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this cartoon has two panels. One shows a man looking at his iPhone. The caption reads wisdom: I don't need to have an opinion on the latest online drama. The second image is the same man looking up. The caption reads transcendence: I can have an opinion on the latest online drama without needing to post it anywhere.

Hot take #3,572

Hot take #3,572 published on

At any given time, every social platform seems to have some kind of big online drama going on. (Maybe not Pinterest. Or maybe I’ve just been really lucky and managed to miss it every time.)

And I won’t speak for you, but I find online drama has a powerful gravitational force: The temptation to weigh in is almost irresistible. Sometimes that’s with good reason, when there’s something important at stake and I feel like I’ll be doing some good by contributing.

But often, it’s just my reptilian hindbrain seeing a conflict and wanting to engage. (Why, oh why, is it fight and not flight that kicks in on these things?) That impulse is even stronger when people I know and/or respect are part of the fracas.

(Side note: Apparently the whole “reptilian hindbrain” is more useful metaphor than rigorous science. Nerts.)

The thing is, that pull is almost as strong when I know nothing about the subject of the disagreement. That’s when the allure of the rabbit hole is at its strongest. And if I’m not careful I start researching the damn thing to try to form an opinion, or (ahem) buttress the first knee-jerk reaction I had, or failing that at least identify a sympathetic protagonist, and…

…for what?

Feeding a toxic algorithm that privileges assholery? Giving oxygen to some troll who’s just doing this for the lullz? Making the world a marginally less pleasant place?

Over the past several years, I’ve worked on pulling myself back from the Online Drama Event Horizon. Not using Twitter has helped a lot… although I still have to check it from time to time for work. And when I do, there’s invariably some hashtag-driven fracas going on, and it takes a conscious effort to remind myself I don’t post here any more.

That discipline is starting to pay off. More and more, I not only don’t join the fray, I resist the urge to gawk at it. Dragging myself out of that morass has been hasn’t been easy. But damn, it’s worthwhile. I’m not perseverating over the digital equivalent of arguments between drunk strangers in bars; the shitty behaviour of others no longer occupies nearly the square footage between my ears that it once did. (This gives my own shitty behaviour a chance to stretch its legs; honestly, it was getting a little cramped in there.)

There are times when bystander intervention is important, even morally necessary. And other times there are perfectly legitimate disagreements where I may or may not have the knowledge to form a useful opinion.

But the overwhelming majority of the online conflicts I see aren’t that. Between the outrage bait, the yahoos spoiling for a fight — any fight — and the divisions being ginned up by bad actors, nobody wins except the assholes.

And I’m done handing them victories.

Cartoon headlined "Every conversation on a new social platform (if it was a party)". There are two people talking with each other: - "We're at the party!" - "It took forever to get invited, but here we are!" - "It's like other parties, but also unlike them!" - "Let's talk about their differences and similarities!" - "Some new people here aren't partying the right way!" - "They're ruining it! I like the way the party was when I first got here!" - "But enough about the party. Can I sell you something?" - "Welp, it's getting late..."

I’m at the party!

I’m at the party! published on

Oh, those awkward early weeks of a new social platform when so many of the conversations seem to be about the platform itself. This week, the new kid on the block is Threads, Meta’s answer to Twitter.

Scrolling through my feed on Threads, it seems three out of every four posts is either some variation on “So this is Threads,” advice for using Threads, reflections on the experience so far or predictions for Threads’ future.

Or a sardonic reflection on the fact that we all seem to be using Threads as a way to talk about Threads. Which is, let’s face it, kind of hilarious. (Hence the cartoon.)

Thing is, though? It’s also absolutely natural. If you and I were plunked down in unfamiliar surroundings, I’m guessing we’d be spending a lot of your early time there talking about those surroundings: observing, analyzing, speculating and even critiquing them.

One unavoidable topic when we’re talking about Threads: privacy. By now you’ve probably heard about just what a spectacular personal-data-land-grab Threads involves. It’s pretty much what the Facebook and Instagram apps already require you to fork over before you can start posting cat reels and such); a little more than Twitter; and a lot more than, say, BlueSky.

The privacy winner, though, is Mastodon. Here’s how they put it at Ars Technica:

Below is all the data collected by Mastodon that’s mentioned in the App Store.

*In the style of Taylor Swift.*

[Blank Space]

(And if you’re wondering whether you can find me on Mastodon, why yes, you very much can.)

As we’re adjusting to this latest meteor impact in our social media ecosystem, it’s worth considering that there may not be any one successor to Twitter. Maybe we should stop trying to figure out who will win that crown — because perhaps there shouldn’t be a crown in the first place.

Threads’ makers are promising they’ll be connecting it before long to the Fediverse, a group of intercommunicating servers and services connected through a common protocol (thanks again, Evan Prodromou!) So the successor to Twitter might be not be one service, but thousands. Let a million servers bloom.

That holds just the faintest shadow of a glimmer of a spark of hope for the revival of the open Internet heralded in the early years of Web 2.0 — blogs and wikis and services large and small all talking to each other, and users being able to communicate across platforms instead of within walled gardens.

That’s a party I’d love to go to. I’ll bring chips.

(an alien minion speaks to a larger alien dressed in ornate ceremonial garb, holding a phone) "Your Excellency, you're wasting a lot of characters by starting every tweet with 'Hear me and tremble, people of Earth!'"

Ppl of 🌏

Ppl of 🌏 published on

There was a time when social media advice was pretty simple. Be authentic and honest. Try to provide something of value to your audience. Listen more than you speak, and aim for conversation, not broadcast.

And minimize your character count on Twitter.

Today, simple isn’t really the word for social media or the Internet as a whole any more. “Raging bonfire of complexity” comes to mind. (So does “algorithm-driven profit-motivated undermining of civil society,” but let’s set that one aside for now.)

Thing is, I’m still something of a social media idealist. So I still recommend authenticity and honesty; sharing something of your inner life with the world; providing value; listening and conversing. But I also recommend doing it strategically, with tangible, specific goals in mind. Maybe it’s to connect with people, to make them laugh, to entertain yourself, to promote your skills to potential clients or employers, or to change the world in some way. Without goals, it’s easy to spin your wheels on social media for hours on end, achieving very little other than a headache, a drop in self-esteem and a marginal increase in Mark Zuckerberg’s net worth.

And about that last part, changing the world in some way: Don’t sell it short. My latest podcast episode talks about this. In a time of massive existential threats to civil society and our own survival, speakers who can command audiences have a responsibility to take a stand on those issues. As much as we might like to leave it to the experts, the experts are being shouted down.

Same for social media, maybe even more so. If you can build an audience and command attention online, you have the opportunity to use it for good… and arguably more than just an opportunity. As I put it in the episode, with great platform comes great responsibility.

Maybe together, we can not only save the planet, but make it one worth conquering.

(person photographing roses with a phone) Sometimes you just have to stop and Instagram the roses.

A well-earned break

A well-earned break published on

“Just a note that, over the next while, it may be easier than usual to find me on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram. I’m doing a social media gorge.”

I’ve often said that the secret to not driving yourself batty online isn’t to focus on annual Internet fasts, but on taking social media and the rest of what the Internet has to offer, and making ruthlessly intentional use of it. Don’t let Facebook’s newsfeed, Instagram’s stream or Twitter’s trending topics tell you what’s important; use lists, hashtags and carefully-honed searches to set your own priorities.

But I’ll admit I’ve sometimes been guilty of underestimating how hard that can be. Because nearly every social media platform out there is doing its damnedest to lure you into their algorithmically-driven (and advertiser-friendly) stream of content. They’re doing it not just by making those streams appealing, but addictive — and by making it harder to shape those streams on your own.

That isn’t likely to change any time soon. So you might well be thinking “Hey, maybe it’s time for a new social network that won’t treat its members’ time and attention the way coal-mining companies treat Appalachian mountaintops.” And if you’re also thinking “And I’m just the visionary to build it!” then you’ll probably want to read this piece by Alexandra Samuel. (Disclosure: I’m her husband and biggest fan.) She discusses some of the daunting obstacles and tough choices any Facebook replacement will have to confront.

Meanwhile, it’s worth every effort we can make to remember that our time and attention are our own, that they have value, and that what matters is the connections we make and deepen with each other and the meaning we create. And don’t feel any shame over doing that online. When you Instagram those roses, do it with your head held high — so long as that’s the angle that works to get the shot you want.

(Patient to therapist) Isn’t it enough that I’ve learned to love the person I pretend to be on Facebook?

Back to fronting

Back to fronting published on

Most of us are guilty of fronting on social media now and then. We put forward our very best selves, sand down the rough edges, then give it a little burnish, and then some laqueur, and then run it all through the Rise filter on Instagram.

Maybe we should have one week every year where we don’t front. Where we, I don’t know, back.

So maybe you don’t Instagram the seared albacore tuna on quinoa you’re having for lunch on Monday. Instead, post that hot dog with sauerkraut and chili you’re having on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. And don’t Facebook how humbled you were by all those accolades you received for your latest professional coup. Rather, do a live video from inside the washroom stall where you’re hiding from coworkers infuriated because you spilled yogurt into the one decent printer in the whole office.

I’d write more, but I’m off to three hours of fitness boot camp after I down a bullet coffee or two. Then it’s 15 minutes of #CrushingIt to get to #InboxZero. And then I hit the clubs with my fabulously beautiful friends, as I do always every night and never stay home doing old New York Times crosswords.

#HumbledAndBlessed, people.

(Woman holds tablet displaying cover of Work Smarter With Social Media) Why not give it a shot? It's not like working stupider with social media has gotten us anywhere.

On working smarter

On working smarter published on No Comments on On working smarter

My wife and all-around genius Alexandra Samuel has just published her latest book from Harvard Business Review Press, Work Smarter With Social Media. You’ll find all the tips, insight and advice from her previous four books (on Evernote, Twitter and Hootsuite, LinkedIn and email) along with some brand new ideas on putting the social web to work for you, instead of the other way around.

And if this post looks like my way of plugging that self-same book, well, actually, yes. Yes, it is.

So is telling you that everyone who buys a copy before May 25 gets six free weeks of coaching from Alex, including:

  • 6 weekly e-mail newsletters with a day-by-day action plan for each week of the program, highlighting key activities and breaking each chapter into actionable steps
  • Feedback and peer support on our Work Smarter Facebook page, where you’ll be able to share your questions and achievements with Alex and  other readers
  • Members-only Google hangouts to check in on your progress and ask Alex your questions
  • Extra tips and content on a range of social media challenges

You can find it online at… oh, hell, almost everywhere. HBR, Amazon (where it’s currently half-price!), iBooks, Kobo, Nook and Google Play.

Post, graduate.

Post, graduate. published on No Comments on Post, graduate.

This one’s in honour of the news that Shel Holtz is going be teaching a graduate course on social media at San Francisco’s Academy of Art University. (FAQ: Q. “But the cartoon looks nothing like him.” A. “That’s because it’s not supposed to be him.” Q. “…Oh.”) If you have any kind of involvement in social media at the organizational level, you’ll want to check out For Immediate Release, the podcast he and Neville Hobson have been doing for more than eight years now. (What am I saying? You’re already listening to it, right?)

Meanwhile, in case you missed the last episode…

Previously on Noise to Signal: “Chorizo” McGee – now barely human as the serum takes its terrible toll – triggers the fiscal cascade. With the global banking system hanging in the balance, Ivana makes a fateful call and tells Candace everything (or so she thinks). The tables are soon turned, though, as the Brahms Task Force makes landfall and takes on the Night Heron’s extraction team, and when the dust settles, nobody’s sure exactly who has the iridium casing for the Cantilever Device. In the ensuing scramble, the portal opens at last, freeing both the Qaos Quartet and the secret Vasily has spilled so much blood to hide. For Mayor Subramaniam, it’s an opportunity to right the wrongs of the past, reconcile with Montenegro and – could it be at last? – reclaim that one great lost love. But that comes at the price of the third piece of the cipher key, and a broken oath with deadly consequences for everyone… even the reputedly immortal Children of Darkwood.


Firestorm! published on 2 Comments on Firestorm!

Originally posted on ReadWriteWeb

A while ago, I posted about one of the classic blunders in response to online criticism: deleting negative comments.

Let’s add another mistake to that list: silence.

I’m not sure there’s a force on earth that could have saved Susan G. Komen for the Cure from the social media firestorm that engulfed the organization this week. (Other than avoiding their original decision, which struck me as deeply misguided at best.) But lord knows their communications strategy didn’t do them a lot of favors – starting with their initial silence.

Whether the rationale is “Let’s hope it blows over” or “We can’t get internal consensus on a message, so let’s not say anything” or “Legal suggests we shut up”, silence does nothing to stop an online juggernaut from building. All it does is reinforce the impression of an organization’s critics that it’s out of touch with their concerns.

Back when the main communication vehicles were things like ads and news media, you could often take a good long time before pushing out a news release or sending a spokesperson out for a scrum. Not any more.

Two things can help if you find yourself in the Komen situation – especially if you need some time to gather the facts, reflect on your position and decide on your next move.

First, a crisis communication plan. Thinking about possible scenarios and developing a strategy for each one – including who responds, how and in what channel – means you don’t have to do that thinking when your fight-or-flight mechanism is competing with your higher reasoning functions for attention.

And second, an honest temporizing response. Replying to people that you understand how important the issue is to them, and promising them a more complete response within a few hours or days, and then delivering on that promise with a sincere and direct reply, can give you and your colleagues the time to move beyond a reactive, defensive response to a more effective one.

What won’t work is wishful thinking. Planning based on the assumption that nobody will notice what you’ve done – or that when they do, they’ll give you the benefit of the doubt – is some of the best fuel a firestorm could ask for.

Apparently, we DO need these stinking badges

Apparently, we DO need these stinking badges published on 5 Comments on Apparently, we DO need these stinking badges

Originally posted on ReadWriteWeb

I’m suddenly seeing badges everywhere.

Location-aware apps like Foursquare and Gowalla award them for things like visiting more than four venues in one night (the “crunked” badge) or checking into the kind of venue known for a particular personality type (the “douchebag” badge).

And now I’m getting badges in nearly every game and entertainment app I use, often with oddly low standards and notifications like “Award: Launching-the-App-for-the-First-Time Badge!”

This goes back – as all good things do – to video games; badges act like little food pellets that help keep you motivated in between levelling up and winning extra lives.

But there’s no question they work, so don’t be surprised when they start popping up in more mainstream applications. The Inbox Zero merit badge could well be built into the next version of Outlook; PowerPoint users (at least the ones I’ve been seeing lately) could be unlocking the “20 bullet points and 16 fonts in one slide!” badge.

Those badges seem to fill some deep-seated craving from our inner Brownies and Cub Scouts. All that’s missing is a proud virtual parent to sew them onto a digital sash for us… and I’m pretty sure that’s coming, too.

Social media: where you’re never a loan

Social media: where you’re never a loan published on No Comments on Social media: where you’re never a loan

Oh, sure, it would be neat if your bank (or credit union) counted your social media assets when they calculated your net worth. But you just know they’ll start skimming your followers as a service fee. And they’ll pull your gold card the moment your Klout score drops below 55.

Panel 1: Manager says to job applicant, "Your resumé says you're a social media guru. What does that entail?" Panel 2: He says, "I retweet other social media gurus." Panel 3: She says, "Wow! That's the kind of skill we just can't get enough of! You're hired!" He says "Really?!" Panel 4: She says "No, of course not."


Guru published on 6 Comments on Guru

Here’s a cartoon drawn on Translink’s #4 Powell bus. I challenged myself to see what I could get done between the south end of the Granville Bridge and Dunsmuir; the answer is, more than I thought. (And that’s with the unblinking stare of my seatmate, who was watching me work on my iPad with something that may have been interest, derision or clinical detachment. It’s hard to tell with hipsters.)

A video Valentine

A video Valentine published on 2 Comments on A video Valentine

From your friends at Social Signal and Noise to Signal, our social media valentine to you!

My love Alex conceived and wrote the text, created the video and suggested two of the cartoon ideas… I got to focus on the doodling. Enjoy!

Social Signal’s 2010 Valentine is a celebration of how the Internet can help you find love and keep it alive.

Friends with benefits

Friends with benefits published on 2 Comments on Friends with benefits

The debate rages on over whether social networks (and Twitter, and YouTube, and, and, and) have any legitimacy in the workplace, fueled in no small part by people who sell tools to block them.

But employers who turn their noses up at Facebook et al. may well discover that their coveted Millennials (a.k.a. Generation Y, a.k.a. those damn kids who won’t get off your lawn) are happy to return the favour when recruiting time rolls around. Blocking access to Facebook looks a lot like those IT departments that wouldn’t install web browsers on your computer a decade ago… or external email access a few years earlier.

And like those tools before them, the social web today is increasingly being used by companies and organizations for productive, collaborative work. So it’s not just a question of denying your HR department a hiring pool of cool kids. Blocking social media from your company can mean cutting yourself off from an important potential source of productivity, innovation and increased efficiency.

Of course, that’s an argument I like to make to people who haven’t just received a dozen Farmville notifications.

Originally published on ReadWriteWeb

(concerned man to woman) Whoa! That post is going to get you kicked out of social media!

Don’t let the door hit you in the RSS on the way out

Don’t let the door hit you in the RSS on the way out published on No Comments on Don’t let the door hit you in the RSS on the way out

For a Massive Fee, I’ll Show You How to Do It Right

For a Massive Fee, I’ll Show You How to Do It Right published on No Comments on For a Massive Fee, I’ll Show You How to Do It Right

I’m not sure what it is about social media. Here we are in this field that’s still emerging/exploding (or “explerging”, to use the trademarked term from my upcoming book, premium podcast, and $4,000-a-seat webinar) and constantly morphing. Yet there seems to be this powerful drive to lay down absolute laws about what works and what doesn’t.

Blogging? You should be posting twice a day. No, actually that’s too often; it abuses people’s attention. Wait, actually that’s not often enough; other people will eat your lunch. Actually, blogging’s dead, so move to Twitter, where you absolutely must follow everyone who follows you, unless you absolutely mustn’t, so don’t, unless you do. And when they do follow you, sending them an automatic direct message will either lift you into the Twitter elite or damn you to eternal ridicule. Possibly both.

I’ve fallen prey to this temptation myself, so I say all of this with a certain amount of chagrin. But I hope I’m on the road to reform: embracing my uncertainty, and vacillating with confidence.

(By the way, the title of Chris Brogan’s smashing blog post inspired the Neanderthal’s line in this cartoon.)