The digital generation – not special when it comes to the internet

I’m reading a book called Build for Change that has a really good message, but the way that the author talks about Generation Y, Millennials, or whatever the hell else the people born from 81-2000 are called. Essentially, he pushes forwards the theory that because we grew up at the same time as computers were truly personalized and in homes, that these folks some how have a better understanding of the internet. That these folks are more self-centered and all about me and thus harder customers to handle than any generation in the past.

Being born around computers doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a deeper connection with the technology. To some extent, since I’m frequently around computers and know how to use them in a lot of different ways, I’m surprised when I hear people my age or younger that don’t get technology. That learning to code is terrifying or how code works is a foreign concept. I’ve also met a lot of people that are older than myself that know as much or more about computers and technology than I do. Some of them are in IT, but some of them, like my Dad, aren’t truly IT specialists. They just understand that technology is a powerful tool and computers are probably the most flexible tool we’ve ever had.

Social media is one of the tools that the author claims all Millennials know how to use. This is a complete and total misconception. Sure, the kids might have a better idea than the parents, but it’s not because the parents can’t understand social media – it’s not hard to learn – they don’t have the time or the desire to learn the tool. Furthermore, just because you’re interested in computers and other digital content doesn’t necessitate an ability to understand how to use social media effectively. After working at AMD I learned first hand that I was one of the few people at the company that truly understood the tools available through social media and I definitely don’t consider myself an expert or sophisticated user of any of the social media platforms. Many of my older co-workers weren’t fluent in any of the networks, but that’s because they had other things that mattered more.

Social networks are to some extent extremely fast word of mouth networks. The difference is that between some users there used to be an intermediary – like a news paper or TV show – that would share the information with interested parties. Now, if you want Jaden Smith’s thoughts on tibetian monks and she happens to tweet about it, you’ll be able to retweet that instantly. However, that doesn’t mean that everyone has the same reach or that all tweet will be treated equally. In fact because there is STILL an intermediary, algorithms, between trending tweets and hashtags, the reach of a given topic isn’t endless.

I’d also argue that the people that will claim they are social media experts, for the most part, are not Millennials, they are Gen Xers or Boomers. This is an obvious result because they are snake oils salesmen and a lot of social media users¬†know they are full of crap.

The choice to be fluent in a given technology platform or “language” isn’t a matter of growing up with it. It’s about making a choice to devote time and energy to the topic. It’s no different than anything else. The big difference between a parent and the kid, is that the Kid has a lot more free time to mess around, while the parent is out working.

The Value of Culture

A friend of mine sent me a link about the variety of dialects found in Pennsylvania, it’s a pretty cool read. The article basically argues that because of the number of dialects, 5 in total, Pennsylvania is one of the most interesting states in the US for linguists. It reminded me of whenever I first moved to the Netherlands. I made a few friends and they were always making fun of the Limburgians because Limburgese sounds really funny. It’s has a mixture of Dutch, German, Spanish, and other stuff, plus they say the Dutch words really funny. So I decided to play them a PIttsburghese song, they couldn’t understand a word in the song. They actually asked me if it was English.

Which brings me to my next point, the Netherlands, which is roughly half the size of PA, has 2 languages at least 5 dialects (Limburgese is on it’s way to being a third language). Sure the country has a lot more people 18 million vs. 12 million, but there’s a lot more diversity in their language than in PA. Which is pretty interesting – especially considering that they’ve kept this variety whenever they also know somewhere between 3-5 languages (Dutch, English, German, Spanish, French for example). One of the concerns of the Slate article about PA is that the folks that leave decide to lose their accents which isn’t the case in the Netherlands.

These are all part of the local culture and language is one of the best representations of a culture. The words that people use to describe things really influences the way they want to live. For example the Dutch word “Gezellig” (link explains how to say the word) doesn’t really have an English translation the closest being “warm and cozy” for a room, but can be used in many different contexts (most beyond my understanding of the application). This word kind of represents a goal of a gathering, house, or anything. I think it strongly influences who the Dutch are and who they want to be their friends. It’s embedded in their culture.

I’m currently reading a book called “People’s Platform” which has a huge emphasis on culture and the cultural enablers of the internet. The internet is both the best thing and worst thing that has ever happened to our culture. It’s fantastic because I can still find out about awesome bands from friends all over the world, but it’s also extremely isolating because of algorithms¬†that shape how we find content from 3rd parties. It’s one of the reasons why I’ve heard people express the thoughts that people are the best at recommending a new band compared to Pandora.

We have the opportunity to expand our culture a little bit if we put forth the effort. However, that’s a lot of effort. It’s hard to find people you have things in common with on some platforms and it’s easier to just find the popular people and follow them. I’ve made the effort to keep Dutch connects on my twitter feed because I loved living there. I have intentionally followed many women because I want to see their opinions as well as a few minorities. However, for the most part they are fairly under represented. It’s tough, because you want things that interest you on your twitter feed and a lot of people are into very different things than I am.

Which begs the question, how do we ensure a robust culture in an environment where we and our algorithms are actively trying to homogenize the cultural goods we interact with? This isn’t an easy problem to answer especially since we like free goods on the internet. I stream Pandora for free (ads on my phone), I haven’t bought an actual song or album in years. I want to support bands, but I know so little goes to the actual band these days. For Twitch I support 2 people (kbmod and nipnops) because I know the money goes to them to help produce the content I love. However, even with all the people paying, it’s not enough to allow nipnops to live solely on this income.

I think that we should seriously consider a living wage for artists and entertainers. I believe there is a need to support content I don’t like because we need to make sure that people see it. If the Dutch don’t understand all aspects of Americans (they’d never heard of Pittsburghese) how can we ever hope to understand other cultures if we don’t help enable them to reach us?

 

What are your thoughts?

Social network patent war?

Today the first salvo has been launched in what will likely be a brutal and bloody patent war in the social networking world. Yahoo! has decided to go after Facebook with several patents which were bought from Friendster a now long defunct social networking site. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts companies that start suing over patents likely have lost their competitive edge. However, I think this is going to have long reaching impacts.

Facebook will likely try to find something they can use to counter-sue Yahoo! Which I believe will open a huge can of worms. A large number of companies have put forth effort into creating social networks and there are companies that are built on top of those networks. Essentially, this is an entire ecosystems of companies and products that interconnect and work together. Until now, it has been rather peaceful except for a few angry words tossed back and forth.

I’m not really aware of what patents are out there for these types of sites, however, it is likely that all the major companies are going to be scrambling for patents. Some of the companies involved have already been in patents wars, Google for example. I don’t think Google is going to sit by and allow other companies to attack them the way that Apple has gone after Android. This would be an extremely foolish business move so, I think it makes sense for Google to actively defend (attack) competing firms by acquiring patents and aggressively targeting firms that may be infringing.

Apple has also tried to get into the social networking side of things with their Ping network. Based on their previous patenting strategies, it seems likely that they have built their own war chest of patents and we know how Apple likes to use them.

Yes, much of this is simply speculation. However, as the entire ecosystem of social media and networks have developed into a huge new area of business and marketing, we need to be aware of how these could impact us. Systems that allow access to multiple different social media accounts could be shut down using patents to enforce the use of each platform. I use tweetdeck and I know other people that use Hootsuite they essentially work in the same way (results may vary), but could a patent derail their use? I don’t know at this point, but i’m not happy about the prospect. I’ve mentioned before my distrust of Facebook, which is why I use tweet deck and sign in using Incognito. An all-out patent war could seriously disrupt this growing environment and reshape the way we use these networks.

Crowd Source Legislation

Crowd sourcing, is a name for a group of people taking part in something from all over the place. One of the first initiatives like this is open source software, a more recent version is Crowd source funding for businesses. These started as initiatives to give micro loans in Africa and other developing countries. More recently, websites like Kickstarter have allowed everyday people to help get new ventures starting (I plan on writing more about this later).

So what’s the deal with the legislation? Well, essentially, this is building upon the momentum Reddit and other websites generated during the SOPA/PIPA protests. Members have decided to create something like an internet bill of rights. The idea is the create a better balance between content holders, private companies, governments and users. In China there’s a great deal of censorship and Google and Twitter have both announced censorship based on the location of the user. This type of censorship would have killed the Arab spring before it happened.

OK? but that’s not going to effect me in the US. Well, we don’t know that. Yes, we have provisions against free speech, but that’s against governments censoring speech. It’s difficult to know what a private company will censor when this speech is in a quasipublic/private space. Facebook routinely censors groups and speech on their site. Additionally, look at what’s happening with MegaUpload.com and their users. There was legitimate use on the website and the Department of Justice doesn’t care. The EFF and the hosting company are working to find the legitimate data held on the site.

One of the goals of the act would be to reduce the ability of sites to censor speech. It’s clear that this is an important goal of the act. Additionally, there are programs, like TOR, that have been developed to allow people behind censorship to circumvent it (See my post about how TOR works). However, there could be penalties for people that use TOR in the US to help people circumvent the censorship. These types of ideas are what the goal of FIA is.

If you’re interested in taking your anger at SOPA/PIPA into a new direction and potentially become more involved in our government check it out here: http://www.reddit.com/r/fia/

But that’s US based stuff. Yes, sure it is. It seems like most of the users interested are from the US. Many of the users involved would like to see this become a treaty instead of just a law. In that case involvement from many different countries would be ideal and requested. Additionally, there is no reason why this type of legislation should be restricted to the US. These ideas are universal.

On Being the Product

Today I’ve read and reposted a few articles (another) about users being the final product for several companies. These of course are facebook, twitter, google (in various forms including plus), yelp and the list goes on. Personally, I think that the claims that we are only the product is a bit of simplification. There is no doubt that we are the product, however, it’s also a matter of to whom are we the product? For instance, my blog, which I post on facebook, twitter and Google Plus allows others to be consumers of my content. The people who are my friends, followers or in my circles are able to consume my content. We are not merely products to companies, but we are products for other people as well.

We consume what are friends put out there. We have habits an manners in which we’d like to be able to consume that information. However, we’re running into a bidirectional problem. We’re losing control over what information we’re sharing and we’re losing control over how we consume this information. In Tom Anderson’s (of myspace fame) post about the changes in facebook, he mentions something called seamless sharing, where you have to do nothing and it’s instantly shared. This, to me, raises all sorts of privacy concerns. In this TED talk the speaker addresses the problem of filtering algorithms in google and facebook.

I think it’s very obvious that Facebook still realizes that we’re consumers of the information. For without our work as the product, posting links, pictures and statuses, there’d be no facebook. However, without us as consumers reading various different posts and clicking related links there’d also be no facebook. The product we are to non-fellow consumers comes down to our network, what the people in our network are interested in and whatever information that is automatically shared with facebook through our web browser.

We need to be aware that this trend is going to continue. We as users and consumers need to fight to get control over our data and the right to control what we share when we share it. This gets back to my points in my earlier blog posts about pseudonyms and truly being anonymous on the web. If you are interested in knowing at least some of the information that you’ve shared on facebook over the years in some countries you are able to download a copy of your facebook history. I haven’t done so yet, but I plan on it. If it is not available in your country, try to get the rights to your data.

While facebook is using you as a product, you still should have the right to demand the information they have on you and are selling to 3rd parties. Being the product isn’t fun, however, it’s nothing new. We’ve been the product for years and have never really complained. The difference now, is that the information about your personally has never been better and is only going to get better the more you give them. For free.