Game on … (Buzz vs. Facebook) Round One

In an interview on silicon.com, Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic, the company behind the # 1 blogging platform WordPress (used by brazethoughts no less), makes some insightful comments on the future of software and how it can learn from the gaming industry. He believes the biggest challenge for the software industry is to make sure users can take full advantage of the increasing complexity of applications.

“If you think about it, complexity is actually not a bad thing – I mean users are not dumb, they’re actually very smart. You just need to give them the best way to learn and discover all the power that you have, and the best example of this is computer games. Computer games are so, so good at this. Think how complex the average computer interface is. It varies from game to game almost 100 per cent – the way you play Mario is not going to be the way you play Modern Warfare. But it starts you out on a training level – you start out, you get your legs, you walk around and you advance from level to level. And this applied to traditional software I think is going to one of the most interesting trends.”

He then attributes much of the success of Facebook to its game-like nature.

“They’re really brilliant how they encourage certain behaviours and how they tailor their news feed and the way images work and everything like that. Essentially it’s a social game but the other players are your friends and the objects are updates and photos, videos and news stories. The game never gets old because it’s constantly fresh from the content your friends are feeding into it. It’s utterly brilliant.”

facebook vs buzz Google’s Buzz has now entered the social networking arena,  it has a nice feature set but it doesn’t appear to have anything like the game aspects of Facebook. This got me wondering if the smart minds at Google have not thought things through and missed an opportunity.

Mirror, mirror on the wall, Who is the fairest one of all?

The answer is it all depends on the image.

Bush-Kerry

In the last few years, virtual reality, including Second Life, has faded from the technology hype cycle. But as I recently discovered there is still life in the old dog, as demonstrated in this lunch time lecture titled Transformed Social Interaction in Virtual Reality from Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society.

Stanford’s Professor Bailenson examines how social interactions can be affected in a virtual world where one can modify actual behavior through a ‘digital filter’ and present something quite different to an audience in the virtual world. An example would be sending different behaviors to an audience of avatars or the same behavior to the same audience of avatars. Or as he states (my paraphrase)  “If I am chairing a meeting in the real world, I can only maintain eye contact with one person at a time, in a virtual meeting, I can maintain eye contact with everyone in the meeting.”

One of the most interesting experiments (see image above) has to do with the well known phenomenon that we tend to like people who look, act, or behave like us.  One week before the presidential election in 2004, volunteers were shown one of three scenarios

  1. Untouched photos of George Bush and John Kerry (the control group)
  2. An untouched photo of George Bush and an altered photo of John Kerry (a 60/40 morph of the untouched photo with 40% of the volunteer’s facial features).
  3. An untouched photo of John Kerry and an altered photo of George Bush (a 60/40 morph of the untouched photo with 40% of the volunteer’s facial features).

Why 40%? Anything below that figure is not perceived as “odd” by the volunteer. So what was the result? It is very very scary.

Bush-Kerry2

There is a 19% swing between the two morphed alternatives. Just by making the politician’s appearance look a bit like the volunteer, we can change the outcomes of elections.

This capability to manipulate images and behavior (and to hide the fact from the other party) presents a significant ethical dilemma in virtual worlds. As with most things it can be a force for good but in the wrong hands can be very dangerous. There are a lot of people who are worried about social networks and behavioral targeting (advertising customized to your behavior) – what is to stop advertisers from presenting ads on facebook using pitchmen that deliberately share your characteristics in order to increase your propensity to buy?

Us Now – the culture of social media

Revolution does not happen when a society adopts new tools, it happens when society adopts new behaviours. – Clay Shirkey

Thanks to boingboing, I came across a one hour British documentary on the cultural aspects of social media and how as the cost of collaboration becomes very low people can actively participate in areas that were typically closed to them before. This view is extended to both local and national government with the conclusion that government will become more participatory but with no firm conclusions on exactly how.

Us Now from Banyak Films on Vimeo.

The film consists of social media examples interspersed with interviews from folks like Clay Shirkey (Here comes Everybody) and  Don Tapscott (Wikinomics).  The examples profiled include the following.

Couch surfing Worldwide network for making connections between travelers and the local communities they visit. 500,000 strong with 1500 people per night sleeping on stranger’s couches.
Mumsnet Website and message board for parents by parents
Zopa An online exchange that links small lenders with small borrowers sidestepping the banks.
SlicethePie a financing platform for the music industry that enables new and established artists to raise money directly from Music Fans and Investors.
Ebbsfleet United a community owned football club with 35,000 members who manage the team (selection, transfers etc.)

I am not quite into you

A great short funny 4 minute video from TED. In a short, less than four minute, video, Renny Gleeson talks about the new “culture of availability” and its consequence the “expectation of availability” and how society is struggling to come up with acceptable behaviour.  He also makes the point that for many “the present reality is not as interesting as the story I will tell about it later”. In other words, there is not only your own individuality but also the identity you are projecting to the outside world (are there any realistic avatars in second life?) and that reconciling these two identities is still being worked out. In order for this new shared experience to work, he makes a final plea to the audience to make technology that makes people more human not less.

We have all been frustrated (and frustrated others) by the incoming call/text/e-mail in the middle of a conversation. Sadly it says, in a not so subtle way, that you are not as important as whatever the  interuption was. That is one reason, I like Skype video (and its equivalents) – you feel you have the undivided attention of the recipient as opposed to sharing it with the web or their e-mail list. Maybe the picture-phone will make a comeback.

As I was watching some of the examples, I was struck how this “two or more things at once“  is not a new phenomenon – I still remember my surprise when watching “Klute“  over 30 years ago and seeing Jane Fonda checking her watch in the middle of the sex scene. Check out Renny Gleeson’s video, it is very good.

The Mobile Evolution

The credit crunch is an interesting beast.  It has many unexpected consequences – for example, we’re all becoming more isolationist and protectionist.  And xenophobic.  Not having jobs means that we don’t have the capacity to be nice to foreign workers.  It’s all a little Lord of the Flies if you ask me.  And, as I discovered while waiting for my Chinese takeaway at the fabulous PakFook Gardens in Youghal, people text just a little less.  There were four people ahead of me, all waiting for their delicious noodles or aromatic whatsits, and none of them had a mobile phone out.  I noticed, because the minute my order had been taken, I realised that I had left my phone in the car.  And had to engage with my surroundings sans-technologie, as the French might say.  I had to ask, and so I picked on the fellow queuer who looked least likely to punch me for asking a patently stupid question, and asked whether she had a mobile phone, and if so, why she wasn’t playing with it while waiting. ‘I thought everyone did that,’ I laughed, trying to pretend that I wasn’t some kind of weirdo.  My pretence having failed, the young lady indulged my evident lunacy and explained that ‘everything costs money!’  Including, as it happened, the young lady’s aromatic whatsits, for which Mr’ Fook’s delegate was demanding payment, which she made, and left.

There’s general concern about for much of the services at the edge of core communication for service providers.  Even idle text messaging in a queue for takeaway food is now under threat.  These strange, remote conversations (viz: ‘Guess where I am?’ ‘Dunno, Australia…wah wah wah’ ‘No, guess again!’…) that incur a few small cents for each inane iteration may seem utterly banal, but they provide something of a communal link, an active engagement with the social group that has replaced or supplemented some older engagements, and re-defined social connectivity. Pulling that apart will be difficult, and is unlikely to happen soon, but the credit crunch will have its pound of flesh.

At the macro level, there’s some big European news on network sharing (free sub required), where two of the very large fishes in our fast shrinking pond have announced a pan-European network sharing agreement.  Yet further evidence of the abdication of the network as a differentiator.  Shall we see network management spinoffs next?  I think we will.  If this joint venture between Vodafone and Telefonica is a success, I expect we will see some substantial changes in the next twelve to eighteen months, and, ultimately, a separation of network and service management.  How cool is that!

Question then becomes, whose cloud is the sniffier, the network or the service?  Are clouds about optimising the distribution of physical capacity, or intellectual property?  We shall see!