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Google coming after Facebook, again

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Google is unfazed, apparently, with the weak response to its Twitter-esque “Buzz” service.  Recognizing that social media really does present it with a direct threat to domination of search and — therefore — access to advertising dollars, Google is trying yet again to gain a foothold.  So what type of unique experience will Google provide, and what does this mean?

My guess (which is shared by many others) is that the platform will be game focused.   Social gaming is already huge, and will not be going away any time soon.  It would be the smart play for Google, which has already made significant investments in the space.

So what does that mean for the rest of us? It means that social gaming is probably about to become an even larger part of social media, and it means that companies that are not currently doing anything in that market should consider whether their business model will necessitate some kind of involvement in the space (even as an advertiser or a co-marketer).  So don’t think this has nothing to do with you because you don’t make or play games.  Your customers almost certainly do, and you need to reach them through any means available.

Well, if Google is really going to pour significant resources into a social media platform (unlike Google Buzz, where the effort seemed half-hearted), then it could push the space into a whole new stratosphere.  As many users as there on Facebook, many are barely there and don’t really use the platform for anything substantive.  Conversely, everyone on the Internet uses Google, almost every day.  If Google can transform these power-uses of its service into something stickier, then Eric Schmidt might soon be printing dollars out in Mountain View.

Traveling today — with my iPad! And my Blackberry! And my phone! And my…

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Today began with a trip to the airport at 4:15 am for a flight to New York and a drive to New Jersey.  It will end with a return flight to Chicago later this evening.  I have with me the following items:

(1)  A netbook, for actually doing work, because I type quickly and need a real keyboard;

(2) An iPad, for reading the new Anthony Bourdain bookand some magazines on the airplane, and for keeping up on social media issues through Twitter (wi-fi on an airplane!);

(3) A Blackberry Bold, which allows me to keep up with e-mail on a moment’s notice as I rush around during the day;

(4) An iPod, which allows me to listen to music that I want to hear in the car while I’m driving (through a jack, not earphones!);

(5) My phone, because my Blackberry is through work and a different service provider and I didn’t want to deal with the hassle of changing numbers (I’ve had the same mobile phone number for 16 years);

This is, quite simply, ridiculous.  I started to laugh when I looked in my briefcase this morning.  My goodness, I thought — you really are the poster child for technology overload.  I really need to economize.

But the more I spoke with other people as the day went on, the more I realized that I was not alone.  We are all becoming gadget freaks.  And this has some interesting implications for the law (beyond, of course, what statutes would be used to put you in jail if you used your iPad while driving).

As more of our work is performed on platforms other than our office computers, how is it being preserved for use in litigation?  As more of our personal business is pursued using work devices, how much liability are we all creating for our employers?  How many people in this country have illegally downloaded music on their work-issued Blackberries (as a copyright lawyer, I can assure you that I do not). 

Our “real” work is done on personal machines, our personal work is done on employer machines.  Is this significant?  Why, yes it is.  More and more courts will be struggling over the next few years regarding document and data preservation in a world where borders between different types of work and personal activity are blurred.   Employer liability for employee “personal” activity has been a hot issue ever since the Internet first entered the workplace; now that it is everywhere the issues will only get more complex.

So while you enjoy your e-books, and your PDA, and your tablet computer and your MP3 player, please consider what it could mean (legally) for you and your colleagues.   And remember: you probably have more computing power in your pocket than Apollo program astronauts used to land on the moon.

Social media is destroying your company! Oh, wait…nevermind…

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The recent meme has been that social media, rather than being a valuable innovation, is actually history’s greatest monster.  No, really.  Check out this article on CNET:

Employees who dabble in social networking both on and off the job could expose their companies to a variety of risks, according to a study released Monday by the ISACA.  Malware, brand hijacking, lack of content control, noncompliance with rules over recordkeeping, and unrealistic expectations of Internet performance were the top five social-media risks to businesses identified by the ISACA in its study “Social Media: Business Benefits With Security, Governance and Assurance Perspectives” (PDF).

Well — of course.  Those are risks.  But if you’re reading this blog, you’re already hip to the fact that these risks (and many others) can be controlled.  The primary risks of social media are that you are afraid of it and either (a) don’t engage with it, or (b) ignore the fact that your employees ands customers are already engaged with it.  The second level risks are the legal risks that we discuss here at Legally Social: Privacy risks, branding risks, content and rights management, data security, regulated communications, employee speech and infringement.  If you engage in a bit of issue spotting, and build a social media policy, you can turn these “problems” into organizational strengths.

And to be fair, that is, in the end, the point of the report at the center of the linked article above: that these problems can be addressed, and the risks (while real) can be assumed, with some smart and adroit legal thinking.  But that’s not what the headline said.  It said:

Study: Social-media use puts companies at risk

That tabloid-y approach to social media has become the norm in recent reporting, but it is critical that each of you ignore the hysterical tenor of these articles.  The risks and benefits of social media, like the use of any other communication medium, must be considered in a cool, logical manner.  What is the ROI you are looking to achieve, and how do you hope to achieve it?  What type of employees do you have, and what type of work are they doing in social media environments?  How comfortable are you with mixing personal lives and business?  Warren Buffet famously said that he was successful because he was greedy when others were frightened, and frightened when others were greedy.  Now that people are getting frightened (about privacy, about unrealistic expectations, and so many other things) this should be your cue to recognize that new opportunities are emerging.  Some of these opportunities may address these concerns directly — can you provide solutions that comfort our privacy-afflicted souls?  Can you come up with clever ways to build brand equity through Twitter?  Other ideas may be more indirect, and may simply provide new pathways to communication.  But this is a key moment in the development of social media — the time of backlash.  This is the time to think critically and with a full sense of the risks.

And then to jump in.

The Ethic of the Link

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Jay Rosen of NYU argues that the ethic of the link is the key element in the development of the Internet, and he’s correct.  It is access to information through a complex series of interlinked thoughts and memes that produces knowledge through a distributed system like the web.  In other words, the web is about nothing more profound than connecting people to facts and opinions — and nothing is more profound than that.

But it is about even more than that — it is about changing that information along the way.  Everyone remembers the game of “Telephone” from childhood.  A story is begun in one part of a circle of kids, and then whispered from ear to ear until it returns to its source.  By the end, the story is changed beyond all recognition. 

Information on the web is like that too — it begins as one thing, and then is subject to comments and analysis and linked comparisons.  By the time the web is done with it, that information resembles something entirely different. 

So why should this matter to you?  In the early days of the Internet (following the model in place for previous media formats) content providers thought about information as though it were a simple vector — directly moving data from them to you.  They had facts, they had content, and they wanted you to have it.  They either sold it to you, or gave it to you, but the transaction was presumed to be limited.  Now, most of my information is mediated through several sources before it gets to me — changed, transformed and ultimately shaped in ways that the original creator may never have intended. 

While this is beautifully post-modern, it also has some fairly dramatic implications for those who presume to “use” social media.  Social media is not a bullhorn, to be picked up and then set down when the job is done.  Instead, utilizing social media is like tossing a stone into a still pool of water, with complex and unexpected ripples moving across the surface far from where the pebble was thrown. 

But this should not be a frightening prospect.  To the contrary, it simply means that the use of social media should be viewed as a dynamic system requiring constant attention, as opposed to a vending machine where you put money in and get a candy bar out of the bottom.   Constant course correction does not mean that you miscalculated — instead, it means that the web is doing what it does best.  If you want to shape your message, you have to keep shaping, because in the world of social media your message never stands still and never stays the same.

What The ‘LOST’ Finale Tells Us About Social Media

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The finale of LOST (without giving anything away for those of you forced to use your DVR) was about something profound — and something that all of us who work in social media would be well advised to remember.  In the words of one critic, the finale “was telling me what these characters lives meant. And that meaning, like all our lives’ meaning, derived from the interactions they had with, and the memories they shared with, other people.”

That is, in short, also the genius of social media: the creation of community out of atomized individuals, creating deep connections out of the thinnest threads of common interest.  The finale underlines the central theme of the show (which could also be understood as the controlling metaphor for social media interactions: Live Together or Die Alone.

And that is exactly what so many social media gurus forget when opining on the newest trends: the reason why these things matter is because they have incredible power, not because marketers are so incredibly clever (though they may be clever, too).  Social media networks become astonishingly necessary to people, drawing them into the kinds of communities previously thought lost (if you’ll pardon the pun) to the necessities of modern life. There is a real need expressed by these virtual communities for connection, and the people and businesses that seek to use social networks need to remember that the best metaphor may be a welding torch.  You can build things with a torch, but you can also burn things down.  It is a tool, but one that can be used for good or evil.

Thus, when engaging with social media, you are not simply putting out an advertising message.  You are asking your customers (or your employees, or your friends, or all of the above) to engage with you, and start a conversation.  You may even be asking them to create a community of their own.   Just as dictators soon learn that ruling with an iron fist may result in the hatred of the governed, those who seek to create these new worlds need to view themselves as something beyond mere brand extension advocates, or whatever nomenclature they decide to invent.  They need to view themselves as a government of sorts, a tribal council. 

And that’s the lesson of LOST for each of us: family and community matter, and may in fact be the only things that we care about in the end.  Thus, do not create families and communities without thinking about the seriousness of your endeavor, and do not assume that your adventures in social media have meaning only limited to your brand.   You may be creating something meaningful for many people you have never met, and in ways that you may not even fully understand.

Facebook’s Privacy Options: Yet Another Graph!

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I don’t think this justifies another full post, but everyone who thinks about social media issues should take a long, hard look at this graph in The New York Times.

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