Why I’m leaving Foursquare

For the last year or so, I’ve been religiously “checking in” to all venues on my business travels (not personal ones though) to try and get a handle on Foursquare. This and Farmville (long since forgotten) were part of a quest to understand two of the examples of gamification that were often quoted (back when gamification was the current buzzword).

Well, I have to admit, I don’t really see the advantage. Not to me at least.

  • I’ve been the mayor of a few places (I was even the mayor of Fujitsu’s UK HQ for a while, although I suspect the CEO may have a different view) but no-one has ever offered me a discount.
  • Not once have I been alerted to the fact that one of my friends was also at the same venue as me.
  • I frequently forget to check in at the station on the way home – Foursquare doesn’t let you edit your timeline.
  • Even as the mayor of a location I was unable to do anything about the “tip spam” – and Foursquare didn’t respond to my requests to remove the offending items either.

Meanwhile I have given Foursquare plenty of information about my travel patterns and the offices I visit. That information might be useful in a broader context but, as with every other “free” social platform, I am the product – not the customer – and I’m simply providing data for potential analysis and even sale. Foursquare, along with Google Latitude and Facebook Places, holds no interest for me any more (especially since Foursquare awarded me the “trainspotter” badge!)

So, in the words of the famous BBC “dragons”, I’m sorry, but “I’m out“.

[Updated 21:42 – added point about “tip spam”]

Deleting large quantities of Facebook notes

A few years ago, I followed the example of a “social media guru” and set Facebook up to consume my blog’s RSS feed and republish each post as a note.

This was A Bad Thing for a number of reasons, not least:

  1. Copyright – I’m sure that when I upload anything to Facebook, I give them some rights over it (which is why my images are still on Flickr).
  2. Traffic – reproducing content on Facebook might get eyeballs, but it takes that traffic away from your own website and only Facebook gains any revenue. This may be OK if you are selling goods/services that can be monetised via Facebook links but my revenue is from ads: ads on my site = revenue for me; ads on a Facebook copy = revenue for Facebook.
  3. Layout – invariably, despite my best efforts to write good XHTML, the blog posts look better on my site than when scraped into Facebook as notes.

I turned off the feed but deleting the notes was far from trivial. There is no bulk delete option that I can find, and that meant opening each note, scrolling down, clicking delete, etc. In a word, tedious.

I forgot about the notes until last week, when I switched over to timeline view. Arghh. Yes. Must delete those…

…and then I found another method – much quicker – using the iOS Facebook app.

By opening the Notes section of the Facebook app on my iPad, a quick swipe and press was all it took to delete each note. Still tedious, but a lot quicker to get through…

Using LinkedIn as a B2B social media platform (#smwmecsocial #smwldn)

Yesterday, I wrote about an event I’d attended as part of Social Media Week London, hosted by MEC Global, looking at thought leadership and B2B social media. For reasons of brevity, I skipped over much of LinkedIn‘s presentation in my original post but it provided a lot of insights that I would like to share… so here’s the follow-up!

LinkedIn’s Colin Smith was talking about the role of social in a digital ecosystem and he started out by saying that social media in 2011 was a bit of a knee-jerk reaction to an emerging audience, with organisations testing campaigns and activity, predicting that 2012 will be the year when social gets down to business.

Brands are now what people say they are, and:

“The impact of social media is far-reaching,well beyond how we connect with our friends.It has changed how we work. It is changing how we make markets. It has, critically, re-leveled the playing field.”

[George Gallate, Global Chairman, Euro RSCG 4D]

Citing various statistics from a recent CIM/Ipsos ASI study (Social Media Benchmark), Colin Smith highlighted that:

  • Consumers want to be engaged in a conversation – not sold to.
  • Brands are now what people say they are.
  • Business is evolving – moving from transactional to relational. This affects the speed to close deals, the size of those deals and the length of the relationship.
  • Liking, sharing and commenting are all emotions – we need to build an emotional relationship with our customers [I agree: people buy from people – not brands, although there are some brands that will always be considered “safe bets”].
  • Decision cycles in B2B take longer than in B2C – longevity makes a difference in the relationship.
  • People will, on average, follow just 2.8 companies in a given sector, but 50% will follow a company in perpetuity – so you want to your brand to be in that 2.8!
  • Don’t forget that your staff  have profiles, engage with, and are probably connected to competitors and customers – people will check what your staff profiles look like.
  • Sometimes you’ll know that someone is talking about you, sometimes you don’t – some reactions will be negative and some positive.

It’s important to consider that customers have [LinkedIn – and other social network] profiles too. Before they come to meetings they will check out yours, your staff, your company page, what people are saying and come armed – you need to do the same. They follow, like, share, comment – and expect engagement. They connect to your staff and communicate with them. And they will trust you if communicate and share useful information.

  • Social hygiene is about the ways in which people [your audience: customers; staff; business partners] expect you to engage. It’s about having an authentic voice and sharing. Businesses have a challenge to be open, authentic, honest, engaging.
  • Don’t just ask an agency to do this – it needs to go to the core of the business – the CEO, or others who are senior enough and have the credibility [and charisma] to speak on behalf of a brand.
  • Think about social media in the context of employment – it reflects your brand (even if you don’t employ someone they may make buying decisions elsewhere).

Colin gave some advice for engaging on LinkedIn:

  • Engagement starts with creating a presence, for example, a company page built out on LinkedIn. Many of these are generated through algorithms so claim yours and make it say what you need it to.
  • Once you have the presence right, think about who want to attract (think about a specific audience – CEOs, CIOs, procurement advisors, etc.) – LinkedIn can target specific audiences. Samsung ran a LinkedIn campaign and gained 20000 followers in 3 days. Mercedes were looking at just the C-suite and gained 12000 followers in 5 weeks. These are not just big numbers, they are highly targetted and therefore the reach is potentially significant.
  • Continue to engage through company status updates – provide value at scale. LinkedIn has found that 45% would like weekly updates.
  • Amplify – as with engagement, think who followers are connected to (LinkedIn average is 151 connections per person).
  • The only cost is building a content strategy, the hard bit is acquiring followers.
  • Groups can be used to position a company as a thought leader in an existing conversation or a topic that’s important. For example, Statoil is facilitating a conversation for people to talk about energy innovation. A strategy for content will be required when the group is first started (initial 3-6 months) after which it should take on a life of its own.

Involving your brand in a social conversation

Finally, Colin gave some tips for better use of LinkedIn [although many of these could equally be applied to other channels]:

  1. Improve your company page to attract a more relevant audience.
  2. Consider engagement with followers – questions and topics to seed into a group.
  3. Members expect insights and news from companies they follow: 66% expect industry insight; 65% expect upcoming company news (advance information before it hits the press); 45% expect the opportunity to join a group; 45% expect sneak peeks of upcoming products and services; and 43% desire inclusion in a community with similar interests.
  4. Interrogate the social hygiene of your company.
  5. Work across departments so that all customer-facing departments have profiles that are relevant to your company – make sure your brand is represented across the board with links to company pages, blogs, etc. Think about whether modifying a LinkedIn profile is part of the induction process for new employees – and, equally, what people say when they leave.

As an individual, I don’t use LinkedIn as a daily destination – it’s still about professional networking for me. For daily conversations, I prefer the immediacy of Twitter (besides, some of my tweets are more suitable for that audience – and the frequency would  just be too high for LinkedIn) but I took a lot away from this presentation about how brands might better engage on the platform.

One thing’s for sure, as MEC’s Shane O’Byrne highlighted at yesterday’s event, B2B social media requires effort on the part of the company, and cannot just be left to an agency. That means applying resource, possibly dedicated, but certainly as part of their work (not as an add-on to do “in their spare time”) to generate content that makes an audience want to engage.  That’s been the challenge that I’ve struggled with in my own work on corporate blogs and other B2B social media activities over the last couple of years – and making a B2B brand become “social” is a lot more work than simply setting up a few accounts on major platforms…

Thought leadership and B2B social media (#smwmecsocial #smwldn)

This week is Social Media Week in London and there are a lot of events taking place at a variety of locations. I’m not London-based, but I do work there for a couple of days each week and I booked onto some that look particularly relevant to my role – the first of which was hosted by the social media team at MEC Global (@MECsocial), looking at thought leadership and the role of social media in B2B communications.

To be honest, it was a bit light in places on the “thought leadership” angle (MEC covered this, the invited guests less so) but I was pleased to see someone taking a serious look at B2B social media. In my experience most of the “advice” given at events like this is very B2C (or even C2C)-focused and when asking about specific challenges for B2B it’s often brushed under the carpet.

With presentations from MEC Global, LinkedIn and the Telegraph Media Group, followed by a panel discussion, there was a lot of information provided but I’d like to concentrate on just a few highlights.

Organisational considerations for social media

MEC’s Shane O’Byrne (@shaneysean) opened up the event with some organisational considerations for B2B social media. Taking the view that, in stark contrast to B2C (which is 80% agency, 20% client), B2B social media requires more client input (the 80:20 split is reversed), with the agency helping organisations to deliver thought leadership externally. Considerations include:

  • Hard vs. soft approach.
  • Thought leadership.
  • Lead generation.
  • C-suite.
  • Sales.
  • Credibility.
  • Prospect.

And, whilst Shane didn’t go into detail (after all, he’s showing just an insight – let’s call it thought leadership – maybe I should engage with MEC for more detail), in general, it’s about bringing people into a community, thinking about when to approach and move them down the pipeline, and shaping conversations with potential clients rather than selling.

Thought leadership may include advice about the marketplace, culture, political landscape, and even some “crystal ball” gazing; and Shane has seen success in organisations who have found the right seniority of stakeholders using a social media council – working as experts to nurture talent and expertise, turning that into rich content for digital ecosystem.

That digital ecosystem was a topic of conversation for LinkedIn’s Colin Smith and, I’ll hold back on that for a future blog post but Richard Fitzgerald, also from MEC (@fitzyrichard) spoke about the need to avoid treating social media in isolation – integrating with other channels.

Richard recommends setting a mission statement – whether that is a philosophy, a brand campaign, a goal, or a business objective, and building on top of that.  In terms of time allocation, a rough split might be:

  • 70% resource planning, data and insights, content audits, market analysis, futures studies (what are people expecting to hear about?).
  • 20% community management – engagement strategy, moderation guidelines, escalation documents, editorial guidelines, content calendars.
  • 10% for the unpredictable – breaking news, crisis management, reactive content, real time engagement and tactical campaigns.

Social is another means of communication, to be ignored at your peril

Matthew Margetts and Jonathan Davies spoke about the Telegraph Media Group’s experiences of social media, which they regard as another means of communicating and not as superseding a web presence or any other form of communication.

I was particularly interested to hear about their experience of digital media consumption. The Telegraph Media Group is a brand, a content provider and it has commercial solutions (with declining newspaper sales but new markets including competition applications, social video, bespoke applications and Twitter). And, on that last point – Twitter as a channel:

1.6m people consume @ content every day - a further million on Twitter (not monetised: http://t.co/DVDc7z9V) #smwmecsocial #smwldn
@markwilsonit
Mark Wilson

That shows that Twitter should not be ignored and, although monetising the output might be a challenge, there are opportunities to establish presence, create a groundswell of opinion, establish oneself as a thought leader, and become a recognised (and respected) brand – all of which have positive effects later – even if they don’t lead to direct sales.

Pick your channels with care; and who owns that social profile?

The event finished up with a panel discussion and there were two main areas of interest for me here.

Firstly, there’s a lot of talk about relative sizes of social networks (Facebook is huge, Twitter is pretty big too, Google+ may be significant too, and LinkedIn is relatively small) but then think about the audience that you are targetting.

Think about context for B2B socmed. LinkedIn connects professionals but only 640m professionals in world, 12.5m in UK #smwmecsocial #smwldn
@markwilsonit
Mark Wilson

This tweet is based on information given by Colin Smith from LinkedIn and, whilst it clearly plays into LinkedIn’s market position (connecting professional people), I think it makes a powerful point: perhaps the majority of those 800m people on Facebook are not actually your target audience?  Perhaps Saleforce.com Chatter might serve an organisation well, in a B2B context?

Finally, who owns your social profiles? Well, I’m pretty determined that I own my LinkedIn presence, this blog, my Twitter stream, etc., many of which predate my employment, but a communications director might take a different view, said the panel!  One argument is that you learned the points that you communicated whilst you were working for the company (but do we? Some might argue that we build personal brands, based on experience with a variety of roles and employments). There may be cultural differences between personal and company accounts and Matthew Margetts highlighted that The Telegraph has guidelines but, equally, it employs “contrarian thinkers who are encouraged to give their opinions”. Maybe some brands are threatened by the rise of the “personal brand” – that will depend on the company and the market. One thing’s for sure – this particular issue is far from clear cut and looks set to become more and more significant, most likely to be settled in the courts…

Marketing in a digital world (@allisterf at #digitalsurrey)

Last Thursday was Digital Surrey night and this month’s speaker was Allister Frost, Head of Digital Marketing Strategy at Microsoft.  Allister gave an engaging talk on “doing marketing in a digital world” and, whilst there might have been a couple of things I wasn’t entirely convinced of, I’m not a marketing professional (even if I spend a good chunk of my day in what could be described as marketing) so I’ll defer to those with more experience.

Allister has kindly shared his slides, along with some supporting materials – which makes my task of blogging about the evening a lot easier, but I decided to have a play with Storify for this one:

I’m in two minds about this approach to curating the information from the evening… it took just as long as writing a blog post and all of Google’s (sorry, Bing’s) link love goes to another site… but it was worth a try (and it’s definitely a great tool when most of the content is already spread around the web). If you have any content from the evening that I missed, please get in touch and I’ll add it to the story.

[Update 22 December 2017: Storify is closing down. I exported the content in HTML and JSON format but many of the links are now dead (many years have passed) so there’s little value in recreating this post]

Bring your own… or use what you are told?

A few days ago, I read an article about the risks presented by IT consumerisation. It rang alarm bells with me because, whilst the premise is sound (there are risks, some serious ones, and they need to be mitigated), the focus seemed to be on controlling data leakage by restricting access to social media and locking down device functionality (restricting USB ports, etc.). Whilst that was once an accepted model, I have to question if UWYT (use what you are told) is really the approach we should be taking in this day and age?

One of the key topics within the overal consumerisation theme is concerned with “bring your own” (BYO) device models. I recently wrote a white paper on this topic (a condensed “insight and opinion” view is also available) but, in summary, BYO offers IT departments an opportunity to provide consumer-like services to their customers – i.e. business end users.

In a recent dialogue on Twitter, one of my contacts was suggesting that Fortune 500 companies won’t go for BYO.  But the tide does seem to be turning and there are significant enterprises who are seriously considering it. I’ve been involved in several discussions over recent weeks and I’ve even seen articles in mainstream press about BYO adoption (for example, Qantas has publicly announced plans to allow up to 35,000 employees to connect their own devices to the corporate network). Interestingly, both those links are to Australian publications – maybe we’re just a little more conservative over here?

Of course, there are hurdles to cross (particularly around manageability and security) and it’s not about undoing the work put into managing “standard operating environments” but about recognising how to build flexibility into our infrastructure and open up access to what business end users really need – information!

We need to think about device ownership too and, in particular, about whose data resides where. Indeed, one of the best articles I’ve read on the topic was Art Witmann’s suggestion that a BYO strategy should start with data-centric security, including this memorable quote:

“Understandable or not, if ‘your device is now our device’ is the approach your team is taking, you need to rethink things”

Virtualisation can help with the transition, as can digital rights management. Ultimately we need to re-draw our boundaries and we may find ourselves in a place where the office network is considered “dirty” (just as the coffee shop Wi-Fi is today) and we access services (secured at the application or, better still, at the data layer) rather than concerning ourselves with device or technology-dependant offerings.

Putting myself in a customer’s shoes for a moment, I expect that I’d be asking if Fujitsu is following a BYO model and the answer is both “yes”, and “no”. As a device manufacturer it presents some image problems if our people are using other vendors’ equipment so, here in the UK and Ireland, our PCs are still provided by a central IT function. Having said that, there are some choices with a catalogue to select from (based on defined eligibility criteria [- a choose your own device scheme]). We also operate a BYO scheme for mobile devices, based on [Fujitsu’s] Managed Mobile service.

So we can see that BYO is not an all-or-nothing solution. And, whilst I’ve only scraped the surface here, it does need to be supported with appropriate changes to policies (not just IT policies either – there are legal, financial and human resources issues to address too).

To me it seems that ignoring consumerisation is a perilous path – it’s happening and if senior IT leaders are unable to support it, they may well find themselves bypassed. Of course, not every employee is a “knowledge worker” and there will be groups for whom access to social media (or even access to the Internet) or the ability to use their own device is not appropriate. For many others though, the advantages of “IT as a service” may be significant and far-reaching.

[This post originally appeared on the Fujitsu UK and Ireland CTO Blog.]

Is technology at the heart of business, or is it simply an enabler?

I saw a video from Cisco this morning, and found it quite inspirational. The fact it’s from Cisco isn’t really relevant (indeed, if I showed it without the last few seconds you woudn’t know) but it’s a great example of how IT is shaping the world that we live in – or, more precisely, how the world is shaping the direction that IT is taking:

In case you can’t see the video above, here are some of the key statistics it contains:

  • Humans created more data in 2009 alone than in all previous years combined.
  • Over the last 15 years, network speeds have increased 18 million times.
  • Information is moving to the cloud; 8/10 IT Managers plan to use cloud computing within the next 3 years.
  • By 2015, tools and automation will eliminate 25% of IT labour hours.
  • We’re using multiple devices: by 2015 there will be nearly one mobile-connected device for every person on earth;
  • 2/3 of employees believe they should be able to access information using company-issued devices at any time, at any location;
  • 60% believe they don’t need to be in an office to be productive;
  • This is creating entirely new forms of collaboration.
  • “The real impact of the information revolution isn’t about information management but on relationships; the ability to allow not dozens, or hundreds, but thousands of people to meaningfully interact” [Dr Michael Schrage, MIT].
  • By 2015 companies will generate 50% of web sales via their social presence and mobile applications.
  • Social business software will become a $5bn business by 2013.
  • Who sits at the centre of all this? Who is managing these exponential shifts? The CIO.

Some impressive numbers here – and we might expect to see many of these figures cited by a company selling social collaboration software and networking equipment but they are a good indication of the way things are heading.  I would place more emphasis on empowered employees and customers redefining IT provisioning (BYO, for example); on everything as a service (XaaS) changing the IT delivery model; on the need for a new architecture to manage the “app Internet”; and on big data – which will be a key theme for the next few years.

Whatever the technologies underpinning the solution – the overall direction is for IT to provide business services that add value and enhance business agility rather than simply being part of “the cost of doing business”.

I think Cisco’s video does a rather good job of illustrating the change that is occurring but the real benefits come when we are able to use technology as an enabler for business services that create new opportunities, rather than responding to existing pressures.

I’d love to hear what our customers, partners and competitors think – is technology at the heart of the digital revolution, or is it simply an enabler for new business services?

[This post originally appeared on the Fujitsu UK and Ireland CTO Blog and was written with assistance from Ian Mitchell.]

Could this be the ultimate unified messaging client?

Much has been made of the slow death of email and the rise of enterprise social software so I was interested to read a recent paper in which Benno Zollner, Fujitsu’s global CIO, commented on the need to balance email usage with other communications mechanisms.

In the paper, Benno posits a view that we’re entering not just a post-PC era but a post-email era where we use a plethora of devices and protocols. This is driven by a convergence of voice and data (not just on smartphones, but on the “desktop” too – Microsoft’s acquisition of Skype shows how seriously they are taking this) but also the enterprise social software that’s extending our traditional collaboration platforms to offer what was once referred to as a “web 2.0” experience, only inside the corporate network.  Actually, I’m slightly uncomfortable with that last sentence – not just because as I find the terms “web 2.0” and “enterprise 2.0” to be cringe-worthy but, also, the concept of the corporate network is becoming less and less relevant as we transact more and more business in the cloud, using the mobile Internet, Wi-Fi hotspots and home broadband. Even so, it illustrates my point, that social networking is very much a part of the modern business environment, alongside traditional communications mechanisms including the telephone and email.

A few months ago, I wrote about the need to prioritise communications but I can see us taking a step further in the not-too-distant future.  Why do I need an email client (Microsoft Outlook), multiple instant messaging/presence/voice over IP (VoIP) clients (Microsoft Office Communicator/Lync/Skype) a Twitter client (TweetDeck), Enterprise social software (Microsoft SharePoint/Newsgator Social Sites/Salesforce Chatter) and a combination of mobile and desk-based phones (don’t forget SMS on that mobile too!)? Plenty has been made of the ability to use VoIP to ring several phones simultaneously, to call the phone that best matches my presence or to divert the call to a unified messaging inbox but why limit this to telephony?

I can envisage a time when we each have a consolidated communications client – one that recognises who we’re trying to communicate with and picks the appropriate channel to contact them.  If I’m sending a message to my wife and she’s at her desk, then email is fine but if I can tell she’s on the school run then why not route it to her mobile phone by SMS?  Similarly, advanced presence information can be used to route communications over a variety of channels to favour that which each of my contacts tends to use in a given scenario.  Perhaps the software knows that a contact is not available via instant messaging but is signed in to Twitter and can be contacted with a direct message.  Maybe I can receive a précis of an urgent report on my smartphone but the full version is available at my desk. The possibilities are vast but the main point is that the sender shouldn’t need to pick and choose the medium; instead, software can take into account the preferences of the recipient and route the communication accordingly (taking into account that some transport mechanisms may not guarantee delivery). Could this be the ultimate unified messaging client?

Email isn’t dead – but soon we won’t care whether our messages are sent via SMTP, SIP, SMS or semaphore – just as long as they arrive in a manner that ensures an efficient communication process and lets us focus on the task at hand, rather than spending the day working our way through our inboxes.

This post originally appeared on the Fujitsu UK and Ireland CTO Blog and is based on a concept proposed by Ian Mitchell.

Some thoughts on modern communications and the boundary between work and play…

A few months ago, I wrote a post for the Fujitsu CTO Blog about modern communications. In it, I posited the concept of “service level agreements“ for corporate communications:

“[…] regaining productivity has to be about controlling the interruptions. I suggest closing Outlook. Think of it as an email/calendar client – not the place in which to spend one’s day – and the “toast” that pops up each time a message arrives is a distraction. Even having the application open is a distraction. Dip in 3 times a day, 5 times a day, every hour, or however often is appropriate but emails should not require nor expect an immediate response. Then there’s instant messaging: the name “instant” suggests the response time but presence is a valuable indicator – if my presence is “busy”, then I probably am. Try to contact me if you like but don’t be surprised if I ignore it until a better time. Finally, social networking: which is both a great aid to influencing others and to keeping abreast of developments but can also be what my wife would call a “time-Hoover” – so don’t even think that you can read every message – just dip in from time to time and join the conversation, then leave again.”

I started to think about this again last week. I was on holiday but that doesn’t mean I stopped communicating with my colleagues. I’ll admit it let me be selective in my responses (i.e. there are a lot of things happening at work right now and I answered the messages that were important or interesting to me, leaving many items for my return – after all, I had set an out of office message) but there were a few times when my wife asked me if I was working, as she saw me tapping away on my iPhone…

I maintain that work is something I do, not a place where I go and that, in this day and age (and at my level of responsibility), there is a grey area between work and play so I was enraged when I read an idiotic post about how telecommuting does not work (hello, 1980 is calling… and it wants you back…). Indeed, my “home-base” is one of the things that attracts me to my current role. Getting me back into a 5-day commute to an office that’s probably at least an hour (and maybe two) from home will require some serious persuasion…

So where is the line? Should we all leave the office and stop checking our devices at the end of “the working day”? What about social networking – part of my job is to build a reputation (and therefore enhance my employer’s) as a thought leader – should I ignore something on Twitter because it’s not “work time”? Or should I ignore Twitter, Foursquare, etc. because it is “work time”? Should I be writing this blog post at 8.30pm? But then again, it is on my personal blog… even if a version of the post might eventually appear on a company-owned website…

In the end, I suggest that the answer is about outputs, not inputs. If I’m producing results, my management team should (and, in fairness, probably will) be comfortable, regardless of how many hours I put in. On the flip-side, there are times when I need to work some very long days just to make sure that I can produce those results – and I’ll get frustrated with organisational challenges, non-functioning IT, pointless meetings and disruptive colleagues, just as everyone else does in a modern office environment.

The days of the 9-5 job are long gone (for knowledge workers at least), but so are the 8-6s and even the 8-8s. We live in a 24 hour society – and the new challenge is finding a balance between “work” and “play”.  I’d be interested to hear your thoughts…

From snapshots to social media – the changing picture of photography (@davidfrohlich at #digitalsurrey)

My visits to Surrey seem to be getting more frequent… earlier tonight I was in Reigate, at Canon‘s UK headquarters for another great Digital Surrey talk.

The guest speaker was Professor David Frohlich (@davidfrohlich) from the University of Surrey Digital World Research Centre, who spoke about the changing picture of photography and the relationship between snapshots and social media, three eras of domestic photography, the birth and death of the album and lessons for social media innovation.

I often comment that I have little time for photography these days and all I do is “take snapshots of the kids” but my wife disagrees – she’s far less critical of my work and says I take some good pictures. It was interesting to see a definition of a snapshot though, with it’s origins in 1860’s hunting and “shooting from the hip” (without careful aim!). Later it became “an amateur photograph” so I guess yes, I do mainly take snapshots of the kids!

Professor Frohlich spoke of three values of snapshots (from research by Richard Chalfen in 1987 and Christopher Musello in 1979):

  • Identity.
  • Memory (triggers – not necessarily of when the photograph was taken but of events around that time).
  • Communication.

He then looked at a definition of social media (i.e. it’s a media for social interaction) and suggested that photographs were an early form of social media (since integrated into newer forms)!

Another element to consider is that of innovation and, using Philip Anderson and Michael L Tushman’s 1990 theory as an example, he described how old technological paths hit disruption, there’s then an era of fermentation (i.e. discontinuous development) before a dominant design appears and things stabilise again.  In Geoff Mulgan’s 2007 Process of Social Innovation it’s simply described as new ideas that work, or changing practice (i.e. everyday behaviour).

This led to the discussion of three eras of domestic photography. Following the invention of photography (1830-1840) we saw:

  1. The portrait path [plate images] (1839-1888) including cartes-de-visite (1854-1870)
  2. The Kodak path [roll film] (1888-1990) from the Kodak No. 1 camera in 1888, through the first Polaroid camera (1947), colour film cartridges (1963) which was disrupted with the birth of electronic still video photography (1980-1990)
  3. The digital path (from 1990)

What we find is that the three values of snapshots overlay this perfectly (although the digital era also has elements of identity it is mainly about communication):

Whilst the inventor of the photograph is known (actually Fox-Talbot’s Calotype/Talbottype and Daguerre’s Daguerrotype were both patented in 1839), it’s less well-known who invented the album.

Professor Frohlich explained that the album came into being after people swapped cartes-de-visite (just like today’s photographic business cards!) which became popular around 1850 as a standard portrait sized at 2.5″ x 4″.  These cards could be of individuals, or even famous people (Abraham Lincoln, or Queen Victoria) and in 1854, Disderi’s camera allowed mass production of images with several on a single sheet of paper.  By 1860 albums had been created to store these cards – a development from an earlier past-time of collecting autographs and these albums were effectively filled with images of family, people who visited and famous people – just as Facebook is today!

The Kodak era commenced after George Eastman‘s patent was awarded on 4 September 1888 for a personalised camera which was more accessible, less complex than portrait cameras, and marketed to women around the concept of the Kodak family album.  Filled with images of “high days and holidays” – achievements, celebrations and vacations – these were the albums that most of us know (some of us still maintain) and the concept lasted for the next century (arguably it’s still in existence today, although increasingly marginalised).

Whilst there were some threats (like Polaroid images) they never quite changed the dominant path of photography. Later, as people became more affluent, there were more prints and people built up private archives with many albums and loose photographs (stored in cupboards – just as my many of my family’s are in our loft!).

As photography met ICT infrastructure, the things that we could do with photography expanded but things also became more complex, with a complex mesh involving PCs, printers and digital camera. Whilst some manufacturers cut out the requirement for a computer (with cameras communicating directly to printers), there were two inventions that really changed things: the camera phone and the Internet:

  • Camera phones were already communications-centric (from the phone element), creating a new type of content, that was more about communications than storing memories. In 2002, Turo-Kimmo Lehtonen, Ilpo Koskinen and Esko Kurvine studied the use of mobile digital pictures, not as images for an album but images to say “look where I am”. Whilst technologies such as MMS were not used as much as companies like Nokia expected [largely due to transmission costs imposed by networks] we did see an explosion in online sharing of images.
  • Now we have semi-public sharing, with our friends on Facebook (Google+, etc.) and even wider distribution on Flickr. In addition, photographs have become multimedia objects and Professor Frohlich experimented with adding several types of audio to still images in 2004 as digital story telling.

By 2008, Abigail Durrant was researching photographic displays and intergenerational relationships at home. She looked at a variety of display devices but, critically, found that there was a requirement for some kind of agreement as to what could be displayed where (some kind of meta rules for display).

Looking to the future there are many developments taking place that move beyond the album and on to the archive. Nowadays we have home media collections – could we end up browsing beautiful ePaper books that access our libraries?Could we even see the day where photographic images have a “birthday” and prompt us to remember things (e.g. do you remember when this image was taken, 3 years ago today?)

Professor Frohlich finished up with some lessons for social media innovation:

  • Innovation results from the interaction of four factors: practice; technology; business; and design.
  • Business positioning and social shaping are as important to innovation as technology and it’s design.
  • Social media evolve over long periods of time (so don’t give up if something doesn’t happen quickly).
  • Features change faster than practices and values (social networking is a partial return to identity – e.g. tagging oneself – and not just about communications).
  • Some ideas come around again (like the stereograph developing into 3D cinema).
  • Infrastructure and standards are increasingly key to success (for example, a standard image size).

I do admit to being in admiration of the Digital Surrey team for organising these events – in my three visits I’ve seen some great speakers. Hopefully, I’ve covered the main points from this event but Andy Piper (@andypiper) sums it up for me in a single tweet: