Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Smiley Face-ification of Social Media

"Thumbs can tilt at many angles." -- Terrence Patrick Canade
I posted a recent entry in the AIIM blogger community about the compromised state of social media to deliver on many of the essential building blocks of information quality such as transparency, integrity, credibility, and authenticity. This is typified best by the toggle that flips us on / off through the planet's most awesome wall switch -- the "I like" button on Facebook.

The dumb-downed thumbs-up is the only vestige of personal judgement passing for an experience worth repeating beyond our own browser boundaries. All of the preceding attributes are measurable in a world where information once cost something to obtain. However, that calculation is no longer valid in the land of content too cheap to meter.

How do we yank us back into a world of standards? Do we offload our suspended disbeliefs to the algorithmic chefs slaving in the kitchens of Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple, etal.? Is it naive even to believe in standards where all experience is unique -- subjected to the limitations of our direct Internet experience. These are our own private showrooms expressed in search logs, site histories, and browser settings? Uhhh ... no. (They are private, right?)

The failure to develop universal information standards ignores our universal claims on social media. It's not about organizing people. As a business model the "social" tag papers over the shopping model so that social media consultants can collect their rent checks. But it was never about that. Information quality in a social media world is something more primal and self-centered. It's about organizing ourselves. We need to tap a containable set of information within a set period of time in the service of certain favorable outcomes. We express these as our priorities, our deal-breakers, and our worthiness as self-taught nodes in this network of smiley faces and closely-guarded ranking formulas.

Hardly Containing Ourselves

One way to close ranks is to treat the world's information supply like a resource instead of a raw content sewage pipe bleeding into the digital landfill of unlimited capacity. But ours is a supply-based business model. It's according to who-wants-in -- not according to why-do-you-need to-find-out. Demand could be manufactured without ever needing to contain this need-to-know why. No explanations necessary. All Google holds are the word patterns which most deftly intervene in a user forming a question. It is in every party's interest to play their role correctly. Unfortunately for most users that means little regard that the terms Google is throwing them are deceptively simple:

The moment you aspire to confide in a search engine you are being shown an exit of someone else's choosing.

These magically inventive search suggestions? They are ads. Let me say it again, only more to the point. Suggestions don't only answer to us. They answer to advertisers. We are purchasing Ad Words by clicking on the Google set of suggestion terms. Yes, Google has pioneered the art of click-free commerce. You drop down to their dropdown and you've ordered from right off the menu!  The inventory is not a catalog. Don't touch the merchandise -- even if we are the demand side of the equation.

I'm not arguing on moral or even legal grounds that a change of policy is in order. Yes, its brilliance cascades across the sky. But we don't pay Google for use of their search engine. Google gets paid by monetizing our usage of their service. Anyone who loses sight of that is at risk of being used in ways by Google that are not communicated to Google users -- namely, that your attention has been preemptively purchased by one or several Adwords sponsors: "And now that I'm inside your head I can always see myself out without an escort..."

No matter how many gadgets reference our schedules, the number of hours in a day has not increased. Cognitively speaking, our personal attention spans are fixed on a lunar cycle. Anyone with more attention to spend than the claims on their calendar is either incapable of self-direction, independently wealthy, living without a smart phone or auditioning for the next post crash pilot episode of Survivor, the prequel.

Fixed Scale Attention Settings

One time-tested way to channel attention on a meaningful focus is to set attention to a fixed scale. That enables the virtual voter to carve out her own sets of priorities without any heed for what her peers or elites have insisted she hold to the exclusion of everything else. Instead she can focus on multiple concerns and address those concerns as a percentage of her "total concerns."

Let's pretend that the tax debate is run like a popular election with 6-8 political parties instead of the 1-2 parties operating here. Let's take a system where a vested member of a non-elite group, (say U.S. taxpayer?) could express their policy preferences by directing their tax dollars in percentage form. This flies in the face of our current fight-or-flight two-headed party predicament. We could make it more competitive to thicken the cable gumbo news soup. Let's say the host would send the losers home who don't coalesce around the top five tally-getters. That lops off the long, scraggly tail of marginal, overlapping services programs, right?

The tea party would love it because slicing up the treasury into line items would finally acquaint the sleepy and disaffected with the freak out show they seem to have missed the last ten years -- how 43% of our voting rights revert to the Chinese before we even begin to dole things out. Corporate lobbies would climb on-board because it lights up their board like no two-party election campaign ever will.

Defense contractors will reacquaint us with the fact that while much of our assembly work has gone overseas we are still the world beater in fear manufacturing. Just to make sure that social services can't defeat the Military / Medicare complex we can have defense contractors using their Citizens v. United speech-making write-offs to tell America why:
  • A vote for HUD, Headstart, CHIPS or AmeriCorps is a vote against keeping America the biggest, baddest, gunslinger in the global neighborhood.
The pharma giants could out-suggest any keyword campaign with a massive spending rationale that...
  • Doing away with Medicare means losing the all-expense paid trip to an elective nursing home that we have today.
What's going to happen when our wet suits begin to wet themselves? That's the foreign invader the health care lobby will implant into our national discussion.

Perhaps the most popular feature of a percentage-based ratings system is that every 10 millionth taxpayer would win a reprieve -- that's right. Tax forgiveness for an entire payment cycle! No lottery could ever hold a candle to shaking Uncle Sam down before he fumbles for our own pockets, right?

That's how information standards emerge. Carve up the beast and then let's compare recipes.

Payments accepted.

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About attentionSpin

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attentionSpin is a consulting practice formed in 1990 to create, automate and apply a universal scoring system (“The Biggest Picture”) to brands, celebrities, events and policy issues in the public eye. In the Biggest Picture, attentionSpin applies the principles of market research to the process of media analytics to score the volume and nature of media coverage. The explanatory power of this research model: 1. Allows practitioners to understand the requirements for managing the quality of attention they receive 2. Shows influencers the level of authority they hold in forums where companies, office-seekers, celebrities and experts sell their visions, opinions and skills 3. Creates meaningful standards for measuring the success and failure of campaigns and their connection to marketable assets.