News, media & communications

False courage on Facebook

Websites like Facebook and MySpace are among the main exports of the new Web 2.0 economy. At the last count, Facebook had more than 50 million accounts worldwide, while MySpace is allegedly topping 200 million accounts globally.The reasons for this stratospheric growth are legion and include the fact that sites such as these allow teens (the primary audience) to conveniently keep in touch and coalesce around an ever-changing universe of friends, interests and ideas. However, there’s a downside too. This newfound globally connectivity also allows the uniting of otherwise disperse hatreds. A recent example of this was a Facebook group called For Those That Hate The Fat Library Man, which targeted a librarian called Graham Mallaghan at the University of Kent (UK). Because online networks are not restrained by real life status markers, people sometimes behave in ways that would be totally unacceptable offline. For example, the anonymity of the web makes friendship much more nebulous. Equally, it allows – even encourages – individuals to be far more liberal with personal information than they would be offline.According to a survey by Equifax (a credit rating and fraud prevention company) 83% of people in the UK give out their full name online, 38% give their real date of birth and 63% make their email address public. This could be seen as a good thing from a transparency point of view but it also fuels cyber-crime – especially identity theft – and, perhaps more worryingly – it can transfer bullying from the playground to sites such as Facebook and MySpace because potential victims are easy to find, and because cyber-bullies are freer and can easily escape from any responsibility for their actions. Indeed, this has become such a problem that in South Korea all police stations now have a cyber-crime unit, while in the US Guardian Angels (the volunteer group set up to patrol subways) now has a Cyber Angels unit to give support and advice to the victims of cyber-stalking and cyber-crime. But again, why is this happening and why is it happening now? The answer, probably, is that the Internet has removed many of the factors that limit behaviour offline and because cyber-citizenship and laws relating to behaviour online are still in their infancy.
Ref: Financial Times Magazine (UK), 3-4 November 2007, ‘No Place to Hide’,
E. Hammond.
Search words: Social networks, bullying, cyber-crime, rules
Trend tags: Virtual worlds, networks
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Mobile phone novels and cellular stories in Japan

Sales of books in Japan are in decline but a novel idea – the ‘phone book’(keitai bunko) – is enjoying spectacular sales success. People – and especially women in their 20s and 30s – are reading love stories and mysteries on their mobiles while sitting at home or travelling to work. Indeed, in 2006, four of the top ten best selling hard copy books in Japan began life as mobile phone books and several of these cellular stories have notched up sales well in excess of a million copies. There are roughly 100 million mobile phones in Japan (out of a total human population of 127 million) and according to one estimate the size of this market is 9.4 billion (Euro 60 million) a year in Japan, up from zero in 2002. Why is this happening? Data transmission speeds are now fast and screens are bigger and easier to use, however, there may also be another particularly Japanese explanation. Many Japanese commute very long distances to work and there is often a need for some form of mobile-based distraction, be it phone shopping or mobile literature. Interestingly, perhaps, what typically starts off as a serialised or instalment-based phone book sent out to subscribers is often transferred to a traditional hard copy. The reason for this could be that young readers first read these instalments on their phone and send in suggestions and criticisms direct to the book’s author. Thus the reader feels that she or he has contributed to the development of the novel and therefore wants a copy of the final (hardcopy) book as a physical keepsake or memento. So what are the implications of this trend? First the distinction between e-books and phone books will erode to the point where the distinction is meaningless. Second, language and literature will evolve to fit these new formats, which will mean that simple, short sentences and words will be the order of the day.
Ref: Sydney Morning Herald (Aus), 1-2 December 2007, ‘Once upon a time in the text’, J. Moore. See also Monocle (UK), issue 02, 1 April 2007, ‘Novel Concept’, F. Wilson.
Search words: Books, mobile phones, ebooks
Trend tags: Digitalisation
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Micro-blogging and online voyeurism

It’s hard to believe that only about 15 years ago email barely existed.But according to some online observers, email is now endangered because users are switching to other more convenient forms of messaging. For example, according to Robert Scoble, writing in Fast Company magazine, micro-blogging is the next big thing. He’s right. Sites like Twitter have endeared themselves to users since the spring of 2006, not least because they allow users to show and tell people where they are or what they are doing at a specific moment in time. As result, Twitter, and sites like Jaiku and Pownce have become some of the fastest-growing applications on the web. However, while Scoble is right about micro-blogging being an important new way to share information, this is not necessarily, in my view at least, progress. People are making themselves too available, and as any economist will tell you, it is scarcity that creates value, not its opposite. Scoble notes how micro-blogging creates professional intimacy, but again I’d argue the opposite. He cites how he was disappointed he was not to receive communications from companies hungry to sell him their latest products after he’d announced his impending fatherhood. Personally I’d consider that a good thing. Moreover, the arguments against blogs in general apply to micro-blogging in triplicate – users are, more often than not, exhibitionists talking to themselves or else micro-blogs are read by voyeurs who frankly have too much time on their hands. Clearly millions of people don’t agree with this, and that’s fine, but what worries me is that this online voyeurism and exhibitionism is at the expense of empathy, understanding and more intimate relationships.
Ref: Fast Company (US), September 2007, ‘The next email’, R. Scoble.
Search words: Media, blogging, blogs, twitter
Trend tags: Digitalisation, micro-blogging
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The Future of Magazines

In the US and Europe, magazines (like newspapers) are in trouble, with circulations either static or falling. Emap (UK) is up for sale and there are rumours that Time Warner will soon sell Time Inc, the world’s largest magazine company. In Germany it’s much the same story, with Bertelsmann allegedly attempting to offload Gruner + Jahr, its magazine division. So is the sun slowly setting on the magazine industry? Business models are definitely under threat as readers and advertisers migrate online, but things may prove to be healthier than suspected. For a start, magazines have many qualities that their online equivalents cannot match. They are highly portable and glossy. Indeed, in some instances, such as fashion, the ads are seen by many readers to be part of the product and people will willingly pay to have advertisers target them with highly-personalised ads. Moreover, instead of simply replicating images and text online, magazine companies again have the opportunity of offering readers specialist subject-related products and services online.
For instance, if you are a specialist homes magazine it is relatively easy to offer online 3D planning tools or colour palettes. So to sum up, reports of the magazine industry’s immanent death may be exaggerated. On a related note the world’s 11,000 newspapers recorded a 2.3% increase in circulation last year (and were up by 5% over the past five years) although again this was not the case in the US and Europe. Moreover, if you combine newspapers with magazines globally they still represent the world’s largest advertising medium with a 42% global share of ad spend.
Ref: The Economist (UK), 29 September 2007, ‘Out of Vogue’, Newspaper statistics from Monocle magazine issue 08, November 2007, ‘Paper Tigers’, A.
Search words: Media, newspapers, magazines
Trend tags: Physicalisation, Internet
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Advertising on mobile phones

Advertising on mobile phones is currently a tiny text-based business worth around US$871 million globally, according to Informa Telecoms & Media. That’s out of a total global ad market worth US$450 billion and an Internet ad market worth US$24 billion. But things may be changing. There are approximately 2.5 billion mobile phones globally (a figure significantly more than the number of computers) and the mobile phone is generally one of the three personal items that people carry wherever they go (the other two being keys and money). Moreover, phone companies know a lot about their customers and their habits and mobile phones also leave trials of data –ranging from location to payments – that can be tracked, subject to privacy laws. Added together this makes what advertisers like to call ‘relevance’. Firms know where their customers are and what they like and this can, in theory, be translated into subject-matter or location-specific ads. For example, if you conduct an Internet search using keywords, these keywords could be used to sell you a specific product or service. Equally the GPS inside an increasing number of phones (all new phones in the US by law) knows you are next to a pizza joint and so, theoretically, could send you a coupon for a discount pizza. In the future things could get even more interesting.The technology already exists to analyse voice calls or text messages – and therefore eavesdrop – on what you are saying or texting, which in turn could be used to predict what you might be interested in. (If you use the world ‘hungry’ that pizza voucher might pop up again). That’s the theory anyway. The fact that mobile phones are personal may mean that any intrusion from advertisers will be unwelcome, although some early evidence seems to contradict this. For example, in the US Virgin mobile has a service that trades free airtime and text messaging for ad exposure. If you agree to receive the ads the calls are free. So far Virgin has given away 10 million free minutes of airtime so something must be ringing a bell with subscribers.
Ref: The Economist (UK), 6 October 2007, The Next Big Thing’,
Search words: Mobile phones, ads
Trend tags: Mobile
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