Here’s the thing…

Here’s the thing – the situation involving ISIS, Syria and any number of radicalised groups and individuals around the world is extremely complex. It dates back thousands of years, it’s rooted in a culture that most of us simply have no way of understanding. Not even the most informed international political experts are able fully get their head around the best way forward to resolve the conflicts at the core of the current issues. As such, the delineation between ‘us’ and ‘them’ – or at least, what we can do to bridge the divide between the two – is very unclear. But even in that scenario, there’s one thing that we know won’t resolve it and won’t lead us towards unity and, ultimately, a solution. And that is hate.

ISIS is fuelled by hate, bolstered by fear. They’re an organisation that thrives on chaos. The people who are sympathetic to ISIS’ cause are people who are lost, who are looking for meaning, and who subsequently go on to find it in whatever twisted doctrine ISIS provides. These recruits have no faith in what they’ve seen in the world, they’re looking for a new way. Many of these people are likely victims of previous battles in which Western nations have been involved – this is not to make a judgement on what’s been done, but you can imagine how someone who’s family has been devastated by war might be feeling alone and lost, and how the ‘brotherhood’ of ISIS might be able to fill that void, that need for family, and how they could stoke the fires of hatred to help further their own mission.

Given this, it makes perfect sense that ISIS is looking to attack western targets, or any targets where they can get the most attention and cause the most disruption. Because people see this and they’re scared. We see this and we want answers, we want to know what we can do to keep our families safe. So we need a bad guy, people need to point the finger at something. So we blame religion. And that’s an easy link to make, even logical to a degree, given ISIS is founded on religious principles. But by choosing hate we’re only doing what ISIS and other extremist groups want. In hate, we marginalise religious communities, we point the finger at people who’ve had nothing to do with any such attacks and who abhor them as much as we do. We subject innocent people to judgement and criticism and violence. And what happens to those people then? What happens to the person who sees no answer, has no faith in the good of humanity. What happens to the person who’s looking for another way?

By choosing hate, we only make ISIS stronger. If anyone were in a state of mind where they might be ‘at risk’ of radicalisation, we’re only going to push them further by showing them anger instead of empathy.

While fear is understandable in such a situation, and frustration is to be expected, we need to work to make ourselves rise above judgement and hate and consider new ways to move forward. Because if we don’t we’re only helping ISIS – and the next radical group, and the next one after that – in their ongoing mission to divide us and solidify their numbers through segregation – religious or otherwise.

Unity and community is the way forward in this battle. Understanding, not blame. While we’ll never be able to completely eliminate the risks of radicalisation and extremism, we’re only going to fuel them by justifying their beliefs in our actions. There are some who’ll never agree, but we can lessen their impact through acceptance of such differences.

I don’t claim to have an in-depth knowledge of the situation at hand, but I know that hate is never a constructive response.

My thoughts are with all of those who are suffering or have suffered in this conflict.

What’s Happening in Star Wars Episode VII: ‘The Force Awakens’


Warning: ultra-nerdy fanboy post about Star Wars ahead, please excuse this indulgence

The new Star Wars trailer came out last week, bringing with it a wave of euphoric nostalgia, the likes of which the web has never seen (it’s already broken pre-sale ticket records and the trailer has been viewed more than 48 million times). But one of the most amazing and skilful aspects of the new trailer – along with the preceding two – is that it tells you virtually nothing about the actual story. For all the droids and wookiees and light saber poking out the sides of the handles, there’s little-to-no linkage from one scene to the next – no one has any freakin’ idea what’s going on. And what’s more, with the film-makers noting that all the extended Star Wars universe comics and novels are not officially part of the new universe of the films, really, anything could happen. Ultra-fans are as in the dark as everyone else.

But of course, being a massive Star Wars geek, I can’t help but try to piece it together and think through what the story of Episode VII might be. Where is Luke Skywalker? Who is Kylo Ren? What’s that dude from ‘Attack the Block’ doing? Here’s what I think might, possibly, be the storyline of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’:

In the preview we see that The First Order, or the new Empire, have a heap of soldiers and vehicles – there’s no way these guys are in hiding with that much stuff, right?


That’s a lot of stuff…

My speculation is that The First Order is re-establishing the Empire, and is winning the battle in taking over the galaxy by force and placing themselves into a new position of power. The events of the original trilogy – now thirty years past – were a major setback for the Empire, but there’s obviously many who believe they need a uniting authority to oversee the galaxy. Chief among them is Kylo Ren, whose effectively the new Darth Vader.

So who is Kylo Ren? You’d think he has to be associated with either Luke or Leia, as they were the last living links to The Force that we know of, so the assumption would be that Kylo Ren is either Luke’s or Leia’s son. I think he’s Leia and Han’s son and, for whatever reason, he’s decided to go to the dark side – that’s why we see Leia looking upset in the trailer, and how Han, Leia and Chewbacca end up getting tied into the new storyline. There has to be a reason for them to come back into it, they don’t just rock up for something to do. I think Han is coming back to try and reason with his wayward son, but that he also knows his son is beyond logic. This leads Han and Chewie to the new characters – Rey and Finn.


I don’t think Rey or Finn are linked back to the original characters – some think that Rey saying ‘she’s no one’ in the trailer is an indicator that she’s trying to hide out in the desert, and that she must be Leia or Luke’s daughter, but I just don’t see that family ‘hiding’ another kid after the trauma they went through by being separated from their father in the original trilogy.

My speculation is that Rey is no one, but like Luke in the original series, she dreams of getting out of the desert and doing something more. I think Rey runs into Finn, who’s crash landed (as per the trailer) and wants to help him because Finn represents adventure. Rey shows Finn the wreckage of the old Empire, the old Star Destroyers and such, and in amongst that wreckage they come across Luke’s lightsaber – this is one of the original story notes JJ Abrams said would trigger the events of the new films, that someone would find Luke’s hand (which Darth Vader cut off at Bespin) and his lightsaber. I think that discovery is the ‘awakening’ mentioned in the second trailer.

Why is that an awakening? As noted in the latest preview, the people of the new Star Wars universe seem to be under the impression that the Jedi and the events of the past are something of a myth, they don’t believe they actually happened. This, I think, may be how the First Order is gaining power, because the people don’t believe they can fight back – resistance seems futile because The First Order has all the power, and they have this mystical, intimidating leader in Kylo Ren who simply seems undefeatable. As such, I believe this is what is enabling The First Order to re-establish the Empire, by sheer force and fear. But what if those old stories were true? What if the Jedi really did exist and there were a way to defeat this growing evil? Maybe the discovery of a lightsaber – a rumoured weapon of these mythical legends – would confirm their existence, and thus, empower the rebellion, or new rebellion, to believe they could actually win, giving them a massive boost. It’s like in ‘A Bug’s Life’, when the crickets note that if the ants ever worked out they out-numbered them, they’d be able to defeat them. Maybe a similar psychology is at play, and the confirmation of the existence of the Jedi would be enough to fuel them.

This is why it causes a disturbance – an awakening – and this is why we see Kylo Ren coming at Finn, who clearly has no idea how to use a lightsaber, in the preview. Kylo Ren’s come to take the lightsaber back and ensure no one knows about its existence.

This then leads to the wider journey of the story, where Han takes Finn and Rey with him on a mission to find Luke, because is the only one who can save them. Luke, meanwhile, has dropped off the face of the… universe. I’m not sure why, but he appears to *possibly* be on Mustafar, the volcano planet where Darth Vader originally fought Obi-Wan and lost.


For whatever reason, Luke has opted to stay away and go into hiding, like Obi-Wan and Yoda before him. But now, with Kylo Ren getting deeper into the dark side, and The First Order taking hold, Luke is their only hope to stop him, to talk sense into him to keep him from becoming the next Darth Vader.

Eventually, they find Luke, but so does Kylo Ren and here’s where the big conflict will happen – in order to stop him, Luke has to face off against his nephew, Kylo Ren. And Ren wins. This would then set up Ren as the key bad guy for the next three films, the key presence. The question then is how do they challenge him? Who’s left, with knowledge of the Force, to oppose Ren and Co. on their destructive path?

This is where the ‘the force is calling to you – just let it in’ line comes in. Maybe Rey is somehow more ‘open’ to the force due to some… thing I can’t think of. I believe Rey will become a Jedi, somehow, and will be the driving force behind the new resistance, with Finn at her side. But Rey will be the next Jedi, the leader, of sorts. It’d be an interesting twist, to have a female protagonist in such a major movie – and somewhere, maybe, there’s some link revealed between her and the previous trilogy, don’t know what that is yet. But that’s why I think Luke’s not featured prominently (because revealing anything about him might signal that he ends up in the ultimate battle with Ren) and why we’ll also see Luke go out like Obi-Wan only to be a guiding spirit in death (‘strike me down and I’ll become more powerful than you can possible imagine’).

There’s obviously other elements in there to tie in also, but that, I think, will be the main storyline. Either way, I can’t wait to see it play out.

News Content Becoming More Divisive in Order to Fuel Clicks – is That a Good Thing?

newsThe very nature of news, as we know it, is changing.

The way stories and issues are being reported in the modern age has been unquestionably altered by the new media landscape – everything you see, every story you read or hear, the method in which it’s been constructed has been fundamentally altered. The most notable change to the way in which news content is determined and subsequently reported upon is the shift in focus from wider circulation and total sales of publications to the individual performance of every single post and issue, based upon online traffic. No longer do publishers need to wonder what the audience wants, what people are more likely to read – now they know. They have it listed and graphed out, fed through on constant stream of data from their websites and social media properties.

This shift, which has evolved slowly over time, has impacted upon the entire media landscape. In a report conducted by NewsWhip, Muckruck and Edelman Media looking at the state of media consumption in the modern age – which took in the perspectives of more than 250 working journalists – 76% of the respondents said they now feel more pressure to think about their story’s potential to get shared on social platforms. That figure’s both unsurprising and disturbing. Understandably, as marketing spend shifts online, more focus will be put on digital traffic numbers, which are boosted by links, shares and comments – the logic behind this makes sense. But it also changes the whole dynamic of the journalistic process.

Because here’s the thing: if clicks are the currency of success in journalism, then balance and accuracy will increasingly be the price.

Why is that, you ask? Because the modern journalist is being incentivized, more and more, to write content that will get shares, as opposed to content that will best represent the facts. And there’s often a big difference between the two.

The Science of Sharing

Social media sharing is generated by emotion. A study by The New York Times found that 68% of social media users share content to give others a better sense of who they are and what they care about. In this sense, it’s not about the news content itself, it’s about how that news content reflects their personal beliefs and views, what it says about them. It’s no surprise then that an analysis of the top 100,000 most shared articles from across the web found that triggering emotional response was key to maximising content reach.


Source: Huffington Post

Emotion is a key driver of social sharing and distribution, however in order to generate emotion, you need to be producing content that elicits emotional response. The easiest way to do this, in a news sense, is to write more sensationalised headlines or take a divisive stance.

In terms of sensationalism, BuzzFeed is the poster child for this (though there are many others). BuzzFeed became known for listicles and clickbait headlines – “you won’t believe what happens next…” This type of content is rife across Facebook, people can’t help but click on those posts with headlines like “Which Ninja Turtle Would You be?” Articles like this get a quick laugh and they get shared so others can be in on the joke, and thus, they generate significant traffic despite being criticised as something of a cheap tactic.

But while sensationalism is a concern, of more concern in the wider shift is the focus on divisive content. In the case of divisive material, the social shares and discussion generated around controversial topics and opinions actually incentivizes journalists to fan the flames of such arguments – because the longer debate rages on, the more content people want to read. In this sense, rather than social media bringing us closer together through understanding, it actually might be pulling us further apart, solidifying barriers and opposition between different sides of these arguments. Fuelling divisiveness is really a core requirement for the modern media outlet, and we’re starting to see this more and more in news coverage.

Divide and Conquer

In July this year, Cecil the Lion was shot and killed by an American dentist in an illegal hunting incident. No doubt you’ve heard about this one, more than 2,100 articles about Cecil’s death have been posted to Facebook, where they’ve been shared more than 3.6 million times. Mentions of Cecil on Twitter peaked at 900 tweets per minute – the virality factor of this story was huge. So what did publishers do? They wrote about it, resulting in an inundation of content about the story. The sheer volume of content written about this story highlights the new media process and the way in which news stories are defined. In this case, the story sparked a strong emotional response – anger – and that lead to more people wanting to share because it enabled them to show something of themselves, to demonstrate that they were against this kind of behaviour by sharing it online.

In this example, the story wasn’t particularly divisive – the vast majority of people were against the actions of the dentist at the centre of the case – but there were still groups and community segments who supported his right to hunt, and the way in which he’d gone about it.

The dentist, Walter Palmer, has maintained all along that he did nothing wrong on this hunt – that he went along with a group of guides and killed the animal in a legal and approved way. Whether that’s true or not is impossible for us to judge, but even if this individual hunt was illegally conducted, more than 665 lions are killed in Africa each year as part of these trophy expeditions. So while this individual case is terrible, there are a further 664 like it – the reality of the situation is that Palmer got unlucky, by his or his guides’ doing, and killed the wrong lion. And he’s being demonized as a result.

But what about the hundreds of other hunters? Most of them have got off scott-free in this case. Palmer’s home has been vandalized, his dental practice smashed up, a wide array of death threats have been levelled upon him from across the world. Palmer’s likely never going to recover from this, and whether you agree with his actions or not, he is only one part of a larger problem.

But here’s the thing – would it be to publishers’ benefit to broadcast the full, unbiased details of the story and the wider issue, or would it generate more emotion, and subsequently, more social shares, if they fuelled the fire and sought to further demonize this one individual for the sake of clicks?

I’ll give you a hint – here’s the second most shared article on Walter Palmer, which has generated more than 242k social chares, according to BuzzSumo.


Do we really need to know five fast facts about Walter Palmer? Yes, he’s the individual in question in this case, and definitely, it’s a story in the public interest. But surely further exemplifying him can only inspire more anger focussed in his direction – surely it’s of more benefit to be discussing the wider implications of exotic animal hunts and how we can take action to stop them.

But it’s not in the publishers’ interests to do that. While I’m not criticising the individual outlets – and I’m not suggesting Palmer should be portrayed in a sympathetic light – the point here is that the modern media landscape incentivizes publications to fuel anger and hatred, to generate emotional response that, on a wider scale, is really only detrimental to society as a whole.

You could, of course, argue that that’s the way it’s always been, there’s always been more coverage of controversial content because it sells papers. And to a degree, you’d be right, but the problem with the new variation of this process is that in an environment where media outlets are desperate to hold online attention, it’s often the voices of most polarization, or divisive vocal minorities, that are being given a disproportionate share of the discussion. Because they’re opinion is controversial, and controversy drives clicks. Supporters will click in order to validate their viewpoint, while opponents will click just to shake their heads at the latest misrepresentation. But they’ll all click. The more divisive, the better, and in this sense, it’s in the interests of the media to publish more extreme, more argumentative views. Because they want the debate to continue. In doing this, publishers may also, inadvertently, skewing public opinion.

For example, in his post “The Toxoplasma of Rage”, Scott Alexander talked about the differences in coverage of two police killings in the US which highlighted, essentially, the same issue. The first was Eric Garner, a black man who was choked to death by police officers in NYC. The second was Michael Brown, a black man who was shot and killed by police in Ferguson, sparking race riots and race-related angst across the entire nation. Both incidents happened within a month of each other.

In both cases police treatment of black people was brought into question, but the difference between the two was in opinion.

A Pew poll found that of white people who expressed an opinion about the Ferguson case, 73% sided with the officer. Of white people who expressed an opinion about the Eric Garner case, 63% sided with the black victim.”

So while both highlighted the same issue, if you go with the theory of divisiveness fuelling increased social shares, the media coverage is likely to skew more towards the coverage of Ferguson over Eric Garner, even though they both highlight the same issue, right?

A Google News search for Eric Garner returns over 1.9m results:


The same search for Michael Brown? 71.5m – an increase in news coverage of more than 3,700%:


Even taking the other variables into account, like the resulting riots and the more common nature of the name ‘Michael Brown’, that’s a pretty big discrepancy. The Garner case simply didn’t inspire divisive emotion the way the Brown case did – it makes sense that the latter got more coverage as a result. But is that additional coverage driving debate into areas where it actually, in reality, doesn’t exist at the levels those numbers would suggest? And is that then fuelling further division as a result?

Ruffling Feathers

Don’t get me wrong, both the Michael Palmer and the Garner/Brown cases raise important issues that we should be discussing, societal concerns that need to be addressed. But could they also be fuelling negative connotations, or divisiveness, by highlighting elements of focus which distract from the wider topic?

In the case of Walter Palmer, everyone’s on the ‘I hate Walter Palmer’ train. But doesn’t that distract from the bigger issue of the need for action on the hunting of exotic animals? In the case of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, the issue sparks accusations of racism and debate which forces people to take sides based, to some degree, on racial lines. But isn’t that, in itself, the definition of racism? Forcing each side to identify as white or black means we’re all focussed on race as a dividing factor, separating us from each other. But shouldn’t the focus be on police brutality of all kinds? That’s the unacceptable element here – the fact that race is involved is an undeniable, and critical element, but as in the case of Eric Garner, everyone agrees that police treating a person this way is unacceptable. In the case of Michael Brown, it was more divisive, forcing a wider debate which is then fuelled by extended coverage. But is that wider debate focussed on the key issue? Or is the resulting coverage inflaming a more adversarial debate in order to generate more attention?

I wouldn’t assume to be informed enough to know the full range of issues at stake, but the question needs to be asked whether the new media process is allocating more air time to divisive debates that may be detrimental to overall societal unity, but beneficial to readership and sales.

The question needs to be asked, are news outlets being incentivized to inform readers of the facts or to make readers click? I’d argue that the latter is far more prominent.

But then, what can you do about it?

The Best Films of 2015 So Far…


It’s been a bit of a lean year for quality cinema. Or at least, I haven’t seen a heap of great things. When I sat down to think about my top films, it was a bit of a struggle – the main couple stood out, but it was hard coming up with even five that I thought were memorable. There were a couple that were okay (‘Inherent Vice’, ‘Kingsmen’) and a few that were really bad (‘Focus’ – so bad), but I had to rack my brain to come up with a good, five deep, list of my top films. Maybe I missed something, maybe I’m not in the loop on some of the good stuff. I don’t know – what I do know is that, of what I’ve seen, these are my top films from the first half of 2015.

  1. Ex Machina

Really, Alex Garland’s ‘Ex Machina’ is so far out in front, it’s not even close. The story of a guy winning a competition to spend time at a brilliant, but eccentric, billionaire’s secluded mansion – which turns into something totally different – is an brilliantly executed story, and one which forces the viewer into the very moral quandaries being faced by the narrator. It reminded me of Denis Villenueve’s ‘Prisoners’ and Gregor Jordan’s ‘Unthinkable’, films that force you to question what you would do in the same situation, how you would respond. It’s smooth, methodical and compelling, keeping you held there till the last. Definitely worth checking out.

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road

I really don’t understand the fuss about the early Mad Max films. I’d watched them many years ago and not fully understood them, being too young to get the complexities, but they were recently re-run in a late night slot on Australian TV. And I still didn’t get them. They’re overly stylistic, there’s not a heap of story or character development. Yet, people are drawn to George Miller’s post-apocalyptic world. With all that in mind, I wasn’t expecting a heap from Fury Road – and really, there’s not a heap to it, in terms of storytelling complexity. But it’s just so good, it’s so enthralling and crazy and it just keeps coming at you. As a friend noted, it’s basically a two-hour car chase, but the fact that your heart’s still beating fast right through to the end is a pretty big endorsement for how well it’s put together. Just, madness, some of the best examples of modern special effects, tied together with a story that’s basically “we need to get from here to here”. That’s it.

  1. Interstellar

I think Interstellar may have come out last year, but I definitely only caught it in 2015, so I’m counting it. I’d heard and read a bit about the film before I saw it, I’d seen debates about its scientific accuracy and such. I don’t know much about all that, but I do think that the ‘science’, within the world of the story, works well enough to pull it together. Mostly. Either way, it’s a compelling story that really draws you in as it gains momentum – and some of the emotional peaks are very well done. Similar to Nolan’s other big, non-Batman film, Inception, there are things that don’t quite fit, particularly in retrospect, but he certainly knows how to put together an entertaining film.

  1. The Drop

This is a lesser known one, I think, or at least, I haven’t seen many people discussing it. The Drop is about a bar tender who’s involved in organized crime money drops, one of which has gone wrong. Fingers are being pointed, threats are being communicated in non-verbal cues, while the guy at the middle of it all is just a normal guy, trying to get out without any trouble. Kind of. Tom Hardy’s better in this than he is in Mad Max, though similar role, in that he doesn’t say much, plays the quiet type (in fact, that’s him in every movie). Written by Dennis Lehane, the story rolls along at a good pace and develops the main character well. It’s a well done crime drama, above the normal, popcorn cinema type fare.

  1. The Jinx

Due to the aforementioned drought of good films, I’ve actually gone with a TV series in slot five. But in TV terms, The Jinx is certainly one of the most cinematic experiences you’re going to get. The Jinx tells the story of Robert Durst, a billionaire who may or may not have killed his ex-wife. And his housemate. And some other woman, and a former friend and… the list goes on. But he’s not in jail. The documentary series, which runs over six episodes, highlights the power of money over all else, how a rich man can, apparently, get away with pretty much anything. In case after head-shaking case, Durst subverts the law and goes on his way, left to his own, questionable devices, when it’s pretty clear that something’s not right. If it weren’t true, no one would believe it – it’s just too much. But it is, and it’s amazing.

Hopefully the second half of 2015 brings some better stuff our way, but these ones were good, they’ve definitely stuck with me after seeing them. And there is, of course, Star Wars on the horizon, a film which has millions of hardcore fans both stupidly excited and supremely nervous at the same time. I’m pretty sure that, at least, will be great. Probably. Hopefully.

Why Pixar’s ‘Up’ is the Ultimate Testament to the Power of Human Storytelling


This isn’t going to be what you think.

Now, we’ve all seen ‘Up’, right? It’s the Disney/Pixar movie about the old man who loses his wife, then looks set to lose his house, till he launches a million balloons and floats of in that very house on a mission to go on the grand voyage that he and his beloved never got to go on. It’s a great film, everyone likes Up – it’s got an 8.2/10 score on IMDB, putting it at number 113 on the top films of all-time. Up is a story to which most viewers have some level of emotional attachment – that first fifteen minutes is possibly one of the best examples of effective, human, storytelling ever captured on film, and it’s all done with zero dialogue, you just see the events play out. It’s classic cinema, but it’s also the ultimate example of how when we have an emotional anchor tying us to the heart of a story, that all the other details start to matter a lot less.

So, (and stop reading if you’ve never seen Up and don’t want to me to ruin it for you) after that first 15-20 minutes, we’re emotionally tied to the outcome of Up. We want Mr Fredricksen to come out of this okay, because his life story is so relatable and true to life. He’s had to deal with losing the only person he ever loved, the one person he needed, and now he’s tied to the house they had together, the memories he keeps. We, as the audience, want more than anything for Mr. Fredricksen to win after that montage sequence, because that’s what we want for ourselves – it’d be terrible to think there’s no light at the end of the tunnel for him, for us. But then Up takes a turn for the less logical.

Mr. Fredricksen ties about a million balloons to his house and floats it. I can go with that, it links back to his former life selling balloons to kids and his only motivation now is to take his wife on one last adventure in the home they made. But then he finds Russell on his porch. How did Russell end up on his porch? For one, Russell was at his house the previous day, so he must’ve come back the next morning to continue his search for the Snipe – okay, I can go with that. But then he also must’ve seen the guys from the home come to the front door and that didn’t deter him at all. Okay, stretching. Russell then, when the house starts lifting off the ground, must have either jumped onto the porch, or not got off the porch, depending on where he was at, and held on for dear life as it took off. There’s no logical reason for this. But we forgive this element because, well, who cares? The dude’s flying a house levitated by balloons, logic’s already largely been thrown out the window.

But more than that, we don’t care because we’re already emotionally invested in the outcome. We’ve bought into Mr. Fredricksen’s story, and it’ll take a hell of a lot to get us to stop caring about him now – details be damned.

In this sense, Up gets away with a heap of stroyline quirks and plot holes that other films wouldn’t have a chance of overcoming. How is it possible that the adventurer, Charles Muntz, is still alive and still chasing that bird when he was already an old man when Mr. Fredricksen was a boy. This is somewhat explained at the beginning, when they say Paradise Falls is ‘a land lost in time’, but is it, in fact, lost in time? Have they somehow travelled back in time? How was Muntz able to develop technology to translate dogs in an isolated forest? Why isn’t Mr. Fredricksen more amazed about this? Why isn’t Muntz happy to see another human, why isn’t he asking how the hell he gets back – he must have family or something? Why isn’t Muntz more surprised that some old man has flown a house to the falls? Does anyone care about any of this?

No. And that’s the triumph of Up. Up highlights the absolute power of human connection, of finding the human heart of a story, as an effective storytelling practise. If you can find the human heart to a story, you can make it about anything – wars happening in a galaxy far, far away, love stories happening on a doomed cruise liner in the time before it crashes. Human connection, linking with your audience and making your story relatable to them, is more important than virtually any other element. Because we connect through stories, we relate. It’s stories that bind us together and make us feel less alone in the world.

Up is the ultimate example of this. Don’t believe me? Imagine Up without that opening montage, with no context for his relationship, other than him talking to his now absent partner every now and then. And while gaps in logic are always less of an issue in kids films, they’re almost totally irrelevant in Up. Because all we want is for Mr. Fredricksen to get that house onto that clifftop, just like his wife always wanted. That emotional drive is powerful, the heart of the story is what everything else refers back to. If you can find your story’s heart, you’re on the path to building an emotionally resonant, and connective, piece.

Facebook Instant Articles Have Arrived: The End of Publishing as We Know it?


After much speculation, Facebook’s Instant Articles are here. Instant Articles gives publishers the opportunity to post their content direct to Facebook, in a move that some are proclaiming as ‘selling their soul’ to the social giant. The concern, given Facebook’s history of changing the ground rules, is that while the initial offering from Facebook on Instant Articles is good, the other shoe will eventually drop once the process has become embedded and publishers are reliant on the new practice. Like Darth Vader, the expectation is that Facebook will alter the deal, and once it’s become a key part of publishers’ overall strategy, they’ll be left with no choice but to simply pray that Facebook doesn’t alter it any further.

How does it work?

Instant Articles translates publisher content via HTML and RSS into good looking, easy to consume content, available direct on Facebook. There’s also a range of additional publishing options exclusive to the new platform to boost the presentation of content in the News Feed, things like auto-play video and interactive maps, all of which will function smoothly within Facebook’s mobile news feed. It’s worth noting that Instant Articles are only available via the mobile app right now – trying to access the same content on your desktop PC will take you to the normal, mobile web version of the article (though Facebook specifically notes ‘for the moment’ as a qualifier on this).


Instant Article posts load much faster than normal links, which is one of the major pain points Facebook is seeking to resolve with this option. The average mobile load time for an external link from Facebook is around eight seconds. Now, that seems like nothing, right? Eight seconds isn’t long to wait for an article to come up, but on a wider scale, when you consider how many people are using Facebook each day, that time is significant. Facebook has 936 million daily active users, if each of those users opens just one link per session, that eight seconds load time equates to more than two million total hours that people around the world are waiting, each day, for posts to load – time those people could be spending doing other things. Like reading more content on Facebook. From that perspective alone, Facebook’s move has a significant pay-off, even if they maintain the current ad revenue split, which, at present, looks pretty appealing for publishers.

How do publishers make money?

One of the biggest concerns about publishers posting first-run content direct to Facebook was that they’d be surrendering their own audience in favour of Facebook’s. If people no longer need to visit your site to view content, that’s going to result in less traffic, and by extension, less opportunity to monetize your audience. Facebook’s worked to alleviate this by offering publishers the ability to display their own ads within their Instant Articles, with all revenues from any such ads going back to the publishers. Facebook will then fill any unsold ad spots, and will take a 30 per cent cut from any revenues generated by those ads, with the rest going back to the publishers.

Facebook has also worked with comScore to ensure Instant Article views within Facebook’s app will count as traffic for the original publisher, not Facebook. So while publishers are ceding control to The Social Network, they’re getting a pretty good deal on advertising and losing nothing in audience stats. Facebook will also provide performance data on Instant Articles, better enabling publishers to work out what’s resonating best with their Facebook audience and make improvements.

Sounds like a pretty good deal, right? And considering many publishers are already significantly reliant on Facebook referral traffic anyway, partnering with the network via Instant Articles makes sense, as it’s likely (despite Facebook saying this is not the case) that Facebook’s algorithm will give preferential treatment to Instant Articles over other posting options. Though that, too, is where publishers hesitate in shaking Facebook’s outstretched hand and look down at the feet to see if their standing on the trap door.

What’s The Issue with Instant Articles?

The problem with Facebook’s new option is not what Instant Articles are now, but what they may become. Major players posting direct to Facebook is a fundamental shift in the publishing process. While, right now, the deal looks good, and it seems as though Facebook has done a lot of negotiating with their launch partners to ensure the deal beneficial for all, as with the many changes to the News Feed algorithm, Facebook has the right to change the game whenever it sees fit.

If publishers don’t sign up to Instant Articles, will that see eventually their content de-emphasised by the algorithm, making it harder to reach potential audience on the platform? If Instant Articles are given preferential placement in the News Feed, will that further reduce the reach of all other content as there’ll be less News Feed real estate remaining as a result? If Instant Articles are a big hit, and publishers become reliant on that as a new source of revenue, will Facebook re-configure the advertising split, leaving publishers with no choice but to take the hit and give over more money to the social giant?

Obviously, there’s no way of knowing how it will play out, but it’s generally agreed that building a reliance on ‘rented land’, in social networks or any other platform of which you don’t control the back-end, isn’t sustainable practice in the long-term. But maybe Facebook is, as they say, only seeking to improve user experience. Maybe eliminating that load time results in more people spending more time visiting other areas of Facebook or direct posted articles further enhance Facebook’s status as a key source of information, increasing time spent on platform, and thus, opportunities for Facebook to serve ads, and that, in itself, is enough reason for Facebook to maintain the system as is. It seems unlikely, in the long term. The initial deal being offered seems a little too good to be what it will in its final configuration. But it sure is appealing. You can imagine many publishers would be willing to sign-up to get better reach to Facebook’s 1.4 billion users.

Instant Articles is definitely an interesting development, and one everyone in the content, media and publishing space will want to keep a close eye on.

The Latest Development in the Social Search Battle – Facebook Adds In-App Content Search


The new battleground of combined social and search is going to become a significant storyline in the world of social media marketing this year. Last week, we saw the first examples of what tweets might look like in Google search results as part of Twitter’s new deal with the search giant. It’s now being reported that Facebook is testing a newsearch feature – not quite on the same path, but more significant than it may, initially, seem.

Linking Up

Facebook is testing out a new functionality for iOS users which enables people to search for links while composing a status update, in-app. Just like adding a picture, the function would enable users to click on a link icon, then do a keyword search for articles related to that topic in order to share that content with your update.


At a glance, this seems relatively minor, adding in links is no major upgrade, it’s just streamlining that process – and really, it may be slightly restrictive, most people like to be able to share the exact links to the exact posts they want, and searching via this method might not necessarily help you locate the right content any more efficiently than searching outside of the app and cutting and pasting the link yourself. But then again, it might. And considering the massive amount of mobile sharing Facebook hosts, this process could prove hugely popular, effectively cutting Google out of the equation and keeping users on Facebook longer. And what’s more, it would also grant Facebook more control over more information, in the form of search data, which it could use to entice more publishers to its publisher platform. And that might just be the start.

Mo’ Data, Mo’ Options

So, let’s say this becomes a popular practice, that people are finding the links they want via this search process, Facebook learns your favourite websites and can better provide contextual searches, based on your previous sharing behaviour. That being the case, couldn’t Facebook then use that in building its case for publishers to post first-run content direct to Facebook? What if, as part of their pitch, they could say that “people use this new in-app search functionality 35% of the time, and we control the search results they get – we could ensure your content appears high in those results, significantly increasing the chances that users will link to your posts, thereby increasing your overall audience.” That’s interesting, right? What, too, does that increase in searches on Facebook do for Google traffic and Google’s share of audience? We know that Facebook leads social referral traffic by a significant margin (and that’s not even counting dark social shares) – if this addition were to catch on, it could be a significant concern for The Big G’s hold on search traffic.

Obviously, these are extrapolations, we have no idea how this is going to go till we see it in the wild and we get some stats on how users view this addition. But it could be something. It could be more significant than it may seem, at this early stage.

As noted by Josh Considine in his TechCrunch post – “the garden’s walls grow ever taller”.

The First Examples of Real-Time Tweets in Google Search – What Comes Next?


The first examples of the new Twitter/Google partnership are staring to filter through, with Search Engine Land providing screenshots of confirmed Google tests of tweets in search results:


As you can see from this example, a search for ‘#maythe4thbewithyou’ on Google has provided results from Twitter, where the topic was trending. You can see too, the option to click through for more tweets. This example is via mobile, where the current testing is taking place, but it provides our first insight into how Google may be looking to incorporate real-time tweets.

SEO Value?

The first question I had about the new Google/Twitter partnership was whether this would provide SEO value. If Google opted to show tweets high in search results, then definitely, there’d be SEO interest there – showing up at the top of the SERPs, in any form, is a big win for brands – and these early examples show that there is, indeed, clear SEO value. Twitter results may only appear for trending issues or maybe there’ll be a recognition value placed on Twitter activity to determine whether listing the Twitter results is likely relevant to the user query, but these screenshots show that it may be possible to reach high-visibility areas of Google’s SERPs via your Twitter presence.

This will invariably mean more brands will be investing more into their Twitter presence, as it significantly increases the audience reach potential of tweets. The change also underlines the fact that social search is going to be a significant battleground, and one that organisations will need to take into account.

Word-of-Mouth SEO   

A likely element of Google calculations on when and where to display tweets in search results will be the relevance of the person or people tweeting about the topic. In the example above, #maythe4thbewithyou was a trending hashtag (and the search is specifically for that hashtag), so it makes contextual sense that Google consider this relevant to the users’ search, and thus, would show the user tweets relevant to the topic. But in one of the other examples provided by Search Engine Land, the logic behind why the tweet was shown seems slightly different.


As you can see, beneath the first result, the search conducted was ‘mayweather pacquiao’ and a tweet from Gary Valenciano has appeared in the results. Gary Valenciano is a verified account with 2.43 million followers, so while the correlation between the tweet itself and the search term isn’t as clear as the first example, it does seem that a profile’s social clout will play a part in Google’s logic on what tweets to show and when. The first contention is supported again in the third example shown in Search Engine Land’s post:


Steve Benfey has 286 followers and isn’t verified, but #CarlyFiorina is a trending topic, so just like #maythe4thbewithyou, it’s the popularity of the topic that’s dictated its relevance in the SERPs, not the tweet originator. This would suggest there’s at least two different logicalities that will dictate the appearance of tweets in search results – there’s a ‘Popular on Twitter’ break-out, which’ll show tending tweets related to the search query, and another option which shows related tweets based on the social standing of the tweeter (or possibly the engagement levels on the individual tweet).

In the case of trending topics, this is effectively word-of-mouth SEO. You’re getting a display of real-time discussion – the more discussion about the topic, the more likely the searcher will be shown tweet results in the SERPs. From a marketing perspective, this addition will likely increase the rate of newsjacking and brands trying to tag onto trending topics, as, if successful, they’ll get the double-benefit of appearing not only in the trending discussion on Twitter, but also in related Google search results. It’ll also highlight the importance of brand awareness efforts in regards to trending topics – imagine if you were searching for ‘Nike basketball shoes’ and a trending topic was how an NBA players’ Nikes fell apart on him during a game. That sort of discussion would be hard to ignore for a prospective customer – it’ll be more important than ever for brands to be monitoring Twitter trends to manage or remain aware of such occurrences in order to mitigate potential negative associations.

Of more marketing value, however, is option number two presented here – appearing in the search results based on tweet mentions from prominent users. This will amplify the importance of influencer marketing on Twitter – using the same example as above, what if you were searching for ‘Nike basketball shoes’ and a tweet from NBA star Kobe Bryant appeared high in the results, thanking Nike for making him such great sneakers? That could play a part in your decision making process, right? Of course, as with everything, staged responses or canned endorsements will be obvious to the searcher, and it’s likely people will filter out any such tweets that are overly promotional. But real responses, from real influencers on Twitter, might just have a whole new value proposition for brands, depending on how these tests play out.

The Sleeping Giant

Social search, elaborating on the context of your search results with the real-time discussion from social media platforms, is fast becoming a big deal. People are placing less trust in brand messaging these days, and a significant impetus for that change may be that they simply no longer have to. In times past, brands had more control over the flow of information, they told consumers what they wanted them to hear and managed the message according to their own strategic goals. But in the connected era, in which people have access to all the information, all the time, consumers can inform themselves. Studies have shown that people are already more than halfway along the purchase cycle before they even get in touch with brands, they’re not coming to your sales reps looking for more info the way they used to do. The value is in relationships, in having a higher value proposition than the product itself. In this context, social search is more important than ever – because what’s more valuable than a recommendation from the people you know and trust?

The Google/Twitter partnership only underlines the rising importance of social search and of adding that additional context to the search process. But Facebook knows this too, and you can bet, they’ll be planning their own response.

Graph Search 2.0

Facebook Graph Search was largely seen as a failure. Or not a failure, as such, but a glitchy system that never quite delivered on its massive potential. Facebook acknowledged this – Mark Zuckerberg himself has noted that the results weren’t consistent. But just as Google and Twitter move to stake their claim on social search, Facebook will be looking to roll out Graph Search 2.0, and it will be a massive improvement on the first iteration.

Facebook’s been quite overt in its efforts to keep its audience within its own walls – most specifically with its push to get major publishers to post first-run content direct to Facebook. A big part of holding audience attention and maintaining user experience is search, giving users the ability to easily find what they want within the Facebook eco-system. Facebook has been cautious about how they roll out Graph Search due to privacy concerns and the need to protect the value of their treasured user data, but a new version of Graph Search will be coming soon. The Google/Twitter partnership will only hasten its arrival.

Whatever comes, it’s going to be interesting to see how the digital marketing world responds to having real-time tweets in Google search results. These first examples show that the new partnership could have significant implications, and will likely raise the value of Twitter as a marketing and brand-relevance platform. It’s an exciting development to watch, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it all comes together.

Twitter’s Latest Results and What They Might Mean for Future Changes on the Platform


Not a great day for Twitter. After the micro-blogging giant’s first quarter earnings report was leaked an hour earlier than expected, Twitter stock dropped by 6%, and finished the day down close to 20%. The losses were on the back of a less than spectacular earnings report, where Twitter reported revenue of $436m – around $20m below estimates. Twitter’s CEO Dick Costolo, in the company’s official release, said the gap was ‘due to lower-than-expected contribution from some of our newer direct response products’ – these would include some of Twitter’s latest product offerings, like changes to direct messaging, native video sharing, and live-streaming, via Periscope. Twitter’s report also outlined the areas where growth has been solid – but of more interest at this stage is what this result will mean for the future development of the Twitter platform, particularly when considering the rate at which they’ve been pushing out changes in the last few months.

Change is as good as…

Twitter is pushing out more changes, additions and updates than ever before. Senior Vice President of Product Kevin Weil was appointed in October 2014, and his leadership has seen a significant shift in momentum for Twitter products. Whereas once there were long delays in testing before rolling out, Weil appears to have streamlined the process – this is evident in the array of changes we’ve witnessed, from new advertising options to improved embedding options in order to spread the reach of the platform’s properties. While every platform change is approached with some scepticism – every platform has its traditionalists, overly protective of their cherished user-experience – most of these updates have been integrated and adopted well by the growing Twitter community. The latest move on this front was the recent unveiling of Twitter’s new home page for non-users, an attempt to entice more people to sign up and build its overall audience.

While these changes have gone well within the overall scheme of things, one concern stemming from the latest results is that the company will be under pressure to move even faster and seek more ways to monetize the platform. The last thing Twitter users want is to see it go the path of Facebook and start restricting reach in order to incentivize ad buy-up, but that’s invariably one element that could be considered. This is where the delicate balancing act has to be maintained – how do you incentivise new users, monetize the audience you already have, and at the same time, maintain harmony amongst your existing user-base? It’s a challenge facing every major platform, and one which is in stark view for Twitter today as it weathers the backlash resulting from its numbers.

Plenty to smile about

But it’s not all bad news. Twitter’s official report actually painted a fairly strong picture, with monthly active users up 18% and advertising revenue up 72% year-over-year. There’s little doubt the company is in a good position – it’s not as if people are turning away from the platform – it’s just not moving at the rate many (including Twitter itself) had hoped. But there’s a range of solid options coming up that may help the company turn the results in its favour very quickly. The recent growth of its new live-streaming company Periscope is a big positive, particularly the rate at which it’s increasing its market dominance over early-released rival Meerkat. The first element of Twitter’s deal with Google has been announced, with Promoted Tweets now available via Google’s Doubleclick ad platform. The Google deal, in itself, is loaded with potential and could see a significant boost in new users and user engagement, particularly if there’s an SEO value linked to tweets. There’s also the additional search functionality likely to be included as part of the partnership, and the subsequent ad options that would go along with that capability. Twitter’s overall picture looks good, despite this tremor in investor confidence. But tremors can cause lasting impacts, and it will be interesting to see what happens next.

The next battleground

One of the biggest user concerns stemming from unsteady results is the fear that the platforms will change, and the service they know and love will be impacted. Twitter is acutely aware of this, and over time they’ve shown their understanding of the value of user-experience by not making large scale changes and not balancing too far in favour of ad dollars or new users. An imperative on every listed company is the need to increase revenue, a need which always puts pressure on the way things are. But social media networks know that users can and will migrate, attention is the true currency of the social media industry. As such, I wouldn’t expect to see massive changes in user-experience, though I am looking forward to seeing what new products and options come about in the coming months – particularly as a result of the new deal with Google. One of the next big battlegrounds will be social search, an area Facebook is already pushing into with the refinement of Graph Search. The Twitter/Google partnership is likely to be their biggest competition on this front, and as social search becomes more important, as people look to validate more of their search queries via their social graphs and groups, the competition in that sector is will become significantly more intense. I, for one, am pretty interested to see where it goes.

Facebook’s Latest News Feed Update – Time to Move On?


Earlier this week, Facebook updated their News Feed algorithm again, in what many are seeing as the next move towards ‘Facebook Zero’ – i.e. 0% organic reach for pages. Facebook announced three updates – the first is around users who don’t have a lot of content to see. Previously, the algorithm ensured people were not shown multiple posts from the same source in a row, they’re relaxing this measure for people who run out of content to view and are seeking to view more. Nothing major there, the impacts should be minimal.

The second update has a bit more to it – as noted in Facebook’s announcement, this update:

…tries to ensure that content posted directly by the friends you care about, such as photos, videos, status updates or links, will be higher up in News Feed so you are less likely to miss it. If you like to read news or interact with posts from pages you care about, you will still see that content in News Feed. This update tries to make the balance of content the right one for each individual person.”

So the focus of this one is on those friends who you regularly interact with, on showing you more content from those users and ensuring those posts appear more prominently in your feeds. This is based on your interaction history – Facebook will use past behaviour as a guide to add weight to the prominence of friends’ posts and ensure they appear higher in your results. This will impact page posts because it will be adding increased preference metrics to content posted from certain profiles – most probably, the impact of this will be minimal, but if a person is more likely to be shown content from friends, they’re conversely less likely to see posts from pages in their daily News Feed allocation.

The third update relates to posts that friends have liked or commented on:

…many people have told us they don’t enjoy seeing stories about their friends liking or commenting on a post. This update will make these stories appear lower down in News Feed or not at all, so you are more likely to see the stuff you care about directly from friends and the pages you have liked.”


Again, the precise impact of this change is hard to predict, but it underlines the fact that ‘likes’, in themselves, are becoming little more than an aesthetic measure – and worse, that even interactions like comments are not necessarily going to increase your post reach. This change inadvertently puts more emphasis on shares and on prompting users to take direct action to explicitly promote their support of your page.

So what’s that mean for Facebook marketing? This change further underlines the need for brands to move from a broadcast focus to making themselves part of the conversation. With this update, Facebook is essentially saying that their users want to use the platform to interact with friends and the content they’re individually interested in, and the only way to effectively promote your pages without moving to paid ads is to generate conversation amongst people independent of your properties. That’s obviously easier said than done, but the principle for Facebook marketing remains that you need to create great content, you need to listen to what your audience wants and is responding to, and you need to become part of those conversations in order to attract more direct interactions with individuals and ensure your brand is part of any relevant conversations.

This also underlines the need to work with individual advocates – I’ve already seen it suggested by some that maybe brands should create personal profiles to help get better reach amongst their communities, but that won’t work, as it’s in violation of Facebook’s terms. Having people speak on your brand’s behalf is the best way to ensure you’re maximising Facebook reach – this is why employee advocacy is becoming a big focus, because who better to speak on behalf of your brand than those who live it everyday? Happy, engaged, socially-empowered employees can play a big part in brand awareness, and this update only reinforces the need to consider ways to facilitate authentic conversations across Facebook’s social graph.

This also sets the stage for updates to Facebook’s own search capabilities – Facebook recently announced changes to their API, effective April 30, which will reduce the capabilities for third party apps, particularly in relation to personal profiles, groups and search functionality. These changes seem relatively small, but for Facebook to be restricting them, my guess is that they’re close to releasing improved search functionality within their own walls, hence, these changes are designed to keep people on Facebook, as opposed to managing their Facebook presence via other platforms. This News Feed update somewhat supports this, in that it puts more emphasis on search to find content, as opposed to tangential organic reach.

Whatever the outcome, it’s clear that this update doesn’t help Facebook marketers and further supports the looming dawn of Facebook Zero. So should you just move on and forget about Facebook marketing? Depends on your audience, depends on how this changes your engagement levels – depends on many individual factors that can’t be answered in a generic sense. The fact is that Facebook has 1.44 billion active users, and many of them are likely interested in your products and services. Reaching them might not be as easy as it once was, but it is still totally possible, and totally viable when done in a considered way.