In recent weeks, I have been all too painfully aware of the brutal voice that the Twitter hive mind can bring to anyone timorous to raise their head above the parapet on certain causes. In our case, the rebranding of BBC Three committed the triple offences of being a) money spent on the BBC b) money spent on design (which in certain quarters is always “a waste of money”) and c) being a noticeably different approach.
Now this is not a blog to defend the creative decisions behind that piece of work. I am old enough and ugly enough to know that the only judge of success or failure is ‘the years’. As someone pointed out, if social media existed at the birth of the BBC One “Hippos” identity or, heaven help us, the naming of a TV channel DAVE, we would probably have never crawled out from the bunker again. In any case Chris Moody from Wolff Olins wrote eloquently about it in his own blog post here.
More interestingly I think is the nature of social media, and the future for it in a world that is becomingly increasingly video enabled. Twitter, Facebook and Google+ were all children of a time of relatively low data access on mobile devices. Speed and ease of download were the primary drivers of text based systems. As Twitter ponders the move to loosening the shackles of character count, isn’t it interesting that at the heart, it remains largely a “written” service? Naturally as human beings we respond to faces, to the human voice and all of the shades of communication that they can bring to a sentence above the simple choice of the words we use. So while Periscope emerges from the same ownership, it is certainly not being used as a comment platform in the same way.
Social brands like Viber (with free video calls) and Bubbly (with audio recordings) are heading in the right direction – indeed Forbes picked them both as brands to watch last year – but they remain lacking in broad reach. So for the big players there is still a first mover opportunity for truly social video. Similarly any trawl through apps will find people exploring video – Wudup (“Tinder + FaceTime”…or chatroulette you might think). Google Hangouts spring to mind. Certainly “hosted and posted” video, whether via Vines, Instagram videos or Snapchat, continue to grow, but more in a personal curatorial way.
Blab is perhaps the most interesting of the newcomers, with up to four “hosts” participating in a live video chat forum, but again it feels born out of more traditional broadcasting structures than the more casual comment, opinion, update, share model of Twitter.
My belief would be that “trolling”, the ease of attacking or venting behind the anonymity of the written word, would be dramatically reduced if you had to say those words to a camera, and then live with your own voice and face saying them in perpetuity. When a camera is switched onto us, in most circumstances we start to reflect and to self edit, as if we are in a conversation – which is exactly what the best social media should be. Not un-challenging, or un-critical, but observing the best evolved tenets of real world communication.
Interesting to note that the vloggers who have emerged as the breakout stars of the last few years, perhaps the pioneers of social video, are those whose positivity, enthusiasm and fandom shine through…from Zoella to PewDiePie.
The catalyst for just such a change in the way social media will behave is coming, and as with revolutions across a number of sectors, will be driven by the twin emergences of smart cities and smarter networks. Cities like Bristol with a mesh of Wi-Fi across three kilometres of its city centre, Los Angeles building LTE into street lighting, and our parent company’s drive towards 5G as the next standard of network speed, all mean one thing: speed and size of files will not be a barrier to any future social media architecture. Projects in other smart cities like Barcelona, where the Vincles initiative is connecting the elderly and lonely through social video on tablets, show the way. Indeed social video could be the saviour of the stuttering Local TV initiative within the UK. Vast amounts of social, relevant and geographically local information is shared across social media (thousands of articles and forum posts on ActonW3 in my own “manor”). Perhaps the future for local TV is to build from this base upwards with a new social video base far away from the cost structure of linear broadcasting.
Another strength of text in social feeds has been the ease of search, but the development of metadata including voice recognition, and intelligent tagging, will soon enable search at comparable levels of depth and insight. Video with enhanced metadata will certainly bring new levels of engagement to everyone from YouTube vloggers onwards.
So will video be the change agent to a new type of social media, a more positive, authentic and open one? I’ll press the “heart” icon on that one.
Charlie Mawer, Executive Creative Director, Red Bee