Cracks In The Mirror : Does Klout Make You Mad?

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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”.

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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.

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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?

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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/

Twittamentary and the TwittaWall

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As Twittamentary is a crowd sourced documentary, the the Twitter Wall at IRL screenings has become an integral part of the live Twittamentary experience.

It initially provided a prompt to remind the audience that the use of phones to tweet while watching is strictly encouraged. We’re all so conditioned to turning phones off (or at least putting them on silent) in the Cinema that this reminder has often been essential in encouraging live interaction (or “twitteraction”) during screenings.
This was a very important aspect of our plans to experiment with crowd sourcing at every possible stage in the creative process. Through 2011, this twitter wall feedback from the rough-cut, or “beta”, screenings provided input into the next cut of the film. We did 15 of these beta screenings and 15 iterative new cuts between each screening to create the final crowd sourced edit.
I’m just finishing Seth Godins “We Are All Weird” in which he writes:
The biggest cultural shift that the Internet has amplified is the ability to make an impact on our own culture
It’s a keen insight, and one which the Twitter Wall highlights in its role as a creative conduit. It’s enabled the audience members at those 15 early screenings to become intimately involved in the film making process. This goes way beyond the traditional movie studio “rough-cut” screening process, where a couple of different edits will be shown to test the films ending and fineness the chances of a big opening weekend. In Twittamentary, the twitter feedback really did help create the final cut. Themes were added, cut, expanded and made more concise. All blended seamlessly (we hope) with Siok’s expert curation skills.
However, as cool as this is, for me, the Twitter wall provides an additional deeper element to the documentary movie experience.
The Twitter Wall makes the social, and sociable, aspect of the film entirely visible and completes the interactive experience. It makes transparent the realtime connections that the audience members make with each other and with the cast while they watch them on screen.
This interaction with the cast breaks a constraint that all traditional documentaries are bound by: time. As soon as the footage of a documentary is captured it becomes dated. Naturally, the greater the time between the footage being shot and the screening, the more dated it becomes. With Twittamentary, this is important as the original footage was shot in 2010, a couple of years before the movie was finally released. However, very often during screenings a cast member will respond to a tweet from the audience with an up to the minute update on their story or share an, in-hindsight, insight.
A traditional, static, one way, documentary becomes a real-time, interactive experience where the cast joins the audience at the screening via twitter while they watch.
A living, interactive, real-time, documentary.  Now that’s Social Media.

Twittamentary: a social-media experiment in the media of movies

Twittamentary will be available to download at twittamentary.com from tomorrow and on other sites such as amazon.com very shortly.

Getting Twittamentary to its “theatrical premier” has been an amazing, fun and thought provoking project to work on. Director Tan Siok Siok invited me to join her as Producer back in February last year when we met over a coffee.

At that point the movie was still in rough cut form and Siok had started showing it to audiences to help her work out what the projects evolution could and should be. I watched the movie at a screening at Hackerspace in Singapore the next evening and was hooked.

The documentary presents Sioks personal and genuine exploration of “what Twitter is”. Something of particular intrigue to her and her as a Beijing resident where Twitter sits on the wrong side of the Great Firewall of China. As Twitter is a “social network” it soon becomes clear that Twitter is and will always be whatever it’s users, or tweeps, want it to be. Where they find value is where the networks purpose and value lives, or dies.

Through our conversations it became clear that the natural next step should be to extend this ethos into the evolution of the movie. Through 2011 we ran fifteen “beta” screenings across 3 continents including Los Angeles, Silicon Valley, SF, NY, Chicago London, Singapore, KL and Beijing.

After each beta screening we captured the live audience twitter conversation. This input was used in creating a new iteration of the movie. Characters & scenes were added, expanded, edited and cut, iteration by iteration, as a flowing, organic crowd-sourcing experiment.

By the end of the year the movie had evolved through fifteen of these iterations, carefully and skilfully curated by Siok. And all done whilst she simultaneously managed and grew her start-up business in Beijing – quite an amazing feat, I’m sure you’ll agree!

The movie completed post production in Beijing and LA at the end of February 2012 and has been screened at various festivals and community screenings including: the Cinequest (Silicon Valley) Film Festival, Oldenburg Film Festival, Urban Tribes Film Festival and fringe screenings at festivals like SxSW (with pop-up screenings for crowds at SxSW from the back of a FedEx truck being the most crazy – and fun – to date).

This week will see it’s theatrical premier in New York City at the 42nd street AMC on Tuesday at 8pm. It’s being screened as part of the 140conf, Founded and curated by Executive Producer @JeffPulver (and yes, pizza will be served!).

So what’s next?

Distribution
Well, as mentioned, the movie will be available for download via the website and various blogs this week and will be available on other sites such as Amazon over the next few weeks.

We’re using Distrify to help us with blogger and web distribution, Distrify provide a very exciting set of tools for independent movie makers and we’ll post further updates about how this as distribution progresses.

Requests for community screenings continue to flow and we have a number already confirmed for July and August in Europe, Asia and the Americas including our first in India, Indonesia and Latin America.

We’ve also received enquiries about purchase of TV screening rights from media companies in countries such as Israel, Australia, NewZealand and Singapore. We’ve held back on these to date to avoid any confusion with (the frankly archaic) Geographical exclusivity requirements before we had made the movie available for download online.

Case Study
The “making of Twittamentary” has also been made into a case study by Michael Netley (@communicateasia) , Corporate Communications professor at Singapore Management University. The case study has been made available, free of charge, to graduate and post graduate institutions via the http://www.ecch.com website and will be used as teaching material at various educational institutions around the world from next semester. It’s being translated into Spanish by a faculty of the university of Madrid. Later this month Michael will start on a “b” case study about distribution of the movie. More news on this as we have it.

Lessons Of..
We’ll be putting together some “lessons from Twittamentary” using clips from the movie. Twittamentary is becoming a popular teaching & insight tool for corporate, media and government organisations. The use of social media is becoming so pervasive, so quickly, that it’s easy to forget just how nascent and embryonic the whole ecosystem is. And how much and how fast we, as massed humanity, are evolving the way that we communicate and interact. These notes will be made”open” for people to edit, use and customise as they require.

‘Open Sourcing” Twittamentary
In the past month or so we’ve seen audio and video content from Twittamentary starting to be reused and repurposed in different ways. For example DJ’s in Singapore are working on mashups of audio clips in new trance and house tunes. It’s wonderful to see this happening and we’ll be making more of the raw audio, video and soundtrack content available on web over the next month or so.

If you have any other suggestions, we’re all ears, please tweet us!