Posts Tagged ‘Google’


In order to survive in the modern era, companies must grasp a strong understanding of psychology, or at least of the type of pseudo-psychology that Edward Bernays, immortalized as the father of PR, made widely available to marketers and advertisers. Bernays was an Austrian American who wove the ideas of Gustave Le Bon and Wilfred Trotter on crowd psychology with the psychoanalytical ideas of his uncle, Sigmund Freud, and ultimately asked, “If we understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind, is it not possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing about it?”

Historically companies have leveraged a number of psychological devices and theories to generate desire within their target demographics and audiences in order to sell more. Advertising seeks to simultaneously engender strong positive feelings about a product or company while simultaneously leaving the audience feeling emptier for not owning the advertised product. The ability to pull this off is intensely powerful, and yet not as powerful as the ability to affect this reaction within the target demographic, autonomously, spontaneously.

This is the accomplishment of the new realm of mobile technologies and apps such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. In effect, their breakthrough in psycho-marketing is the ability to make their product habit-forming, even addictive. On Merriam Webster addiction is defined as: compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance (or we could say product) characterized by tolerance and by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal. Addiction is the new marketing goal precisely because its inherently dangerous, cyclical nature is exactly what embodies both the need and the fulfillment- all encapsulated in one.

Compulsion and habit are the key words here. Marketers and advertisers drool when they see those words, because they are truly the Holy Grail of advertising. If they can create a condition in their target audience where the deprivation of the product creates a state near-pain for the user/consumer, they are guaranteed a captive customer, possibly for life.

This is precisely what Nir Eyal describes in his TechCrunch article, “The Billion Dollar Mind Trick.”  Eyal outlines a couple of critical concepts; namely “internal triggers” and “desire engines,”

“When a product is able to become tightly coupled with a thought, an emotion, or a pre-existing habit, it creates an ‘internal trigger.’ Unlike external triggers, which are sensory stimuli, like a phone ringing or an ad online telling us to “click here now!” you can’t see, touch, or hear an internal trigger. Internal triggers manifest automatically in the mind and creating them is the brass ring of consumer technology.”

As Eyal points out, “We check Twitter when we feel boredom. We pull up Facebook when we’re lonesome. The impulse to use these services is cued by emotions.” He enumerates the current approach to create internal triggers, labeling it the manufacturing of desires.”

  • “Addictive technology creates “internal triggers” which cue users without the need for marketing, messaging or any other external stimuli.  It becomes a user’s own intrinsic desire.”
  • Creating internal triggers comes from mastering the “desire engine” and its four components: trigger, action, variable reward, and commitment.”

The “desire engine” Eyal refers to is merely a phrase that describes the pre-determined “series of experiences designed to create habits…the more often users run through them, the more likely they are to self-trigger.” All of this is to say that, increasingly, and especially when it comes to mobile consumer technologies and apps, companies increasingly find that their economic and social value is a function of the strength of the habits they create within their user/customer base.

Interesting, yes, but perhaps not entirely new. Michel Foucault (yes, I know I talk about him a lot here, but his work is endlessly relevant to the types of communications discussions we constantly engage in nowadays) discussed this same concept in his investigation of the concept of “technologies of the self,” whereby his objective was:

 “to sketch out a history of the different ways in our culture that humans develop knowledge about themselves: economics, biology, psychiatry, medicine, and penology. The main point is not to accept this knowledge at face value but to analyze these so-called sciences as very specific ‘truth games’ related to specific techniques that human beings use to understand themselves.” (http://foucault.info/documents/foucault.technologiesOfSelf.en.html)

Yet the concept dates back to the Greeks, “constituted in Greek as epimelesthai sautou, ‘to take care of yourself’ ‘the concern with self,’ ‘to be concerned, to take care of yourself.’

Foucault posited that there were four main “technologies:”

“(I) technologies of production, (2) technologies of sign systems, (3) technologies of power, and (4) technologies of the self” (http://foucault.info/documents/foucault.technologiesOfSelf.en.html)

Clearly in this case what we’re focusing on is the technology of the self, “which permit individuals to effect by their own means or with the help of others a certain number of operations on their own bodies and souls, thoughts, conduct, and way of being, so as to transform themselves in order to attain a certain state of happiness, purity, wisdom, perfection, or immortality.” (http://foucault.info/documents/foucault.technologiesOfSelf.en.html)

You would be hard-pressed to convince me that the bulk of apps available to us all on our mobile devices these days are not, in some way, designed to fulfill some narcissistic desire to know ourselves better. Whether it’s for fitness (calorie counters, pedometers, diet analyses, jogging analyses) or for social edification (how many people who you know are around you, how many “friends” do you have [Facebook], what are you doing right now [Twitter], how often do you visit a place [FourSquare or Yelp]) many of these tools are intended to display a mirror image of ourselves and project it onto a social web and out to others. (Hell, iPhones now include a standard photo feature that allows you to use the phone as a literal mirror by using the front-end camera as you stare into it.) But they are also intended to help us transform ourselves and make ourselves happier by making us skinnier, healthier, more social, more aware, more productive, etc.

The importance of this is that we have been fooled into thinking we are using these apps to learn more about ourselves, but the social sharing functionality proves that this is performative- we wouldn’t be doing it repeatedly unless there was a performance aspect built-in, an audience waiting to view and comment on the information, providing continuous gratification. In other words, learning more about ourselves, then amplifying that knowledge out to an audience has become habit-forming. We have become addicted to the performance of ourselves.

 “These four types of technologies hardly ever function separately, although each one of them is associated with a certain type of domination. Each implies certain modes of training and modification of individuals, not only in the obvious sense of acquiring certain skills but also in the sense of acquiring certain attitudes.” (http://foucault.info/documents/foucault.technologiesOfSelf.en.html)

In this case, though Foucault was often very careful in his diction and a master of semiotics, what if we replace the word “attitudes” with “habits?” After all, Foucault is referring to these technologies of self as dominating, as techniques which train and modify individuals, and a habit formed is demonstrably a tangible and acquired modification of human behavior. Later he continues to elaborate and speaks of “individual domination,”

”I am more and more interested in the interaction between oneself and others and in the technologies of individual domination, the history of how an individual acts upon himself, in the technology of self.”

I know quite a few people who would willingly and openly admit to the individual act of domination upon themselves that they perform on a compulsive basis by updating their Twitter feeds, updating the status on their Facebook accounts, uploading their latest photos to Instagram, and checking in on FourSquare. There is a reason that Googling “Is technology the new opiate of the masses?” garners page upon page of thoughtfully written and panicky editorials and blog posts. This is a newly acknowledged and little resisted truth of our times- we are willing slaves to the ongoing performance of our selves.

Advertisements

First and foremost, quite importantly for the purpose of this post: definitions of “Persona” vs. “Identity-“

Persona

  • : a character assumed by an author in a written work
  • : an individual’s social facade or front that especially in the analytic psychology of C. G. Jung reflects the role in life the individual is playing
  • : the personality that a person (as an actor or politician) projects in public
  • : a character in a fictional presentation (as a novel or play)

Identity

  • : the distinguishing character or personality of an individual : individuality
  • : the condition of being the same with something described or asserted

Crap, that actually wasn’t as helpful as I had hoped it would be…I feel more confused now than I did before.

Nevertheless, these definitions seem to point toward the fact that a “persona” is more often something performed, or developed consciously one’s self, or performatively developed by someone else, whereas an “identity” is embedded and synonymous with a person’s actual character. For the sake of this entry, that is how we will distinguish between the two.

Moving on to THE POINT.

A while ago I tried to pitch a story to this American Life which had been inspired by the experiences of my friend- we’ll call him Jim. See, Jim was looking for a new job and applying at a few different companies. One day, reminded by a friend of his that he should be actively managing his online persona through Google search results, Jim Googled himself to see what came up when he searched for his full name.

The search results floored him. Jim was met with a cascade of search results about a man with his same name. There were pages with warnings posted by people claiming that a gentleman with Jim’s same name was a con man, that he had tricked them out of money, that he was a pathological liar, and not to trust him. The warnings described a man with a similar build, height, weight and general hair and eye color.

Jim freaked out (I think, understandably), because he was very well aware that any prospective employer would be Googling him to do a cursory background check, and if they were met with this barrage of information he might be weeded out of even a beginner pool of job applicants. He was being framed by someone he had never met, and who, due only to sharing the same name and a similar physical build, was stealing his online identity. How can you combat that in this day and age?

To this day, Jim (luckily employed by now) has to include disclaimers in applications and emails and hope that employers and business partners will take his word that he is not “that Jim” when  embarking on new ventures. If Jim weren’t already married, presumably this would also severely impact his dating and love life.

The story I wanted (and still want) This American Life to cover is this: what happens in the modern world when all of the other folks who use your name misrepresent and sometimes even defame your character online? In a modern era where so much of our persona is developed and managed online, how do we separate what is fake from what is real, and what happens when even our fabricated online personas take on a life of their own?

What do I mean by fabricated online personas? Well, is the life you represent on Facebook an accurate snapshot of what is really going on with you? One of my favorite questions to ask is why no one ever posts photos of themselves crying alone on a Friday night- because that does happen to people. It’s widely known that our online selves, or personas, generally skew toward happiness, success, beauty, and popularity rather than honestly depicting struggles, bad hair days, and loneliness.

And having control over how we are presented online is very important to most internet users- so much so that companies like www.reputation.com now exist to help you “control how you look on the internet.”  Their claim, “People searching for you are judging you, too – defend yourself against digital discrimination with Reputation.com” may seem contrived and fear-mongery, but it still taps into some very real concerns for people.

After all, our identities are very important to us, and the gadgets and devices we are using provide a mirror of our own selves which we project onto these technologies. In fact, Michel Foucault (remember our dear friend?) called these tools “Technologies of the Self,” before the internet was a thing. According to my fascinating pal Wikipedia,  Technologies of the Self are “the methods and techniques (“tools”) through which human beings constitute themselves. Foucault argued that we as subjects are perpetually engaged in processes whereby we define and produce our own ethical self-understanding. According to Foucault, technologies of the self are the forms of knowledge and strategies that “permit individuals to effect by their own means or with the help of others a certain number of operations on their own bodies and souls, thoughts, conduct, and way of being, so as to transform themselves in order to attain a certain state of happiness, purity, wisdom, perfection, or immortality.”[2]

In other words, these days, technology and social media help us to develop our online personas, which end up very deeply affecting our real identities. See what I did there?

For example, if you’re one of the millions of Indian surname Patels in the world, trying to get a unique but still relevant Gmail email address must be murder at this point. You would hardly feel like the email address represented you if you were Patel627281939464528193947273484@gmail.com

And what about the mayhem and madness that surrounded Facebook’s push to get its users to sign up for a unique direct URL to their profiles? Sure, maybe Tatianuh Xzanadu had no problems getting her direct URL with no competition, but for the rest of us, it was like an Oklahoma land run, or a crushing Black Friday sale, waiting for the clock to hit the magic time when we could hurriedly type in our first and last name and finally claim a personalized Facebook URL, a chance at allowing people to access the real me (as far as anyone’s Facebook profile actually does that).

This would all be complicated enough, except that these days not only are people with the same names being misjudged online for the behavior of others with the same name, but poor celebrities and famous authors are having their personas and online identities and even their styles co-opted. Again, for example, the gentleman who formerly tweeted as Christopher Walken under the handle “CWalken,” who delighted thousands on Twitter by impersonating the idiosyncratic and gloomy actor in his tweets about everyday observations and occurrences.

The Wrap interviewed “CWalken” and described the Twitter feed thusly,

“What’s great about the “CWalken” feed is that it sounds like Christopher Walken, yet it’s got the consistent tone and point of view that only a committed writer can achieve. “CWalken” reads as if the actor himself were emerging from a surreal haze a few times a day to note the stupidity, oddness, and weird beauty of the everyday world:”

And the mystery Tweeter, when interviewed, similarly made some really interesting points:

“The politics, tastes and observations are my own. That is — I am not trying to speak for Christopher Walken. I am simply borrowing his voice and reworking my words in his cadence. Some people crochet, I do this.”

It’s problematic because some celebrities feel that their identity and their reputation is at stake, that something they have lived a lifetime to build has been stolen from them. But in some cases, this really is high art. As The Wrap author points out, the CWalken tweets were focused and really well-written, probably much more so than Mr. Walken himself could have achieved.  Alas, the “CWalken” account was eventually shut down because Twitter maintains a policy of cracking down on impersonator accounts.

However, other online persona impersonators have had similar success, such as the perennial favorite: The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs, or one of my recent obsessions, “RuthBourdain” where Alice Waters was anonymously tweeting as a combined persona of Ruth Reichl mashed with Anthony Bourdain. That little venture  even earned Waters a humor award.

I mean, that gets really complicated. At that point we have a celebrity chef who is world renowned and celebrated in her own right, assuming the persona of not just one, but two other luminaries in the food world as an outlet for her nasty and rye, humorous side.

One last example I just came across today introduces yet another new genre, blog as Yelp Review as famous author: check out Yelping with Cormac. This Tumblr blog assumes the writing style and occasional subject favorites of Pulitzer prize winning author and presumed hermit Cormac McCarthy in order to write Yelp-style reviews of well known commercial establishments in the Bay Area. A fascinating concept, but here we have clearly gone completely down the persona-stealing online rabbit hole.

Where will the rabbit hole take us next?


A recent article posted on Mashable about a “Google Gap” caught my eye. The article basically poses the question “should we be teaching students how to search for information?” I often think about this without putting any of my thoughts to words. In essence, my inner dialogue usually goes something like this: “There is so much information out there, and no one seems to know how to access it.” “That’s not true, people are creating and accessing information every day.” “Yes, but how targeted are their searches? Does anyone really know how to use all of the search functionalities that Google offers?” “Yes, and I’d be willing to believe that many people use it a lot better than you.” “Well of course, but that’s not to say that it’s all intuitive. We seem to take it for granted that young people can be handed a new technology or tool and be able to use it fully to its deepest capabilities without any instructions or training, but that’s just not always the case.”

Without being a current student, I can’t say I have any idea of whether classes are being mandated or even offered at the lower educational levels on how to search for, and sort through information. If not, it’s a shame and a huge waste of really genius functionalities that apparently no one is using.

Let’s use an example. Say I am searching for the back story on my favorite work of sculpture, Bernini’s “Ecstasy of Saint Teresa.” In the main search box of Google’s engine, I type “Ecstasy of Saint Teresa.” Here’s what I get:

Inevitably, ye old Wikipedia entry for this art work will be in position #1. Image search results show up directly under that, then we have an entry from Smart History, then strangely a result from St. Mary’s College of California, then what seems to be a blog entry from a blog called Boglewood that addresses Italian art and history. The list goes on.

I would not be surprised if most students these days use the Wikipedia article as a fact source in their research, and try and find a decently high resolution image for any artwork requirements in their essays and then call it a day. How many students are instructed to do multiple searches?

For instance, if I then search, “Bernini Sculpture,” which will return the following:

 

My point here is that Google can almost be considered a living and breathing animal, very eager to perform for you. The more a person searches in sequence, the closer and more likely that person is to access very specific and more robust information sources. But how many students are taught that about Google? How many currently only use it for discrete one-off searches, ignoring completely the fact that Google can learn more about you and about what you’re looking for more each time you use it, enabling it to perform even better for you?

Even more disturbing perhaps is that most students have no idea that Google scholar exists! So many people my age grew up struggling with the constantly-evolving but always onerous scholarly search engines like LexisNexis and had a very hard time finding the content they were looking for, even when they encountered the right articles. Right now, if we search we get a wealth of different results:

I am old enough (and lucky enough??) to have taken a library skills course in elementary school that taught me about the value of using old-school search terminology and functionality (i.e. Boolean operators) way before Google was even a twinkle in Larry and Sergey’s eyes. But now that engines like Google do exist, and now that advanced methods of researching (such as textual and sentiment analysis on Twitter hashtag topics) become ever  more viable in the realm of social research, have schools taken up the challenge of designing curriculum to assist modern-day students with these new information engines?

The Mashable article claims that such classes and training do not yet exist, “Students in a two-year ethnographic study referred to Google more than any database when discussing their research habits. But ironically, say the study’s authors, they weren’t very good at using it.” I feel that this is a natural offshoot of an “information science” or “library science” degree, which seem to be where all librarians are headed these days. Elementary school students should be required to take a class/classes in effective search and research strategies that will help them to conduct online research for the duration of their education.

Especially since the Mashable article claims, “[The students] were basically clueless about the logic underlying how the search engine organizes and displays its results…Consequently, the students did not know how to build a search that would return good sources. (For instance, limiting a search to news articles, or querying specific databases such as Google Book Search or Google Scholar.)”

It doesn’t seem ludicrous to imagine that though an incredibly resource like Google exists, students will have a hard time wielding the heavily powerful tool because they don’t understand the logic behind it, especially if no attention has been paid to teaching people how to use the incredibly powerful tool.

The series of studies that inspired the article on Mashable are known as the “Ethnographic Research in Illinois Academic Libraries Project (ERIAL)” and are a collaborative effort by five Illinois universities in order to better understand students’ research habits. The findings  from these studies are set to be published by the American Library Association this fall.

To summarize the problem, this quote basically scared the crap out of me while simultaneously saddening me: “I don’t really know what there is to use,” said one first year accounting major who participated in the study. “I know there are books but I don’t really know how to find them. Really the only thing I know how to do is go to Google and type in what I’m looking for.”

What do you think about mandating search/research classes at the elementary school level for American children?


OK, so here’s the thing. I love Groupon, I really do.

From the beginning I loved the idea. I suffered painfully in the knowledge that I hadn’t come up with the idea, but I was kind of OK with it because I loved Groupon’s angry little vampire cat mascot,

its witty and irreverent writing style, etc. Plus, the deals were stellar! Groupon really came through for me on massages, on Christmas presents last year, on ideas for fun out-of-the-ordinary stuff to do.

But now, now Groupon has an obscene number of doppelgangers, and I’ve been cheating on Groupon a little bit with a number of different Groupon wannabes: • Facebook Deals • Yelp Deals • LivingSocial • SfGate deals…And dude, it has to stop! Not because I feel guilt or remorse. But just because I now receive about 300 emails every morning from all of these coupon sites. It’s not sustainable, people.

And the little excitement I used to have about checking out the deal of the day has gone- it has gone.

All that said, I’m stoked for the folks at Groupon about their IPO announcement. And I appreciate the manner in which CEO Andrew Mason made the announcement. Cute. However, given my own waning interest in group coupon sites, I really wonder if Groupon shouldn’t have jumped on that $6 Billion offer from Google.

Of course, I’m not exactly a visionary, so don’t take me too seriously. Clearly, there’s much more mobile and geo-location integration to come with group coupon sites, but doesn’t it all just end up amounting to “every store and restaurant and outdoor company is having an ongoing special!”? If anyone can offer a different vision for how group coupon-ing will evolve to become even more awesome in the future, rather than less awesome- I’d really love to hear it.

UPDATE: I’m not the only one with this question.

UPDATE ON UPDATE: The slide has begun.


Just because twitter is an American company, does it not have to play by other countries’ laws when it becomes embroiled in legal cases involving free speech?

That’s exactly the sort of mess that Twitter finds itself in today in the U.K. where a “British soccer player has been granted a so-called super-injunction, a stringent and controversial British legal measure that prevents media outlets from identifying him, reporting on the story or even from revealing the existence of the court order itself” in order to avoid being identified by name in scandalous tweets.  Unfortunately for the player, the super injunction has been ineffective and “tens of thousands of Internet users have flouted the injunction by revealing his name on Twitter, Facebook and online soccer forums, sites that blur the definition of the press and are virtually impossible to police.”

But I would argue that what is being blurred here is not necessarily the definition of the press, but rather the physical borders of a country where it meets the nebulous nature of the net.

How do we reconcile the physical, geographical and legal boundaries in which we live with the boundless expanses of the internet? I’m sure many people would agree that the democratic (in that it’s arguably free, fair and participatory) nature of Twitter’s platform and mission is inherently American. That Twitter’s ‘Americanness’ is built into its very code. So how do you transplant an American messaging platform such as Twitter’s in other countries and then expect it to be above or fly below the laws of another country?

“Last week…the athlete obtained a court order in British High Court demanding that Twitter reveal the identities of the anonymous users who had posted the messages.” But back in January of this year, as the New York Times reports, “Biz Stone, a Twitter founder, and Alex Macgillivray, its general counsel, wrote, ‘Our position on freedom of expression carries with it a mandate to protect our users’ right to speak freely and preserve their ability to contest having their private information revealed.’”

So what law should be followed in this case? According to the NYTimes, “Because Twitter is based in the United States, it could argue that it abides by the law and that any plaintiff would need to try the case in the United States, legal analysts said. But Twitter is opening a London office, and the rules are more complicated if companies have employees or offices in foreign countries.”

Yet our technologies and our corporations are very much U.S. representatives overseas. Google’s, Microsoft’s, Twitter’s, etc. offices in other parts of the world are nearly tantamount to U.S. embassies abroad.  These companies in large part bear the brunt of representing American ideals and encapsulate American soft power. Even the average Chinese person who may never encounter a flesh-and-blood American will most likely interact with multiple different examples of American cultural goods in his or her lifetime, largely due to the global proliferation of our technologies and media. Which is why, in large part, Twitter and Google have been banned in China. Too democratic for the Chinese government’s liking.

In his chapter (Chapter 1.4) of the Global Information Technology Report (GITR), Cesar Alierta with Telefonica argues that we are in the middle of “the fifth revolution.” The first revolution was the Industrial Revolution, then came Steam Power, then Electricity, then Oil, and now we are in the Information and Communication technology revolution- the fifth. He writes, “Each of these eras has entailed a paradigm shift, more or less abrupt or disruptive, which has led to profound changes in the organization of the economy, starting with individual businesses, and eventually, transforming society as a whole.”

What if we assume that- even if it’s not the original intent- the tacit intent of a technology is to become embedded in someone’s life until it’s nearly impossible to remember living before it. If America’s technologies are little carriers of soft power democratic beliefs and practices, aren’t those beliefs also becoming embedded as well? If so, really, where do we draw the line about the use of a technology in a country other than the one where it was invented?

And though indeed this is an example of a conflict occurring between two very first world countries (the U.S. and the U.K.) This may be one of the greatest barriers to ICT adoption in emerging and developing economies.

In their chapter (Chapter 1.2) of the 2011 Global Information Technology report, Enrique Rueda-Sabater and John Garrity from Cisco Systems, Inc. argue that the “treatment of broadband networks…as basic infrastructure; the recognition that competition is one of the best drivers of technology adoption, and imaginative policies that facilitate access to spectrum and to existing infrastructure that can be shared by networks” are necessary preconditions to accelerated Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). However, the beliefs that underlie those preconditions, 1) that all citizens of a country deserve unlimited access to the internet as a basic human right, and 2) that competition (which can be read as capitalism here) is one of the best drivers of technology adoption, do not seem to necessarily be universal values.

Certainly the belief that unlimited access to the internet is a basic human right is a fast-growing belief among developed economies of the world. As Karim Sabbagh, Roman Friedrich, Bahjat El-Darwiche, and Milind Singh of Booz & Company write in their Chapter (Chapter 1.3) on “Building Communities Around Digital Highways,” “In July 2010…the Finnish government formally declared broadband to be a legal right and vowed to deliver high-speed access (100 megabytes per second) to every household in Finland by 2015. The French assembly declared broadband to be a basic human right in 2009, and Spain is proposing to give the same designation to broadband access starting in 2011.”

But Finland and Spain are both democracies, and France, is a republic with strong democratic traditions. Democracies tend to believe in transparency, accountability and the free dissemination of information, so naturally the adoption of technologies which put the ability to freely disseminate and consume information squarely in the hands of its people jibe with those beliefs. But that is not so in non-democratic societies. I would thus argue that some form of democracy, well-established, should also be considered as a pre-condition for the accelerated adoption of ICT.  And if a country has already heavily adopted and invested in ICT, just as Britain has, that then, as we have seen here, the accelerated deployment of ICT will also bring about accelerated petitioning for expanded democratic rights among its people.


Ooohhh ho ho! This one is good. Really, really good, people.

We interrupt our analysis of the 2011 Global information technology Report to give you news about some gossipy, tech rivalry backstabbing.

What do you get when you take one of the biggest powerhouse PR firms in the world and plug it in between two of the most influential global technology companies? Modern info wars, people. Modern information warfare!

As Dan Lyons wrote in his Daily Beast report on this, for the last week or so word got out that Burson-Marsteller had been retained to pitch an anti-Google PR campaign that urged credible news outlets to investigate claims that Google was invading people’s privacy.

Word got out because Burson “offered to help an influential blogger write a Google-bashing op-ed, which it promised it could place in outlets like The Washington Post, Politico, and The Huffington Post.” The offer, it appears, was turned down by blogger Chris Soghoian who then publicized the emails BM sent him after they refused to reveal their patron.

Next, “USA Today broke a story accusing Burson of spreading a ‘whisper campaign’ about Google ‘on behalf of an unnamed client'” and after that, Facebook, it was revealed, was the crooked, Whispering Wizard behind the curtain.

This is the kind of stuff that makes comms geeks like me drool! PR, search and social networking combined in one story?

So let’s break down the elements that make this so juicy. First, for Facebook to be accusing anyone else of being flippant or irresponsible about user privacy is ridiculous. Plain ridiculous. When your founder and CEO is Mr. “Privacy is Dead,” you cannot take that position. Period.

Second, it’s so interesting to see Facebook getting upset about Google doing what it was invented to do, i.e. cull information from every relevant source on the net and organize it in a meaningful way to those searching for it. For Facebook to think that it would be immune to the reach of the Google information engine’s grasp is delusional. In essence, the crux of Facebook’s whole problem with this situation lies herein: “just as Google built Google News by taking content created by hundreds of newspapers and repackaging it, so now Google aims to build a social-networking business by using that rich user data that Facebook has gathered.”

Third, I love how Lyons cuts through all of that and gets down to the brass tacks: “The clash between Google and Facebook represents one of the biggest battles of the Internet Age. Basically, the companies are vying to see who will grab the lion’s share of online advertising.” Yup.

He continues, “Facebook has 600 million members and gathers information on who those people are, who their friends are, and what they like. That data let Facebook sell targeted advertising. It also makes Facebook a huge rival to Google.” There I actually don’t agree with him, because of what I see as their divergent relative scopes.

Although Facebook has done a remarkable job of positioning itself as a competitor to Google in the eyes of the internet public, it’s just not remotely possible. It is a David and Goliath story, where Goliath wins hands down, and then, laughing about squishing little David, goes outside to have a margarita in the sun.

Facebook’s scope started out much too small to then later tack and take on the search giant. Facebook wanted to provide an exclusive network online where people could share information about themselves with other people. Google began as a creature that wanted to dominate the world and all of its information, and has proven how badly by successfully venturing into myriad other arenas. Google aims to “organize the world’s information,” whereas Facebook’s stated goal is to…wait, what is Facebook’s stated goal? A cursory search came up with this article from the Observer about Facebook’s mission statement, which apparently started as “Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life,” and has now, rather tellingly, become “Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.” Interesting.

But back to the matter at hand- there’s no doubt that Google has performed so well in other arenas that they are well positioned now to really take on the social angle. And as Lyons points out, they have already begun, “Last month, Google CEO and co-founder Larry Page sent out a memo telling everyone at Google that social networking was a top priority for Google—so much so that 25 percent of every Googler’s bonus this year will be based on how well Google does in social.” That may be the first sound of the bugle in Google’s hunt for Facebook’s market share that should play out over the course of the next few years. But if this was Facebook’s “shot across the bow” in that race, then it has made them look, well, ridiculous.

Fourth, I find it interesting how Facebook took down some of Burson-Marsteller’s credibility with it. In politics, usually when a smear campaign is run, the focus of criticism for having done so falls largely upon the candidate himself or herself- and discussions generally center on their morals or ethics for having chosen to go that route. Occasionally the blame falls on the chief campaign manager for having persuaded them to do so, but generally not. In this case BM seems to have taken a lot of the heat for attempting to carry out orders under a condition of anonymity.

This political angle begs a few questions. Namely, in an era when civic engagement is diminishing by the minute for a largely apathetic American audience, are huge corporations fighting the new political battles for our attention? It’s safe to say that large technology corporations such as Microsoft, Apple, Google and Facebook are much more relevant and identifiable to your average American than would be the 2008 class of Presidential candidates. With this new era of political and business landscapes converging, will the political and business practices of smear tactics converge as well?


October 15, 2010- http://www.gather.com/viewArticle.action?articleId=281474978605059

Oh goody, as the New York Times reported on October 10th, Twitter has finally come up with a plan to make money. Only, it’s the old new plan, which is to say it’s the same plan as everyone else.

As Twitter’s Evan Williams stepped down, to make room for Dick Costolo who previously headed Twitter’s advertising program as the new CEO, the tech industry remarked on how the shuffle represented Twitter’s increased new commitment to monetization.

As the New York Times reported, “Twitter’s startling growth — it has exploded to 160 million users, from three million, in the last two years — is reminiscent of Google and Facebook in their early days. Those Web sites are now must-buys for advertisers online, and the ad industry is watching Twitter closely to see if it continues to follow that path.”

But there still seems to be no real innovation in the advertising models of hi-tech companies from whom the world expects a great deal of innovation. Why are hi-tech social media and social news aggregation companies having such a hard time innovating with their monetization strategies?

At this point, each new social media platform that comes along seems to jump into the online advertising market that Google forged largely on its own. Now that Google did the heavy lifting on education and we all speak and understand the language of “click-thru rates,” “impressions,” and “search engine optimization,” newcomers like Twitter don’t have to pay or do very much in order to enter this monetization space. Coincidentally, it would seem that they aren’t doing very much at all to evolve it.

As a result, the whole online ad framework is falling flat, and after a few years of evangelizing for social media advertising and the use of new media platforms like Twitter and Hulu, are advertisers really making more money and seeing the benefits of these new media? It’s becoming an embarrassingly redundant question- “yes, we know we are creating funny and entertaining media for our consumers to enjoy, but is it actually increasing sales?”

Interestingly, at this year’s gathering of the Association of National Advertisers, as the New York Times reported, a survey at the beginning of the opening session found that “marketers may still need some schooling on the dos and don’ts of social media. Asked to describe how its use has affected sales, 13 percent replied that they did not use social media at all. (Eleven percent said sales had increased a lot, 34 percent said sales increased ‘some’ and 42 percent said they had seen no change.)”

It would seem that media analysts are continuing to approach social media and search as a given element of any marketing strategy without any hard evidence as to why every company needs to integrate social media into their market strategies. Instead, without the numbers to make the case, analysts and marketeers still discuss the virtues of earned media versus paid media, the value of eyeballs and impressions, and earned equity.

One of this year’s smashing social media success stories has a particular ability to make marketers foam at the mouth. 2010’s Proctor & Gamble “smell like a man” campaign for Old Spice helped increase the brand’s followers on Twitter by 2,700%, to where they “now total almost 120,000.”

Marc Pritchard, global marketing and chief branding officer at Proctor and Gamble had his moment in the sun for what was, undoubtedly, the most high-profile and successful example of how modern brands can use social media to promote their brands. But in the coverage of Pritchard’s talks, there is little to no mention of how the campaign is actually impacting the company’s bottom line. Instead, there is this: “The currency the campaign has earned in social media has pushed it into the popular culture. Mr. Pritchard showed the audience a spoof that was recently introduced by Sesame Workshop in which Grover suggests that his young viewers ‘smell like a monster on Sesame Street.’

But an internet meme does not a year over year increase in sales make. There is no mention of how an increase in followers on Twitter converts itself into a percentage increase in sales. It’s like an equation is missing, or somehow we have all misunderstood how to connect the dots. At the conference Joseph V. Tripodi, chief marketing and commercial officer for Coca Cola was interviewed, and his only contribution to this dilemma was to discuss how social media can sometimes save a company money on promotions through viral videos, “It cost less than $100,000 to produce the video, he added, demonstrating that “you don’t need huge amounts of money to engage with consumers.” However, savings on a marketing budget also do not a sales increase make.

Refreshingly, one of the conference’s keynote speakers, Mark Baynes, vice president and global chief marketing officer at the Kellogg Company, did acknowledge the missing link in the social media to profits equation by proclaiming, “In God we trust; the rest of you bring data.”