Category Archives: augmented_social_networks_


Bitcoin fluent mercs/hitmen for good

Exceptionally fit “gold farmers” selling grey-market Nike Fuel

goldfarmer (before)
goldfarmer (future)


“guilt by NFC”

data shadows and “acceptable levels of creepy”

automated social net “relationship decay

“denial of insight” database attacks

Adam Harvey, Dark Objects – “When is an Apple not an Apple?”


All Currency is Social. So what’s in YOUR wallet?

I was looking up the definition of currency on Wikipedia, when I came across this line: "modern currency…is intrinsically worthless".  I'm no economist, but the info there indicated that the dollar, euro and other currencies have no value beyond the government declaring them to have value, and markets effectively betting on their future value.

So it's kind of funny that there is a distinction between hard currency (cash) and social currency (as in "net promoter value", WOM recco, blog readership or twitter followers, etc.).  Because both are effectively social constructs (for the cash, at least, since the 'Nixon Shock' ended convertibility of US dollars for gold).

But faith in institutions, like faith in people, can be fragile. 

What the hell does that have to do with marketing?


I'll go out on a limb here.  The era of the one stop shop, or agency network, or do it alone communications company – or brand, for that matter, is dead.

No brand is an island.  No agency a one-stop shop.

Brands ask for multi-year communications plans in 2010, when in 22 months between February 2005 and November 2006, YouTube went from startup to $1.65 Billion Google acquisition.  One thing you can count on is guessing wrong on the right tactics to employ in three years' time. Many of them simply don't exist yet.

So here's where the currency/social currency comes in:

Agency and brand "currency" will be a reflection of their social portfolio strategy. 

The most successful brands and agencies will be driven by a net value comprised of actual sales of goods and services + the "stored value" of their social currency (in the form of their networks of collaborators).

The key will be how quickly and effectively they can convert stored value to real value, by unlocking the power of their collaborators to achieve mutual goals. 

DARPA's "Network Challenge" was just such a test to see test the value of networks in real world problem solving.  An MIT team used a tech-fueled "inverse pyramid" scheme to solve in nine hours a problem DARPA assumed would take significantly longer.

The trick is identifyng mutual goals.  Creating a shared vision – and shared risk.  Opportunity – and accountability.

As an agency, it's a good idea to treat partners well, and treat everyone you meet as a future collaborator.  If entire alliances are forming because you are ridiculously awful to work with, you have a serious problem.

And collaboration prevents legacy investments (or entire company acquisitions) from dictating your solutions – a dev shop full of C sharpies not so useful for your Ruby project.  A search shop with an a state-of-the-art proprietary tool yields decreasing returns once that tool gets dumped onto an overall dev list across an agency holding company.  Flash devs on iPhone/iPad?  waaa waaaa.  Or in our case, it helped to have access to the right folks when we wanted to build a robot.

Victor & Spoils promised crowdsourcing as a creative model.  Meh.  What they have done is built a seriously impressive network of freelancers.  The danger is that that network is built on unstable bonds -  bonds that consist of the promise of hard currency.  Hard currency buys you loyalty with an expiration date (the better offer). 

And while money can't buy you love, earned social currency just might.

The agencies and brands that win will build networks of shared inspiration and mutual goals.  Bonds of social currency.

Because an inspired network, a network built on passion and trust, not submission forms and "friend requests", has the power to move mountains.

Brain Belches and Sentience

Somewhere this past year, I effectively traded blogging for brain belches.  Blog posts gave way to tweets, FB status updates and foursquare check-ins. "@"replies and retweets replaced blog comments as my virtual crack.

I'm not proud of it, and I will  rectify that this year (resolution #3, just after #2's "ripped abs")

In Katie Hafner's NYT piece "Driven to Distraction, Some Unfriend Facebook" (a piece dealing with kids attempts to self-regulate their Facebook addictions) she quotes Michael Diamonti, head of school at SF University High School:

"[I support] these kids recognizing that they need to exercise some control over their use of Facebook, that not only is it tremendously time-consuming but perhaps not all that fulfilling."

Hafner goes on to quote Sherry Turkle, director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, who writes of an 18 year old male who quit FB while working on his college application:

"Facebook wasn't merely a distraction, but it was really confusing him about who he was."

Jonathan Harris, in his recent piece on World Building, writes

"Our online tools do a great job at breadth (hundreds of friends,
thousands of tweets), but a bad job at depth. We live increasingly
superficial lives, reducing our relationships to caricatures and our
personalities to billboards, as we speed along at 1,000 miles an hour.

We trade self-reflection for busyness, gorging ourselves on it and
drowning in it, without recognizing the violence of that busyness,
which we perpetrate against ourselves and at our peril."

There is something beautiful, terrifying and powerful about the rise of ambient intimacy, and our willing adoption of the latest and greatest tools to feed it.  We feed it with our hearts and souls like a confessional booth after a Las Vegas bender, but occasionally forget that every wry observation and catty tweet is now searchable, indexable and forever. 

But seeing is not knowing.  Telling alone does not create understanding. And the fact I can't actually deal with the immediacy of a restaurant until I've "checked in" in pursuit of my "Crunked' badge is…well, a little sad.

Sad, but I believe it will evolve into something beautiful.  This stuff would not survive, we would not be obsessed by it, if it did not meet a fundamental human need.  Our job is to understand that need and work to meet it with technology that enhances our humanity, and deepens our connections, rather than reduces our rich world of experience to 140 character bleats.

But it does make you think – children learn interaction by observing our emotional states.  How much of our hearts and souls can we pour into the technosphere before it develops its own api to tap our raw data, and begin to react?

It feels inevitable that a status update will someday generate a reaction – "feeling blue" may generate a skype call from an unknown (but somehow familiar soothing) voice, suggesting you "look on the bright side – you've got that Mexico trip coming up!  You'll be tan and happy, and you'll probably hook up!" – and when the line goes dead, you'll feel great, and maybe slightly, momentarily unsettled.  But you shouldn't be – you put the trip into dopplr, booked it through Expedia, and you've got a profile that matches someone else who did the same (and is single)… predicts sun for the 10-day forecast, and the tweets you posted from Tulum the last time were, algorithmically speaking, the happiest of your 8,956 posts. 

You can't miss!

Toilet Paper Users and Facebook Users

We social media wanks often earn our fear money through hyperbolic/histrionic presentations laden with "you're business model is f***ed" slides, typically including a gasp-inducing image that compares the population of users of Facebook to the population of actual countries.

But Facebook isn't really a country.  Individual users of Facebook have as much in common with each other as individual users of toilet paper. 

And come to think of it, there may be more TP than FB users for a little while yet.


(FB heatmap when they were limping along with 200MM users back on april 8th,2009, stolen from Dave Know's HardKnox life blog…and interesting to note that if in April they were "admitting" 200MM, and in December Zuckerberg claims 350MM, HOLY HOCKEYSTICK, batman.)

If FB were a country, it would be an interesting one – a preselected technological "upper" class who have sufficient material resources to at least guarantee access, so they probably aren't hurting for basic needs – food, shelter, etc. 

They'd be the world's third most populous country – 350MM+ people, all a few rungs up Maslow's ladder.

And in spite of various valuation discussions, this "country" of tech "haves" wouldn't be a G-7 or G-20 candidate.  Various estimates peg the FB "GDP" at about a billion for 2009 – with about half that coming from ad revenue, the other half from monetization of the FB platform via third party developers.  that puts them at #169 for global GDP, a few steps behind St. Lucia, and just edging out Dijibouti.

The smartest, wealthiest, tech saavy folks in the world, 350MM strong, barely edging out a win on Dijibouti?  Golly.

But there is something much more interesting and a little sad going on here.  A real country has many things that make for an engaged citizenry.  The two I think are relevant here are

  1. economic/social/emotional barriers to leaving, and
  2. a national mythology/narrative

Friendster, MySpace and Facebook are cheap, easy, and addictive, but their glue is driven by the critical mass of friends (network effect) and the difficulty of porting your entire life onto the NEXT BIG PLATFORM.  Facebook Connect is a brilliant way to deflect the need to re-port, but at the end of the day, FB loyalty will be proportional to its perceived utility.  Like toilet paper.  If there is a softer better cheaper toilet paper, I'll use it.


(stolen from

But none of these social nets has an embedded narrative or mythology.  they have a perceived "cool" factor, or not, but they are social tools, little more.  FB is doing its best to become the Leatherman of social nets, with a tool, port or app for every need, but I question the loyalty of its users and the longevity of its position.  Because they have no narrative.  The US Army/Marine Corps CounterInsurgency Manual (available as a pdf here – Download COIN-FM3-24) defines a "narrative" as:

"a story recounted in the form of a causally linked series of events that explains an event in the group's history and expresses the values, characters, or self-identity of the group.  Narratives are means through which ideologies are expressed and absorbed by members of a society."

There is no common purpose to FB, no shared mission, no shared narrative. 

Like Toilet Paper. 

We flush (TP) and upload (FB) our crap every day.

When will a virtual social net nourish our souls?

Mobile Weapon?

Connectivity: harbinger of a Tech-enabled Utopia?  Pain in the ass?

A connected world, the thinking goes, is an empowered, informed and an enlightened one. 

Of course, we've had a few World Wars since the telegraph and telephones were invented, so jury's out.

But fine, if connectivity is good, well then, mobile connectivity, is, well…it's like Utopia plus. 

Because while connectivity gives us show times on Fandango, mobile connectivity will both save the world and level it.

"The World is Flat"-ter Thomas Friedman's OpEd piece "The Land of No Service"
in the 16 August 09 NYT describes a trip to the Okavango Delta in Africa, where there is little wireless
connectivity.  He writes: 

"like it or not, coming here forces you to think about the blessings
and curses of “connectivity.” “No Service” is something travelers from
the developed world now pay for in order to escape modernity, with its
ball and chain of e-mail. For much of Africa, though, “No Service” is a
curse — because without more connectivity, its people can’t escape

And he may be right.

Because if you want to get out of poverty, you need to be able to save money.  And on a continent (!) where less than 20% of the aggregate population even has access to a bank account, that's a challenge.

According to the World Bank, 90% of Kenyans, 85% of Liberians and 95% of Tanzanians operate without access to banking services.  Enter services like M-PESA and Wizzit, providing the ability to "bank" and micro-transact remotely.

Each market is unique – M-PESA started in Kenya, Wizzit is operating in South Africa – and M-PESA Kenya has seen substantially higher adoption than Tanzania's M-PESA (read here for a CGAP paper on just this topic). 

But despite scale, replicability and market variations including "country demographics and cultures, market structures, business models,
and strategic implementations", these experiments are being carefully monitored.  Mary Kimani, in "A Bank in Every African Pocket" writes about Wizzit’s South African mobile banking pilot operation, and quotes Mohsen Khalil, the World Bank’s director of global ICT:

"If this model works in South
Africa…the World Bank will help the company expand coverage
within and beyond the country. We may be looking here at . . . the
most effective way to provide social and economic services to the

Hopalong Selebalo – an intern for ISS in the Organized Crime and Money Laundering Programme – quotes Brian Richardson,  Wizzit's CEO and MD, on the advantages of mobile banking in an ISS paper entitled 7 May 2009: Mobile Phone Banking in the South African Economy.  The key positives:

  • the safety of not having to carry cash around
  • the absence of risk of account closure for inactivity, which enables
    people that do not have a regular income to do banking
  • lower costs, partly because there are no transaction-by-transaction fees
  • saving of time by avoiding long distance travel for banking
  • flexibility,
    in that users can change markets by making small business-to-business
    transactions immediately and reliably, and
  • facilitating popular participation in the economy, which ultimately is positive for the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP)

Selebalo, despite the risk of abuse and money laundering via mobile, posits that "mobile banking could increase national rates of saving, increase
incomes and boost the resilience of the economy. At a broader level, it
could improve taxation, and encourage reinvestment of money that is
currently not in effective circulation."

OK.  OK.

But can it help us win the "information war" going on in Afghanistan right now?

Maybe. Thom Shanker, in his 08.16.09 NYT piece "U.S. Plans a Mission against Taliban Propaganda", begins with a note that the Obama adminsitration acknowledges that they are "engaging more fully than ever in a war of words and ideas" in rural Afghanistan. 

And the proposed solution involves both (a) FM stations to combat pirate stations the Taliban has been operating – in some cases off the back of roving donkey carts – and importantly, (b) providing cellphone

How can cell coverage turn the tide?

“The ability to communicate empowers a
population,”  said Rear Adm. Gregory J. Smith, NATO’s
director of communication in Kabul. “That is a very important principle of
counterinsurgency and counterpropaganda.”

Giving folks cellphone coverage gives them access to independent (read: non-Taliban) information sources.

"In southern Afghanistan, insurgents threaten commercial cellphone providers with attack if they do not switch off service early each night.

prevents villagers from calling security forces if they see militants
on the move or planting roadside bombs; the lack of cellphone service
at night also hobbles the police and nongovernmental development

And the kicker?  Despite the fact that mobile-enabled transaction will inevitably help finance terrorism (and probably already have), according to Shanker:

"Expanding and securing cellphone service
has the additional benefit of assisting economic development, officials
said, as it could provide wireless access to banking systems for those
who now must travel long distances for financial services."

But back to Utopia.  Or at least Wikipedia's definition of Utopia:

"a compound of the
syllable ou-, meaning "no", and topos, meaning place. But the
homonymous prefix eu-, meaning "good," also resonates in the word, with
implication that the perfectly "good place" is really "no place." 

Hmmm.  Given how effectively mobility has enabled us to "be" anyplace and
noplace, connected to the big world and disconnected from the immediate, maybe
Utopia IS the right analogy.

Weapon and Savior?

A "good place" that's "no place"? 

Mobility is transforming both society and culture.

And…oh wait – hold on.  I need to talk this call.

Twisualize this:

So I get pinged by Tim Nudd for an Adweek interview via twitter for #tweetfreak on the subject of 'availability'.

then twitter went down.  poetry.  Hopefully its because of the postponed maintenance to help Iranians tweet their streets, but still funny.

At the same time as these shenanigans, Kara Swisher wrote a great piece on Twitter as the Forrest Gump of International Relations -  some choice bits:

"…Harvard University Professor Jonathan
Zittrain said: 'It is easy for Twitter feeds to be echoed everywhere else in the
world. The qualities that make Twitter seem inane and half-baked are
what make it so powerful.'

Zittrain was being quoted in a New York Times piece today
about the use of Twitter by those protesting the election results in
Iran, as other means of modern mass communications–such as email,
Facebook and texting–got blocked.

In other words, Twitter is so simplistic and silly that it is a
perfect digital tool to overthrow a government–which is kind of makes
the trendy microblogging service the Forrest Gump of international

While not always reliable, masses of people chattering away has
always been the most fluid way in which news has been disseminated and
received. Although much of that can be mundane and borderline idiotic,
one cannot deny its impact.

What one can deny, though, is the hype that inevitably follows in
the wake of every one of these breakthrough technologies like Twitter.

That’s a mistake, because it is how the tools are used by people, more than the tools themselves, that should be the focus."

Nice, Kara!

Facebook Rights – and Ad Model Fail

We were having an internal debate about the Declaration of Independence today, while at the same time, voting is closing on the proposed Facebook Governance Documents. 

I know you know.  And I know you know that if Facebook were a country, its 200+MM population would make it the world's 5th largest (they just passed Brazil)

And here are the proposed "Guiding Principles" (hum "Mine eyes have seen the glory" as you read):

1. Freedom to Share and Connect

People should have the freedom to share whatever information they want, in any medium and any format, and have the right to connect online with anyone – any person, organization or service – as long as they both consent to the connection.

2. Ownership and Control of Information

People should own their information. They should have the freedom to share it with anyone they want and take it with them anywhere they want, including removing it from the Facebook Service.  People should have the freedom to decide with whom they will share their information, and to set privacy controls to protect those choices. Those controls, however, are not capable of limiting how those who have received information may use it, particularly outside the Facebook Service.

3. Free Flow of Information

People should have the freedom to access all of the information made available to them by others. People should also have practical tools that make it easy, quick, and efficient to share and access this information.

4. Fundamental Equality

Every Person – whether individual, advertiser, developer, organization, or other entity – should have representation and access to distribution and information within the Facebook Service, regardless of the Person’s primary activity. There should be a single set of principles, rights, and responsibilities that should apply to all People using the Facebook Service.

5. Social Value

People should have the freedom to build trust and reputation through their identity and connections, and should not have their presence on the Facebook Service removed for reasons other than those described in Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.

6. Open Platforms and Standards

People should have programmatic interfaces for sharing and accessing the information available to them. The specifications for these interfaces should be published and made available and accessible to everyone.

7. Fundamental Service

People should be able to use Facebook for free to establish a presence, connect with others, and share information with them. Every Person should be able to use the Facebook Service regardless of his or her level of participation or contribution.

8. Common Welfare

The rights and responsibilities of Facebook and the People that use it should be described in a Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, which should not be inconsistent with these Principles.

9. Transparent Process

Facebook should publicly make available information about its purpose, plans, policies, and operations. Facebook should have a town hall process of notice and comment and a system of voting to encourage input and discourse on amendments to these Principles or to the Rights and Responsibilities.

10. One World

The Facebook Service should transcend geographic and national boundaries and be available to everyone in the world.


Impressive, inspiring, thought provoking.

SO where does the "Ad Fail" part come in? 

Despite near-continuous, above the fold, high visibility FB profile page placements for the past week or so, only 536K+ members have voted.  

That's about .2%. 

And only 109K FB'ers (that's ~.05% of the total pop) have become "Fans" of the ''Facebook Governance Page', meaning
they will receive updates and posts about any conversations or proposed
changes to the documents. 

So in a community of 200MM+, only about a
half million are participating in creating the global guiding principles.

Wow.  All they had to do was click and vote.

Twice as many people voted for the guiding principles of what has become for many an indispensable social utility, as were sacrificed for Whoppers in a single promotion.