Am I too soft, naive and romantic when it comes to Twitter?

The other day I went to meet someone to talk to them about
supporting them in organizing an event here in Singapore.  We’d spoken briefly about this on the phone
before and he seemed pleased at my offer to help. 

Practically his first question to me when we met was,
however, ‘how many friends do you have on Facebook and how many followers on
Twitter?’   Clearly a good part of my
perceived worth in helping organize this event was how large my networks were –
and not my real world network or ‘sphere of influence’, but my virtual friends
and followers numbers.  At least I was
able to give him an actual number which I don’t suppose I would have been able
to do had he asked me a more pertinent question about what my influencing power
was. (That's where the really interesting bit is I think)  He seemed slightly disappointed
when I told him and then revealed that he had about twice as many people following
him on Twitter and considerably more friends on Facebook.  It should also be noted I think that in both
worlds we are very small players when it comes to numbers of followers and

I should not have been that surprised at his question I
suppose.  This guy – who is a friend of mine – had recently been
involved with an event in Singapore that had been a big success – certainly
in terms of the number of visitors.  As a
friend of his on Facebook I had received a lot of emails on the run up to the event
giving me the latest information and news. 
There was an event ‘group’ too of course.   So I suppose if he wanted to adopt the same
social media ‘strategy’ in promoting this next event, then having an organizing
partner with lots of friends and followers would be a good starting point to a repeat
strategy.  But isn’t this a tiny bit like
looking for a mailing list?  I say ‘tiny
bit’ because clearly there are some big differences – I know or at least have
some sort of relationship with my virtual contacts whereas a mailing list may
be cobbled together in any which way. 

It still irks me a little that I should be valued by
this criterion (at least in some part). 
Needless to say the strategy would have involved me being asked to email
(within Facebook) all my friends but this is a bit like spamming isn’t it? And
it begs the bigger question of course – is social media just a numbers game?

I really really hope it isn’t.  I’m aware that I might be kind of a bit naïve
and maybe, in some ways, romantic when it comes to what goes on with Twitter.  My friend, whom I was having the meeting with,
sees social media simply (I think) as a marketing gig.   Indeed – almost all (if not all) of his
tweets are links to web pages often promoting an event or promoting social media
as a marketing tool in itself.  Hey ,
there’s nothing wrong with this and I think he knows that I think that, but I
have, shall we say, a ‘softer’ approach and I love Twitter because I get to,
for example,  follow Stephen Fry, someone
who  sees and uses Twitter from a
position a million miles away from my friend. 
I can’t help be reminded of the ‘marketing at’ position and strategy adopted by some
companies in Second Life bombed.  Isn’t seeing
a bunch of tweets from someone you follow that just point to websites that
advertise an event or advertise the marketing medium itself a bit too much like
getting direct text (SMS) messages?

I don’t know where Twitter will go when it gets monetized in
the future but if it simply becomes a place full of social media marketers then
I’ll probably bail – for me, whilst I am happy to see all sorts of people doing
and experimenting with all sorts of things, the magic remains seeing what
people like Stephen Fry are up to, having a laugh with Will Carling and being
part of topics and conversations with some really cool and imaginative people.

There will be a 100,000-fold shrinking of computer technology over the next 25 years


Check out what futurologist Ray Kurzweil is saying about computer processing power, its size and what this will mean for our learning environments.  Powerful stuff.  I was speaking on Virtual Reality yesterday and talked about how we (and companies and organizations) need to learn to play with people in these environments.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

Fully emergent games is really where we want to go. We
will do most of our learning through these massively parallel
interactions is how we principally learn and principally create,"  he said.

It’s not the emptiness, it’s the loneliness


In August I attended the State of  Play conference here in  Singapore.  Historically, a conference founded by some
‘legal folks’, State of Play is now a rather eclectic and, at the same time,
interesting mix of both the original ‘legal folk’ interspersed with gamers,
educators, people representing the emerging virtual world creators and other
interested and curious onlookers. It’s
interesting to note that this seemingly bizarre mix of people is somewhat
indicative of the current landscape – a landscape that, whilst changing and
evolving on a par with the technical innovations making it all possible,
crosses over and overlaps with a myriad of social, technological and even philosophical
disciplines and implications.


The panels and associated
discussions reflected this as did the effusing small groups that gathered and
reverberated during the coffee breaks and over the rather good lunches and
dinners. Despite the diversity of conversation there was this almost bizarre
meta layer (to use a term that seems rather appropriate) to all the discussions
World of Warcraft – a subject that a only a few years ago would have made
little or no sense to almost anyone was now (to a large extent) binding
together one of the most intellectually gifted and diverse group of people I
have ever had the privilege to be part of.


Whilst the notion of
gaming and, indeed, collaborative gaming is not new, the advent of, at first,
the internet and subsequently vast processor power and fat data pipes into the
living room and bedroom has meant a paradigm shift in the nature and level of
engagement and taken the activity from places and environments few of us may
have ventured into the desktops and laptops of children, teachers, work
colleagues and CEO’s. As one of the
well-established conference attendees so poignantly put it, “World of Warcraft
is the new golf”.


My thoughts during the
conference were as many and varied as were the discussions and it was only on
the third day that I found myself saying something that I realized as I said it
for me, at least, captures an underlying theme – a foundation even – of what
makes this whole thing so exciting and important.


It was during a workshop
where a few of the conference stragglers were having an informal discussion
about commercial opportunities and applications in Second Life and other
virtual worlds. One of perceived
problems with Second Life and perhaps one of the main points raised by Second
Life’s band of detractors is the large number of empty areas, specifically
those areas created and built by large organizations, some of whom have
desperately tried to get on board the Second Life speeding train with little or
no thought about why they were doing it. Several participants alluded to these ‘empty’ spaces and whilst there is
much that can be said on this subject my point is simple. It’s not that these places are ‘empty’ that
has bothered me when I’ve wandered through the branded 3-D landscape often with
little more than 2-D web pages stuck on the side of 3-D objects, it’s that I am
lonely. What perturbs me is not that the
creator may not be engaging me sufficiently with content and experiences that
really should have been better thought through, it’s that there is no-one else
sharing the experience with me.


And it is for this reason
that we should be taking World of Warcraft, Second Life and all other community
based spaces including 2-D social networking sites such as facebook very
seriously. Whilst we are all
increasingly accustomed to the functionality, access and opportunities the
internet offers us, the possibility to do all those things and other things
that people have not even thought about yet, with our friends, with people we
have not met before, be it join a common interest group on facebook or hang out
and share an experience in Second Life or go on a raid in World of Warcraft, is
what makes these spaces wonderfully exciting and hugely important.


During the first dot com
boom many people and companies went a bit wrong trying to invent human needs
and activities that might fit the technology. World of Warcraft, Second Life and facebook simply enable us, as human
beings, to do what we have wanted to do for a long time and feel what we want
to feel day to day.


Golf anyone?