Category Archives: web2.0

Who clicks on ads? (Revisited with data)

Two months ago, I ruffled some feathers with a post called Who clicks on ads? And what might this mean? Lacking any good public research, I pointed to a blog post by an AOL Global Advertising Strategy guy talking about research they did on AOL ad clickers. The report was by no means generalizable to all ad clickers, but it made a significant point: ad clickers are not representative of the population at large. Still, there were folks that were annoyed that I wasn’t pointing to public data, especially when I continued on to make my own hypotheses about who these heavy clickers are.

This week, in a study called “Natural Born Clickers,” Starcom USA, Tacoda, and comScore found that “the 6% of the online population accounting for most of the click-throughs skews toward male Internet users ages 25 to 44 with household income under $40,000.” [see news brief; anyone have the full report?] “The study also found that their heavy clicking did not reflect high spending levels offline. They were also more likely to visit auction, gambling and career sites. The findings suggest that high click-through rates don’t necessarily boost branding campaigns.” In other words, “the click is dead.”

This study finds that the age and gender of heavy clickers differs from what the AOL report found. (This probably says more about AOL users than anything else.) Yet, their findings also support (but do not confirm) a portion of my initial hypothesis that heavy clickers are:

  • More representative of lower income households than the average user.
  • Less educated than the average user (or from less-educated environments in the case of minors).
  • More likely to live outside of the major metro regions.
  • More likely to be using SNSs to meet new people than the average user (who is more likely to be using SNSs to maintain connections).

Folks tend not to like to hear that heavy clickers skew towards lower income levels, but I still believe this to be true. (For the record, 2006 median U.S. household income was $48,201.) Also, I should note that the population who uses SNSs to meet new people most likely skew male and 25-44, although not exclusively.

Hitwise also came out with new data this week: Yahoo search draws a younger audience, but Google users are more likely to spend more online. What I find particularly intriguing about their report is this graph:

Now, I don’t know what all of these labels mean, but terms like “Affluent Suburbia” and “Upscale America” lead me to believe that the Hitwise bubbles are saying that people who spend lots of money offline are also the most likely to spend more than $500 offline.

Now, if you put these two reports together, you get a funny image of what’s going on. Wealthier users are more likely to spend money online, but they are less likely to click on ads. Poorer users are more likely to click on ads, but not likely to spend money online except in a few verticals. Wouldn’t this then mean that Google is more likely to get the eyeballs of those likely to spend money, but statistically less likely to make money off of their clicks? This would seem to conflict with the TechCrunch post that suggests that the Hitwise data proves why Yahoo is in deep doo-doo. Given that both Yahoo and Google search generate revenue through click-throughs and not impressions, wouldn’t these two reports conflict with TechCrunch’s assessment?

just because we can, doesn’t mean we should

Learning to moderate desires and balance consequences is a sign of maturity. I could eat only chocolate for all of my meals, but it doesn’t mean that I should. If I choose to do so anyhow, I might be forced to face consequences that I will not like. “Just because I can doesn’t mean I should” is a decision dilemma and it doesn’t just apply to personal decisions. On a nation-state level, think about the cold war. Just because we could nuke Russia doesn’t mean that we should’ve. But, just like with most selfish children, our nation-state thought that it would be infinitely fun to sit on the edge of that decision regardless of the external stress that it caused. We managed to grow up and grow out of that stage (although I would argue that our current leadership regressed us back to infancy).

I am worried about the tech industry rhetoric around exposing user data and connections. This is another case of a decision dilemma concerning capability and responsibility. I said this ages ago wrt Facebook’s News Feed, but it is once again relevant with Google’s Social Graph API announcement. In both cases, the sentiment is that this is already public data and the service is only making access easier and more efficient for the end user. I totally get where Mark and Brad are coming at with this. I deeply respect both of them, but I also think that they live in a land of privilege where the consequences that they face when being exposed are relatively minor. In other words, they can eat meals of only chocolate because they aren’t diabetic.

Tim O’Reilly argues that social graph visibility is akin to pain reflex. Like many in the tech industry, he argues that we have a moral responsibility to eliminate “security by obscurity” so that people aren’t shocked when they are suddenly exposed. He thinks that forcing people to be exposed is a step in the right direction. He draws a parallel to illness, suggesting that people will develop antibodies to handle the consequences. I respectfully disagree. Or rather, I think that this is a valid argument to make from the POV of the extremely healthy (a.k.a. privileged). As someone who is not so “healthy,” I’m not jumping up and down at the idea of being in the camp who dies because the healthy think that infecting society with viruses to see who survives is a good idea. I’m also not so stoked to prepare for a situation where a huge chunk of society are chronically ill because of these experiments. What really bothers me is that the geeks get to make the decisions without any perspective from those who will be marginalized in the process.

Being socially exposed is AOK when you hold a lot of privilege, when people cannot hold meaningful power over you, or when you can route around such efforts. Such is the life of most of the tech geeks living in Silicon Valley. But I spend all of my time with teenagers, one of the most vulnerable populations because of their lack of agency (let alone rights). Teens are notorious for self-exposure, but they want to do so in a controlled fashion. Self-exposure is critical for the coming of age process – it’s how we get a sense of who we are, how others perceive us, and how we fit into the world. We exposure during that time period in order to understand where the edges are. But we don’t expose to be put at true risk. Forced exposure puts this population at a much greater risk, if only because their content is always taken out of context. Failure to expose them is not a matter of security through obscurity… it’s about only being visible in context.

As social beings, we are constantly exposing ourselves to the public eye. We go to restaurants, get on public transport, wander around shopping centers, etc. One of the costs of fame is that celebrities can no longer participate in this way. The odd thing about forced exposure is that it creates a scenario where everyone is a potential celebrity, forced into approaching every public interaction with the imagined costs of all future interpretations of that ephemeral situation. This is not just a matter of illegal acts, but even minor embarrassing ones. Both have psychological costs. Celebrities become hermits to cope (and when they break… well, we’ve all seen Britney). Do we really want the entire society to become hermits to cope with exposure? Hell, we’re doing that with our anti-terrorist rhetoric and I think it’s fucking up an entire generation.

Of course, teens are only one of the populations that such exposure will effect. Think about whistle blowers, women or queer folk in repressive societies, journalists, etc. The privileged often argue that society will be changed if all of those oppressed are suddenly visible. Personally, I don’t think that risking people’s lives is a good way to test this philosophy. There’s a lot to be said for being “below the radar” when you’re a marginalized person wanting to make change. Activists in repressive regimes always network below the radar before trying to go public en masse. I’m not looking forward to a world where their networking activities are exposed before they reach critical mass. Social technologies are super good for activists, but not if activists are going to constantly be exposed and have to figure out how to route around the innovators as well as the governments they are seeking to challenge.

Ad-hoc exposure is not the same as a vaccine. Sure, a vaccine is a type of exposure, but a very systematically controlled one. No one in their right mind would decide to expose all of society to a virus just to see who would survive. Why do we think that’s OK when it comes to untested social vaccines?

Just because people can profile, stereotype, and label people doesn’t mean that they should. Just because people can surveil those around them doesn’t mean that they should. Just because parents can stalk their children doesn’t mean that they should. So why on earth do we believe that just because technology can expose people means that it should?

On a side note, I can’t help but think about the laws around racial discrimination and hiring. The law basically says that just because you can profile people (since race is mostly written on the body) doesn’t mean you should. I can’t help but wonder if we need a legal intervention in other areas now that technology is taking us down a dangerous ‘can’ direction.

Pew on teen social media practices (with interesting bits on class)

While I was off struggling with Leopard and pants, Pew put out another great report: Teens and Social Media. This report fleshes out what I noticed earlier – teens are much more protective of the content they post online than adults are. Yet, this report is sooo much more than that. Here are some of the new findings to whet your appetite:

  • Digital images – stills and videos – have a big role in teen life. Posting them often starts a virtual conversation. Most teens receive some feedback on the content they post online.
  • Email continues to lose its luster among teens as texting, instant messaging, and social networking sites facilitate more frequent contact with friends.
  • More older girls than boys create and contribute to websites.
  • Girls have fueled the growth of the teen blogosphere.
  • Teens from lower-income and single-parent households are more likely to blog.
  • Teens who are most active online, including bloggers, are also highly active offline.
  • Most teens restrict access to their posted photos – at least some of the time. Girls are more restrictive photo posters.
  • Content creators are not devoting their lives exclusively to virtual participation. They are just as likely as other teens to engage in most offline activities and more likely to have jobs.
  • African American teens are more likely to look for college information online.
  • Girls are more likely than boys to look up health, dieting, or fitness information on the Web.
  • The number of teens who report instant message use has dropped since 2004.
  • Visiting a chatroom has declined significantly in popularity since 2000.
  • Fewer teens are buying products online.
  • Wealthy teens are more likely to engage in multimedia Web activities.

Note: The bits on social network sites in the report are using data collected in late 2005/early 2006. Much of those findings were reported in an earlier Pew Report. I strongly believe that SNS use is up since then and that 55% is extremely low.

The whole report is extremely interesting (and I strongly encourage you to read it), but I want to take a moment to talk about the two statements that I bolded in the list above. What Pew’s data shows is that online participation correlates with offline participation. They are not able to show causality (and they do not try to claim that they can), but such a correlation still contradicts the ever-present myth that online activities cause a decline in offline activities. Of course, don’t misread this correlation in the opposite direction either. In other words, you cannot say that if you get a group of teens involved online, they will also get involved offline. Meshing these findings with my own qualitative observations, I have a sneaking suspicion that what Pew’s data is pointing to is that the hyper-motivated and/or overly scheduled teens from middle/upper class communities are extremely engaged offline and use online technologies to socialize with their friends in the interstitial times and that this cohort’s content creation is primarily to support friendships rather than create for creation sake. This also makes sense because teens who have more free time tend to have less restrictions and tend to prefer offline encounters with friends to online ones.

I wasn’t surprised by most of their findings, but one of them did make me raise my eyebrows: Teens from lower-income are more likely to blog. Because of how Pew collects data, it cannot answer the question “why?” when it finds such correlations, but I figured that my qualitative data might provide some insight and so I went back through my data. When asked about blogging, most of my MySpace-dominant users would immediately talk about the blogs that they kept on MySpace while my Facebook-dominant teens would talk about how Xanga was “so middle school” and that “everyone stopped” because “it just felt really weird writing about my day to people that I didn’t even care about.” And then it clicked. As I pointed out last summer and Eszter saw in her survey, the MySpace/Facebook split is correlated with socio-economic status. Because MySpace supports blogging and Facebook does not and because many of the teens who were once on Xanga are now using one of the SNSs, it makes sense that teens from lower-income households are more likely to blog now. They are blogging on MySpace. Now, that outta be interesting when these kids hit college where blogging is used as an educational tool.

“Information Access in a Networked World”

Last month, I participated on a panel at Pearson Publishing along with three others from MacArthur’s digital learning initiatives. I gave a talk there about the future of information access and I wanted to make the crib available for all who might find it of interest:

“Information Access in a Networked World”

In the talk, I outline three mechanisms of information access: push, pull, and osmosis. I then talk about how teens are engaging with information through these different processes, touching on educational learning, politics, Wikipedia, and social currency. I have a feeling folks might find it interesting, especially the educator and policy maker and parent types. Oh, and of course the information access people. (Oh, and embedded in there is a sneak preview of one of my upcoming projects re: Wikipedia.)

my role in a marketer’s dream

This morning, I spoke on a panel at the Retail Industry Leaders Association. The day before, a guy from Unilever gave a presentation on what happens when users take up your content and spread it all across the web. He was invited to be on the panel at the last moment because of a cancellation and because his presentation was so well received wrt Web 2.0. Right before we go on, I’m informed that the guy from Unilever was talking about the Dove Evolution campaign that was spread all over YouTube.

This is the moment where I went white.

Y’see… I played a role in that. I saw the Dove Evolution ad and wanted it to be spread around, especially to the anti-violence against women folks that I was connected to through V-Day and the teens who I was talking with. I was pissed off that it wasn’t on YouTube or in any embeddable format (at the time it wasn’t findable, but since, it appears as though people did post it before me). I knew it needed to be embeddable to be spreadable. So, with the help of some tech-savvy friends, I scraped the Flash video from the Unilever site and uploaded it to YouTube. And then I posted it to MySpace. And then I posted it to other video sharing sites. And then I sent it to a bunch of friends. And then I blogged about it. I knew it was interesting and spreadable and wanted it to reach certain audiences. So I scraped and uploaded and blogged. And I gave copies of the scraped version to others to upload in case someone tried to take it down.

I wasn’t the sole contributor to its proliferation on the web. Other versions had more views and bigger blogs posted links to various versions. Every few months, I would get a letter from someone asking if they could use the video for this that or the other. Lately, people had been writing to me as though I was the producer of that commercial and I always responded that I was not. Collectively, this ad was viewed as important and because of this, various folks got involved in spreading it. Myself included. Beyond that, I didn’t think about it.

It seems as though this “phenomenon” was a big deal to Unilever, an event that made them realize the power of Web2.0 and spreadable content. While I had been worrying about C&Ds as a result of reposting it, they were struck speechless by the spread and were all in favor of it. In other words, they were doing exactly what a company should be doing when something they put out there becomes a user phenomenon. And, somehow, I was doing exactly what a good “fan” should do, even though I had never thought of it that way. I tend not to analyze my own habits, but sure enough, I was helping fulfill a marketer’s dream. Only it never dawned on me cuz I was busy observing others’ activities. Oh, the irony.

For the record: I do not go to UCLA…. or to CalTech

In trying to layout arguments for educators about why Wikipedia is exceedingly important, I often have to hold my breathe when it comes to the policies and dynamics that really get my goat. I try to avoid my own Wikipedia entry because it makes me want to pull my hair out. It’s been made very clear to me that I’m not allowed to be an expert on myself, but oh do I get annoyed when people use that as my bio (my bio is here). My favorite line from my discussion page:

Personally, I’m inclined to take anything from Boyd’s website with a grain of salt, as Boyd’s area of research is social networking, and for all we know this is some grand experiment on how the rules can be pushed.

Throughout the discussion, there’s ongoing references to the ways in which mass media are credible and authoritative. In the last month, I’ve been cited in the press as being a student at both UCLA and CalTech. I’d like to state for the record that, while I respect both of those institutions, I’ve never been associated with either (although I’ve attended parties at both). I’ve also been referenced as an anthropologist, a sociologist, and a professor. My apologies to academics who get annoyed at me about these labels – I know that I am none of the above, but I don’t know how to stop them from perpetuating. I’ve also been cited as working for companies I used to work at. I am not working at any company right now. (I also did not recently release a full report on a study of class dynamics in America.)

I’m trying really hard to figure out ways in which we can get youth to think critically about the construction and production of information. I believe that Wikipedia is a great source for working through and thinking about these issues, but I’m extremely worried about the ways in which Wikipedians fetishize mass media as ideal sources. Hell, I’m worried about the ways in which my own industry sees mass media as proof that the sky is falling. Media is often very useful for citations, but to assume that it is always right seems to be extremely dangerous, especially for a community that’s fighting an image issue concerning the ease with which things can be edited and published. I also think it’s dangerous for Wikipedia to perpetuate inaccuracies in mass media just cuz mass media said so.

To those Wikipedians out there who happen to read my blog – is there any conversation amongst Wikipedians about how to deal with mass media coverage? Is there any conversation about how mass media coverage is often biased or inaccurate? Why is mass media coverage so valued? (And why on earth am I notable because I’m profiled in mass media instead of because of why mass media was covering me?)

knowledge access as a public good

Over at the Britannica Blog, Michael Gorman (the former president of the American Library Association) wrote a series of posts concerning web2.0. In short, he’s against it and thinks everything to do with web2.0 and Wikipedia is bad bad bad. A handful of us were given access to the posts before they were posted and asked to craft responses. The respondents are scholars and thinkers and writers of all stripes (including my dear friend and fellow M2M blogger Clay Shirky). Because I addressed all of his arguments at once, my piece was held to be released in the final week of the public discussion. And that time is now. So enjoy!

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maps + tech companies

XKCD has the best map today:

I couldn’t help but think of an old post that i wrote about search engines as evil nation states of the 20th century, resulting in this silly image:

This had particular resonance today when a friend IMed me to say that Digg is like the UAE: it looks clean and modern on the surface, but it’s no doubt corrupt as ever on the inside.

(For those who are unaware, Digg’s users revolted yesterday over Digg’s decision to block posts concerning the HD-DVD key. A bigger question has emerged over what else Digg quietly suppresses.)