Matthew T Grant


Tall Guy. Glasses.

Why I Am a Vine Skeptic

Note: I wrote this as a comment on a post over at MarketingProfs, but when I realized I’d written 300+ words, I thought: This is a post in itself!

At this point, as much as I’ve had fun with Vine, I’m still a Vine skeptic.

I’ve got two issues with the app. The big one is sound. Montage works in movies because you can have a separate audio track that provides continuity. Since Vine doesn’t allow you to separate sound from image, the soundtracks of Vine-ettes (as I call them) tend to be choppy and abstract (or, “experimental,” to be generous). You can show a kind of story, but it’s much harder to literally tell one.

The sound is also a distraction. Whereas I can scroll through Instagram while waiting at the dentist’s office without bugging people (or at home without bugging my wife), with Vine I either have to use earbuds or keep the sound off, which means missing what can be an important piece of the content (though, to my first point, often is not).

The second issue is time. Unlike Instagram, it takes time to make Vine-ettes. This makes it, in its way, “anti-mobile.” Since Instagram allows me to pull in pictures from my photo library, I can snap pics on the fly and “Instagram” them whenever I want.

With Vine, as simple as these things can be, sometimes it takes time to get them right and sometimes I will re-shoot a couple times and then just give up (ok – I’m a quitter).

There is also something to be said for the at-a-glance scrolling that both Twitter and Instagram provide. With Vine, I have to stop and watch. Again, it’s only 6 seconds, but it adds up and makes the interaction lumpy rather than smooth.

I’m not saying that Vine couldn’t fix these issues—by allowing for separate sound recording, for example—but, frankly, if they added more features it would simply make the process more involved and time-consuming. Once that happens, this will become what I think it is destined to be: a novel social tool/network/phenomenon whose widespread adoption will stall.


Reconstruction of a Talk Given on Walter Benjamin and Twitter (Part 2)

This is the second part of a textual reconstruction of a talk I gave on Benjamin at SUNY Albany.

After setting things up in the first part of my presentation on Benjamin and Twitter, and demonstrating how the cyberflâneur was alive and well on “the street” of Twitter, I went looking for Walter Benjamin there as well.

As it turns out, several people have set up accounts such as this, which intermittently posts Benjamin quotes, but someone also went to the trouble of setting up this short-lived parody account:

Aside from the comedic value of this account’s first tweet—”…the character of the age, distilled into the 140-character aphorism, explodes the character of the here-and-now…—I was struck by Twitter’s characterization, as you will note in the lower left-hand corner, of the Dalai Lama as “similar” to Benjamin.

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Reconstruction of a Talk Given on Walter Benjamin and Twitter (Part 1)

This is the first part of a textual reconstruction of the talk I gave on Benjamin at SUNY Albany.

1.The Death of the Cyberflâneur

In February 2012 Evgeny Morozov’s published an opinion piece in the New York Times entitled, “The Death of the Cyberflâneur.” Evgeny Morozov is a researcher and critic who wrote a book, The Net Delusion, in which he calls into question the cyber-utopian tendency to see an inherently liberating power in the web and social media.

With an eye sensitive to decline (Verfall) and the darker side of things, Morozov lamented in the Times the lost days when one would go on the web to “surf” and explore a sometimes surprising, even shocking world. Those were the days, in his view, of the cyberflâneur, the digital doppelgänger of the Parisian flâneur.

Today, he claimed, the web had found its Haussmann in the figure of Mark Zuckerberg. Facebook, according to Morozov, had brought an end to cyberflänerie. Facebook is essentially an infinitely extensible couch where we sit with our friends, exchanging photographs and found objects, texting, and commenting on the shows we’re watching. Facebook is the bourgeois interior realized in cyberspace and, hence, the grave of the cyberflâneur. After all, you can’t be a flâneur if you never leave the house. Read the rest of this entry »

@WalterBenjamin: Twitter, Cyberflânerie, and the Aestheticization of Politics

Below is the text of a proposal I submitted to a conference entitled “Critical Speculations: Future Worlds, Perilous Histories, and Walter Benjamin Unbound” which will be held at SUNY Albany September 28-29, 2012

At the very end of his much-cited—and frequently misunderstood—essay on the work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction, Walter Benajmin wrote, “Humanity, which once upon a time in Homer served as an object of fascination for the gods, has now become one for itself.”

As with much of that essay, this sentence is more true now than when it was written. While one need look no further than the ubiquity of reality television to appreciate this, it is actually in social media, and especially on Twitter, that this process achieves its mass apotheosis. Indeed, Twitter is the contemporary, virtual manifestation of the Parisian Arcades that Benjamin spent the last years of his life studying.

For Benjamin, the Arcades served as an allegorical crystallization of the far-reaching and irreversible changes wrought by the accelerated rise of modernity. The same must be said of Twitter with regard to the post-modern, post-industrial, hyper-mediated present. Indeed, like a living, electronic reef, Twitter is composed of the accreted micro-sentiments of mankind. As such, it provides a protean, hyperdimensional portrait of contemporary subjectivity in all its most trivial, absurd and sublime glory.

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“Flowers” on MOG

I am listening to Flowers by the Rolling Stones on MOG.

I have never owned this album and, although I have yet to hear a song I haven’t heard before (I’m on “Let’s Spend the Night Together“), I feel like I’m hearing it for the first time. It’s pretty amazing.

The first thing that hits you is the bass. It’s way up front and in the stereo mix a galloping, insistent presence.

There’s also a dark noisiness—the blunt organ, the shattered drums, the jumpy, rawly harmonized vocals—that makes this thing seem both straightforward and experimental.

More interesting to me than the music—”Lady Jane” is a weird anticipation of the Grateful Dead (“Rosemary,” “Mountains of the Moon” on AOXOMOXOA) and Depeche Mode (“One Caress” on Songs of Faith and Devotion))—is the fact that I’m listening to music on MOG.

I’m sure others have written this elsewhere (if there were only a way of searching the Web to find out if anyone else has posted anything about MOG), but there is a “dream come true” quality to MOG that I can’t get over: almost any music I think of, I can listen to at will.

After a lifetime of listening to music as chosen by others, in the case of radio, or to the extent that I could access its recorded form (I include mp3 or other rips of albums to be essentially the same thing in a different recording medium or, more accurately, encoding), I am now plugged in to a vast, explorable library of music.

I must say it means that I haven’t used iTunes in going on two weeks.

And that my burgeoned cd collection seems even more archaic than ever.

As long as we have electricity and connectivity and a robust information infrastructure—and are not being attacked by government forces or rebel militia—this is how recorded music (and all recorded media?) will be consumed henceforth.

Be Your Self

14517722_6bbc8e79c8_mHad He willed they would not have been idolators. –  Sura 6, “The Cattle”

The existence of evil, or, more banally, base disobedience of God’s word by the vast multitude of human beings, must in some ways be explained by monotheism. If God is all-powerful, in fact, singular in His omnipotence, how do you explain the existence of evil without admitting that it too, like all else above and below, was created by God?

Similarly, since God has sent down his Word and therewith his Law via sundry emissaries, how is it that so many, indeed the majority of humanity, either fail to heed it or denounce it as false (adhering instead to their own regional or familial creeds)?

The idea that God created evil (the Devil, drives, temptation) and then bestowed Free Will upon Man in order to test his fidelity seems far-fetched. Why would an all-powerful Being operate in such a neurotic (or, really, passive aggressive) fashion?

The alternative (if you are not going to jettison monotheism altogether and retreat into a polytheism that does not suffer this conundrum) is to state forthrightly that God created Evil and, moreover, that God determines who will obey and who will not.

Hence the Calvinist doctrine of pre-destination, for example, or, a thousand years before it, the words of the Holy Quran where we find in Sura 7, “The Wall Between Heaven and Hell,” Aya 178: He alone is guided whom God shows the way; and whom He leads astray is surely lost. (This is echoed later, in Aya 186, “Whosoever God allows to go astray has none to show him the way, for He leaves them to wander perplexed in their wickedness.” and indeed repeated throughout the Quran.)

“Whom He leads astray….” How many can get to that and appreciate and worship a God who willfully leads some astray? Of course, Islam aside, how else are we to understand the monotheism espoused my Judaism or Christianity (or Zoroastrianism, if you want to get technical)?

And have many considered that, when we look out over the vast sweep of history, broadly speaking, or burrow into the unique experiences of every individual who has ever lived, we would not be able, following the model of monotheism offered in the verses cited above, to distinguish a reality created by God from a reality which has unfolded in His absence?

In other words, truly consistent monotheism and atheism, from the standpoint of observable reality, are indistinguishable.

Which brings us to the preeminent secular commandment: “Be Yourself” – a notion emanating from Emerson and Nietzsche, sacralized in the Sixties (not to mention countless movies, sitcoms, and television dramas), and now central to the concept of authenticity that the social media gurus of today wield like an iron hammer.

You are as God wills you to be. Thus, when you are “yourself,” you are submitting to the will of God, as is proper. However, when you are not yourself, then you are also obeying the will of God, since you could only not be yourself if He willed it to be so.

We can no more escape ourselves than we can act against the will of God. You are always already yourself, even when you are not. If God wills you to not be yourself, than “not being yourself” is how you are.

And therefore, I believe, the insistence on “being yourself” is really driven by the frustration and disappointment associated with the fact that this is, in fact, impossible.

Image source: mrmystery.

The Really Real, Totally Authentic Thing

2385429026_062f5691ef_mIf you don’t have time to blog then don’t. Ghost blogging is inauthentic & the antithesis of everything social. #dontbeafake cc @mitchjoelAvinash Kaushik

When I was in graduate school, there was a lot of talk about the “death of the author.” Such talk was driven primarily by French, post-structuralist thinkers like Barthes, Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, and Lacan who had an intensely nuanced and complex notion of writing and authorship that tended to highlight the supra-personal in any putatively “personal” utterance or authorial gesture. Steeped in such thinking, I became very skeptical of attempts to say with certainty who the “who” is when we ask, “Who wrote this?”

Barthes et al. were responding to various French philosophical currents of the 20th century but especially, I believe, existentialism. Whereas existentialism had put the individual human being at the center of (an ultimately meaningless) existence, thus hoping to establish a new moral center following the death of God, the post-structuralists chose instead to show that the individual was not the center of anything but, rather, the effect of many things (language, culture, discourse, the unconscious, etc.).

The French were not the first or the only critics to suggest that the individual (sometimes called “the subject”) was epiphenomenal. Freud had certainly pointed in this direction when developing his psycho-analytic theories as had Nietzsche a decade or so before him, Marx a decade or so before that, and Hegel at the very outset of the 19th century. But even these gentlemen were not the first to insist on the essentially contingent nature of individual identity which, in one form or another, can be traced back to the teachings of Buddha and even the Vedic authors before him.

Which is all to say that when I read things like Mitch Joel’s recent blog post on “ghost blogging,” my philosophical buttons get pushed.

Conceding that there may be practical value to ghost blogging (“I get that people Ghost Blog and it works”), Mitch shows that his opposition to it is, more than anything else, a matter of faith. Like a Luther for the Twitterati, he writes, “I believe this one thought (and I will stand by it): corporate Blogs being presented as a personal space to share insights have a predisposed and inherent understanding that the person whose name is on it is the actual author.”

You see, Mitch is less concerned with the value of ghost blogging than he is with values or, as he puts it, “ideals” (“I do think that there are some commonly held ideals within Social Media”) which he also refers to as the “pillars of what makes something ‘social’.” These pillars being, “transparency, openness, honesty, human and real voices (not corporate mumbo jumbo) and a culture that embraces sharing between these real voices.”

In other words, Mitch is a moralist who even indulges in the classic rhetorical move of the moralist, the value-laden leading question: “Why is everyone who defends ghost blogging so afraid to state that ghost blogging’s first act is one of deceit and misdirection?”

The philosopher in me wishes merely to point out that expressions like “actual author,” “real voices,” “human,” “social” and so on are not unproblematic.

What, after all, is an author and how does an author, generally speaking, differ from an “actual” author? What makes a voice “real,” particularly when we are talking about written texts (blogs) where the notion of “voice” itself is metaphorical? What attributes belong to the category “human” and what happens when “humanness” is invoked as an ethical category? Since when is the “social” defined by “honesty, transparency, and openness” rather than by concepts like “convention” or “conflict”? Etc.

I’m not sure that Mitch Joel is interested in the history of philosophy, let alone the history of the “ideals” that he invokes. Indeed, I’m fairly certain that he would dismiss my argument—that, in essence, concepts like authorship, or authenticity for that matter, are over-determined, social constructs which in no way represent uncontested, universal values—as equivocation. I am, after all, a ghost blogger whose work goes undisclosed by my clients. Thus, in the eyes of Mitch Joel, Avinash Kaushik, and others, I’m an aider and abettor of unreconstructed frauds and deceivers.

In my “defense,” and in answer to Mitch’s inherently unanswerable question (shades of “How frequently do you beat your wife?”), I would say that, if I am afraid to state that my first act every morning is one of deceit and misdirection, it is because I fear saying something that I do not consider to be true. Rightly or wrongly, I actually believe that the people whose bloggings I facilitate are the “actual” authors of the posts that I produce. The ideas are theirs, the “voice” is theirs, the blog is theirs, etc.

That being said, on a “human” level I resent the jargon of authenticity which pervades social media. When someone says, in the imperative voice, “Don’t be a fake,” I bristle. Why? Because I find the division of human actions into “real” and “fake” itself dehumanizing. Where does the notion of “authenticity” come from anyway? It is a term of trade driven by the desire to differentiate the genuine from the counterfeit so that an item can be assigned a monetary value. “Authentically human” is just another way of saying “Genuine leather.”

When we demand that humans be “authentic,” or criticize them for being fake, it’s because we have reduced them to the status of commodities. In fact, I believe that the social media, rather than humanizing marketing, as Mitch Joel and others have long hoped, have in fact completed the total colonization of human thought and affect by market forces.

Given the absolute assimilation of our lives by the new media, down to the most trivial whims (“I just ate a donut covered in bacon!” “I hate Justin Bieber”), isn’t it possible that the only way to hang on to our humanity is through masks, personae, and “ghosts”?

Or, in the immortal words of Robert Plant, “When you fake it, baby, please, fake it right.”

Image Source: Nick Wheeler.

“Integrating Social Media into Overall Strategy” – MProfs B2B Forum Sesh

Ron Casalotti of Bloomberg Businessweek kicked things off talking about their Business Exchange social media platform: a people-filtered resource for business people. In order to encourage users to participate, he instituted a rating system for submissions, among other things. With over 40K registered users, BX serves as a folksonomy of topics that are of interest to Bloomberg Businessweek readers and gets used as a source of stories for print publication. It also helps direct content focus for the marketing department since they now know what readers actually care about.

Top Tip: Don’t get caught up in the numbers. 200 active participants are more meaningful than thousands of passive followers on Twitter, for example. What really counts is building engaged relationships.

Deirdre Walsh, self-proclaimed “geek matchmaker” and Community & Social Media Manager for National Instruments was up next. The cornerstone of National Instruments’ community strategy are their support forums which have over 140,000 participants and 50% of all questions posted are answered by community members. The community is used extensively by the organization for product feedback, R&D insight, etc. National Instruments also puts a big emphasis on recognizing and engaging with community “rock stars.” One interesting point of measurement for Deirdre are “actionable conversations.” She also measures community growth and number of posts per community member.

Top Tip: Don’t get overwhelmed by the technical options (Facebook vs. Twitter, etc.) but utilize something like the P.O.S.T. method to develop your plan. In other words, treat social media as any other marketing communication function.

Next up was Mike Travis of Equat!on Research who spoke about the process involved in producing their “2009 Marketing Industry Trends Report,” a research study “by marketers and for marketers” which relied on crowdsourcing to determine survey questions. The strategy was to use the survey methodology itself to engage a community where Equat!on wanted to be better known. These efforts resulted in greater exposure, site traffic, and a five-fold increase in leads generated.

Top Tip: Crowdsourcing is a good way to get in touch with a community and actually become part of it, as long as you have something of value to add to the conversation.

Kirsten Watson, Director of Corporate Marketing at Kinaxis, then spoke about her efforts to create a supply chain expert community. One key element of their strategy was to build a highly engaging, content-rich “home” for supply chain experts to learn, laugh (yes, there is comedy in supply chain management), share, and connect. Another key element was to leverage content to achieve SEO goals and beat out much larger competitors like SAP and Oracle. These SEO efforts pulled people primarily to the community and the Kinaxis blog, and only secondarily to the Kinaxis website. [Quotable quote: “You can always buy traffic.”] Note: 20% of community members are customers and 80% are prospects.

Top Tip: Repurpose and reuse content whenever possible (“Create 10 things out of 1 thing”) while always thinking about SEO.

What followed was a Q&A session. Here are some insights and tactics that came out of that:

  • Keep communities open, even to competitors.
  • Post content to relevant LinkedIn groups (but don’t play where you’re not welcome).
  • Link editorial content to keyword strategy.
  • Involvement in social media sometimes means “listen and don’t say anything.”
  • Use the many conversations happening around your brand as a driver of internal collaboration. (Deirdre called this part of her “Social Media Pangaea” vision.)
  • If you have people in your organization interested in blogging, send them to “Blog College” like the folks at National Instruments do. Give people guidelines and frameworks and let them go.
  • “Social media” is not a campaign or a program; it’s a tool.

Christina “CK” Kerley moderated this session extremely well keeping things focused and the whole thing highly information-rich.

Three Paths to Social Media $ucce$$!!!

money equals success and success equals moneyThe way I see it, there are three paths to social media success.

1. Invent a Popular Social Media Platform

Marshall McLuhan once said something like, “Media owners don’t care what’s on TV, as long as everyone is watching.” To put it another way, the people who own what everyone uses, are the big winners. Unfortunately, becoming an owner is easier said than done and it just gets harder over time.

Facebook, for example, may have displaced MySpace – as MySpace displaced Friendster – as the center of the social media universe, but it’s hard to imagine what will displace Facebook. It’s user base just keeps growing and it really has become part of everyday life for millions. Same goes for Twitter, Flickr, LinkedIn,  and YouTube, among others.

One possibility, I guess, is creating a meta-tool that allows people to aggregate their disparate online personalities and communities, but that didn’t exactly work for FriendFeed (and plus Facebook is kind of headed in that direction already) though it is kind of working for Apple (if you know what I mean).

2. Become a Social Media Celebrity

Mass media like television and radio have always been platforms for celebrity and the social media are no different, to a degree. Certainly people you have never heard of, such as Fred, have become “famous” by launching programs on YouTube, but that’s because YouTube is basically an open, explorable space.

You can explore Twitter but, generally speaking you are only paying attention to the folks you’ve chosen to follow and only really get noticed by them what follow you. In any event, it’s a lot easier to be a famous person. such as Oprah, Ashton, or Conan, who chooses to use Twitter than it is to become “famous on Twitter” (not sure who counts in the latter category aside from maybe Brogan and Vaynerchuk).

Finally, the rules of engagement on Facebook make it so utterly closed that, at best, it may allow you to become “better known” to your friends and acquaintances. You will never, however, become “well known” via Facebook.

3. Use Social Media to Do Something

Aside from being the easiest way to achieve “social media success,” this is the only way that the words “success” and “social media” ever make sense together in a sentence, as far as I’m concerned. The social media are tools and tools are only meaningful in their application to this or that situation.

This is one reason that I don’t believe it makes sense to have a “social media plan” for your business or one person there who is “responsible for social media.” Social media will only help you achieve your objectives – that’s what “success” means, right? – if it is integrated into the plans and programs you’ve undertaken to achieve them.

So incorporate social media channels in your PR strategy or figure out how to leverage social media in support of a product launch or make social media an important component of customer service. That way leads to success and, specifically, success via social media.

Everything else is just pipe dreams and pyramid schemes.

Image Credit: / CC BY 2.0

Further Clarification

At the beginning of this video, captured by the ever ebullient Mr. Sonny Gill at the MarketingProfs Digital Marketing Mixer back in October, I explain what I do as a “thought ronin” (and talk about what I was digging at the Mixer):

Apropos of MarketingProfs, I’m currently editing the official pre-game blog for their SocialTech 2010 conference to be held in San Jose on March 25.

This conference will focus on how B2B marketers in the hi-tech space (think: IBM, Intel, Cisco, SAP, etc.) are actually using social media to achieve a wide range of business goals. If that’s your bag, you should check it out (it’ll cost you around $500 but there is also a less expensive “virtual attendance option“).