Category Archives: Technology

Richard Matheson, RIP

Richard Matheson, science fiction legend, is dead at the age of 87.

Richard Matheson, science fiction legend, is dead at the age of 87.

One of the greats of the science fiction world passed away on Sunday at the age of 87.

Richard Matheson’s work is remarkable because he was one of the first writers to truly master the emerging mass media of science fiction and horror, and combined science fiction-horror. He wrote 16 episode of The Twilight Zone, including some of the most inventive and frightening episodes. Personally, I loved the silent terror of The Invaders most, but the shocking Terror at 20,000 Fathoms is widely recognized as one of the best, if not the best, Twilight Zone episode.

I also find his episode of Star Trek, The Enemy Within, to be one of the very best. In that episode, a technology accident rips Captain Kirk into two separate beings, one strong and evil, one weak and good. It is a morality play of the very highest order, as are almost all of Matheson’s works.

He entertained and inspired many. Fans of horror and science fiction are mourning the news today. The man will be missed. His work, and his legend, live on.

 

 

 

Talking Netnography in Toronto

social media day 2011If you are in Toronto, and we haven’t met, here’s a last minute chance.

I will be talking tomorrow at the Social Media Day 2011 Mashup, as organized by Michael  Nussbacher.

I will be giving an introduction and overview of netnography. Some new stuff, mostly familiar stuff. It is intended for an audience unfamiliar with the virtues of cultural research using social media.

Here’s the link: http://www.meetup.com/Mashable/Toronto-CA/103816/

If you can make it, please introduce yourself. I enjoy meeting the readers of this blog, and thanking you in person for your support and readership.

Social Media Changes Everything: An Open Letter to President Obama about Wikileaks

Wikileaks Logo interpreted by KozinetsDear President Obama:

It was really nice when social media was your special friend, wasn’t it? When you had your Facebook page and everyone lauded it, you were the social media President, the social media guy. People saidf you had “cracked the code” on using social media for politics, people wrote books and reports about how you had won the Presidency by “getting” social media when very few people and companies go it, and everything was great.

But now social media is not your special friend any more, is it?

As the major media have been ceaselessly reporting, “a cache of a quarter-million confidential American diplomatic cables, most of them from the past three years, provides an unprecedented look at back-room bargaining by embassies around the world, brutally candid views of foreign leaders and frank assessments of nuclear and terrorist threats” (NY Times, Nov 28, Shane and Lehren article).

Social media changes everything.

Social media isn’t just about fan pages, Mr. President. It isn’t just about organizing your supporters. It most certainly isn’t like chain mail, that can just “amplify” a social (“Change”) or campaign (“Vote”) message. Not in the big picture analysis. It isn’t just about marketing. Not really. Where you did get it right, President Obama, and where there is still lots of hope, I believe, is that the key to your campaign’s use of social media-although it has disappointingly dropped off in your years in the Oval Office-is that it was always about Empowerment.

Edelman wrote a nice report about the Obama campaign’s use of social media that hammered home how it used social media to empower its supporters. Here are its principles:

  1. Laddering support through tiers of engagement
  2. Empowering super users
  3. Providing source materials for user-generated content
  4. Going where the people are
  5. Using tools people are familiar with
  6. Ensuring that people can find your content
  7. Mobilizing supporters through mobile devices
  8. Harnessing analytics to constantly improve engagement activities
  9. Building the online operation to scale

Those are good solid marketing lessons, good social media marketing lessons, too. But here’s a new lesson for the books, Mr. President: Empowerment cuts both ways. Wikileaks is doing this, too. And here is another one: social media changes everything.

wikileaks-graphics_1084331a.jpgWhat I mean is that, for you, and for others in power like corporate executives and heads of nonprofit companies, and leaders of all shapes and sizes, social media is like someone coming and peeling a wall from your house and one from your office, replacing them with two panes of glass, setting up deckchairs on your lawn, and inviting everyone to come take turns watching you. The same ability to get into people’s living rooms means they are peering into your living room, too.

You want “Transparency”? In the social media world, you’ve got it. “Control of the message”? Well, that’s a whole other thing.

Here is the dilemma. What Wikileaks did and keeps doing is a major headache and a major embarrassment. You, Hilary, and your State Department staff must be apologizing like jostled Canadians at this point. Maybe it is more than a headache. Almost certainly the site is breaking some laws by “publishing” such private governmental information. Should it be shut down? Crushed like Napster or Pirate Bay (sorry).

wikileaks_censored.gifI don’t think so. What the major press has also picked up is that this gargantuan leak is also an incredible opportunity for anyone to take a peek, as deep a peek as they like, into the way American diplomacy is done. It is a window thrown open onto something that was previously backdoor. And in a real democracy, that is incredibly value, because it spurs examination, self-examination, and real “Change” (remember that word, Mr. President? It used to be your friend, too).

According to Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, the site will release a treasure trove of documents early next year that will show a big US bank engaging in “flagrant violations” and “unethical practices” and trigger all sorts of regulatory examination. And as the finance industry goes, it is no doubt that other industries will follow. A parade of companies will follow, their leaders hung out to dry, naked and vulnerable with their expletives undeleted, their decision-making  and moral stances fully exposed (anyone remember the Ford Pinto? How about the Toyota scandal?)

Social media changes business in more ways that marketing. It is a painful transition. It is going to be wrenching. We are just feeling the first death thrashes of the old, secretive system. But in the long run, truth and consistency are good things.

obama_thinks.jpgMr. President, please be careful as you consider the question of whether to shut Wikileaks down, or limit its ability to reveal.

Let’s be honest. It isn’t like this is the first time you have tried to control social media, President Obama. Most people have already forgotten how you got into a public argument with Joe Anthony, an early supporter of you. Mr. Anthony was advanced enough in social media to start a MySpace page with your name on it, to support your bid to become a candidate for President, before you did. He gathered 130,000 friends for you. You then went straight to the authorities at MySpace and had them turn the page over to your campaign so you could take control of it. Oops. No thank you, no apology, just “that’s mine-I control that.”

 That old school, heavy handed technique did not work. The followers rebelled. It got nasty. It took a real, personal apology and a lot of effort to get people back and on board.

You learned your lesson that time. Please remember it this time. Let the secrets keep flowing until you learn how to manage them. Let the information get out until frontstage and backstage are consistent. Let the people know how you really govern, not just how you say you govern. Please don’t just be a politician. It is clearly not what the people want from you. Learn from the mistakes to lead with inspiring integrity and truly empower.

And let social media change everything.

 

Spreading the Word, II: Netnography in Portuguese

Our Ph.D. students are truly amazing. They are go-getters, free-thinkers, evangelists, and hard workers. I think so highly of all of them and it is a genuine honor to be working with them.

Yikun Zhao was kind enough in a past posting to have translated my netnography white paper for NetBase into Mandarin Chinese. Now, Daiane Scaraboto has translated it into Portuguese. This is very significant because, as some of you already know, there is a major following for netnography in Brazil, and has been for some time. That is one of the reasons Daiane has come here as a student, to work on the technique and for us to learn from one another.

I have also been working with Debora and Bernardo, two excellent researchers and thinkers from the advertising planning side in an alliance in Brazil that will bring a high-quality of netnography to Brazilian companies that are interested. The firm is called “Folks-Netnografica” and it is growing in influence, with some exciting large new clients. As well, I’ve been talking to a very interesting marketing reseacher who is very interested in the technique. Perhaps this document will help to spread the word among those who speak Protuguese.

Again, if spreading the word around the world is important, then keeping netnography texts as mainly “English-only” is silly. So here comes the “spreadability” Henry J.

Here we go. Netnography 101 and the Listerine brand example. Netnography White Paper in Portuguese

Again, I’d like to thank NetBase for agreeing to allow us to do this with that paper. They asked me to note that the NetBase semantic search engine does not read and analyze  Portuguese–yet. It is currently an English-only search and analysis tool.So here, without further ado, is the Portuguese version of the Netnography: The Marketer’s Secret Weapon White Paper. Netnography White Paper in Portuguese. It is presented as a pdf file. I hope that our Brazilian readers and those who are interested in Netnography find it useful. Thank you once again, Daiane Scaraboto and Michael O.

Netnography White Paper in Portuguese

New Netnography White Paper Available

netnography_whitepaper_cover.jpgNetBase asked me to write a white paper to explain netnography to business people and marketers. It is titled: Netnography: The Marketer’s Secret Weapon – How Social Media Understanding Drives Innovation.

I will be presenting the white paper tomorrow in New York at the Advertising Research Foundations’ re:think conference, at 11am.

NetBase just posted the White Paper download link online on their web-site, and here is the link:

http://www.netbase.com/landing_pages/netnography_paper/

Looks like you will need to fill out a form and get into their database as the price of admission.

I enjoyed and learned a lot writing a paper that is directed to a purely managerial audience. I hope you enjoy it.

Avatar Thoughts: Dances with Avatars in the Mist

avatar_neytiri.jpgWith the Academy Awards just around the corner, and Avatar up for nine Oscars, I wanted to share some reflections on that motion picture.

I thought that the movie provided a feast of metaphorical food for thought. First, please consider this light spoiler alert. I’m not intentionally revealing secret plot elements, but if you want to see it with completely fresh eyes, you should probably save reading this blog until after you’ve seen the movie.

All right, then…

A lot of people have written about the fairly obvious, low-hanging and perhaps heavy-handed ecological messages in the film (“And so the aliens [that's us] went back to their dying world…”). The story from the film has created a ton of discussion and conflict on the Internet, with accusations that it is racist (the dump blue-skinned savages), it is naïve (um, this is Hollywood), and it is colonialist (see two points above).

My take on it is a little different. I’ve decided to really emphasize the ethnography part of the move. And to analyze a bit of the ethnographic alliance-shifting that is a central part of its plot.

The movie concerns a future military-industrial enterprise’s use of a biological remote-control system to undertake human participant-observation of the Pandora planet’s intelligent tribal inhabitants.

Along with all the other engaging metaphors that it weaves together, I find Avatar to also be an extended meditation not only on colonialism but also on the anthropological practice of ethnography in a capitalist military-industrial culture.

As my friend, Diego Rinallo from Milan’s Bocconi University noted to me after the movie was over “Avatar is all about ethnography.” And so it is.

Among the many other things that it is, Avatar is a science fictional concretization of the anthropologist’s journey. There is an alien–in this case, a literally alien– culture that needs examination. There is a scientific observer, the accidental anthropologist and paraplegic Jake Sully, who must learn the language, rituals, and ways of a new culture. In this case, instead of Polish anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski joining the Trobriand Islanders, it is Sully joining the blue-skinned, animist, and very Native American-seeming Na’vi.

The movie is about identity, interests, loyalties, and change. A major concern is the classic anthropological dilemma of “Going Native.”

This was the same theme, sort of, as Dance with Wolves, and Gorillas in the Mist. There it is, happening again, on the big screen. Amazingly, Sigourney Weaver plays the head ethnographers in both Gorillas and Avatar. She’s our anthropological role model!

The ethnographer is, himself or herself, an avatar of types. This is a theme I explore in a recent poem I submitted to the Journal of Business Research as an extended meditation on introspection and ethnography, a poem that explores this avatar topic of possessing multiple identities and feeling identity conflict.

So this movie inspired some thinking in me about what we do as anthropologists-for-hire.

Why are we doing what we do as corporate ethnographers? Would we work for Exxon? Would we work for a company that wanted to mine the Amazon rain forest? Would we work for banks in poor countries where people might not be able to afford the interest rates?

The film reveals the dark side of the scientific-academic enterprise, and the dark secret that, although knowledge is power, academics sell out their power to the military-industrial system. In this case, science is anthropology, and anthropology offer understanding in order to manipulate and destroy. The Company in this film wanted to learning the cultural ways of the Na’Vi people in order to manipulate them. Does this sound like cultural marketing and applied anthropology to anyone else?

avatar-tank.jpgOf course, in the movie, understanding wasn’t geared towards selling the natives things. Apparently the blue Na’Vi had no need of Coca Cola and blue jeans, they were an anti-consumerist culture. The movie was classic colonialism—get them off of their land, and take it and its resources. Drain it dry. Kill the land and kill a way of life.

One big realization that I had was when Jake Sulley came back from his time with the Na’vi and, at some point, he had to realize his subversion, he had to adjust the flow of information to the flow of interests.

That is, once he had decided to help the Na’vi, the natives, he had to now tell them about the weaknesses or weak points of the human encampment (or, in the movie, to take the literal and powerfully figurative action of smashing the remote viewing lens on the tractor destroyer). This sort of double-agent stuff is classic ethnographic conflict. But I wonder about its wider implication for our daily life.

So, if we are consumer ethnographers working in the public interest, where are our alliances? Do we need to rethink them?

What it could mean is that we need to look at our power-relationships-to the machine world or to a more naturally balanced world– and then think about how we can use the knowledge of one to begin to dismantle the other. This is an activist message that says that only by some sort of rigorous motion that first draws from inside the system, but then punishes that system and opens it up, can there be change. It is a revolutionary, not an evolutionary message. Not what Heath and Potter, or many other environmental activists would see. And climate change seems to offer one justification for that sort of revolutionary movement in a revolutionary Moment.

What does Jake Sulley do? In the story, he finally casts off his human form, as much as he possibly can. That means no more Coca Cola, no more beer, no more blue jeans or even old reruns of movies like Avatar. He’s back in the bush.

What happens to anthropologist Dian Fossey in Gorillas in the Mist? She’s the sacrifice (and, there it is again, Sigourney is the sacrificial mother/boss in Avatar…weird).

What about Kevin Costner’s character, Dunbar, in Dancing with Wolves? He disappears into the wild at the end, presumably sacrificing himself for his Sioux friends. We assume that he is fully realized and integrated into the natural order. He now identifies more closely with “nature” than with the corrupt and destructive American society.

Because the move ends with this eye-opening move, it can not be satisfying. There are too many loose ends. This is a start, a beginning, rather than an ending.

So that’s where the movie offers up only a good tale and an uplifting inspirational message. However, that message is delivered in the most technologically-intensive manner possible. With all of its 3D IMAX computer simulation technology, the movies is of course much closer to being produced by the earth-razing techno-society of the Earth’s future than the arrows-and-fires civilization of the tribal Na’Vi.

I thought that, if this meditation on ethnography-as-industrial-power was a science fiction book, it would have held up extremely well. Its religiously-inspired plot of The Chosen One had much in common with Dune, Hyperion, and even with The Fifth Element and the Matrix, two other brilliant messianic SF movies.

As a parting note, it is also quite worth remarking upon that James Cameron hired USC Prof Paul Frommer to create an entirely new language for the film-something that had not been done since the Klingon language was devised by linguist Marc Okrand in 1984 for the third Star Trek movie.

These two languages, then, are the most recent distinct languages deliberately created by members of our species, and they were crated for remarkably similar reasons. It remains to see if the Na’Vi language will gain a fan community-based life of its own the way that the Klingon language has. I could certainly see this happening if there are sequels, adaptations, conventions, gatherings, and other media fan community activity around the film-something I would personally enjoy see unfolding. As a matter of fact, it seems like this movie is indeed the first in a trilogy. (I had purchased an Empire magazine last year that featured a story about the upcoming blockbuster Avatar; in the story, Cameron was reported to say this was the first of a trilogy; apparently, like Lucas and Star Wars, it had been planned this way all along.)

In the same way that Klingon has become a type of intentional, if not ironic, “ethnicity” according to cultural studies scholar Peter Chvany, that people adopt to explore some of their primitive warrior characteristics, so too could Na’Vi be a way to seek to reclaim some of the productive elements of primitivism that seems vitally missing from our current contemporary culture.

Anyone want to be the first to start their own local Na’Vi fan club? I’ll join. Let’s get blue and wild and talk difficult made-up languages. C’mon. It’ll be fun.

It’s also evident of the continual rise of blue skinned people (often proudly bald) that began with the Blue Man group in Chicago and this year appears to be crescendo-ing with Doctor Manhattan (in the Watchmen movie) and the graceful blue-skinned Na’Vi.

Yep. If there’s no fan club set up by October, I know what I’ll be wearing for Halloween.

The Dirty Secret of Online Communities

I can’t disclose the time, place, or people involved, and I’ve changed around the numbers, but I was recently at gathering where the social talk turned to business and the business was social media. The conversation went something like this:

“Joe”: Rob, my company is investing in social media like crazy now.

Me: Sounds good. What are you doing?

“Joe”: Well, aside from the Facebook fan-page and the PR firm we’ve hired to Tweet for us, we’re investing big in building online communities and forums from our web-sites. We’re building technical forums so people can help each other solve technical problems. It turns out that a call to our help lines costs us about ten dollars. When they solve it online themselves, that saves us the cost of a call. We’ve calculated our breakeven at saving a thousand calls a month.

“Anthony”: Do they really do that? Do they really just help each other out?

Me and Joe: You bet.

“Anthony”: Who are these people? Some technie geek guys who tinker around with stuff and still live in their mother’s basements [laughs]?

Joe [laughing]: Yeah, isn’t that amazing?

At that point, I get all reflective and brooding. I have heard variants of this particular conversation before. Many times, in fact.

What was that old definition of Web 2.0? “You do all the work, we keep all them money.” This is not the way social media was supposed to work.

Yes, we have known for a long time that people give freely and help each other in online and other types of communities. My research on on “virtual communities of consumption” may have been the first to note that online consumption communities function as a type of gift economy.

But it should be a far stretch from noticing that these networks offer assistance and help, to banking on that fact. Doing so is, in effect, using up or free-riding on a free resource and, even moreso, attempting to undermine the social logics of online communities by turning them into an economic resource. Yes, it’s very capitalist. But, like clear-cutting a thriving forest, it isn’t smart long-term management.

These notions, popular among consultants and business people alike, are going to come back and bite them.

Here is one way it will play out. There will be certain kinds of people, and certain kinds of advice, that may seep into those online communities. People will complain. Some of them will do the math. Some of these will get it right. The chatter will at some points be less about giving and more about taking.

Eventually, if the marketing or PR management-consumer relations are acrimonious enough and the offenses grevious and plentiful enough in scope, I believe, there will be organizing, activism, and perhaps regulation among community members. Consumers will request and perhaps be legally required to be paid for their labor, just like everyone else. The party will be over. It will have been crashed, corporate style. (Look familiar anyone?)

Or else they will just collectively agree to call your help lines. Get their friends and families to call. And call them a lot.

The other thing that sticks in my craw–and it is not unrelated to the first point- is the way these consumer community members are referred to in casual conversation by managers, consultants, and marketers. Online community members and technical contributors are referred to as lonely geeks who have nothing better to do with their time.

This phrasing reminds me so much of the way fans are regarded and refered to by many managers and marketers. The same alarming disrespect. The same infantilization. The same insulting, dismissive tone. The same sense that these people are okay to use and exploit because they are lower that us, not as good or as smart as us.

In my experience, those consumer often know the manager’s business better than the managers do. In fact, that’s why they make such excellent members of technical communities.

Those are the two dirty little secrets of online community. First, that it is being justified as a straight ROI play based on cheap labor power, where the company gets consumers to do something in the community for it for free or on the cheap. It can be tech support or other customer support. It could be innovation and coming up with or rating new ideas. It could be offering marketing or other feedback. The second secret is that some managers often refer to these consumers as socially backwards suckers, dupes, clever peons, and rubes.

A little later in our conversation, “Joe” said he was a bit surprised that very few consumers were joining up on his brand’s Facebook fan page, that almost none of the company’s many customers wanted to be known as fans of his company.

Well, go figure.