Privacy is not dead, get over it

As typical, when danah boyd (it is she who uses the lower case) writes, it’s worth reading. In this post, she explains why it may be in Facebook’s interest to wish that “privacy is dead,” but why Facebook’s interests are at odds with our interests. Having a public discourse, a public conversation, a public glance into that which we don’t mind making public, is one thing. That’s not the same as making our entire lives public.

Says danah:

“Privacy isn’t a technological binary that you turn off and on. Privacy is about having control of a situation. It’s about controlling what information flows where and adjusting measures of trust when things flow in unexpected ways. It’s about creating certainty so that we can act appropriately. People still care about privacy because they care about control. Sure, many teens repeatedly tell me “public by default, private when necessary” but this doesn’t suggest that privacy is declining; it suggests that publicity has value and, more importantly, that folks are very conscious about when something is private and want it to remain so. When the default is private, you have to think about making something public. When the default is public, you become very aware of privacy. And thus, I would suspect, people are more conscious of privacy now than ever. Because not everyone wants to share everything to everyone else all the time.

As for me, I’m far more conscious of issues related to my personal privacy today than I ever was before people started claiming privacy is dead.

Stop trying to limit the Internet to a metaphor


Today, I spent several hours in a conference with 300 marketers who fit into one of two categories:

1. They work at companies that are trying hard to figure out how to use something currently called “social media” to help their companies succeed (i.e., sell more stuff).

2. They work at companies that are trying to sell services to help group #1 succeed (i.e., sell more stuff). (Disclosure: I and content marketing and custom media company, Hammock Inc., fall into this second category).

First off, I have to get something clear about where I stand on the term “social media.” First, I think it’s a quickly-falling-from-relevance-term when applied to media and marketing — right up there with the term Web 2.0, which meant about the same thing as “social media” until people got tired of that term and started calling it “social media.”

In my opinion, at best, “social” is a feature, it’s not a medium. When all media is social, there is no such thing as social media. It’s like HD TV. When only some shows are in High Definition, then maybe there’s something unique and special about saying, “this program is broadcast in High Definition.” But when everything is in High Definition, it’s sorta silly to announce “we’re the High Definition channel” — just like all the other channels.

In other words, when every page on the Internet has five different ways to forward, share, comment and embed, isn’t that enough to say, “everything is social.” When every anchorman and musician and corner cafe is on Twitter, is it really a unique “thing” called “social media.”

That, aside. I’ll agree, the technology and the capabilities and the way people use the Internet in our daily lives are way, way ahead of where marketers and media people are. Marketing people were way, way late to the table and it shows. I like that they’re trying to catch up, but I have some squeamishness when I hear them discuss with one another what social media marketing is all about.

Frankly, I think it’s the metaphors that alarm me. Marketers, for the most part, view “the web” as a tool set. Even those who, like me, want to focus on the way the Internet can solve specific business objectives, often fall into the pattern of seeing Twitter, et al, as a hammer and every problem as a nail.

For the past ten years, I have tried my best to explain to media and marketing people what many still don’t seem to understand. The web is best understood (metaphorically speaking) as “a place,” not as “a medium.” To my friends in the business-to-business media and marketing world, I have said that the best metaphor for the web is not a publication (you can thank whoever came up with the term “web page” for that metaphor) but a trade show. I’ve tried to explain (metaphorically speaking) that social media is like the conversation that takes place in the hallways and aisles of a trade show — not in the keynotes or panel sessions. It’s in those hallways that commerce takes place, where the marketplace of industries exist.

But still, marketers and media people seem to want the new stuff to fit into metaphors of the old stuff — like advertising and promotions and direct mail.

Today, I heard a speaker spend 30 minutes suggesting that some imaginary group of “tree huggers” and “hippies” exist who don’t want anything about social media to be commercialized or used in marketing. I’ve been to blogger events, South by Southwests and countless social media and geek events for over a decade, and I have no idea what he’s talking about. People have been trying to monetize and marketize social media since the day the first cavemen drew a picture on a wall.

Frankly, one of the seminal events of the movement that led to what we think of today as “social media” — at least in comprehending what a networked community of customers means to the marketplace — was the publication of the book, The Cluetrain Manifesto. And yes, there was some hippie influence in book (love you, Doc), it was not, however, anti-business or anti-marketing or anti-anything — except anti-cluelessness.

People were then, and are still now, tired of being beat over the head and spammed with crappy advertising and sub-par customer service. That’s not hippie-talk. That’s common sense. And, more importantly, customers know more about products than marketers do. So get over it.

People who pioneered this place we now call “social media” have sought to create a better way of marketing than sending out coupons, but I don’t know of any “tree huggers” who preach against it — unless, someone thinks doing something better than couponing via Twitter is preaching against coupons.

Here’s the deal: This Internet thing is way bigger than social media. It’s way bigger than marketing. It’s a place. It’s a world. It’s where we are spending a larger and larger portion of our lives. And a portion of that time we spend is focused on, yes, buying and selling stuff. But that’s just a part of that world.

Marketers can learn to live in that world, or they can spend time trying to figure out ways to spam that world. And if I’m a hippie when I say it, so be it: there are better ways to help companies succeed than teaching them new ways to distribute spam.

If you spend all of your time thinking the Internet is a tool set to replicate what you’ve done in the past — except faster — you’re not necessarily wrong, you’re just less than right.

Bottomline: Don’t be fooled by thinking the Internet can be contained in a metaphor, even mine.

The coming demise of ‘social media’ (the term, that is)


Despite using it in our company’s marketing material (hey, we know a thing or two about search and marketing), I don’t like the term “social media.” I dislike it for the same reason I never liked the term “Web 2.0.” As I wrote in a 2005 blog post, “When a term starts to mean everything, it means nothing.” (And admit it, doesn’t “social media” sound like something that reports on parties in the Hamptons and Palm Beach?)

Terms like “Web 2.0” and “user-generated-content” and “social media” come and go. They may make sense when they are first used to describe a narrow activity or trend. But soon, they are hijacked by marketers who slap the term on things they are selling and try to turn the term into a product.

Web 2.0 (which, by the way, started out as a term that meant, roughly, what social media connotes today) was, without a doubt, the most hijacked term ever. Those who came up with the term may have known what the term meant. However, it soon became a bullet-point in sales sheets for products that had nothing to do with what its originators thought Web 2.0 meant. And it soon became a term to convey that a product wasn’t around during the debacle of the dot-bombing Web 1.0 — and it used fonts that had letters with rounded edges.

The term “social media” is heading for that same cliff.


As I tweeted yesterday, on the panel selector for next year’s South by Southwest Interactive, of the 2,000 nominated panels, 1,118 have the word “social” used in the panel name or description. To me, that says “everything is social.” And when everything is social, using the word “social” in the description is understood and therefore redundant. (Do you still say “World Wide” before saying “Web”? Hyper before link?)

More disturbing is the use by product vendors who are selling “social media” as a tool, product, technology or platform. (And yes, I include myself in this list.)

I just returned from the annual meeting of the American Society of Association Executives, a gigantic convention of people who run some of the best known trade and service organizations in the country. Like SXSW, the ASAE conference has dozens of break-out sessions (their’s are called training labs). And like SXSW, more-and-more of the sessions were about “social media this” and “social media that.”

In the exhibit hall, “social media products” and “social media platforms” and “social media technology” and “social media services” were being pitched and sold (including, by us).

If I didn’t know what “social media” is — really is — going in, I’m sure I would be coming away from the trade show being more confused about social media than ever — when something means everything, it means nothing. (Exception: I thought Charlene Li did a concise job of de-mystifying it in her keynote.)

I fear, however, that in the rush to “do something with ‘social media,'” there are many organizations (companies, associations, non-profits, etc.) that are thinking (wrongly) they can do one of these four things to “do social media”:

Four things that aren’t “social media”:

1. Setting up a page, user-account or anything else on any web service that is “social media” or “social networking.”
2. Purchasing social media platforms and products.
3. Hiring social media experts.
4. Hiring a 22-year-old who knows all about Facebook.

(See: Hype Cycle and Paul Saffo.)

Those, however, are things lots of associations, companies and non-profits currently are “doing about social media.” And like the adoption and hype cycle of almost all transitional technologies, we’ll soon be heading down into a “trough of disillusionment” with “social media” products, technology and services.

Before you start thinking I’m trolling, hear me out: All of those things can, and probably should be, components of a “social media marketing” strategy or program. But I think what’s going on is far bigger than marketing, or even strategies and programs — and certainly bigger than the term “social media.”

There are only 3 things people mean when they use the term social media:

1. The way people take control of their online identity.
2. The way people express themselves online.
3. The way people connect with one-another online.

Anything more about social media is, at best, an explanation of the different ways people can do those things. Or why they do those things. Or the technology enabling new and faster ways of doing those things. Or how those things are blowing up many of the institutions some of us hold onto dearly.

But if you take away the word “online,” social media is what people have done since the dawn of time: We are who we are. We express ourselves. We connect with others.

There’s really nothing new or different about social media — oh, except that online, these things can scale to levels that have the tendency to crush the status quo maintained by those who refuse to adopt them.

Yes, we also may confuse those things off-line and start believing we are what we say or we are who we’re connected to, but we all know the truth when we’re alone by ourselves.

Social media is not stuff. Social media is just you and me having a conversation — and then connecting in ways that are changing the world and every institution in it.

I buried the album cover

Via the BBC, I learned a few moments ago that today is the 40th anniversary of one of the most iconic photographs ever taken, Iain Macmillan’s shot of the Beatles crossing Abbey Road. Of course, we all know the photo because it became the famous album cover (and for some, because it played a part in one of the strangest urban legends of all time, the Paul is Dead conspiracy theory).


After hearing the story (yes, I actually listen to the BBC world news service streamed by my local public radio station) I used the new search to see how many photos have been tagged abbeyroad. The answer: 10,633. I’m sure that number will grow today, as there has been a parade at the “zebra crossing.”

As I looked at the album cover, of course I recalled my own copy of the album. I also thought about it and decided it’s likely the only album I’ve purchased in four different formats: Vinyl, 8-track, cassette and CD (I wish I’d hung onto all of them).


I then thought about album covers going, since 40 years ago, from something people saw displayed as a 12×12 inch printed artwork to something people see displayed as a 200×200 pixel thumbnail while playing a CD they’ve burned to iTunes (you still can’t actually purchase the Beatles catalog on iTunes).

While I love all this digital stuff, some things about it aren’t progress.

Bonus link: A webcam streams from the Abbey Road crossing 24/7. (via:

[The photo strip at the top of this post are some thumbnails I grabbed from a Flickr search of “interesting” photos tagged abbeyroad. There are many more interesting ones where those came from.]

Another Dave Delaney simple, great idea: Tool Talk


A big thanks to Dave Delaney, social media coordinator at Nashville-based Griffin Technology, who last night organized what I guess can be called the “beta version” of a new idea of his called Tool Talk.

In 2007, Dave started an informal monthly geek meet-up (eat-up?) here in Nashville called Geek Breakfast (there’s one tomorrow) that became the inspiration for similar gatherings for early-rising geeks in cities around the world. The monthly Geek Breakfasts here in Nashville now have about 60 people who attend each month. There are always different people, the breakfasts have no agenda but meeting other geeks — they’re just a time to get together with other people who speak geek.

Tool Talks are envisioned (as I perceive them) as a simple salon type gathering where a small group (eight was the limit Dave set last night and I think it was a perfect size) can spend a couple of hours talking about the tech tools they “live in.” As anyone knows, there are new web applications, websites, plug-ins, gadgets and utilities that appear every day. For different sub-sets of geeks (developers, tech marketers, the GTD obsessed, people who manage 20+Twitter accounts and dilettantes like me), there are special tools we live in each day, but we’re constantly thinking we’re missing something despite having RSS newsreaders that have been fine-tuned to find the “shiny new stuff.”

Last night, all of those who gathered were long-time bloggers and web developers of one type or another. In addition to Dave (@davedelaney) and me, last night’s talk included:

to “O’Neill” & “[meta]marketer”

Kate O’Neill ([meta]marketer, @kateo)

Chris Ennis (Function Interactive / Nashmash, @dotrage)

Mitch Canter (Studio Nashvegas, @studionashvegas)

Allison Groves (Sitening, / SheWrites, @allisongroves )

Chuck Bryant (Border Jump, @chuckbryant)

Eric Schuff (, @ericshuff)

Dave has a recording of our two-hour chat, complete with loud restaurant sounds. While I can’t imagine anyone listening to it, Dave’s post includes a list of all the “tools” each one of us mentioned. Some of the tools have been around a while, but others are still in invitation-only beta.

By being “open” (Dave envisions it as first come, first served) but limited, the Tool Talks are guaranteed to always attract a different, but motivated group. And by making them a “what I use” rather than “what I sell” or “what I’m working on” focus, the whole “pitch” dynamic is absent. If there are more than eight who want to attend, there’s nothing about the idea that can’t be cloned in many ways — brown-bag lunches, company lunch and learns, industry specific (i.e., music industry) Tool Talks.

The point is to gather up a small group to share what’s working for you and hearing what others are passionately using themselves.

What a great, simple idea.

I’m also extremely amazed that he was able to post notes from it afterwards.)