4 Bold Predictions for the Social Web in 2018

As we wrap up the semester and MI621 draws to a close, I decided to take a slightly different approach to our “concluding thoughts” post.  Since we’ve done a great deal of reflection on past trends and current developments in social media, I thought it might be interesting to take a stab at considering future directions in the field.  Now, some of these extrapolations are admittedly bolder than others, but I tried to go out on a limb somewhat and give myself something to look back on over the next five years.  Thoughts, agreements, and mocking disagreements are all welcome:

  1. Instagram will no longer exist as a standalone app – Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram was met with trepidation by users that swear by Instagram’s focused, simple feed.  Many feared that Facebook would strip Instagram’s features and just fold them into the overall Facebook experience in an effort to stop a hot competitor.  Both sides put those fears to rest by declaring the companies separate entities that would be developed apart from one another moving forward.
    Source: http://www.forbes.com/sites/karstenstrauss/2012/05/24/facebook-launches-instagram-fueled-photo-app/
    Source: http://goo.gl/CJMyZ

    Those sentiments may very well have been sincere, but as Facebook continues to hone its advertising strategy and feature integration, I believe that they will look to Instagram as one of its most potentially valuable commodities.  There are other ways to take Instagram’s large and dedicated user base to profitability, but the most direct route seems to force users to engage with the content through the tried and true Facebook News Feed (particularly as they work to make the Feed more photo-friendly).  My hunch is that Facebook’s compromise in this shift will be allowing users to view an “Instagram Only” feed through a simple click, much in the same way that you can now create specific feeds (friends, family, etc.).

  2. Twitter will acquire Yahoo! (and reinvent the site using an endless stream of data from tweets) – As Twitter continues to grow its active user base, the company will likely look to capitalize on its vast data source (as can be seen in the new Twitter music app).
    Source: http://zapt0.staticworld.net/images/article/2012/11/twitter_chubb-100012107-gallery.jpg
    Source: http://goo.gl/Sm51z

    Currently, other companies seem to leverage Twitter’s main asset (publicly shared tweets) more than Twitter itself.  Yahoo! is a company that does many things, and it does almost none of them well.  Yet, because Yahoo! was one of the original large names on the web, it maintains a large user base that uses their services for everything from email to fantasy football.  Rather than submit to the painful mix of slow decline and failed modernization attempts, Yahoo! may eventually look to salvage its remaining value.  If so, Twitter seems a logical buyer, as the company’s immense data flow would allow for an infusion of unique and incomparably fast content across all aspects of Yahoo’s business (news, search, games, maps, music, and so on).

  3. Restaurants will go through life cycles quicker, and overall quality will be raised as a result – Yelp has become an integral part of local business search, and I believe it (and perhaps similar other companies) will only continue to grow as the population moves towards universal comfort with mobile applications.
    Yelp's recent growth Source: http://www.yelp-press.com/phoenix.zhtml?c=250809&p=irol-press
    Yelp’s recent growth
    Source: http://goo.gl/P87wW

    Yelp’s anticipated growth translates to new challenges and opportunities for businesses (and restaurants in particular) that are now reviewed by average consumers more than the “professional” counterparts.  This scrutiny will force restaurants to become responsive to customers, who will be equipped with options, insights, and new tools for feedback in previously unseen ways.  Perhaps the most vital feature of Yelp’s model that speaks to future potential is that it works best on mobile.  While other companies struggle to keep up with consumer movement from computer  to mobile, Yelp is centered around the premise that it integrates mobile features (location services in particular) to increase usability.

  4. A new degree will be introduced in higher education – The emergence of MOOCs into the higher education landscape is already disrupting traditional notions of the collegiate experience.  While some lawmakers and entrepreneurs have made noise about MOOCs eventually replacing brick and mortar universities, the pushback against this viewpoint is palpable within much of the higher education community.  Instead, a third path will emerge in
    Source: http://goo.gl/6r3UB
    Source: http://goo.gl/6r3UB

    which, while universities work to “flip” classrooms and leverage new technologies to enhance the traditional college experience, MOOCs will also emerge as legitimate centers of education.  This path, as I see it, may most logically be developed through a new degree that will be distinguished from an associate or bachelor’s degree as awarded exclusively by MOOCs.  The development of this degree will allow for universities to maintain their standing within the educational community while also allowing for the creation of a new set of standards, expectations, and accountability for MOOCs.

So, what do you all think?  What are your predictions for the future of the social web/social media?  Do you agree or disagree with my extrapolations?  I’d love to keep this conversation going, so please feel free to provide feedback!

Does Social Media Celebrate the “Narcissism of Similarity?”

Last June, Buzzfeed ran a piece entitled, ” People You Need to Unfriend on Facebook Immediately.”  In the post, the author suggests 1) signing into Facebook, 2) clicking links below various pop culture/political images, 3) seeing which of your friends has “liked” each of the pages, and 4) defriending these people.  Pages included in this exercise?  Nickleback, Guy Fieri, Two and a Half Men, Rush Limbaugh, Kim Kardashian, the Adam Sandler movie “Jack and Jill,” Dane Cook, and so on.

Adam Sandler, riding a jet ski all the way to a 3% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Source: http://s3-ec.buzzfed.com/static/enhanced/web05/2012/6/19/11/enhanced-buzz-20605-1340119128-0.jpg

While Buzzfeed’s post can be tossed aside as a throwaway attempt at garnering laughs and page views, is it indicative of a shared attitude on the Internet?  Do we all self-select our peer group online to the point that we are eventually surrounded by like-minded others that share not only our political views, but also our favorite TV shows, taste in music, and seemingly random (read: bacon, kittens, 90s pop culture) favorite things in general?  And what if you disagree with one of the things that your friends all seem to love – do you feel the need to keep that to yourself?

In his landmark 1985 work, “Habits of the Heart,” sociologist Robert Bellah explores some societal issues that might provide some insight into how we interact online today.  Of particular interest for the topic at hand is the notion of “lifestyle enclaves” that is introduced within the work.  

“Lifestyle enclaves” refer to areas that people live in by choice and are centered around similarity.  In practice, this areas can be anything from a cul-de-sac in a neighborhood to a retirement community.  Lifestyle enclaves fit the needs of those who seek them out, as they position a person amongst others of similar characteristics, be it by measure of income, cultural interest, or another condition.  So what exactly distinguishes a lifestyle enclave from our typical notions of a community? In Bellah’s words,

Whereas a community attempts to be an inclusive whole, celebrating the interdependence of public and private life and the different callings of all, lifestyle is fundamentally segmental and celebrates the narcissism of similarity (emphasis mine). It usually explicitly involves a contrast with others who do not share one lifestyle. For this reason we speak not of lifestyle communities, though they are often called such in contemporary usage, but of lifestyle enclaves…The different, those with other lifestyles are not necessarily despised, they may be willingly tolerated, but they are irrelevant or even invisible in terms of one’s own lifestyle enclave.

Reading this passage, one can begin to wonder: How easy is it for us to think we are within a “genuine community” when we are really within a “lifestyle enclave?”  And how easy is it for us to take a step back and see which of these we are building when we are helping to develop a group?  These days, these questions must not only be addressed offline, but they must also be approached within the context of our social experiences online.

Calvin & Hobbes: If you want to be in my lifestyle enclave, you must appreciate it. Source: http://www.gocomics.com/calvinandhobbes/1992/08/29

In the digital sphere, as I’ve addressed earlier, we often serve as our own editors for the content that we receive.  The status updates that you see, the photos that are shared, the articles that are posted in your feed – it’s all because you decided to “friend” or “follow” an account (except, of course, for advertisements, but that’s another story).  So, when we log into our Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/etc. accounts, are we unwittingly part of a digital lifestyle enclave?

Lifestyle enclaves are by their very nature exclusive.  Due to the fact that they are centered around a particular interest (or set of interests), certain characteristics emerge: a language forms around the shared interest, certain abilities and pieces of knowledge are given value, and attempts by a member to show a difference in values or skills from the norms of the group are cause for conflict and exclusion.  Does this exist on the web?  If someone posts a view that you oppose online, do you tend to engage with that person, or do you exasperatedly ignore them?  If someone does not post any view, but does not go out of their way to support a view that you agree with, does that move them away from what you expect to see in your social media news feed? 

So, what is the impact of all of this if the general premise holds?  One might draw the conclusion that users draw themselves into somewhat of an echo chamber online that allows in one narrative and filters out disagreements.  Facebook, however, disagrees – a recent study of theirs contradicts some of this argument, although the debate is far from over.  It’s hard to read Bellah’s work in the modern context and not at least speculate that the social structures of the web perpetuate lifestyle enclaves just as it aids community-building.  As we learn to navigate the new digital tools in our lives, it is important for us to at least explore these questions to ensure that we aren’t moving forward blindly.  Gaining some broad understanding for how society reacts to and prepares for new avenues for communication will allow us at least properly contextualize the new opportunities and challenges on the horizon.

An Ode to Record Store Day: 5 Ways to Use the Social Web to Discover New Music

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One of my favorite holidays, Record Store Day, is fast approaching.  The event, taking place this year on April 20th (it is held yearly on the third Saturday in April), is an event designed to raise support for brick and mortar retail stores.  The day features special edition album releases, special events, and features participants from around the world (although it primarily focuses on US locations).  As artists, stores, record labels, and other interested parties participate, they help to build support for the notion that consumers should think local as they shop for music throughout the year.  The first step in this process, however, is finding new music that warrants a purchase.  To honor the occasion, I’ve put together a handy guide for anyone who might feel a little out of the loop on the music discovery process or stuck in a musical rut: Disclosure: I have intentionally left off a few other paths to new music, partially for the sake of brevity and partially because I felt they were more or less covered extensively elsewhere.

    1. Last.fm – One of the true gems of the web that I feel is constantly undersold (and tends to get overshadowed by Pandora and Spotify) is last.fm.  The primary function of last.fm is as an add-on to your music listening app of choice.  You download the ‘scrobbler,’ and it runs in the background of your computer, keeping a running list of your listening history (by way of Spotify, iTunes, your iPod, etc.) along the way.  This is a great way for you to see your (or your friends’) listening habits in an organized way.  You can look at your most listened artists and tracks of the week, month, half year, year, or all-time.  The data isn’t limited there, however – last.fm also has a myriad of experimental ways to organize your music and help you find new artists and tracks in their playground.  OK, so that is all simple enough, but how will this help you to make new discoveries?  The key to this is once you begin sharing your music and letting your library accumulate, last.fm will show you listeners with high ‘compatibility’ to you, musically.  These users are called ‘neighbors.’  With one click, you can begin listening to any neighbor’s ‘library radio.’  Inevitably, even the most compatible neighbors will have some artists that fall outside your listening history.  They key is that these users generally do have the same taste as you, so it’s easy to understand that they can lead you to some great finds.  Similarly, last.fm also creates automatic ‘radio’ stations for any single track, album, or artist.  So, all you need is any example of the type music you like to begin finding new artists to check out.
    2. Independent Radio Online – OK, so your favorite local station has been destroyed and turned into an all-Black Eyed Peas station.  What now?  Fear not, because many great stations still exist around the globe.  These stations almost universally have taken advantage of new technologies to offer live streams across various services (directly on their websites, on Apple TV/iTunes, and on phone apps, to name a few), so they are highly accessible.  These stations often do a great job of having not only features of some buzzed-about new artists, but also varying specialized shows if you have a niche genre interest.  Two of my favorite stations out there are KEXP in Seattle and KCRW in Los Angeles.  These stations will generally put up the artist name and song title, so as you find new artists, you can make note and look into their full catalogs later.  Also, these stations will often run promotional contests to get you to connect with them and their associated artists via social media which are often worth the minimal fuss.
    3. Find Trusted Record Labels – This one may seem like a cumbersome process, but it’s actually one of the most reliable paths to the best discoveries.  Put simply, many of the artists that ‘break through’ in any given year started out on a small label.  These smaller labels take painstaking care to curate a small collection of artists that they believe in from a long-term perspective.  Fan of Arcade Fire?  They started out on Merge Records.  The Lumineers?  They are still on Dualtone Records, a folk-leaning label.  Girl Talk is on Illegal Art, Passion Pit started on Frenchkiss, Modest Mouse began on K Records, and countless others began on Sub Pop.  Although labels generally do have a variety of artists, if they have one act you really love, chances are they’ll have another.  Once you find one that you like, follow them on Facebook or Twitter to have artist recommendations delivered right to you.
    4. Shazam – Having helped to identify over 5 billion songs to date, Shazam has become somewhat of an essential smartphone app.  Shazam eliminates that frustrating moment when you are in a cafe, watching a commercial, or at a party where you hear a song that you like but don’t know how to track down the artist.  Open the app, let it listen to any track for a few seconds, and soon you are provided with an artist, song title, album, and various ways to purchase the track.  This simple application is a great way to compile a list of artists to check out at your leisure and share with others.  Two years ago, Shazam partnered with Facebook to allow users to see what tracks friends have recently identified, thereby creating a personal network of tastemakers.
    5. Follow Innovative Live Music Sites – One of the great developments over the past decade or so is the growth of sites that focus on providing artists with new mediums for presenting their music to the world.  Daytrotter, NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts, Blogoteque, The Onion A.V. Club’s Uncovered Series, and many others are offering performances by some of the most creative, captivating artists around in unique live settings for listeners to check out.  Below is one of my favorites from Blogoteque, featuring Phoenix performing “1901” below the Eiffel Tower.

Phoenix – 1901 – A Take Away Show from La Blogotheque on Vimeo.

  • Bonus Tips: Other paths to discovery that I didn’t get the chance to go into here:
  1. Live music venues – Periodically check a site like Pollstar for local concert listings and see where the kinds of artists you like are playing.  Much like the smaller labels mentioned above, venues have curators that book shows consistently (sometimes consistently bad, sometimes consistently great).
  2. Look at the openers for your favorite bands’ tours – Although bands can be thrown onto a tour for a number of reasons, they are often paired with a headliner with a similar aesthetic and/or potential fan base.  Using Google, Facebook fanpages, YouTube, and other social means can help you to see if openers hold any appeal for you.
  3. Music Blog Aggregation Sites – Hype Machine and Elbows are sites designed to look at trends across thousands of music blogs, see what trends exist and who is gaining notoriety.
  4. Music News Sites and Blogs – Don’t lose faith in music news in a slightly more traditional sense.  There are some great writers and periodicals still out there, and quite honestly, they often provide the most direct line to new music discoveries.  Paste and Pitchfork, alongside blogs like I Guess I’m Floating, You Ain’t No Picasso, and I Am Fuel, You Are Friends offer a steady stream of musical finds.

The Ultimate, Super, Unbeatable Pro-tip in Music Discovery: Get Social Offline

Of course, another great way to jump right in is to go down to your favorite record store and ask an employee.  Many of the staff are there because they have a passion for sharing music with others and would love to help you on your search.  If you’re a fellow resident of Massachusetts, you can check out a listing of some great record stores right here.  All others can use the map here.  Happy Record Store Day!

I leave you with a playlist from last summer of both new and old music to get you into the warm weather spirit: