How Facebook could be saving us all from AI apocalypse

There were a few headline-grabbers from Facebook’s f8 conference last week.

Facebook Spaces VR social network was a big one, for example (and one I’ll talk about in a later blog).

But regular readers will probably guess the one that’s got me most excited – and that’s the mind-reading brain-to-computer interface.

Yup, that’s right. Facebook unveiled a system they are working on that will allow computers to read our thoughts and type out text from them.

Don’t get too excited – the system is only currently operating at eight words-per-minute (wpm). And that’s not much.

But they have over 60 scientists working on the project and are aiming to get that up to 100 wpm. That is fast. 

To give you an idea, journalists working in courtrooms use shorthand at somewhere between 100-120 wpm.

That means we’ll be able to type about as fast as we can talk… using just our minds.

But what does this have to do with the AI apocalypse?

Good question. The answer is simple – that is that we will find it much easier to assimilate better and better AI with this new advancement.

I’ve written before about how our human-to-computer bandwidth is a problem (as outlined by Elon Musk, who is also working on something similar to this. Obviously).

This technology would give us a much better chance of keeping up with the rate of change – and will reduce the chances of AI simply running away from us lower beings.

And it’s not just the 100 wpm typing that’s got me excited.

Because the one near-guarantee with tech advancement is that if something works, it’s likely to get better as more people invest in it.

So our ink to the machine would only be likely to improve over time – allowing us to embed ourselves further and further into our digital selves.

It’s important to remember – we are already cyborgs. Our phones have become real extensions of ourselves. Improving that connection will help us to remain relevant in an increasingly digitised world (and universe).

This might sound like hyperbole – but, as with all these things, just take a look at what has already been accomplished in the last 20 years. The world looks entirely different. That change is going to accelerate. So get ready to plug in!

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How will Facebook defeat Fake News?

Fake news has come to take on a few different meanings in the media, so it might be helpful to outline what it is before we talk about whether Facebook can beat it:

  • Fake news is entirely fictional, fabricated stories, made with the aim of generating clicks and, therefore, advertising revenue
  • The authors of this nonsense use particularly sensational headlines to attract viewers and shares to boost their traffic
  • They also employ ‘bots’ – or fictional Facebook profiles – to engage with their fake content to boost a story’s weight in the algorithm and therefore increase traffic
  • Stories can then take on a life of their own because of the echo-chamber effect Facebook’s algorithm has on the things we all see on there
  • Fake news is NOT when CNN reports something Donald Trump doesn’t like
  • Fake news is NOT the BBC
  • Fake news is most certainly NOT schmocial.org – here you get nothing but the truth and Rick and Morty gifs. Very little else.

It’s also worth noting that fake news is not helpful for Facebook’s business model. Facebook is so successful because it’s a network based on real life. It requires real names and real engagement. If people stop trusting what they see in news feed, the whole system could start to break down.

So how does Facebook plan to fight it?

Well in a blog post, the network outlined three areas:

  • Disrupting economic incentives
  • Building new products
  • Helping people make more informed decisions

To me, the second of these is the most compelling, because it’s the area that requires the innovation and the fundamental changes to the way Facebook operates.

It’s difficult to see how disrupting economic incentives will achieve much, as the fake news ad revenue is likely coming through different streams. It’s true that revenue share is available to publishers through the Facebook audience network – but this is by no means the only option for publishers looking to make click money.

Then helping people make informed decisions is a laudable aim – and involves some interesting projects, like the Facebook Journalism Project and the News Integrity Initiative. But these are broader, longer-term changes.

I will also say here that it’s encouraging to see Facebook taking news organisations seriously. For a while it looked like they’d be treated simply as more paying advertisers and would thus be strangled off of all news feed traffic.

So what new products are they building?

One of the things they are doing is making reporting of dodgy news easier.

This might sound like an easy solution. People report fake news, Facebook removes it. But it’s not that simple.

The main problem with fake news is that people don’t know it’s fake.

For example: a really fake story might have a hundred shares from credulous readers, and four or five reports from angry skeptics.

Then, a true story might have hundreds of shares simply from interested people, and four or five reports from those who, say, don’t like it politically.

How to tell the difference? This is what Facebook will be struggling with.

It’s a numbers game

Another issue Facebook is dealing with is scale.

In most programming (and I should emphasise here that I’m a basic-level programmer, certainly not an expert) it’s relatively easy to perform operations on known numbers – it’s the unknowns that become tricky.

So, one, two, three, or a hundred fake news stories are easy enough to take down one by one. But what about n fake news stories? This is what you are dealing with when they are constantly being uploaded all day every day.

And it requires systems that can understand an incredibly complex range of signals.

One of the signals they are looking at, for example, is a person’s likelihood to share a story after reading it. They reason that fake news is more likely to reveal itself post click-through, so the majority of its shares would come from people who haven’t actually read the story.

Take it from someone who has worked social at two major newspapers: sharing without actually reading an article happens all the time.

So Facebook will now be grappling with that, too. But it’s a task I expect them to do well. After all, writing smart, complex algorithms is what has got them to where they are today. They’ll have some of the best minds on the planet taking on the job.

Working with partners

Working with major news organisations to fact-check stories is another method they are using – and is similar to what Google is doing with its own fact-check roll out.

These are both great ideas and should do a lot of good. My only concern is that part of the problem is that people are coming to trust fake news sites MORE than the mainstream media. So what if they simply don’t care what Associated Press says?

What about the bots?

The bots – or fake profiles sharing fake news – are under constant scrutiny. Facebook looks at the names, the profile pictures, and a huge variety of ways in which they are related to real life profiles to determine which profiles are real and which ones aren’t.

But it’s an arms race. And, as I said above, it’s also a question of scale. It probably isn’t that difficult to find out whether one individual profile is fake. But determining whether an unknown number are fake when compared to an unknown number of real ones – by using a huge number of different variables – is another question entirely.

Building systems that recognise real from fake is tough. And it’s sometimes easy to forget that social media is a brave new world. Many of the systems they use will have to have been invented first.

One thing is for sure – Facebook has a huge investment in trust. And while the search for engagement sometimes pushes towards maximum engagement at the expense of all else – they’ll know that becoming known simply as bullshit merchants is very bad for business. So Zuckerberg and co be working incredibly hard to be as reliable and truthful as possible. I expect them to come out on top.

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Is there even any point in content calendars anymore?

TL;DR yes

The world of social media used to revolve around content calendars (for brands, at least).

But now organic reach is dying off on Facebook, and Twitter isn’t the force it once was, it is becoming doubtful whether a content calendar still has any use.

However, so long as you understand social as it is, rather than as it was when they first became a thing, calendars can still prove useful.

Here are some tips…

1. You don’t need a Tweet every day

schmocial tweets

In the old days, you’d post a tweet once a day (or more) and Facebook posts less often. Tweets had a very short life, but organic reach was so good on Facebook that traffic would live on for ages.

This is clearly not now the case. If your brand is sporty or newsy or in some other way relevant to Twitter, then fill your boots. Otherwise you are unlikely to get much out of Twitter.

2. Organic content can still work – but you need to include paid social

schmocial money

If your client has a lot going on, it’s still good to tell people about it. And organic reach may be low but it’s not dying.

A content calendar full of useful, engaging posts can still get some decent numbers – but you should always be including some media spend in there too.

The balance between paid and organic will differ between different clients, but really you should look to be having at least a small amount of paid activity going on all the time.

And you can use your content calendar to list the targeting you want to use and how much money you want to spend.

OH HAI. FYI, you can find me on Facebook, here.

 

3. Video is still king

schmocial video content

This is video content.

If you’ve got video content, use it.

Then use it again. And again. Good video just performs so much better than pictures or link-throughs, so if you’re trying to push a brand message, video is the place to start and end.

4. Build in sales posts

schmocial ants in eyes

This is Ants In My Eyes Johnson – one for the Rick and Morty fans

If you’ve got a large, engaged audience on Facebook, it’s time to start thinking about what you want from them.

A great way to show that what you do is working is to get some sales posts going.

These could be product carousels or canvas posts. Once you start picking up some sales it’ll be much easier to get more media spend signed off.

5. Instagram, bitch

schmocial instagram

In case you hadn’t noticed, Instagram is at war with Snapchat. And whilst usually war is bad for everyone, this one is actually great.

Instagram is now a bit like the father who’s been kicked out but is still trying to impress his kids with loads of gifts every time he comes round.

To be clear: You are the kids – and the gift from daddy is loads of free organic reach.

He wants to make sure you don’t want to spend any more time with mummy’s new boyfriend, Snapchat.

I suggest you take daddy’s presents and use them all to get loads of engagement on your #AWESOMECONTENT.

Does that make any sense at all? No?

Basically, Instagram is trying to buy your love with free reach. You should shamelessly grasp at it and milk it for all it’s worth.

Sweet, delicious organic reach.

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No, Amber Rudd, you still shouldn’t get to access my Whatsapp messages

The Government has begun to make demands for access to messages on Whatsapp, after it emerged London terrorist Khalid Masood sent a message on the platform shortly before his attack on Westminster.

But this isn’t just a sad case of political opportunism from Home Secretary Amber Rudd (after all, her boss Theresa May has been after Whatsapp and Snapchat since 2015) – it’s also a hopelessly ineffective tactic.

Masood may well have sent a message shortly before his attack. But even the security services had had access to Whatsapp, are we really to believe that they would have had the capacity to zero in on this one fateful drop in the ocean of messages constantly being sent and delivered, then to brief and dispatch officers to its exact location, all within the couple of minutes between message and attack? It’s impossible.

More likely they would like to look at his messages retrospectively – to learn more about his contacts in the terrorist world.

This is a more reasonable aim. But still not one, I would argue, that’s worth giving up the rights the rest of us have to communicate in private.

The Prime Minister and Home Secretary should be asking themselves what exactly it is they are trying to protect from these terrorists, if not the basic freedoms of their citizens?

They would likely argue that if we’ve done nothing wrong, we have nothing to hide – and should therefore be more than happy for the government to snoop in on our messages.

(Honestly, if the Government were ever to tap into my Whatsapp chats, I’m sure they’d likely be bored to tears by the endless inane yammering.)

But that’s not the point. Private citizens who have indeed done nothing wrong have the right to say and do as they please without interference by Amber Rudd or her friends at MI5.

And further – if we were to open up Whatsapp’s encryption to the security services, we’d be creating a back door for hackers everywhere and therefore likely leaving millions open to blackmail over perfectly legal messages (ever sent a saucy photo to your other half, for example?).

This is an issue I’m not even sure Rudd fully understands – as this Guido article outlines.

And anyway, Whatsapp don’t have a monopoly on encryption. Surely if it became an open platform for MI5 to dip into whenever, the terrorists would just switch to messaging on a new app?

It’s a game of cat and mouse that nobody will ever win. The fight against terror won’t be decided by phone encryption – it’s so much bigger and more complicated than that.

So while that war still rages, we need to remain clear-headed about where our red lines are.

A huge media storm and slew of reactionary legislation sounds to me like exactly the sort of thing that would encourage more terrorists. If we allow this one evil attack to curtail the freedom of the rest of us, we’re effectively holding our hands up in defeat.

After all the Government talk of carrying on and not letting this attack change anything – this kind of invasion into the privacy of the public would represent the exact opposite.

Masood was an evil murderer – let’s not allow him to do any more damage.

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5 reasons Snapchat is overvalued

Snapchat followed in the footsteps of Facebook and Twitter earlier this month by going public.

The company was worth a staggering $28.4 billion when it closed after its first day’s trading – a figure based, I think, mostly on hype.

I should be clear – I’m not an expert on trading stocks and shares, so this blog focuses more on Snap’s potential for financial success as a social network.

But at $23billion – it will have to go stratospheric to be worth it. And it’s my contention that it won’t.

So here are five reasons I think the market got a bit carried away…

1. Instagram, bitch

It’s no coincidence that Instagram Stories popped up around the time it became clear Snapchat would be going public.

instagram-stories

Insta’s function is almost unrecognisable from Snapchat stories to look at – as they both allow users to document their day with ephemeral clips of video and text.

But Instagram is far more scalable both in terms of user base and advertisers. And it’s no coincidence that Snap’s active users started an uncharacteristic decline just after Instagram introduced the stories feature.

snapchat-instagram-growth

2. And now everyone is at it

As if the Snapchat knock-off over on Instagram wasn’t enough, Facebook also recently announced it is to introduce another incredibly similar function on Messenger. This time it’s called Messenger Day.

And, according to this piece on Techradar, it’s already doing feature upgrades faster and better than Snap.

Aww snap, Snap.

3. API

While Snap does now have an API that can be used by brands and agencies to deliver ads, it’s going to struggle to be anywhere near as ubiquitously understood as the Facebook/Instagram model on Facebook Ads Manager.

Another problem is that users simply don’t share as much information with Snapchat, which means it has less information to target with.

And there is absolutely nothing to stop Facebook ripping off any new features it comes up with – and has already done so once with Snap’s A/B testing feature.

 

4.  It’s already falling

Hey, don’t just take my word for it. The market is already losing faith after the turbo-charged IPO…

snap shares

5. It’s user base ain’t loyal (and also has no money)

Teens make up over half of Snapchat’s users, which is great in many respects. They are often the market advertisers dream of courting. But they are also notoriously fickle.

snapchat teen

Teenagers.

Snapchat will now have huge pressure to keep itself new and exciting, in order to make sure those youngsters don’t just switch to the Next Big Thing.

This young base also works as a limiting factor in many situations. Often social buyers will shy away from Snap because it is only young people on there. If you hope for anyone over the age of 25 to buy your product, you’ll simply switch to Instagram.

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DroneSpace, SexBook and FoodR – What social media of the future looks like

Thinking in the abstract is something I’ve been doing a lot lately – thanks to a new Netflix show called, funnily enough, abstract.

The example they give in the show is about illustration, and it gives three hearts – one that’s super-realistic, which is a bit grim. Another of just a few pixels, which doesn’t really look like a heart at all (though does look quite cool imo).

Then the final one is the classic heart we are all used to seeing represent love.

Here it is:

C4eY-tnUYAAuVgu

Aww.

Anyway, a clever colleague suggested using this as a thought experiment for coming up with creative ideas. It was advice that stuck around for me – and got me to thinking about what social media could look like if you had some fun taking current trends to their extremes. So I’ve had a go… here’s what I came up with.

1. DroneSpace

Drones look to be invading every facet of our lives and will soon be used for delivering just about anything.

But what if they were used for socialising too?

I’m thinking events like big football matches, for example, could offer an experience where, for a fee, you could send a drone instead of attending in person.

IMG_4604

Awesome illustration by Gemma Albone – find her here.

You could hover above the field and get any view of the action you want.

A set number of spots could be sold for these punters who want their own, personal, best view in the house – all from the comfort of their own homes.

This could also be applied to all sorts of extreme adventures. People socialising via drone isn’t an idea that’s been explored much, but piloting your own micro-copter around picturesque locations, alongside friends doing the same, chatting about everything you see as you go in the exact same way people do in real life – that could easily become a popular pass time.

2. FoodR

lolly

“Mmmmmm…. delicious electricity”

Food is universal. Everyone needs to eat. Which is why, in my opinion, food content is everywhere online at the moment – because the potential audience is huge.

But what about when technology pushes the boundaries of what we can achieve with food on social?

What I’m thinking about here is tongue pads that accurately replicate the flavour of food (and people have already started inventing them).

This kind of tech would clearly have applications beyond just social media – but imagine the fun!

Next time you’re watching one of those amazing Buzzfeed Tasty videos of a chocolate yorkshire pudding or some other delicious nonsense, you could actually be tasting the thing you’re looking at – calorie free!

This one could change the bloody world.

3. LifeCam

instagram-schmocial

Snapchat and Instagram stories basically have us documenting our entire lives on film.

My generation learned to do it – and the generation younger than mine really doesn’t seem to be able to live without  it.

If a night out doesn’t have a Snapchat story – was it really even a night out at all?

Well obviously yes – but probably only if you’re older than about 25.

The next stage of this trend is explored in a wonderful book by Dave Eggers called The Circle.

I’d recommend you read it, but for those who haven’t, the premise is basically that the main protagonist goes to work for a Google-like tech company who encourage transparency in everything for everyone.

That involves filming everything you do, all day, with a little camera worn around your neck.

How long before we see Snapchat or Instagram influencers doing the same?

4. SEXBOOK

Bit of an obvious one, this.

It might not be very nice – but the world of digital sex is coming. Ahem.

vr sex

You could use this contraption to literally fuck a computer. Welcome to the future.

You can already get sex toys that are controlled remotely online (there was a feature in Wired magazine don’t judge me).

So how long before we’re all at it? After all, it’s not THAT long ago Tinder was considered sad and weird – now look at us! See how the army of mindless goons swipes endlessly, drooling over tiny bikini-clad photos, taken on the long-past holidays of people they’re never likely to meet. All the while hoping – praying – one will finally reveal love on their tiny illuminated screens. Or at least, and more pragmatically, lust.

Not weird now, is it, eh?

So before too long, I can envisage people – normal people, not like them weirdos – settling down for the night with VR goggles and a whole digital room chock full of other people all waiting to meet, love and lust after one another.

And for those wounded souls who don’t much care for true love in the digital age – why should they even need to meet real people? They’ll simply plug in their connected sex toy and enter an entire cathedral, filled to the rafters with artificially intelligent, bodiless sex robots, existing only for one reason.

5. Exerciseme

fitbit

Fitbit and others are already having some fun with the idea that we want to share our exercise accomplishments on Facebook – but this trend is merely in its infancy.

Soon there could be whole networks for different sports online and well-visited global league tables for every kind of sport.

Sunday league teams will be able see how they compare with their favourite pro sides – and unknown sprinters will be discovered quickly and easily as all fitness tracking and official competition data is uploaded automatically onto their digital profile.

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How do I set up Instagram ads and is it part of Facebook?

TL;DR – use Facebook Ad Manager

In previous blogs on Instagram for desktop and about the rise of influencers, I’ve alluded to the tie up between Facebook and Insta for advertising.

But I didn’t really go in to much detail about how that relationship actually works…

UNTIL NOW. So here I’m going to look at what the score is, and how you can get the most out of a branded Instagram account with a bit of media spend.

So what’s the agenda, Brenda?

Facebook bought out Instagram for a billion dollars back in 2012 – and it’s since grown.

A lot.

instagram-maus

You’ll probably know what Instagram is about – it’s a network for sharing beautiful photos.

And people bloody love great photos. It might be something to do with pictures having higher bandwidth than words – and it certainly has a lot to do with the fact that Instagram has always encouraged users to post beautiful things. Instagram photography is supposed to look pretty.

And it works – organic engagement remains very high. This is partly due to its algorithm promoting posts – but there does seem to be a natural tendency towards people liking more things.

The network’s rise is also strongly linked with the emergence of Selfies as a thing. That’s the obsession everybody has with photos of their own face (I think it’s unhealthy and weird tbh, but that’s another blog for another day.)

So what’s the deal with ads?

Insta and Facebook may be very different networks from a user’s perspective – but for advertisers they are very similar. Certainly in terms of setting up campaigns.

To set up an Instagram advert – you actually have to do it via Facebook’s Business Management software.

And you don’t even need an Instagram account anymore. When setting up an ad in Facebook ad manager, you can see the Instagram option in the page and post section:

instagram-facebook-ad-manager-set-up

This is also the place you’ll see all the Instagram accounts you have set up in Business Manager (details on how to do that on the bottom of this blog).

So in this respect, Instagram is really no different to desktop newsfeed or audience network – it’s simply a distribution channel for ads via Facebook.

But shouldn’t the content be different?

This is a tricky one – as it’s often easier to just post the same content via Facebook and Insta.

But yes, for the best results content should be posted to Insta with a specific audience in mind. The engaging click-through post with a question as the title might work great on Facebook, but is not going to cut the mustard on Instagram.

  • Did I mention you can follow me on Facebook?

The audience goes to Instagram for INSPIRATION above all else.

It made its name with beautiful, inspiring content. And so for the best results, brand content should aim for the same impact.

So is it still worth doing organic content on Instagram?

Short answer is yes. As mentioned above, organic engagement is still very high, (as I previously wrote about in my blog on Influencers). This won’t last forever – and they will likely one day kill it off like they did with Facebook’s organic reach.

But that day hasn’t happened yet – so if you’re trying to promote something, get hoovering up that free reach.

How to set up Instagram accounts on Business Manager

This is super easy, and I’ve demonstrated with a few grabs below.

First up, head to Business Manager Settings – this should be the place you handle all of your different accounts from.

instagram-facebook-ad-manager-set-up-2

Then go to the Instagram Accounts section…

instagram-facebook-ad-manager-set-up-3

Then Claim New Instagram Account to find the one you want. It’ll ask you to log in – and then you’re away! See? Easy.

instagram-facebook-ad-manager-set-up-4

Once this is done, you’ll be able to post ads from this Instagram account using Facebook ads as described above.
Here’s a ‘well done’ gif – you’ve earned it, tiger.
well done

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9 social copywriting tips illustrated with Rick and Morty gifs

I’m obviously not some sort of copywriting god or anything, but I’ve been doing this for a while now so I thought I’d share some thoughts on what makes great writing for social.

It’s by no means an exhaustive list – but what I like about it is that it’s accompanied by lots of gifs from the amazing Rick and Morty.

You might well say Rick and Morty has nothing to do with copywriting why have you done this?

To which, I’d simply respond: Take off your pants and shit on the floor. It’s time to Get Schwifty in here*.

1. Keep it snappy

rick-snappy

Facebook recommends a 90 character limit for text on a click-through ad – and for good reason. People don’t tend to read any more than that.

It can be tough to learn that nobody cares about your five-paragraph tribute to Costa Coffee, or whatever, but trust me when I say they don’t.

Nobody is sitting there thinking about the great copywriting – they are thinking about coffee, if you’re lucky. So tell them about it directly.

2. No long words

rick-wubalubadubdub

This is a good rule for journalism as well as social copy.

There is nothing wrong with loving the English language – but if just 10% of people reading a post don’t understand it, that’s a lot of potential customers lost.

3. Make it about them

ma-man-rick-and-morty-social-copywriting

Too many brands post copy that talks about how wonderful their products are – but people just don’t care.

People are interested mainly in the things that affect them, their lives and the things they care about.

So make your copy about them, not you.

A good way of doing that is to…

4. Ask questions

are-my-grandkids-alive-rick-and-morty-social-copywriting

This applies to both rhetorical questions and real ones.

Ask your audience something up front to grab their attention – or try asking something to get responses in the comments to boost engagement.

I’m on Facebook, innit. Find me here.

5. Give them something to do

opinions-rik-and-morty-social-copywriting

Following on from that – all copy should have a call to action of some description.

Writing great copy with nowhere to click through to for more information is a huge missed opportunity.

6. Don’t rely on the words to tell the story

words-rick-and-morty-social-copywriting

The sad truth is that on social, many people won’t even read the words you’ve written. They’ll typically look straight at the content first – and if that’s no good, they won’t even bother reading on.

This of course means you shouldn’t bank on their having read your copy before they see the content. The probably didn’t. Soz.

7. Add some colour

colour-rick-and-morty-social-copywriting-2

Make your words interesting. Sure, it can be tough when you’ve got a massive list of spaces to fill. But you need to develop techniques to keep it fresh.

One of my go-to sites is a simple random word generator. I pick a random word and try to put a sentence around it.

It doesn’t always work, but is a great way to set off in a new direction and helps keep the copy fresh.

That’s why I always say, shum shum schlippity dop!

8. Try to foster an emotional connection

emotion-rick-and-morty-social-copywriting

This one is a toughie – but if you can connect with your audience in terms of the things they love and care about, you’ll almost certainly be onto a winner.

It goes back to point three – making it about them. Think about what matters to the people you want to talk to and find words that they’ll relate to.

9.  Stop being so salesy

butthole-flavours-social-copywriting

People who have spent a lot of time writing for clients tend to develop quite a salesy tone of voice – and it’s one you want to avoid.

Journalists often make fun of overblown press releases, for example, and it’s because of a kind of helium-balloon, bubblegum, everything-is-fantastic style that sounds very OTT.

There is also an annoying tendency to start sentences with really long subordinate clauses.

You often see sentences like this (apologies in advance to any journalists reading):

In order to celebrate the 100th anniversary of their much-loved and critically-acclaimed [PRODUCT], the world famous whatever company [BRAND X] is set to delight fans by launching a brand new super-sized [THING] in [PLACE] which will be open to adventurous members of the public to visit for [AN AMOUNT OF TIME].

Can you see what’s wrong with this? (Apart from everything?)

It starts with a really long sub-clause, it has far too many adjectives, and just delivers a massive information overload.

People are good at seeing through that shit. Telling them it’s much-loved won’t make them love it – it’ll make them bored. If they care about brand X, they want to know what’s going on.

If the idea or the brand are terrible, no amount of fluffy words is going to make them change their minds. It would be much better as:

PRODUCT lovers! Brand X have announced the launch of a new super-sized THING at PLACE. 

People who care will get the info they want – and if the idea is good enough, other people will want to know what’s going on too.

And the message was delivered with less than half the number of words. And keeping it short is important.

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OK now that’s over with, time to Get Schwifty:

*Yes I do realise this makes absolutely no sense if you haven’t seen the show.

On Elon Musk, Cyborgs, and the Human Bandwidth Problem

Elon Musk thinks we are all already cyborgs. I agree.

And it’s not because I’m a massive Elon Musk fanboy.

OK, it’s not just because I’m a massive Elon Musk fanboy (if you’re reading this, Elon, ilu ♥).

It’s because it’s true – we have all now come to rely heavily on our new tertiary selves – or, our digital brains. Our social media and Google-powered memories and instant communication and GPS and fitness trackers and everything else.

Here’s the man himself talking about it:

Interesting, right?!

Elon focusses mainly on the output problem – essentially that we are just using our meat-stick fingers to type things out very slowly in the digital world.

His idea is to use a neural lace to hardwire our brains into the web to speed things up. This is something that people like Ray Kurzweil have been talking about for some time now.

I can’t wait! Plug me in.

But I think his ideas also raise another couple of interesting points relevant to social media:

  1. What role does social play in the digital self?

If Google is basically our digital memory – what does that make Facebook?

I think it’s our ego. It’s the part of ourselves that’s constantly screaming at the world about the things it likes, the things it hates, the things it wants to change, and the things it just wishes would just please stay the same ..PLEASE GOD STAY THE SAME PLEASE.

At the moment it feels like a hyper-self. Everything we believe to be true about our character, exaggerated and amplified, shouting relentlessly into the void.

It’s true that we probably communicate more, in terms of sheer volume, with our friends and colleagues on messaging apps than we do in any other way – but I still reckon we only really use the full range of our expressive communication when we’re talking to people in person.

So in many ways social is overtaking traditional person-to-person communication – but I still think there are some things it can’t do.

2. What about input?

Musk says input isn’t such an issue because we can take in lots of data through our eyes (or high-bandwidth visual interface, natch).

This has got me round to thinking about content in terms of data – ie. how much information a video can upload to the viewer’s brain in a given amount of time.

This may be the reason Facebook is now shifting back towards having sound on its videos (rather than mute by default) – because with audio and images, you can push more information per second than with visuals alone.

Which brings me neatly to speed reading. Cool films like this one:

Honda ~ ‘Keep Up’ from ManvsMachine on Vimeo.

I think stuff like this is great because it is offering you more information per second than a film with normal left-to-right text would. And certainly more than one with no text.

This is, I think, part of the reason emojis have become so popular: they allow us to communicate quite complex facial expressions in a single character. This is actually conveying a great deal of information – far more than can be expressed succinctly with words.

This trend is bound to continue as we get better at taking all the information in. Most videos on social now have some sort of text overlaid.

And every time we watch them we are practising absorbing more information, faster.

Then as we become better at taking it all in, we get increasingly bored with films that don’t satiate our voracious informational appetite. Our attention span becomes shorter.

Want proof? Simply watch a few old movies. They may have other qualities you appreciate – and you might personally enjoy the time taken over setting the scene.

But the trend between them and what we have now is clear – everything is speeding up and becoming more info-heavy.

Here are a few other examples…

LEFFE

We tried to play on this information overload with films for Leffe, whose creative platform was “Rediscover Time”.

Leffe SLOW TIME: Pete Lawrence 15 second social edit from The Academy on Vimeo.

The whole idea was that Leffe is a beer that should be savoured by slowing down and taking time to appreciate the finer things in life. And we had made a ten-minute documentary film about the lives and work of people who use time in their work (an astrophotographer being one of them).

Ten minutes is too long for a social film, and the premise was somewhat at odds with the points I’ve outlined above. So we tried to come up with a creative solution that was direct, and challenging to the viewer (although hopefully not too challenging). It worked – the video wound up having one of the highest view-through rates they’d ever seen. We also saw a high rate of people clicking through to watch the full documentary.

LEAP SECOND

Before I joined, the clever folks at my current agency created this very short film to celebrate the leap second that occurred in 2016.

I think it’s beautiful – but I also find it interesting how it is communicating far more information than it’s possible for a human to take in in just a second. It’s taking the idea of high human-bandwidth video to its natural conclusion (i.e. the eventual failure of our own processing power).

NIKE

Another great example of speed reading being used to satirise digital culture – in an incredibly digitally-native format. It’s probably ironic or something.

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