There was a moment that it seemed like a proliferation of flickr-like webservices would result in a network of deep shared pools of cultural resource, from which every user could build expressions and applications, but the “entrap and surveil” economics of platforms kicked in.
And now we have no history, and rather than communicating via visualizations of our own shared cultural record, we are left waiting like dogs for treats as facebook decides to surface one of our own images from 3 or 8 years ago. Don’t try to search the graph! Advertisers only.
Saturday, April 21st, 2018
Monday, April 2nd, 2018
Digital Marketing Strategies for the Busy “Web Master” by Sarah Parmenter
Recently Sarah was asked for her job title recently and she found it really stressful. She wasn’t comfortable with “Art Director”. And, even though it would probably be accurate, “Social Media Expert” feels icky. A more fitting title would be “Social Media Designer” but that’s not a thing. Ironically the term “Web Master” probably fits us better than it did back in the ’90s.
We have a bit of a defeatist attitude towards social media at the moment. It feels like that space has been claimed and so there’s no point in even starting. But we’re still in the first 10,000 days in the web. There is no social media, Gary Vee says. It’s a slang term for a collection of apps and websites that now dominate attention in our society.
Sarah likes the term “consensual hallucination” (that I borrowed from William Gibson to describe how we did web design for years). It applies to social media.
Once upon a time we had to sell the benefits of just being online to our clients. Our businesses now need to get into the mindset of “How can I help you?” and “What can I do for you?” We’re moving away from being sales-y and getting down to being more honest. We’re no longer saying “Look at what I’ve got.”
The average time spent on social media per day is 1 hour and 48 minutes. The average time spent on the kind of sites we make is 15 seconds.
Quarterly design reviews are a good idea—strategically designing your social media campaigns, reviewing successes and failures.
The first thing to mention is vanity metrics. You might need to sit down and have “the talk” with your boss or client about this. It’s no different to having hit counters on our sites back in the ’90s. While we’re chasing these vanity metrics, we’re not asking what people really want.
Google brought a roadshow to Sarah’s hometown of Leigh-on-Sea a while back. There was a really irritating know-it-all chap in the audience who put his hand up when other people were asking about how to get followers on social media. “You need to post three times a day to all social media channels”, he said. “And you need to use the follow-unfollow method with a bot.” Sarah’s eyes were rolling at this point. Don’t beg for likes and follows—you’re skewing your metrics.
“What about this Snapchat thing?” people asked. Irritating guy said, “Don’t worry about—young people use it to send rude pictures to each other.” Sarah was face-palming at this point.
But this event was a good wake-up call for Sarah. We need to check our personal bias. She had to check her own personal bias against LinkedIn.
What we can do is look for emerging social networks. Find social networks that aren’t yet clogged. People still fixate on displayed numbers instead of the actual connection with people.
We all have a tendency to think of the more successful social networks as something that is coming. Like Snapchat. But if you’re in this space, there’s no time to waste. Sarah has been interviewing for social media people and it’s fascinating to see how misunderstood Snapchat is. One big misconception is that it’s only for youngsters. The numbers might be lower than Facebook, but there’s a lot of video on there. Snapchat’s weakness is “the olds”—the non-intuitive interface makes it cool with young people who have time to invest in learning it; the learning curve keeps the parents out. Because the moment that mums and grandmums appear on a social network, the younger folks get out. And actually, when it comes to putting ads on Snapchat, the interface is very good.
What can we do in 2018?
- By 2019, video will account for 80% of all consumer internet traffic. If you’re not planning for this, you’re missing out.
- Move to HTTPS.
- Make your website mobile ready.
Let’s ban the pop-up. Overlays. Permission dialogs. They’re all terrible. Google has started to penalise websites “where content is not easily accessible.”
Pop-ups are a lazy fix for a complex engagement problem (similar to carousels). It’s a terrible user experience. Do we thing this is adding value? Is this the best way to get someone’s email address? They’re like the chuggers of the web.
Here’s an interesting issue: there are discount codes available on the web. We inform people of this through pop-ups. Then it when it comes to check-out, they know that a discount is possible and so they Google for discount codes. You might as well have a page on your own website to list your own discount codes instead of people going elsewhere for them.
There’s a long tail of conversions, particularly with more expensive products and services. Virgin Holidays has a great example. For an expensive holiday, they ask for just a small deposit up front.
Let’s talk about some specific social networks.
Facebook Pixel should be on your website, says Sarah. It collects data about your customers. (Needless to say, I disagree with this suggestion. Stand up for your customers’ dignity.)
Facebook is a very cheap way to publish video. Organic Facebook engagement is highest on posts with videos. (I think I threw up in my mouth a little just typing the words “organic”, “Facebook”, and “engagement” all in a row.) Facebook Live videos have six times the engagement of regular videos.
Sarah just said the word synergy. Twice. Unironically.
Facebook changed its algorithm last year. You’re going to see less posts from business and more posts from people.
Facebook advertising does work, but if it doesn’t work for you, the problem is probably down to your creative. (We’re using the word “creative” as a noun rather than an adjective, apparently.)
With Ad Words, measure success by conversions rather than impressions. You might get thousands of eyeballs looking at a form, but only a handful filling it out. You need to know that second number to understand how much you’re really paying per customer.
trends.google.com is useful for finding keywords that aren’t yet saturated.
Google My Business is under-used, especially if you have a bricks’n’mortar store. It can make a massive difference to small businesses. It’s worth keeping it up to date and keeping it updated.
700 million active users (double Twitter, and three times WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger). A lot of people are complaining about the changed algorithm. Social networks change their algorithms to deal with the “problems of success.” Instagram needs to help people with the discoverability of posts, says Sarah (again, I strongly disagree—it disempowers the user; I find Instagram’s we-know-best algorithm to be insultingly patronising).
Hashtags are the plumbing of the social media ecosystem. They’re not there for users to read. They’re for discoverability. Eleven hashtags are optimal.
Instagram Stories are a funny one. People are trying to use them to get around the algorithm, posting screenshots of photos to a story.
Archiving is a handy feature of Instagram. For time-sensitive content (like being closed during a snowstorm), it’s very useful to be able to archive those posts after the fact.
Planoly is a great website for managing your Instagram campaign. You can visually plan your feed. Only recently did Instagram start allowing scheduled posts (as long as they’re square, for some reason).
Influencer marketing is a thing. People trust peer recommendations more than advertising. You can buy micro-influencers quite cheaply.
(Side note: I think I’ve seen this episode of Black Mirror.)
How much do influencers cost? Not as much as you think. The average sponsored post rate is $180.
We need to have a “Design once. Use Everywhere.” mindset. Others we’ll go crazy. Away is doing this well. They sell a suitcase with built-in USB chargers.
The brands dominating social media are those with the most agile teams with exceptional storytelling skills. Away are very brave with their marketing. They’ve identified what their market has in common—travel—and they’re aiming at the level above that. They’re playing the long game, bringing the value back to the user. It’s all about “How can I help you?” rather than “Look at what I’ve gone.” Away’s creative is compelling, quirky, and fun. They work with influencers who are known to create beautiful imagery. Those influencers were given free suitcases. The cost of giving away those bags was much less than a traditional marketing campaign.
Their product is not front and centre in their campaigns. Travel is front and centre. They also collaborate with other brands. Their Google Ads are very striking. That also translates to physical advertising, like ads on airport security trays.
On Facebook, and on all of the social networks, everything is very polished and art-directed. They’re building a story. The content is about travel, but the through-line is about their suitcases.
When things go bad…
To finish, a semi-amusing story. Cath Kidston did a collaboration with Disney’s Peter Pan. Sarah had a hunch that it might go wrong. On paper, the social campaigns seemed fine. A slow build-up to the Peter Pan product launch. Lots of lovely teasers. They were seeding Instagram with beautiful imagery the day before launch. There was a real excitement building. Then the coveted email campaign with the coveted password.
On the site, people put in their password and then they had to wait. It was a deliberately gated experience. Twenty minutes of waiting. Then you finally get to the store …and there’s no “add to cart” button. Yup, they had left out the most important bit of the interface.
Sarah looked at what people were saying on Twitter. Lots of people assumed the problem was with their computer (after all, the web team wouldn’t be so silly as to leave off the “add to cart” button, right?). People blamed themselves. Cath Kidston scrambled to fix the problem …and threw people back into the 20 minute queue. Finally, the button appeared. So Sarah looked at a few bits ad pieces, and when she hit “add to cart” …she was thrown back to the 20 minute queue.
Sarah reached out to try to talk to someone on the web team. No one wanted to talk about it. If you ever find someone who was on that team, put them in touch.
Anyway, to wrap up…
Ensure the networks you are pursuing make sense for your brand.
Find your story for social media longevity.
Friday, March 30th, 2018
On moving from silos to your own website:
Over the last year, especially, it has seemed much more like “blog to write, tweet to fight.” Moreover, the way that our writing and personal data has been used by social media companies has become more obviously problematic—not that it wasn’t problematic to begin with.
Which is why it’s once again a good time to blog, especially on one’s own domain.
But on the other hand…
It is psychological gravity, not technical inertia, however, that is the greater force against the open web. Human beings are social animals and centralized social media like Twitter and Facebook provide a powerful sense of ambient humanity—the feeling that “others are here”—that is often missing when one writes on one’s own site.
That’s true …which is why brid.gy is such an incredibly powerful service for, well, bridging the gap between your own personal site and the silos, allowing for that feeling of ambient humanity.
Friday, February 16th, 2018
Another brilliant talk from Frank, this time on the (im)balance between the commercial and the cultural web.
Remember: the web is a marketplace and a commonwealth, so we have both commerce and culture; it’s just that the non-commercial bits of the web get more difficult to see in comparison to the outsized presence of the commercial web and all that caters to it.
This really resonates with me:
If commercial networks on the web measure success by reach and profit, cultural endeavors need to see their successes in terms of resonance and significance.
Sunday, February 11th, 2018
In trying to decide on his indie web approach, Dries gives an excellent breakdown of the concepts of PESOS (Publish Elsewhere, Syndicate to Own Site) and POSSE (Publish to Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere).
Wednesday, January 24th, 2018
Sunday, January 14th, 2018
If only our digital social networks were to exhibit this kind of faded grandeur when they no longer exist.
Wednesday, January 3rd, 2018
It’s a shame that this archiving project is coming to end. We don’t always know the future value of the present:
Researchers have come to realize that the Proceedings of the Old Bailey, transcriptions from London’s central criminal court, are the only record we have of the spoken words of many people who lived centuries ago but were not in the educated or elite classes. That we have them talking about the theft of a pig rather than the thought of Aristotle only gives us greater insight into the lived experience of their time.
Wednesday, November 29th, 2017
edent/SuperTinyIcons: Under 1KB each! Super Tiny Icons are miniscule SVG versions of your favourite website and app logos
These are lovely little SVGs of website logos that are yours for the taking. And if you want to contribute an icon to the collection, go for it …as long as it’s less than 1024 bytes (most of these are waaay less).
Tuesday, October 31st, 2017
This is the clickbaitiest of titles, but the post has some good sobering analysis of how much traffic driven by a small handful players. It probably won’t make you feel very cheery about the future.
(For some reason, this article uses all-caps abbreviations for company names, as though a stock ticker started generating hot takes: GOOG, FB, AMZN, etc. It’s a very odd writing style for a human.)
Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017
Newsvine has closed. Mike reflects on what he built, with a particular eye to the current online news situation.
When we look at how the average person’s news and media diet has changed over the last decade or so, we can trace it directly back to the way these and other modern organizations have begun feeding us our news. Up until 10 or 15 years ago, we essentially drank a protein shake full of news. A good amount of fruits and vegetables, some grains, some dairy, some tofu, and then a little bit of sugar, all blended together. Maybe it wasn’t the tastiest thing in the world but it kept us healthy and reasonably informed. Then, with cable news we created a fruit-only shake for half the population and a vegetable-only shake for the other half. Then with internet news, we deconstructed the shake entirely and let you pick your ingredients, often to your own detriment. And finally, with peer-reinforced, social news networks, we’ve given you the illusion of a balanced diet, but it’s often packed with sugar, carcinogens, and other harmful substances without you ever knowing. And it all tastes great!
There’s also this interesting litmus test for budding entrepreneurs:
We didn’t know for sure if it was going to work, but the day we decided we’d be happy to have tried it even if it failed was the day we ended up quitting our jobs (incidentally, if you are thinking about leaving your job for a new risky thing, this is the acid test I recommend).
Tuesday, September 12th, 2017
There are some delightfully dark touches to this Cory Doctorow coming-of-age near-future short story of high school students seizing the means of production.
Friday, September 1st, 2017
John Lanchester reviews ‘The Attention Merchants’ by Tim Wu, ‘Chaos Monkeys’ by Antonio García Martínez and ‘Move Fast and Break Things’ by Jonathan Taplin · LRB 17 August 2017
Triple the hand-wringing in this combined review of three books:
- The Attention Merchants: From the Daily Newspaper to Social Media, How Our Time and Attention Is Harvested and Sold by Tim Wu,
- Chaos Monkeys: Inside the Silicon Valley Money Machine by Antonio García Martínez, and
- Move Fast and Break Things: How Facebook, Google and Amazon have Cornered Culture and What It Means for All of Us by Jonathan Taplin.
What this means is that even more than it is in the advertising business, Facebook is in the surveillance business. Facebook, in fact, is the biggest surveillance-based enterprise in the history of mankind. It knows far, far more about you than the most intrusive government has ever known about its citizens. It’s amazing that people haven’t really understood this about the company. I’ve spent time thinking about Facebook, and the thing I keep coming back to is that its users don’t realise what it is the company does. What Facebook does is watch you, and then use what it knows about you and your behaviour to sell ads. I’m not sure there has ever been a more complete disconnect between what a company says it does – ‘connect’, ‘build communities’ – and the commercial reality.
Monday, July 3rd, 2017
If you feel you are being watched, you change your behavior. Big Data is supercharging this effect.
Some interesting ideas, but the tone is so alarming as to render the message meaningless.
As our weaknesses are mapped, we are becoming too transparent. This is breeding a society where self-censorship and risk-aversion are the new normal.
I stopped reading at the point where the danger was compared to climate change.
Saturday, June 3rd, 2017
This was my favourite talk from this year’s Interaction conference—packed full of insights, and delivered superbly.
It prompted so many thoughts, I found myself asking a question during the Q&A.
Saturday, February 25th, 2017
We don’t take our other valuables with us when we travel—we leave the important stuff at home, or in a safe place. But Facebook and Google don’t give us similar control over our valuable data. With these online services, it’s all or nothing.
We need a ‘trip mode’ for social media sites that reduces our contact list and history to a minimal subset of what the site normally offers.
Thursday, February 16th, 2017
Much of our courage and support comes from the people we read and talk to and love online, often on the very networks that expose us—and our friends—to genuine enemies of freedom and peace. We have to keep connected, but we don’t have to play on their terms.
Wednesday, November 2nd, 2016
A decade on Twitter
I wrote my first tweet ten years ago.
I’m off to grab some lunch.— Jeremy Keith (@adactio) November 1, 2006
That’s the tweetiest of tweets, isn’t it? (and just look at the status ID—only five digits!)
Of course, back then we didn’t call them tweets. We didn’t know what to call them. We didn’t know what to make of this thing at all.
I say “we”, but when I signed up, there weren’t that many people on Twitter that I knew. Because of that, I didn’t treat it as a chat or communication tool. It was more like speaking into the void, like blogging is now. The word “microblogging” was one of the terms floating around, grasped by those of trying to get to grips with what this odd little service was all about.
Twenty days after I started posting to Twitter, I wrote about how more and more people that I knew were joining :
The usage of Twitter is, um, let’s call it… emergent. Whenever I tell anyone about it, their first question is “what’s it for?”
Fair question. But their isn’t really an answer. You send messages either from the website, your mobile phone, or chat. What you post and why you’d want to do it is entirely up to you.
I was quite the cheerleader for Twitter:
Overall, Twitter is full of trivial little messages that sometimes merge into a coherent conversation before disintegrating again. I like it. Instant messaging is too intrusive. Email takes too much effort. Twittering feels just right for the little things: where I am, what I’m doing, what I’m thinking.
“Twittering.” Don’t laugh. “Tweeting” sounded really silly at first too.
Now at this point, I could start reminiscing about how much better things were back then. I won’t, but it’s interesting to note just how different it was.
- The user base was small enough that there was a public timeline of all activity.
- The characters in your username counted towards your 140 characters. That’s why Tantek changed his handle to be simply “t”. I tried it for a day. I think I changed my handle to “jk”. But it was too confusing so I changed it back.
- We weren’t always sure how to write our updates either—your username would appear at the start of the message, so lots of us wrote our updates in the third person present (Brian still does). I’m partial to using the present continuous. That was how I wrote my reaction to Chris’s weird idea for tagging updates.
Thinking that hashtags disrupt the reading flow of natural language. Sorry @factoryjoe.— Jeremy Keith (@adactio) November 6, 2007
I think about that whenever I see a hashtag on a billboard or a poster or a TV screen …which is pretty much every day.
At some point, Twitter updated their onboarding process to include suggestions of people to follow, subdivided into different categories. I ended up in the list of designers to follow. Anil Dash wrote about the results of being listed and it reflects my experience too. I got a lot of followers—it’s up to around 160,000 now—but I’m pretty sure most of them are bots.
There have been a lot of changes to Twitter over the years. In the early days, those changes were driven by how people used the service. That’s where the @-reply convention (and hashtags) came from.
Then something changed. The most obvious sign of change was the way that Twitter started treating third-party developers. Where they previously used to encourage and even promote third-party apps, the company began to crack down on anything that didn’t originate from Twitter itself. That change reflected the results of an internal struggle between the people at Twitter who wanted it to become an open protocol (like email), and those who wanted it to become a media company (like Yahoo). The media camp won.
Of course Twitter couldn’t possibly stay the same given its incredible growth (and I really mean incredible—when it started to appear in the mainstream, in films and on TV, it felt so weird: this funny little service that nerds were using was getting popular with everyone). Change isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just different. Your favourite band changed when they got bigger. South by Southwest changed when it got bigger—it’s not worse now, it’s just very different.
Frank described the changing the nature of Twitter perfectly in his post From the Porch to the Street:
Christopher Alexander made a great diagram, a spectrum of privacy: street to sidewalk to porch to living room to bedroom. I think for many of us Twitter started as the porch—our space, our friends, with the occasional neighborhood passer-by. As the service grew and we gained followers, we slid across the spectrum of privacy into the street.
I stopped posting directly to Twitter in May, 2014. Instead I now write posts on my site and then send a copy to Twitter. And thanks to the brilliant Brid.gy, I get replies, favourites and retweets sent back to my own site—all thanks to Webmention, which just become a W3C proposed recommendation.
It’s hard to put into words how good this feels. There’s a psychological comfort blanket that comes with owning your own data. I see my friends getting frustrated and angry as they put up with an increasingly alienating experience on Twitter, and I wish I could explain how much better it feels to treat Twitter as nothing more than a syndication service.
When Twitter rolls out changes these days, they certainly don’t feel like they’re driven by user behaviour. Quite the opposite. I’m currently in the bucket of users being treated to new @-reply behaviour. Tressie McMillan Cottom has written about just how terrible the new changes are. You don’t get to see any usernames when you’re writing a reply, so you don’t know exactly how many people are going to be included. And if you mention a URL, the username associated with that website may get added to the tweet. The end result is that you write something, you publish it, and then you think “that’s not what I wrote.” It feels wrong. It robs you of agency. Twitter have made lots of changes over the years, but this feels like the first time that they’re going to actively edit what you write, without your permission.
Maybe this is the final straw. Maybe this is the change that will result in long-time Twitter users abandoning the service. Maybe.
Me? Well, Twitter could disappear tomorrow and I wouldn’t mind that much. I’d miss seeing updates from friends who don’t have their own websites, but I’d carry on posting my short notes here on adactio.com. When I started posting to Twitter ten years ago, I was speaking (or microblogging) into the void. I’m still doing that ten years on, but under my terms. It feels good.
I’m not sure if my Twitter account will still exist ten years from now. But I’m pretty certain that my website will still be around.
And now, if you don’t mind…
I’m off to grab some lunch.
Tuesday, November 1st, 2016
The Digital Transition: How the Presidential Transition Works in the Social Media Age | whitehouse.gov
Kori Schulman describes the archiving of social media and other online artefacts of the outgoing US president. It’s a shame that a lot of URLs will break, but I’m glad there’s going to be a public backup available.
Best of all, you can get involved:
In the interim, we’re inviting the American public – from students and data engineers, to artists and researchers – to come up with creative ways to archive this content and make it both useful and available for years to come. From Twitter bots and art projects to printed books and query tools, we’re open to it all.
Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016
The slides from Aaron’s talk at OS Bridge in Portland, looking at the formats and protocols powering the indie web.