The Medium Is The Extra Large

I’m applying for some college courses. After I fill out the online form and pay my money, one springs me with a surprise: They also want an idea for a “digital media project”. Huh. If I had an idea for digital media project I wouldn’t be applying for college.

So I’m staring at this, trying to figure out what they mean. What is a digital medium anyway. Someone who signs seances?

OK, seriously. Seriouslish. A medium is any means of communication more complicated than direct conversation. A telegraph, a town crier, a tombstone, a talking drum, a cardboard tube if sufficiently long. If you’re speaking through it, it’s a medium, and so the vast majority of human communication is via some medium or another.

What is digital? People use the word to mean “Things on the Internet and… stuff”, but it’s really anything that can be encoded as numbers. An analogue recording is a model of one physical thing (say a sound) made in another physical thing (say a groove), and so a copy of an analogue recording is a model of a model. Digital recording models the physical thing purely as an abstract number, which is why it can be copied forever without any loss of detail. That’s a huge boost in efficiency, so not only is most music and television digital now, but digital technologies also play vital roles in apparently analogue media like newspapers and radio. Really, a better question is what isn’t digital media now.

Which gives me my idea. What, indeed, has yet to be made digital? I should make some outrageous proposal to digitise a thing that everybody thinks of as quintessentially analogue. A digital… cloud? No that’s already a thing. A digital aeroplane! What could be less like a string of numbers than a solid object flying through the air?

Except, even planes are digital already. The joystick connects to a computer now, not to the wings and tail. It’s like they’re playing a flight simulation game and the game is flying the plane. But they’re in the plane, so they’re in the game… All a little head-wrecking when you think about it.

So I turn my attention to that third word. What constitutes a “project”? Any plan of action, really. That being the case I have a number of digital media projects lined up – first thing tomorrow morning in fact. Turning off the digital alarm on my phone and checking my digital email. Getting up and turning on the digital TV. Seen this way, pretty much my whole life is a digital media project.

Ladies and gentlemen of the admissions committee, I submit: Myself.

First Impressions of Google+

The Google+ Profile Page

After using Google+ for a couple of days, it becomes clear that this is far more than a mere carbon copy of Facebook.

It also rips off Twitter, not to mention Diaspora.

To put it more positively, Google have clearly looked long and hard at what social networking does and why it caught on in the way it did. They’ve attempted to combine the best features of both Facebook and Twitter into one product.

The base is very much like an improved version of Facebook with a more open, airy look and no hint of anything that might be construed as fine print.

The differences begin with how people connect. While Facebook is all about equal two-way relationships confirmed by both parties, in Google+ you can follow anyone and read what they share – as long that is as they’re sharing it with the public. In this way it is almost exactly like Twitter.

From there though the user has the option of allowing you into a more intimate ‘Circle’. This is exactly the same idea as ‘Aspects’ in Diaspora. You can make separate circles for work colleagues, family, clients, etc. So you can decide exactly who gets to see the picture of you drinking beer, and who gets to see the picture of you drinking beer, naked, with your swastika tattoo showing.

Complicated? Well, any social networking system is. Even something as apparently straightforward as Twitter quickly gets confusing in use, as you try to figure out the consequences of one ill-judged tweet being retweeted by two or three people. (One interesting aspect of Google+ is that you can mark things as non-shareable, which is very reassuring.) It is however a fundamentally more simple model than that of Facebook.

Does it add anything new to social networking? Facebook and Twitter are distinctly different, and it would be nice to see a third innovative approach. But while it may be a little to early to say – both the others developed in unpredicted ways and Google+ may yet – it really doesn’t seem to. Quite clearly, Google+ is just the main features of Facebook and Twitter combined and cleaned up.

Which is not, to my mind, a good thing. With Google’s wealth and resources behind it, (not to mention the fact that it integrates right in with your Google search results, your Gmail, etc.), it’s really possible that Google+ will take over the markets that these upstarts created. Rather than adding to the possibilities of social networking therefore it may actually reduce them, in the process giving even greater dominance of the Internet to the company that already bestrides it like a colossus.

But even if comes about such dominance is still a long way off, and for now I like the interface and the control, and I like the fact that Facebook has a competitor. I therefore wish Google+ good fortune and success. Just, you know, not too much good fortune and success.

If you’d like an invite to join Google+, or are already there and would like to follow me on it, my address is: Richard.Chapman@Gmail.com

Day of the Social Media Day

Research on Iran. by Negar Mottahedeh Social M...
Well I suppose that's one way to look at it

By the time you read this, Social Media may already have had their day.

That is, if you’re reading after midnight. Otherwise, it’s Social Media Day! So we should all get out and… Actually I suppose we should all stay in.

Do social media really need another day though? They’ve already got most of mine. And while I’m an enthusiastic user and positive overall about their influence and possibilities, I am a little disturbed by the vast power now in the hands of so few. Twitter hasn’t even monetised its success yet; I have paranoid visions that it’s waiting until it’s utterly indispensable to our working and personal lives before sending the ransom note.

Actually this is an apposite time for a Social Media celebration. MySpace, the first great success and first great failure of the sector, was sold on by News Corporation yesterday. I’m very tempted to start using it again just to piss Rupert Murdoch off. There may be several reasons why MySpace crashed, but surely being from the people who brought you Fox News was the kiss of death.

Another good thing happening right now is Google squaring up to Facebook. It would be nice to see some real competition – if you can compete with what looks awful like a natural monopoly – and if anyone has a chance of taking on Zuckerberg¹ it’s Google I guess. Their Google+ system does looks promising. Going by published details that is. No I don’t have invites. Or know anyone who has invites.

Of course I’d prefer if the competition came from someone else rather than Google yet again, and I’m glad to say that the Diaspora alternative… still exists. Any day now, it may start to… begin. OK, it’s taking ages; but even Twitter took years to get it right; when I joined back in 2007 it was just me and two other guys talking about how we combed our hair. And Diaspora are right to be careful, because I think their idea has the potential to be roughly the biggest thing ever.

Hopefully I’ll find some time today to explain why!

  1. Whose name, I’m afraid to say, Firefox thinks should be corrected to ‘C****sucker’. Editorialising?

Egypt Needs You

Sphinx CartoonIn 2003, the USA, UK and sundry allies invaded Iraq on the pretext of bringing democracy, while simultaneously supporting regimes throughout the Near and Middle East that wouldn’t know democracy if they buggered it with an electric cattle prod. And they did. Egypt was one such of course.

The West had been happy to turn a blind eye to this during the Cold War because previously Egypt had been getting awful close to Russia. Better it be one of our oppressive failed states, right? That stopped making sense after the fall of Communism, but Egypt was somehow converted into a bulwark against revolutionary Islam. Hell, dictatorship is pretty much a bulwark against any sort of change, right? And change is scary. Scary is bad, so therefore dictatorship is good. The logic is watertight. Mad, but watertight.

What we are seeing today in Egypt and across the region is a movement comparable, in both scale and moral significance, to the revolutions of 1989 in Eastern Europe. Social media told the people what the conventional media was forbidden to tell: That they were many, and the government’s minions were few. If we ever needed an argument against allowing censorship of the Internet, there it is.

These people who are angry in Egypt are people like us. They have Twitter accounts. They’re on Facebook. Our governments may have colluded with their government in the past, but we must tell our governments to stop being stupid. You can’t bomb people into freedom. Freedom rises upwards.

We are either on the side of freedom or we’re on the side of oppression. In Egypt right now, Christians are standing guard to protect Muslim protesters at Friday prayer from the police. Check out #Egypt on Twitter. Express your solidarity.