Category Archives: Analysis

When Social Media Is More Important Than Functionality

I have found that social interactions have completely overshadowed the other uses of technology. People are interacting more online and through their mobile devices than anyone could have ever imagined just a few decades ago. To me, it seems that the functionality of technology is being overshadowed by social interests.

For instance, let us consider the recent release of Windows 8. I am currently running using Windows 8 while writing this blog post. Though I will not turn this into a review of Windows 8, I will discuss the transformation that Windows as made from older operating systems to Windows 8 and what that means with regard to social media.

Previous Windows operating systems were geared entirely around functionality and ease of access (with an exception for Vista which I shall not mention). The OS was structured like a desk with everything ready for the user to use as if they were working at their real desk. You can write documents, letters (e-mails), read, research, etc…

With Windows 8, I have noticed something completely different. The OS seems to be centered on social interaction. The reason is because there is now full integration in the operating system with social tools like Facebook and Twitter. The OS has a built in messaging service which allows direct communication through Facebook. In fact, as long as your are logged onto your computer, you will be available for chat on Facebook and will receive any message through the messaging app. Every major service such as Music, Video, Photos, Maps, and Games can all be shared without opening a browser or logging into a social network. How? Well, Windows 8 relies on your connections to social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, 4Square, and Instragram to share the information that you select to share in Windows 8.

Note that on the left side of my “Start” view, Share, is right below search.

Here is a preliminary picture of my desktop on Windows 8. Truth be told, this is almost exactly the same setup as the default for Windows 8. I would like to point out that Mail, People, and Messaging all come before Desktop in Windows 8. A coincidence, I think not! Microsoft, as well as many others, have realized that social interaction governs the use of a medium. By focusing the operating system around social interaction, Microsoft is guaranteeing the success of their product in the long run.

Let me just say this is very convenient. It automatically did this to the screen. Facebook conversation while I am browsing!

I will not say that this is either a good or a bad thing, just that it represents a change in what people expect from technology and how developers have changed the parameters of what makes software useful.

Try Windows 8 out! If you are a student or a faculty member at UMD, visit those hyperlinks. It is free! I highly suggest that you install it on a new drive partition though, just in case you do not like it! Try these instructions!

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Revolution Made Easy

Social Media has had a significant impact on mass organization in recent times.

Just for clarification, when I refer to mass organization, I am referring to the organization of the masses for a common goal or purpose. The tools that allow us to communicate with our close and not-so-close friends also allow us to organize ourselves to accomplish goals. These goals, of course, are for direct assault against the government and political revolution.

If you were thinking I was talking about those harmless Facebook groups, you were wrong. I am talking about how social media can be used for a greater goal than could be conceived prior to the current decade. The reason we love social media so much is the same reason that governments like those of China or Iran are censoring it and in some cases shutting it down completely.

A picture from the Free Palestine Rally in Cairo.

Social media made movements like the Arab Spring, which rocked the Muslim World, possible. Specific tweets can be tracked as causes for certain revolts in Egypt and Tunisia. Even though these tools can be sited as a driving force behind the Arab Spring, we cannot say with certainty that without social media, the movement would not have occurred.

Let us consider the London Riots. These riots lasted for about a week and were some of the most violent that London has seen in this era. During the riots, looting, arson, mugging, and assault were widespread and in some streets, common-place. The riots were unusually uncontrollable for reasons that were not entirely clear to the police at the time. Every time a riot was broken up in one area and all of the rioters had scattered, they suddenly and mysteriously reassembled elsewhere and continued the violence.

A burning bus from the London Riots in 2011.

This trend was easily explained when investigators looked into Blackberry use during the violence. It seemed that those with Blackberries were using Blackberry Messenger to assaults against the police. With BBM, rioters now had the ability to quickly reorganize themselves and initiate new assaults against neighborhoods and the police outright in a matter of minutes from when their last riot was scattered. This new ability of the mob to organize en masse made the riots far more violent and long-lasting than anyone could have expected prior to the event. With an estimated £200 million ($320 million) in property damage, more than 200 injured, and five deaths, it is clear that the riots were truly more powerful and potent than those in the past.

Rioters and looters from the London Riots.

I am sure social media will become an even more revolutionary tool in the next decade–pardon the pun! After the riots, government officials in the United Kingdom made it clear that in the event that another riot break out under similar circumstances, BBM would be frozen so that the riots would end more quickly and less violently.

Personally, I find that course of action to be a blatant disregard for civil rights, but hey, it’s Britain, and with their policies on detention I am not in the least bit surprised. Personally, I hope that social media will be used in the future by people in oppressed nations like China in order for them to take control of a colluded government.

A picture from the Provakateur showing detention by Nation.

Cultivation of the Internet Meme: An Eerie Truth about Widespread Misinformation and Brainwashing

The Internet Meme, which has become an extremely common form of self-expression and sentiment-sharing, will increasingly become a tool to manipulate the masses. This concern of mine was voiced at the end of my previous blog post about the advent of the Internet Meme with the example of how Vladimir Putin has cultivated support from Russia’s youth through his effective use of his meme, “Man like Putin.” The meme, by means of an internet video and pop song, was first created for and then adopted by Putin and played on Russian radio stations. Its catchy theme and music has turned a propaganda song into a top hit in Russia.

You might be thinking, “So what? That was in Russia; memes cannot be used to influence people here in the United States!”

That is where you and I would disagree.

Memes, by definition, spread quickly and alter cultural attitudes. Would it really be difficult for someone to create a meme that is sure to spread like wildfire and alter a cultural attitude to their advantage? My answer would be a definite “No.” How hard is it to create an internet meme? New ones are created all of the time. In order for an internet meme to catch on, it has to engage the audience, capture a sentiment they have already experienced, and bring them to a conclusion which they expected. Without any of these three parts, an internet meme will not catch on. All three of these things are already found in campaign ads. The only thing that is stopping the bridging of memes with commercials is the lack of understanding of internet memes with the older generations who do not have experience with them due to their relatively recent origination.

Consider the Presidential Election this year in November. Right now, we cannot say who will win the election with certainty because the election is still more than a month away and plenty of things can happen from now until then that might sway the results. Say that one candidate was able to produce a TV ad or even a simple image on the internet that closely followed the pattern of an internet meme. This pseudomeme could slander his opponent beyond repair a few days before the election and sway the results in his favor illegitimately. I am not saying that it is likely, just that it is possible.

The Presidential Contenders, Obama (left), Romney (right), for the 2012 Election.

In the stark contrast to government politics, the hacktivist group, Anonymous, has adopted a meme as their source of inspiration from imageboards. With imageboards, users have the choice to set their names to Anonymous when posting. When many users chose to stay “Anonymous” on imageboards, it became unclear who was saying what and gave the appearance that one person was making all of the posts without a username. This collective combination of being unknown and omnipresent on the internet was adopted by the hacktivist group. Eventually, the Guy Fawks Mask, another meme from the original Gunpowder Plot and the movie, V for Vendetta, was adopted as a symbol for the organization.

This group warns against the same type of government manipulation of society as I mentioned above, but they have no qualms with breaking the law, if need be, for their plans to succeed.

Anonymous is particularly famous for its targeting of the faux religion, Scientology. They believe that the leaders of Scientology have been manipulating the Church’s followers, bleeding them dry, and then covering it up. In the video below, Scientology is called out on its “campaigns of misinformation, [its] suppression of dissent, [and its] litigious nature…” Anonymous says that the Church of Scientology is brainwashing people and abusing their civil rights, the same thing I fear might happen should the power of memes falls into the wrong hands.

I am not saying that I am a supporter of Anonymous, just that they bring up a very important point when it comes to how powerful groups can manipulate people.

Anonymous Members in front of a Scientology Building.

The have also targeted the United States Senate for their acts which to Anonymous, “Effectively ends the Bill of Rights in America.”

The next video is a direct message to Obama from Anonymous. This one is particularly disturbing because it calls the President a “disgrace to the presidency” for having “sold out to the corporate injustices that every American involved in the Occupy movement is speaking out against.”

It is interesting that Anonymous is using memes to identify itself as well as fight the organizations that one day may manipulate memes for their own purposes.

All Your Meme are Belong to Us

Meme: “An idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture.”

-Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Memes, specifically Internet Memes, have become increasingly relevant due to the rise of social media. They have taken on many forms such as images, videos, text, ideas, and even faces. Internet memes have taken an interesting turn that has made them one of the foremost tools for entertainment, jest, satire, and story/problem sharing.

The original Internet Memes were images and GIFs (basically a moving image) that were usually created by forum users with the purpose to get ideas across in a humorous ways. One of the most widely known and used internet memes is also recognized as one of the first. If you text or message your friends on Facebook, you probably have used it at least a dozen times in the past week.

Of course it is the emoticon.

The emoticon was invented on September 19, 1982 at 11:44 by Scott Fahlman on Carnegie Mellon’s message board. On the site, someone posted a question about the result of an elevator with a candle and a drop of Mercury inside. The immediate response to the question was titled “WARNING!” and was a joke about how one elevator in the building elevator was now burned and contaminated with Mercury.

16-Sep-82 12:09 Neil Swartz at CMU-750R Pigeon type question
This question does not involve pigeons, but is similar:
There is a lit candle in an elevator mounted on a bracket attached to
the middle of one wall (say, 2″ from the wall). A drop of mercury
is on the floor. The cable snaps and the elevator falls.
What happens to the candle and the mercury?
=

16-Sep-82 17:21 Howard Gayle at CMU-780G WARNING!
Because of a recent physics experiment, the leftmost elevator has been
contaminated with mercury. There is also some slight fire damage.
Decontamination should be complete by 08:00 Friday.
=

This message was interpreted as an actual warning advisory and the word was spread that an elevator was contaminated. The immediate reaction to this mishap of misinterpreted humor led the message board users to look for a way to signal humor in a textual message. Fahlman proposed a simple solution.

19-Sep-82 11:44 Scott E. Fahlman : – )
From: Scott E. Fahlman <Fahlman at Cmu-20c>

I propose that the following character sequence for joke markers:

: – )

Read it sideways. Actually, it is probably more economical to mark
things that are NOT jokes, given current trends. For this, use

: – (
=

(Source)

Sine that original post, the concept of using symbol based faces as indicators for mood and tone within short messages has become engrained in modern communication. Now, there are hundreds of different emoticons, each representing a different face or action that is associated with an emotion in order to steer the tone of the message as the sender pleases.

What about more recent Internet Memes?

Internet Memes have exploded and expanded to a gigantic, expressive collection of sentiments and ideas which today are mostly fueled by the younger generations. The simple reasoning behind this is that the internet in the form that we have it today did not exist more than a decade ago and those who were brought up with the internet have come to embrace the Internet Meme.

The title of this post, All Your Meme are Belong to Us, is an adaptation of the popular Internet Meme “All your base are belong to us.” The origin is from the semi-popular 1991 Japanese video game, Zero Wing. The game’s poor English translation includes many nonsensical statements like “What happen?,” “What you say!,” “Take off every ‘Zig’!,” and “All your base are belong to us.” This meme indirectly contributed to the development of a much larger meme known as “Engrish,” or the resulting message when a non-English speaker poorly translates something into English.

How are Internet Memes important when it comes to experts?

Well, that is a bit complicated to explain, but it can be said that many “experts” have harnessed internet memes to their advantage.

Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin, is the former and current President and former Prime Minister of Russia… not to mention that he is probably the most powerful Russian since Gorbachev. He is famous for his personal propaganda. This includes pictures and videos of him riding horses, fishing, doing karate, and playing sports. Not only does he have a huge propaganda machine, he has his own internet meme which is extremely popular in Russia called One Like Putin. This meme was original produced in the form of a music video and song and became extremely popular in Russia.

English Dubbing:

The song became extremely popular with the Russian youth who enjoyed the beat and the theme. Even though it was definitely not the first propaganda song produced in Russia, it was the first one in the form of a Pop song. After this song came out, the phrase, “a man like Putin,” became common-place and widespread with the Russian youth.

This example of propaganda turn meme has worried me a little. It shows how those who control memes can cultivate power and support from the youth even if their platforms or ideas may be faulty.

I think that internet memes now play an important role with shaping the perspective culture of my generation and it will surely be the opinions of those who can command the internet meme that will outshine the others…

Failed Social Networks: Missing the Flavor of Necessity

When you think of social networking sites, what comes to mind?

Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Flickr, right?

These sites are very successful tools for sharing and socializing online. You might be thinking to yourself, I know some other social networking sites like…

Ping, Google+, and Myspace.

Those three sites are indeed social networks that are just as unique networking tools as the five I mentioned prior. You might be thinking to yourself: but I do not use these sites or have any intention of using them which is what a lot of people would say.

Finally, what if I told you about…

Buzz, ConnectU, The Hub, Orkut, Friendster, or iYomu?

Do you know about these social networking sites? Well, that is okay because these sites are all inactive at this point because they failed as social networks where sites like Facebook and Twitter succeeded.

What made Facebook and Twitter so much better than these other sites?

Flavor.

Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr all bring people together for similar interaction which is commonly categorized as social networking. Ideas, images, locations, and emotions are all shared over these three networks. It would make sense that since these three sites perform the same basic actions, everyone would only need to pick one to fulfill their need for social networking. We all know that is certainly not the case. I use all three social networking tools (to be fair I use one because I am required to do so).

The reason that these three sites are popular is because each site has a flavor that has a unique verve when compared to the other two. With this flavor, it captures a specific audience. This audience is attracted to become a part of this new community contained within this social network.

For example, let us consider Tumblr. It is truly a hybrid between deviantART and the generic blog. The user keeps all of the features they would expect from a blog, but gets the artistic flavor that comes with deviantART when he or she visits the site. You simply cannot find this same combination online and, as a result, online artists have flocked to the site. If you go to tumblr.com today, you will see thousands of Tumblrs with hundreds of unique pieces of art embedded in their posts filled with collaboration and critique that no other tool provides quite so well.

Consider Twitter. Is it not the perfect hybridization of SMS and podium speaking? It combines all of the positive qualities of text messaging with the audience of public speaking. The user does not have to write long speeches and arrange a time and place and hope that everyone to which they wish to speak is available. They just write a short text message and tweet it. This is perfectly acceptable because Twitter forces the messages of its users to be 140 characters or fewer.  In this way, the user gets their message across to their “followers” in a manner as easy as text messaging.

A screenshot of Twitter’s Arab Spring Feed

In addition, information and ideas can travel faster on Twitter than they can on any other social network because of how Twitter is designed. If you really like what one of the people you are following has said, you can simply retweet his or her tweet, making it visible to all of your followers. This process can continue with your followers, the followers of your followers, and so on until millions have seen a single message in just a few minutes. How is that possible? Tweets were designed to be completely transferable by a single click of the retweet button. This single factor is what has made Twitter the perfect tool for creating social movements like the Arab Spring. This flavor has made Twitter very successful.

You might be saying, “That is all well and good, but why did some social networking sites fail?” Well that is rather simple to answer. These sites lacked the unique flavor of necessity. Every single one of them lacked an aspect that made it not only different from other social networks but filled a need that people have and that is not fulfilled by other social networks.

Google+. Although the site seemed like it was to become a success after it quickly received ten million users, the site is nowhere on its way to becoming the next great social network. The site now has less than 40% of the users than it did after the first week of launch. This failure was truly apparent when a survey of Google’s employees found that only a few of them used Google+. On the other hand, they found that almost all of Google’s employees used Facebook. (When your employees like the competition better, you know you are in trouble.)

A screen capture from my Google+ page which looks eerily similar to Facebook, but is a complete ghost town.

Why is it a failure? Because Google+ is not special. It does the job that Facebook already does. When all of your friends and one billion other people are already using Facebook, why would you switch to Google+ to get the same experience minus the established community? In order for this to happen, the opportunity cost of switching to Google+ would have to be lower than the benefit which it was clearly not the case for the common person. Google+ was destined for failure before it was even conceived. (The last time a friend of mine made a post on Google+ was August 6th!)

We are waiting for the next big leap forward in social media. I am sure that in the next few years to come, many new social networks will be founded and almost just as many will fall out of existence.