Cracks In The Mirror : Does Klout Make You Mad?

8_Belluci_cracked_mirror

Much has been written about our mental health in the digital era, from Internet Digital Addiction to Mobile Phone Social Media obsessions and the negative causes and consequences of cyber bullying (for both the victims and the protagonists).

Like most media, the internet transmits an image of our collective selves and, as it does so, it distorts the image in it’s own peculiar way, influenced by the way that we interact with it and it’s component parts.

Advertising is a component part. It’s the billion-dollar lifeblood that pays for almost everything we use and consume on the Internet.   As we all make the shift to doing most of our digital “stuff” socially and on the mobile, advertising dollars are following our eyeballs.

With a smartphone in hand, a selection of our friends, acquaintances, favorite content and favoured brands are always with us, randomly waiting to be interacted with (or simply browsed), whenever and wherever we choose.  Be it at workon the train or on the loo, mobile/social connectivity increasingly fills the gaps in all our lives.  More and more of our real-life lives are being spent, reflected, stored and displayed virtually.

When our activity is reflected online, it becomes measurable. For brands who truly “get it”, this new environment gets us all a step closer to the marketing promised land, where advertising disappears and grows-up to become perfectly targeted and timely information: non-intrusive, real-time, interactive, context aware, relevant and personal.

But we’re not quite there yet.

Scores 

For now, attempts by the marketing community to understand us by tapping into this deep new well of social data are focused on fairly crude and simplistic metrics.

One popular activity is identification of influencers – people identified as best able to persuade their friends and followers to buy a product or service. Think TV’s Oprah Effect (product endorsements) measured at social internet scale, across the billions of people participating on social networks.

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Over the last decade, Google has become the world’s default search engine by carefully ranking websites. Now, influence score sites such as KloutKred and peerindex are vying to become the default service for ranking of people. They rate our individual “influence” on our friends by aggregating metrics (followers, connections, frequency of activity, responses etc) from a variety of Social media sites sites (facebook, twitter, LinkedIn etc) and then give each of us a “score”.

Their hope is that these public scores will then be used by marketers to better target likely advocates of whatever it is that they are hoping to sell.

As with any early stage technology, the Influence score business is changing rapidly and has some methodological growing pains such as buying of fake friends & followers  to enhance perceived social standing and “influence”.

HowMuchForA10 cartoonstock

There’s also an issue with attempts to manipulate influence scores prompted by the secrecy surrounding the scoring methodologies used (e.g. the number of Pinterest followers you have may not count but tweeting a restaurant tip from FourSquare may count double). All this leads to a flurry of guessing and second guessing worthy of a Monty Python sketch:

Now please don’t misunderstand me, Influence scores are very useful in the right context (i.e. for social media and media professionals) and I admire any start-up that’s exploring what’s possible at the edges of a rapidly evolving medium.  Fixes for some of the marketing issues are evolving rapidly. More enlightened Internet marketeers are weighing in with common sense commentary and Social Media tools are emerging which shine light on fakes and forgeries.

There’s a broader concern though.

The aim of the influence score is to go beyond what Google does when ranking inanimate web pages. Whether we opt-in or not, selected social interactions are crystallized into a condensate of our digital personality and presented as a single public influence score for every socially active entity: brands, governments – and everyday people. You. Me. Everyone.

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So, how will the process of creating a secretly calculated but public score for everyone effect our collective mental health?

Measuring Our Social Well-being 

“The attentions of others matter to us because we are afflicted by a congenital uncertainty as to our own value, as a result of which affliction we tend to allow others’ appraisals to play a determining role in how we see ourselves. Our sense of identity is held captive by the judgements of those we live among.”
― Alain de BottonStatus Anxiety

In the 1950’s Social Psychologist, Marie Jahoda, was interested in how periods of unemployment effected mental health.

marie_jahoda

She identified five factors that influence our day-to-day social well-being:  

From these she identified measures of “Ideal Mental Health”, listed below. Try reading through this list while thinking about your own use of Facebook, or that of a friend, it should be an interesting exercise!

  • Do you have a realistic perception of who you are – your true selves?
  • Do have a general feeling of acceptance?
  • Do you have voluntary control over your own behaviour (or at least feel that you do)?
  • Do you have a true and realistic perception of the world(s) we live in?
  • Can you attain deep relationships and share affection with others?
  • How productive are you within the social groups that you engage in?

Social Media has the power to both impede and greatly uplift our social health in all of these areas.  Moreover, as a distorting mirror, it amplifies these effects across entire communities of inter-connected people (there are some wonderful examples of both in Tan Siok Siok‘s crowd-sourced documentary Twittamentary).

Influence scores like Klout, Kred and PeerIndex add additional layers of commentary, abstraction and then, by ranking, imply competition. So whilst they seek to provide clarity, they also add yet more distortion to the socialmedia reflection of ourselves.  Creating a publicly visible score of everyone’s social “worth”, naturally has an influence on behaviour and creates feedback loops, further changing the score. For some individuals scoring has the potential to endlessly change behaviour based on arbitrary rules to stay “winning” – not always a very healthy place to be!  Remember the deranged and drug addled Charlie Sheen “winning” meme last year?

Winning_charliesheen_winnerbook

A central theme in Jahoda’s work concerns the ongoing tension between our ability to balance constancy (i.e. our ability to be grounded and true to who we are) and change (i.e. being adaptable and open to the views and perspectives of others).

As the internet matures and becomes seamlessly intertwined with everything that we do, it should ideally have the structure to assist and reinforce our ability to attain and maintain this balance.

So, will Klout and similar services make you mad? No, not on their own. The danger is in the direction in which they might take us. It’s people that form the fabric of the internet. Collectively, we enable it to be an amazing medium, which many believe is accelerating human development.  A good and obvious guiding principle when designing any new service should be to ensure that the social mental well-being of users, like you,  is sacrosanct.

Next up: Cracks In The Mirror : BigData and Harvesting Your Identity

N.B. Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/andys_camera/1004408512/

The Rise of Mobility : And The Disappearing Mobile Phone (Part 2)

The Era Of Inter-Connectivity Arrives

(This post follows on from The Rise Of Mobility – Part 1)

In 2012 we’re firmly in the era of Digital Inter-Connectivity. With devices now interconnecting with each other, either locally (e.g. bluetooth speakers streaming spotify from a phone or apple TV interacting with an iPad) or synchronised through the cloud (e.g. the wordpress apps that I use for this blog synchronising in real-time across two mobiles, an iPad and my desktop).

In addition, much digital functionality that was previously purchased stand-alone, in separate devices, is converging in a single mobile device (note: at least for now, see my next post). Where many people would once carry around a plethora of devices (a phone, a camera, a Satellite Navigation system,  a Walkman music player, a portable games console, a PDA etc) most of us now carry just one.  Our Smartphone.

The original 1999 chart is below and blogged about here:

An updated chart for 2012, including the rise of the mobile device, now looks something like this ( the original 1999 powerpoint updated):

Compared to the 1999 map,connected functionality in 2012 has gravitated towards the (mobile) center.

This convergence and inter-connectivity, has roughly coincided with the rise of web 2.0 and social media. As connectivity has become always on and always with us, so our digital personas have become always available and always present, turbo charging the social aspects of the web. I’m looking forward to covering this more in future posts.

As I’ve noted previouslyconnectivity is generally proliferating. Going forward, yet more devices will become internet connected as our lives continue the shift to the digitally connected. For example, the latest pocket cameras incorporate mobile Operating Systems and WiFi connectivity. Games consoles are becoming internet connected content terminals.

As miniturisation continues, more diverse functions will become mobile connected. For example, in what was once a highly specialist sector, the healthcare industry is seeing functionality such as medical scanning and monitoring become internet connected and enabled for the masses. Many of these functions are starting to become mHealth attributes of consumer mobile devices encouraging a cultural trend toward “DIY health”. Not surprisingly, companies focusing on solutions with the “m” prefix, such as mHealth, mGovernment, mCommerce and mEducation are in hot technology start-up areas – especially given the huge numbers of people worldwide who are about to be connected for the first time – which leads us to the next item.

Next? Smart Mobility for the Global Masses

This phase of inter-connectivity will finally bring ubiquitous availability of affordable internet enabled mobile devices to pretty much everyone.  By the end of this decade, 80%-90% of the worlds adult population will become connected to the internet via mobile devices.

In 2008 & 2009 the first Google Android OS handsets appeared, hailing the start of the mass global adoption of these converged mobile devices. The Android OS has been specifically developed to drive mass adoption. As it’s an Open Source and free-license Operating System, manufacturers can drive down prices to deliver truly affordable Smart Mobile Devices for US$20 or less.

Update: The chart below from Business Intelligence shows how rapidly smartphone adoption is accelerating between 2011 and 2012 alone. Look at Brazil and China, both going from almost zero smart Phones in 2011 to 14% and 33% respectively in 2012.

With “dumb” Mobile Phones already in the hands of six Billion people (as at the end of 2011) – and with cheap smart phones on the way – it’s easy to see that by the end of this decade the vast majority of the worlds population will become mobile internet connected.

Unlike the people who first became connected back in the 1990’s, the “newly connected” will start their digital lives mobile (in the center of the map). Mobile connectivity will then be augmented by additional connectivity as they gradually acquire and/or interact with other connected devices.

This the polar opposite of the PC centric adoption pattern for the “initially connected” in more developed countries – and is likely to exacerbate misconceptions that many internet companies have regarding the rise of mobile.

For me, an issue of our time is that this global digital connection of the masses can have a profoundly positive impact on our development as individuals and as a global society.  Hopefully we can realise this potential.  

Global access to knowledge will certainly radically change access to opportunities for billions of people.  There are also many challenges, not least the fact that there are innate incentives for elements of the internet to start to commoditise and commercialise the identities of all of its users (that includes you and me). This is a concept that governments, internet governance bodies and human rights groups are only now starting to grapple with.  

I’ll cover some of these issues in more detail in upcoming posts.

Next up: intra-connectivity and the coming disappearance of the mobile phone (yes seriously!).

Beyond Mobile And Multi-Screens: What’s Next?

Right this second, you’re more connected than any other human before you. Thousands of people, facts, thoughts and things become accessible to you as you read each of these words.

Big deal? Well, I guess we’re all aware that we’re living through an era loosely termed as the “Information Age“.

Each day sees a plethora of different articles and posts published which, in equal measures, document and examine, celebrate and angst about the possible cultural, social and political changes that we’re possibly about to experience.

Well, I recently rediscovered a chart that I created back in 1999 with the intention of mapping the rise of our emerging digital interactivity. With a little updating, it helps to break through the clutter and provide us with a rough “you are here” view (I’ll post more about the “Multiple Digital Channel” map in the next couple of days).

Looking at it again now we can also get an idea of where we’ll probably be in another 15 years.  It looks like we’re just about at the “end-of-the-beginning”. And there’s much more to come.

The Three Phases Of Connecting:

There are 3 broad phases in the rise of our ongoing connectedness:

1. Where We’ve Been: Extra-connecting (1990 to early 2000’s). Think:

  • desktop computers & early laptops connect to the internet individually as “extra” add-on functionality via dial-up modems and early broadband
  • computer use is primarily corporate and initially immobile (desktops and servers)
  • 1st & 2nd Generation mobile phones move from being corporate productivity tools to become consumer communication devices
  • emergence of early mobile computers: PDA’s (Personal Data Assistants)
  • e-mail and Instant Messaging becoming pervasive at work and home

2. Where We Are: Inter-connecting (early 2000’s to mid-2010’s). Think:

  • Internet connectivity starts to be viewed as a utility 
  • Inter-connectivity of devices gradually becomes pervasive (multiple screens)
  • personal device (phone) form & functionality goes through rapid evolution, settling on a single large rectangular screen form factor (content is king)
  • smarter devices start to interact – enabling mass social interaction (Social Media)
  • everyone becomes connected: being always-on, connected and available is the expected norm
  • more peripheral electronics (white goods, TV’s) start to become extra and inter-connected

3. Where We’re Going: Intra-connecting (mid-2010’s to 2030 and beyond). Think:

  • persistent ambient connectivity – where we are seamlessly and deeply intra-connected within our environment and with others when we choose to be (we hope)
  • devices become more personal and proliferate:
    • devices become wearable e.g. screens in spectacles evolve into contact lens screens
    • bio-implant devices gradually become acceptable:
      • initially for health monitoring and maintenance (e.g. blood sugar & blood pressure: monitoring, analysis, alerts, preemptive advice)
      • then increasingly to enhance performance (e.g. memory,  well being  analysissituation awareness etc.)
  • the Internet of Things – everything becomes connected, tagged and recognisable:

These three phases are far from finite. They’re a work in progress. They flow into each other organically as people adopt and discard new behaviours, in turn further evolving the underlying technology.

“The future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed” – William Gibson

Importantly, access to these technologies and new capabilities depends on your culture, context and access to cash. If we truly believe in creating a meritocratic world where everybody has an equal chance to progress, concerns regarding a growing global digital divide will also need to be addressed.

“If you understood everything I said, you’d be me”

― Miles Davis

For many, a greater concern will be the ways in which our sense of self and identity evolve as social pressure grows to be perpetually connected and visible to the “hive“.

Viewed together, the changes will doubtless be profound. Yet as we live through them, what once seemed like science fiction very quickly becomes normal and even unremarkable. How cool is e-mail these days?

“We know what we are, but not what we may be.” 
― William Shakespeare

Knowing as we do, in very broad terms, what’s coming, we might just have a rare and, as a race, unique opportunity to get ahead of ourselves.

I’ll be exploring and expanding on this theme with posts in the next few weeks – and will update this post with cross links as I do so.

If you have any thoughts please feel free to share.

Is A Facebook Friend A Friend?

Jeff Pulver (exec-producer for Twittamentary) posted an interesting question on his blog last week: What is a Facebook Friend.

It’s a good question, and something that most people will have a slightly different answer to.  Facebook is undoubtedly the dominant Social Network for the moment, although we’re now seeing the rise of more specialist sites such as Quora or Pinterest.  When these are added to niche sites such as tripadvisor, yelp or (for Singapore) hungrygowhere, users start to have a plethora of different online personas – just as we all do in real life: work, home, in-laws house, beach, doctors-surgery, football-match, kids headmasters office, etc. etc.

My thoughts on a few popular sites below:

Hi Jeff, Nice post. For me, a FB friend is someone who I’ve shared a positive experience with in the past. It could be In-real-life or virtual, although it’s generally takes more time and interaction to build a virtual positive experience to balance the interpersonal queues that are missing versus real life (at least for now).

A Twitter connection is more about exploring interests together – which can form the basis for new friendships. It’s therefore more forward looking, if you will.

The catch all and least personal is LinkedIn – which, for me, represents a wide spectrum of contacts, from close ex-colleagues to someone I exchanged a business card with or have interacted with on a LinkedIn Group.

Finally there’s Pinterest “friends” – and I’m still working out what they are… Any thoughts? :-)

Minds Connected

I guess like most of us, I’m increasingly consuming media (books, videos, music) simultaneously in batches which creates a sort of blended content cocktail of juxtaposed ideas. For example I’m currently reading books by Noam Chomsky, Andrew Keen, Seth Godin and Charles Dickens.

The interesting part comes when I have quiet, free thinking time and I find myself pondering the contents of all the content that I’m consuming together as one input; identifying salient points, counter points, contradictions and connections between the works (more on these books as thought bubbles surface).

So last night I watched a couple of videos and fittingly the connection is: minds connecting

Yesterday a friend posted the following video of Hedy Schleifer at last months TEDxTelAviv conference. Deeply experienced in helping people with their relationships, she discusses the way that humans connect, and mis-connect, at a sub-conscious level. She explains three invisible connectors: The relational Space – the space between two individuals. The bridge between these worlds – over and through the relational space. The encounter “human essence to human essence” – a pure interaction between our true selves.

The Power of Connection – Hedy Schleifer at TEDxTelAviv

Although this all initially sounded a little “California wellness” (to my cynical English ears) this is, in fact, a fantastic talk. Hedy grounds her talk in recent NeuroScience theories of “the Brain Bridge” where “two limbic systems resonate together” and the discovery of mirror neurons. This biological mechanism creates fundamental and core common human traits enabling “Compassion, empathy and deep understanding of the other”. A wonderful example of psychological observation joining seamlessly with our advancing (although still very rudimentary) biological understanding of how the mind works (check out the work of the Social Brain Lab for more info).

Mirror neurons fire in unison when two minds are in unison, or connected at a “human essence” level as Hedy puts it. New neural pathways are created, the relationship blooms and individual consciousness is raised. What stops this happening is either mind subconsciously cluttering the “relational space” with preconceptions, fears and anxieties – which amplify over time. The solution is to seek to build an empathetic bridge between “our true selves”. It is “in truly being with each other that our true essence becomes revealed” to ourselves and others. If we focus on connection and understanding, relationships and people blossom. Note: a “like” on FB is in no way a true and deep connection.

Last night I also chanced upon Don Tapscotts excellent talk at 2012 TEDGlobal, which was released yesterday. Don explains his thinking about the 4 principles of the Open World that are “transforming civilisation”: Collaboration “social media becoming social production”; Transparency “sunlight is the best disinfectant”; Sharing – “giving up assets” & impending changes to the way intellectual property works; Empowerment – “The distribution of knowledge & decentralisation of power”.

Don Tapscott: Four principles for the open world

For me the most interesting part of the talk starts at around the 12 mins 30 second point. Don summaries the way that humanity’s method of sharing information has evolved at two critical points: the onset of the printing press and then of the Internet. Before the printing press, distribution of knowledge was hand written, strictly limited and closely guarded by a fraction of a percent of humanity. The arrival of the printing press provided a mechanism for mass distribution, however it was still a one-way transfer of heavily edited and curated knowledge, from the powerful to the “great unwashed” masses. It culminated in the Industrial world order of the 20th Century.

It should, by now, be becoming clear to just about everyone, that this new Internet age journey that we’re all embarking on, marks a seismic transformation in how humanity will develop and grow.

For the first time the Internet enables all of humanity to create, share and re-create knowledge. Instead of simply calling it the Internet or information age Don refers to this as an “Age of Networked Intelligence” where he hopes there will be a recognition that all our “interests lie with the collective” the growth and well being of all rather than just a few. He wonders if we could create some kind of “collective consciousness in the world”. He finishes with a video of Starlings in “Murmuration” (original clip is shown below) where they collaborate in a kind of subconscious communal flow to fend off predators, share food sources, find a roosting area etc. I love the fact that it involves simple and small birds, the last descendants of the Dinosaurs with whom, however, we humans share a similar central “lizard” brain. Maybe this behavior is innate to us all?

Amazing starlings murmuration

So what’s the connection?

Well, this reference to an “age of networked intelligence” struck a chord for me with Hedy’s talk.

On the one hand humanity is now on the cusp of understanding the biological mechanics of the mind and discovering how empathy, sharing and the growth of joined consciousnesses work at an individual, biological level.

Simultaneously, with the Internet we’re rapidly building, populating and evolving the physical infrastructure that will enable an embryonic, real-time, collective human intelligence.

In the next decade, with most of our planets people gaining internet access for the first time via smart-phones, this will evolve to become a global collective intelligence for all humanity.

This raises huge questions for individuals, societies and Industrial era organisations that we are only just starting to grapple with, let alone find answers for.

This is surely the most important issue of our time. If we all get it right, many of our current, industrial era, ills will dissolve like ice cubes in the sun. If we get it wrong, it could all go very wrong indeed. Most probably through authoritairan countermoves to protect the industrial, top-down, status quo. It starts with the curated group-think (an example being heavily opinionated and polarised news media) and explicit emotional contagion.

What is certain, is that how we all chose to build and grow this collective intelligence will effect the next eon of human development.

Remembering every individuals need for personal interconnection, for real and deep relationships and for common understanding will allow people, and our nascent collective intelligence, to grow and blossom.

It’s certainly a good place for each of us to start.