I was aware that there were more women tweeting than men, but this chart surprised by the extent ... but nearly as much as to see how men are much more likely to use aggregating services like Reddit and Digg.
[Surf’s Up, as published in the St. John's Telegram on Thursday, February 23, 2012. Yes, I know that's quite a while ago. I'm catching up!]
I practically choked while sipping a cup of coffee a little while back, when I read how expat consultant Kevin McCann summed up Pinterest, the blazingly popular photo sharing site, during one tweet.
“Pinterest: for the cupcake-making hairstylist-architect with a passion for accessories, bacon and crayons.”
Ouch. There’s sharp bit of sarcasm in that remark, but if the shoe fits – and believe me, you should be able to find any shoe in every colour, make and style on Pinterest – you kind of have to wear it.
Pinterest has been the It thing online for the last few months. In January alone, it reportedly set a record by becoming the social network to gain 10 million unique members in the shortest period of time. Pinterest is not even two years old, and most of its members joined so recently, they’re still figuring out how the thing works.
Pinterest’s name is a portmanteau – that is, a combination of the words “pin” and “interest,” in which members virtually pin photos they like to billboards that can be sorted by themes or interests. Your boards can be as unique as you like: places you’d like to visit, for instance, or cars or cakes or carpets or funny hats. If it’s visual, you can bookmark it, describe it and share it, which makes it a bookmarking site that doubles as a social network.
My wife got involved long before I finally caved, which happened a couple of weeks ago. For her, Pinterest is kind of like a clipping service, or a virtual idea book. Rather than stuffing magazine pages into an envelope, though, she pins photos that may or may not be useful when we get around to designing the kitchen that’s been evolving for years in her imagination. She also collects photos connected to her hobbies, like baking and pottery and travel.
Most active Pinterest users seem to be similar. Food is a big theme, and so is décor, and yes, you’ll find accessories, bacon and crayons. No one should be surprised, by the way, to learn that the majority of Pinterest members are women, and not youngsters by a long shot.
What explains the phenomenon? Why is Pinterest, which as of this week was getting more than 10 million hits an hour (let that sink in for a moment), succeeding where other social networks have stumbled?
It boils down to whether people want to be there. Only last summer, Google+ got plenty of buzz and an astonishing surge of members out of the gate, but it proved to be vapour. Few of those members stuck around.
Here’s what struck me as obvious about Pinterest, even before I joined myself. It’s fun. Google+ is not fun; using it actually feels like work, whereas it’s clear that the people on Pinterest are having a blast, and very much want to be there. You can take it as seriously or as lightly as you please.
Want to make a visual list of movies you’ve always wanted to see? A gallery of place you personally would want to see before you die? Wines you’ve quaffed? Funny cat pics? Have at it.
It’s also remarkably simple to use. As interfaces go, Pinterest has to be one of the most inviting and intuitive in the market. It can also be personalized, connected to your Facebook and Twitter accounts, and accessed through mobile devices.
By the way, Pinterest has a copyright policy that is hard to take seriously. Rather boldly, it tells users that it expects them only to post photographs that they personally own … which is interesting, because that is almost never the case.
Not to make light of legitimate copyright beefs (major companies that own photo assets are understandably nervous about Pinterest’s explosive growth, not to mention countless photographers), but Pinterest could make this easy by adopting a more down-to-earth copyright policy, and demonstrating that they intend to follow a true fair-use ethic.
Will the average user be in trouble for pinning photographs of their favourite cushions or flower arrangements? Probably not; in its copyright notes, Pinterest says it will terminate accounts “of users who repeatedly infringe or are repeatedly charged with infringing the copyrights” of others.
Bear that in mind if you get hooked.
John Gushue is a digital editor with CBC News in St. John’s. You can find his modest collection on Pinterest at pinterest.com/johngushue/
I attended the latest St. John's tweetup tonight, as a panelist set up as part of Culture Days by Dale Jarvis. For fun, I had Dale - that's him in the middle - and my fellow panelists Jennifer Barnable and Elling Lien engage in a little social media catch-up time. Don't worry; it's a set-up. We actually did talk together, although a tweetup is one of those times when it's quite normal to see people in the crowd unapologetically tap on their phones while they listen!
Erik Qualman is one of the leading voices of the social media revolution; check out his site Socialnomics to learn more. Over time, he's collated figures that put the power of social media in perspective. The latest video recently was posted online. Have a look.
I saw this on Cyberjournalist, and felt compelled to share, as it offers a fairly rational way of dealing with social media and its myths (including ones that social media is "free" as well as that Twitter plus a Facebook page equals a strategy).
Click on the image to see the infographic in full detail.
When The Huffington Post announced earlier this week that it was being acquired by AOL for $315 million in cash and stock, one group felt slighted: a set of unpaid bloggers for the site, identifying by the Twitter hashtag #huffpuff, which claims that The Huffington Post has “built a blog-empire on the backs of thousands of citizen journalists.”
When Huffington started, part of its cachet came from the enlistment of celebrities, often movie stars, to write blog posts. Part of *that* cachet came from knowing that the stars were unpaid: that is, no one was sponsoring what they said, which raises the credibility quotient.
Mixing in with the celebs were countless ordinary folks. I can see why some of them feel aggrieved, but let's be realistic. Expecting a slice of the inevitable HuffPo sale is like expecting Facebook to issue dividends to the people who post a lot of status updates or photos.
Kevin Major is one of the literary stars in Newfoundland and Labrador, creating much-loved books for young readers and adults, novels and non-fiction and even a play along the way.
You can add “wine blogger” to that list of credentials, for his weekly posts on wine are the first stop on this survey of what to read and do online.
One Brilliant Bottle I have to confess that I was unaware until last month that Kevin was even writing a blog, let alone one about wine. He told me about it during an event we both attended last month, and so I checked it out.
One Brilliant Bottle is not merely about wine, but about specific types of wine, particularly organic, natural or biodynamic wines, which – among other things – are wines that eschew additives and/or mechanical processes. That restricts things a fair bit, and you should not be surprised to see that a good few of the wines Kevin writes about in his weekly postings are not at the local NLC.
But wine lovers will take a shine to One Brilliant Bottle. Each piece has some research to back it up, and the photography makes everything seem even more delicious. Kevin set out to write a post each week this year; let’s hope he keeps it going past December. [Update: He is. Yay.]
Elsewhere this week
Charity Intelligence I heard about this site this week in Michael Hlinka’s commentary on Radio Noon. It’s a fascinating project: a hard-nosed analysis of charities that measures effectiveness, costs and other factors, with the sort of vigour that’s usually applied to the equities market. The goal: to produce a list of charities that guarantee high (social) returns. There are no local charities on the list (although one, Eva’s Initiatives, has been involved with Choices for Youth here in St. John’s), but it’s a thought-provoking read.
Refudiate: Word of the Year Sarah Palin continues to fascinate political watchers, and a word she inadvertently coined this year has put her in the history books – if not necessarily with an achievement she’ll use in her next inevitable campaign. Refudiate is a word that notoriously went out in her Twitter feed, a sort of amalgam of refute and repudiate; it’s the New Oxford American Dictionary’s Word of the Year. Last year’s choice was “unfriend,” which has spread out from Facebook; it’s kind of fitting that this year’s choice is a clumsy (and snark-worthy) word from Twitter.
The Goldfish and Bob You don’t have to read a novel, a story or even a poem to be moved or to have your perspective on the Big Things in Life challenged. This is a comic that Todd Webb created almost a decade ago; it takes only a few minutes to scroll through the panes and read the story of Bob, a lonely office type, and the lessons he learns about through his pet goldfish.
Wallet Pop Many retailers do the lion’s share of their sales in the last three months of the year, particularly in the wind-up to Christmas. Wallet Pop is a consumer-minded blog that features plenty of advice of making informed decisions, and getting more value from your cards. Articles range from hot toys for Christmas to navigating sales to nasty things in the snacks we buy.
Meme from Yahoo Just in case you don’t have enough social networks to call your own, here’s a whole other one to consider. Meme takes its name from the online phenomena in which something (a joke, a list, a task) gets passed from one person to another and eventually to many. Thus, Meme helps users share content between themselves, from baby photo to links to … well, whatever it is that gets people in a sharing mood.
Monocle has debuted its televised iteration on Bloomberg, with the videos available on the London-based magazine's website. I'd embed a clip here but, well, they don't do that. (Monocle, which is fascinating enough that I get a subscription mailed to me, still sneers at social media as a fad. Still. Think about that.)
Anyway, some thought and prepation went into it. The first episode, hosted by founder and Canadian-raised journo Tyler Brûlé (above) is up in three instalments as of today and you can watch it here.
According to legend from ancient times (that is, in 2003), Movember started as a bar chat in Australia among a bunch of friends. It’s November, one noted, so why not grow a moustache?
Not long after that, Movember became a movement, and a way of raising funds to fight prostate cancer, one of the deadliest cancers affecting men.
Now, in 2010, it’s everywhere, although I don’t think I’ve ever seen as much Mo-mentum and related activity online.
Movember Canada Hockey playoff beards? Oh, they’ll be back in the spring, but for now, the facial hair of choice is the moustache. If you see a fellow trying to get that caterpillar to evolve into a handlebar, give him a pat on the back … and be prepared to donate. The official site for Movember in Canada has background information, online tools and everything you’ll need to get involved.
A Newfoundland Movember Participant Jon Duke of St. John’s is one of the people pitching in, and using social media to get friends and others to donate. He shaved off his beloved beard and is posting pictures as his Movember grows in. Best wishes!
Elsewhere this week
Scale of the Universe Here’s something that amazed my son when I showed it to him this week. It’s a feature that delves into the relative scale of things, allowing you to zoom in and out a wide variety of things. You move surprisingly quickly from, say, viruses to human beings to planets. It’s when you look at the micro and macro ends of the spectrum that your mind gets quite the workout. Now that I know what quantum foam is, I will think very differently about what it means to be very, very small. An eye-popper.
Music Time Machine Would youngsters today even recognize a jukebox? Perhaps you need to be of a certain age to appreciate the Music Time Machine, not just for the jukebox setting, but also for the vintage tunes you can select from the year of your choice. I had a lot of fun with this one recent evening while I was working away, and kept tapping for tunes to keep me going. Even better, it was a whole lot cheaper than jukeboxes used to be!
Balloon popper What is the appeal of mindlessly popping balloons? In a virtual setting, there are no broken bits, no needles flying about, and you can turn the volume off if you like, too. This simple page flows balloons continually, in diagonal lines. Your job (to use a word very loosely indeed) is to glide your mouse around, earning one weirdly satisfying pop after another.
Park seasons With the seasons changing before our eyes, this site is a nice amusement for a spare moment: spin your mouse, and see an animated park transform as rapidly as you desire.
Google Blogoscoped Google has an incredible amount of influence over the daily habits of tens of millions of people, and yet many of us don’t think that much about how Google itself operates. (That may be because Google usually offers us a clean white slate when we go to look something up.) Google Blogoscoped follows the company and its services as, say, a car blogger would cover Honda or Ford. For web enthusiasts, it’s always a revealing read.
Past Life Analysis How’s this for some time-passing hooey? You type in the day you were born, and you’re presented with an “analysis” of what you were like in a prior life. I, evidently, was a shepherd or horseman in Labrador in the 13th century with a “revolutionary” streak who inspired many changes! Too bad the journals I ought to have written have evidently been lost for the ages.
I've been a bit of an apostle for Twitter in the CBC newsroom in St. John's, to the point sometimes that eyes roll once I get going. Nonetheless, the @cbcnl feed is flourishing, and more and more of my colleagues have come on board. (An aggregated list can be seen here.)
The best set of arguments I've ever seen for why Twitter matters to journalism appeared Friday on the Guardian's site, with editor Alan Rusbridger laying out each point. The piece is an excerpt from a lecture, and here's the first argument:
1) It's an amazing form of distribution
It's a highly effective way of spreading ideas, information and content. Don't be distracted by the 140-character limit. A lot of the best tweets are links. It's instantaneous. Its reach can be immensely far and wide.
Why does this matter? Because we do distribution too. We're now competing with a medium that can do many things incomparably faster than we can. It's back to the battle between scribes and movable type. That matters in journalistic terms. And, if you're trying to charge for content, it matters in business terms. The life expectancy of much exclusive information can now be measured in minutes, if not in seconds. That has profound implications for our economic model, never mind the journalism.
Several times over the last few months, I’ve received a few messages from friends or readers looking for a few tips about blogging. Two were wondering about launching a blog, while another was at that edgy area, where he’s been wondering about packing it in.
Blogs may not have the novelty or trendy appeal that they did six or seven years ago, but they’re more popular than ever. But it’s hardly unusual to find a once-active blog has gone dormant, or a blogger is stepping back from the fray. Why? There are several reasons, but as with other hobbies, I imagine that the fire just dwindles away.
This seems to be the case with one of my blogging friends. My advice was simple: take a breath, dial back your expectations, and park a note on the blog that you’re on break for a little while. I happen to like his blog a lot, and completely out of self-interest I’d like to see him keep it going. My pitch was this: you don’t need to post frequently, and that I’d rather read a good post once a week than nothing at all.
Many bloggers, of course, post far more often that once a week when they get started. It’s only natural: you’ve got something to say, it’s all new and exciting, and you’re clipping on the buzz of doing something new and exciting. But like a caffeine rush, it doesn’t last. Quite often, those blogs collapse or tumble into a virtual graveyard.
So, that may not be the most optimistic way to describe blogging culture, but it does bring a layer of reality to things. I’ve been publishing my own blog for six years, and I’ve enjoyed it because I make sure it doesn’t feel like work. I make a small commitment of time through the week, and although it’s an obligation to keep it updated, I never want to feel like it’s a chore.
I wasn’t surprised to read in the most recent Technorati survey of the blogosphere that the most important thing that most bloggers gain from their sites is personal satisfaction. There are other reasons, of course, like networking, promotion, professional development and money. [On that last point, you may be curious to learn, though, that very few corporations use blogs as a revenue generator, as opposed to 40 per cent of part-time bloggers, who obviously have excessively optimistic expectations of the traffic they’re going to land.]
So, here are some tips I’d give to anyone thinking about a blog:
Pick a tone, and have something to say. In other words, what do you want your blog to look like? What do you want it to achieve?
Pace yourself. Don’t knock yourself out, but don’t let your blog be stagnant, either. (A blogging platform that lets you pre-program posts is a great idea.) Don’t worry about getting it right, right out of the gate. Your blog’s personality will evolve as you move along.
Don’t obsess over traffic, especially if your numbers fall or slip. Learn how Facebook, Twitter, Feedburner and other applications can help you develop an audience. Send emails to friends to generate a base audience.
Have fun. If you’re not enjoying it, and you’re not being paid to do it, you’re going to have a really hard time keeping a blog going.
Elsewhere this week
Huge URL Twitter and other social media apps have given rise to various apps that make it easy to contract a huge URL, or web address, into a tiny one. Huge URL is a great joke for our character-counting age. Try it and you’ll see why!
Party Cat If you’ve ever had a pet cat, and I’ve had a good few through the years, you know they keep their own schedules. More than that, they expect you to do the same. And, more than that, you have to wonder about what they do when you’re not around. Those thoughts come to mind when I see this hilarious set of comics, about a puddy tat that knows how to get its party on.
I suppose if you simply must get a tattoo, you're going to do it. Why, though, would someone get a tattoo based on a fad? That's the question this slideshow from the HuffPost raises (and the photos, for me, answer it).
Meanwhile, while we're on the subject of tattoos, here's one of my favourite tweets from the last week, from Chris Abraham. My wife (we're on the same page about this) drew my attention to it:
A few weeks ago, while I was clearing out some of the bumpf and filler that pass for real messages in my Inbox, I noticed a pitch I had received from a PR agency working for a nationally known company.
“Please help promote our latest viral video,” said the notice, pointing to a link where I could watch said video.
I clicked on the link. I watched it. I yawned. I stopped watching it … after, I would guess, about 15 seconds.
If that video went viral, it didn’t happen on my account.
Nor, I’m willing to bet, anyone else’s. I never heard of the project again, and I certainly didn’t come across it in any of the social networks that overlap with my own.
It’s certainly not the first time a company paid some bucks to get “buzz” or “juice” through an online campaign, and had little to show for it later.
It also wasn’t the first time I’ve been told to go look at a “viral video” that someone (usually a company or institution) has made. Sometimes, I’ve been impressed with what I’ve seen. More often, I’ve kind of shrugged and moved on to something else.
What’s really struck me during those “meh” moments is this: simply calling a video “viral” does not make it so. To get a video, photo, drawing or any online item to take off and become truly viral involves a number of ingredients, and the first one is luck. There’s also a clever title (for that clickability effect), content that can be quickly if not instantaneously grasped, something imaginative, a clean design, a cluster of early adopters … to name just a few possible factors.
You also need to have a platform that makes viral-ness happen. For instance, all the social media tools need to be in place, embeddable code should be in place, and the item should be practically dying to replicate itself. They don’t call it viral for nothing.
You’re also going to need some good old-fashioned elbow grease. When a truly viral meme (the word applies to something that’s passed around, and sometimes changed along the way) is happening, growth is measured exponentially. By that point, it’s beyond anyone’s control. First, though, you need to stoke your own fire: send the link around, invite others to repeat it to their networks, mention it during idle conversation.
Just don’t tell your friends it’s viral, at least before that’s actually happened.
Why? Because it’s poison.
And it’s presumptuous.
When something turns really and truly viral, it’s because people make an emotional connection with it. They love that sense of discovery, the private joy that comes when you find something cool. Next is another very human impulse: the need to share.
It’s word of mouth, the key fuel source on the web. Remarkably, it’s most powerful when it’s free… and unforced.
It can also be breathtaking. Consider the case of Colby Chipman, the little boy in Paradise who – appalled when he saw his older sister kick a toy penguin across the room – took immediate action. He made a sketch, called it No Kicking Penguins … and a viral phenomenon that would sweep the world was born. Some were drawn to the environmental message, perhaps, and others liked the off-the-wall humour. I think a lot of people just found it charming.
The innocence of the drawing was its greatest asset, and the campaign captured people’s imagination. Getting posted (via an uncle) on Reddit helped, which helped spread the word – attracting media attention, which in turn got people talking. Months later, I’m sure the site (www.nokickingpenguins.org) is still drawing traffic, and is raising money through T-shirt sales for the Autism Society.
You couldn’t have designed it. That’s something for marketing types to think about before they pre-emptively boast about their viral videos.
John Gushue is a writer in St. John's, and works with CBC News. John is on Twitter right here.
A year or so ago, when the Twitter bandwagon was ramping up to warp speed, I read no end of things advising on how to get massive influence on the social network. The bottom line: follow few, get followed by many.
The thinking was that your influence boiled down to a ratio. If many, many more people followed you than you followed – that is, if thousands of people subscribed to your feed, while you only viewed the feeds of a comparatively small percentage of that number – then you were considered to have a great deal of influence.
My view of that theory: it’s garbage. As a journalist, I’m naturally and indeed professionally curious. I want to have access to information, and lots of it; why would I only want to be limited to a small few?
I understand why people keep limits on the number of feeds they follow. After all, your home feed can quickly become swamped with tweets, many of which will be anything but important.
However, there are methods to sift through your feeds. Last fall, Twitter itself made things a whole lot easier by establishing a lists feature. I use several lists, so I can keep track of things by categories (journalism, news, magazines, local Twitter users, and so on).
I had already been doing this through HootSuite, a program which has made managing Twitter a breeze. The lists function is now fully integrated. I used to use TweetDeck, which worked fine, although I find HootSuite much faster and less likely to get gummed up.
In other words, the argument that a high number of follows is a negative makes absolutely no sense. I’ve noticed that some of the Twitter apps that measure influence are now more concerned about things like reach (how your network can in turn reach more users), generosity (how often you retweet the messages of others) and engagement (how often you discuss things with others, and vice versa).
The buzz and novelty of Twitter are fading away, but it’s becoming a part of daily life and communication for millions (about 20 million different users last month). Maybe you want to have an Oprah-like level of influence; more than likely, you just want to have a network of friends and others with similar interests.
As I’ve been developing my own network, I’ve taken time to spread my wings out, with follows of people I don’t know at all, but who I hope will help serve one of my ultimate goals on Twitter: learning something I didn’t know before.
That, for me, far outweighs any idea of “influence” that downplays the significance of follows. Indeed, that very thinking runs counter-clockwise to key principles of social networks: sharing, exchange, collaboration and conversation.
Elsewhere this week
Cork’d Not sure about that bottle of wine at the liquor store? Do some consumer research of your own, and run it past the user-submitted wine reviews here. You’re especially welcome to chip in your own later on.
Behind The Name If a baby is in your future, you may be getting some advice on naming from friends, families and colleagues. This is a site that explains where hundreds of names from around the planet come from, and what they mean.
5min The idea behind the tutorial-minded video site 5min is that you’ll only need five minutes to learn, say, how to make ice cream at home, or add some bass effects next time you and the crew are doing some beatboxing. In other words, something for everyone.
Make Wee It sounds like what two-year-olds say when it’s bathroom time, but Make Wee is actually just a way to make avatars (that is, cartoon-like representations of yourself) suitable for the Wii, or otherwise.
John Gushue is a writer in St. John's, and works with CBC News in St. John's. John is on Twitter right here.
If there’s on thing that Newfoundlanders love to do, it’s to root for their own. Consider Canadian Idol (when in season), various Facebook groups that have the arbitrary purpose of just gathering a bunch of Newfoundlanders, and – most recently – a campaign to put St. John’s on the next Canadian edition of Monopoly.
Monopoly Canada You can buy Monopoly editions devoted to everything from the Simpsons to golf to even I Love Lucy. National editions abound, and for the next Canadian edition, the public has been invited to make the choices. Through the last couple of weeks, St. John’s has done well, but as I write this, has slipped from 6th to 10th place in a matter of a couple of days.
It’s not just getting a square on the board, of course, but which square. That is, the highest votes get the royal-blue colours that usually go to Boardwalk and Park Place, the next three get the deep green colours, and so on. In other words, a motivation for residents and/or supporters of various cities to keep voting (you can do it once a day), to get or hold on to a prestigious colour.
There are still more than three weeks to vote. Let’s see where the dice land.
Elsewhere this week
A History of the World in 100 Objects Earlier this month, BBC Radio 4 launched what’s already turned out to be a fascinating series: an attempt to tell the history of civilization, through a set of objects. I’ve been hearing some of the segments live through streaming radio; here, on the companion site, you can not only learn more, but contribute to the project – or, as they put it, “make history” yourself.
You can follow each day’s contribution through a podcast, the blog, supplementary information, and more, all in collaboration with staff at the British Museum. As host Neil MacGregor put it, the creators are passionate about physical objects, namely “things made by somebody with hands just like ours, for a purpose we can still hope to understand.”
My Parents Were Awesome There comes a point when people – the teenage years, as young adults, maybe later – when people realize their parents are not space aliens but interesting, worthy human beings. My Parents Were Awesome is a collection of photographs that readers submit from years past (many, many years, on occasion) showing their parents. Some of the photos are hilarious, some are depictions of the time that taste forgot, and some are quite touching.
Bettween It’s Bettween, not between, but that’s the point: this is a tool in which you can track conversations (i.e., replies) between two particular Twitter users.
Age of Persuasion episodes Friends of mine, who have an evidently more pure ideal of what CBC Radio should be, were shocked the network started a half-hour program on advertising. For me, The Age of Persuasion with host and marketing guru Terry O’Reilly is one of the smartest, best produced programs on the network, with weekly insights that go well beyond how commercials work. If you miss the show, you can stream it here, plus past episodes; downloads or podcasts, unfortunately, are still off limits because of copyright issues.
Epic Win FTW If the title of this site doesn’t make immediate sense, we’ll catch you up. “Epic win” is one way of saying “astonishingly cool,” and FTW stands for “for the win.” Which, um, kind of makes the title redundant. But don’t worry about that; instead, check in regularly for loads of cool things, especially hilarious pictures, often with a fanboy edge.
John Gushue is a writer in St. John's, and is currently on leave from his job with CBC News in St. John's. John is on Twitter right here.
I've been putting some extra thought to social media lately, partly because of some work I've taken on and partly because of some research I'm doing. I stumbled across this slideshow by Hong Kong-based Tim Ho, who emphasizes many of the points I like to make.
Dot Dot Dot is Morse code for the letter 'S,' the full message Guglielmo Marconi claimed to have received atop Signal Hill in St. John's in 1901. It ushered in the age of telecommunications. My maternal grandfather worked as a telegraph operator for Canadian Marconi on Signal Hill for many years.
As well, I have a habit of overusing the ellipsis when I write ... as frequent readers might notice.