All 7 entries tagged Social Networking

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January 18, 2008

Can We Escape Facebook Stories Right Now?

Can We Escape Facebook Stories Right Now? (or Facebook even?)


Fabook Eye


Whatever else it is, Facebook has become the thing to discuss almost everywhere. With social networking sites taking the teen generation by storm - most of my students at thiws level subscribe to at least two- social networking is a social phenomena that seems set to stay and develop. Those who laughed at Rupert Murdoch for investing in MySpace are certainly laughing on the other side of their face by now. I have to say here the delightful naivety of those teens who subscribe to MySpace and think that "Tom" is the owner makes it worth teaching media studies as the surprised faces realise that they are subsribing to the business empire that owns The Sun and yes The Times. But I digress because the new enemy on the block perhaps far more unpleasant than the right wing anti-BBC stance of Murdoch are the hard-core youngish neo-conservatives who really own Facebook exposed by Tom Hodgkinson in the Guardian earlier this week whilst today the BBC has posted a story on the dangers around privacy concerning Facebook.  


Is Facebook Providing a Challenge to Alternative Systems?


...you could have a Facebook account, and I suspect that this swamps number 1 or 2.  For social networking within the academic community, Facebook is all-conquering, and we observe a startling number of students who have a Facebook account before they arrive or get one soon after they start. And if you already have a Facebook account then it's not immediately obvious that you need another place to write about what you're doing, or another place to share your photos (hence the precipitous drop in the number of photos uploaded; they've all gone into Facebook instead).


With social networking being the new media phenomenon of the moment with every teenager wishing to have 'creds' subscribing to at least one (and often more) social networking accounts, and with Facebook specifically being the 'flavour of the month' traffic and enthusiasm for the less measured sort of social interactions on some other sites may be being reduced. The above quotation from a discussion on Warwick Blogs being a case in point.

Facebook along with other more established social networking sites are excellent examples of 'New Media' institutions becoming established. Either, as in the case of My Space (courtesy Rupert Murdoch), being owned by  rapcious established entrepreneurs or as in the case of Facebook by rapacious new entrepreneurs. The key shift in media provision by the owners is the relaince upon User Generated Content to allow everybody participating in one of these media environments to gossip about each other. It saves employing gossip columnists aprt from anything else. 

As social networking develops and matures it may well be that certain audiences start to move to different social networks which have a different demographic base. Facebook has clearly developed a target audience significantly different to Bebo. If this  continues to develop then  the advertising core behind these sites will start to become more social network site specific. Arguably there is a shift of Lifestyle magazines onto the net with the added advantage for the owners that they pay little or nothing for content provided by the users instead. (Here the net effect of the net is to increasingly push responsibility towards the users - think banking - and provide an environment). Perhaps social networking sites will increasingly focus upon specific demographic factors but provide a global audience for these common factors. Thus social networking could start to provide a huge boost for social and cultural globalisation which has to date still been more of an economic phenomenon. 

Where is it all going?

For cultural studies this raises issues of continuing hybridisation which is something that is probably being researched already. This kind of thing is likely to move into 3D virtual world's as they develop beyond the R & D stage into full media environments.  

Personally I have little doubt that an increasing amount of shopping for a variety of goods will move into virtual 3D environments such as Second Life. This will require a much more efficient broadband infrastructure than currently exists. This week's Economist has written a useful comparative article on the development broadband networks and useage in the World's more developed countries. 

Economist on Broadband


Easy access to cheap, fast internet services has become a facilitator of economic growth and a measure of economic performance. No wonder, then, that statistics show a surge in broadband use, especially in places that are already prosperous. The OECD, a rich-country club, says the number of subscribers in its 30 members was 221m last June—a 24% leap over a year earlier. But it is not always the most powerful economies that are most wired. In Denmark, the Netherlands and Switzerland, over 30% of inhabitants have broadband. In America, by contrast, the proportion is 22%, only slightly above the OECD average of just under 20%. (Economist Jan 19th - 25th, 2008)

Oddly on this analysis the USA is going to have to get its act together in terms of communications infrastructure. social networking popularity is only a low level phase in the development of Web 2.0. The issue is the development of interesting online environments which large numbers of people are going to be comfortable with and 3D environments are going to be the places to be. whilst some will be fantasy areas there will be a lot which are more like mirrors of the everyday in which leisure, value added services and business transactions will take place. 

Of course one set of statistics only gives a very narrow framing of what is happening. As the US has the largest population in the above table then there are presumably a larger number of subscibers hence the mass customer / audience base to encourage future developments.  The BBC story on the Broadband digital divide is relevant here. Given the high cost of installing cabling networks clearly cities are going to become well served. In america with huge areas relatively sparsely populated there could be serious social divisons based around access opening up - to add to the other ones. Interstingly pysically small but quite dense populations such as Denmark and the Netherlands with a more social democratic committment to service provision to citizens are likely to gain significantly from high speed broadband development. No accident that they are already the countries which are most developed in this respect. 


The Net Effect 

One can only be speculative at this stage and comment on emrgent trends. Currently social networking is new exciting and gobsmacking because people can suddenly publish something and find a global audience, until a very short time ago unimaginable for an individual. Now mainstream media will increasingly be developing environments now the user generated thing is becoming established. what sort of environments people will want isn't yet clear but the current phase of Facebook et al is probaly only temporary. The question is what will the Rupert Murdoch's profits from MySpace advertising be reinvested into: 2nd Life or something similar?  You can bet he is watching the audience data closely!

As for the infamous Facebook, well I buy into Hodgkinson's arguments. I thoroughly dislike the fact that they keep information about you and you can't cleanly unsubscribe. They are also very snotty if you do try and shut down an account. I advise my students to approach it very cautiously. They push  everything thay can to the limit in the search for audience and the corresponding advertising contracts, Beacon and now "Scrabulous" as minor entrepreneurs trade on other brands. 

As for information and data privacy this is a serious breach of human rights and thankfully regulation is catching up!

The investigation follows a complaint by a user of the social network who was unable to fully delete their profile even after terminating their account.


several reasons to join me on Warwick blogs and forget Facebook!


Social Graphs (Up date September 2008)

An advert which appeared next to this page about Social Graphs led me to check out the term. I discovered a useful article on the Facebook hype from the Economist last autumn which explained exactly how social networks such as Facebook didn't in fact add network value, unlike postal and telephone networks. The latter operate under something called Metcalf's Law. The article seems to bear out my scepticism for this phenomenon:


But unlike other networks, social networks lose value once they go beyond a certain size. “The value of a social network is defined not only by who's on it, but by who's excluded,” says Paul Saffo, a Silicon Valley forecaster. Despite their name, therefore, they do not benefit from the network effect. Already, social networks such as “aSmallWorld”, an exclusive site for the rich and famous, are proliferating. Such networks recognise that people want to hobnob with a chosen few, not to be spammed by random friend-requests. (social Gragh-iti, The Economist Oct 17th 2007)

It comes as no surprise that the rich and powerful want exclusive social networks. Virtual reality appears to be mirroring social reality. Well who would have imagined that?


December 29, 2007

Facebook still in the News

Facebook Still in the News

Facebook’s transformation from a quirky internet start-up into one of the most talked-about companies in Silicon Valley is sure to be remembered as one of 2007’s biggest technology stories.(Kevin Allison: FT December 28 2007)

In May 2007 Facebook announced that it would allow outside developers to develop applications for Facebook such as games and slide-shows for use in the site. This gained a very favourable response as Facebook has a large and growing market. As the Money Programme puts it below, however it asks searching questions which are related to to any media company either on or offline. How has it outstripped the opposition and will the audience remaion for as every media company knows audiences are fickle: 

Facebook seemed to come from nowhere to everywhere in 2007.

One person in eight in the UK has become a registered member.Why has Facebook been so successful against stiff competition from other social network sites?And as the company tries to turn its popularity into profits, will its millions of members stay faithful? (Facehooked BBC Money Programme)

Comscore an organisation which tracks webtraffic estimed that Facebook received over 92 million unique visitors in November 2007.  This compares with 104 million unique visitors for MySpace in the same period which is a far more established company. The rate of growth for Facebook since November 2006 has been an impressive 400% compared to MySpace's 26%. Whilst an impressive rate of growth from a relatively low base is easier to achieve in a short time clearly if these figures were to continue Rupert Murdoch's MySpace as  the foremost social networking site is under threat.

Business interst in Facebook is underpinning this growth and gaining widespread interst amongst the business community. Given that Facebook's audience is amongst university students soon to be embarking upon successful careers the potential for longer term audience retention and the possible growth in advertising revenues can hardly be ignored. As reported in a previous posting Microsoft made an initial investment buying up 1.6% of the company. This was closely followed by Li Kashing a Hong Kong businessman of $60 million.



Comscore Chart

Above Comscore chart of Facebook usage pattern from Aug 05 - Aug 06. Unsurprisingly for a site devoted to university students usage goes down in the holidays. Roll on more wireless internet laptops under the sun umbrellas!



Overall these deals value Facebook at $15 billion. This can be compared to the price Google paid for YouTube of around $1.65 billion overall. In general terms then social networking sites with an established audience are becoming increasingly valuable. These figures also help to put the value of Linden Labs Second Life in perspective. currently the number of residents of about 11 million with aroud 38,000 online at any one time is still not attracting the bigger players. Microsoft is clearly intersted in audiences numbering tens of millions. 

Allison analyses the three constituent groups who comprise the audience and instituional combination which defines the media equation of the site but who have competing desires:

  • The users whose social connections power the site
  • The developers whose applicationskeep people interested
  • The advertisers upon whom Facebook is reliant for making money
“Facebook has these three constituent groups and it’s a really difficult balancing act, especially when you are trying to be innovative,” says Jeremiah Owyang, an analyst at Forrester Research (Cited Allison ibid)

Two groups have been frustrated over the past year. Users have become concerned over privacy issues - to be dealt with later- whilst  software developers have found the frequent changes to the site's software through tweaking awkward to deal with requiring immediate tweaks of their own. Currently the situation is very fluid as the key perspective from the viewpoint of Media institutions is how to monetise the assetts of social networking:

“We are in an early stage in trying to monetise social media,” says Jeremy Liew of Lightspeed Venture Partners, a venture capital group that is an investor in RockYou, one of the leading makers of Facebook applications. Speaking of Facebook’s trouble with Beacon, Mr Liew says, “there are bound to be mistakes made” as social networks experiment with new advertising models.(Allison ibid)

Social Networking and Advertising Futures

Liew is confident that in the medium term a stable model of advertising driven social networking sites will emerge and that looking between 5 or 10 years this will have happened however over the coming few months there is still likely to be a lot of experimentation. Unlike audiences who may be preparedto put up with a few issues if they are changed rapidly in response to audience feedback marketers who are putting the money up front are unlikely to be so tolerant.

What does seem certain is that social networking is going to become a massive creator of adertising revenue. The content will be user generated but oiled by useful and entertaining applications. Rupert Murdoch renowned for being media-savvy and being able to develop and influence trends was certainly perceptive to invest in MySpace. The fact that Microsoft has made a move into this niche market after years of experience in networking with MSN shows that this is likely to be the fastest growing area of advertising revenue in the coming years. As Gabriel
Ready from the Open University has commented there is no such thing as a free web-trip or (lunch in cyberspace):

As Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg explained, quite simply, these sites are based on a business model of selling targeted advertisements. Targeted advertisements, unlike traditional broadcast adverts, rely on information about their targets. And we--the users--are the targets. It's inevitable that companies like Facebook will want to gather more and more information about us as users, because it is that rich mine of data about us that advertisers are willing to pay for. (My emphasis, Ready: OU Open2.Net)

Webliography 

Facebook set for a delicate balancing act


December 22, 2007

Virtual Worlds and Second Life: A Changing Media Environment

Virtual Worlds & Second Life: A Changing Media Environment

Philip Rosedale and his avatar

Philip Rosedale the founder of Linden Labs who run Second Life alongside his avatar.

Introduction

One of the most fascinating developments in new media is the growth of virtual worlds with Second Life currently the leading virtual world in the marketplace although there are other ones being developed. Here I start to examine the growth of the virtual worlds and discuss whether phenomena such as Second Life should be considered as a game, a social networking site, or as something else in its own right. A quick search on Amazon UK reveals 11 titles currently available on Second Life. But these are largely not academic more like Lonely Planets Guides. An academic one just published is linked below. It is the first in a stream that will undobtedly appear in the next 18 months.

This page has developed out of my attempts to encourage my AS students to investigate Teen Second Life as part of their Audiences and Institutions: New Media Technologies Unit. It would be interesting to develop a media teaching environment in there so any media teachers / lecturers teaching this age range please drop a comment in the box. 

Game or Not: A Convergence?

The Uvvy wiki points out with a clear position on whether it is a game in the opening to its entry:

Second Life is a 3-D virtual world entirely built and owned by its residents. Since opening to the public in 2003, it has grown explosively and today is inhabited by millions of people (August 2006) from around the globe. Second Life is not a videogame, but a complete platform for business and entertainment. ( My emphasis: Uvvi wiki entry 22 / 12 / 07)

Uvvy itself can hardly be said to be neutral on the issue as they are:

uvvy is a full service Internet, Virtual Reality and Metaverse consulting and engineering team

Here some of the ideas are explained:  

The uvvy is the ultimate p2p communication device invented by the mathematician, computer scientist and science fiction writer Rudy Rucker. The uvvy does not exist yet but maybe coming soon.

Academia hasn't quite caught on to the fact that computer games represent the convergence and the flowering of the most ambitious frontier efforts of the old twentieth-century computer science: artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and artificial life." Rudy Rucker, "The Lifebox, the Seashell, and the Soul" (My empahsis).

Well this gets us around the question of whether it is a game or not - sort of!

The Virtual Worlds Review 

Virtual Worlds Review has a useful page which analyses several types of virtual world:

A virtual world is an interactive simulated environment accessed by multiple users through an online interface. Virtual worlds are also called "digital worlds," "simulated worlds" and "MMOG's." There are many different types of virtual worlds, however there are six features all of them have in common:

1. Shared Space: the world allows many users to participate at once.

2. Graphical User Interface: the world depicts space visually, ranging in style from 2D "cartoon" imagery to more immersive 3D environments.

3. Immediacy: interaction takes place in real time.

4. Interactivity: the world allows users to alter, develop, build, or submit customized content.

5. Persistence: the world's existence continues regardless of whether individual users are logged in.

6. Socialization/Community: the world allows and encourages the formation of in-world social groups like teams, guilds, clubs, cliques, housemates, neighborhoods, etc. 

Below there is an interesting attempt to develop a more politically astute environment.

Agora Exchange

This site has led me to an interesting  site in which a political game is being devised. It is taking a range of ideas from contributors who must first of all log in. It has actually been commissioned by the Tate Gallery online:

Commissioned by Tate Online, through funding from the Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science and Technology. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Changing Concepts of Cyberspace 

The 07 Siggraph Conference brought out some interesting ideas relating to virtual worlds. As Amy Bruckman suggested in a paper reported by the BBC. 

Already online worlds such as Second Life challenged notions of what was meant by "cyberspace", said Amy Bruckman, associate professor in the College of Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Coined by William Gibson, cyberspace has been defined as the "place" where a telephone conversation appears to occur. Increasingly it has been associated with online spaces, often games, where people go to play and socialize and are represented by an avatar.

However, said Prof Bruckman, it was becoming obvious that blogs and MySpace and Facebook pages were also in cyberspace, even though they also had strong links to the real world, because they were used to showcase events such as birthday parties, excursions or the birth of their children.

How will the Audience Develop?

Exodus to the Virtual World

Published by Palgrave in the US in November 2007 by Edward Castronova  this is one of the first of what will soon be a stream of academic publications on developments in Virtual Worlds.  

The appeal of online virtual worlds such as Second Life is such that it may trigger an exodus of people seeking to "disappear from reality," an expert on large-scale online games has said. (Edward Castronova, Associate Professor in the Department of Telecommunications at Indiana University to the BBC)

But he stressed there will be a group of people that spends all their lives there, and that the big question is the size of this group. (Ibid)

Castronova goes to some pains to differentiate between escapism - somebody avoiding a  situation say a weak marital relationship -  compared to a refuge from the world in which somebody can make a go of things whilst in conventional life they were being discriminated against. He also comments that it is likely to have a strong appeal to those in low paid low skilled jobs. however wherever people congregate there is usually exploitation and they will be paying to be exploited twice just like going to the movies, but if they enjoy themselves and they feel there is some element of control in their lives maybe it won't be so bad.

However if you check out the Densu Virtual Tokyo initiative below they are aiming to use Second Life to conduct high added value services like selling real estate. Clearly there are a number of ways in which this world might develop its audiences in the plural.  

Identity in Virtual Life

It is remarkable to see the reactions of people when one talks to them about Second Life and the possibility of spending a considerable amount of time in one / several virtual worlds. Is the fear / attraction of escapism from "the meat" as William Gibson describes it?

One thing is for certain the issue of identity is likely to be the core one when it comes to the success of these worlds. Many of my own students either quickly expressed an interest or reacted quite strongly against the possibility.  

Historically it might be possible to equate these virtual spaces to the societal role of the masked ball or issues of carnival written about by Bahktin. These are spaces where people can legitimately "transgress". Psychoanalytic accounts based upon Lacanian thinking will probably come to analyse these spaces as ones of the remainder. Probably different worlds will develop different codes of behaviour and perhaps different worlds will prove more attractive to different classes and types of people and come to be understood as functioning differently there are after all lots of different types of pubs and clubs and Bourdieu's notion of cultural capital will, I'm sure, be applicable in due course. It is if course far to early in the development of these worlds to be anyhting more than speculative.   

Here is a long paper by Judith Donath teaching within the MIT media department on "Designing Sociable Media" in 2001. It is quite an old paper now but the issue of identity and deception is even more important now than it ever was. Donath's course had many intersting elements. Here we can see that she is applying her research into the early MUDs into the beginnings of the developing online virtual worlds:

Nearly all of the avatar systems in current development (or in fiction for that matter) are graphical versions of real-time conversation systems (Rossney 1996). This is not surprising, since many social cues that are needed in a real-time conversation - such as emotional expressions, indications of attention, turn-taking signals, and awareness of presence - are problematic in a purely text-based world. Many of the distinctive vocabularies and discourse patterns (smileys, emote commands, etc.) that have evolved in these environments are attempts, given the very limited communicative channel, to introduce expression and other non-textual components of real-world speech (Cherny 1995). Graphical interfaces provide a promising new medium for conveying this information. (From Donath: Inhabiting the Virtual City). 

Donath's key point here is that avatars will effectively become and already are much more effective means of communication incorporating a wealth of non-verbal communication. It might not be real life but then it's not meant to be! It is a media and communications system.

Avatars from Worlds Away

Donath has illustrated her paper with this image of avatars from the World's Away environment dating from 1996. Obviously things have moved on a lot since then.  This environment  originally run by Fujitsu is now owned by VZone

Making Life Easy or Making it Worse?

As we increasingly move towards shopping on the internet there could be distinct advantages in doing this in a virtual world environment points out Philp Rosedale the founder of Second Life:

Shopping on Amazon might be much easier and enjoyable if you could turn to one of the other 10,000 or so people on the site at the same time as you and ask about what they were buying, get recommendations and swap good or bad experiences. (Philip Rosedale in BBC interview - 14th Dec 2007)

The Developing Institutional Context

Thus far it seems as though the media giants haven't invested in Linden Labs and Second Life yet however I'm sure Rupert Murdoch has a close eye on it especially its possible business applications. computer companies are definitely getting very interested and IBM once one of the largest companies in the world is linking up with Linden Labs to develop Avatars:

A virtual character, or avatar, for all the virtual worlds in which people play is the goal of a joint project between IBM and Linden Lab.

The computer giant and the creator of Second Life are working on universal avatars that can travel between worlds.(BBC Technology pages)

The project started by IBM and Linden Lab aims to create a universal character creation system so people only have to create a digital double once. (ibid)

Clearly there is an expectation on the part of IBM that virtual worlds are going to grow and this development could make it much easier to move through a great variety of these worlds. If this sounds strange to some readers now remember it only about 12 years since the web started up with a graphical user interface and things have moved exponentially since then!. 
If you don't believe me then take a look at the impressive line up for the forthcoming virtual worlds conference in 2008 and also take a look at the topics being covered.

The Future Media and Communications

Dentsu in Second Life

One of my AS students kindly added this link from the Financial Times Aug 2007. The advertising agancy Dentsu has spent an enormous amount of money with Second Life establishing a virtual Tokyo:

Virtual Tokyo gets a virtual Second Life Tokyo 

By Mariko Sanchanta in Tokyo, FT.com site
Published: Aug 22, 2007

Dentsu, which spent about Y10m ($870,000) to acquire the 85 hectares in Virtual Tokyo, is aiming to recoup its investment by lining up 30 or so blue-chip companies to build a virtual presence within the first year.

Mr Aihara said: "We're aiming to create a virtual Japanese Wall Street, where major Japanese financial institutions will have a presence.

"For example, users would be able to negotiate a virtual home mortgage with a bank to then buy a virtual flat. (My emphasis). 

Virtual Business Tools for Second Life 

Just as this site uses Google Analytics to monitor usage and to help develop pages and audience relationships so a range of business tools are being developed for Second Life. This image comes from Maya Realities who have develop a Second Life Analytics.

Maya Realities Analytics Screen

Equally important to where visitors spend time on your land is where they are located in real life. The above map helps determine what languages to offer your products and services or what cultures warrent focused resources.

Work in Progress on Virtual Tokyo 

The Japan Times of Oct 25th 2007 reprots the following:

A work in progress, Virtual Tokyo so far houses online representations of such entities as Keio University, the TBS television network, Mizuho Bank, as well as a takeoff ramp for ski jumping and a sports stadium.

Sceptical and Critical Views of Second Life

The Phoney Economics of Second Life

Summary

The more I research about virtual worlds the more convinced I am that they will be normal for a lot of people in advanced industrial societies in 10 -12 years time. The enormous potential for interactivity will make older media forms seem like the dinosaurs they are. As the number of these world's increases we are likely to see the smart media money from the Rupert Murdoch's of this world move into the arena once it becomes a little more established. In world advertising will probably drive these environments making the cost of entry very low in order to attract mass audiences. Obviously the broadband systems will need to be far better. The likely outcome if this scenario unfolds is for low grade TV channels to disappear. Who wants so called reality TV when you can have a much more intersting time online elswhere? I would rather put my pension fund into Linden Labs than ITV (The current 84.4p, up 1.4p on Thursday) that's for certain !

For my students I'm hopefully preparing them for what will become more important in media, communications and cultural studies departments at an undergraduate level when they get to university. Right now a lot of research that has been going on will come on stream and new courses will start to emerge just as these worlds are likely to take off.  

As can be seen above the prospect of a multiplicity of virtual worlds is upon us. Just like early colour TV sets there will be much that is a bit flakey in terms of quality. But it seems clear from this brief round up of things as they stand at the back end of 2007 that the future of virtual worlds is currently a rosy one. Despite some figures suggesting that Linden labs has lost some members in November it is sensible to take a medium term development view. Dentsu a big advertising (media company) is clearly a large early adopter and is making a clear developmental push to develop quite a sophisticated audience. It is likely that this trend will continue. As the dollar equals around 2 Linden and the Pound Sterling is around $2 there are clearly some entreprenuerial opportunities awaiting! I still wonder whether there will be avatars queuing out of the Second Life Banks on a Satureday morning though! Things seem to have moved on steadily from a year ago and the the pieces are gradually moving into place for a much larger adotption rate of residents to begin who will swamp the pioneers. Lets hope Linden have got enough servers!

Webliography and Online Resources 

Search Term on Google: Identity and Virtual World. This leads to a list of scholarly articles. The ones at the top of the list are the classic ones. You will need to go down a couple of pages to find more up to date material

B. Book. Moving Beyond the Game:Virtual Social Worlds

Stephen Webb : Avatar culture: Narrative, power and identity in virtual world environments (You will need to pay for this one or have subscription rights).

BBC money Programme: Virtual world Real Millions

Elizabeth Daniel is Professor of Information Management at the Open University Business School check her blog here.


November 30, 2007

Facebook and Social Networking

Facebook and Social Networking

Introduction


At the beginning of this week when doing an introduction to the New Media Technologies Unit for OCR I asked a class of about 24 AS media students how many of them used social networking sites, almost all used one. It seems clear that this is very much a generational phenomena and one can expect these current users to be users in 10 or 15 years time. For them it is a normal means of communication whilst for older people including many parents, teachers and lecturers it isn't a normal means of communication. 

That social networking isn't seen as a normal means of communication and one that is growing in importance is problematic for many educational institutions. Many of their networks have a total block on the system. It is even difficult for students to research specific sites because as soon as they put a search term such as Facebook into the search engine then there is an automatic block set up.  Lecturers must now create resources to be viewed remotely from the institution.  For those of us working in the media and communications arenas this is making things particularly awkward and this is a case of a combination of technologies combined with cultural desires which are outstripping the abilities of older institutions to adapt quickly enough. Those teaching on A level media courses will have by now have noticed that the new specifications on several of the exam boards are increasingly geared towards the world of 'New' Media - although nowadays it isn't so new. This is shown by the fact that large and even giant media institutions are taking stakes in these emergent areas. Below I start to look at some of the issues which are arising as these "new" areas of media are becoming subsumed into conventional media channels albeit creating new and emerging models of audience and profit creating from those of 'old media'. Rest assured the main issue of profitability is not under any threat!

From an educational perspective it is now extremely important that colleges and schools work towards opening up their networks to social networking sites. With parents often being entirely ignorant of the dangers as well as the enormous potential of these sites lecturers and teachers need to start coming to terms with the implications of them. It is far better to learn about these things in a moderated and supported environment than to allow students to participate in ignorance. That is a recipe for danger and disaster for the more naive. This issue is covered briefly below. 


Media Institutions: Who owns it & what do they get out of it?


When dealing with media institutions whether in the world of 'old' or 'new' media one of the first things to get students to ask is "Who owns it?", "What do they get out of it". 

Rupert Murdoch  was as usual ahead of the game and incidently must be considered as a media entrepreneur still at the top of his game as he invested heavily - to much derision from competitors and media critics - in the social networking site MySpace. I don't think many will be laughing now, being a bright shade of green instead!

Google followed this lead about a year later with the acquisition of YouTube. This acquisition although worth $1.65 Billion was mainly done through a stock deal and not by cash! The owners of YouTube being rewarded with Google shares which have seen a  steady increment in value. google are still working on a way to 'monetise' of create YouTube as a profitable enterprise, however I'm sure they will crack it in time and in the meantime they have brought into a huge and growing audience.

The new Kid on the block is Facebook. Started by a Harvard graduate its initial audience was largely University students and younger lecturers however it is in the process of expanding exponentially. You will find architectural celebrity Zaha Hadid on Facebook for example. The success of Facebook has created interest from megacorporation Microsoft  who have bought into the company. This is another step in Microsoft's shift into a horizontally integrated company in a multimedia environment gradually turning from a software company into a mutli-media comany.  Apple are doing  a similar thing and this process will be covered elsewhere in due course. A BBC report from October 2007 notes Microsoft's move into the market:

Microsoft has paid $240m (£117m) for a 1.6% stake in Facebook that values the hugely popular social networking site at $15bn (£7.3bn).


BBC Video of Facebook founder.


Audiences & Social Networking




Facebook Screen

Facebook allows you to create a profile of "Friends". As the number of friends is available is virtually infinite this might mean that more precise definitions of 'Friends' is required. Friends and acquaintances network anybody?










Some key facts about Facebook from 2006 below. Writing now at the end of 2007 rest assured it has a considerably larger membership as well as having Microsoft as an important investor. 


  • Founded as an online social directory by Mark Zuckerberg in 2004

  • 7.5m people registered

  • Seventh most popular website in US

  • "Facebooking": checking someone's Facebook profile before meeting them

  • "Facebook official": really going out together

The website works around individual institutions. So if you don't have an e-mail account from the University of Oxford, you don't get into the Facebook for students at Oxford.(This BBC story posted in June 2006 gives us a sense of the recent history of the social networking site). 


Recent figures on Facebook usage  from The Times Online

Facebook is now the clear No 2 worldwide, with around 50 million active users, just below half of MySpace’s level. A year ago Facebook, which began life as a networking site for American students founded by Mark Zuckerberg, a college drop-out, had 12 million active users. The growth allowed it to raise $240 million (£117 million) from Microsoft, based on a company valuation of $15 billion.(My emphasis figures from the Times 13th December 2007)


As the Times article points out the audiences for Facebook have in the past been primarily amongst students however as the stories below (Aug & Sept 2007) indicate, Facebook appears to be moving into a new phase of expansion.

Kent Council Workers are banned from Facebook:

Workers at Kent County Council (KCC) have been banned from using the social networking website Facebook.

Certainly social networking sites have become popular at work. Use of the internet for non-working activities is on the increase. As a result institutional networks are become more controlling in terms of who is allowed access. Whilst we can criticise the NHS workers for wasting taxpayer money and not doing thier best for patients  this story  from  the BBC on Kent NHS highlights the popularity of these sites amongst adults as well as students and provides a clue about how the phenomenon of social networking is spreading. It isn't clear how far this is intergenerational from this story. 


Facebook and New Social Movement Theory


Social networks can be used as powerful cultural and socio-political tools. This story from the BBC points out how students organising via Facebook managed to change the policy of HSBC one of the World's largest banks and a player on a global scale:

Students putting pressure on bank


Instead of using leaflets and loud-hailers, this student protest is gathering support through Facebook, with the Stop The Great HSBC Graduate Rip-Off group so far acquiring almost 3,500 members - an increase of about 1,000 since the weekend. (Taken from story linked above August 2007).

Social networking and the ability to mobilise sentiment possibly at a global level in a viral form leaves the possibility of new highly fluid political movements which are extraordinarily dynamic. With climate change increasingly dominating the global political agenda it will be intersting to see whether and  how social networking sites are able to mobilise and utilise people's sentiments in entirely new ways with limited objectives being applied at any given moment. This means that new chapters will need to be written in the social theory of New Social Movement theory and Resource Mobilisation theory. 

The IDRC (International Development Research  Centre) has a useful but heavyweight summation of these theories here. The Wikipedia explanation is briefer but still helpful.


This Guardian Blog suggests that there is a dark side to the political activity on Facebook with the British National Party becoming involved in a big way. It certainly attracted some BNP supporters in the comments box too!


Here's an extract from the Open Democracy site. It seems to think that there needs to be a 'civic hacking' application. Perhaps the social networking sites are this application... 

So, a sensible strategy would start on this principle. But the people it should be connecting are not citizens and parliamentarians, or voters and civil servants. It should be connecting ordinary people with other ordinary people. And there should be applications that help these people to help each other. A programme supporting civic hacking can do this.

This should become the ethic of e-democracy: mutual-aid and self-help among citizens, helping to overcome civic problems. It would encourage a market in application development. It would encourage self-reliance, or community-reliance, rather than reliance on the state.

Facebook and Cultural Studies Research


The phenomenon of Facebook and social networking in general is becoming so widespread in advanced industrial countries that it is beginning to become an importan area of cultural and social research. The comments below from this Nottingham 3rd Year student doing Geography (presumably Human Geography are indicative in this regard:

Facebook has become a phenomenon at Nottingham University, so much so that I've decided to do my geography dissertation on it. Am in the process of just starting, and was worried that Facebook would just be a fad and my dissertation would be left high and dry, but it looks set to stay. Let's just hope I get to talk to the right people concerning it.
Sally, Nottingham
( Comment left on this BBC story)


How Dangerous are Social Networking Sites?


One of the key issues surrounding social networking sites is the rank naivety by allowing oneself to be recorded in a 'candid' situation. This BBC story makes it clear that there are dangers that potential employers can search for applicants on the web. This can lead to severe set backs for some people and raises the issue of changing models of social surveillance:


Here is a link to the Information Comissioner's Office (ICO) dealing with protection for young people. The ICO  is an important regulatory institution which has recently developed to deal with data protection and the rapidly increasing social and cultural moves into Networked Society. In the Webliography there is also a link to the ICO's data safety 'toolkit' which is a PDF that social networkers should consult carefully.
This BBC story below about Oxford University using Facebook as a surveillance tool to identify unruly behaviour amongst its students also shows that these new media tools are 'double-edged'. If you are being posted up or doing it yourself beware!!!

Above the dangers of silly or even criminal behaviour being recorded and becoming used as evidence against you are highlighted. There are of course other dangers within  the social networking environment.  Moral panics aside the possibility of these sites being used to organise bullying / harrassment are possible and have been used to these ends as the screen below displays.

Facebook bullying


Facebook used to bully Librarian  

I have dicovered a useful blog which discusses the issue. In the comments box the subject of the bullying who was actually a postgraduate student provides more information about the experience. What is particularly worrying is that Facebook did NOT actually respond immediately and remove these students:

Facebook DID NOT close the group. They told the University of Kent that they did not accept complaints from institutions, only from individual members.

Of great concern as well is the continuation of the report which cites University of Warwick Students doing the same sort of thing. something that all civically conscious users of any social networking site should be doing is haranguing the site to ban those who act irresponsibly. Facebook has other criticisms to face which will be dealt with in a later posting. But it is very difficult to unsubsribe from and potential users of the site should be aware of this.

So as we can see real society is of course represented with its good and bad faces. It is up to users to self police where possible but this should be backed up by repsonsible policies from the site owners and ultimately there should be a good independent regulatory body. 

As with any other form of social networking individuals of all ages are exposed to a variety of social risks which need to be managed. Just as people need to learn to get 'streetwise' so they need to learn to get 'cyberwise'. There are always opportunities for the opportunistic and unscrupulous within any social and cultural environment. Taking sensible precautions should obviate these. 

Conclusion


This posting has begun to cover some of the issues associated with social networking sites with a particular focus upon Facebook. Topics have coverd social cultural and political research and usage of these sites, the 'dark side' of the sites and some initial comments on the audiences for these sites and the links to larger media instituions which are developing as the importance of these sites increases at an almost exponential rate. Some introducroy comments are also included about the need for educational institutions below university level to take a more proactive stance towards this new forms for to block them arguably leaves students at greater risk than by teaching about these environments. Furthermore responsible institutional useage in monitoring student activity on them can reduce the potential for the dark side to emerge.  


Webliography 

Protests force Facebook to change

Information Commissioner's Office

Information commissioner's Office (ICO) Data Safety Toolkit (PDF)

Thinkuknow Teachers and Trainers Area

BBC story on student protests against HSBC


See Can We Escape from Facebook on this blog for analysis and links to the people behind Facebook.


December 12, 2006

New Media. Business Likes Virtual Environments

Second Life Means Business

Below Adam Reuters: in real life the Reuters correspondent Adam Pasick.

Adam Reuters Adam Pasick in real life

Reuters and its use of Second Life

(NB please also check the Reuters RSS feed for stories on Second Life only under the new media technologies section in the sidebar.)

you can teleport out to the Reuters Atrium (you will need to be a member of Second Life to get all the way I’m afraid :-( )

Reuters & Nintendo Wii

CNet on the Reuters Second Life News Bureau (They have one as well).

You may be wondering by now what sort of people apart from journalists visit Second Life are they sad non-socials, geeks, adeventurers, entrepreneurs? A new report came out just as I was writing this (connected or what ? :-) ).

Chart of exchange rate of Linden dollars to the US dollar

Check out the Reuters RSS feed in sidebar for the up to date exchange rates.

Other business Stories about Second Life

B

Jeremy Paxman in Virtuality
elow Jeremy Paxman from BBC’s Newsnight but not as you know him.
Even the professional sceptic Jeremy Paxman from BBC’s Newsnight has been checking out Second Life. Interestingly drawn there investigating new media technologies from a business perspective. There is a link here to the video report. (The title of the article is a parody of Philip K. Dick’s Sci-Fi novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep which got turned into a very famous film – but thenif you’re reading this you know that :-).

The American journal Business Week

Business Week: Second Life Tip sheet

CNet on how Big businesses are setting up in Second Life

If your’en the sort of person who has an ING internet account then maybe you’ll be able to draw out cash in Linden dollars when you visit Second Life sort of ‘Double Dutch’ perhaps?

Where people go business and economics follows and…

So do the tax people!

Other business Developments in Virtual Worlds

World of Warcraft owned by media conglomerate Vivendi is shaking up the games market.


New Media. Second Life: Views of Founder Philip Rosedale

Introduction

At the time of writing the biggest developing cultural / social phenomenon on the Web is the rapid growth of the Virtual environment Second Life. It was initially launched in 2003 around the time other web2 applications were beginning to revitalise the web after the dot.com crash of 2000. Until a few months ago its growth has been steady but not really spectacular. Already over one million people have signed up to become members and it is suggested that its economy is growing faster than many real countries.

Below I have summarised some of the key points to come out of an interview with Philip Rosedale the founder of Second Life with Oliver Rosedale from .Net magazine. (very old world having a paper based product :-) ). If you go to the other article on Second Life you will find links to several stories by BBC reporters on it.

Interview Summary

Currently (December 2006) about 10,000 people per day are joining Second life

In September it grew at a rate of 38%

About $500,000 (real money) is spent everyday

Current rate of exchange real dolloars to Linden dollars (the local currency) $1 – $250.

Inspiration behind the project: Neil Stephenson’s book Snow Crash

Rosedale: the combination of 3D graphics and broadband were the two things that seemed absolutely necessary to make the whole thing work

Rosedale on the differences between Second Life and other virtual world models:

...there’s no levels, no scores and, most importantly, the content in second life is user created (my emphasis)...Linden Lab just sells and maintains land – all objects are created by people inside the virtual world.

Herein lies the fundamental difference between Second Life and environments sucha as World of Warcraft. Second Life is about creating a country not a game.

The difference is that there are many more possibilities to explore. It can be entirely escapist or it is possible to test out products and developments as some businesses are already. Another difference is that people who are ‘stuck’ in the real world can create their own entrepreneurial opportunities in Second Life.

In this latter sense it can be seen culturally as the recreation of a frontier zone. It has shades of a revitalisation of the cowboy frontier ethic for the 21st century.

Perhaps it is part of the liberal free-trading culture which has been the root of American financial success (as well as some of its poverty some would say).

Web 1 or Web 2

Reuters in Second life

This application seems to blur the differences between Web 1 and Web 2. As Rosedale is arguing that Linden Labs purpose is to create a country they have provided an enormously interactive social environment which is a major attraction. another major attraction which gives it a Web 2 feel is that its future development is primarily based upon what users decide to make and to do.

Users keep the intellectual property rights on articles they make within the environment:

bq. People are using the scripting language to build something like a watch that your avatar wears, and when you zoom in on it, its telling the right time and maybe has an alarm on it(Rosedale interviewed .Net Jan 2007 p36).

Clearly this makes it an extraordinarily interactive and highly dynamic environment which is laregly contingent upon how the users decide to use it unlike the gaming virtual environments which often have regular and predictable features built into the software.

There is is even crime in Second Life however there is some serious thinkng going on from Linden Lab. Issues of control are community based informed by books such as the well known The Death and Life of Great American cities by Jane Jacobs. There are many experiments going on about how to govern.

One thing is currently missing that is present in the real world. That is the potential for monopoly contorl of commodities. there’s no cost of goods and there’s no manufacturing and distribution costs says Rosedale.

For Rosedale the most important feature of Second life is that it is _inherently social. When you navigate the web normally you are alone. although Second life is a website you are rarely alone in your ventures. Arguably this puts paid to those a few years ago who thought that the web would kill off sociality. It seems to be moving sociality into different space which is rather a different thing.


December 11, 2006

New Media. Second Life: the Virtual World is Taking Off

Second Life The Reality of Virtual worlds

Second Life for Beautiful People

IntroductionAlgernon Avatar

The first time I’d heard about Second Life the rapidly growing virtual world with thousands of people signing up every month was in the Financial Times weekend colour supplement a few weeks ago (now available online here). They had sent a reporter in to check out this rapidly growing phenomenon.

Once you come across something it seems to be everywhere. its in this month’s Net magazine and a swift search is finding stories about it on the technology pages of the BBC website. so let’s start to check it out.

Special World for Teenagers

Because of the more adult nature of Second life and because many don’t wish to meet teenagers even dressed as avatars the creators of Second life have created another world especially for teenagers.

Click here to find the interface to Second Life

Take some time and follow the BBC links and also the other links. There’s a story of one person who in real life got into debt and managed to win the trust of his Linden friends to lend him real money! Wow…. now there’s impressive.

The BBC Second Life Concert Venue

You’ll find the BBC runs rock concerts in there and IBM are there too. Addidas and Toshiba are selling virtual trainers and cars. some people are reckoning that this is the ‘killer’ application for broadband internet, in other words how to make real money in the real world.

Other Virtual Worlds

The online game World of Warcraft is hugely popular with more than five million people now regularly spending time in Azeroth, trying to turn apprentice adventurers into fully-formed heroes.

World of Warcraft is a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game and, as that lengthy title implies, gives gamers the chance to control characters in a large net-based fantasy world.

World of Warcraft

For some Warcraft players slaying monsters and gathering treasure is not enough. Instead of swords they are using economics as a weapon.
This is because for all its fantasy trappings, one aspect of Warcraft is alarmingly similar to the real world and that is the importance of money.

Summary

Virtual worlds is bocoming a big thing. They are working on different models of development. The World of Warcraft is dungeons and dragons for the web however Second Life is a far more creative and dynamic model which is generating real interest in the world of business as well as individual adventurers. Please see the entry which is summarising the Net interview with Philip Rosedale the founder of Second Life. Certainly some are beginning to see Second Life as the new ‘killer’ application for the broaqdband era for it is the availability of cheap broadband that is a core technology in allowing the model to operate. Broadband is to Second Life what roads are to a city.


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