Monday, February 23, 2009

Synthetic Interaction In Context: the social network debate

There seems to be a debate raging in relation to social networks recently – particularly surrounding their patronage or perhaps it’s more apt to say their end user “vigor”. Two stories in the press and subsequent blog discussions have grabbed my attention.

The first was a story suggesting if users had to pay to for Facebook or Twitter – they wouldn’t. Of course they wouldn’t! Paying for a social network like Facebook or Twitter is going back to the Web 1.0 archetype - and we’ve past all that. It’s the wrong question to be asking in the first place because it is suggesting a return to consumers of old. There may be a result from the survey – but it isn’t going to properly reflect the new directions of consumer movement. It’s quite obvious that they won’t pay for the use of social networks – especially because they are already free.

The second story floating around which does a rotation ever 6months or so is the dwindling popularity of perpetual worlds like Second Life in comparison to apps like Twitter. What we can say is that yes, SL has seen a downward turn in its media coverage in the last few yes – but we can’t base popularity on this media hype. Twitter is receiving a fever pitch of media coverage and an assumption is being drawn between media coverage and attendance of both sites. Having studies Second Life for four years and completed a PhD on the subject – I think its much better to look at the internal uses of such programs – that is how are the participants utilizing the social apps to integrate it into their everyday life. That’s when I believe you will see a vast difference between programs like SL and Twitter and Facebook. As it’s all about the process of synthetic interaction – and each interaction will have a differing context. And context is everything!

Research needs to properly address this context of synthetic interaction so that it embeds itself in the right story, asks the right questions and seeks to understand the everyday (synthetic) experience which makes the use of online social tools noteworthy. Consumers are not social dopes – they are the ones we as researchers should be watching intently for the next move. How are they transforming their world?

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Ludic Intervention into Everyday Life

The ludic intervention into everyday life has been a gradual feature of mundane routines and expectations of experience. The word gradual used decisively to describe a feature of ‘fun’ that has inadvertently become a central design in the day to day life of individuals living in a 2.0 culture.
What does this mean? Well, ludic describes an expectation of interactivity, collaboration and play that is not merely the domain of children or playgrounds or toys (although it includes them) but describes interception points between people through digital tools that in the past were built to support entertainment platforms.
“Fundamental to the notion of ludic activities is an attitude of engagement in the exploration and production of meaning. Thus systems that promote ludic pursuits should provide resources for people to appropriate, rather than content for consumption or tools that structure the performance of defined tasks”
The Drift Table: Designing for Ludic Engagement(Gaver et al 2004)

Thus the ludic is not merely an expectation of amusement but a rule based on connections that express ones attachments and drivers of practice in the logic that Bourdieu gave; where consumers are provided with certain cultural competencies giving them symbolic power over values within that culture. However in the same breath the ludic collapses the dominant theory of what is means to be a producer and consumer confusing all popular understandings of authenticity as Bourdieu would have understood it. The 2.0 cultural influences is one that makes production and consumption fluid and rather sticky. Ultimately how does theory accommodate for the multiple interception points of culture, the negotiation of legitimacy and the rate that culture and values change.

The ludic is an influence that describes this interactivity and collaboration alongside a disruption in the production of everyday culture and meaning. It relies on the participants (that’s you and me!) to produce their own distinctions of value without a central canon. It allows a sociological understanding and explanation of 2.0 influences and how those influences are changing the participation patterns of everyday life to a read/write practise.

The theory underpins why social networks are so important for business development and consumer relations. Understanding what is happening and how that can be accessed on a day to day local level – will allow you the tools to communicate with that “ludic soul” of the consumer.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

When no news is bad news...

When no news is bad news....
I have had many clients recently turn a downward glance at the use of blogs and online communities as new methods for getting in touch with their broad consumers or audience base.
The worry is that their consumers will start saying bad things, and many companies understand that there are a lot of ‘bad’ things to say about their products or brand. They believe that providing consumers with a platform to voice their thoughts and opinions will lead to a mass ‘consumer blah’ of negative comments which other potential consumers will read and thus create a cycle of brand and consumer alienation - I have problems with this on two levels.
1. On a pure business level – if you know that something is wrong why try and hide it? The way the communication networks operate– if your consumers have a real problem with you they will tell as many people as they can through whatever means they have available. Take the recent virgin Atlantic Airlines example – bad airline food got a real bad rap . Virgin’s response was not to defend the bad food...but admit poor service quality in a unique way.

2. If you don’t know what’s wrong how can you fix it? Developing and collaborating within your own online community (alongside consumers) gives you the authority to change the things you don’t do well and respond to your consumer’s wants and needs. It shows them you do really do care about what they think and they can see you taking action.

The moral here: sometimes bad news is good news for business!