Color Me Confused

Mine was beige, with flowers.  Which, as the evening wore on, proved to be one of the more boring updates. (I especially loved the person who asked, “Why is everyone posting synonyms for tan in their status?”) But what occurred on Facebook last night and this morning was, in my opinion, pretty amazing. A meme took hold in a matter of minutes and, perhaps most impressive, had no explanation directly attached to it. You had to Google it or scan comments in your friends’ posts to find out what the hell was going on. But the number of people participating was overwhelming, nonetheless.

What also took mere minutes was the indignant faction who were either annoyed, offended, or downright angry. While watching the BCS game (which is an entirely separate argument we won’t discuss), I found myself in a heated debate with a friend as to the effectiveness/harm of posting your bra color for breast cancer awareness. Her key point was that “hollow gestures threaten to undermine substantive action” and she circled back to her favorite rant topic: the aligning of twitterers with the Iranian democracy revolt last summer. I disagree strongly; people turning their avatars green has no effect – negative or positive – on Iranians’ fight for democracy, just as typing the word “beige” next to my name on Facebook isn’t going to set breast cancer research back 10 years.

What it does do however is a couple of other important things. It serves a very real sociological need for affiliation. Humans define themselves, at least partially, by their causes. “I’m against Prop 8; therefore I am liberal and open-minded.” “I’m a member of the NRA; therefore I am conservative and like to kill things.” (Sorry. I’m only human.) So when you glom onto to one of these silly online memes – and yes, they are mostly silly – people feel they’re defining themselves a little bit.

The second point is one that’s much more salient. Last night’s bra-color game was a hint of what is possible when you combine social causes with social networks. Even those who were offended as hell have to admit: we’re talking about breast cancer now. Yes, of course, we were talking about it before. On occasion. In October when every household object on the market is tinted pink. But it did in fact, achieve precisely what it set out to do – raise awareness. The Huffington Post wasn’t focusing on the anger and raw emotion of a breast cancer survivor last week. The rage that cancer engenders was not getting ink in the Washington Post. And the Komen fan page on Facebook, for whatever good it does, had far less fans yesterday morning. Now the efficacy of ‘awareness’ is most definitely up for debate. But if one little meme involving a color can take hold that quickly, and make that much of a splash in less than 12 hours, what’s going to happen when someone – and I’m betting it will be a political candidate – figures out how to really utilize our personal networks?

Because I’ve argued enough this week, I’ll let my friend have the last word. Kind of.

If tech and social media wants to be taken seriously as a potential cure for that ill, action has to make a leap from status updates to the real world.

I couldn’t agree more. She goes on to posit, though, that online actions make people feel they’ve done their part and therefore won’t contribute more substantive action in the real world. Perhaps, with some people, yes. But I can pretty much guarantee those folks weren’t going to contribute much to begin with.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in emerging technology, it’s that you can’t start at the top. You lay the groundwork at the very bottom and hope that subsequent companies and technologies will build on it in your wake. No, we didn’t cure breast cancer last night. But I’m certainly willing to keep playing these little games until we do.

The Vortex: Oversharing

I’ve spent the last seven days trapped in the house with two sick children, which means I have more links piled up than I know what to do with, and my fuse is shorter than Balloon Boy’s 15 minutes (too soon?). So if I offend anyone, deal with it. This Vortex will also have to tide you over for a bit, as I am moving to Austin next week (whoop!) and will be offline. Now that you know far too much about my personal life, on to technology.

News from the Social Media Vortex

–This is biased but I don’t care. If you haven’t read Chris Shipley’s response to the latest Calacanis rant on angel investors, please do so posthaste. Surprise – she actually agrees with him! But she has some fun with it too.

–If a Nordic country falls from the Internet and no one notices, does it make a sound? Due to a typo in a script, Sweden dropped completely off the Interwebs for an hour and a half Monday night.

–Comic book fans now have reason to join Twitter. Neil Gaiman is conducting a storytelling experiment on the service, enlisting followers to help him create an audiobook. Madlibs for nerds, if you will.

–In news that surely made old-media stalwarts curl into the fetal position, the Huffington Post passed the LA Times and Washington Post in site traffic this week.

–It’s pretty hard to win the Worst. Post. Ever. award. When you consider the millions of blog posts that appear each week – many of which feature piano-playing cats – one would have to write something really painfully awful to win this award. So let’s all send hearty congratulations to John Biggs at MobileCrunch.

Apps on the Radar

Jason Meserve pointed me to the super-cool AutoStitch app, which lets you create panoramic pictures on your iPhone.

–During a search for a friend, I was referred to Get Apps Done, something of a clearing house for iPhone app developers and the people who need them.  Love stuff like this – a simple, logical concept that is needed by a large group of people.

–Were it 1989, I’d be excited about this.

–And finally, thanks to Apple’s new policy allowing developers to build paid upgrades into free applications, the follow-up (or part of it at least) to hugely popular game Rolando is now available for free.

Tweet of the Week

–It’s rare that the winner triumphs so easily but you’d be hard-pressed to trump Billy Ray Cyrus this week. After his daughter Miley threatened to leave Twitter, he responded with this:

Miley. You are a light in a world of darkness. You were born “Destiny Hope Cyrus” for a reason. You can’t leave everyone now. We r countin on u.

If I’d known the messiah was going to come in the form of an autotuned child star, I’d have watched more Disney Channel.

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The Real Value of Audience

We didn’t make the list, not that we’re surprised or even disappointed, really. The list? 24/7 Wall Street’s ranking of the 25 Most Valuable Blogs.

While I might argue the nuance of “value” (does audience size and ad revenue trump meaningful discourse?), I am impressed by the analysis Douglas McIntyre put into valuation and ranking of the top blogs. While admitting at the outset that “there is no way to accurately put a value on blogs,” the site drew revenue estimates from data and assumptions about advertising and other commercial revenue, quality and quantity of ads, traffic and traffic growth. The site then based total value on a multiple derived from estimated operating margins, longevity of the blog, outside funding, and the dependence of a blog on its founder or lead personality.

Omitting the blogs of large media companies and blogs as the market-facing vehicle for another primary business, 24/7 Wall Street’s list shapes up like this:

1. Gawker (including Gawker, ValleyWag, Gizmodo, and Wonkette, among others): $150 million.

2.MacRumors: $85 million

3. Huffington Post: $70 million

4. PerezHilton: $48 million.

5. TechCrunch: $36 million.

6 (tied): Ars Technica $15 million.

6 (tied): Seeking Alpha $15 million.

8 (tied): Drudge Report $10 million.

8 (tied): Mashable $10 million.

10. GigaOm: $8.4 million.

Valuations quick tapper off. No. 23 Talking Points Memo is pegged at $860,000. McIntyre assigns no price to No. 24 Travelpod and to his No. 25 pick, his own 24/7 Wall St. (I recommend reading the post in which McIntrye explains his reasoning for each blog, expecting his own.)

There are a couple of take aways from this analysis, and the first is clear: Continue reading