This morning I gave a talk entitled “Trackbacked: A decade of social media” at the iMedia conference in Edmonton. I was intentional in choosing that title, as the term ‘trackback’ (replaced, I suppose, by the likes of ‘reblog’ and ‘repin’) has disappeared from common usage as quickly as it appeared.
The talk is a meandering look back at the last 10 years of social media, and some of the lessons I’ve learned there-in.
As I sometimes do, I created a mindmap to organize my initial ideas about the talk. I thought it might interest iMedia attendees to check it out. Click to embiggen:
These are just early notes, so I may not completely believe (or be willing to argue in favour of) everything in that image. The version above is just an image, so here are the links sprinkled around the diagram:
As I think I’ve mentioned, my brother, father and I share a subscription to The New Yorker. I’m the final recipient in our troika of magazine readers, and a stack usually piles up before I can get to many issues. So, while this story is six months old, I just read it this week.
In 1999, Marine General Charles Krulak wrote an influential article in which he coined the term “strategic corporal.” Krulak argued that, in an interconnected world, the actions of even a lowly corporal can have global consequences. “All future conflicts will be acted out before an international audience,” Krulak wrote. “In many cases, the individual Marine will be the most conspicuous symbol of American foreign policy and will potentially influence not only the immediate tactical situation, but the operational and strategic levels as well.”
To my mind, this is the sort of long-form (and expensive) reporting we need to preserve in an era of declining fortunes for journalism.
We can thank Sir David Tang for these pointed darts of defensive righteousness. The Hong Kong-born businessman and well-connected restaurateur has just set up iCorrect as a way for his high-profile friends to rebut what they see as the lies and calumny spreading like a gossip rash across the soft belly flesh of the Internet.
For a minor [annual] fee of $1,000 ($5,000 for a company), complainants can place their version of events on his small corner of the online world.
So it’s a site dedicated to establishing a wronged party’s truth beyond rumours and misunderstandings. We’ve already got a site for that–it’s called Wikipedia. And another, Snopes. And, in fact, thousands of other sites.
The site’s current tagline is “iCorrect: Setting the record straight”. A more accurate one might be “iCorrect: Bilking the gullible rich”. Or possibly “iCorrect: Don’t understand the Internet? We’ll take your money.”
The gaping maw of celebrity gossip
I was about to totally pillory this site for it’s hubristic notion of becoming a source of authority, despite none of the “corrections” on the site being verified, until I realized what it actually is. It’s just a wire service for rich people.
Here’s a correction by Kate Moss indicating that she’s not on Twitter or Facebook. If you search the web for “Kate Moss Twitter” or something similar, you won’t find iCorrect.com anywhere in the top result. But you will find several references to Ms. Moss’s claim from other sites, who picked up the story as part of iCorrect’s launch.
That, after all, is the way you establish something as fact online. Get it corroborated by a bunch of influential sources, and it becomes the accepted truth.
Because of our depressing obsession with celebrities, established and (though I use the word charitably here) legitimate news sites will watch iCorrect and report on the corrections of the rich and famous as they appear. It’s essentially just a specialized channel for informal media releases, feeding the gaping maw of celebrity gossip.
Looking at the site this way, iCorrect may succeed despite itself.
For months, I’ve had this video open in a tab in my browser. Over the holidays, I finally found the time to watch it, and I’m glad I did. It’s a 54-minute documentary about the rise of data journalism (also known as database journalism).
If I were in journalism school at the moment, I’d focus on this field. I’m no expert, but the capacity to derive meaning and build contextually-useful visualizations from big data sets is, to my mind, one of the few growth opportunities in the media. Here’s a nice piece on how to get started.
A few weeks ago, I read this article by Kate Handler in The Globe and Mail. It alleges that so-called school fight clubs–unsupervised fights a la Fight Club, the movie–are a widespread phenomenon in Canadian schools.
Here’s the evidence the article presents:
The phenomenon is widespread, and alleged fight clubs have been dismantled in Orangeville and Brantford, Ont., Milford, N.S., and earlier this year at the University of Manitoba. Fighters usually volunteer, but a case where an 18-year-old boy was pulled from his bike and forced to fight made headlines last spring in Texas.
The bouts are usually recorded on camera phones and the videos posted online. A YouTube search for Ã¢â‚¬Å“school fight clubsÃ¢â‚¬Â yields more than 4,000 results, including a video posted by students in England that looks very much like the Whitby video.
Ms. Handler also interviews a superintendent of school safety and security for Durham District School Board in Ontario. So she cites five Canadian incidents and quotes some YouTube search results.
YouTube as evidence?
Are those a satisfactory indication of a widespread phenomenon? I don’t think five fights make a trend. That leaves us with the YouTube search results, which feels very much like grasping at straws, doesn’t it?
After all, those search results are full of legitimate martial arts classes, riffs on the movie and school fight songs. There are also plenty of actual school yard fights, but how many of them are in Canada? If you pick a random page of the results (I chose page seven, but here’s 10 or 14), the majority of them are not evidence of school fight clubs.
Consider, also, that there are nearly 9000 YouTube search results for “school dance club”, yet only about 2000 results for “school glee club”. Does that make fighting twice as popular as choir, but half as popular as dance?
Other sources of evidence?
What information might have been more convincing? How about a comment from provincial or federal government officials, validating that school fight clubs are a growing and worrying trend? Or a researcher who can speak to the scope of the problem. Ideally, there would be some peer-reviewed research on the subject, but that’s naturally going to be hard to find if school fight clubs are a brand new issue.
I emailed Ms. Handler to ask if she’d done other reporting or had other evidence to back up her claim. I followed up twice, but haven’t heard back.
Are school fight clubs a widespread phenomenon? I can’t claim to know. A cynic might point out that it’s in The Globe’s best interests to make a sensational story about misbehaving children seem like a national trend. Have they done that here? What do you think?
UPDATE: On a fourth attempt, I received a response from Ms. Hammer. I’ve asked whether I can quote her response in this post.
As our remix culture matures, we’re seeing more and more creative works that are derivative of other works. This is great–imitation is an important piston in our society’s cultural engine.
However, I do think it’s important to, when and where we can, acknowledge our sources. Historically, writers could do this through a forward, footnotes or appendix. Other artists and creators didn’t have the same flexibility. Jackson Pollock can’t easily footnote his early works as influenced by Picasso.
In the era of the Web, we have far more opportunities to acknowledge from whom we borrowed. And that metadata is all the more important in the high-paced, multiphrenic Internet age. I talk about this quite often with my friends at Common Craft, whose excellent videos are routinelyimitated.
The right thing to do is for the Times to acknowledge the source of this project. After all, they wrote twoarticles about the feature. Unfortunately, that’s a professional courtesy one company isn’t like to extend to another.
That video is truly the definition of “pale imitation”.
Everybody understands the source of this video, but it’d be nice if they’d at least include a link to the Old Spice videos in the YouTube description, wouldn’t it?
More personally, I was irked when Vancouver Opera seemed to copy (our poster, their poster–note that the instructions are written verbatim) a poster campaign we were running. I’m certainly not looking for a citation on the poster but they wrote a blog post about their campaign. It would have been easy for them to recognize the source of the project. I claim no hold over the idea–I just think it’s in good form to tip your hat when you can.
Both professionally and personally, I make derivative web projects all the time. I always try to acknowledge the sources. Here, for example, is the About page for our Intranet Secrets project for ThoughtFarmer. Note the shout-out to Post Secret, the site off of which we’re riffing (wow, that was some awkward grammar).
Am I tilting at windmills? Is this thinking leftover from an analogue twentieth century?
UPDATE: Coincidentally, I noticed (via Waxy) that the musician and DJ Girl Talk has a new album, free for download, out today. Here’s an alternative link, as the main site is a little b0rked at the moment.
Girl Talk notoriously constructs his songs out of samples of other songs. The new album, All Day, allegedly has 373 samples on it. On the album’s page, there’s a note that reads “Girl Talk thanks all artists sampled. A full list will be posted in the future.” As it turns out, that problem got crowdsourced on Wikipedia.
This year’s biggest online hit is an email newsletter offering you coupons. How old school is that?
That’s an interesting notion, but I’m more interested in Groupon as a touchstone for our post-consumer times. Consider recent offers I’ve received:
Admission to the Maritime Museum
‘Manly grooming services’
Fitness boot camp
Because the price of everything essential is so easily within reach for most of us, we’re ready to spend our money on crap that we absolutely do not need.
77% of Groupon users are women, and I also think there’s a connection to the kind of it-girl celebrity worship that’s so present in our culture these days. People admire Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian and the like in part because they’re rich, and can indulge whatever urge they desire. Women have become the more powerful consumers in our society, and their desire for luxury goods is piqued by movies like Sex in the City and product-oriented magazines like Lou Lou. Buying Groupon deals provides a way for middle-class people to scratch an upper-class itch.
But, then, so what? If people have money to spend, I’m happier if they’re buying services (which seem to comprise a big chunk of the Groupon offers) instead of more stuff. Services, I’d imagine, are a far more sustainable purchase.
What do you think of Groupon? Is it a great service or does it encourage irresponsible consumerism?
This is the first in at least a couple of posts about Groupon. Next week I’m going to interview a hardcore Groupon user.
Speaking of making sustainable choices, Vancouverites may want to check out Ethical Deal, a ‘green Groupon’.
Apologies for the lack of posting. I was up getting my mind blown in the usual ways up at Web of Change, and then had to hop on a plane for points east. I’ve got a couple of long posts on a low parboil in my lizard brain, but in the meantime, here’s an odd ad from last Wednesday’s edition of the Vancouver Sun.
A magalog is a promotional copy of a magazine, usually in a 12-page catalog format. The name is a portmanteau of “magazine” and “catalog”. Magalogs help introduce magazines to new readers. It can also help existing readers see new or upcoming changes, additions, or improvements to the magazine. An alternate use can include catalogs that are presented with content, not just advertising.
So it’s a catalog masquerading as a magazine? Ironically, I didn’t even look at La-Z-Boy’s publication, because it was in the centre of the paper with all the instantly-discardable paper spam.
In any case, I learned a new, rather ugly word. It would be better applied to, I don’t know, some kind of tropical beetle. As in, “Careful, there’s a big magalog by the fridge. Don’t step on it with your bare feet–they’ve got a spiny carapice”.
If I were the copywriter for La-Z-Boy, I’d reconsider using the term in an ad. It feels very much like insider jargon. But, then, maybe they gave the ad to the intern or something, because it surely came free with the, uh, magalog insert.