Category Archives: blogs

"25 Things" goes viral, but only after mutations

If you want your message to go wild, you have to let other people mess up your message.

That’s the lesson from Slate’s analysis of the evolutionary roots of Facebook’s “25 Things” craze — a silly meme in which people online asked other people to write two dozen-plus bits about their personal lives. “25 Things” was a viral message, or bit of culture that spreads like a biological infection among the human population, cresting and falling like an epidemic.

What’s interesting is when Slate searched for the root cause of “25 Things” it found the idea didn’t start with 25 items — the idea of asking friends to tell X number of things about themselves, and then invite others, has been bouncing around for years. In 2008 there was a chain letter requesting 16 things; in December Twitter friends began asking each other to write seven. The concept mutated, like any disease, until it found just the right recipe of virus — apparently 25 — that allowed it to spike across the population.

Slate spoke to Lauren Ancel Meyers, a biology professor at University of Texas, who models infectious diseases. She mapped out the epidemic curve of the “25 Things” meme and found that at its height of growth, every user successfully got 1.27 other users to write their own stories. However after only two weeks, the fad crested around Jan. 30, then collapsed.

Marketers interested in making messages go viral should note that this meme didn’t scale until it had evolved from numerous strains — 7, 16 — that failed. The implication for advertisers trying to launch the next big craze is it is not enough to have one really cool idea — instead, launch a whole bunch, let people play with the messages, until Darwinian evolution tweaks one just right into a virus the population simply cannot resist. We always knew you can’t control viral propagation; we knew you had to seed the messages everywhere including in blogs; now, apparently to succeed virally, you also have to give up control over the content.

Photo: Gaetan Lee

Of dying blogs and living creation

What if saving your content no longer matters? What if in our rush to embrace new technology for live performance, old stuff is only worth tossing away?

The two biggest trends in tech are moving this way: social networking which connects people and cloud applications that make it easier to create anything. Consider “the cloud” — the push by Google and Microsoft and others to move software from your computer hard drives online, where everything you need for writing or accounting or layout or data backup exists in the ether (and where providers can make money by selling advertising impressions or ongoing subscription fees). It’s all a logical extension of data becoming a commodity, the move of information to the free, where we all access communication utilities via a simple web window and get going.

We dug this idea until DAMMIT! Sunday morning our blog disappeared from its usual online domain Nothing. More than 900 posts gone. Suddenly we were really p*#&(#d at the cloud. We eventually fixed it, of course, learning the vulnerabilities of anyone who trusts their data online.

And then it hit. Who cares? Saving content is passé.
Creation has become the consumer mode of choice. Writing content is now more important than reading it, and those who read want interaction like this brilliant online writing-puzzle-game by blogger Jeremy Freese. (It’s pretty cool; you imagine it’s noon, you have 1,000 words to write for a dissertation, and your girlfriend is about to leave if you blow the deadline.)

Humanity is approaching the pinnacle of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: We need data to move in faster and we want to contribute out more, until we really can’t listen because we’re too busy doing all the talking. Advertising results are down in newsprint and other traditional media not because of web migration, but because consumers’ modality has changed from reception to creation. Communications may soon be nothing but live acts on stage. If you have the right talent, that may not be a bad thing.

(Performance by Ana Vidovic.)

NY Times (gasp!) begins linking to outside web sites

Back in the ancient 1990s creatures called newspaper reporters would race to get a scoop — a bit of news so mesmerizing it would sell papers, and something so fresh competitors couldn’t re-report it until at least a day later. When a reporter won, the newspaper turned from commodity into gold for 24 hours.

No more. Now information flows everywhere and newspapers are dying because of it. Revenues are down, NYT stock has been battered to only $10.68 a share, and ad dollars are expected to flow further away to vast networks of niche blogs and video sites.

NYT is responding smartly by beginning to integrate blogs and outside media into its own reporting. Links began appearing in August on the NYT Ideas blog. The Annotated New York Times respins the NYT home page with feeds from the acquired Blogrunner. Caroline McCarthy of CNET notes itself will soon launch a TimesExtra version to add feeds from around the internet.

This seems like a no-brainer, given the average web user tendency to leap from site to site, but large online news publishers have long resisted linking to other news sites — an anachronistic point of view tied to the ancient days of scooping. (Today, “scoops” last about 10 seconds, not 24 hours.) Brian Stelter of NYT wrote recently that this commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Link To Outside Sites,” actually hurt the media by making them seem less relevant than other sites enabling site-to-site information flow.

Readers and advertisers are moving elsewhere. The cat is out of the bag. Kudos to the Times for admitting it, and herding some of those cats back.

Salon pays cash tips to bloggers

Or rather, helps you pay cash tips. Salon is giving $10 of real money to each person who registers for the Open Salon user-generated content group, with the catch that you can only spend it by tipping other writers.

The idea is this will (a) build Salon traffic and (b) create a better Digg-like voting system on top content. It’s also interesting how Salon has taken a nominal one-time fee of $10 to attract writers and spun it into a cool, new benefit. Hey — we’ll hire you out-of-work journalists for $11! Really!

Photo: Daquella Manera

Jamie Livingston took a photo every day, until cancer won

Photographer Jamie Livingston took a Polaroid picture almost every day for 18 years, from March 31, 1979 through October 25, 1997 — the day he died. The photos show him grooving at a concert, celebrating an independent film festival, stockpiling the photos themselves, getting married (above), and lying in a hospital bed dying from cancer. Before Blogger was born, Jamie had learned how to record and share a life.

We’ve thought recently that Twitter, the text-messaging-what-are-you-doing? service that allows anyone to share tiny thoughts with the public, is in essence a rolling memory bank for someone’s life. You can go to any person on Twitter, at (or whatever name), to see their thoughts, moment by moment, going back in time.

As video capture becomes more common, people will begin recording images of their lives, too. As we try to network and self-promote and communicate with each other, we’re etching a history of ourselves into the internet. Sort of like Jamie Livingston.

(Thanks to Make the Logo Bigger and Chris Higgins. Complete Livingston photo series, posted online by his friends, here.)

Whoops, says AT&T memo: 3G iPhone release is June 15

How do you build buzz on the blogosphere? First, slip out a memo, say, from AT&T to its cell phone sales employees telling them not to schedule any vacation time this summer between June 15 and July 12 because there will be a special product launch promotion driving heavy sales volume. Then, wait for blogs like this one to assume the new, improved iPhone will launch in that period.

Brilliant. And yes, we just can’t stop from passing on the rumor.

Prison rodeo smackdown

One way that social media has turned traditional communications upside down is that individual people, not media properties, have become the “brands” for news dissemination. Vincent Maling gives us a Hemingway-esque report on human rights abuses at prison rodeos:

“The bull effortlessly throws most of them over its shoulders, goring the unlucky ones in the process. In the end, it’s a more direct approach that wins the day: one inmate manages to snatch the chit after leaping onto the bull’s head. He’s jettisoned into the air, but that’s a small price to pay for the “glory” that is his victory.

The whole thing feels like an inbred, country-fried version of Spartacus. The winner of the final game even tosses his hard-earned chit up to the prison warden, who sits in a special box overlooking the whole violent spectacle alongside his wife and daughter.”

When you find a good blog, such as Michelle Mart’s Media Artist where Vincent guest-wrote the rodeo post, you return again and again to see what you will find. Rodeo abuse is a topic we never would have dreamed of, and perhaps never found given the “objectivity” of traditional media, without the opinions and personal news accounts of blogging.

What story will you leave behind?

Of all the ways that people use social media — personal or promotional, cool-hunting or celebrity stalking — it strikes us that few consider to use it as narrative. This thought came to us early this morning, after we watched Into the Wild the night before and dreamed images of a beautiful American landscape in which we, like the film’s protagonist, died.

Twitter, for example, is perhaps the most wonderful tool ever created for writing the novel of your own life. There is no barrier to entry, no writer’s block or trip back to the home office. You’re never out of paper. You can input a line from the heat of the moment. Sure, there are 142 different ways to interact with Twitter. But what story is emerging from your messages into the matrix?

A random scan of our Twitter connections shows national magazine writers complaining about work, leading bloggers flying airplanes, designers finding new font trends. This fragmented noise is intriguing, but it feels like there should be a theme emerging here, somewhere.

Which points out a fatal flaw of social media. It’s immediate and personal, but like writing in the sand, the messages fade away. Don’t kid yourself that your blog posts last forever on the web; no one is going to scan through your archives, and those who seek to stay on top of social media rankings write tirelessly, risking heart attacks. The pulse of the future is addictive. But wouldn’t it be cool to try to do something bigger with social communications, and paint a lasting mosaic of your past?

The trouble with authenticity

The trouble with authenticity is it exposes your soul.

Anyone who has started a blog pauses and stumbles initially, trying to find the right voice, because really — inside each of us — we are all multitudes of people. Which inner secrets are you presenting? You have a different mode when you send an intimate text message to your spouse than you do when emailing your boss. Blogs and Twitter and Facebook all create opportunities to present different faces to the world.

People are trained by society to pull filters on and off like masks, but something about the solitude-yet-connected dissonance of social media makes it very hard to maintain these illusions. The real inner being peeks out, and the best material emerges when you finally say, well, what the hell, let’s take all the masks off.

The most interesting bloggers have a consistent, firm grip on their self-presentation, and they often expose things about themselves that are startlingly real. Andy, Bill, Chris, Danah, Darryl, Darwin, David, Michelle, Robert, Ryan, Seth, and whatever mad geniuses are behind the New Shelton all pull off authenticity. The worst blogs, which we won’t mention, are those with agendas so focused on selling their wares that they neglect to learn the lesson from Gary, which is to give more than you take. Which is OK … because time and again, the real givers, not takers, are the ones who rise within the social media world.

Perhaps this is ultimately the best contribution of new social media formats to society: not information, not networks, not speed, but simply the gravitational pull of our peers helping us all return to honesty.

We’re still working on finding our own authenticity. So today, we changed our blog’s font.

(Image courtesy Buffalo Fine Arts Academy; the painting, Half the Time, is a single uninterrupted brush stroke by James Nares that simply blows us away.)

The world’s top advertising blogs

We’ve learned that the best inside news in the ad industry comes from the people who work inside it.

If you’re in marketing, you really should be reading these people. Scamp has released a list of the top advertising blogs in the world. We recommend starting with Brandflakes, whose author Darryl Ohrt logs in at No. 21 and is really much smarter than he looks in jeans and unlaced sneakers, and then working your way up.