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Why Social Media Innovation Hasn't Hit a Plateau

imageI just finished reading this Mashable OP-ED about social media innovation hitting a plateau – and while  the author makes some good points, overall I’m pretty disappointed with the conclusion.

Sure, just like any industry, innovation is hard to come by – but to say its hit a plateau is a bit much. So there wasn’t a new Twitter, Facebook or Foursquare that debuted at SXSW this year. When was the last time a new GE, Apple or Wal-Mart came around? Just because a new giant didn’t spring up overnight doesn’t mean you should declare the end of innovation in an entire industry.

The points about innovation in other products seem short sighted too. Lets take the point about the Apple computer. To say that innovation hasn’t been on the same scale is a bit insane. How about the fact that innovation in computers allowed for things such as the internet, social media, video streaming, etc  to even exist? What about laptops – the portability of a laptop is an amazing innovation? How about the convergence of phones and computing in devices like the iPhone or the new phones with dual-core processors like the Motorola Atrix that can handle most any task thrown at it – seems to me that’s pretty big innovation. I’m pretty sure someone with more time/knowledge of the development of computers over the last 30 years could go on and on about all the breakthroughs and innovation that needed to happen to get us to where we are today.

But back to the topic at hand, social media. If you’re talking about a site where you log in and take a look at your friends profiles, share pictures, micro blog and play games – he’s probably right – there’s not much left to do but refine. But the future of social media really lies in how it continues to merge with the real world – whether it’s through social shopping using platforms such as Shopkick, real world scavenger hunts via SCVNGR, your real world career and an online profile merging in spaces like LinkedIn – I could go on and on.

My point is, innovation is never finished. Sure some things have more impact than others and what is referred to as social media today may evolve into something completely different in the future – but I’m not about to doubt that there is something new and exciting just around the corner – just you wait and see.

Wikipedia is Broadening What is Fit to Print

Happy belated 10th birthday, Wikipedia! I hope that January 15 was wonderful for you.

Many social commentators are critical of Wikipedia for its democratic editorial policy that enables virtually anyone to edit any article most of the time, but to these critics’ chagrin, the wiki is accurate at least on some things as I’ve noted about health topics.  However, beyond surprising its critics, Wikipedia has done far more.  For example, it has helped codify information that more people have easy access to without the need of visiting a library or purchasing expensive reference books.

I would like to point out that Wikipedia has inspired people to codify information whether a sizable portion of the general public views it is as trivial or not.  For instance, if I have a question about a TV show, movie, or song, I typically go to Wikipedia (since I don’t have to provide a citation very often on such things for a college paper…); I’ve found it interesting how quickly and comprehensively people update entries about very recently aired TV episodes.  Further, in many cases you can read detailed summaries and analyses of characters and plots that are far more sating than what is found on official show sites.  Wikipedia is a wonderful source of up-to-date information about contemporary entertainment.

Does the Encyclopedia Britannica update its site with information about the latest NCIS or Top Chef episode?  Likely not.  In fact, I just did a quick search and couldn’t find anything about either show on the site.  I can see how neither show passes the editorial muster of the encyclopedia, but Wikipedia’s mission to make information universally accessible allows for a more broad definition for what’s “fit for print” – although it does have a notability threshold regulating what deserves an entry and what does not.   While I do cede that there are likely “more important” topics that encyclopedias need to remain abreast of, I bet future social scientists will find information found on Wikipedia about Gigli or The Bachelorette invaluable as they try to suss out our culture.

I believe that the same can be said about most other topics that Wikipedia has information about.

Finally, I want to give props to two other entertainment wikis that I personally enjoy: Memory Alpha about Star Trek and Fringepdia about Fringe.  Both sites provide far more detailed information than the franchise/show’s official sites.  Further, since successful wikis require participation, I believe that they are successful because they were started and are managed by fans independent of media company involvement – unlike the TV show wikis I stumbled upon back in early 2008 that were thrown out to the masses by the media companies instead of passionate fans starting and managing them. No doubt that these two successful wikis were at least partially inspired by Wikipedia.

An Army of Many: Social Media and the Armed Forces

blog_army_socialmedia Social media is a powerful tool that often allows users to spread ideas and help make the world a better place. But what about the medium’s power to affect national (or personal) security? The US Department of the Army recently released a handbook that provides helpful hints and warnings about the dangers of social media to employees and soldiers. The 39 page document aims to reach the newcomers to social media as well as the tech-savvy .

From the operational security standpoint, this sort of guide makes perfect sense. When a 19 year old soldier has grown up with the internet and has been sharing facets if his or her life online for over a decade, it becomes important to set slight boundaries on what information should and should not be shared during wartime. The guide focuses on helping users of Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, and blogging software be better aware of the data that they are putting online; as this information may compromise things like unit location and personal safety while deployed.

Some tips from the document include:

  • Be careful with geotagging pictures on Flickr or Picassa
  • Do not reveal sensitive personal information about yourself on social networking profiles
  • Talk to your family and make sure that they also follow good operational security online
  • Do not violate copyright or trademark

The US Army is not forbidding free speech, nor is it prohibiting its soldiers from using social media to connect with their friends and family across the globe. Rather – the Department of the Army is educating against accidental information leakage (like GPS coordinates or personal information) and making sure everyone is keeping up with good operational security practices.

To read the entire document go go –


What do you think of the US Army 2011 Social media guidelines?

The Social Side of the Web: Pew Report on Activism & Social Media

Pew-Social-Side-of-InternetIn their just released report “The Social Side of the Internet” the Pew Research Center presents data which presents a mixed, but encouraging picture of the role online communications and social networks have in supporting volunteer and charitable organizations. 

Of their major findings, Pew found that not only are internet users more likely to be active participants, with volunteer groups: 80% vs. 54%  for non-connected volunteers-  That of all Americans, 68% believe the internet has had a major impact on the ability of groups to draw attention to an issue, with 59% also reporting that the internet has had a major impact on the ability of groups to impact society at large. 

Of groups that have achieved a goal in the last 12 months, an impressive majority cite the internet as the playing a major role in getting a candidate elected to office and raising awareness about an issue. This is especially striking given that Pew’s other finding that only 15% of Americans report being active in political parties and organizations. Overall, Pew found that more Americans volunteer with religious and spiritual groups than anything else, with 40% participation.

In terms of how people use the internet to interact with groups,  65% of report visiting their group’s website and an astounding  56% reported reading an email newsletter. Pew also found that the internet is a key tool for mobilizing and expanding groups, with 57% of internet users joining a group in response to an online invitation.

Turning to the role of social media, not only are social media users considerably more likely than anyone else to be involved with volunteer groups, (82% of social network users & 85% of Twitter users participate) social media users are also the most likely to contribute to their  volunteer groups, either by inviting friends (48% of social network users  & 65% of Twitter users) or sharing content (30% social networks 21% Twitter).


As to whether or not this this report confirms or deny the points raised by  Malcom Gladwell in his article: “Small Change- Why the Revolution will not be Tweeted,” while it would seem to call into question his argument that social networks are not having much of an impact, on the other hand Pew did not  survey for  activities that one would consider ‘high risk activism.’

Facebook as Predictor of the 2010 Elections

A few days ago Facebook released a study that showed that in most cases the candidate with the most Facebook fans won the election.  Specifically, they wrote:

“The Facebook political team’s initial snapshot of 98 House races shows that 74% of candidates with the most Facebook fans won their contests. In the Senate, our initial snapshot of 19 races shows that 81% of candidates with the most Facebook fans won their contests.”

Folks a lot smarter than I am have deftly pointed out the problems with the concept that you can predict election results based on the number of Facebook fans.  We have no idea how many of the fans actually live in the district of the politicians they are fans of.  Tea Party and colorful folks tend to attract more fans that more straightforward candidates.  Etc.  Etc.

However, I did want to add one small point to the discussion.  For politicians in lower profile races (Congress in particular), the number of Facebook hands is more an indication of how hard they have worked to recruit fans than it is of voter enthusiasm.

These fans don’t just appear out of the blue – campaigns work hard to actively build their fan base using a variety of tactics.  Do they have a prominent Facebook link on their site?  Do they include their Facebook address in email communication?  Do they post compelling content?  Do they run Facebook ads in an effort to promote their page?

Politicians with national profiles can simply put a Facebook page up and watch the numbers grow.  But your run-of-the-mill Congressional candidate has to work to grow their supporter base.  If you put in the time and spend some money you can make your numbers go up.  If you don’t, your numbers will stay pretty flat unless you are a sensation like Christine O’Donnell or Sharon Angle.