Dating small talk needs to keep it real, even online

Two guys approached me in a cafe at the weekend, wanting to ask my opinion about their new virtual dating app, Say SomethingI must have looked so lonely in Costa with my Kindle and black coffee.

Their application is designed to let you practise chat up lines on your phone with other users, advancing if they like your charm. There are 15 levels set in different scenarios, like, it turns out, a café.

The idea, they said, is not that you should meet any of the people you chat with; rather you just practise on them. I found this interesting for two reasons.

First it means that they suspect the allure of chatting to a real person with a real profile pic is enough to elevate the app above a robot programme running a flirting algorithm.

This isn’t new, men use premium rate sex lines after all, and none are manned by robots. Different motivations mind you.

This leads to the second point of interest and my big doubt. Say Something may struggle because of how it’s being presented as a training ground.

People don’t use social media to simulate reality or augment it. Social media are a part of reality for users.The urges and emotions that govern their use are real and online communities are built on real human interactions.

Emotions and the desire to interact could make such an app successful, but framing it as an artificial simulation could be misunderstanding users’ motivations and risks creating a flaw that didn’t need to exist.


The psychology of sharing

When reading articles online some people duck straight to the comment section underneath the article. Others, as this Slate article explores, read a few paragraphs and stop there or tweet a link to the twitter hordes without finishing.

Why do people share the way they do online?

We’re a pretty social species as it goes, but online we can be different in our interactions. Online we can be like students starting university: able to reinvent.

When it comes it social media we can be the sum of the pictures or tweets we choose to share. We allow people to see the snapshots we like to build a tailored image of who we are. Our tweets, Facebook shares or the traces we leave beneath articles are often more important to us as online personalities than the content we actually consume.

This could be why the content that is most shared evokes emotions in the people we share it with. Something funny, or tragic, or sad or intellectual.

The urge to flick the tweet switch before finishing an article is sometimes down to this. You know when you’ve found something likely to elicit the emotional response you are looking for and you tweet it.

The wrong list of articles that you’ve read may attract no interest from other users at all. The pieces may be interesting to you but unless they can make a connection with your followers then they are unlikely to cultivate your online persona.

You may even get negative points for tweeting too much dense material people don’t want to read when relaxing or on a break at work. Journalists often struggle here, tweeting too much intellect fodder and not enough lighter material.

Journalists working with social media, such as Daniel Victor of the NYTand Ben Whitelaw of The Times, get this. What they tweet is interesting to their followers at the time they are likely to be using twitter. It also involves pictures and occasionally more personal content building a connection on various levels.

Its articles are easy, piecemeal news. Anyone can digest them quickly, so people are more likely to read them when you post them and attribute a mental plus point to your social avatar.

Buzzfeed knows what and how people read and why people share.

What’s more Buzzfeed content is varied. They have long form reads as well as the signature listicles.

The topics of the lists themselves are diverse too: Grant Shapps the Tory party chairman wrote a propaganda one on energy price rises, while there are also articles exploring cats, dogs, swearing hobbits and the folly of not building more houses.

It’s a news source made to be shared, because it is a quick way for people to showcase their interests on a range of subjects. They can enhance their peers’ view of their humour and intellect in one post. Crafty.

I find listicles nauseating mind you. But clever.

The system of personality point-scoring is interesting not least because it is ubiquitous in the digital world, and not just on social networks.

Reddit users offer up-points to comments they like. News websites often recommend the most insightful comments and allow other readers to recommend contributions too. This leads to validation.

The same increased kudos or personality by a thousand points is visible in computer games too. We the digital generation are used to working online or in graphics at tasks that gradually improve character’s attributes. World of Warcraft, GTA, Football Manager, and so on ad digifinitum.

Characters in games develop skills and characters on twitter accrue respect amongst their peers.

Being social is all about reputation. Vampire bats (like these cute ones here) that share blood with one another remember sharers and Scrooges, as do grooming monkeys. Animals don’t like wasting energy on selfish individuals, and nor do humans.

Online we don’t like wasting time on boring shares of boring content. And we want people to read what we share, so we have to learn to share what people read.

Spotting the social scammers


  • 3 min read
Social media is changing journalism. In many ways this is fantastic: normal people with a front line view of the news are able to offer their own content, enrichening the news and giving journalists and their readers a direct line to the truth.The flip side to this is that while anyone can be a “citizen journalist”,anyone can also be a con artist.

So when it comes to grainy footage and visceral images, how can social media users be sure of what they are seeing and retweeting?

The first thing to do is to check the person’s credentials. If they used twitter or facebook to share information, how long has he or she been a user? Who are his or her friends? Does the profile have that blue rosette of acceptance? Many interactions?

Meet your Dacre

Many fake accounts will spring up on twitter in the wake of a breaking news story. Paul Dacre, the universally popular editor of the Daily Mail, sprung a fake profile on twitter in the wake of his paper’scontroversial piece on Ed Miliband’s father.

Likewise Edward Snowden has enjoyed at least one tribute act too, quickly outed by the vigilant Glenn Greenwald. The list goes on.

Don’t trust an account just because it has a couple of celebs in tow:

Alastair Campbell may have had his own agenda when following this ‘Enfield boy turned Journalist & Editor’.

These accounts are often candid about being new to the platform. They won’t attempt to build a back story as they know that the breadth of public interest will ensure enough hits that the odd person will be ensnared.

Never forget that hoaxers often find themesleves very funny and will go to great lengths to reel people in. Making a fake blog is not unheard of.

If you are using a page as a source for stories, or even idle gossip, use a site like prchecker to check how highly google trusts a site.

Then there is the blindingly simple: a google search of the suspect’s name, using modifiers like ‘spam’ and ‘hoax’, can throw up some clues.

Dunk biscuits not iPhones

One advert with slick enough production values managed to persuade some iPhone users that a software update had waterproofed their handsets.

If an advert like this pops up, a good thing to do is to search by image using google. This allows you to see where else a given image has appeared online. In the above example, probably not on Apple’s website.

Facebook gets a new like button.

Cute cat roaringBeware the cat.

Twitter told me today that Facebook is reshaping it’s like button and doing away with the thumb.

Thumbs were developed by apes so we could grasp stuff and poke things. Now they are the emblem of online marketing evolution. Why?

There are many different relationships online. We might be having one now. There is the loving symmetrical one; you are my friend and I’m yours. Hmmm not that one then.

Then there is the cold asymmetrical one. You follow someone on twitter and their tweets pop up on your feed, but their feed remains devoid of your 140 character parcels.

Journalists are in this relationship. It’s the PubSub. They publish, you subscribe.

Facebook is the king of the symmetrical relationship.You can subscribe to people without being mates, but for the most part FB likes give and take. It has some clever algorithms that it uses to thin out the mass of social data flung about on it. This is called edgerank.

Edgerank weighs your relationship with FB content to see what you like to look at. Then it tries to make sure you have more of the stuff you like. Liking, it turns out, is important because it shows a relationship with content from a user.

Brands think that if they whack up a picture of a cow eating snailsand you like it, that FB will shove their next glossy advert in amongst the wadge of status updates and passive-aggressive feline proxy narcissism.

It can work, at least for a while. If the marketing team stops coming up with gems however, brands will quickly fade from the feeds.

FB’s checking up doesn’t stop on it’s own site though.

It is even rumoured that FB might start monitoring your cursor movements as you potter around online. All the better to tailor your adverts. A terrifying Orwellian thought. Why is it less scary when it’s not the government?

That for another post.

So all hail the like button. And think very carefully the next time you think you might like a cat.

A new Google watch and some necropants.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Google could be mere “months away” from launching a smartwatch.

The watch will run Google’s Android operating system and use Google Now, a kind of digital personal assistant, to give you up-to-date advice on travel sport etc. straight to your wrist, based on your location and preferences.

A new craze in devices, with smaller screens, could well change the way we view news. Writing for the internet requires shorter paragraphs and quotable facts put in bold to allow for faster skim reading. Sub headings are more frequent to break the articles down, and shocking details are emboldened or put in the article title as link bait.

How people read stuff and human skin trousers

As this article from Slate shows most internet users never finish an article anyway. How many people are going to finish an article on a watch?

Will there be a divergence of content, into made for watch stuff and online stuff, and how will smartphone use change as a result? That same article from the WSJ suggests profits may be peaking in the mobile phone world, at least in developed markets.

Apps such as circa already provide a tailored news service with any flamboyance chopped out. You follow a story and get any new content diced up into 50 word nuggets. This could become the norm.

Finally, while on the subject of wearable technology, what about a pair of trousers made from human skin? High-waisted, they do include the genitals and some wiry hair. 

Hats off to the Huffpost for their opening para:

“If you thought skinny pants were a new trend, think again — they’ve been around in Iceland since the 17th century.”

Nábrók, they call them apparently.

Making money from the Maasai



An article in Bloomberg Business week interested me as an illustration of a meeting of worlds.

Kenyan/Tanzanian Maasai, unaware that their name was being used for marketing by global brands, are planning to take on companies such as Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein to regain intellectual copyright. 

The revenue made beggars belief:

“Layton [the lawyer representing the Maasai] estimates six companies have each made more than $100 million in annual sales during the last decade using the Maasai name.” says BBW. 

The legal ground is uncertain, and success far from assured; there have been battles fought along similar lines before, with varied success.

“’It’s a nice idea, but if it would work, the French deficit would be gone by asking for royalties on French fries,’ says Seth Siegel, co-founder of the Beanstalk Group, a trademark licensing agency and consultant.”

The Maasai were mostly unaware of the meaning of the vast sums made off the back of their culture. The cost of a Masai (sic) pen, $600, had to be explained to them in terms of cows. Three or four good ones. 

If they were to receive the $10million a year royalties quoted in the BBW article their material requests would be modest. 

“’We’re not going so far as to ask for electricity,’ says Saitoti Oloishiro, 42, a chief from northern Tanzania and one of the Maasai behind the project. ‘That would be a daydream. What we are saying is, we need maybe some water for our families and our animals, a dispensary. We need schools nearby.’” 

1 Lunatic 1 Icepick

It’s been an interesting few days for arguing the limits of online press freedom.

The European Court of Human Rights said in its ruling on Delfi AS v. Estonia that websites must keep tabs on their comments sections too. 

News sites, it appears, and more than just passive conduits and are responsible for both welcome comment and the abusive froth that sometimes accumulates beneath some posts. 

The argument has gone a step further however. Tech website The Verge reports that the owner/operator of website Best Gore, a site famed for its visceral content, has been charged after helping to disseminate a video of a real murder, horrifically entitled 1 Lunatic 1 Icepick. 

The site’s owner, Mark Marek, is to go on trial in Canada. He claims merely to have been passing on the information, and that only by people showing the crime online was the killer brought to justice.

This raises an interesting question: is there any difference between a site like Best Gore showing murder footage and conventional media outlets showing images of war or gruesome gang killings in Mexico? Papers in other countries have stronger stomachs for disturbing images than our own.

Do the limits of the public interest argument stop suddenly at the doors of traditional news outlets? 

If sites are liable for the nature of the content they or users post, this could be seen as damaging to freedom of expression. And what if a site doesn’t post a snuff clip but instead links to it, could it too be on dubious moral ground?