(Band sites, TV property sites, the worst site you’ve ever seen, sites you visit regularly – make sure you label each site – not just put up a link)

What are TV property websites for? Basically it’s all about audience.

  • Building new audiences
  • Engaging existing ones
  • Additional content means a different audience from trad TV
  • Younger, who want to interact with their media in new ways




USA, New Jersey, Couple sitting in living room, using laptop and cell phone

© Tetra Images / Getty Images

The death of TV as I knew it has already happened



But audiences remain.


TV content is released in other territories specifically for Internet consumption. This in turn makes people visit the channel/website for more clips and ultimately builds new audiences for online content and within territories either exclusively online or for both online and TV.


Over the years there has been a lot written and said about what makes a great website, and despite the development of new technologies the fundaments remain the same. The following attributes are key:

  1. Usability – this covers a whole raft of things from navigation to breadcrumbing to coherent design
  2. Functionality – does the site a) work and b) deliver the required functions concomitant with the remit?
  3. Accessibility – in some cases this a legal requirement
  4. Appearance
  5. Content
  6. Stickiness
  7. Findability – SEO

I’ve put USABILITY at the top. Why?

On the Web, usability is a necessary condition for survival. If a website is difficult to use, people leave. If the homepage fails to clearly state what a company offers and what users can do on the site, people leave. If users get lost on a website, they leave. If a website’s information is hard to read or doesn’t answer users’ key questions, they leave. Note a pattern here? Jakob Neilson

Usability elements include:

  • Simplicity: Clear navigation and good organisation of content is imperative.
  • Fast-loading pages: Lightweight v heavyweight.
  • Minimal scroll: This is particularly important on the first page.
  • Consistent layout: Branding, colour and repetition.
  • Prominent, logical navigation: Don’t make your visitors hunt for info/content.
  • Descriptive text: Usability tests show that long link text makes it much easier for visitors to find their way around a site. Descriptive links are favoured by Search Engines, too. Back links are important to give users a sense of direction and to keep them from feeling lost. Use a site map, and bread-crumbing, if necessary.
  • Cross-platform/browser compatibility/resolution: Test your site in the latest browsers.

Jakob Neilson has been in the usability business since the web began. He’s known as THE usability guru and has been studying human computer interaction for most of his professional life. Every major website will go through a long period of usability testing before it is released to the public to ensure that the way visitors move around the site is intuitive and simple, with no wasted clicks and the required traction to get the visitor buying or viewing or accessing the information as quickly and simply as possible (depending on the REMIT of the site).

And here it’s worth mentioning your site’s remit. WHAT IS IT FOR? Clients have often told me they want a website because everyone else has one. It’s a reason but shouldn’t be THE reason. In your groups you should be clear about the PURPOSE and the ETHOS of your site.

Let’s quickly look at NAVIGATION or when navigation goes wrong. There are obvious issues with error 404 (page not found) but impenetrable navigation makes people leave and look elsewhere.

Navigation isn’t just a feature of a web site, it is the web site, in the same way that the building, the shelves, and the cash registers are Sears. Without it, there’s no there there.
Steve Krug

Users of web documents don’t just look at information, they interact with it in novel ways that have no precedents in paper document design; therefore, web designers must be versed in the art and science of interface design. The graphic user interface (GUI) of a computer system comprises the interaction metaphors, images, and concepts used to convey function and meaning on the computer screen. It also includes the detailed visual characteristics of every component of the graphic interface and the functional sequence of interactions over time that produce the characteristic look and feel of web pages. Graphic design and visual “signature” graphics are not used simply to enliven web pages—graphics are integral to the user’s experience with your site. In interactive documents, graphic design cannot be separated from issues of interface design.

Web Style Guide

I’ve scavenged those two quotes from other sources – but I couldn’t have put it better myself! The main point is the seamless intersection in the GUI of form and function.


This includes many of the elements above but also refers to interactive content such as:

  1. Search
  2. E-commerce
  4. 3rd party widgets/apps
  5. Forums etc.


accessAn excellent overview of accessibility can be found on the BBC website. It’s not a prerequisite of your group sites that they be accessible – but it’s important that you know what it is. People will be using all kinds of devices to access your website and they will have a range of disabilities, perhaps be using a screenreader.


Colour. Graphics. Font. Look and feel. You should have considered all of these things in your initial branding exercise in T2 and also as you have developed the theme for your TV show. When developing the appearance of you site you should think about the following:

  1. Audience (demographic)
  2. Theme – how does your design represent the theme of your show? Compare at cbeebies to Dr WHO for example.
  3. Design elements extend to every part of your site from links to backgrounds, borders and headers – every part of your site should be coherent.
  4. Your brand – TV show logo, website livery & house style – if  you don’t have these then develop them.
  5. Too much choice – too many moving parts, over stimulation visually, aurally – all these things are off-putting to the majority of users. KISS (Keep it Simple Stupid) is an old design adage – but oft quoted for a reason.

fontsThe best designs (for information sites) are ones you hardly notice. Obviously designs that are  all about design have another thrust and the impetus is to showcase design on another level – but again the web designer must never prioritise form over function.

Compare the busy market-stall style of with the more educative BFI store. Both these sites are successful – the main difference of course is audience.

Let’s look at some of the content on your favourite sites.

What is stickiness and what makes something sticky

For corporates and companies that are competing in a crowded market place SEO is further up the list of priorities. For you it’s something you should know about – going forward – but not imperative for these sites.



The best way to address the web element of your hand in is to divide up the work into team roles. Just like your TV studio roles you should have defined roles on the team.

  1. Editor
  2. Sub-editor (or editorial assistant)
  3. Site architecture
  4. Graphic design
  5. Sticky content producer x2
  6. Video content producer x2
  7. Photography
  8. Copy writing x2
  9. Cat content development officer 😉

Your team needs to work together to come up with the initial designs (and this can take the longest) and site architecture, whilst also producing the copy and content.



Biggest web design mistakes 1995-2015

Contenders for Worst Website

Web Style Guide

Jakob Neilson Usability articles

Webby awards

7 Digital Sins

Game of Thrones

Breaking Bad


Good Morning Britain

An example from last year


The People Formerly Known as the Audience


In 2008 Clay Shirky published a book entitled Here Comes Everybody in which he articulated the idea that through the Internet and interactive forms of digital media EVERYONE (potentially) has a say. Discussions on what a ‘say’ actually is can wait till later… but let’s move on.

Shirky acknowledges that great changes happened in media before this point – with the advent of every new progression (or technological invention) huge upheavals and realignments of power occur; the printing press, photography, radio, film with sound, TV – they all had monumental impact. But as a contemporary media commentator (and a political one at that) Shirky proposes that the Internet has created the possibility of active participation and the erosion of traditional gatekeepers that was unimaginable before this point – and knocks all the other ‘realignments’ into cocked hats.

One person who did imagine this level of active participation was Prof Marshall McCluhan. He predicted digital interactive culture before the technologies we take for granted today, even existed. He was concerned with the role of the audience (among many things), in an era of pervasive digital media and he questioned what people wanted from media and what media, in turn, wanted from them.


In his article Television: The Timid Giant, McLuhan asserts that television, particularly, is a medium of high audience involvement. He said that the TV image requires a “convulsive sensuous participation that is profoundly kinetic and tactile” (p.335). Do you agree?

He takes an entirely different view of movies, however, stating that:

“The movie viewer is more disposed to be a passive consumer of actions, rather than a participant in reactions.” (p.341).

His reason for thinking that TV is more participatory than cinema is that he believed cinema audiences to be more concerned with the persona of the actors (stars) than the actual narrative. TV has a more narrative impact in our lives because we’re not so starstruck(!)

But the rub, I think, with McCluhan is when he talks about the types of interactions that occur within the Global Village – along with participation comes the erosion of privacy – and the subject of other lectures on this programme – so I won’t go into detail here.

Here Comes Everybody
But let’s take a closer look at the age of ‘Here Comes Everybody’ as it has consequences for all of you in this room as media producers & commentators, artists, businesspeople and human beings.

When I was a young(er) journalist working in online content production at the BBC, in around 2000, the big buzz-phrase was user generated content (UGC). How could we run huge local websites on a low budget with small teams of people? The answer: UGC! A large part of my job was to persuade audiences to identify, write/produce the content for regional magazine-style websites. Our job (and our title was Broadcast Journalist btw) was to collate, moderate, edit, format, direct (to a certain extent) and commission directly from the community.

After initial scepticism from journalist colleagues we found that not only did people in the community want to produce content for free, but once they started they didn’t want to stop. Why? What was prompting this generosity – with people basically doing the job of several journalists – but unpaid?

  • Was it thegood name (kudos) of theBBC that swayed them?
  • Was it passion for their subject?

Clay Shirky coined the phrase (and wrote a book of the same name) Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected – to describe the trillion hours of time that human adults have to spare and how they can, and want to use it in a pointed way for the social good. It makes them feel good, and needed. Here’s Clay:

Now let’s move on to Michael Wesch. He’s professor of digital anthropolgy at Kansas State University and responsible for the famous viral The Machine is Using Us (2006). 2006 seems a long way in the past now but at the time his video was radicalHis preoccupation is with new ways of being through digital media and new participatory cultures. These participatory cultures don’t (on face value) appear as worthy as the things Shirky is discussing. Where Shirky is looking at people and politics and contribution and generosity, Wesch examines the unadulterated fun of participation. Of course ‘fun’ is only scratching the surface. Human desire (or compulsion) to do things together – to be social – seems more like a biological imperative – but the migration of this imperative into a digital form had never been seen before and quite rightly has formed the basis of many media studies and research papers. Here’s the viral:

Watch it in your own time if you haven’t seen it already. But Wesch is also concerned with how the Internet has allowed participation to become a dominant – if not THE dominant cultural form. And although Wesch isn’t so preoccupied with the political forms of participation that Shirky is concerned with  – Shirky has very interesting things to say about governments’ interactions with citizens and the authenticity of political participation in the 21st Century – Wesch’s examination of participation is more anthropological and as such is uncovering the new rites and rituals of 21st Century human existence. His research area is called Digital Ethnography.

Past Participatory
In the past participation was something you did in real life, with real friends (made of flesh). It was football, or board games or, at its most fantastical, it was games of make-believe in the street with proper children. Now all of that has the possibility at least of being migrated online. We now play cards with our friends online. We play fantasy games with strangers online. We play Scrabble online. We even mediate our experiences when we are with friends via our handheld devices (some of the time). And any of you who attended my M94MC lecture on virtual reality (see below) will have seen how technology is advancing in terms of purely digital interactions with avatars and immersive spaces/games.

But despite all the sensationalism about erosion of community and the scaremongering about losing touch with the real physical environment Wesch celebrates the new possibilities and communities that digital media affords. This lecture by Wesch -to the Library of Congress in 2008 – concentrates on User Generated Content (read I Tube, You Tube, Everybody Tubes (Moon et al. 2007)) and participatory culture and Wesch, evidently, sees it as a new, and fascinating, cultural form. We’ll watch a few mins or so – but please watch it all in your own time.

For you, as MA students there are various and competing strands to these developments.

Participatory digital media – +ve

  1. the internet/social media allows you to communicate directly with peers
  2. ideas can be shared/developed
  3. you can create a professional profile and brand your practice so that creating connections with communities of practice around the world is a click (or two) away
  4. you can receive feedback on your work even if you don’t have an established ‘name’
  5. creating and maintaining a profile is feasible and simple using dedicated sites
  6. you can create your own social networks using free tools such as Ning

Participatory digital media – -ve

  1. your ideas can be appropriated
  2. everyone can get online and ‘present’ themselves as professional
  3. It’s difficult to establish the truth
  4. Hoaxes are commonplace
  5. Here comes everybody!

The above lists present opportunities and issues especially for journalists (citizen journalism has eroded the role of traditional gatekeepers). Artists now find themselves competing in an unscrupulous digital marketplace. They have to stand out. Audiences are increasingly having to identify the authentic from the inauthentic. This blurring of real and virtual, authentic and inauthentic is not constrained to the artefacts themselves (e.g it’s often difficult to tell advertising from other forms of media content). But individual artists can exploit this blurring too – this grey area. How many hoaxes have you believed in the last year – only to discover it’s a set-up – or an ad campaign?

UK singer Jessie J for example, had a huge viral boost with her singing-to- camera-undiscovered-talent style YouTube video when in fact she already had a recording contract and an international profile. Only later was she tipped by pundits as ‘the next big thing’.

Meanwhile stars ‘talk’ to their fans via their Facebook/Twitter feeds and post comments and personal videos on their websites and blogs giving the impression of intimacy and immediacy when in fact the gulf between them and their fans is as wide as ever. Notice how many people celebs are following!

Nevertheless companies are vaulting onto the bandwagon – talking to their customers, interacting with them in ways never seen before. There are now huge online ad spends (rather than the traditional TV/press) in an attempt to create content that ‘goes global’ sometimes by making things that appear amateur and/or leftfield.

The ad below however is very slick – and an interesting example of what can happen when it works. Old Spice sales increased by 168% after The Man Your Man Could Smell Like, and the advertising budget they had earmarked to promote the video was reinvested because you, me and uncle Tom Cobley all sent the video round for them.

We participated in advertising the product rather than being passive consumers of the advert.

But as per the Wesch examples there are hundreds of reworked versions of the Old Spice ad online too, simply adding to the company’s profile. Here’s just one of them:

The audience becomes a Prosumer – consuming, rediting, regurgitating and actively disseminating content. Now I know you have a dedicated lecture in the series that covers prosumption so I’ll leave the discussion of that there for the moment.

Crowdsourcing – people formerly known as ‘The Audience’

In James Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds (2005) the opening anecdote details Francis Galton‘s (cousin of Darwin and famous polymath) surprise that, when their individual guesses were averaged, the crowd at a country fair managed to accurately guess the weight of an ox. Not such a fabulous feat you might say, but Surowiecki offers example after example of how when human resources (and intellect) are pooled then the results are greater than the sum of the parts. I’m sure you can think of the antithesis of this rather optimistic stance but plenty of people are now attempting to capitalise on this idea, since the ability to recruit and utilise “The Crowd” is possible thanks to technology.

Hence, some of the most exciting projects (creative and scientific) are in crowdsourcing. Whether we like it or not we are all contributing (and participating in) the creation of the Giant Global Graph – an expression coined by the inventor of the WWW – Mr Tim Berners-Lee. We’re being ‘crowdsourced’ by default.

Here’s how we’re doing it:

  • Facebook or Twitter update
  • Online comments (blogs or retail)
  • Amazon reviews/ratings
  • Forum posts
  • Youtube uploads
  • Foursquare checkins
  • Quora questions/answers
  • Flickr (Picassa, Photobucket) uploads
  • Blog posts

With the new semantic technologies now underpinning many web pages and DPI (Deep Packet Inspection) software running in the background we are feeding the databases of the world at a rate of knots that’s almost incomprehensible. And I haven’t even mentioned games yet!

These creative crowdsourced projects (below) don’t even begin to touch some of the bold ways in which our participation is being harnessed (often without our knowledge) to address huge tasks – for free. Let’s look at some of the fun stuff first.

Transmedia projects

Gamification – participation by the back door?

But there are, as I mentioned, some other participatory technologies in place where we are contributing, without our knowledge to various massive projects. Here’s Louis Von Ahn:

What are the implications of this kind of participation? Could we be participating in things we don’t necessarily agree with? Well yes, I guess we could. The digitisation of books, for example, is a marvellous idea, but Google have been under fire for a number of years now for digitising books that remain in copyright. Nevertheless, Von Ahn’s ambition is thrilling to me – and offers (if there’s transparency – as with the DuoLingo project) opportunities to address huge tasks that could never have been attempted before.

Finally – I’ve put some links to crowdsourced projects on Moodle – and if there’s time we’ll listen to Seth Priebatsch talking about building a game layer on top of the world! Our participation is, quite literally, building a new order.


McLuhan, Marshall (1964). “Television: The Timid Giant”. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Shirky, Clay (2009). Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. Penguin

Shirky, Clay (2011). Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a connected Age: Penguin

Surowiecki, James (2004). The Wisdom of Crowds. Abacus

Construction of Social

If someone had told me fifteen or even ten years ago that I would spend most of my time reading/scanning information and content created by non-professional media producers as a matter of daily urgency – watching my feed fill with the noise of thousands of individuals (some of them I know, some of them I don’t) … I would have laughed in your face.

Consider these things

  • The traditional media were edited, checked, chosen, selected.
  • Social media is unedited, instant, largely unmoderated.
  • It didn’t take long for social media to be hijacked by the old gatekeepers dressing themselves up as ‘users’ or contributors to the informal conversations we believe to be social.

This latter point is a great confidence trick – although as the old order tries to muscle back in, people learn to detect the marketing and unravel friends from companies, interest from advertising, recommendation from flagrant sponsorship. But it’s subtle – and we must be forever vigilant!

In groups, I’d like you think of examples of where traditional media hijacks social. Think about the implications.

  • Is it deceitful when corporates use social media?
  • How can we tell if a story is USG or corporate?
  • Does it matter?

Social Media is big news and there are whole subsets of things to talk about re: the adoption of social media by the big ad agencies – the use of celebrity endorsements and ‘hub’ individuals who can be recruited to put your name about. This type of advertising works. In fact the big stories this year have been about:

In this lecture I want to flag up the web technologies (later) that underpin this social revolution, the theories that have been augmented by its coming into being and the social and ethnographic impact it has made on all our lives.

Somewhere in the 1960s and 1970s a sea change took place – not in simply a technological advance but a cultural one. An attitude took hold that drove change. Along with protest and punk the mistrust of society’s traditional gatekeepers, came computer nerds. The centre of gravity of the media as we know it began to shift.

Facebook is eleven years old . Since Facebook was launched in the US in 2004 (and globally in 2006) there has been a proliferation of online social networking sites around the globe. The fact that these sites are so pervasive is what commentators find concerning and sensational.

What underpins our insatiable hunger for digital social interaction? And how did social media emerge as the world’s media of choice? First, let’s have a brief look into the past. Despite Facebook’s relative youth, social networking is almost as old as the Internet.


The Early Years: The nerds get social
bbsIn the 1970s BBSes, short for Bulletin Board System, were the only online meeting places. Users communicated via a central system where they could download files or games and post messages to other users. Accessed over telephone lines BBSes were run by enthusiasts who nurtured interest-specific topics – almost always technology-related. Long distance calling rates meant that many Bulletin Boards were local – and this lead to local gatherings of people interested in the same things. Hence, in those early years, social networking augmented local, real-life interactions. However, some services linked numerous BBSes together into worldwide computer networks.

And here’s how long it took to log in!

compuserveCompuServe also began life in the 1970s as a business-oriented communication platform that expanded into the public domain in the late 1980s and allowed members to share files and access news and events. It also offered true interaction via a newfangled technology dubbed “e-mail”. You could also join any of CompuServe’s thousands of discussion forums which paved the way for the modern social networking sites we know today.

Email remains one of the most popular social networking services.

AOL (America Online) was, and is, a bunch of member-created communities, complete with searchable “Member Profiles” – the precursor to the profiling system we see today. By the mid-1990s the real Internet was catching up. Yahoo set up shop and Amazon began selling books – social networking was about to move into the mainstream.

The teenage years:
FriendsReunited460 in the US and Friends Reunited in the UK were the first social networking successes. Although users could not create profiles, they could locate long-lost school friends and teachers.

However the same success didn’t arrive for which came online in 1997. It was one of the very first to allow its users to ‘create profiles, invite friends, organize groups, and surf other user profiles’ but it encouraged members to bring more people into the fold – and this “encouragement” proved unpopular. The site folded after the turn of the millennium (although a new version sprung up briefly but was offline at the time of writing).

The failure of the original sixdegrees seems to suggest that network members want to be left to make their own connections rather than be pushed in to forging connections…  It also chimes with another lecture about networks and network theory and the way that fault-tolerant networks are created by a natural process. Hubs and nodes form online, just as they do in nature.

Back to the history. Other sites for niche social network markets include:

All three have survived to this day. I’m sure you can think of many others.

So let’s take stock for a second – up until the adult years social networking entrepreneurs realised that users wanted:

  1. To connect with real-life friends that they were still in touch with or that they had lost contact with.
  2. To make new friends who had similar interests
  3. To be able to connect with whomever they chose – and not to be forced into connections they didn’t want
  4. To be able to customise their profile – their way of presenting themselves to the world
  5. To be able to discuss – in real time. To have conversations.

Friendster – 2002 used a ‘degree of separation’ concept and refined it to a concept called Circle of Friends where pathways connecting two people are displayed. A year later – 2003, LinkedIn took a more serious approach – a networking resource for businesspeople looking to connect with other professionals. LinkedIn has more than 200 million members today.

MySpace, also launched in 2003 – (90 million members). As of February 2013, Myspace was ranked 220 by total web traffic, and 133 in the United States.  MySpace has recently had a total makeover! But although MySpace remains a favourite – mainly with musicians – it is Facebook that dominates the global social networking market. Launched in 2004 as a Harvard-only site it remained this way for two years before opening to the general public in 2006. By that time, Facebook was already big business, with tens of millions of dollars already invested.

Now Facebook has more than 1 billion active users who access the site on a variety of devices – a huge portion of which is mobile traffic. Here’s a little history that features the man himself…

Midlife crisis?
We’ve constructed our profiles. We’ve created the narrative of our lives. We’ve added all those life events and likes and friends and we’ve contacted the people we lost touch with all those years ago – and realised why our friendships lapsed – because they were boring, or weird, or just not into the same things we were. Now what? Social networking is having a mid-life crisis. There’s no end to the drivel on Twitter and Facebook, basically, is a nice way to stay in touch with friends in far flung places but day to day it’s a handful of people updating their status because they’re depressed or showing off. Here’s a collection of sites taking social networking to a new level…

  • Vinepeek – an online ‘peepshow’ of Vines that play randomly in the browser window.

Nathan Jurgenson wrote an interesting response to his first Vine experience here. He said:

Vine trains the eye to see the world as differently documentable. It asks us to see the world as potential quick cuts stitched together. By placing new limits on video (only six seconds) but also providing new abilities (easily start/stop the recording), Vine almost begs new, creative applications. . . This is the kind of stuff that got postmodern theorists out of bed in the 1980′s: the implosion, the dromology, the disembedding and distanciation. The rise of the quick-cut music video itself being placed in random rotation on MTV seemed new, not just modern, but something “post.”

  • – There’s not a lot to say about this – except that if Vinepeek is ‘post-social’ then  MakeLovenotPorn is decidedly retrograde (but dressed up as libertarianism). (NOTE: This is a ‘social porn’ site.)
  • Snatchly – same same but different. (NOTE: This is a ‘social porn’ site.)
  • Chatroulette – randomly connect with users around the world. (Note: There is a LOT of nudity on this service).
  • Instagram – image sharing
  • Flickr – image sharing
  • Snapchat – image sharing
  • Deviantart – art image sharing

Interesting to note that images, rather than text or sound, are the preferred mode of engagement. What’s interesting is that in midlife social networking could be construed as trying to recreate those heady early years of excitement and belonging.


Krasnova et al (2009)

Krasnova et al (2008)

Krasnova (along with others) has undertaken many studies on Facebook and the online social networking phenomenon. In “Envy on Facebook: A Hidden Threat to Users’ Life Satisfaction” (Krasnova et al, 2013) the researchers set out to discover how individuals responded to others’ status updates since users now share a ‘whopping’ 30 billion pieces of content each month:

…we demonstrate that passive following exacerbates envy feelings, which decrease life satisfaction. From a provider’s perspective, our findings signal that users frequently perceive Facebook as a stressful environment, which may, in the long-run, endanger platform sustainability.

Remember Marshall McLuhan prophesying that the Global Village (once the media infrastructure was in place) would be as large as the planet but as claustrophobic as the village post-office…

Back to the question – why we connect:

  1. We’re interested in the lives of our peers
  2. Social comparison
  3. Staying in touch
  4. Status envy (literally)
  5. Identity
  6. Fun
  7. A sense of belonging

Snapchat and Instagram are two of the most popular services (apps) with the 12-23 demographic. Facebook is becoming a service for the older generation. So what are these providing the young that they aren’t getting from the Facebook model?

Different services appeal to different types of people/communities.

Social media are incontrovertible evidence of the triumph of  user generated content UGC. Without the users the media are nothing. Imagine an empty Facebook or a Twitter feed. Empty blogs and Youtube channels. The whole thing relies on the constant updating of statuses, uploading of videos and images and the making of connections (or at least telling the service how and why you are connected to this or that person (not Twitter so much but blogs/FB etc.) The service asks ‘who is this person and what is their relationship to you?’ and invariably we tell it. Using algorithms the service can then predict that you might be connected to someone else and suggest further connections. Facebook does this successfully.

The languages specifically designed for data connection (making the Giant Global Graph as Tim Berners-Lee calls it) are now pervasive – Resource Description Framework (RDF) and Extensible Markup Language (XML) are already embedded in many web pages. In fact they’re embedded in all CMS systems (e.g. WordPress).

Where HTML describes documents and the links between them, RDFOWL, and XML can describe arbitrary things such as people, meetings, organisations, things or events. This means that the computer can DECIDE what you want based on your previous choices and activity.


496px-Carl_von_LinnéThe man on the left is Carl Linnaeus. He is known as the father of modern taxonomy. Taxonomy is the discipline of:

“defining groups of biological organisms on the basis of shared characteristics and giving names to those groups.”

According to historians it is taxonomy (not the other thing) that has been called the ‘world’s oldest profession’! It’s self-evident that there is a need to group, name and classify plants, animals, objects etc. in order that hard-won knowledge can be passed on from generation to generation. Before the advent of computers it was imperative that societies (or organisations) developed a systematized process of taxonomy. Otherwise confusion would reign. But Web 2.0 changed all that. People could choose their own tags. Taxonomy, and ontologies – became personal.

Tagging and folksonomies began to underpin the way we fed (and continue to feed)  the social media. Tagging augments the networking experience in several ways.

It is the key participation method by which users can enrich information in ALL Web 2.0 applications – not just social networks. Tags, and their mass visual representation (tag lists or tag clouds) are effective tools that enhance the look and feel of an interface by visualising the data within.

Rashmi Sinha’s – A Cognitive Analysis of Tagging (2005) explains that it’s:

the lower cognitive cost of tagging that makes it popular

Which basically means that it’s simple to create your own ontologies. Previously the rather tedious opposite of “higher cognitive cost techniques” such as categorisation, forced the user to reduce or pick just one bin in which they place a piece of information.

For example – have you ever filled in a form where you have to tick a box and none of them seem to apply to you – but you must choose? With tagging you never have to choose from predefined categories. YOU create your own categories and define your own terms. Web 2.0 is user-centred.

Because of this, Sinha says, there is a reduction in “post-activation analysis paralysis”. In simple terms this means the fear of making the wrong decision is reduced when using an open-ended tagging process. Sinha concludes that tagging is ultimately a success because “it taps into cognitive processes without adding much cognitive cost.”

Personally I don’t buy the whole ‘fear of making the wrong decision’ thing. I think tagging is a success simply because the user can create his/her own taxonomy. Democratisation of taxonomy – not just the information being delivered but the way it is being categorised.

Similarly the web-based mark-up language, XML has so much power (and has been incorporated into once static pages to make them more dynamic) because XML tags can be written that have a direct meaning to the user – so social tags work in the same way. We can ascribe our own meaning to the content we are uploading that directly feeds into our peer group social network and ultimately our community, and users feel they feel they own the technology. If you want to read up on tags and ontology then chapter six in Unleashing Web 2.0 is for you. (It’s available online in the library resources).

All this hints at something very special about tagging – something that suggests there is in fact some form of wisdom in crowds.

Collective tagging creates folksonomiesFolksonomies are groups with similar interests who practice informal, collaborative tagging using freely chosen words. So basically if we all agree to use a hashtag to stay in touch – or perhaps we (as a group) agree to tag all images of members of the group with the tag MA-Legends. It’s as simple as that. But from these informal collaborations folksonomies (social media groups) emerge. Examples are Flickr, Delicious, Reddit etc. Basically they are social media communities.

The bottom line is that Web 2.0 apps generally seem to benefit by providing tagging as a user participation and enrichment mechanism. This is one of the central elements of Web 2.0 – value is added continuously through participation and enhances the experience and helps to evolve the ‘machine’ itself – this tagging is evident in all manner of social networking, video and photosharing sites as well as retail sites/blogs/forums etc.

There’s nothing so interesting (to me anyway) as other people’s tag clouds. and soon you will be checking people’s tag lists/clouds in or on their blogs to get inspiration or just to discover great Web finds.

For a good example of tags, see Flickr’s tag page to see their tag cloud of the 150 most popular picture tags.

I’ve embedded an interesting set of slides in case you want to look into tagging and folksonomies further.

The news feed (which was not a feature of FB when it was originally launched) is arguably the most compelling feature of Facebook – the fact that without visiting member profiles you can see on your home page what your ‘friends’ are doing without even having to digitally interact with them is the secret of its success and one that has been taken up in the noughties by another online success story – Twitter.

The newsfeed generation is parodied in several funny online iterations – Fake Facebook profiles, Facebook songs, Facebook stalking and hacking – all these sideways looks at how we use or regale social networks are evidence of the celebration and unease we feel about these sites in equal measure.



Are we really networking in a social sense, or are we just hiding behind our keyboards and building lists of virtual friends rather than getting out there in the real world?

Twitter has come under criticism for taking the “staying in touch” thing too far. Are we really that interested in the excruciating minutiae of everyone’s day?

Twitter clone Jaiku, didn’t have the back-end muscle and after buying the service in 2007 Google quickly cut support. The interesting upshot is the way the community responded to losing their jaiks (for jaiks read tweets). If we begin to analyse the amount of data, interactions, images and connections that we are entrusting to these nascent companies it begins to make sense that people wanted to salvage and archive what jaiks they could while they still had access to the database. It’s worth considering what you have on FB and Twitter and Delicious and Flickr. How would you feel if you lost that data?

Narratives in the post-social age

Earlier I mentioned narratives. Perhaps one of the most innovative uses of the social media for me in the emergence of transmedia narratives and social media pre-seeding. But this is probably the stuff of another lecture altogether.

Will other social networks follow Jaiku down the pan? Inevitably.

Will social networks return to subject specific services set up by users (similar to the old BBS systems but quicker) with sites like Ning?

Will social networking change with advent of new technologies such as Glass or Vuzix?



Vossen, Gottfried, Hagemann, Stephan (2007): Unleashing Web 2.0: From Concepts to Creativity, pp:58-68 pp: 328-334 Morgan Kaufmann

Hanna Krasnova, Thomas Hildebrand, Oliver Günther, Alexander Kovrigin, Aneta Nowobilska: Why Participate in an Online Social Network? An Empirical Analysis. ECIS 2008: 2124-2135

Nickson, Christopher (2009): The History of Social Networking

Sinha, Rashmi (2005): A Cognitive Analysis of Tagging