.

If I sound like a gushing gossip columnist as I recount my night, I can be excused. It’s all because I left both events exhilarated by the new friends I’d made, and with deepened connections to some existing ones. I’m forever grateful for the work I do, not because of the cool computing (although I would lie if I said that didn’t matter somewhat), but for the quality of the friendships and associations I’ve made through them.

To everyone with whom I shared this memorable night: I’ll see you online — and at future meet-ups.

Data sharing site sifts through the substance of current events

Social networks have sprung up around unexpected applications. One of the most useful, especially in the uncertainty of the last few weeks, is, which is a social data visualization site. The premise is simple: People upload complex datasets that they feel they, and others, would like to analyze. The site then allows them to use some novel visualization tools.

Some of the best charts are available for public exploration, with no registration necessary. Here is one from the site’s home page today, dissecting the magnitude, in dollars, of various bailouts in recent history:

Click to go to

Other charts allow you to dig through data in unexpected ways. This word tree helps those interested in the substance of Katie Couric’s interview of vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin to take in Palin’s answers sentence-by-sentence, starting with key words:

Click to go to

The datasets cover the gamut, from the mundane, to the crucial, to the sublime (example of this last type: All of song writer Leonard Cohen’s lyrics). Visit the site to see your world in a new way.

Expanded Facebook Lexicon helps marketers understand user zeitgeist

In the early days of radio journalism, reporters would conduct “man on the street interviews,” to get the opinion of “John Q Public.” The news-gathering ritual has extended into television reporting today. The technique makes for interesting coverage of a topic, but opinions recorded are hardly the unvarnished truth. When presented a microphone, all but the most incautious of us edit out statements to fit what he’d like the world to think of us.

If it were possible, a more accurate accounting of public zeitgeist might be to eavesdrop on a roomful of friends, discussing and arguing about the topic at hand. Listen in on enough rooms and you might be able to get a better feel for public sentiment.

That’s the concept behind Facebook’s Lexicon. This (currently) free feature allows marketers and others to slice and dice Facebook members’ comments on their friends’ Walls. Currently this new Lexicon version is limited to a list of roughly 20 terms. There are plans to open this up shortly.

An earlier Lexicon version showed relative volume of terms over time, but not actual numbers. This made any sort of statistical inferences impossible. The newer release shows the actual numbers, as well as these enhancements:

  • Demographics by gender and age
  • Geographic breakdowns down to state level. You can even compare breakdowns between two terms on the same map.
  • Sentiment over time, although Facebook hasn’t stated how it determines this.
  • Associations: Terms frequently mentioned alongside a given term.

Below is an example of terms associated with mentions of “Palin,” over the last two weeks. Significantly, it was within this period that Saturday Night Live (SNL) presented a much-talked-about skit, where Tina Fey played Sarah Palin at a press conference, standing beside Amy Poehler as a disgruntaled Hillary Clinton. The topic was sexism in the presidential race.

In the Associations graphic, the bottom dimension is gender, with the terms farthest to the right being used by more men than women. The graphic (which can be expanded by clicking on the image) shows that more women than men commented on Facebook walls during that time period with statements containing SNL, Tina Fey and skit (when also using the word Palin).

The caption at the bottom of the graphic helps you understand what you’re looking at:

The Y axis is the average age and the X axis is the average gender of users who posted the association. For example, a bubble up and to the left means that the association is more prevalent among older and more female users. A bubble down and to the right means that the association is more prevalent among younger and more male users. The size of the bubble indicates the number of times the word appeared alongside the topic in the given time window.

Explore Lexicon for yourself. And if you’re curious what all of the comments were about, check out the skit:

Try this LinkedIn trick to reduce your stack of colleague business cards

Last night was two firsts for me. I attended a Chicago Cubs baseball game from a rooftop venue across from the stadium. (The Cubs faced my city’s Milwaukee Brewers). The second precedent: Using LinkedIn to reduce or eliminate the need to retain business cards.

I was able to accomplish both because the rooftop socializing event, and a pre-game presentation, were jointly organized by the Milwaukee and Chicago Business Marketing Associations.

Mingling in the posh, luxury box-like meeting room, I had plenty of time to mingle and press the flesh between innings.

By their own estimates, LinkedIn is signing new professionals to its social network at a rate of one every second of every day. In just four years, the site has become de rigueur for executives looking to build their network of contacts. Which is, well, everyone.

It’s an impressive network. Below is a recent summary of who can be found on the site:

A rundown of who is on LinkedIn
A rundown of who is on LinkedIn

The meteoric growth of LinkedIn’s member base means that compared to two years ago, I now rarely search for someone within the site and not find them. And every time I do find someone and add them as a business associate, my own network grows.

Last night I decided to put this ubiquity to the test. For those I spoke to whom I truly saw a value in keeping in touch with (and they with me), I did something different. Instead of simply exchanging business cards, I used my smartphone to go into LinkedIn, search for them, and invite them to add me as a contact.

Now I have something even better than a business card. I have a database entry of these contacts that changes as they move through the ranks of their company, or a future employer. And they have an opportunity to contact me with a favor or other request for assistance — which is, of course, the lifeblood of good business networking.

Looking back at these two firsts from last night, I can tell you I will definitely use the LinkedIn technique again, where appropriate. As for rooftop voyeurism, I must say it was better networking than “spectating.” This shot of my view (unaided by the dozens of big screen televisions throughout the facility) was taken by my smartphone.

The baseball is over there somewhere!
The baseball is over there somewhere!

P.S. Too bad about the Brewers. Better luck tonight in Game #2 of there three-game Chicago line-up.

Watching Bezos: The future of books can be traced in acquisitions

Yesterday fellow blogger Ron Shevlin published an open letter to Jeff Bezos, proposing that Amazon should start giving away Kindles. He proposed that giving away their ebook device would be offset by the incremental ebooks they’d then sell, in a similar way to giving away razors as a way to sell high-margin blades.

I’m of the opinion that, unlink razors, ebooks are too much of a niche product to take off in any scalable way. It was author and blogger Nick Hornby who helped me see the light, when he pointed out that an ebook is a high-tech solution solving problems for a largely low-tech market segment.

Social Networks for Book Lovers

Instead, I think the future of publishing — regardless of whether the ink is real or virtual — will be better advanced through social networks designed for those passionate about books. Notably, I’ve been tracking Goodreads, and the 18-month-old Shelfari.

Jeff Bezos has been watching as well. Today we learn that Amazon just acquired Shelfari, three weeks after acquiring another competitor in the space, AbeBooks.

It’s a shrewd move for Amazon to shift more marketing dollars toward online social networks. If only for this reason: As true book lovers become more of a rarity, the urge for them to congregate will grow.

Long before the day when book lovers warm to a digital book, they will welcome a digital way to connect with other readers.

Wish you had a map to the social media landscape? Here you go

This post, describing what the social media ecosystem looks like today, offers some excellent insights. Kudos to Fred Cavassa … brought to my attention by way of Jennifer Van Grove‘s “favorited Flickr” images, by way of her FriendFeed. Got that? If you’re unsure, Fred’s map may help:

Social Media Landscape

In Fred’s post, he defines these social media categories as follows:

  • Publication tools with blogs ( Typepad, Blogger, etc.), wikis ( Wikipedia, Wikia, Wetpaint, etc.) and citizen journalism portals ( Digg, Newsvine, etc.)
  • Sharing tools for videos ( YouTube, etc.), pictures ( FlickR, etc.), links (, Ma.gnolia, etc.), music (, iLike, etc.), slideshows ( Slideshare), products reviews ( Crowdstorm, Stylehive, etc.) or products feedbacks ( Feedback 2.0, GetSatisfaction, etc.)
  • Discussions tools like forums ( PHPbb, vBulletin, Phorum, etc.), video forums ( Seesmic), instant messaging ( Yahoo! Messenger, Windows Live Messenger, Meebo, etc.) and VoIP ( Skype, Google Talk, etc.)
  • Social networks ( Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, Hi5, Orkut, etc.), niche social networks ( LinkedIn, Boompa, etc.) and tools for creating social networks ( Ning)
  • Micropublication tools ( Twitter, Pownce, Jaiku, Plurk, Adocu, etc.) and alike ( twitxr, tweetpeek)
    Social aggregation tools like lifestream ( FriendFeed, Socializr, Socialthing!,, Profilactic, etc.)
  • Platforms for livecast hosting (, BlogTV, Yahoo! Live, UStream, etc.) and there mobile equivalent ( Qik, Flixwagon, Kyte, LiveCastr, etc.)
  • Virtual worlds ( Second Life, Entropia Universe, There, etc.), 3D chats ( Habbo, IMVU, etc.) and teens dedicated virtual universes ( Stardoll, Club Penguin, etc.)
  • Social gaming platforms ( ImInLikeWithYou, Doof, etc.), casual gaming portals ( Pogo, Cafe, Kongregate, etc.) and social networks enabeled games ( Three Rings, SGN)
  • MMO ( Neopets, Gaia Online, Kart Rider, Drift City, Maple Story) and MMORPG ( World of Warcraft, Age of Conan, etc.)

It’s a huge social media world. If you haven’t already, start exploring!

NOTE: The last days of my summer vacation are near an end. My friends will be able to view photos and accounts on my Facebook profile once I get home!

Boomers are not bloggers, but they still participate in social media

This morning a colleague passed along this MediaPost research brief, with the sexy but deceptive title: Boomers Are Not Bloggers. It stated what most will find obvious, that Baby Boomers have not “embraced social networking or blogs, despite being heavy users of other online services.”

Does this mean you should not focus on a social network strategy to reach this group? The answer is you definitely should have a strategy for them. But to echo the advice in Groundswell, you need to look at this group as observers and “passers-along” of social content — not active participants.

I humbly present a fairly strong case for targeting this group through social media accessed via search engines (i.e., open site such as TripAdvisor, as opposed to closed ones like Facebook. It’s called Boomers Aren’t Immune to the Branding Power of User-generated Content.

Can you provide other examples?

True or false: It takes a network

Last week I suggested that the top-down style of Senator Clinton’s primary campaign may have hindered her effectiveness in competing against Obama’s more networked approach. I wrote that this may be a sign of a new type of leadership — possibly one that can use burgeoning digital networks to lead us out of the dark, scary, physically isolating forest of modern digital life.

This forest is exemplified by the findings in the book Bowling Alone, by Robert D. Putnam. It is also placed into stark contrast by Senator Clinton’s ideal, as outlined in her book, It Takes a Village. The subtext in the African phrase “It takes a village to raise a child” is that no one or two people can raise a well-balanced and fully engaged citizen. At the very least, the task requires an extended family. Ideally there is a whole community at work.

The fear that a network cannot replace a village is — I think — a major source of anxiety about our newly wired world.

Of Televisions and Suburbs

Some would say Putnam (in Bowling Alone) didn’t chart the trend toward physical sprawl and fragmentation far enough. If he had, he might have found its earlier origins. He seems to place the apogee of American social capital somewhere between the administrations of FDR and Jimmy Carter. Before and after that, according to Putnam’s statistics, are the steep sides of a bell curve.

But looked at farther back, this bell might possibly be a blip.

If you look at its root causes, community disintegration might have actually started (silently, unmeasured), much closer to the time of Abe Lincoln. Consider the first game-changing technologies our young country was handed: The steam locomotive and the telegraph.

At the time, they were of huge significance. And these technologies were just the first gateway drugs for our current wanderlust.

After we gained the ability to settle across this country, our urge to strike out was further abetted by the automobile, and then the passenger jet. Nuclear families — and the neighborhoods supporting them — both suffered, as we were granted license by technology. Each successive device seemed to give us further permission to gather in smaller groups, and watch over narrower concerns.

So don’t be quick to heap all of the blame on what is, after all, merely the newest shady character in the police line-up. Networks and portable digital communication are the least familiar technologies, and therefore the most scary. But many others before them have been implicated in our decline. For example, before the web there was the “vast wasteland” of television.

Networks: A Cause Or Effect?

It may even be that networks can be a big part of “the way out of the forest.” Something has been telling me that the situation is more complicated than a steady march toward alienatation. I’m not the first to post these arguments. In his 2007 paper, David Koepsell suggests the following:

The web could well be, and in many ways still is, a highly alienating technology, encouraging a one-to-one relationship with a machine that even TV does not encourage. That is to say, television can be watched in groups, and often is, leading to a form of community interaction that the web typically does not.

However, the emergence of social networking through the web has brought about new methods for otherwise alienated and occasionally isolated people to overcome that isolation, to build new modes of affiliation, and form new communities in both virtual and physical spaces.

Koepsell suggests that no technology is embraced unless it meets some fundamental human needs. But do the latest technologies go far enough to begin restoring some of our society’s waning social capital?

My money is on Yes. But it is hard to see how this will happen, because we have lived with this type of networked world for so little time. Although it’s possible society has a terminal illness that no amount of networked leadership can reverse, it’s equally possible in my mind that our diminished social capital is a symptom of growing pains.

Could it be that, as a society, we’re just at that awkward age?

A Study of Semantics

Rereading this entry, I see the metaphors come hot and heavy. That’s not surprising. And it’s important to understand how desperate we all are for something to grab onto (yes, another metaphor!).

I’m reminded of something Al Gore said, when he was being interviewed on a chartered jet during his 2000 Presidential run. He was talking about his love of learning, and the courses he had recently taken on a number of important topics. When he was asked what he would likely pursue next, given everything a potential president should know, he said semantics.

Gore went on to say that technology and society are changing so fast, our language is straining to keep up. Here’s an excerpt, from the July 31, 2000, New Yorker article:

“Often the word ‘metaphor’ is simply a shorthand description for a very common, run-of-the-mill intellectual tool that all of us use.

“I became interested in more complex metaphors and their explanatory power when I was writing Earth in the Balance. In particular, in my effort to try to understand the origins of our modern world view, and its curious reliance on specialization and ever-narrower slices of the world around us into categories that are then themselves dissected, in an ongoing process of separation, into parts and subparts — a process that sometimes obliterates the connection to the whole and the appreciation for context and the deeper meanings that can’t really be found in the atomized parts of the whole — and in exploring the roots of that way of looking at the world, I found a lot of metaphors in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that came directly from the scientific revolution into the world of politics and culture and sociology. And many of those metaphors are still with us.”

Such as?

“The clockwork universe. The idea that all the world is a machine of moving parts that will eventually be completely understood by means of looking carefully at all the different gears and cogs in the wheels and then …” He trailed off; he seemed to be searching for an exact phrase, and as he did this he turned his head in profile, squeezed his eyes shut, and made a pointing gesture with his hand. Then, when the words came, he turned his head back to me and smiled engagingly. “When I compared the absolute number of new scientific insights that came in the first flush of the scientific revolution to the incredible flood of scientific insights that now pour out of every single discipline, every single day, it’s astonishing. There’s no comparison. And yet the migration of those explanatory metaphors, from the narrow niches of science into the broader public dialogue about how we live our lives and how we understand the human experience and how we can better solve the social problems that become more pressing with each passing decade — that migration is, has been, reduced to the barest trickle.”

Gore seems to be saying here that we need fresh metaphors to properly share and debate developments in this new, digital landscape. We need to build a new linguistic toolkit — especially to deal with a world that is, on its surface, purely conceptual.

I agree.

If we can keep talking — and especially if we seek to understand — we’ll be on our way to a better world. I frankly don’t see an alternative. So as unworthy as I am to contribute, I’m glad that in a small way I can add to the dialog.

I’m certainly no expert in such matters. So I polled several who were as I prepared this set of posts. My favorite feedback came from youth and technology authority danah boyd, in a brief but much-appreciated email. To my concerns about our trajectory deeper into a “bowling alone world,” she provided some qualified reassurances (and a little research guidance).

What are your thoughts on this important matter? How are you taking action as an individual to create new and sustainable communities?