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    • Will social media eat itself?

      19th February 10

      Posted by Patricia McDonald

      Posted in social media

      Here at BBH Labs we’re big fans of all things social. We’ve spent time evangelising about the power of the social web and speculating about a future dominated by social businesses. We’re inspired and excited by a future where we can take our social graph with us anywhere we go on the web-a future beautifully articulated by Undercurrent’s Mike Arauz.

       ”There is no longer any interaction that an individual may have with a brand, company, product, or service that disconnected from all the people they know, and the people that share their interest in that experience.”

      So we were more than a little taken aback by the findings of the latest Edelman Trust Barometer that shows we trust our friends and peers as a source of information considerably less than we did two years ago. The decline is particularly marked in the US where just 25% of respondents view friends and peers as very/extremely credible-a decline of 20 percentage points on 2008-but is also reflected in the global data.

      It’s an extraordinary finding which calls many of our assumptions into question. The trust consumers place in peer to peer recommendations versus corporations has been one of the primary drivers of the social web, the excitement we feel about the potential for social business and the shift of marketing dollars from above the line to social media.  

      So has all our excitement been founded on a false set of assumptions? Is this simply an anomaly in the data? Or is social media sowing the seeds of its own demise? Read full post

    • When everyone’s a broadcaster, is everyone an advertiser?

      28th January 10

      Posted by Patricia McDonald

      Posted in social media

      Now social media has made it possible for everyone to become a broadcaster, is it inevitable that everyone becomes an advertiser?

      In the early weeks of 2010, there’s already been considerable debate (and indignation) around brands, businesses and even bands incentivising users for Tweets. Twincentivisng, if you like (and I must admit I can’t resist a pun).

      Is everyone an advertiser? Image by Mike Cogh, Flickr, under a creative commons license

      Is everyone an advertiser? Image by Mike Cogh, Flickr, under a creative commons license

      Should brands pay for tweets? Should twitterers take the cash or resist? Is there a sustainable paid for media model here or a fundamentally misguided reaction to the rise of social media? Is pay-per-tweet the end of the Twitterverse as we know it?

      In many ways this is an inevitable response to a number of factors:

      • The extraordinary rise and equally extraordinary media profile of Twitter
      • The increased premium placed on peer to peer recommendations
      • The collapse of on-line display advertising and the rise of SEO
      • The socialisation of search

      Any and all of these factors suggest a pressing need for brands to find a way to harness the power of social media and for media agencies to find a way to monetise it. Viewed from one perspective, the asymmetric nature of Twitter relationships make it particularly ripe for the adoption of a “broadcast” model.  1 in 5 tweets already mentions a brand so monetisation of these mentions seems, from that perspective, to make eminent sense.

      Read full post

    • If you want a conversation, say something interesting

      4th November 09

      Posted by Patricia McDonald

      Posted in Brands, social media

      Lots of smart people have made compelling arguments recently for the shift from campaign to conversation thinking. We were particularly taken with this post  by Kenneth Weiss courtesy of Rick Liebling at Eyecube which clearly and neatly maps the differences between the two approaches and we very much enjoyed this RGA film talking about the importance of long term brand platforms.

      Campaigns versus conversations Infographic by Kenneth J Weiss

      Campaigns versus conversations Infographic by Kenneth J Weiss

      We’re big fans of conversation thinking. The danger, however, is that we believe we can simply shine a spotlight on the conversation, abandon the campaign and leave consumers to it. It’s dangerous for a number of reasons:

      1. They may not be saying very much at all. Writing about launching “Brands in Public” Seth Godin observes “If your brand has any traction at all people are talking about you”. That’s partially true of course, but only partially. If you’re say a bread brand, a detergent brand or a toilet paper brand they may not be saying a lot.  As Oscar Wilde so memorably put it “The only thing worse than been talked about is not being talked about”. Or is it…
      2. In the absence of something positive to respond to, the conversation may be dominated by customer service issues or by mischief making. The Skittles experiment is a case in point where without a conversation starter from the brand the conversation is effectively high-jacked. Indeed many brand owners’ reaction to the Brands in Public initiative seems to indicate that simply letting the conversation run without interesting brand stimulus and curation is problematic for any number of brands.
      3. Our brands become the guy with no opinion-the one who responds to every question with “I don’t know, what do you think?”
      Skittles' Twitter Homepage Experiment

      Skittles' Twitter Homepage Experiment

      Read full post

    • “Do not glorify aesthetics”: a manifesto for Data Visualisation?

      2nd September 09

      Posted by Patricia McDonald

      Posted in data, design

      We’re moderately obsessed with the world of data visualisaton here at Labs for a number of reasons: the ability to generate fresh insight from extraordinarily complex data sets, the ability to trigger radical reappraisal of familiar problems, the ability to put consumers in control of the vast quantities of personal data they generate every day.  Not to mention the extraordinary fusion of technology and creativity it represents. 

      We firmly believe that data visualisation has a wealth of exciting commercial applications, from communicating in new ways to developing new tools, apps and utilities for clients and consumers alike. So we’ve grown slightly frustrated by the rise of visualisations that are moderately pretty but add little in terms of real insight, utility or illumination.

      We’re also, as we may have mentioned,  big fans of Manuel Lima here at Labs. So we were intrigued to see that he has authored an “Information Visualisation Manifesto”, a provocative (but characteristically generous and nuanced) take on the future of data visualisation which tackles head on the thorny questions at the heart of this ever-expanding field:

      • Art versus Science
      • Intrigue versus Immediacy
      • Aesthetics versus apprehension.

       Manuel comes down firmly on the side of clarity of communication versus visualisation for visualisation’s sake, citing the discipline’s roots in the desire “to facilitate understanding and aid cognition” and a growing frustration with the “eye candy” approach to the craft. Many of his principles are rooted in this utilitarian approach, reading almost like a Bauhaus manifesto (and none the worse for that):

      • Form follows Function
      • Do not glorify Aesthetics
      • Look for relevancy
      • Aspire for Knowledge

      It’s a bold, purist and punchy vision yet also acknowledges the power of narrative and the role of intrigue. Indeed the question of narrative seems to lie at the heart of this Manifesto; the need to pose a specific question of the data and to weave coherent themes and stories from it. These themes then drive the aesthetic approach. As Manuel puts it:

      “Form doesn’t follow data. Data is incongruent by nature. Form follows a purpose, and in the case of Information Visualisation, Form follows Revelation

      This is perhaps the key distinction between Information Visualisation as defined here and what Manuel suggests we start thinking of as “Information Art”. Within this approach, artists will freely allow form to follow data, using the random-ness this creates to add texture and interest. Take, for example, Aaron Koblin’s desire to embrace the random-ness of a data set and indeed the richness and texture added to his famous Radiohead video by “interrupting the data”:

      “I think it really gives character, because I think it’s really that kind of intricacy and detail that builds character and in a sense it’s the errors and flaws that make art”.

      Incongruity making art: Aaron Koblin's "House of Cards" promo for Radiohead

      Incongruity making art: Aaron Koblin's "House of Cards" promo for Radiohead

      Both approaches are undoubtedly valid. Within any medium there will be times when we seek immediacy and times when we are prepared to be intrigued and to explore. There will be times when we want to understand our world better and times when we want to turn perceptions of it on its head. I can think of few practical applications of, say, the “Synchronous Objects” visualisation series but it mashes up art forms and messes with my mind in a truly delightful way.

      As ever, then, we need to return to objectives, to ask what we are trying to achieve:

      • Do we want to educate around an issue, making complex questions simple?
      • To shift perceptions and provoke a response?
      • To offer a fresh perspective on an infrastructure question for our clients?
      • To offer our consumers better comprehension and control of their behaviours?  

      Simply put, are we going to offer something that is either very, very useful or very, very beautiful? Either way, greater clarity of intent and greater discipline throughout the industry can only be an advantage in building credibility and engagement. Building that credibiltiy is vital if data viz is going to become not just an entertaining diversion but a vital tool for navigating a world generating more and richer data by the second.

      If what we are building is neither very beautiful nor very useful, to Manuel’s final point “Avoid Gratuitous visualisations”: “Simply conveying data in a visual form, without shedding light on the portrayed subject, or even making it more complex, can only be considered a failure”. 

      Or as William Morris put it: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”.

    • From Art to Apps: Data Visualisation finds a purpose

      27th August 09

      Posted by Patricia McDonald

      Posted in creativity, data, design, guest

      Author: Jim Carroll, Chairman, BBH London

      I recently attended an excellent Made by Many event hosted at BBH which featured a re-presentation by Manuel Lima of his 2009 TED talk on data visualisation. Manuel is the curator of visualcomplexity.com and is an eloquent, modest, charming pioneer in this fascinating field.

      As a novice myself, I could not help wondering why we are all so immediately and instinctively attracted to the best of data visualisation.To start with, I’m sure there is some fundamental truth that for most of us data become meaningful only when we can see scale, change, patterns and relationships. Seeing is understanding.

      It’s also very reassuring to discover that complex, seemingly chaotic data sets and networks can be expressed as elegant, colourful, ordered maps and models. Perhaps there’s something akin to what the Enlightenment scientists felt as every new discovery revealed the endless beauty of nature.

      Indeed the best examples of data visualisation have their own aesthetic beauty. (I felt a nostalgic pang as I recalled time spent with spirograph in my bedroom as a child.)

      Like spirograph, but better: Email map by Christopher Baker

      Like spirograph, but better: Email map by Christopher Baker

      Read full post

    • Disruption versus Usability: has UXD become TOO good?

      8th July 09

      Posted by Patricia McDonald

      Posted in design

      Mulling over the various excellent posts springing up on why there isn’t more great work in the digital space it struck me that one area rarely discussed is the fundamentally different definitions of what constitutes “great”.

      Traditional agencies are instinctively drawn to disruptive work-work that stops the consumer in their tracks and forces them to pay attention. Digital specialists on the other hand are focussed on a smooth and seamless user experience. Ideas that disrupt this experience risk increasing bounce rates from a site for designers working to the 10 second stay-or-go “rule” . This tension between disruption and usability is so profound it’s hardly surprising that we struggle to find a common understanding of what great looks like, much less deliver it.

      Traditional agencies in the digital space (and indeed traditional digital agencies) are easily seduced by the power of Flash and the wonders of animation; we want attention and spectacle but what happens next? Why should the user stay, what are we asking them to do and where should they go next?  The campaign microsite is perhaps the prime expression of this tendency-as Iain Tate puts it, impressively punchily, in Campaign:

      “No one cares about your bloody microsite. In 2009 the flashy high production value microsite is finally starting to feel irrelevant. Sites that seem to do everything, but deliver nothing.”

      Read full post

    • When social doesn’t mean sociable

      29th May 09

      Posted by Patricia McDonald

      Posted in social media

      Social networking, social media, the social web-some of the most frequently used phrases of the moment but how often do we stop and think about what “social” really means?

      One of the easiest (and laziest) answers seems to be that it’s about making friends-being sociable. But it’s interesting to  note that while “social” does derive from the Latin “socius” (meaning friend) it does so via “socialis” meaning allied. Somehow enabling allies and allegiances seems like a much bigger and more transformative idea than simply socialising.  

      Some of the most interesting social sites at the moment actually seem to me to have very little to do with friending people, or poking people, or checking out their holiday pictures. The most interesting initiatives seem to be those that bring individuals together around a common purpose, enabling them to achieve things together previously only possible for major corporations. Ideas that allow individuals not simply to friend one another but to be useful to one another-that cut out the corporate world or conventional distribution mechanics and create a consumer to consumer value exchange.

      As Jyri Engestrom puts it in his excellent post on “object-centred sociality”: “The fallacy is to think that social networks are just made up of people. They’re not; social networks consist of people who are connected by a shared object. That’s why many sociologists, especially activity theorists, actor-network theorists and post-ANT people prefer to talk about ‘socio-material networks’, or just ‘activities’ or ‘practices’ (as I do) instead of social networks”

      I recently attended the inaugural IPA “Game Changers” event where among other great speakers Giles Andrews from Zopa inspired the crowd by explaining the genuinely radical thinking behind “the social lending company”.  For those who aren’t familiar with the proposition, Zopa is a service that puts individual borrowers directly in touch with individual lenders. It not only offers a welcome stream of credit in these increasingly crunched times, it also offers a win-win by offering compelling rates for both parties.

      This is a genuinely transformative piece of thinking that uses the fundamental characteristics of the social web-the ability to bring individuals together for their common good, the ability to start conversations-but has relatively limited interest in the sociable web. Concepts like Freecycle, couchsurfing or quirky work along similar lines: I don’t need to be intimate with other users to be of use to them, collaborate with them, fund them, enable them.

      Perhaps the most interesting point this raises is that the future of the social web may be driven not so much by friendship but by a new kind of trust. Trust in individuals versus institutions. Trust in people I don’t know (that I’m not friends with) but who I instinctively prefer to the plc and who are brought to me by editor and enabler brands I believe in. As crumbling faith in institutions meets technologies that can genuinely empower both the individual and the crowd, the possibilities are endless (and a little scary). The future of the social web may in fact be less sociable, more (dare I say it) socialist….

      So what does this mean for the corporate world? Well, the end probably isn’t nigh just yet. Deriving real utility from social media requires an investment from the individual-in terms of time and in terms of reciprocity. So it will probably remain for a while the preserve of the digitally savvy and time rich. But it may be time to start thinking now about which other services that could previously only be delivered by the might of the corporates that may be socialised next.   If lending can be socialised, what’s next? Venture capital? Real estate? What are we already doing on a micro-social scale that could go macro? What else can we congregate around to our mutual benefit? Would be fascinated to know your thoughts….

    • “I’ve always been interested in microscopes”: an interview with Aaron Koblin

      12th May 09

      Posted by Patricia McDonald

      Posted in Uncategorized

      "House of Cards" promo www.aaronkoblin.com

      "House of Cards" promo www.aaronkoblin.com

      As you may just have heard (we’ve been a tad over-excited…) data visualisation maestro Aaron Koblin came into to talk to us yesterday.  He kicked off with a showcase of his work, from his exquisite grad school visualisations of flight paths (see post below) to his latest embryonic projects for Google labs. Along the way he showcased extraordinary visualisations of the ebb and flow of information in cities and around the globe, experiments in crowdsourced sound design and perhaps his most famous project, the Radiohead “House of Cards” promo.

      Visualisation of SMS messages in Amsterdam www.aaronkoblin.com

      Visualisation of SMS messages in Amsterdam www.aaronkoblin.com

      In showcasing his extraordinary portfolio he touched on a number of powerful and provocative themes which we followed up on in our interview. Themes around the power of social context to make data compelling, the power of data visualisation to embrace the complexity of our lives today and the tension between the human and the machine present in crowd-sourcing engines.  He also shared his key learnings from life at the front line of data visualisation:  

      Looking at everyday things in new ways completely changes your perspective: there is no ”mundane” data when you set it in context.

      Use multiple visualisation techniques: there’s more than one way of seeing things  

      Stay true to the data, not the “real world” : There is a random-ness to data-it will make patterns you never anticipated. Respect the random-ness.

      You don’t have to use all the data : sometimes seeing patterns is about what you leave out

      Set the data free: open-source and let other people play with your data

      Following his talk, very graciously agreed to be interviewed by Labs about our (and your) burning questions around data visualisation.  It was a fascinating conversation for us and we hope for you. So over to Aaron….and many thanks to those who submitted questions for him. 

      Why do you think the world has suddenly gone crazy for data visualisation? 18 months ago it was a struggle to get anyone interested in data and now it’s the new rock and roll…

      I guess it’s really the times that we live in, now you have tools like Twitter and Facebook and things that are widely used not just by the nerds but by everybody. Popular culture has also just all of a sudden embraced the power of storytelling through data and the relevance of all the data to their lives. All kinds of things have happened that simply weren’t possible before – the author you look up to, the musician, etc. they’re sharing all kinds of things – you can be intimately living their lives along with them and you see all different types of applications.

      Do you think it’s partly about the explosion in the amount of data currently available, the data trail we leave behind us now or the fact that companies have more data than they can process so they end up giving it away?

       I think ultimately the biggest change is that the data is now relevant to people’s lives. Before most of the data was about infrastructure at best and a lot of it was locked away or presented in aggregate form. When you’re presented with a huge lump sum number that has no context it’s just not interesting, but now when you get these granular stories, things that are saying at this specific point in time here’s the way that things changed, just by giving it that context and social relevance it becomes interesting. 

      Read full post

    • “Data tells stories about our lives”

      11th May 09

      Posted by Patricia McDonald

      Posted in creativity, data, design

      Mind blowing: Flight patterns by Aaron Koblin http://www.aaronkoblin.com/
      Mind blowing: Flight patterns by Aaron Koblin http://www.aaronkoblin.com/
      If data visualisation is the new rock and roll, Elvis has (just) left the building. Aaron Koblin played to an enthralled audience of BBH-ers this afternoon, blew our minds and incredibly kindly agreed to be interviewed by Labs afterwards.

      Our interview to follow soon, but to whet your appetite, a quick download of our (and your) key questions for the rock star of the data visualisation world.

      Balancing immediacy and intrigue: A frequent criticism of data visualisation is that while often extremely beautiful, sometimes it doesn’t make the information contained any clearer-it can sometimes even seem to obfuscate in the name of art. Should great data visualisation simplify or should it embrace complexity and reward exploration? Should it be reductive or expansive in intent?
      Where left brain meets right brain: When embarking on a project, which comes first, the data or the technique? How critical a role does software play? Do the themes and memes recurring in data visualisation reflect the artists’ preoccupations or the data sets available?
      Proliferation versus privacy: One of the key enablers of data visualisation is the phenomenal explosion in the amounts of data we now generate everywhere we go. We live in a golden age of open-ness around personal data but will we reach a tipping point where we reclaim our personal privacies? Or will we opt in to share anonymised data for the common good?
      The power of synesthesia: Some of the most compelling data visualisation projects are those which express one medium-almost one sense- by means of another. Visually representing dance or music, aurally representing data sets-what is it we find so compelling about this “synesthetic” effect?

      Crowd-sourcing versus the wisdom of the crowd: Koblin’s recent work experiments with crowd-sourcing but suggests an ambivalence about the process. While a central theme of data visualisation is the wisdom of the crowd, how does it skew the data if the crowd knows it’s being watched? Is the unconscious wisdom of the crowd purer and more compelling or is conscious collaboration of the masses the future? How important is the role of the curator in that process?

      Answers – or at least compelling and considered answers – on a blogpost near you shortly….

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