Social dilemmas, digital and phygital experiences

As if proof was needed that new Netflix edu-docu The Social Dilemma is highly Marmite among (social) media cognoscenti, the SmallDataForum verdict is very much a score draw, from Sam’s firm thumbs-down to my approval and on to Neville’s not-seen-it-yet.

I share Sam’s take that there’s not much new to learn – certainly for topic obsessives like us – and I also agree that eminent voices such as Shoshana Zuboff’s and Jonathan Haidt’s seem overly muffled and perhaps squandered.

But then we’re not the primary target audience. Neither are new media commentators, such as the Verge’s Casey Newton, who feels that the film misunderstands social networks. If it gets the average Netflix user to reflect a bit more on what they do with social media (and social media with them), then that can’t be a bad thing.

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Facebook, GDPR, brand safety – suddenly it’s 2018 all over again

Happy New Year 2018

For understandable reasons, the last four, regular monthly episodes of the Small Data Forum podcast have been focused – almost to the point of obsession – on coronavirus. From the uncertain first fumblings of life under lockdown, through escalating mortality and morbidity, and on to a fundamental lack of trust in the competence of blustering, blond, male, right-wing leaders … the last four episodes have had it all.

Some have said that this podcast was made for events like the pandemic, scrutinising as we do the uses and abuses of data big and small in politics, business, and public life. There’s been plenty of that about of late.

So, with lockdown restrictions being lifted all around the world – and Government advice completely ignored on the beaches of Bournemouth in the mini-U.K. heatwave last week, leading Dorset police to declare the overcrowding “a major incident” – our focus in this episode was much more catholic.

Indeed, with Facebook, GDPR, and brand safety the dominant topics, you could be forgiven for thinking you’d fallen through a wormhole in the space-time continuum and teleported back to 2018.

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Pretty crazy ideas about the Facebook

“The ever-present function of propaganda in modern life is in large measure attributable to the social disorganization which has been precipitated by the rapid advent of technological changes.”

This is not the latest comment on the perpetual missteps, mishaps and misuse of Facebook, but a quote from Harold D. Lasswell, eminent media scholar and creator of the eponymous and never-aging model and formula to determine media effects: who says what to whom in which channel with what effect?

Who said what to whom, and subsequent effects – that was also the theme of a multi-thousand-word investigative piece on Facebook and its executive team in the New York Times on 15th November.

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Attention, meaningful content and post-apocalyptic novels

Our latest podcast ended up being a tad longer than planned – clearly a sign of a lively, engaged discussion. In talking about various aspects of the attention economy, we managed to hold each other’s attention for a good 45 minutes.

Many ‘attention economists’ these days quote Nobel Laureate Herbert Simon and his observation that a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention. It is certainly a quote that has aged well, and one can only wonder what Simon would make of the world now, 47 years on from his famous statement.

Sam doesn’t quite see the crisis of attention that brands often lament. But quality and controllability matter more than ever, and producers of content – especially the advertising and media industries – need to up their game to stay relevant. Users control their online experience through ad blockers and subscription services to filter out interruptive commercial communication.

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Looking forward by looking back

Janus

As the Small Data Forum progresses through its early teenage years – our latest podcast is episode 14 already – regular co-hosts Thomas Stoeckle, Neville Hobson, and Sam Knowles are taking the opportunity to look forward by looking back.

Patients of our own medicine, you might say, we’re using the year end and what we’ve observed and learned in 2017 to enter the predictive analytics business.

We take our inspiration from Janus, the Roman god of beginnings, transitions, and time, after whom January is named. A sculpture of Janus appears at the top of this blog, from the Vatican Museum.

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