Among the Toraju tribe in Indonesia, the dead stay with the living. Literally. Until the family can afford the extensive and expensive burial rites, which lasts several days at least, the dead person stays in the house. And once the burial has taken place, the dead person will still stay with their former family, in the form of a wooden effigy. It all amounts to a very close relationship between the dead and the living. In many ways, it seems quite healthy, and, one would imagine, leading to less of a fear of death.
Now, with the rise of social media, Westerners are creating their own effigies. We heard this week the sad, but in a way uplifting, BBC story about parents who put pictures of their stillborn children on YouTube. On Facebook, the pages of the dead are turned into living shrines, with their friends writing to them long after their death. Funeral companies are developing new products, for example events on death anniversaries, where family and friends gather every year on the anniversary of the death to celebrate their loved one, or tombs with digital touches.
As much as one could see could see these new practices as weird, and unusual from our Western perspective, perhaps we’re moving towards the closer relationship with death that many other cultures have long had. Unless these new digital estate companies manage to convince us all to sign up for our social media presences being taken down after we die, we can all live on in perpetuity on social media.
For a Western culture obsessed with the fear of dying (even if it has led to fantastic works of art), that can only be a good thing.
Technology has always shaped the way we read books, from Gutenberg to Kindles, but it feels like the pace of changes is speeding up in recent times, and in some very positive ways.
One of the big enablers has been the application of big data and better analytics to books, book reviews and data on reading. Amazon‘s recommendations are getting better and better. Now Goodreads, picked up by Amazon earlier this year, is proving to be a really useful platform. It is not always spot on in terms of recommendations, and they keep sending me emails about books from the Young Adult section, but having a social network based on reading is quite nice. It does yield a lot of good ideas for new books to read, as well as new appreciation the hidden literate depths of one’s more peripheral Facebook friends!
BookVibe is a new fun book discovery tool, which picks books to recommend based on what books are discussed in my Twitter and Facebook feeds. My current list of recommendations include everyone from the expected (Carl Sagan, Freakonomics, Sherry Turkle), to more unexpected books about Dungeons and Dragons or something called “The Harbinger”.
There’s also Booklamp.org, which aims to be the Pandora of books, by defining and matching the “genome” of books. For fiction, the results are not that convincing (I get better recommendations from Amazon). It works better for non-fiction, but it seems the DNA of a book is still fairly elusive.
The other big change we’ve witnessed recently is the time-shifting of reading. After watching TV content was inexorably changed by Tivo, and later Netflix, timeshifting has moved to reading, with all the wonderful tools we now have at our disposal. I can no longer live without Instapaper and Pocket. I also love the Longform app’s curated take on articles. Om Malik discusses how he uses Pocket here.
Even if it’s an age of TL;DR, in which we have ever less time to read, it seems these innovations are at least helping us make the most of what we read.
Following my post on Twitter’s upcoming IPO yesterday, there were several good articles today on how they’re going about preparing for it. FT reported that Twitter had appointed their first head of commerce, to generate revenue from e-commerce, probably driven by the “cards” they use already. The Washington Post had an article on how Facebook’s stock price resurgence has opened the door to Twitter and how Twitter will be judged by Wall Street in a similar way as Facebook (i.e. the slightly formulaic if you don’t have mobile revenue, your stock is worth less than a cup of coffee).
Another story that shows further experimentation with Twitter as a media channel came on The Next Web, which described an experiment that the Times is running, of letting users tweet specifically chosen highlights from a story. This kind of ready-made tweet has long annoyed me on other websites, since it never seems to say the same thing that I’d like to say. It’s a diametrically different approach to the one I mentioned earlier that Gawker was testing out, of letting the users even change the headline of the story as they forward it. Both might be valid for different kinds of stories, however. The only thing that is for sure is that we’ll continue to see a lot of experimentation from Twitter in the lead-up to the IPO.
If you have any other examples of interesting Twitter experiments you’ve seen, please let us know in the comments. Follow me on Twitter (of course) for more updates.
There was a wonderful piece in the Economist the other week, which detailed the largest Twitter spike in volume ever, and its reasons. Apparently all the Super Bowl wardrobe malfunctions and royal or reality TV-royal babies have nothing on the dedication of Japanese Miyazaki fans (the director of Spirited Away). The spike in volume came from them all simultaneously tweeting a spell at the corresponding time in the movie Castle in the Sky.
So we knew already that Japanese fans are extremely dedicated to their anime, and like to do things in a coördinated fashion, but why is Twitter telling us this? According to the Economist’s corresponding Babbage podcast, it’s Twitter bragging about its capability to handle the huge amount of tweets (143,000 in a second!), to show that it’s overcome its earlier capacity issues (the beloved fail whale) in anticipation of its upcoming IPO.
There are a couple of privately held tech companies (Spotify, Airbnb, etc) out there who are getting very valuable and who should be on the verge of doing their IPOs soon. Facebook just surpassed its offering price. In a normal world, that would hardly be a cause for jubilation, but given how much beating that stock has taken, apparently just getting your initial money back is a good thing. Facebook being under water has acted as a barrier keeping all these other companies from proceeding with their IPOs.
Now Spotify for example should get their IPO done as soon as possible, before someone else eats their lunch, and would probably only be useful for both shareholders and users, but the inevitable Twitter IPO might turn out to be an unfortunate thing for users. As was argued a while ago, Twitter is a completely unique media channel, and is practically a global public good in its distribution of news more than just another social media “network”. No other channel distributes news so equitably (a Middle Eastern activist has the same voice as a Middle Eastern President), and so rapidly (where else can you get informed second-by-second of events anywhere in the world?)
There is a legitimate worry that an IPO would damage that. The need to monetize the user base might over time decrease the simplicity that makes Twitter so useful all over the world. So far additions have been hit-or-miss (sponsored tweets annoying / related articles illuminating), so I really hope that they can explore subscription and sponsorship models that don’t interfere with the clean user experience.
The announcement yesterday that Facebook and a consortium of tech companies have set up internet.org to bring Internet to the whole world’s population is interesting. As I discussed in an earlier post, Facebook has for some time introduced various initiatives aimed at bringing Facebook to more people. This is obviously a necessary goal for them given that they already have almost half of the world’s Internet users (1.2bn out of 2.7bn), and they have to continue to show growth from somewhere. And, as mentioned, many users in developing countries who are new to the Internet consider Facebook to be Internet, which is not a bad position to be in (if the day would come, I don’t think Facebook would make the Kleenex/Xerox complaint of saying that their brand has become synonymous with the generic product!)
However, the internet.org initiative is definitely laudable, as it aims to make the access to Internet a human right, as it should be. In today’s world, not having access to the Internet is perhaps not yet as debilitating for a young person as not having access to education or shelter, but it’s definitely a direction we’re moving in. Providing Internet access as aid can be important for sustainable development, as mentioned in the UN.
There are a number of initiatives aimed at increasing connectivity to the Internet for rural and remote areas. The BRCK is a very exciting and innovative product that aims to solve the problem of spotty connectivity in rural areas. Support it on Kickstarter here. This article by Ethan Zuckermann in Wired discusses the BRCK in more detail. As discussed in an earlier post, Google X’s Project Loon is of course also a great initiative in this vein.
The growth of Internet access in the world is currently just under 9%, which is impressive, even if it used to be higher, and hopefully will be with this latest batch of innovations. Since the growth rate of the world’s population is 1.1% and slowly declining, technically the day of Internet access for all could come in less than 15 years. Of course, this won’t happen due to all the factors complicating reaching the remaining 4 billion (not to mention the 2 billion that will be added between now and 2050), but here’s to hoping that it can be done.
The announcement of Facebook for Every Phone reaching 100 million users is really impressive. It’s astounding that the technology exists to actually deliver some of the core features of Facebook (photos, news feed, messenger) onto “dumb” (feature) phones. The technology is from Snaptu, that Facebook acquired in 2011.
Jonathan Zittrain, in the APM Marketplace Tech podcast the other morning, mentioned one consequence of this, which is the possibility that Facebook would be the new AOL, as a walled garden for many users. As we’ve heard before, for many users in developing countries (can we please soon come up with a better, less-condescending term for the countries that provide almost half of the world’s GDP growth?), Facebook IS the Internet. As many users in the 90′s can testify to, using only AOL or Compuserve soon started feeling limited. But since we recently saw that there are still people on AOL dial-up (!) I guess Facebook will be able to maintain revenues from that walled garden for quite some time.
What is most interesting about these is what we can learn from them about reverse innovation, i.e. what Facebook can apply from their slimmed-down products to their richer, “developed world” products. Reverse innovation has been used successfully by companies such as GE and Unilever that have large presences in developing markets where the parameters for competition are very different, such as India. To be mean, for Nokia, it seems their reverse innovation (also quite a loaded, non-PC term btw) has gone in reverse, since their only good innovations are in developing countries, and their innovations in developed markets is now innovation for innovation’s sake, not for any consumer need. We could all benefit from a faster-loading Facebook app on our iPhones.
The BBC Click podcast today mentioned a fantastic new, anti-social, app, actually called Hell is Other People. Meant more a satirical joke than an actual app, it nevertheless provides fully fledged “anti-social” functionality, by telling you where to go to get as far away as possible from your Foursquare friends.
It is an awesome idea, and a welcome commentary on the increasing need to socialize everything we do. Philosophically, we are facing a conundrum as to what it means to live as humans completely socially, devoid of our normal boundaries which separate private and public. Sartre would go insane at the idea of Facebook (although he might like the nihilism of Snapchat). It will take us a long time to figure out what it means for our sanity. I look forward to discuss this with my all-digital children when they’re old enough to realize there was a past before YouTube and iPads.
It makes me long for the Economist to bring back their Thinking Space app, which was meant to show places in the city where one could think in peace. But maybe another app can’t be the solution to being too digital? FastCompany tells us to #unplug, but that can’t be the solution either.
the same sense of incremental innovations that you see in gmail, constantly thinking about what can be done with the data.
so facebook for luddites, g+ for techies. (+myspace still for goths and tagged still for unpopular tweens?)
the definitive article in fast company on who will win the future of tech.
although I sometimes feel odd including amazon among them.