At last week’s Australian and New Zealand Communication Association (ANZCA) conference at Swinburne University in Melbourne I gave a new paper by myself and Tim Highfield entitled ‘Mapping the Ends of Identity on Instagram’. The slides, abstract, and audio recording of the talk are below:

While many studies explore the way that individuals represent themselves online, a less studied but equally important question is the way that individuals who cannot represent themselves are portrayed. This paper outlines an investigation into some of those individuals, exploring the ends of identity – birth and death – and the way the very young and deceased are portrayed via the popular mobile photo sharing app and platform Instagram. In order to explore visual representations of birth and death on Instagram, photos with four specific tags were tracked: #birth, #ultrasound, #funeral and #RIP. The data gathered included quantitative and qualitative material. On the quantitative front, metadata was aggregated about each photo posted for three months using the four target tags. This includes metadata such as the date taken, place taken, number of likes, number of comments, what tags were used, and what descriptions were given to the photographs. The quantitative data gives also gives an overall picture of the frequency and volume of the tags used. To give a more detailed understanding of the photos themselves, on one day of each month tracked, all of the photographs on Instagram using the four tags were downloaded and coded, giving a much clearer representative sampling of exactly how each tag is used, the sort of photos shared, and allowed a level of filtering. For example, the #ultrasound hashtag includes a range of images, not just prenatal ultrasounds, including both current images (taken and shared at that moment), historical images, collages, and even ultrasound humour (for example, prenatal ultrasound images with including a photoshopped inclusion of a cash, or a cigarette, joking about the what the future might hold). This paper will outline the methods developed for tracking Instagram photos via tags, it will then present a quantitative overview of the uses and frequency of the four hashtags tracked, give a qualitative overview of the #ultrasound and #RIP tags, and conclude with some general extrapolations about the way that birth and death are visually represented online in the era of mobile media.

And the audio recording of the talk is available on Soundcloud for those who are willing to brave the mediocre quality and variable volume (because I can’t talk without pacing about, it seems!).

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Earlier today my colleague Michele Willson and I ran the ANZCA PreConference Social, Casual, Mobile: Changing Games which went really well, bringing together 17 games scholars from Australia and Canada, including a fantastic keynote by Mia Consalvo and plenary by John Banks.

I also had the opportunity to present today, and the slides and audio from my talk are below:

And here’s the abstract if you’re interested:

The hugely successful franchise Angry Birds by Finnish company Rovio is synonymous with the new and growing market of app-based games played on smartphones and tablets. These are often referred to as ‘casual games’, highlighting their design which rewards short bursts of play, usually on mobile media devices, rather than the sustained attention and dedicated hardware required for larger PC or console games. Significantly, there is enormous competition within the mobile games, while the usually very low cost (free, or just one or two dollars) makes a huge ranges of choices available to the average consumer. Moreover, these choices are usually framed by just one standardised interface, such as the Google Play store for Android powered devices, or the Apple App store for iOS devices. Within this plethora of options, I will argue that in addition to being well designed and enjoyable to play, successful mobile games are consciously situated within a social network market.

The concepts of ‘social network markets’ reframes the creative industries not so much as the generators of intellectual property outputs, but as complex markets in which the circulation and value of media is as much about taste, recommendations and other networked social affordances (Potts, Cunningham, Hartley, & Ormerod, 2008). For mobile games, one of the most effective methods of reaching potential players, then, is through the social attentions and activity of other players. Rovio have been very deliberate in the wide-spread engagement with players across a range of social media platforms, promoting competitive play via Twitter and Facebook, highlighting user engagement such as showcasing Angry Birds themed cakes, and generally promoting fan engagement on many levels, encouraging the ‘spreadability’ of Angry Birds amongst social networks (Jenkins, Ford, & Green, 2013). In line with recognising the importance of engagement with the franchise, Rovio have also taken a very positive approach of unauthorised merchandising and knock-offs, especially in China and South-East Asia. In line with Montgomery and Potts’ (2008) argument that a weaker intellectual property approach will foster a more innovative creative industries in China, rather than attempting to litigate of lock down unauthorised material, Rovio have stated they see this as building awareness of Angry Birds and are working to harness this new, socially-driven market (Dredge, 2012). As Rovio now license everything from Angry Birds plush toys to theme parks, social network markets can be perpetuated even by unauthorised material, which builds awareness and interest in the official games and merchandising in the long run. Far from a standalone example, this paper argues that not only is Rovio consciously situating Angry Birds within a social network market model, but that such a model can drive other mobile games success in the future.

References

Dredge, S. (2012, January 30). Angry Birds boss: “Piracy may not be a bad thing: it can get us more business.” The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/appsblog/2012/jan/30/angry-birds-music-midem

Jenkins, H., Ford, S., & Green, J. (2013). Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture. New York and London: New York University Press.

Montgomery, L., & Potts, J. (2008). Does weaker copyright mean stronger creative industries? Some lessons from China. Creative Industries Journal, 1(3), 245–261. doi:10.1386/cij.1.3.245/1

Potts, J., Cunningham, S., Hartley, J., & Ormerod, P. (2008). Social network markets: a new definition of the creative industries. Journal of Cultural Economics, 32(3), 167–185. doi:10.1007/s10824-008-9066-y

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I’m currently working on a chapter for the forthcoming Locative Media edited collection; the piece I’m co-writing with Clare Lloyd examines some of the pedagogical strategies that have arisen to better inform users about the data that they generate whilst using locative media in various forms (from explicit check-ins with Foursquare to less obvious locative metadata on photographs, tweets and so forth). We’ve been looking at several tools and services like PleaseRobMe.com, I Can Stalk U and Creepy which visualise the often hidden layer locative media layers of mobile devices and services.

Given this context, I was fascinated to see Foursquare’s release of their ‘Time Machine’ (deployed as a promotion for Samsung’s S4) which creates an animation and eventual infographic visualising the a user’s entire Foursquare check-in history. Since I’m very conscious of where I do and don’t use Foursquare, I was fascinated to see what sort of picture of my movements this builds. The grouping of check-ins in Perth (where I live) and the places I’ve travelled to for conferences (which is the main time I use Foursquare) was very smooth, and made my own digitised journey through the world look like a personalised network diagram. The eventual infographic produced is fairly banal, but does crunch your own Foursquare numbers. I’ve embedded mine below.

While Foursquare users are probably amongst the most aware locative media users and generators of locative data, it’s still fascinating to see what a rich and robust picture these individual points of data look like when aggregated. In line with the writing I’m doing, I can’t help wonder how people would respond to a similar sort of visualisation based on their smartphone photos or Facebook posts or some other service which is less explicit or transparent in the way locative metadata is produced and stored.

foursquare-the-next-big-thing

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Links through to April 22nd (catching up!):

  • Siri secrets stored for up to 2 years [WA Today] – “Siri isn’t just a pretty voice with the answers. It’s also been recording and keeping all the questions users ask. Exactly what the voice assistant does with the data isn’t clear, but Apple confirmed that it keeps users’ questions for up to two years. Siri, which needs to be connected to the internet to function, sends all of its users’ queries to Apple. Apple revealed the information after
    Wired posted an article raising the question and highlighting the fact that the privacy statement for Siri wasn’t very clear about how long that information is kept or what would be done with it.”
  • Now playing: Twitter #music [Twitter Blog] – Not content to be TV’s second screen, Twitter wants to be the locus of conversations about music, too: “Today, we’re releasing Twitter #music, a new service that will change the way people find music, based on Twitter. It uses Twitter activity, including Tweets and engagement, to detect and surface the most popular tracks and emerging artists. It also brings artists’ music-related Twitter activity front and center: go to their profiles to see which music artists they follow and listen to songs by those artists. And, of course, you can tweet songs right from the app. The songs on Twitter #music currently come from three sources: iTunes, Spotify or Rdio. By default, you will hear previews from iTunes when exploring music in the app. Subscribers to Rdio and Spotify can log in to their accounts to enjoy full tracks that are available in those respective catalogs.
  • Android To Reach 1 Billion This Year | Google, Eric Schmidt, Mobiles [The Age] – “Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt predicts there will be more than 1 billion Android smartphones in use by the end of the year.”
  • Soda Fountains, Speeding, and Password Sharing [The Chutry Experiment] – Fascinating post about the phenomenon of Netflix and HBO Go password sharing in the US. When a NY Times journalist admitted to this (seemingly mainstream) practice, it provoked a wide-ranging discussion about the ethics and legality of many people pooling resources to buy a single account. Is this theft? Is it illegal (apparently so)? And, of course, Game of Thrones take a centre seat!
  • “Welcome to the New Prohibition” [Andy Baio on Vimeo] – Insightful talk from Andy Baio about the devolution of copyright into an enforcement tool and revenue extraction device rather than protecting or further the production of artistic material in any meaningful way. For background to this video see Baio’s posts “No Copyright Intended” and “Kind of Screwed”.
  • Instagram Today: 100 Million People [Instagram Blog] – Instagram crosses the 100 million (monthly) user mark.
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Links through February 23rd:

  • Nielsen Agrees to Expand Definition of TV Viewing [The Hollywood Reporter] – Nielsen ratings reflect that online TV ratings are growing and matter: “The Nielsen Co. is expanding its definition of television and will introduce a comprehensive plan to capture all video viewing including broadband and Xbox and iPads … By September 2013, when the next TV season begins, Nielsen expects to have in place new hardware and software tools in the nearly 23,000 TV homes it samples. Those measurement systems will capture viewership not just from the 75 percent of homes that rely on cable, satellite and over the air broadcasts but also viewing via devices that deliver video from streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon, from so-called over-the-top services and from TV enabled game systems like the X-Box and PlayStation. While some use of iPads and other tablets that receive broadband in the home will be included in the first phase of measurement improvements, a second phase is envisioned to include such devices in a more comprehensive fashion.”
  • Billboard and Nielsen Add YouTube Video Streaming to Platforms [Billboard] – The Billboard music charts in the US finally adapt to include online activity, including YouTube streaming data, and suddenly Baauer’s meme-tastic ‘Harlem Shake’ debuts at the top of the Billboard chart! The ratings, they are a-changing.
  • Why I’m Done Posting Photos of My Kid On Facebook [Chicago Now] – Short but well written piece on why parents should be more careful about what photos etc they share of their kids online. Author calls parents “online guardians”. “We all want to believe that Facebook takes parents’ concerns about privacy seriously. But the truth is that Facebook is a publicly traded company that cares first and foremost about making its shareholders happy. We have no idea how far it will go to do so, especially since the company is not extraordinarily profitable right now. But what we do know is that Facebook is pushing our boundaries now, often, to see just how much of our privacy we’re willing to give away.”
  • Instagram users begin fightback against stolen photos [Technology | guardian.co.uk] – Solid piece on the challenges of photos from Instagram (and the web in general) being used by others without permission. Copyright, theft, credit and ethics all get a mention, but the short version is: if copyright is understood on the web (often it’s not), it’s often not respected whatsoever. For the Instagram examples, I can only image this will get worse, not better, with Instagram moving more solidly onto the web proper, not just mobile devices.
  • Introducing Your Instagram Feed on the Web [Instagram Blog] – Furthering their shift to looking more and more like parent-company Facebook, Instagram have expanded the web presence associated with each username, allowing the liking, commenting and exploring of the people you follow on Instagram without use of a mobile device. The only thing you can’t do is upload an image from the web (yet).
  • Coming and Going on Facebook [Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project] – “Two-thirds of online American adults (67%) are Facebook users, making Facebook the dominant social networking site in this country. And new findings from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project indicate there is considerable fluidity in the Facebook user population: * 61% of current Facebook users say that at one time or another in the past they have voluntarily taken a break from using Facebook for a period of several weeks or more. * 20% of the online adults who do not currently use Facebook say they once used the site but no longer do so. * 8% of online adults who do not currently use Facebook are interested in becoming Facebook users in the future.”
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By Tama Leaver, Curtin University

The recent publication of a leaked video demonstrating American security firm Raytheon’s social media mining tool RIOT (Rapid Information Overlay Technology) has rightly incensed individuals and online privacy groups.

In a nutshell, RIOT – already shared with US government and industry as part of a joint research and development effort in 2010 – uses social media traces to profile people’s activities, map their contacts, and predict their future activities.

Yet the most surprising thing isn’t how RIOT works, but that the information it mines is what we’ve each already shared publicly.

Getting to know you

How Raytheon software tracks you online.

In the above video, RIOT analyses social media accounts – specifically Facebook, Twitter, Gowalla and Foursquare – and profiles an individual.

In just a few seconds, RIOT manages to extract photographs as well are the times and exact location of frequently visited places. This information is then sorted and graphed, making it relatively easy to predict likely times and locations of future activity.

RIOT can also map an individual’s network of personal and professional connections. In the demonstration video, a Raytheon employee is surveyed, and the software shows who his friends are, where he’s been and, most ominously, predicts that the most likely time and place to find him is at a specific gym at 6am on a Monday morning.

Privacy concerns

The RIOT software quite rightly raises concerns about the way online information is being treated.

Since privacy rules and regulations around social media are still in their infancy, it’s hard to tell if any legal boundaries have been crossed. This is especially unclear since it appears, from the video at least, that RIOT only scrutinises information already publicly visible on the web.

Your friends, photos and ‘check-ins’ online leave a digital footprint that programs like RIOT can trace. Gavin Llewellyn

The usefulness of some social media tools for mapping a person’s activity are abundantly clear. Foursquare, for example, basically produces a database of the times and places someone elects to “check-in” to specific locations.

Checking-in allows other Foursquare users to interact with that individual, but the record is basically a map of someone’s activities. Foursquare can be a great service, allowing social networking, discounts from businesses, and various location-based activities, but it also leaves a huge data trail.

Foursquare, though, has a (relatively) small user base (around 30 million) compared to Facebook (more than one billion) – although Facebook, as we know, also allows users to check-in by specifying a location in updates and posts. But the richest source of information we tend to share publicly, but not even think about, is our photographs.

Picture this

Every modern smartphone, whether an iPhone, Windows or Android device, by default saves certain information every time you take a photograph. This information about the photograph is saved using something called the Exchangeable image file format, or “exif” data.

Exif data typically includes camera settings, such as how long the camera lens was open and whether the flash fired, but on smartphones also includes the exact geographic location (latitude and longitude) and time that each photograph is taken.

Thus, all of those photographs of celebrations, birthdays, and our kids at the beach all include a digital record of where and when each and every event occurred.

We should consider how the information we post online could be used before posting it. shutterstock.com

Given that so many of us share photographs online using Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or Flickr, it’s not surprising that RIOT might be able to build a picture of where we’ve been and use that to guess where we might be in the future.

Yet we don’t have to leave this trail. Most smartphones have the ability to turn geographic location information off so that it’s not recorded when we take photographs.

Most of us never think to turn these options off because we don’t think about our social media persisting, but it does. Our social media fragments – our photos and posts – have no expiry date so it’s worth taking a moment when we set up a new phone or account and tweak the settings to only share what you really want to share.

If RIOT demonstrates anything, it’s the fact that information shared publicly online will likely be read, shared, copied, stored and analysed in ways we didn’t immediately think about.

If we take the time to adjust our privacy settings and sharing options, we can exercise some control over the sort of profile RIOT, or any future tool, might build about us.

Tama Leaver receives funding from the Australian Research Council.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Links through to January 16th:

  • Beatles’ First Single Enters Public Domain — In Europe [Techdirt] – The Beatles remain the iconic pop group, so news on VVN/Music that their very first single has now entered the public domain is something of a landmark moment in music:
    The Beatles first single, Love Me Do / P.S. I Love You, has entered the public domain in Europe and small labels are already taking advantage of the situation.The European copyright laws grant ownership of a recorded track for fifty years, which Love Me Do just passed. That means that, starting January 1 of 2013, anyone who wants to put out the track is free to do so.
    Unfortunately, if you’re in the US, you’ll probably have to wait until 2049 or so. And things are about to get worse in Europe too. As Techdirt reported, back in 2011 the European Union agreed to increase the copyright term for sound recordings by 20 years,
  • App Store Tops 40 Billion Downloads with Almost Half in 2012 [Apple - Press Info] – Apple passes 40 billion app downloads: “Apple® today announced that customers have downloaded over 40 billion apps*, with nearly 20 billion in 2012 alone. The App Store℠ has over 500 million active accounts and had a record-breaking December with over two billion downloads during the month. Apple’s incredible developer community has created over 775,000 apps for iPhone®, iPad® and iPod touch® users worldwide, and developers have been paid over seven billion dollars by Apple.”
  • World Map of Social Networks [Vincos Blog] -“December 2012, a new edition of my World Map of Social Networks, showing the most popular social networking sites by country, according to Alexa traffic data (Google Trends for Websites was shut down on September 2012). Facebook with 1 billion active users has established its leadership position in 127 out of 137 countries analyzed. One of the drivers of its growth is Asia that with 278 million users, surpassed Europe, 251 million, as the largest continent on Facebook. North America has 243 million users, South America 142 million. Africa, almost 52 million, and Oceania just 15 million (source: Facebook Ads Platform). In the latest months Zuckerberg’s Army conquered Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia and Vietnam.”
  • Over 8 million game downloads on Christmas Day! [Rovio Entertainment Ltd] – Rovio’s big Christmas download haul: “Wow, what a year! We released four critically-acclaimed bestselling mobile games, developed two top-rated Facebook games, and reached more than a billion downloads — all before our 3rd “Birdday”! Angry Birds Star Wars and Bad Piggies in particular have dominated the app charts, with Angry Birds Star Wars holding the #1 position on the US iPhone chart ever since its release! To top it all off, we had 30 million downloads during Christmas week (December 22-29) and, on Christmas Day, over 8 million downloads in 24 hours alone!”
  • R18+ game rating comes into effect [ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)] – Finally: “An R18+ video game rating has come into effect across Australia after a deal between the states and the Commonwealth last year. The change means some games that were previously unavailable to adults can go on sale, whereas others that could be accessed by children will become restricted. The issue had divided interest groups, with some claiming the new classification would protect children but others feared it would expose them to more violent games. Legislation to approve the rating was passed by the Senate in June. Under the previous classification regime, the highest rating for computer games was MA15+, meaning overseas adults-only games were either banned in Australia or given a lower classification, allowing children to obtain them.”
  • Two billion YouTube music video views disappear … or just migrate? [Technology | guardian.co.uk] – Despite rumours of massive cuts to major record labels’ YouTube channel counts, the explanation is rather more banal: “Universal and Sony have, since 2009, been moving their music videos away from their YouTube channels and over to Vevo, the music industry site the two companies own with some investors from Abu Dhabi. YouTube, meanwhile, thinks that is only right to count channel video views for videos that are still actually present on the channels – which means that whenever YouTube got round to reviewing the music majors’ channels on its site, a massive cut was always going to be in order.”
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Happy New Year, originally uploaded by Tama Leaver.

End of year links:

  • Best Memes of 2012: Editorial Choices [Know Your Meme] – The best memes of 2012, according to Know Your Meme:
    #10: Sh*t People Say
    #9: What People Think I Do
    #8: Overly Attached Girlfriend
    #7: Ehrmagerd
    #6: Ridiculously Photogenic Guy
    #5: Somebody That I Used to Know
    #4: Kony 2012
    #3: Call Me Maybe
    #2: Grumpy Cat
    #1: Gangnam Style
    Personally, I’d add Texts from Hillary, McKayla is Not Impressed and Binders Full of Women to the list!
  • Posterous Spaces backup tool available now [The Official Posterous Space] – Posterous adds the ability for users to download their entire Posterous sites as a zip file, complete with images and a usable (if dull) html interface. There hasn’t been a lot of movement with Posterous since the team were bought out by Twitter, so this new tool may signal the beginning of the end of the end for Posterous, which is a real shame since it’s still a more robust tool than Tumblr in a number of ways.
  • App sales soar in 2012 [Technology | The Guardian] – “Shiny new tablets and smartphones given as presents make Christmas Day and Boxing Day the two most lucrative days of the year for app sales. Yet in the apps economy, turkeys are a year-round phenomenon. Thousands of new apps are released every week for devices running Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android, but most sink without trace. With an estimated 1bn apps released so far on those two platforms alone, there are relatively few winners and many losers. This month, industry analyst Canalys claimed that in the first 20 days of November, Apple’s US App Store generated $120m (£75m) of app revenues, with just 25 publishers accounting for half of that. And 24 of those 25 companies make games, including the likes of Zynga, Electronic Arts and Angry Birds publisher Rovio. But analysts suggested in August that two-thirds of Apple store apps had never been downloaded – a lifeless long tail of more than 400,000 unwanted apps.”
  • 2012’s Most Popular Locations on Instagram [Instagram Blog] – “What was the most-Instagrammed place in the world this past year? The answer may surprise you. Out of anywhere else in the world, Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport tops the list. Over 100,000 photos were taken there last year! What other locations were popular in 2012? From Asia to Europe to North America, Instagrammers shared their view of the world. Read on for the full list:
    * Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) ท่าอากาศยานสุวรรณภูมิ in Bangkok, Thailand
    * Siam Paragon (สยามพารากอน) shopping mall in Bangkok, Thailand
    * Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California
    * Times Square in New York City
    * AT&T; Park in San Francisco
    * Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
    * Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles
    * Eiffel Tower in Paris
    * Staples Center in Los Angeles
    * Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles”
  • Wikipedia’s most searched articles of the year revealed [BBC News] – “A study of 2012′s most read Wikipedia articles reveals striking differences in what proved popular across the different language versions of the online encyclopaedia. Facebook topped the English edition while an entry for adult video actresses did best in Japan. Hua Shan – a Chinese mountain featuring “the world’s deadliest hiking trail” – topped the Dutch list. By contrast, cul-de-sacs were the German site’s most clicked entry. … Lower entries on the lists also proved revealing. While articles about Iran, its capital city Tehran and the country’s New Year celebrations topped the Persian list, entries about sex, female circumcision and homosexuality also made its top 10. …
    English language most viewed
    1. Facebook
    2. Wiki
    3. Deaths in 2012
    4. One Direction
    5. The Avengers
    6. Fifty Shades of Grey
    7. 2012 phenomenon
    8. The Dark Knight Rises
    9. Google
    10. The Hunger Games”
  • Bug reveals ‘erased’ Snapchat videos [BBC News] – Using a simple file browser tool, users are able to find and save files sent via Snapchat, an app that’s meant to share and then erase photos, messages and video. Not surprisingly really, since all communication online is, essentially, copying files of some sort or another.
  • Web tools whitewash students online [The Australian] – Universities offering web presence washing at graduation. Perhaps teaching grads to manage their own would be better.
    “Samantha Grossman wasn’t always thrilled with the impression that emerged when people Googled her name. “It wasn’t anything too horrible,” she said. “I just have a common name. There would be pictures, college partying pictures, that weren’t of me, things I wouldn’t want associated with me.” So before she graduated from Syracuse University last spring, the school provided her with a tool that allowed her to put her best web foot forward. Now when people Google her, they go straight to a positive image – professional photo, cum laude degree and credentials – that she credits with helping her land a digital advertising job in New York. “I wanted to make sure people would find the actual me and not these other people,” she said. Syracuse, Rochester and Johns Hopkins in Baltimore are among the universities that offer such online tools to their students free of charge …”
  • Mark Zuckerberg’s sister learns life lesson after Facebook photo flap [Technology | The Guardian] – A photo from Randi Zuckerberg’s Facebook page gets taken out of context and reposted on Twitter and she complains, then goes overtly moral, tweeting: “Digital etiquette: always ask permission before posting a friend’s photo publicly. It’s not about privacy settings, it’s about human decency”The Guardian’s take: “But what’s most odious about the episode is the high-handedness of Zuckerberg’s response. Facebook makes money when users surrender their privacy. The company has made it the user’s job to defend personal information, which otherwise might be made public by default. Got a problem with that? The company’s answer always has been that users should read the privacy settings, closely, no matter how often they change. … Eva Galperin said that while Facebook has made amendments to their privacy settings, they still remain confusing to a large number of people. “Even Randi Zuckerberg can get it wrong,” she said. “That’s an illustration of how confusing they can be.”
  • Twitter and Facebook get on the school timetable in anti-libel lessons [Media | The Guardian] – Some private schools in the UK are now embedding social media literacies into their curriculum, especially how to avoid defamation of others, and, I guess, how not to get sued. While it’d be nice to hear about more well-rounded literacies – like managing your identity online in its early forms – this is nevertheless a step in the right direction. I fear, though, a new digital divide might appear if social media literacies are embedded for some, not all.
  • Top Tweets of 2012: Golden Tweets – Twitter’s official list of top 2012 tweets, led by Barack Obama’s “Four more years” and in second place … Justin Bieber.
  • Facebook’s Poke App Is a Head-Scratcher [NYTimes.com] – Ephemeral Mobile Media: “.. it’s hard to grasp what the point of the Facebook Poke app really is. Poke, which came out last week, is a clone of Snapchat, an app popular among teenagers. Many have labeled Snapchat a “sexting” app — a messaging platform ideally suited for people who want to send short-lived photos and videos of you-know-what to get each other feeling lusty. The files self-destruct in a few seconds, ideally relieving you of any shame or consequence, unless, of course, the recipient snaps a screen shot. (Poke and Snapchat alert you if a screen shot has been taken.) It’s a bit of a head-scratcher for adults, like me and my Facebook friends, who aren’t inclined to sext with one another. We’re more used to uploading photos of pets, food, babies and concerts, which aren’t nearly as provocative. The most interesting aspect of Poke is that you can send photos and videos only of what you’re doing at that moment; you cannot send people a nice photo saved in your library …”
  • Game of Thrones tops TV show internet piracy chart [BBC News] – Game of Thrones has emerged as the most-pirated TV show over the internet this year, according to news site Torrentfreak’s latest annual survey. It said one episode of the series had racked up 4,280,000 illegal global downloads – slightly more than than its estimated US television audience. … Despite all the closures, one episode of of Game of Thrones racked up 4,280,000 illegal global downloads, according to Torrentfreak. That was slightly more than than its estimated US television audience. The level of piracy may be linked to the fact that the TV company behind it – HBO – does not allow Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime or other US streaming services access to its programmes. It instead restricts them to its own HBO Go online product, which is only available to its cable subscribers. Outside the US, Torrentfreak noted that Australia was responsible for a disproportionate amount of illegal copies of Game of Thrones…”
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Instagram LogoDespite Mark Zuckerberg implying that Facebook’s purchase wouldn’t alter the core fabric of Instagram, a billion dollar purchase price (okay, less than that after Facebook’s share price tanked) means an expectation of a significant return. Sadly, today, Instagram announced a significant update to their Terms of Use which show the decidedly Facebooksih direction that the photo-sharing service is taking to try and bring in the cash. The changes were framed by a blog post which suggests nothing major is changing, but that’s just not true. Here’s a key passage from the updated Terms of Use (which are legally binding as of 16 January 2013):

2. Some or all of the Service may be supported by advertising revenue. To help us deliver interesting paid or sponsored content or promotions, you agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos (along with any associated metadata), and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you. If you are under the age of eighteen (18), or under any other applicable age of majority, you represent that at least one of your parents or legal guardians has also agreed to this provision (and the use of your name, likeness, username, and/or photos (along with any associated metadata)) on your behalf.

3. You acknowledge that we may not always identify paid services, sponsored content, or commercial communications as such.

Or, if I could translate slightly: Instagram may, at their discretion and without telling you, use your photo to sell or promote something to other Instagram users – most likely your followers – and not even clearly identify this as an advertisement or promotion. While, strictly speaking, these Terms don’t alter the copyright status of your photos on Instagram (you own them, but give Instagram explicit permission to use them, re-use them, or let third parties use them as long as you’re still an Instagram user) the tone and spirit behind those uses have changed substantially. Sure, this might be a trade-off that many people are happy with: they get to keep using Instagram for free, and all sorts of new advertisements and promotions appear, some using images you’ve posted.

However, I fear that most people will ignore these Terms of Use changes and notifications. Ignore them, that is, until an advertisement pops up with their head or photo in it and then everyone will get loud, and angry, but unless you’re prepared to delete your Instagram account, there new Terms are absolutely binding. In the mean time, keep in mind you can always export and download all of your Instagram photos and maybe set up with a different service. For more details about what the changes mean, I recommend reading these overviews at the NY Times Bits Blog and the Social Times.

These updated changes may not worry you in the slightest, but please take the time to consider what they mean before they come into effect.

Update (21 December 2012): After considerable public backlash against the new Terms, Instagram have, for now, chosen to largely revert to their previous terms. This is a short-term win insomuch as Instagram are now aware that there are lines that their users don’t want to see crossed. Even though there was considerable misinterpretation (as far as I can see, Instagram never intended, for example, to wholesale sell anyone’s photos), concerns raised were legitimate. However, the longer term problem remains: few people ever read Terms of Use, so a change like this is only ever interpreted as a knee-jerk response against the most sensational media reports. Perhaps the salient lesson here is that at least a passing familiarity with all Terms we’ve signed up for makes us more aware of where we really stand as users, consumers and participants in a mobile media culture?

Incidentally, I’d love it if Instagram added native support for Creative Commons licenses, but I understand that as a Facebook-owned company, that’s highly unlikely. The lesson Instagram might learn from a conversation with Creative Commons, though, is having layered Terms where human-readable terms means read by all humans, not just those with law degrees.

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Links through to December 17th:

  • The Web We Lost [Anil Dash] – Spot on: “Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest and LinkedIn and the rest are great sites, and they give their users a lot of value. … But they’re based on a few assumptions that aren’t necessarily correct. The primary fallacy that underpins many of their mistakes is that user flexibility and control necessarily lead to a user experience complexity that hurts growth. And the second, more grave fallacy, is the thinking that exerting extreme control over users is the best way to maximize the profitability and sustainability of their networks. The first step to disabusing them of this notion is for the people creating the next generation of social applications to learn a little bit of history, to know your shit, whether that’s about Twitter’s business model or Google’s social features or anything else. We have to know what’s been tried and failed, what good ideas were simply ahead of their time, and what opportunities have been lost in the current generation of dominant social networks.”
  • False Posts on Facebook Undermine Its Credibility [NYTimes.com] – A reminder that Facebook’s battle against fake accounts is all about the authenticity the SELL ADVERTISERS: “For the world’s largest social network, it is an especially acute problem, because it calls into question its basic premise. Facebook has sought to distinguish itself as a place for real identity on the Web. As the company tells its users: “Facebook is a community where people use their real identities.” It goes on to advise: “The name you use should be your real name as it would be listed on your credit card, student ID, etc.” Fraudulent “likes” damage the trust of advertisers, who want clicks from real people they can sell to and whom Facebook now relies on to make money. Fakery also can ruin the credibility of search results for the social search engine that Facebook says it is building. … The research firm Gartner estimates that while less than 4 percent of all social media interactions are false today, that figure could rise to over 10 percent by 2014.”
  • Android overtakes iOS in Australian usage [Ausdroid] – December 2012: “Android has been growing globally at an extremely rapid rate with statistics from November indicating that Android currently enjoys a 75% market share. In Australia this year over 67% of Smart Phone sales were Android handsets and now research analysis firm Telsyte is advising that market penetration of Android devices in Australia has finally overtaken iOS with Android now on 44% of the 10 Million mobile phones currently in use here. iOS still enjoys a 43% market share …”
  • Social Media Report 2012 [Nielsen] – Nielsen’s Social Media Report 2012 provides statistical evidence of the trends for 2012, which shows the internet use, mobile use and social networking time are all up. A third of people engaging in social networking “from the bathroom”!
  • Text messaging turns 20 [Technology | The Observer] – “Long ago, back before Twitter, way before Facebook, in a time when people still lifted a receiver to make a call and telephone boxes graced streets where people didn’t lock their doors, Neil Papworth, a software programmer from Reading, sent an early festive greeting to a mate. “Since mobile phones didn’t yet have keyboards, I typed the message out on a PC. It read ‘Merry Christmas’ and I sent it to Richard Jarvis of Vodafone, who was enjoying his office Christmas party at the time,” said Papworth. On 3 December 1992, he had sent the world’s first text message. Text messaging turns 20 tomorrow. More than 8 trillion were sent last year. Around 15 million leave our mobile screens every minute. There is now text poetry, text adverts and text prayers (dad@hvn, 4giv r sins) and an entire generation that’s SMS savvy. Last week saw the first major act of the text watchdog, the Information Commissioner’s Office, in fining two men £440,000 over spam texts.”
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