Has Corporate Greed Taken the Personal Perspective Out of Blogging?

greedyHas blogging lost its personal touch? Blogging started out as an online diary, publicly sharing one’s life experiences. then blogging became a business, large enough to threaten print media as we know it.
What happened to all the personal blogs? Does anyone read those anymore?

Just as people once kept diaries through the days of discovery and exploration, the process of documenting one’s thoughts and experiences hasn’t really disappeared–it’s merely shifted. These necessities of human culture bend and evolve along with other trends and fads that define eras.

So what of those personal blogs? They haven’t disappeared, and we didn’t stop reading them. They’ve simply morphed into readily accessible, byte-sized status updates. In a word, microblogging.

It takes such a small amount of time to tweet a passing thought, making it immediately viewable and searchable to the world. to make the process of sharing one’s experiences even easier, we’ve begun to automate the aspects of that process that don’t even require thought. Your GPS location can be auto-posted on Twitter. A photo taken with a camera, mobile phone or webcam can be auto-loaded into Flickr. Your life, in digital form, can be synced across multiple devices and organized accordingly. This all makes for easy access of your life’s content later on down the line.

Yes, tweets seem simple and fleeting. Yet the presence of Twitter and the applications its platform supports are changing the way in which the globe communicates. It’s not that blogs are becoming less personal–it’s just that we’re quickly progressing the way in which we utilize and value the information we’re already sharing with each other.

Aside from the natural necessity to improve upon an established system, we also witness the corporatization of that system. As I’ve already noted, the once diary-like versions of weblogging have irreversibly been shaped int a string of commodities that are monetizable and support their own economic subsets. The same process will happen to microblogging, and it is already under way.

In order for a system to become a viable option made available to the masses, it must first be financially supported and sustained. Call it corporate greed, but certain aspects of a phenomenon such as Twitter would not be possible without the economic structure it both creates and advances from. The result is a mad dash from investors, analysts and users to figure out why something has become so popular, and how money can be made from that popularity.

The economy driven by a service like Twitter can be shaped into a force with some help from corporate omnipresence. Yes, such a corporate takeover could provide the incentives for global innovation within the microblogging industry. Just look at the battle going on between Facbook and Twitter, constantly reminding us that the implementation of an idea matters for more than coming up with an idea. In this way, the true value of a product of service becomes rather subjective, and the general public can oftentimes be more easily swayed.

Even as we shift from one form of journal entry to another, we find that the ability to share out thoughts is never lost. The corporatization of that thought-sharing has helped to change the way in which we blog over the past several years. We need to determine how much of the microblogging trend will be given to the monetization process, and how much of it will simply be used to share experiences with one another.

White Flight. The Economy of Facebook and MySpace.

Facebook and MySpace have been at war for years now, with the two major social networks vying for world domination, claiming country by country, demographic by demographic. A recent speech titled “The Not-So-Hidden Politics of Class Online” by Danah Boyd of the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society begs the question, why does there seem to be a race and class divide when it comes to Facebook and MySpace?

Is Facebook really more elite, with MySpace having become the “ghetto” of online social networking? It’s an interesting question that forces us to look at social networks in a new light. Chris Matyszczyk of CNET likens the shift from MySpace to Facebook to the white flight we see all too often when a once-established neighborhood becomes a little too diverse for its white residents.

An interesting perspective, and one that’s readily able to relate to in American culture. It’s a major part of our history and has been so even before the days of the modern suburbs. But it also speaks to a long history of institutionalized classism as well as racism, which often go hand in hand. Is that really the level of analysis we’re ready to apply to online social networking? If that’s the case, then there are some serious questions we need to be directing to the founders, executives and investors of both MySpace and Facebook.

But first let’s look at the Utopian side of things. Both Facebook and MySpace are online social networks, meaning that they’re virtual pieces of property and can be accessed by anyone that has an Internet connection. Utopia, right? Not really. There was already the long-standing matter of Internet access as it applies to the race/class divide. If you’re a racial minority and economically deterred, then Internet access is a novelty. You are relegated to public access Internet points and your mobile device, which may or may not be a smart phone capable of high functions for social networking.

While the technology divide is narrowing, it becomes less and less of an issue for the purposes of this particular case, but it cannot be entirely ignored, especially as it was still a factor when both MySpace and Facebook were launched and began to gain major traction.

But another factor I find noteworthy is the approach employed by each social network in question; MySpace began as an online tool for getting musicians set up with their own website, while Facebook began as an exclusive network for Harvard students. MySpace came about when the only other major option for widespread social networking was Friendster, which also targeted the college-age demographic. The tactic used for MySpace included posting photos of scantily clad users and enticing new sign ups. Facebook required a confirmed .edu email address just to let you in the front door.

The two strategies towards growth, new user acquisition and existing user retention are vastly different and inherently attract different crowds. So is this race/class divide self-selecting or in fact more institutional? If the trend is self-selecting then we can attribute much of the world’s view on these social networks to be indicative of current mentality for those that use the networks. We can also expect to see some changes with both MySpace and Facebook. Perhaps Facebook will too become a dated neighborhood, run down by the “wrong crowd” and witness another white flight to the next hot spot. And that hot spot would likely be a revived and gentrified MySpace, full of nostalgia and gritty determination to be hip.

We’d also be able to apply these theories to other social networks, and I don’t think online social networking has been around long enough to draw any solid conclusions in that regard. This is mainly because very different strategies are applied to each social network that is launched, and many of the social networks we’ve seen in the past decade have been rather niche. From LinkedIn to BlackPlanet, you can expect a different crowd no matter where you go. There will almost always be a different crowd with a different objective. Fortunately these are all factors that Boyd studies in her ongoing work and research in social media.

What’s disappointing is the fact that these strategies can ultimately lead to an overwhelming sense of distinction based on race and class, especially when you think of the business concerns revolving around the spending power of the actual demographics on MySpace and Facebook versus the widespread perception that could either deter or encourage the stimulation of an economy around each network. From developer apps to advertising campaigns, the affect that race and class distinctions have on any business is real.

What Comes After Facebook?

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I came across a Facebook look-alike the other day and it reminded me of that era of constant clone creation, where every other site that was submitted for review seemed to be a carbon copy of MySpace, Facebook or Twitter. We don’t see such clones very often anymore, namely because there’s little purpose in creating a standalone destination site. It’s cheaper, faster and more efficient to build an application that runs on the platform of a larger, already established social network, such as Facebook.

In fact, Facebook has really set the standards for the integrated social network platform, as it enables developers to leverage users’ social graphs for gaining new users, creating interactive applications, and building brand recognition. You know, the true nature of viral online activity within the realm of absolute social networking.

So will we ever see a return to standalone social networking destination sites? The application route via integrated platforms has already proven itself as a business model. We all held our breath to see how developers, users and investors would respond to Facebook’s platform, and once applications started to receive funding and become acquisition targets, we had our proof of concept. From then on, we’ve seen the steady growth of other platforms created for advertising and monetizing applications within these integrated platforms, some of which are cross-network or network-agnostic. The current outcropping of virtual goods monetization only spurs the revenue-generating potential of integrated social network platforms, with Facebook still at the center of it all.
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Online Social Media, Returning Us to American Colonialism.

If you look at the progression of social norms in the past two centuries, you’ll see a significant lax in the way in which we consider accepted public and private behavior. Chalk it up to the melting pot, which introduced new religious and familial perspectives into American society, or the simple evolution of human nature.

I’m more inclined to consider a handful of the overarching effects of industrialism, which enabled the economic and structural support of large populations within a metropolitan area, and the ability for an entire society to move beyond the basic necessities of a family-based “political” structure that was dominant in colonial America.

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Smaller towns often limited their residents to one religion, and were far more involved in each other’s lives, for economic purposes. There wasn’t nearly as much privacy as we have today, and the scientific advances (and their subsequent adoption) catalyzed by industrialism freed up our time and presented more forms of entertainment that weren’t available to those living in colonial days.

So what’s that mean? Pretty much everyone knew everyone else’s business. It was a very involved system of checks and balances that ruled society during American colonialism, and the effect of social castration was a notion powerful enough to keep a lot of people in line. To a large extent, this still takes place today. Think back to high school where everything mattered, from your outfit to the person you dated. Even your office environment can lead to unspoken social influence, depending on your interests (which lead to topics of discussion–or lack thereof), and a number of other behavioral expressions which could inevitably lump you into one niche or another.

The word niche is inextricably linked to the current online culture and social media, because of the way in which web-based networks enable individuals to meet other like-minded individuals, and form groups from there. But as social networks become more mainstream and interwoven into each other, the likeliness of other people knowing your business increases significantly.

There are privacy settings on networks like Facebook, but even with these set in place, there are certain actions one may take without realizing the full implications. Even the mere act of reversing or modifying a particular status on a social networking profile can have the same social effect as not having had the privacy settings installed in the first place.

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image credit: HPStudents

If you’re a college student that has enjoyed a public stream of activity flowing through Facebook, but quickly takes advantage of Facebook’s privacy settings upon graduation, your friends will notice the limited amount of information flowing from your profile, and perhaps even their restricted access to your information all together. If you’ve mistakenly said something on Twitter and would like to delete this tweet, the statement is gone from your Twitter stream but may still be present across the various accounts (i.e. FriendFeed) that redistribute your content.

As syndication and redistribution of content becomes more commonplace amongst social networking sites, the ability to remain aware of the ripples of each of your actions is weakened, and it becomes a lot more difficult to maintain whatever online persona you may like to portray, even if only for a 10 minute time span. If there’s someone on AIM you don’t want to talk to, you can go invisible on AIM and GChat, but did you forget to change your auto-start Skype settings and mark yourself as invisible there as well? If you’ve told everyone, including your coworkers, that your sick and won’t be available online for the day, will your co-workers wonder what’s going on when they see the last 10 songs you favorited on last.fm?

It may not seem like it, but these things have a growing effect on people’s behavior, whether they encourage people to use privacy settings, or deter people from taking certain action all together. The act of admitting that your whirlwind romance didn’t work out by changing your relationship status on Facebook has actually led some users to disable their Facebook accounts all together.

It’s an interesting effect that social media has, that very much mimics the close-quarter environment that influenced behavior in the days of American colonialism. What will be quite interesting to watch is the way in which social software is deeloped in response to larger social implications such networks have.

Gal’s Guide, Calling for New Writers!

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Fellow Chicagoan Blagica Stefanovski is looking for some gal pal writers to contribute to her Gal’s Guide, an online resource for women in their 20s living in the Windy City. You don’t have to be in your 20s to contribute, but if you have something constructive, insightful and helpful to say, make sure you get in contact with Blagica.

blagica.pngShe’s gotten several requests for more regular content, as well as requests to become contributing writers on her site. Now’s your chance to send in a writing submission, or nominate someone that you think would be a good fit for the Gal’s Guide. As a forewarning: clean up your Facebook profile first! That means no outlandish party pics for the world to see. Make ‘em private already!

As you can see, one of Blagica’s most recent posts on Gal’s Guide has an interesting tie-in to the last post I did right here on KristenNicole.com. Click here to get in touch with Blagica.

An Ex-Teen Reconsiders The Privacy Status Option

I’ve personally noticed in the past week that kids have more options these days for social networking, and every once in a while it gets scary. I know that this isn’t entirely new, but through a few personal experiences, it’s been drawn to my attention in more prominent manner as of late. My little brother is a pro at taking pictures of himself using his camera phone, and a few other pre-teens I know have taken to online dating. Dating?

Now, when I was a teenager, social networking made up a good portion of my time, especially as it had begun to really pick up steam just as I was getting ready to trek off to college. Back then we didn’t really have private profile status options, or niche networks to choose what type of information went where. And as a teenager, I was fully aware that “putting myself out there” was somewhat risky business, but I still wasn’t fully cognizant of what all that meant.

When it came down to it, I was probably sharing more information than I needed to. Teens are far more aware these days, but parents still have a growing concern over the amount of information that their kids are placing on the web, even if it’s in the for of an image, and not always a direct phrase or set of data that would be immediately recognized as personally identifiable data.

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So are me and my friends just getting older and wiser, and have kids these days learned from our mistakes? Then again, it could just be the “phase” excuse, where teens do things that the rest of us don’t understand, and we call it a phase, hoping they’ll grow out of it. Just like we used to shop at Spencers and PacSun, we would now rather head over to Macy’s and Brooks Brothers. But will things like additional status options for social networks solve the problem?

There are a few additional issues to look at as well, one of which is the fact that giving teens the options doesn’t mean they’ll take them. In response to such attitudes, which could lead to a bit of “mommy and daddy know best” reactions, there has been a good amount of regulation in conjunction with th social networking providers themselves to protect the youngsters.

How far will that go, especially as social networking now extends across devices, in multiple manifestations, such as mobile hand-helds and video games? While I regret to see such a strong push for increased regulation (like permission slips), I am interested to see how the powers that be will further respond to the rapid ways in which social networking options make their way into every corner of our lives.

Weighted Crowdsourcing. What the?

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A network I covered last week, called Big Think, turned out to be a video network of sorts, for smart people. Going through the site, I realized that it was full of content and commentary from pundits, experts, and analysts from various walks of life. The point of bringing in all these experts was to get the ball rolling on topics that are of importance to a large number of people. I mentioned Big Think’s use of experts boiled down to a weighted crowsourcing model for user-generated content, and a few people emailed me to ask for elaboration, so here it is.

Now, I see a lot of web sites on a daily basis, and one thing that often stands out to me is the subtle (or not so subtle) ways in which startups get users to begin interacting with their sites. Some do contests, others hope to connect existing groups based on their offline, physical manifestations. But what Big Think did was bring in a bunch of content from industry experts, then asked its users to respond.

bigthink-logo-spaced.pngIf you read my Mashable post on Big Think then you know how the network reminded me of those newsies that scream at the television while watching these pundits, as if they can hear them through the tube. In fact, I was reminded of my Aunt Norma. She watched the news (and the lottery) religiously, every evening. She was the one mumbling under her breath in response to an asinine comment from some pundit, while furiously working on her needlepoint.

Given the serious tone of Big Think, I found it suffice to say that this mature, NPR-prone crowd is comprised of the individuals that will totally go for Big Think’s set up. I can see my mother watching a clip from a UCLA professor speaking about global warming, and feeling compelled to leave her own opinion on the matter, in the comments thread.

crowd1.pngAs we’ve seen with Newsvine and Gather, the members of this more mature crowd will then have no problem presenting their own questions to the community. What I found with Big Think’s layout, however, is that the most readily accessed content was that of all the experts feature throughout the site. This brings us back to the topic of weighted crowdsourcing. With all the rich content being shared on Big Think by way of user contributions, it’s still the content from the experts that I’ll find at the top of most pages.

When gathering data from a large user base, I think it’s always important to include some editorial content for resourceful, validated reasons. And this is something particularly accomplished by product review sites. But when combined in a community-driven, self-regulated network such as Big Think, the wisdom of the crowds is in fact weighted due to the prominence of the editorial content.

Is this good or bad for a structured institution?

peoplejam-logo-spaced.pngIt seems to work quite well for an editorial position when the process of a collaborative publication, such as Assignment Zero’s project with Wired last year. PeopleJam is another network that has taken a similar approach, with the hopes of helping you help yourself. Content is aggregated around experts in such a fashion that is authoritative, yet still integrated with the community at large. And I think that, despite its potential for leading people into confirmation traps, it could also work for Big Think, specifically in its targeting of the mature and active demographic.

Kristen Nicole’s New Media Resolutions for 2008

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I know it’s cliche to blog about your own new year’s resolutions, on your own website, but I’m learning to embrace the world of cliches in an effort to breed more cynicism. So here goes.

Kristen Nicole’s New Year’s Resolutions for 2008:

Blog on my own website. Perhaps you haven’t noticed, but this is my first entry on my website. Could anything be more cliche fitting than to resolve to keep my website updated? I think not. And that’s why this tops my resolutions for the year.

Hire a college student to organize my the images saved on my hardrives. Yes, that’s hardrives in the plural sense of the word, and I use the word in this manner because I utilize multiple computers for work on any given day. This indicates that this lucky college student may earn some extra cash by first centralizing and cross-populating the images I have saved across all these computers. From there, the images need to be organized.

If you read Mashable, you’ll notice that we use a good amount of images, which typically consist of company logos and screen shots. The screen shots aren’t so important for saving later on, but the logos are. One of the secrets to my speedy blogging success has been a deep pool of ready-made logos for use on Mashable posts, having already been formatted to Pete’s specifications. When you begin using images within the body of the text, there are other formatting requirements that need to be accounted for as well. So when it comes to posting a blog entry with logos and images, better organization will make me more efficient overall.

Use social networking to my advantage. I write about social networking for a living, and rarely get to use it for what it’s worth–a communication tool amongst friends. I’m like that hair dresser that has a bad hair do because she’s so busy doing everyone else’s hair. As with my own website, updates just aren’t frequent enough, and with the constant new experiences and life journeys that we have, I’m anxious to capture it all using online social networks.

cbs-daytime.pngCreate a custom RSS Feed for my favorite soap operas on CBS. First, let me tell you the problem with classic soap operas on CBS. They don’t have an RSS feed for their daily updates. I don’t have time to watch soap operas on TV, and they’re far more engaging when you can just read an entire week at once, instead of being dragged along on an episodic basis. And while CBS finally began offering online video replays a couple of months ago, there’s still no easy way for me to get the content from the daily updates without going to the site, and experiencing some very poor organization and navigation.From Strata to Dapper, there are a ton of options out there to help bridge the gap between old and new media, and I’ll be using one of these tools to just go ahead and make my own new media version of an old media service. It’s bad enough CBS hasn’t been as active as NBC, ABC, FOX and Viacom for its online efforts, so my particular resolution is merely a microcosm of all the things that are wrong with old media on the web.

Keep a tab open at all times for my Google calendar. I’m an external person, and by that I mean that I’ll pay attention to things that are right in front of my face. This goes for just about everything, from gadgets to food. Put a mobile phone in front of me and I’ll download Zuma, play for an hour and beat your high score. Put food in front of my face, and I’ll start snacking. Why not apply this to my daily work life? Now I’ll see that time block I “penciled” in for updating all my own stuff. Can you electronically pencil things into a web-based calendar tool?

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Support the striking writers’ plans for Internet distribution…from afar. This is mostly for selfish reasons–I really miss good shows like Heroes. And I’m tired of the writers’ strike. A few writers have taken measures to put more control into their hands by carving out their own niche in the online world. That’s all fine and dandy, but I know from personal experience what hard work it is. I also see, on a very daily basis, the struggles, toils and woes of content creators trying to get attention on the web. Not just the regular Joes out there, but even the content creators with connections, like Will Ferrell.

And while I know I won’t get any Hero-sized hits on the web right away, I do think the furthered exploration of Internet distribution is a necessary direction growth for the spurred integration of traditional media concepts into the web, as well as the resolution of all this writers’ strike crap. It’s a short-term fix that will lead to better television content by the end of the year, along with better use of alternative channels for content delivery.

Short-term because the writers hoping for online success are dealing with an entirely new structure than what traditional media has always offered. That’s typically a good thing for the type of content you’ll get online (less regulated), but this all eventually “rights itself” and we’ll end up with more regulations for olnine content in the end (booo). At any rate, my one piece of advice for writers heading online: provide text updates of your content via RSS feeds, even if you’re not making a soap opera.

Return to this blog post in exactly 1 year and get a cheap update post out of it. The good thing about doing these “milestone” articles is that you’ve got a shoe-in for follow-up posts a year later. You get to laugh at yourself for saying all those stupid things last year, and everyone else gets to laugh at you too. When you think about it, this really is the best model for a recycling economy when it comes to blogging content. ;)