Sabotage

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The Internet is a great place, we all know this. However, like any massive playground where mob rule will undoubtedly apply if you screw up, there is NEVER a guarantee that people will play nicely, follow rules or indeed do what you want them to. That means that, if you’re trying to exploit any section within that playground, you need to do your homework REALLY carefully. Twitter’s been making new strides into ‘selling’ their marketplace this year, after disappointing previous attempts to find consistent ways of making money from the platform. Their latest adventure, on paper, looked like it might have some merit.

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For most ‘normal’ users, bots are annoying and frustrating things in your timeline, but now they’ve being used to ‘sell’ products through the wonders of interactivity. The concept’s sound enough: create a personal enough experience and people will engage with your campaign, and might end up buying the product as a result. What’s far more likely however, is that people will find a way to exploit your bot and make the company (and your lack of thought plus understanding of the marketplace) appear enormously stupid. This is exactly what happened to a multinational last week. On reflection, they really should have seen the issue coming.

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Sabotage is not the right word here, NetImperative. I really doubt this was individuals approaching a promotion with the agenda of conscious destruction. Walkers allowed people to upload photographs, assuming people would only want to use their own image as a ‘selfie.’ There were no checks and balances that pictures being provided were suitable. Using images of convicted criminals is what will happen when people grasp you didn’t think through the consequences as a company, and the Internet decides to show up your stupidity.

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I find it increasingly frustrating how the Internet is portrayed as the enemy by people who don’t grasp the first clue about how it works. Politicians assuming that this is where extremism happens don’t grasp that terrorism isn’t just undertaken by one easily identifiable group of individuals. If all you see is isolated, unrelated problems having single solutions, that the only way to fight to be right is to defeat those that are wrong… it is like the arguments I have with my kids. They don’t do subtle: I either told them to do it or I didn’t, asking them to consider subtlety is largely lost. However, on platforms such as the Internet, reality is no longer about one thing at a time. If you can’t multi-task, or consider that some people will be doing four or five things simultaneously whilst at the same time looking for ways to exploit your lack of foresight? You’re going to get burnt, just like Walkers.

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Ironically, talking to friends on Twitter, we saw this coming. Maybe there is money to be made in the future being a Freelance Provocatrix, driving my three wheeled tricycle from company to organisation, warning them of the dangers of not thinking your marketing strategy through online. However well you think you know the Internet?

They’ll always have the capacity to surprise you.

Time

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My life is coming to a fairly significant crossroads. In just over a month, I commit myself at 50 to becoming my own arbiter, attempting to create a new career as a 21st Century Nonconformist. In a World where so many shout their mantras into the ether, which some believe rotates far too closely around circles of electronic Hell: will I be seen as any different to the heretics and fools that embrace diversity, speeding us all towards the World’s end? This historical period is as close to chaos as many will remember, but for me I am reminded first of the early 1980’s and before the 1970’s: the Cold War and the Three Day Week are memories I carry a world away from what now passes for normal daily life. If the last few days of dreams are any indicator, my subconscious grasps only too readily that these are turbulent times ahead.

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I have always been considered as a troublemaker: however, I never really wholeheartedly embraced the concept of rebellion until I hit my late twenties. I’ve come to most things later than others, I realise now because of the ability to properly grasp implication behind those actions involved. With the benefit of time, an environment was created which allowed me to both develop and evolve at a pace that suited mind and body, and that was not dictated by circumstance. Only now is it becoming apparent how useful that has become in order to be able to see a larger picture. It is also a daily reminder of just how lucky I am as a white, middle-aged woman to have the opportunity to begin with.

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If I went to the Bank on June 1st and asked for a loan to become a full-time digital writer, they’d laugh at me. I could submit articles to a hundred online sites and be rejected for every single one. This is a profession that is so subjective as for it to be impossible to quantify what matters on any given day: the way in which we devour, create and even transmit our communications alters sometimes on a daily basis. My online newspaper of choice doesn’t simply provide written commentary any more, there are short video ‘articles’ peppered amongst the headlines. If you want a novel to be a success, having robots recognise your website is as important as a set of good reviews. My ability to communicate in 140 character bursts is as important as long form mastery, and textspeak. It isn’t about being ‘down with the kids’ and more either, there are languages for every part of the Web. If you don’t know your Deplorables from the Untouchables? You won’t last long in the Digital Wild West.

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What I bring to the table in this Digital relationship is time: not only have I been here since inception, but I’ve grown with trends and diversification. I am very much anti Facebook and pro Twitter, but it doesn’t mean I don’t grasp the commercial implications of both. I may avoid SnapChat because of the filters and vanity, but it doesn’t take an idiot to grasp how significant the platform is for a generation of users, for whom instant information is key. Learning how to be a better person might seem a waste of time in a place where nobody needs to know who you are, but when you’re willingly giving away personal details to anyone with a contact form? Consequences will matter. In fact, there will be a generation of Internet users for which the repercussions of digital immersion will only truly become apparent if we can survive the next forty years without the Planet disintegrating around us, mostly because lots of people failed to pay attention to Science when it mattered. Of all of this, in the digital world around us, a grasp of Biology, Physics, Chemistry and every sub-branch in between is more important now than it has ever been.

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I’d love to say that telling stories is the real reason I want to be a writer, and although that is true, I’ve realised in the last few years it isn’t all that now matters. I can still spin fictions in the manner I choose, but not at the expense of ignoring bigger stories. The Internet of Words is my way to do many things at once: fulfil my dreams, yes, but also expand the potential of others, because without learning to better communicate as a planet, we are all doomed to failure. It cannot just be any more that you work towards your own ends, making individual success matter. Without everybody being able to win, frankly, there’s not much left to live for. If you think the future is living in your own, safe and consequence free bubble, I suspect there’s some major shocks coming very soon indeed. One of the races in my favourite computer games have a phrase: ‘Time is money, friend’ and this morning I realised that’s more true on an intellectual level than I’d ever previously grasped. The time I have lived is indeed worth something, what I have left to use so precious that not a moment should be wasted.

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I’m now sitting on a lovely pile of CoPromote reach and on Monday I’ve decided to use the IoW site to officially launch my concept to a bunch of total strangers. I have no idea how this will go down and frankly, I’m not that worried if the interest is minimal. What matters most is having the confidence to stand and fall on an idea, and nothing else. Bringing unique perspective is what I’ve always done best, and I’ve ever been afraid of being unpopular as a result. After all, as I never grow tired of reminding anyone who’ll listen, the reason why you fail is to learn how to succeed. Once you know what not to do, the options become less complex to grasp.

Then all you need is courage to take that first step.

Walkaway

It is important, as we mentioned last week, to be able to step back and be objective when living in any space whose rules are defined not just by us. Obsessing about anything can be both destructive and ultimately dangerous, and nowhere is that more true than in an environment where it is easy to shout into the void and never experience dissent. The ‘echo chamber’ concept of social media’s used as a stick to beat me with on an almost weekly basis, and I thought it bore more investigation after the latest incident where someone cited the concept as the reason why a relationship had failed.

Wikipedia considers a media echo chamber as ‘a metaphorical description of a situation in which information, ideas, or beliefs are amplified or reinforced by communication and repetition inside a defined system,’ which in this case will be your own feed and blogs. Effectively an individual ignores basic points which are obvious to those outside the space as not being fairly represented within, if at all. It is a basic concept of curation but executed at the expense of truth: as you remove people from a space which you can and should control and organise, it can appear from certain angles to be censorship of those who disagree with points of view or who cause contention when doing so.

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Since the US Election, I’ve made a point of being more politically active, and this has upset a significant portion of my existing readership, enough to cause many of them to leave of their own accord. It also happened in the run up last year, when it became apparent that being disparaging of Republican ideas and sentiments was going to get me into trouble, and yet I’ll still peddle this line regardless. The key here is that I’m not singling out anyone in my feed as an issue, but by being disparaging of a wider viewpoint, those who hold it as sacred will logically assume I’m attacking them. The same feeling is undoubtedly true when I won’t agree with people’s views on Warcraft, feminism, cosplay, breasts, chocolate… and the list goes on and on.

At no point do I ever single someone out as being unreasonable until the Unfollow button gets hit, and only then does it becomes personal. The very act of removal is confirmation to them that something has happened that I don’t like. That’s why Mute can often be considered the coward’s solution to a problematic follower: far easier just to remove them and kop the flack. In fact, it would be fair to assume that had I been more careful and considered my choices to begin with, then there wouldn’t be an issue, but it is often hard to form considered opinions of people when they’re not standing in front of you: that’s why Facebook’s friends of friends concept is such an addictive one. If person X knows you and two genuinely close friends, their choices will be people who mesh with you, right?

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The truth is, of course, utter bollocks. That’s why some of us refuse to allow Facebook to dictate terms, and will reassess ‘friends’ on an almost weekly basis. That’s even more true when there’s a contentious issue: I am more than happy to disagree with people, and that happens with predictable regularity. What I’m not prepared to entertain, at any point, is someone else deciding a) what I am thinking and b) what I should do as a result of this. We can not vote the same way, like the same music or even agree on anything at all. I am able to do civil and polite with the entire planet right up to the point where someone points a metaphorical finger at me and states what I have to do because this is what is wrong.

That is the moment when trust is lost, but not always for good.

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I’ve disagreed with people before, but if when engaging them in dialogue I can believe that there is still a basis for communication, that’s how it works. Everybody can not see eye to eye from time to time, after all. If it becomes apparent that there’s no point in trying to communicate because what I believe isn’t considered either relevant or important, then it is time to reassess. Maybe it is not just my outlook exacerbating the situation: this same person isn’t listening to others either, apparent by the interactions with others I can read and see taking place around us. If their interest is unnecessarily obsessive, or inward facing, or they’re just a shitposting troublemaker? Time eventually shows up the flaws.

If you wait, everybody fucks up eventually, and it is how those moments are dealt with that becomes the real measure of their online persona.

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Why do I do all this navel gazing, I hear some of you ask? I learn from it and it helps me understand how this part of the World works. It allows me to grasp how human beings react in certain situations. Many people, often without realising, reveal sides of themselves online I suspect they wish weren’t as public as are currently the case. It is a delicate balancing act, which most of the sane and sensible individuals deal with by not pressing Tweet or posting on Facebook to begin with, because their real lives are more important than the virtual one. As a writer I balance between disparate worlds on a daily basis, and sitting here trying to find the right sentences to use becomes another part of the understanding process. To communicate successfully to others is no mean feat, I am now discovering, and to make the best job takes far more effort than may people ever really grasp.

It is never an easy task to shout anywhere; to have confidence in a virtual space is not as simple as many would believe. What matters more is to find a voice, and once that is accomplished to learn the best means by which you can explain yourself to a wider audience than just yourself. It is a vital part of human development, and without that internal belief it can be a hard and painful journey to take alone. More importantly still, thinking why things happen and to understand you are as responsible for events that happen around you as anyone else is an important means by which one defines your overall significance (or otherwise) in the communities you are a part of.

The people that surround you are as much a measure of your personality as you are yourself, and knowing that means a constant reassessment of your aquaintances can never be a bad thing.

Your Game

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If all you care about are numbers, success can be easily devolved down to a 1/0 equation. I mean LOOK AT MY INFOGRAPHIC PEOPLE I have a 30% increase in mentions from last month! But that is frankly nothing compared with the WHOPPING 50% rise in engagements! What is my secret? I’ll tell you, it’s the fact that I’ve only picked up 11 followers in the last month. I don’t give a flying fuck about who wants to follow me, but if they meet a certain criteria I will pretty much automatically turn them away at the door. If you’re here to play the ‘only way to win at Twitter is with a six figure audience’ card and you’re NOT Stephen Fry?

Don’t waste my time, amateurs.

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The thing is, however, that some of these people clearly aren’t fucking about on Twitter and have worked quite hard to get the numbers to work for them. Once upon a time, they were simply robot accounts with minimal if not no actual human content attached. However, once Twitter got wind of the fact their game could be botted and people could rack up enormous high scores and never actually engage their users? These accounts are no longer simply regurgitated monthly links to blog posts. There’s a complex game involving monetising and SEO via websites that some people play with as much commitment and dedication as you follow your favourite team. It’s not exactly going to make you a hit with the ladies, but becoming a smart marketeer clearly makes ends meet. Except if you looked closely at the 596k followers attached to my sample account above, there’s likely to be a fair proportion of not real people in that total.

I however, strive to seek out real people as a matter of priority.

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While some might obsess over popularity, I crave reality wherever possible. That means that yes, I go look at people’s feeds and read their biographies long before I press ‘Follow’. I keep a pretty close eye on what is being said or referenced too, and that means when someone leaves I’ll pretty much always go back and check why. You can consider it the equivalent of running a busy entertainment complex and constantly doing customer feedback to ensure the people who come to talk, eat and enjoy themselves are getting the maximum experience for their time spent. Yes, this does mean I listen to criticism too: I’ve cut back on stuff that won’t make sense to you if there’s not appropriate context. When I get cross at something, when before I would have done a bit of leery subtweeting, I now instead throw pot plants. This has helped me cut the drama in my feed down to an absolute minimum.

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When success is now defined as a man in the White House who has billions of dollars earned but not one ounce of decency or compassion to his name, that concept holds no thrill for me. If being bigger and better than anybody else is your definition of achievement, I’m not interested. This, for me, is a slow and brilliant story that doesn’t rely on my ability to fool a robot and everything on my skill as a writer. As I refine the process of replying to Tweets in both concise and increasingly creative ways, I want less and less to do with anyone who seems to think they know what I want without asking. If your version of ‘interacting’ is simply throwing anything you believe I want on my feed in the vain hope I’ll be grateful, without taking the time to both talk and interact? This is not respect, it is simply lip service, and in the end you will never truly succeed at anything without being able to care beyond a basic set of variables. You might be happy with the size of your referrals, but I honestly don’t care. That’s not what I’m here for.

That’s a journey that I’m only just beginning.

Exit Music

In what shouldn’t be as huge a surprise to as many as it clearly is, Twitter have announced your feed will change forever starting next week. Gone will be the reverse chronological order, so you can simply scroll up and see what everybody said.

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Oh don’t be so fucking precious.

Now, Twitter will decide what you read, based on use and (undoubtedly) how much money you can throw at the service to ensure you get seen. For many, this will undoubtedly signal The End of All Things, based on the understanding that this was the last truly organic and ‘free’ means by which billions of people could communicate without consequence.

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No, really, just stop now.

I’m laughing so much I can’t write any more, just give me a minute, will you?

/exhale

Sorry, where was I?

I’m pretty confident I’ve been reading an algorithmic feed on my iPad for months: seeded with ‘relevant’ and much-read articles from my timeline when I wake up overnight, forcing me to chase people’s timelines to pick up the subtlety. It’s why I use a range of devices to consume: Tweetdeck for the 9-5, the App for travelling. What stuns me in this sudden and indignant burst of anger and amazement is that people are genuinely surprised that a company whose sole existence is to make money would implement something to do just that. That’s how business works, folks. The algorithm allows the company to tailor people’s experiences. Yes, you could argue it’s censorship via activity, but you could argue that black is white on this platform without consequence until now, and guarantee at least one conspiracy theorist would retweet you. Now you’ll have to hope they take the time to actually find your Bio and follow.

Yes, there will be casualties. If you’re not there to live-tweet, that whole experience changes forever. For the people who couldn’t be bothered to find a computer and you know, actually be outside living their life for real, they’ll simply be presented with some highlights of what happened and just move on. News organisations will need to be on the ball too, no more trawling timelines 72 hours after the fact and desperately attempting to keep making news. Twitter will decide what’s relevant, and if that means advertisers get the upper hand? Well, guess what? THAT’S THE BALL-GAME. If you genuinely feel that leaving will make Twitter change their mind? Off you go. Just let me know where you’re going if I give a damn about you, because until there’s at least a financial quarter’s worth of evidence that this fucked everybody royally, there’ll be no change.

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A while ago, in the game I play and write about for a living, the company took away a key part of the experience. The fallout from that is still being felt, coming up for a year after the event, and what the change ended up doing was effectively polarising a section of the community who relied on that ability (flying in game) to function in the manner in which they were comfortable. Well, I think I can confidently predict that this will have much the same effect on the World who uses Twitter to harass, to speak without consequence, and conversely tell the world what’s happening the moment it does. Suddenly, your ‘rights’ have been altered, and you’re going to be mad as fuck. There will be introspection, reflection and oh so much hand-wringing and lamentation. There’ll be public exits, massive outpourings of vitriol and anger, and people will be held to blame.

Meanwhile the real truth is damning. I know of the nearly 3000 people who follow me on a daily basis, less than a quarter actually communicate with me regularly, and even fewer actually read my work. This change will, in essence, allow me to actually reach more people if I can play the Twitter system and win. It will give me a chance to stack my deck and improve my visibility, and (hopefully) allow more people who don’t know who the fuck I am to read my work, based solely on my ability to get the people that do follow me to do the same. You know, by true freedom of speech using blogging. Those who will lament the loss of chronology will no longer be able to attack people on a global stage. They’ll need to learn to play the game too. Curating a feed will suddenly become the most sensible use of your time as a social media manager. Lists will rise in popularity. People will choose to either adapt or die, and until someone invents a true successor to the platform?

You’ll still be here. Stop making fucking drama out of nothing.

WRITING :: Words

My main Twitter account is, 95% of the time, gaming-based. However, of late, my love of writing has begun to creep in. The main reason for this is Ian McMillan, whose account I follow after he appeared on BBC 6 Music late last year. He uses Twitter the way we all do: going to work, talking about his projects, describing what he sees. But, as a writer? That view isn’t the same as a lot of others. His grasp of language is often breathtakingly brilliant in its simplicity, and that’s why I find myself compelled not simply to follow, but to reach out to respond when he says stuff like the Tweet above.

The man makes me think, no doubt about it. North to me is a lot of things: Guy Garvey’s aural pictures of his home, Richard Hawley, L.S. Lowry, flat caps, Open All Hours, Geoff Boycott… but that’s very specific bits of the North, and far more stereotypical than actual. It also excludes large swathes of the Midlands that could be North, the bit between Yorkshire and Scotland which is DEFINITELY North… and here’s the problem. Individual perception is a bitch. I see it ever day with gamers who only take their view of issues and forget that, like it or not, not everybody is them. So, you need not only a cohesive frame of reference, but for everyone to have it in their mind when considering your view.

Oh and don’t then get me started on geography.

The reason why you follow people via Social media is undoubtedly subjective too, and in McMillan’s case he’s proved a consistent source of literary inspiration. After this exchange, I had a minor epiphany: I don’t think of people just as a face and a name, I tend to attach objects to people to help identify them. My best mate Julia, for instance, is a number of colours (green, red) as well as cigarettes and shoes (probably because she’s a dancer.) As for myself?

But that’s only how I see myself. I have no idea how the rest of the World perceives me.

I’d be interested to know what words they use.