Regular readers of the Real Fresh TV blog will know I’ve been blogging about Social Media Cafe Manchester, the monthly meet up and networking event for any one into social media in the Greater Manchester area since the first event in November 2008. You can read all my blog posts by checking out posts tagged #smc_mcr.
Last Tuesday’s event, the second at the BBC on Oxford Road saw record numbers attending, many from related industries like web marketing, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and broadcast media.
It really does feel like the Social Media Cafe Manchester has grown tremendously this summer, perhaps due to the BBC Bar being used as the venue for the last two events. The attendee list for Tuesday’s event had at least a hundred names on it!
Present were a lot more people from other fields than social media and internet marketing which can only be a good thing.
Debating Social Media vs Search
A few days before the event, David Edmundson-Bird, Director of Exective Programmes at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Business School decided to add a debate session to the Session list on the Social Media Cafe Manchester wiki. It is normal practice to signify your intention to speak at the free to attend Social Media Cafe events by adding the title and a brief description of your talk to the wiki.
Provocatively titled “This House believes that Social Media represents the end of Search”, it was to take place at the end of the two informal presentations that happened concurrently at the event.
The debate had a couple of interesting features. Taken from David’s notes it was:
“A debate between search professionals and social media professionals.
Using the 140s House Rules, each speaker has 140 seconds to put his or her point across. At the end of both sides speaking, the debate will open up to the floor with questions – these can only be 140 seconds long, and responses from each side can only be 140 seconds long. After all question, one person from each side makes concluding remarks lasting 140 seconds. The house then votes.”
I decided to volunteer myself to speak ‘For’ the motion and I’ll post my thoughts about the debate now, after which I’ll blog my highlights on the “Digital Games and/as Social Media” talk by Ben Light, Professor of Digital Media at the School of Media, Music and Performance, University of Salford.
The 140 second rules did trouble me slightly, it meant I had to have my points all ‘bullet-point sharp’ and concise. I’ve been known to ramble.
In the end it turned out that I didn’t have to worry too much about timings, all my responses fitted well within the ‘2 minutes and a bit’ time constraint.
Arguing For the Motion
As it happens I was first to speak.
I opened up the debate by prefacing my argument with two provisos:
- that I was arguing about a time when social media would be prevalent for all media, specifically 15-20 years away
- that I was referring to ‘search as a function’ and not as a filter or, as some may have imagined, a search engine
My core argument was that when it was as easy to consume content as it was to create it, one had an interesting problem. How does discovery happen?
I argued that it was already happening, via social media. Stuff finds me, via hashtags and trending topics on Twitter. Twitter’s trending topics outline the most talked about things in the web-universe at that particular moment.
And I personally think that this is how much ‘content’ discovery will take place in the short to mid-term future.
Consequently, my closing point was thus:
Marketing professionals specialising in search will increasingly need to create pages and profiles for their client’s products on the main social media sites to be relevant to a digitally-native population. To be found, they need Social Media and not Search.
Taken to its conclusion, my last point suggests that Search professionals are doing a lot more optimisation for social media, moving away from their core world expertise in Search. Would any search professionals care to correct me if I’m wrong?
To be honest, as it transpired both sides of the debate recognised both functions (social media and search) would happily co-exist. In the end, we all settled in to coax the light-hearted banter into a fully fledged ‘debate’.
Social Media Turns The Web Information into Intelligence?
On the ‘For’ team, I was joined by Adrian Slatcher, Senior Digital Development Officer at Manchester Digital Development Agency (MDDA) who postulated that the social web was “turning information to intelligence”.
Adrian argued that librarians and database developers were as unlikely to ‘rule’ the web as it was that the British Library would ‘write’ Karl Marx’ seminal work. He felt that it was the network of people collaborating on the web that added real value to the web.
The two people arguing ‘Against’, Dave Mee of design and social media agency Tandot and Julian Tait of creative solutions company Littlestar put forward very interesting arguments about how social media tapped the wisdom of the crowds.
To be fair, neither were Search Professionals and must be commended for taking part when no-one from the Search industry seemed willing to get involved.
Julian made the very good point about what happened if your network didn’t know anything about the things you wanted information on. He felt that social networks were “a scatter graph of user opinion” whilst Search provided a diversity of results.
Julian added that social networks and social media in general tended to become “an echo chamber of things”, ending with the point that maybe a mix was the key.
After each team presented their arguments, David awarded each a point, meaning both were level in terms of points after the initial presentations.
Twitter Interaction for the Debate
David then invited questions from the floor via Twitter, picking the first that surfaced to the top of the listings during a search of #smc_mcr on Twitter.
The person asking the question presented it to either the For or Against team verbally, allowing us to put names and faces to Twitter profiles of the folk getting involved in the room.
This Twitter-powered interaction with people in the room made for a very interesting debate.
Someone asked Julian how he found his plumber. To which he replied, “By Search!”
I was presented with this question:
@totmac How can social media and the opinions of strangers gain credibility and reliability? #smc_mcr
I answered this by saying that by its very nature social media relies on the ‘real life’ credibility of the participants.
You can’t game the system unless you are incredibly good at impersonating people.
It’s interesting to note that this doesn’t stop SEO firms from attempting to boost search engine rankings for their clients by creating anonymous profile accounts for them on social media sites. This is only a recipe for disaster though as those profiles invite interaction from disgruntled customers.
So Who Won The Debate?
The audience vote saw the ‘For’ team losing to the ‘Against’ team by 24 votes to 13 or so, which is to be expected, I guess. People vote for what they know and an argument set 20 years into the future is hardly assured!
After the debate, a couple of people told me that the team arguing ‘For’ had some of the better arguments but I must add I haven’t posted all of those here, this is already a very long post!
Digital Games and/as Social Media
Here come my highlights on Ben Light’s fascinating talk on ‘Digital Games and/as Social Media’.
Ben’s talk was media-rich with lots of slides and videos discussing the evolution of computer games as social media.
Starting with a look at the virtual world Habbo Hotel and ending with a presentation on how the Sony PlayStation game SingStar inspired user participation on Flickr and YouTube, Ben provided an interesting overview on how ‘social’ technology, be it computer games or social networking sites, mediates society’s behaviour.
I met Emma Monks, Senior Manager, Moderation and Safety at Habbo Hotel last year at an event organised by Channel 4’s 4Talent network which I blogged about afterwards and so listened intently to his presentations on Habbo Hotel.
Ben is Professor of Digital Media at the School of Media, Music and Performance, University of Salford and director of the university’s new MA Social Media.
Ben’s interests lie in the links between digital gaming and social media: “how people make these games and social spaces work”.
Some of Ben’s research results into how ‘Habbos’ (users of Habbo Hotel) relate to the “real world” versus the virtual space on Habbo were particularly interesting.
Habbos didn’t always see ‘criminal behaviour’ in actions that scam other users of their ‘furni’, for instance. ‘Furni’ is the slang term for digital furniture within user spaces in Habbo Hotel. These can be traded within the virtual space with credits that are bought with real money.
Ben’s ethnographic research on Sony’s SingStar unearthed a wealth of user behaviour.
SingStar users were filming and uploading whole videos of their performances to YouTube and creating a whole community around the game.
Sony had envisioned that users would only want to share 5 seconds of performances and provided a much more pared down ‘performance recording’ option for their networked version of the game.
Interestingly, Ben shared that the demographics for SingStar seemed at odds with the community one might associated with it. SingStar Bollywood was one of the least popular games, for example.
I have to stop now!
Hope you enjoyed #smc_mcr. If you’re interested in discussions about its future head to the event at the Britons Protection tonight at 6:30pm.
If you were there and care to comment on any of the above, please fire away in the comments!
Photo credits: loscuadernosdejulia on Flickr
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