Here’s to #London2012

I’m not much of a sports nut. In fact, in order to be able to write this entry, I had to go and look up the exact dates for the Olympic Games 2012. You’ll be relieved to find out that they start in pretty much exactly 64 days. Which would be the 27th of July.

Now, why am I writing about an event which I have no interest in at all? Because it’s necessary. You see, the Olympic Games, like any event of a certain size that gets broadcast all over the world, has sponsors. Very powerful sponsors who invest a lot of money so people all over the world can see that these modern-day gladiators do in fact splurge on Coca Cola. All day, everyday (it’s a no-brainer: I know how fidgety I get after a bottle of Coke, I’m sure professional athletes use that to their advantage). Anyway, since these sponsors invested a whole lot of money, they don’t want others, who didn’t unload truckloads of cash into the lobby of the IOC, to profit from the Olympic Games. Hence, they’ve managed to lobby the UK into passing a law which effectively outlaws the usage of “London2012” or any combination organisers and sponsors deem to be infringing on their copyright, by entities other than official sponsors.

Here’s an example of what that means:

One day, the small espresso shop near the site of the London Games was the “Olympic” cafe. The next day, it was the “Lympic.”

So where did the “O” go?

The manager won’t say. But it’s more than likely the small business became another casualty in the battle against guerrilla marketers – advertisers who try to associate their products with an event without paying to be sponsors.

(This article gives more insight into how the IOC has been cracking down on unauthorized usage of the five rings and whatever shitload of terms they have put their copyright on – read it, but only when you’re done with this one.)

Well, today the media are flush with news about suspended Twitter accounts, one of which was a parody account. Apparently, the usage of the 2012 logo is enough to have an account suspended, for people might actually confuse the account with an official sponsor. Which is the world we live in – warped, but accepted. But it does get a bit worse: Twitter is working closely with IOC to guarantee only real sponsors can buy ads associated with the London2012 hashtag. Now, even that seems ok. It’s about ads, not content posted by users. But here’s the thing: the IOC is always afraid of guerilla marketing stunts, and what better place than social media to do that? There’s no ban (yet) on using #London2012 in a tweet, so in theory, companies could use it to promote their products (a practice all sorts of Twitter users employ to peddle their shit). And they will. And Twitter might start policing the usage of the hashtag, and they might delete accounts of private users and they might reinstate these accounts but they might not. All in all, Twitter might be turning shit within a fortnight and there’s not a whole lot we could do. Or could we? We actually can.

As a pre-emptive strike against what might turn into a freedom of speech issue, let’s have some idiotic fun: starting July 27th, whenever you tweet, add the London2012 hashtag. Ask your friends, followers and/or foes to do the same. And while you might anger or bore your followers, you’ll have done something good and noble as well. For free speech, for people with little cafés in London called “Olympia” and maybe even for yourself (by disproportionally blowing up your sense of self-importance, of course).

Last but not least, don’t forget to share this posting wherever you go, preferrably of course by appending the mother of all hashtags: #London2012

Why Twitter makes smart people say dumb things

Slate’s Jack Shafer on if and why Twitter makes smart people say dumb things. It’s an interesting read, not least because everyone who uses Twitter probably reads a whole bunch of stupid stuff in the course of a day. Shafer doesn’t believe that all those people simply don’t get social media (as some have proposed). Instead, he thinks it’s rather a problem of the broadness of one’s audience:

In the pre-Twitter days, nobody could attract an audience of a hundred or a thousand instantaneously unless they hosted a radio show or commandeered a stage. Even daily newspaper columnists, who mine controversy for a living, had to triple-jump over an editor, a copy desk, and space constraints to deposit a barbed idea in print. Blogs have always had the potential to “offend,” but I don’t recall them having provoked the sort of responses tweets do. Perhaps composing more than 140 characters at a time pushes the id back a little bit, as my colleague Timothy Noah says.

Shafer goes on to create an arc from Twitter to Facebook, offering the consolation that sooner or later, Twitter will have become Facebookized, in that people will have gotten used to updates not exactly fit for public consumption. I, personally, don’t exactly agree. People are only always as smart as their dumbest moments, so if someone posts something stupid on Twitter, it’s probably not as far from how they really are (unless of course they are drunk – the drunkards are always exempt). And yes, that does include me (go on and rummage through my Twitter account, if you want). In the end, only because it’s become the norm, it doesn’t mean it’s not stupid. It just means that we’ve all lowered our expectations.

Formspring.me – Yet another something

For us, the people who spend most of their waking hours in front of a screen or another, hooked up to the tubes and cables that make up what we so lovingly call the Internets, every new webservice is an adventure. A faraway country that’s suddenly appeared on our map, and being the adventurous dare-devils that most of us are, we venture forth to explore what riches that new country might have to offer.

Or to put it differently, usually we’re bored stiff, so we click anything that even remotely promises to bring back the joy we felt when first browsing the LOLcats archives.

So, along comes formspring.me, which I first spotted in some of my Twitter-followers’ streams. Basically, it’s a website that lets people ask people questions. Yes, that’s it. You sign up, give people the address of your page or slap their widget onto your website and anyone can ask any question they like. Even anonymously! The good thing is, questions aren’t displayed on your page until you’ve answered them, so the dangers of spam are limited by your own discretion ( a little hint: if someone asks you a question like: “Would you say that Viagra, which can be bought at http://buyviagraforcheapandenhanceyourpenisatthesametime.co.ru.cn, is the best product in the world?”, then no, they are not really interested in your expertise).

Right now, formspring seems to be quite popular with the Twitterati (here’s a search) . Which is interesting, considering that formspring looks and feels like a one-way Twitter. Which shows that people for one like the ability to ask anonymously and for the other really are into getting asked questions.

Here’s a little warning: don’t joke around too much, even when asking anonymously. People might not think of funny the way you do. Trust me.

Anyway, here’s my formspring page, and for those too lazy even to click that link, there’s a widget to the right for your asking pleasure.

Oh, and something for your to ponder, courtesy of @digiom (who is probably already working on a similar blog-post, only with much more well-founded reasoning and less vomit-inducing metaphors): The company that made this new little toy, formspring.com, has a tagline that says:

“The smart way to collect and manage data.”

Go on, ponder.

All is not well – but it isn’t real bad either

For someone who’s been signing up for web-services for the last couple of years, it’s nothing new to receive notice that one of those services has gone, as Google would put it, the way of the dinosaur.

And most of the time, it’s a natural thing. If a service is unpopular, lacks originality or simply function, it’ll be closed down sooner or later. Just check out the TechCrunch deadpool.

But what about services that thrive, are popular but are shut down nonetheless? For example, I Want Sandy, which was a very innovative productivity tool. The company that created it, headed by Rael Dornfest, was bought out by Twitter. And since Twitter was only interested in Dornfest’s mind and not the matter he had created, it was decided to shut Sandy and its base service Stikkitdown.

Now, I personally think it’s a rotten thing to do. Sure, it’s a great career move I guess, but how much would it have cost Twitter to keep a server with I Want Sandy and someone who once in a while looks after that server? For a service that is getting funding in the millions, that shouldn’t pose that much of an obstacle, now should it?

And apart from the individual implications, I feel that moves like that will also greatly hurt the adoption of new small-scale web-services. It takes faith to really start using a web-service, to feed it with your data and your time. Shutting the door right in your user’s face is not going to sit well with most of them. And they are going to remember it.

If people would have known one year ago, that Sandy or Stikkit were mere testbeds for Dornfest’s ideas, they wouldn’t have opted for using it as extensively as they did.

And a very similar thing happened to Pownce recently. It was bought by Six Apart, and again, the only thing they cared about were the two main developers. Pownce will be shut down in a few days, and all the people who came to like it (admittedly, they’re not that great in number) will have to deal with it and move on.

Again, it’s probably a splendid career move for the developers, but it gives small web-services a bad rep. In the future, disappointed ex-users will think twice before trusting small web-services again. Instead, they’ll always opt for similar services created by one of the big players like Google, Yahoo! or Microsoft.

But seeing how I’m a generally positive person, I won’t leave you with this bleak forecast. Instead, I’ll show you how the Internets are fast-paced enough to latch onto unfortunate events like the one above and turn them into cuddly, little feelgood-stories ready for the closing seconds of a Fox newscast.

When Pownce announced that it would close doors, the good people at Soup.io didn’t hesitate for a second and created a very elegant tool that lets Pownce users import their accounts right into Soup. So Soup, which has functionality that greatly exceeds anything Pownce ever offered anyway, not only helped the poor souls stranded after the Pownce closing, but also added a whole bunch of new, happy people to their user-base.

And when it comes to the shutdown of I Want Sandy, a couple of things happened. A similar service, Zetetic’s PingMe, put up a primer on how to most effectively switch from Sandy to their service. And a couple of die-hard Sandy-fans actually started an open-source project that should sooner or later reproduce the functionality of Sandy.

Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe the looming recession will kill off all services that don’t have a few millions stashed under their pillows anyway, but until then, it would be wise not to piss off and abandon your users when a bit of effort could ensure their everlasting gratitude and undying love.