It’s not simply the rash new words that define social media, but the growing power of social media marketing and loss of privacy that are highlighted here.

Since 2003, the editors have apparently added 2,000 new words to the Oxford Dictionary.  These include terms such as: “microblogging, social media, netbook, tweet-up” and so on. (arts-books section)

There’s no way they can keep up.  Hence, they have yet to add my new word “Foogletweet”.

It’s my gift to the new language of a new culture evolving in a new world of vast communities, bigger than nation states.  I blanch at the oft-repeated truism – if Facebook was a country, it would be the world’s third largest by population.

One of my worries is that voluntary membership of these communities puts internet users under the governance of private companies, taming the anarchy deliberately built into the world-wide-web.  Membership places at risk our privacy.  Remember the uproar over Google Buzz which automatically shared Gmail users’ lists of friends?

Google still wants to move into personal social media to remain a world power on the social media planet.  Rumours abound of the company’s pursuit of a “Google-me” project to do battle with Facebook.

Without a beachhead in that battle zone, Google may be hard pressed to hold its own in the social media world order (Fortune, Aug 16, 2010, No.11).  The cover story for that issue carries the title “Is Google over”.  Inside, the journal suggests that search engines are being overtaken by more personal social media, such as Facebook.  For instance, Google now occupies around 10% of the time we spend online, while Facebook eats up 17%.  People are more likely to seek the advice of “friends” on shopping and travel than “googling”.

Responding to this new demand are the online capitalists – the e-marketers.

In New Zealand, GrabOne, has combined advertisers’ acumen through email offers to a growing list of subscribers.  But the e-marketplace is rapidly becoming crowded.  I keep running into people who "check in" regularly to Foursquare with their location.  (See this blog, 28 June, 2010)  Foursquare claims three million users worldwide and offers subscribers a system to find where their friends are, and to earn points or badges for privileges, such as discounts and new products and services.

Its rival Shopkick is offering a free smartphone app that will give you “rewards for simply walking into the store”.  It promises users discounts off in-store purchases to encourage them to visit its retail location advertisers.  Another similar service, Groupon, uses the phones’ GPS to recognise when their owners walk into premises that have specials the phone users don’t even know about.  Groupon's “Deal of the Day” offers subscribers, “One ridiculously huge coupon each day, on the best things to eat, see, do and buy in your city.”

This automated use of location-sensitive devices is rather like inertia selling, and it also appears to threaten our privacy.  

In terms of loss of privacy, there is no greater threat than Facebook, which has  access to 500 million users, which it is able to offer advertisers through its new service, Places.  The company is introducing that app in the USA for some smartphones including the iPhone.  Places offers Facebook users the chance to share, “where you are, what you're doing and the friends you're with right from your mobile”.

NZ Herald (20 Aug 2010) tells us that Facebook is being cautious about privacy, laying out a long list of ways users of Places can avoid having their whereabouts broadcast to the world without their say so. (technology section)

It was bad enough when speed cameras and Google-earth caught people in one-off private moments, but the idea that these “virtual countries” with no elected government will know where we are is unnerving.  If they are also tied into impulse consuming, based on our whereabouts, they are more like the “foot-in-the-door” of the old style vacuum cleaner salesman.  Is that what you want?

Posted by Joseph Peart, 23 Aug, 2010.

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