The news has been dominated lately by incidents where outbursts of criminal behavior were organized via social media "flash mobs" -- but an equally interesting (and potentially even more dangerous) phenomenon is the unintended chaos resulting from event invitations which "go viral," resulting in huge numbers of people showing up and completely overwhelming the venue and security personnel.
The increasingly competitive group discount and daily deal marketplace may be approaching saturation, judging by new data from Experian Hitwise which shows that market-leader Groupon saw total traffic tumble 50% between the second week in June and the third week in August. The question is whether this indicates growing group discount fatigue among consumers.
An emergency shipment of common sense has resulted in the British government setting aside plans for banning individuals from social media or even blacking out social media altogether, in cases where it seems to be contributing to civil disorder. U.K. officials apparently backed away from the proposal, which was always viewed as a long shot because of the risk of violating civil liberties, after meeting with representatives from social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, as well as Research in Motion, which makes popular Blackberry devices.
What a weird week - and I'm not just talking about the unusual geologic and meteorological events. The Internet's dominant players are walking back from major initiatives, canceling projects which they once touted as central to their future business. First, Facebook axed Places, the mobile check-in feature which was supposed to compete with Foursquare. Now Google is closing Slide -- the social game and multimedia app developer it bought for $200 million one year ago.
It just hasn't been the Eastern United States' week. Just days after a rare, widely-felt earthquake shook things up from north Florida to Maine, Hurricane Irene -- currently a powerful Category 3 storm, with sustained winds up to 115 mph -- appears to be making a beeline for the mid-Atlantic and New York City. While the earthquake ended up being little more than a novel excuse for many office workers to spend the afternoon outside, Irene is no joke (Californians who mocked East Coasters' reaction to the earthquake are now noticeably silent, as inclement weather in L.A. is a fluffy …
There must be some schadenfreude in the location-based social media world today, as rivals like Foursquare and Gowalla celebrate the demise of Facebook Places, the location-based mobile check-in adjunct introduced with great fanfare by Facebook a little over a year ago in July 2010. More broadly, it is also important evidence that Facebook is not invincible -- an absurd notion which nonetheless seemed to be taking root in recent years.
The outpouring of earthquake-related tweets suggests East Coasters seem to mostly be enjoying the uniquely unsettling feeling of "who the heck is driving a big rig down my street OMG IT'S AN F-IN EARTHQUAKE." The reaction is equally amusing to people who live on the West Coast, where we have real earthquakes thank-you-very-much, and this regional geologic snobbery is predictably also in evidence on Twitter (apparently Californians don't think Mother Nature is on Twitter, or they might hush up with the bragging -- also, we're boasting about something that lowers our property values?).
Last week's Social Media Insider Summit in Lake Tahoe saw a series of great presentations addressing some of the cutting-edge issues in social media marketing -- including of course measurement and analytics, always a favorite topic for media types and especially important for making social media transparent and accountable, which will in turn allow it to attract more ad dollars. But one presentation, by Nielsen research manager for measurement science Nina Stratt Lerner, was interesting for addressing social media as a source of information about consumer sentiment -- specifically buzz about TV shows, and its relation to actual program ratings …
Sometimes there's a big public "controversy" which is really a non-issue, and "flash mobs" organized via social media belong in this category. The question of the moment is how to combat flash mobs, and there is an obvious answer: mass arrests and prison terms for people who participate in them, combined with efforts to change the social conditions which give rise to violent crime in general. None of this is beyond the ability of democratic societies to understand or manage.
They said they were going to, and by golly they did: British magistrates have sentenced two men to four years in prison each for their role in inciting riots via social media several weeks ago. Jordan Blackshaw, age 20, and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, age 22, were arrested last week, tried, and sentenced with a speed which must surely reflect the extent of public anger in Britain over the riots -- but also unease over social media's clear potential for facilitating mayhem.