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Time to Focus My Diverse Interests

So, it’s been a long time since I’ve written on this blog.

It’s not been because of a shortage of things to say, far from it, there’s been so much that I’ve been wanting to say, but just haven’t been able to bring myself to write, and talk about all of the many different things that interest, and fascinate me.  There’s been such activity both in my personal life, as well as in the London Tech Startup community that I’m a part of, amongst other things.

Then there’s also the heaps of different things that have been happening in the Social Media Community in London, and it makes me realise that actually there’s a whole lot more that I’d like to write about, but don’t do so, because it doesn’t always act in the best interests of my audience.

Over these last few months, I’ve started pondering about this approach to blogging that I’ve been taking, of amalgamating everything into one blog, and making everyone come to one place to find out the latest about me, my thoughts, insights, and experiences.  Perhaps I’ve been wrong.

I know that there’s most definitely a steady stream of interested readers of this blog, that know me from either the Social Media Perspective, or from the London Tech Startup crowd.  But what you guys probably didn’t know was that there is a part of me that is immensely spiritual, and metaphysically inclined.  I can also imagine the Social Media interests I have don’t necessarily directly translate into the extremely geeky and techie interests that also drive my entrepreneurial curiosity, and the craving to contribute to something more meaningful, and personally stimulating, as well as helping raise my profile, and perhaps in time, additional streams of revenue.

So until further notice, I’ve decided to hold back on the blogging here.  And when I say here, I mean just this blog – That doesn’t mean I’ve given up blogging completely, or that I’ve decided to stop blogging.  Far from it, I want to step back to figure out where I should  be blogging, and how so..  There’s a lot I want to say, and a lot of different places I want to say it.  But what I don’t want is for one audience to get confused or mixed in with another, or for me to get so de-focussed with my blog, that I lose the desire or focus as to what I’m going to talk about.  Initially I’m going to be setting up my other blogging sites, and then once I’m done, and have them set up, I’ll be sure to share here a list of all the different places where I’ll be blogging from in the future..

For now, this blog has become too much of an unfocussed chaos, and in order to start making some more coherent, focussed directed conversations, and discussions, around some of the many different communities I’m a member of, I’m going to step back, before taking a huge step forward, and start publishing in a more targetted and focussed manner, across mulitple sites across the internet ;)

Now any suggestions you might have as to what subjects you’d like to hear me write about, feel free to fill up the comments below, and I’ll see if what you my audience wants is at all in line with what I imagine my writing to be targetted towards.

The End of an Era as Michael Jackson Passes Away

I settled down last night, two nights prior to TweetCamp, to settle into some blogging, and post some updates, and just generally keep people abreast of the happenings, and of what’s going to happen at TweetCamp this Saturday, and as I briefly glanced at my Twitter, I caught the series of tweets, in rapid succession, from many of the people that I was following, talking about the tragic passing of Farah Fawcett, and Michael Jackson.

After reading some of the tweets, I eventually ventured across to CNN and BBC, to see what was being reported in the live media, and eventually I settled on watching BBC News, seeing as CNN was just showing a mute video showing people live, outside the hospital where he passed away.

Michael_jackson_bad_cd_cover_1987_cddaI don’t know quite what to write right now, but at the same time, really feel like I need to put something in words.  All evening, I’d been feeling a little odd, and something felt a bit funny, and out of place..  only seeing this news made me acutely aware of just what could have been causing so much commotion, and disturbance in my psyche, and the psyche of others in the world, who might have picked up on something not quite right.

Michael Jackson is a man who will be remembered for many years to come.  As he says farewell to us in this world, he shall be sorely missed.  Not necessarily for the man that he was, but more for the inspiration he was for so many.  His album Thriller grossed something like 51 million sales, the biggest ever selling album in the world, a record that has yet to be broken.

He was the first ever ‘black’ artist to feature on MTV, and become popular with mainstream pop, being appreciated for his work, and talent, more than the colour of his skin.  Whilst he spent his own life entertaining and amusing others, he himself led a life of sadness, and solitude, feeling lonely, all alone at the top.  Some say he was the last of a dying breed of true ‘Pop’ Stars, accomplishing such an inspiring level of success, and reward, but paying for it, with the price of his childhood, and spending the rest of his life trying to recapture his youth.

Listening to the BBC paying tribute to Michael Jackson for a few hours, when hearing from people that were close to him, or that could see him in his personal life, or just on his own, away from the media, he was most definitely a lonely man, who in spite of his successes, didn’t seem to have any ‘happiness’ in his life.

Uri Geller, a close personal friend of his, shared with the BBC, live last night, over the phone, how whilst he was helping Michael Jackson, and had him under hypnosis, he had asked Michael if he had ever touched any children inappropriately, and the answer he gave was a resounding no.  When asked why he had given the money, and settled, it was because he just couldn’t take the stress and pressure of it anymore.  Whilst it may have been unethical of Uri Geller to ask Michael these questions, whilst he was under hypnosis for something else, it just goes to show that ultimately, Michael Jackson was a decent and honourable man.  In spite of his quirks and eccentricities, he also endured a lot of pressure and stress, always being in the limelight, and being torn to shreds by the media.

It really feels like the end of an era, when you think of just how the 80’s was defined so heavily by Michael Jackson, and his music.  The fact that the video for Thriller, was the first of it’s kind – a pop video, something rarely seen before that.  And the success of that album, which really helped cement his future as an altogether different league of Musician, and Artist, he will be sorely missed and fondly remembered for his music, regardless of what people thought of him as a person.  Testimony to his appeal as a performer was the way in which tickets for his live performances at the O2 got snapped up.  In no time at all they were all sold out, a phenomenal accomplishment, given the number of days he would be on tour for, and how large the venue is.  Unfortunately, for all those fans, they shall never get to see him perform live.

Michael Jackson leaves, behind him his Ex Wife, Lisa Marie Presley, daughter of the great Elvis Presley himself, his second ex-wife Deborah Jeanne Rowe, a woman who was his nurse, as well as mother to two of his children, a boy and a girl, and a third child, who according to Wikipedia was born after artificial insemination of Jackson’s sperm with an undisclosed surrogate mother.

michael-jacksonThe man Michael Jackson shall be remembered for a long time to come, and his passing is truly going to be a loss for this world.  Not just for his originality and creativity, but also for his talent, and musical genius, his flair on the dance floor, and his unique contribution to bringing african americans into mainstream, breaking down for the first time the racial biases that may have existed before his time.

It feels like humanity has shifted in one night, and that the world will never be the same again.  With the current way in which music is increasingly more digital, and virtual, and more individiuals are able to create music, and be appreciated, the time of the ‘mega’ popstars appears to have finally drawn to a close.  Just as Elvis was the “King of Rock”, so Michael will be remembered as the “King of Pop”.  A man who’s musical genius, skill, talent, and undying passion for his art truly defined him as one of the greatest musicians that has ever lived.

Goodbye Michael, may you finally rest in peace.

Social Media as Social Currency

Social Media is a form of currency.  It’s a Social Currency.  It works based on the exchange of information, in exchange for your attention.  If I give you my ears, I let you tell me something, and equally, I will only listen to you, if I value your contribution.

For the longest time ever (perhaps as early as 2004) I’ve been actively using and advocating social media as a tool, or mechanism to build ever stronger relationships with the people you know and trust, as well as start screening across the many people who you know, to discover potential business relationships, potential customers, friends, and peers.

Pretty quickly the online space is starting to fill up, and it becomes increasingly difficult to start finding “real” value in exchanging meaningless messages in the ether we know as the Internet.  Slowly, for me, I’ve been starting to wonder just what does it matter, or how useful is it to just “talk” with, or exchange messages with completely random people who I hardly know?

In actual fact, it doesn’t.  It doesn’t matter one bit.  And then it hit me.  “Social Media”, unlike traditional online presences are not about hiding behind an anonymous identity.  Instead it’s about amplifying the presence we have in real life.  It’s all about being more of who you really are.  Which means that if in real life, you’re generally anti-social, or prefer to be introverted, and keep yourself to yourself, the moment you start to use Social Media, that doesn’t somehow magically change.  It doesn’t suddenly make you a public extrovert.  It does however allow you to stay more visibly connected to the people who you know, and meet, and want to engage with.

Since using Social Media, I’ve come to find many interesting and wonderful people, who I definitely would never have met in person, in real life, in the same way.  Common interests, mutual recognition of other colleagues in the same field as me, and also just generally people who I work with are all visible and present on the Social Web.  The difference is, that on the social web, what I say can be picked up, and can be left unnoticed.  There isn’t any necessity for everyone in all of my communities online to read every word that I post, blog, tweet, email, or communicate online.

There is however, something in having people’s attention online.  That I give mine, and in exchange receive other people’s attention in return is already starting to bring up questions of quality over quantity.  Given that the number of hours in a day are finite, that there’s only so many people I can reply to, and that there’s only so much I can do, until my primary motivations of income, survival, and relaxation/chilling kick in.  So far, I’ve been “playing” on this merry-go-round of Social Media, joining upto new services, and new sites, that are popping up, a dime a dozen.  But now, I’m starting to get “saturated”.  Saturated with noise, with media, with messages, with adverts, and with stuff that I don’t want to have to deal with.  I have to manually filter through all of this noise, before I get to the stuff that matters to me.

This has a cost associated with it.  It’s my time, it’s my energy, it’s my effort.  I don’t want to sound harsh, uncaring, or ungiving, but I only have so much time and attention to give. The same is true for everyone else.  Sooner or later, when you hit rock bottom on that bank account, you feel depleted, and drained, and you step back from it all.

Don’t worry if you don’t understand what I’m talking about just yet.  You could still be in the “oohh, shiny new toy” phase when it comes to Social Media.  Which is great! Enjoy it while you can.  It’s just sooner or later, it get’s old.  Sooner or later, you hit a low, or a bottom, or your account runs out.  This account, this balance, is the Social Currency I’m talking about.  It’s what happens when you give, give give, and get nothing back in return.

It’s a part of learning and growing… You stretch beyond your limits, you go as far as you can, you look everywhere with an enthusiastic, zestful gaze.  And then, one day, it hits you.  Or slowly, it starts to dawn on you, that as much fun as it is to just give, give give, and as much as you enjoy just “hanging out” online, with all these thousands or hundreds of cool friends, you actually have a life to live.  You actually have “real work” that you want to get done.  You have dreams, you have aspirations.  Things you actually want to accomplish.  And when that moment comes, suddenly you start questioning the real value of Social Media.  What have you been building up? What have you been putting all this time, and energy into?

Is it really all just a popularity contest where it only matters how many people are following you on twitter? Is it all about just blogging, and getting hundreds of comments?  Or is it really about regular people just talking with regular people?

Sooner or later, once the realisation kicks in, that relationships as great as they are, don’t put food on the table, keep a roof over your head, or keep you warm, and clothed, you may start to look at it all very differently.  I could be wrong.  It could be that Social Media is a great way to escape the world that provides you with your sustenance, and lets you look onto the world that you would love to work in, if you had the means to support yourself, or a job taht paid enough.  But for me, that’s not the case.

Looking at “social media”, and making sense of what it really is, and what it really means to me, has really been put into perspective recently.  I’ve realised that I’ve actually put a lot of time energy, and attention into my online social network.  I’ve built up my social capital.  I’ve earnt currency and favour with many people on line.  Some I’ve had the pleasure of meeting with in person too.  Not everyone is necessarily the type of person I would want as my best friend.  But then that never was or is the point.  I’ve built up this pool, this reservoir of a network or community, and occasionally, I can tap that with some of the social capital that I’ve built up in that community.  For those times when I feel a bit low, or just need some moral support, I can find friends to confide in, or peers, to encourage me on.  It’s a tight knit community, in my mind, in that I feel tight with many of them, and hope they feel the same with me.

Now, that social capital that’s been built up is a bit of a nebulous, unclear currency.  Something that doesn’t have a clear boundary, or delimitation at present.  Typically, you can tell your generating value, and contributing more into your online community when you start to draw more attention, and people into the conversation.  Likewise, the reverse is true too.  When people start dropping away, or stop following, or unfriend you, more often, than not, then you are clearly milking your Social Capital more than you’re contributing into that pool.

It seems I’m actually a bit slow with my thinking and ideas, since there’s already people out there who had understood this social capital as something of value, before I had gotten to it.  Eiso Kant (@eisokant), and Mac Taylor (@macwind) had already figured this out, and put into motion the beginnings of a tool or mechanism to help capture, and measure this inherent social capital that exists in our communities.  Their project Twollars, is a “gratitude currency”, that helps to start capturing some of the gratitude and thanks that people feel towards someone in their community.  At present the system works only on Twitter, and all you do is send out a tweet, using certain words, in a certain order, and the Twollars platform picks up your message, and adjusts the balances of your and your recipients twitter account accordingly.  Try it out say “Give x twollars @USERNAME [give reason]” where X is the number of twollars you want to give, and USERNAME is the twitter ID of the person you want to give twollars to.  By default, everyone starts out with a balance of 50 Twollars, and there’s no need to register to start using the service, since it is listening to the twittersphere stream of conversation all the time.

The idea behind twollars is that when someone is grateful, or want to show their appreciation to someone else, they can show that appreciation by giving twollars.  Then, companies can sponsor a charity, who can then receive twollars as donations, from people, and the sponsoring company would then buy the twollars, and give the charity $1 for each twollar they buy from them.  The idea being that then companies can gain some kudos in the community by making a positive contribution to the charity, and gain access to some of the social capital within the online sphere.

Of course how those companies then use twollars, and give them out to people will affect any real success they have with their social media campaigns.

It’s interesting, given that this week is the Charity SmackDown, where celebrities are competing to get as much money raised using social media tools as possible.  It’ll be interesting to see the fallout, and where the social capital that these celebs have built up, will land.  I’m gonna hazard a guess, and say that most of these celebs have all established such a strong bank account of social capital and goodwill with their communities, that they’ll have no trouble getting people to fork out, and participate, and contribute in the causes.  If anything, their requests, and appeals to their communities will build an even stronger bond, and make them even more liked, and loved by the people already following them.   It’s times like these that everyone’s social capital becomes a positive asset in it’s own right.  Of course, if someone with hardly any community were trying to accomplish something as simliar, it’s still entirely possible.  Look at Amanda Rose (@amanda), organiser of the Twestival fundraising event that happened globally.  Whilst her personal following isn’t more than a few thousand followers, her social capital and the social capital that was built up around Twestival made a readily available pool to tap into, and build upon.  This pool of social capital allowed the Twestival team to generate a tremendous amount of potential social good, with all the money that was raised (at least $250k) from just a single night of events, happening around the globe, on the same day..

I think Twollars is an excellent way of starting to calibrate some of the social capital that we take for granted, and never really appreciate, and will help us, in days to come help put some baby training wheels on brands and big business, as they start to tip toe their way through the minefield of social media faux pas, and start using their own money to buy some social capital to start building some of that trust for themselves.

Obviously translating this social capital into a currency, like Twollars, isn’t going to remove the need to learn the basics of Social Media etiquette, and it certainly isn’t going to be a substitute for real relationships.  But now that there’s a way to measure and give away Social Capital on Twitter, perhaps now people will start accounting for their time in terms of real value that gets generated for them, or that they contribute back, rather than engaging in mind numbing conversations, just for the sake of talking.  Only time will tell, I guess.

Disclaimer: I am currently being paid by Twollars to help them raise awareness around the Twollars concept, and whilst these ideas, and thoughts are my own, I do want to declare that I am being paid to write this content.  That being said, I do firmly believe in what I’ve written, and were the Twollars guys just good friends, I would probably still write something very similar to what’s been written here.  The thoughts insights, and ideas, shared here are all my own, with the exception of the concept and implementation of Twollars, which remains the product of Eiso Kant, and Mac Taylor, the founders of Twollars.  I have also drawn upon my experiences of my Twitter community online, without which these insights and thoughts through reflection would not have been possible.

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