and more from the bizarre worlds of marketing and espionage…

10 02 2012

Well, after yesterday’s look at bizarre social media stories, the strangeness continues. Is it a full moon?

1. BMW apologises for weather front deaths. Ad agency Sassenbach apparently advised its client, BMW, to sponsor a weather front crossing Europe. The idea was to promote the wind-and-weather-proof-ness of their Mini Cooper. Hence the Cooper weather system was christened and – well it had already unleashed itself on Europe, but it continued on its merry and somewhat unpredictable way. Apparently the German weather bureau allows brands to sponsor weather systems. Full marks to them for being able to “monetize” weather forecasting.

What’s wrong with this idea? Well, by definition, in order too have a name, the weather front must be (what they call in the business) “significant”. For significant, the lay-reader can substitute any of the following words: dangerous, inconvenient, catastrophic, deadly. You get the idea. So when the Cooper weather system resulted in 100 deaths in Poland and the Ukraine, BMW was put in the bizarre situation of apologising for the deaths associated with their weather front. (And for those that have picked the obvious link, I’m not going there. You’re on your own.)

So here is another interesting question. The weather bureau organises the sponsorship – could they not predict that this was going to be a bad system and might have potential downsides not only for their client, BMW, but also for the whole selling-off weather systems industry generally?

The story is here.

2. Gamification meets espionage. OK, so this is a pretty interesting concept, and I am sure there will be a movie made about this soon, if there hasn’t already been. Now I’m pretty keen on the concept of gamification – application of gaming principles (and often the gamers themselves) into solving real-world problems. In a previous posting I looked at how gamers had solved a biological puzzle about the shape of a protein that scientists had been unable to solve.

The US State Department and the US Embassy in Prague are sponsoring a social media game where gamers can win money by tracking down five people whose mugshots are shown on the game-site. Each of these people (who, in this instance, are paid actors and not real-life terrorists) is wearing a t-shirt saying that they are indeed the target, so there should be no difficulty differentiating them from other look-alikes. To win, you need to photograph all five and upload their images to the website.

So here’s where I went with this one.

1. This game, while harnessing the gaming-populace to achieve an aim, doesn’t really harness the cooperative effort that the previous gamification example did, where individuals worked together and worked off each other’s work to develop a result that was better than the efforts of any one individual (see definitions of “synergy” and “leverage”).

2. While this example has people wearing t-shirts to identify for the gamers that they have indeed identified and photographed the correct person, in real life there is considerable possibility of identity mix-ups. For instance, I am a dead-ringer for Angelina Jolie……(OK, I know that’s not relevant, I just dropped it in there as an example, and to implant this concept in your mind).

3. In real life we are talking about dangerous people being identified through this means. While harnessing the community to look out for each other is a good thing, I suspect any terrorist suddenly being followed by gamers and photographed is going to get a little (more) paranoid. And possibly aggressive. This could result in a lot of danger and possibly death for amateur detectives competing for $5k.

4. The other application mentioned in the article is tracking down missing children. Is gaming going to be more effective than saturation coverage of the child’s picture? Are we assuming that people are only going to be motivated by the possibility of winning a game worth $5k, and that it will be more effective than the current strategies of saturation coverage of photographs to the entire population, appeals about the safety of young innocents and often much larger financial rewards? What is this saying about us as a society? (And keep in mind that we already have instances of children and families being inadvertently identified as “missing children” – a very similar looking girl was photographed and tracked down in the very sad Madeleine McCann case. Imagine having random people taking photographs of your children when you were out in public – talk about paranoid.)

Now maybe this is a fabulous idea…..I don’t say yay or nay, I simply ask the questions and hope that the people doing these things are thinking very carefully about the ethics and implications of what they are setting up.

3. What the Steve Jobs file shows us about FBI investigative methodology. Gotta love this one. The recently released FBI file on Steve Jobs relates to a time during the Bush era when he was being considered for a US Federal advisory position. Much of the standard stuff is covered – they looked at his employment and family history, his political affiliations, interviewed colleagues etc. But the really interesting thing is the questionnaire that Jobs filled out for them. It contains such gems as…

24b. “Do you now use or supply, or with in the last five years have you used or supplied marijuana, cocaine, narcotics, hallucinogenics or other dangerous or illegal drugs?”

Seriously? Does anyone ever answer “yes” to that question, particularly when a government agency is asking the question? Is there any value in actually asking this question? Even if it was to cover the employer in case he is found out to be dealing drugs later – he’s dealing drugs, you can sack him on those grounds. You don’t need to also say he lied on his application.

And then, the 1950s throw-back gem… “Have you ever been a member, officer or employee of The Communist Party?” (Jobs answered no.) I am fascinated that they considered this to still be relevant in 1991 – or was Bush Snr planning to bring back reds-under-the-beds mentality? Perhaps this was plan A prior to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, which gave him his “us and them” target in the Persian Gulf War. It would be interesting to know if this question is still on the application form.

But let’s finish on a positive note – a couple of positive stories, one on social media and one on the application of technology to remote medicine.

4. American Airlines and agency Weber Shandwick have released a case study on how they managed social media during a 2010 hijacking threat. After receiving an anonymous threat about a plane about to take off at JFK International Airport in New York, the plane was sequestered on a remote side of the airport and the passengers were kept on-board.

Of course in this day and age, “everyone” is connected to social media, and rumours rapidly swirled in the twitter-sphere. Two passengers in particular became identified as authorities on the unfolding events and were being contacted by news media for information. American Airlines monitors their social media mentions and hence was quickly aware of what was happening and how incorrect rumours were being repeated in social media and fed back to the passengers on-board. In a case-study of “how-to” they were quick and responsive, dealing in real-time with both the social media mentions, and also keeping their passengers informed about what was really happening. They recognised that their passengers were in fact de-facto reporters. And overall, they managed to contain any panic that escalating and unfounded rumours can cause.

American Airlines creative manager for social media, (the appropriately named) Jonathon Bird says: “The experience opened our eyes to the fact that we need to be able to respond immediately and accurately every time. And we are getting faster, better integrated and far less siloed.”

The case study is here.

The other thing I really like about this case study is how it demonstrates that social media is increasingly driving “old media” – newspaper and television journalists were using Twitter to source information.

I have added a couple of links about social media in emergency management to the bottom of this posting.

5. Mobile tablet technology saves lives. A 24-year-old Camerooni engineer, Arthur Zang, has invented a Cardiopad , which allows ECGs and other cardio-diagnostic tests to be done remotely and the results wirelessly sent to city-based specialists. Cameroon is a central-African country of 20 million, with only 30 cardiac specialists all concentrated in the two major cities. Remote area medicine is a major problem for many countries – including first world countries such as Australia and this invention has the potential to provide cutting-edge diagnostics in remote areas, cutting the costs of providing health care in remote areas, and also the travel and inconvenience experienced by patients residing in remote areas.

He is currently looking for venture capital to commercially produce the Cardiopad. So let’s harness the power of social media and pass this on – see if we can find the Venture Capitalist willing to back it. If ever an internationally worthwhile invention deserved funding on commercial and humanitarian grounds, this is surely it.

Interested in Social Media? here are a few more you might be interested in…
Social Media in Emergency Management
Social Media in Emergency Situations
And today’s bizarre social media news…


And today’s bizarre social media news……

9 02 2012

I haven’t done a social media news round-up for a while, but today seems to have thrown up a couple of bizarre stories.  Stories worth commenting on for their improbability…..

1.  Salem Witch-Hunt comes to a high-school courtesy of YouTube.   This might be a stretch for you, but when I read about the bizarre illness allegedly being spread amongst teenage girls at an American high School – an illness that has symptoms such as tics and spasms – I thought of Tituba and her nice Puritan girls throwing fits in the Salem Courtroom and accusing the gentlefolk of witchcraft.  Ergo (some may say), the internet is of the devil.

OK, a stretch too far perhaps.  But here is the actual story:  LeRoy High School in New York has had an epidemic of teenage girls coming down with strange Tourette’s-like symptoms – twitching, tics and uncontrolled verbal outbursts.  Being teenage girls and particularly now that the media is interested, they have been posting videos of their symptoms online.  Extensive environmental testing has demonstrated no neuro-active toxins in the environment that might be causing such symptoms, so experts have diagnosed conversion disorder – the modern term for mass hysteria. And now there is potential for an epidemic as the symptomology spreads via social networking. Yes, that’s right – a real life computer virus. (You knew that pun was coming, didn’t you?)

Read more in Huffington Post. There’s even a video / slide show section at the bottom where you can test your psychological resilience and/or come down with the plague yourself. You have been warned and no liability is accepted by this blogger for the link!

(For more info on this story see Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible”.)

2. Putting censorship to the test. Twitter’s recent announcement that it would with-hold content in some countries in compliance with local laws is to be put to the test by Brazil. Thank-you, contestant Number One. Brazil is using the relatively minor issue of speed-cameras and roadblocks as its test case, suing Twitter for users publicising locations of these devices to alert other road users. (Gee, cos then they might slow down and not get booked for speeding – wait, isn’t the point of it to stop people speeding? Hasn’t the Twitter message just achieved that? And if it is only for a short while and on that road – it is arguable that the speed traps have a similar effect as well, except for lightening your wallet at the same time).

Anyway, the relevance of this article comes back to the Middle East uprisings in Spring of 2011. If Twitter decides it will comply with local laws, then it is arguable that the dictators of an oppressed country will simply make a law saying that social media cannot carry information against the government – and hey presto, the end of any uprising. This comes back to my previous posting Shades of Grey for Social Media. Whether you are a “good guy” is a matter of perspective, and while you may be in favour of people slowing down on the roads (and I am) and support police enforcement of such road rules (and I am), censorship is a slippery slope.

Twitter has now said it will comply only if it believes the requests are “valid and applicable” – both a very powerful and vulnerable position to put themselves in, and one that Brazil apparently wants to challenge. Twitter’s postings on this subject are here: Tweets must flow

3. News to Sheldon Cooper: Mathematics does not hold all the answers. A study into the algorithms used by online dating services has found (shock, horror) that you are as likely to find love in a bar as you are through their websites. While the websites do at least provide you with links to people who have declared themselves available and interested, and geographically appropriate, the comparing of various interests and similarities cannot determine if the sparks will fly and true love will strike. So the Big Bang Theory’s example where they linked Sheldon up with the delectable and bizarrely appropriate Amy, is a fluke – or as Sheldon would say, “what people who don’t understand random numbers would call a coincidence.” Indeed.

Of course that is assuming that it is true love that you are seeking on these websites. (It was true love you were looking for, wasn’t it???) But then if you just want a hook-up maybe the bar is as good for that as well. Probably quicker, anyway. The article is here and will be published in an upcoming edition of Psychological Science in the Public Interest.

There are a few others in today’s bumper crop:

– something about a social network called Path(who?) accidentally uploading people’s entire address books without consent thereby ensuring that I won’t be using them anytime soon. They have fixed it, by the way. (Can anyone tell me if I am missing anything at Path? Other than privacy invasions?)

– And another one about BBC News, CNN and SkyNews grappling with how to deal with Twitter coming out of their newsrooms. They want it to go first on their website for their audiences, then onto Twitter for the rest of the unwashed masses. Oh wait – perhaps “their audience” and “Twitter followers” (aka UWM) are the same people? A watching brief, I suspect.

And finally, an article about Pinterest adding tracking codes to certain pins so they can report back to interested users (aka commercial interests) on activity and earn….money. While it perhaps would have been nice for Pinterest to disclose it was doing such a thing, I think those who have had a look at Pinterest will have spotted that amongst the very many “community” pins, there are certainly some linking back to commercial sites. So the idea that Pinterest might want to (let’s use that horrible made-up word) MONETIZE their site really shouldn’t be a shocker. As the site remains free to use, the bills have to be paid somewhere. I for one am not really bothered.

And I am very disappointed that WordPress did not pick up the word “Monetize” in spellcheck.