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5 things

Following on from some inspiring efforts from Russell Davies, Matt Locke and our very own Matt Matheson, here is a collection of things currently keeping me up at night.

Death #1: people

Maybe a bit premature at 29, but I cannot stop thinking about death and what it means for online.  This train of thought was sparked by this piece in the New York Times, telling how Facebook has been recommending users become friends with people that have long since died. Ouch. Not that this is Facebook’s fault, it’s not their responsibility to ensure all users have a heartbeat, but it does throw up some awkward questions; should loved ones take responsibility for closing down your social profile? Should we hold odd online funerals, with virtual tears etc? What happens when the number of dead users on a particular site outnumber the living ones? Unsurprisingly there are already processes in place, both Twitter and Facebook cover this subject in their help sections, and brilliantly, @zenbullets wrote this cracking account of how he can now live forever by creating a Twitter bot. And if the idea of living forever on the internet scares you, but you don’t want to waste the vast bucket of content and ideas that make up a human brain, simply become an Intellectual Property Donor, and “ensure that your creativity will live on after you are gone”.

Death #2: information

If humans have lifespans, food has a sell-by date, and most technology products have an uncanny ability to implode after a seemingly predefined period, then why don’t websites and other online entities have a end date? Aside from the significant environmental impact of shit-loads of data living on for ever, it’s also just slightly depressing that information will haunt us forever by default. It makes me sad to think that in my old age, the rap video I made with my friend Tom whilst drunk on Martini Rosso (narcissism FTW) will exist on a dusty Facebook server somewhere, taunting me like an ugly, unreachable mole on the small of my back. I read the phrase ‘digital forgetting’ once in Wired magazine, and I wonder now if we should be given the option to set a lifespan on any content we upload/create, allowing the host site to ‘forget’ it after a sensible amount of time. Yes, the internet is great because of its size and the sheer depth of useless information, but as individuals and agencies I think we should take more responsibility for the age-limit of things we create.

Micropayments actually working

A few weeks back I was listening to a jazz band in an outdoor bar in Montenegro (in stark contrast to my normal evenings, hitting refresh on mountain bike forums whilst being headbutted by my over-affectionate cat Bowie); the band were ace, as was the bar and the cocktails, but the one thing that stuck in my mind longer than the hangover was the way the band got paid – each time I ordered a drink, 0.50€ was added to the bill for ‘music’. Simples. Instead of paying five or six euros up front, or seemingly nothing at all and the price being invisibly added to drinks, everyone drinking at the bar was contributing in a series of tiny payments. Best of all, the amount paid was proportional to the amount of music enjoyed; stay all night and have  six drinks, pay 3€; stop for a quick pint and pay half a euro. Micropayments in action.

Back in the internetz, I shelved this train of thought until I saw a tweet mentioning Flattr, a super clever way of making micropayments work across a broad range of websites. Basically, you pay Flattr a $2 monthly subscription, you then get all up in the internetz as you normally would, and when visiting sites who are signed up to Flattr, you hit the Flattr button to show you like the content on show; at the end of the month, all of the sites you’ve deemed worthy of a Flattr click are given an equal share of your $2. Making the genuis even more genius-er, the makers have developed a Firefox plug-in which allows you to ‘Flattr’ sites not signed up, making the system universal. Only launched in March, the long-term possibilities for Flattr are amazing; current payment systems like the Times paywall will seem archaic in comparison, with users being able to reward a much broader selection content, and the creators receiving rewards for creating.

Naming conventions

Earlier this year I attended FutureEverything, an ace conference that gave birth to a dozen mind worms within my information addled brain, but the one that keeps nagging me came from an audience member in the Infinite Bandwidth, Zero Latency panel session. Following an awful lot of interesting and wordy discussion, a bearded man was passed the microphone, and he proceeded to vent his anger at the labels being thrown around by the panel. He suggested that by being too quick to label new technologies and ideas, that we were limiting them, alienating potential audiences and stifling ideas before they could fully form. As an agency we strive to avoid buzzwords, so much so that we’ve given clients buzzers with which to highlight and shame our use of it during training sessions. What the angry man was saying though was taking this even further; that even the existence of buzzword-y labels was damaging. Would locative services catch-on faster if they didn’t have the annoying moniker? Is realtime a pointless term given that nothing is ever, technically real-time, if we’re being honest, and so why harp on with the label. And lastly, what is social media? Isn’t this all just online stuff? Or just talking with electricity? Or not?

Speed of consumption

Having spent an unhealthy amount of time recently listening to geeky podcasts, I noticed the above [1X] button on my iPhone. If you press it, you can listen to podcasts at double speed. I found this super mega exciting, as it’s like a cherry on the top of an idea we discuss in training quite a lot, about people being increasingly time-poor, and in a state of continuous partial attention. Imagine watching movies at double speed, or reading every other word in a book in order to race through it. And then imagine doing this whilst consuming some other kind of media. Imagine consuming two forms of media (not difficult if you think about reading internetz whilst watching television), at the same time, both at double speed – that would be like four times more than normal. Then imagine having a conversation with a loved one whilst doing all of this, and you can feel your brain start to hurt.

Worth pointing out that if you press the above podcast button twice, you can listen at half-speed, so it’s not all bad. Not sure when you’d do that, but I imagine it would be like giving your brain a hug. Which it would need after listening to this, the ultimate in speedy consumption.

One last one…cats for change

I know this is supposed to be a five item list, but last night I woke up at 3AM and couldn’t stop thinking about cats. Not only are they the perfect evolution of the mammal, but they kind of make the internet go round. Lolcats, cat-bin-lady, auto-tuned cats, there is literally not a day that goes by without some kind of cat viral content. With such universal appeal, is there some way of using cats for good? Could they be an untapped source of power, ready and waiting to make the world a better place? Not sure how, but I’ll enjoy thinking about it.

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